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Student worker and food engineering major Tyler Rateike bags half pound blocks of baby Swiss cheese March 5, 2019 at Babcock Hall at UW-Madison in Madison, Wis. Gov. Tony Evers first work experience was working in cheese factories decades ago in Plymouth. Student worker and food engineering major Tyler Rateike bags half pound blocks of baby Swiss cheese March 5, 2019 at Babcock Hall at UW-Madison in Madison, Wis. Gov. Tony Evers first work experience was working in cheese factories decades ago in Plymouth.

Student worker and food engineering major Tyler Rateike bags half pound blocks of baby Swiss cheese March 5, 2019 at Babcock Hall at UW-Madison in Madison, Wis. Gov. Tony Evers first work experience was working in cheese factories decades ago in Plymouth.

By D.L. Davis May 8, 2020

GOP State Senate candidate is off base with claim that Wisconsin governor ‘never had a real job’

If Your Time is short

  • GOP candidate for Wisconsin Senate Don Pridemore says Democratic Gov. Tony Evers ‘never had a real job’

  • The governor’s earliest jobs include scraping mold off of cheese at a factory in his hometown of Plymouth and working as a caregiver in a nursing home. 

  • Evers’ professional resume includes stints as a teacher, principal, district superintendent and State of Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

 

The pushback against Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home order aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus has included a lawsuit filed by Republican leaders and rallies at the Capitol.

One such gathering, an Open Wisconsin rally on April 24, 2020, attracted about 1,500 people according to Capitol police

Among them: former state Rep. Don Pridemore, R-Hartford.

Pridemore told Shawn Johnson, State Capitol Bureau chief for Wisconsin Public Radio, that he is aiming to launch a recall effort against Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

On his Twitter account, Johnson quoted Pridemore saying he was at the rally to "wake Tony Evers up. Tony Evers has been in an ivory tower all his life. He's never had a real job."

In a recording of the interview shared with PolitiFact Wisconsin, Pridemore can be heard expanding on the "never had a real job" comment by saying that "without that experience, (Evers) doesn’t know how the people are suffering with this stay-at-home business."

There is some bluster and hyperbole here, of course. 

But what about Pridemore’s starkest claim?

Is it true Evers has "never had a real job"?

The non-response response

Attempts to reach Pridemore via telephone and email to request back up for his claim were unsuccessful. In the past, Pridemore has refused to speak with journalists from certain media outlets, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

Pridemore has said he will run to replace state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. Fitzgerald is running to replace U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who is retiring at the end of his term.

It is also worth noting that Pridemore ran for the position of Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction in April 2013 and was defeated by Evers, who held the post at the time.

A response response

Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff chided Pridemore for not being more familiar with the governor’s background "considering he lost an election for state superintendent by more than 20 points to then-Supt. Evers back in 2013."

Evers had been in that post since July 2009. It’s fair to say this position is probably what Pridemore was referring to as being in an "ivory tower." And, while elected officials work, it’s fair to say most people don’t think of elected positions as everyday, run-of-the-mill jobs.

So, what else has Evers done?

Baldauff said Evers’ first job was "as a kid, scraping mold off of cheese in his hometown of Plymouth, Wisconsin."

In a Nov. 6, 2018 campaign podcast interview with The Capital Times featuring Republican Gov. Scott Walker and challenger Evers, Evers said:  "I worked in three separate cheese factories in Plymouth, and my high-level job was scraping mold off of cheese." 

(For those now raising their eyebrows: scraping mold from cheese was indeed a job decades ago.)  

Featured Fact-check

John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, said the governor is describing a job he had about 50 years ago, and yes, it is quite reasonable to state that people were employed in that era to trim cheese blocks and wheels prior to further processing.
 

"The cheese industry is quite different than it was around 1970, including major improvements in packaging systems, packaging films, natural mold inhibitors, and temperature and humidity-controlled storage facilities," Umhoefer said in an email to PolitiFact Wisconsin. 

"The Governor has described working in facilities that the dairy industry would call converters or processors," Umhoefer continued.  "These facilities hold and process cheese that was made elsewhere.  Often the cheese is cut into chunks, slices, cubes or shreds at a converting company. In 1970, it is believable that cheese blocks and wheels were trimmed (scraped, to use his word) to remove harmless surface molds prior to being cut for consumer use." 

Umhoefer pointed out that "mold is much less of an issue today with the packaging and storage improvements."  

In addition, Baldauff said, the young adult Evers "worked as a caregiver in a nursing home."

Most of the governor’s career, Baldauff said, has been in public education, serving as an educator and administrator in school districts around the state (including Tomah, Oakfield, Baraboo, Oshkosh, and Verona).

Evers’ biography, according to the Just Facts/Vote Smart website includes these jobs:

Former Teacher, Baraboo School District

Former Superintendent, Oakfield School District

Former Principal, Tomah School District

Former Superintendent, Verona School District

Deputy State Superintendent, State of Wisconsin, 2001-2009

Chief Administrator, Cooperative Educational Service Agency 6, 1992-2000

Superintendent of Public Instruction, State of Wisconsin, 2009-2019

Governor, State of Wisconsin, 2019-present

"If working to support our dairy industry, caring for our neighbors in long-term care facilities, and educating our kids don’t constitute ‘real jobs’ to Mr. Pridemore, I can’t imagine what does," Baldauff said.

Our ruling

Pridemore said Evers has "never had a real job."

It’s probably news to dairy workers that scraping mold from cheese was not considered a real job. Ditto for nursing home caregivers, school teachers and principals. (Elected officials would probably disagree as well).

We rate the claim False.

Our Sources

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "More than a thousand gather at Wisconsin State Capitol to protest restrictions as coronavirus cases rise," April 24, 2020. 

The Capital Times "How did Tony Evers and Scott Walker fare in Wedge Issues’ lightning round?" Nov. 6, 2018. 

Twitter, Shawn Johnson, Wisconsin Public Radio, "Former state Rep. Don Pridemore is gathering signatures for an exploratory committee to recall @GovEvers and @LGMandelaBarnes," April 24, 2020.

Email, Melissa Baldauff, Gov. Tony Evers’ spokeswoman, April 29, 2020. 

Email, John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, May 4, 2020.

Just Facts/Vote Smart "Tony Evers’ Biography." 

BallotPedia "Don Pridemore."

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More by D.L. Davis

GOP State Senate candidate is off base with claim that Wisconsin governor ‘never had a real job’

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