From Townhall Magazine's November feature, "Wisconsin Warrior" by Marybeth Hicks:
Standing at the podium inside the Waukesha County Exposition Center on June 5, Rebecca Kleefisch—having just survived handily the first recall election of an American lieutenant governor—surveys the standing-room-only crowd, flashes an electrifying smile and delivers the punch line to what feels like an inside joke.
“THIS is what democracy looks like!” she tells the thundering rally of supporters.
They get it.
Flash back to early 2011: Thousands of protesters storm the Wisconsin State House in defiance of state police. Climbing through windows to enter the building and converge on the offices of Republican legislators, who had just passed Wisconsin Act 10, the angry, emotional chants of the mob echo through the Capital rotunda:
“Show me what democracy looks like!”
“THIS is what democracy looks like!”
Actually, that was a scary example of what anarchy looks like.
The early months of 2011 in Wisconsin wrote a new chapter in American political history, thanks to the aggressive initiative of Gov. Scott Walker to close a $3.6 billion deficit in the state’s budget by reining in the benefits and power of public sector unions there.
Introduction of his still-controversial (but undeniably effective) budget repair bill—Wisconsin Act 10—had prompted Democrat legislators to flee the state to avoid voting on the measure.
It also inspired teachers’ unions to orchestrate a school-closing “sick out,” incited radical labor and progressive protesters to set up camp on the Capitol plaza and stimulated a midwinter media circus that compared the state budget battle to the Middle East’s Arab Spring.
Amid this cacophony, political newcomer Kleefisch joined in the battle for Wisconsin’s future alongside Walker.
She served as a spokesperson for the governor at events across the state. She helped articulate his goals in interviews on regional and national media outlets, including multiple appearances on Fox News. And she launched outreach initiatives to businesses, coining the phrase, “Wisconsin is open for business.”
But all the while, Kleefisch was engaged in a fight of her own: Wisconsin’s new lieutenant governor was undergoing chemotherapy.
While campaigning for office in the fall of 2010, the young wife and mother of two was diagnosed with colon cancer. Surgery in September removed a grapefruit-sized tumor. Weekly chemotherapy treatments began on Nov. 4, only two days after the general election.
“My doctors told me that I could opt not to have chemotherapy and I might look back in 10 years and be cancer-free and think, ‘I’m glad I didn’t put myself through that.’ Or I could have a recurrence and look back and wish I had,” Kleefisch says. “I’m a mom of two little girls. I chose to take the chemo.”
The 12 weeks of Kleefisch’s cancer treatment roughly coincided with the protests in Madison, but the feisty new state official carried on throughout.
“I was very blessed because chemotherapy affects everyone differently. I joke that I didn’t have time for the side effects of chemo, but in reality, I know my experience was not as difficult as it is for some people,” she says. “I only lost about half of my hair, and I had neuropathy and extreme sensitivity to cold, but I didn’t have to miss work and I could still take care of my kids. Again, I was very blessed.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that when Kleefisch talks about politics, she talks about priorities.
Always a Mom
Perhaps the most telling fact about the lieutenant governor is that she does not use a regular babysitter to help supervise her daughters, Ella, 9, and Violet, 6, as would most full-time working mothers.
Instead, Kleefisch and her husband, Republican State Assemblyman Joel Kleefisch, construct their schedules around the needs of their family as much as possible. ...
Read more of Hicks' exclusive interview with Kleefisch by ordering the November issue of Townhall Magazine.