Robin Vos: The outspoken speaker

Count on this Republican never to mince words
Robin Vos: The outspoken speaker
Robin Vos is one of the three most powerful people in the state Capitol. 

If there was any question that Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is a political animal, look no further than the name of his dog: Reagan.

The forty-six-year-old politician first got involved with the Racine County Republican Party in sixth grade, an interest his teacher noted was uncommon for your average kid.

While attending the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, he served as a member of the UW Board of Regents. And his college roommates included Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s chief of staff, Andy Speth, and Racine County Executive Jim Ladwig.

Today, Vos is a business owner who turned one rental property into several, and then bought a car wash and a popcorn company, where he employs prison inmates through a work release program he says helps people avoid going back to prison once they get out.

He is also one of the three most powerful people in the state Capitol, along with Governor Scott Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, as lawmakers prepare to debate the two-year state budget this spring.

Since the passage of Act 10 four years ago, Vos has become a go-to punching bag among Democrats. One angry voter even poured a beer on his head at a downtown bar in the aftermath. This is a sharp turnaround from January 2011, when Capital Times columnist John Nichols praised Vos for showing commitment
to political civility in the wake of the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

The kudos came after Vos released a joint statement with Congressman Mark Pocan, then a Democratic member of the Assembly with whom he had forged a friendship during their time together on the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

More recently another Cap Times columnist, Dave Zweifel, called Vos a bully and suggested he would learn the hard way that wielding power with a heavy hand while in the majority is a one-way ticket to a hard fall.

Vos is–to borrow a phrase–unintimidated by the criticism.

In recent months, he’s publicly suggested that the support shown by the new owners of the Milwaukee Bucks for President Obama and other Democrats could hurt the Bucks’ bid to get state funding to help build a new arena.

Vos also called for reforming the state’s Government Accountability Board, and raised questions about whether UW professors are using their time wisely.

In the upcoming legislative session, Vos will preside over some big ideas that are at the core of conservative philosophy, including proposed right-to-work legislation. He has said he will also push for more reforms to Wisconsin’s mental health system, building on a set of bipartisan bills that passed last session to expand access and improve quality of care.

He’ll do all of this as Walker dances with the possibility of a presidential candidacy. The question is, will Vos make a move and start to take a look
at Walker’s office, too?

“I really think that the worst politician is one who is not focused on their current job and thinking about their next one,” he said in a 2013 interview with the Journal Times. “So, I just really don’t have the desire–I like what I do.”

His resume, dating back to middle school, may suggest otherwise.