By Steve Jagler Special to Published Aug 26, 2008 at 10:39 AM

This is one time when Jim Burkee would not like to see history repeat itself. Again.

Burkee, a history professor at Concordia University, challenges U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner in the Republican primary, which takes place Tuesday, Sept. 9.

Well, at least Burkee is trying to challenge Sensenbrenner. According to Burkee, "the system" is conspiring to quash any dissent against the incumbent, who has held the office for 29 years.

Be they Republican or Democrat, the American political system loves its incumbents. After all, it's the incumbents who make the rules of the game.

Burkee's frustrations began when he attempted to gain permission to walk in the Fourth of July parades in the communities of the Fifth District. One by one, the municipalities of West Allis, Wauwatosa, Brookfield and Waukesha declined his requests.

"They said they did not allow political speech," said Burkee, who resides in Cedarburg. "But if you are a duly elected official, you can walk in a parade."

So, as he has in past years, Sensenbrenner spent the bulk of Independence Day walking in parades. And why wouldn't he?

Burkee could only watch from the sidelines.

Then Burkee attempted to engage Sensenbrenner in debates. However, Sensenbrenner turned down debate requests from the Milwaukee County Medical Society, the Ozaukee County Medical Society, the League of Women Voters and others, Burkee said.

When Sensenbrenner declined to show up, Burkee said the organizations told him they could not conduct their forums without the incumbent being present.

Again, Burkee could only watch from the sidelines.

Burkee is raising money and support from people in his district. Former State Rep. Curt Gielow, a Mequon Republican, is among those supporters who are campaigning for Burkee.

"Jim is a Republican. There's clearly a story here about how the deck is stacked. That is not what the founding fathers intended -- lifetime legislators," Gielow said.

It should be noted that incumbents of both parties enjoy the same benefits of incumbency. 

Despite the challenges, a growing list of business people are lining up behind Burkee in the Campaign for a New Generation of Congressional Leadership. In addition to Gielow, Burkee's supporters include: Tom Boldt, chief executive officer of The Boldt Company and chairman of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce board of directors; Penny Burrall of the Republican Party of Ozaukee County; Dr. David Borst, dean, of the School of Business, Concordia University Wisconsin; Elizabeth Borst, vice president of Park Bank; George Bowman, president of Enerpac; Jeff Clark, president of Waukesha Tool & Stamping; Dave Drury, president and CEO of Poblocki Sign Company; Tom Hefty, former CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin; Gary Jorgensen, chairman of VJS Construction Services; Craig Jorgensen, president of VJS Construction Services; Ted Kellner, chairman and CEO of Fiduciary Management Inc.; Tracey Klein, equity shareholder of Reinhart, Boerner, Van Deuren, SC; Rick Klein, Aurora Healthcare; Jeff Kober, president, Milwaukee Composites; Ray Lipman, CEO of West Bend Savings; Michael Major, CEO of Cambridge Major Laboratories; Jim Nellen, former president of Ameritech Wisconsin; Chet Nielsen, finance chair, Jim Burkee for Congress; George Prescott, Prescott's Supermarkets; Gus Ramirez, chairman, CEO and president of Husco International; Randy Spaulding, CEO of Spaulding Clinical Research; John Torinus, chairman of Serigraph Inc.; Don Wilson, vice chairman of Fiduciary Management; Gunter Woog, CEO of United States Imagineering; and John Wundrock, CEO of Wisconsin Pharmacal.

Still, Burkee and Gielow say individual supporters of a challenger's campaign cannot compete with the war chest of thousands of dollars that the Sensenbrenner campaign has collected over the years from political action committees (PACs), many of whom represent out-of-state interests (i.e. 3M, Allstate Insurance Co., American Bankers Association, American Insurance Association, Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc., AT&T Corp., Boeing, Exxon Mobil Corp., Ford Motor Co., General Electric Co., General Motors Corp., Home Depot, Honeywell International, Lockheed Martin Corp., Microsoft Corp., Morgan Stanley, National Rifle Association, Pfizer Inc., Sears Holdings Corp. Smithkline Beecham Corp., Sprint Nextel Corp., Union Pacific Corp., United Parcel Service Inc. and Viacom International Inc., to name a few), according to the Federal Election Commission.

Burkee said another advantage of the incumbency is that the incumbents whose party controls Congress at the time can redraw their districts' boundary lines to protect themselves. Burkee said Sensenbrenner's district was gerrymandered to virtually ensure his perpetual re-election.

Then there's the media. Burkee said he's having trouble getting any acknowledgement whatsoever from the conservative talk show hosts in town. "They won't even mention my name," Burkee said.

"The system" will allow Burkee to get his one chance to stand next to Sensenbrenner on Wednesday, Aug. 27, when the Republican Party of Washington County stages a one-hour candidate forum at the Germantown Village Hall, beginning at 7 p.m

Loni Hagerup, manager of Sensenbrenner's re-election campaign, dismissed Burkee's complaints about the advantages of incumbency as "whining."

Hagerup said it was difficult to fit the other debate requests into Sensenbrenner's busy schedule.

"Every two years, there's a referendum on Congressman Sensenbrenner's job. It's not as though there's a free pass in any way, shape or form," Hagerup said.

Steve Jagler Special to

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at