Jimmy Anderson

Assembly candidate Jimmy Anderson

PHOTO BY JIMMY ANDERSON FOR ASSEMBLY

A Democratic state Assembly candidate said a third-party radio ad playing in Madison that claimed he refused to sign the 2012 petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker is offensive.

Jimmy Anderson, who's running in Tuesday's primary for the 47th Assembly district seat, said he didn't refuse to sign, rather, he couldn't because he hadn't yet regained the ability to write after being paralyzed from the chest down in a car crash.

He also questioned other claims in the radio spot, which has added an extra layer of drama heading into Tuesday's three-way partisan primary.

Anderson and Fitchburg Alds. Julia Arata-Fratta and Tony Hartmann are running in the Democratic primary for the seat being vacated by Rep. Robb Kahl, D-Monona. No Republican is running in the district, which includes parts of Monona, Fitchburg, Madison, Cottage Grove, McFarland and the town of Dunn.

The 30-second ad was credited to the Construction Trades Coalition, which paid $10,000 for radio time in support of Arata-Fratta between July 28 and election day, according to state campaign finance records.

In the commercial, a man's voice starts: "When it comes to Scott Walker, Jimmy Anderson likes to talk tough. But to take on the governor, we need more than talk. When it came time to sign the recall petition, Jimmy Anderson didn't sign, refusing to give Walker his walking papers."

Anderson was paralyzed in a 2010 crash in California that killed his parents and brother. In 2012, he said, he wasn't able to hold a pen to be able to sign the recall petition.

"Whenever (organizers) would approach me, I would tell them that of course I would love to sign it but I just physically can't. And I know that you can't sign it for me because that'd be against the law," Anderson said. "I had to decline at the time.

"So to say that I couldn't do it is offensive because they didn't ask why I didn't sign it. They knew perfectly well what was going on in my life at the time."

Construction Trades Coalition treasurer Michael Ervin said Wisconsin law authorizes those unable to physically sign can authorize another person to sign on his or her behalf.

"Anderson's use of his disability as an excuse for not signing the recall petition should be offensive to everyone with a disability and the voters of the 47th Assembly district," Ervin wrote in an email.

The ad also questioned a campaign donation to Anderson, saying that "last month, he accepted a maxed-out campaign contribution from Walker's personal defense attorney."

The attorney isn't named, and the only people who fit the vague description of someone who contributed $1,000 to Anderson in June or July are Lawrence Biegel, an attorney from California, and Madison's Dean Strang.

Strang, who gained fame in the Netflix documentary "Making a Murderer" as the defense attorney for convicted killer Steven Avery, was an attorney for an unnamed petitioner in a 2013 suit seeking to stop the John Doe probe into alleged Walker campaign coordination with outside groups during the recall.

In an email Sunday, Arata-Fratta said the radio ad was "not something that I, or anyone with my campaign, approved of or paid for."

Anderson said he wasn't certain Strang was the attorney being mentioned in the ad.

"If that's who it is," Anderson said, "they should be ashamed of themselves."

Anderson said Strang has been a "good personal friend" who has helped with his nonprofit organization, Drive Clear, which tries to prevent drunk driving and help its victims.

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"He's just a good man," Anderson said. "To try to sit there and throw lawyers under the bus this way is offensive in a way, especially for someone who has gone out and defended people from all walks of life and has been a real champion for individuals and groups that have been under attack."

Wrote Ervin: "Anderson has now confirmed that he a close friend of Strang, who fought to get the John Doe investigation stopped. This fact should be deeply disturbing to Madison-area progressives."

The Construction Trades Coalition ad ends by saying voters "can't trust Jimmy Anderson to stand up to Scott Walker."

Anderson, who uses a wheelchair and whose supporters use the phrase "I sit with Jimmy," said he didn't know whether the "stand up" phrasing was intentional.

"But if it is, yeah, it's a gross way to phrase that particular attack," he said.

Anderson also took issue with a campaign mailer in which Arata-Fratta was critical of Walker helping only the governor's wealthy donors.

The Anderson campaign has pointed toward campaign finance reports that show several individual and committee donors to Arata-Fratta's campaign also have donated in the past to Friends of Scott Walker.

"It's unbelievable for someone to say that they're going to stand up to Walker donors when they're using money from Walker donors in order to make those attacks," Anderson said.

In response to a message seeking an interview to respond to Anderson's comment, Arata-Fratta said: "I don't want to make negative comments about my opponents to score political points at the 11th hour. My campaign is focused on the issues and about getting our state back from the failed polices of Scott Walker. I believe I am a proven, effective leader that can fight in the State Capitol for those left behind."

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Todd D. Milewski covers Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey and the UW Athletic Department for the Wisconsin State Journal.