With tens of thousands of protesters at the Capitol, and national and international attention focused on Wisconsin’s budget battle, a Whitefish Bay man has taken the helm of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
Brad Courtney was selected to succeed Reince Priebus as state party chairman after Priebus left the job to become chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Courtney, a lifelong Bay resident, said he grew up attending Richards School, Henry Clay School and graduated from Whitefish Bay High School in 1977.
He attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where he graduated with degrees in political science and business administration.
After working in Memphis for several years, he returned home to work for the family business, Courtney Industrial Battery, where he has worked the last 29 years.
He currently lives in Whitefish Bay with his wife Barbara and their three daughters.
Courtney said he inherited his interest in politics from his mother, who actively volunteered in Republican campaigns.
He first cut his teeth in politics working on Rick Graber’s 1990 state Assembly campaign against Alberta Darling, who beat Graber in the Republican primary election and went on to win the special election. Graber was later appointed U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.
Although Graber didn’t win the election, his campaign work did connect him with a young college student named Scott Walker. Courtney said he was in Walker’s wedding, and they are very close friends.
In 2007, Courtney worked as the finance chairman in Walker’s campaign for Milwaukee County executive, and he served as a senior campaign adviser and grassroots coordinator in Walker’s gubernatorial campaign.
Prior to his work with Walker, he served as chairman of the North Shore Republican Club, chairman of the party’s 5th Congressional District, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin and had a seven-month term as party chairman in 2006-2007.
Courtney said he didn’t run for re-election as party chairman back then because he wanted to have more time to spend with his three daughters, who were in high school at the time. While he was chairman, he also coached the girls soccer team.
Now that he has been elected chairman again, he said he has more time, as two of his daughters have gone on to college, while the third is a senior at Whitefish Bay High School. Locally, he is also involved with Eastbrook Church and serves on the board for Young Life.
The chairman position is unpaid, and Graber said he plans to keep his day job at the family business.
When Priebus left the seat, Courtney said never considered taking his job.
“When (Priebus) won, I never even thought about (becoming chairman),” he said. “Then Scott called me and said, ‘Would you like to serve?’ We prayed about it, and I told him the next day I’d be glad to do it.”
Courtney's term extends until December 2012.
Although he has been in his new post for only 11 days, he said he has already been hard at work having Republican supporters call Walker to voice their support for his controversial biennial budget and budget repair bill, which has drawn more than 100,000 protesters to Madison. He also has regular conversations with Priebus and Walker.
“I’ve been on the phone a lot more lately,” he said. "Let's just say that."