A rolling tape on an answering machine caught an unsuspecting Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, saying he wanted to "smack around" a woman from his district after she hung up on him.
Clark, who is challenging Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, in a recall election, was making campaign calls last week when he reached the Baraboo home of Sue and John Stapelman.
The answering machine took the call at first, but Sue Stapelman then picked up. The machine's tape kept recording.
After Clark introduced himself, he told Sue Stapelman that he was challenging Olsen in the upcoming recall election.
Stapelman responded: "Yeah, and isn't that a crime."
She then hung up on Clark, but her answering machine kept the line open and continued recording.
Clark apparently did not know he was being recorded when, after a short pause, he said to his campaign staffer: "OK. I feel like calling her back and smackin' her around."
Clark apologized for the comment Monday.
"In a moment of frustration after a discouraging phone conversation last week, I made a clearly inappropriate comment to my campaign staffer after the call," Clark said.
"I understand the statement was completely inappropriate under any circumstance and I want to apologize. I am deeply sorry for any distress this incident my have caused for Ms. Stapelman or anyone in her family."
Clark said he has called and left a message apologizing to the Stapelmans, and hopes to speak with them in person soon.
John Stapelman said Monday he and his wife are not happy about the comment. "I think that was totally inappropriate and my wife thinks it was pretty inappropriate, too," Stapelman said.
He said he doesn't think Clark actually was threatening his wife, but the incident does not speak to Clark's character.
"We're pretty independent, actually," Stapelman said of he and his wife's political leanings. "I have to say in this current situation, I'm leaning toward the (Republicans) for fiscal responsibility reasons, in addition to what happened here."
Clark is challenging Olsen for his Senate seat after 14th District residents signed a petition to recall Olsen for his support of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's bill to restrict collective bargaining for government workers.
Stapelman, a nurse anesthetist at St. Clare Hospital, said he spoke with coworkers about the Clark recording and later received a call from the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
John Hogan, director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, went to Stapelman's home to verify the recording and make a copy. The Republican Party of Wisconsin issued a press release about the comment Monday and made the recording available on its website.
(A copy of the recording also has been posted at www.baraboonewsrepublic.com.)
"This disturbing and inappropriate comment gives us an unfortunate glimpse of what Representative Clark is like when he thinks no one is listening," Hogan said in the news release. "Domestic violence is a devastating problem in our state, and abuse is on the rise. To be able to so freely threaten violence against a woman, even in jest, shows a tremendous lack of character."
Sue Stapelman said Monday she didn't have much to say about the matter.
"I was just pretty much flabbergasted when I heard what he said," Stapelman said. "It kind of speaks to his respect for his constituents. He obviously doesn't have very much respect for the voters."
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