By Peter Cameron, THE BADGER PROJECT
The future soldier and politician lost his temper, and turned violent.
Dale Kooyenga tackled and punched a 17-year-old boy in 2000 during a dispute outside a summer party in Sheboygan. Now a 39-year-old Republican state representative from Brookfield, Kooyenga was 21 at the time police filed a criminal charge of disorderly conduct against him.
The incident has received little public attention. The assemblyman did not return messages seeking comment.
While at the party at Kooyenga’s Sheboygan residence, the minor victim got into an argument with his sisters and Kooyenga. Eventually, Kooyenga chased down the teen and struck him, according to the report from the Sheboygan Police Department. Officers noted the boy had a torn shirt and a black eye.
Investigators originally charged Kooyenga with a misdemeanor criminal offense, which carried a maximum fine of $1,000 and 90 days in jail, but he was allowed to plead no contest to a lesser offense of disorderly conduct. He paid a fine of $181.25.
Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative was apparently the first to break the story, though The Badger Project discovered it independently.
Kooyenga is trying to move up politically, running for the Wisconsin State Senate seat in the 5th District being vacated by state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), who is running for U.S. Senate.
The conviction is probably not a major blemish for a politician, said Joe Czarnezki, who served for 12 years in the Wisconsin State Assembly and Senate as well as in Milwaukee city government.
“I think generally, voters are willing to forgive youthful indiscretions,” the 63-year-old Democrat said. “Especially today, when people see what’s going on in the Trump administration, things that would have been major scandals in the past.”
“I don’t know if the public is becoming more tolerant, or just numb to what’s going on,” he added.
In an unrelated and more recent incident, police confronted Kooyenga last year when he was caught on security cameras taking a sign from the state Capitol building criticizing President Donald Trump and Wisconsin Republicans. The owner of the sign had received a permit for it and complained to Capitol Police when it disappeared. Kooyenga later returned the sign and apologized.
But that didn’t stop the man from filing a federal lawsuit against him. A judge had set a jury trial date, but Kooyenga agreed in April to pay a $30,000 settlement to the man. The state representative also said he would cover the costs, rather than allow taxpayers to do so. He did not clarify whether he would pay the settlement with his own cash or campaign contributions, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The assemblyman is a captain and intelligence officer in the Army Reserve. He deployed to Iraq in 2008 and was awarded a bronze star, according to his Army service record.
He was first elected to the Assembly in 2010.
The race for the Wisconsin State Senate seat in the 5th District, which covers the Republican-leaning west suburbs of Milwaukee, is a crowded one. Kooyenga faces a Democrat, Julie Henszey of Wauwatosa and an Independent, Joe Zwier of West Allis. The general election is in November.
The disorderly conduct conviction could come up in the fast-approaching campaign season, Czarnezki said.
“While the voters may be willing to overlook a youthful indiscretion, that doesn’t stop an opponent from using it against you, which is the more likely scenario,” he said.