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How Grassroots Candidates Succeed: Meg Ellefson (WSJK) Interview

As TBOR Action and the whole of Milwaukee prepare to welcome the 2024 Republican Presidential candidates and tens of thousands from across the country for their first debate, President John Pudner sat down with leading radio host Meg Ellefson to not only preview tonight’s debate and the current Republican field prior to it, but also the work TBOR Action is doing across our Republic.

In particular, Pudner details the new leadership training program and the importance of grassroots activists, no matter where they come from or what circumstances they are in, to get involved in determining the future of their communities, highlighted through recent success stories such as Lt. Governor Winsome Sears and presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy.

To learn more about TBOR Action's efforts on topics including election integrity, please click here.

The following transcript from this interview is presented in its entirety with minor edits:


Virginia, Winsome, grassroots, republic, politics, win, Milwaukee, encourage, action.


Meg Ellefson and TBOR Action President John Pudner.

Meg Ellefson 00:00

My next guest during this hour is John Pudner. He is the President of Take Back Our Republic Action. Are you somewhere in Wisconsin right now traveling through the state?

John Pudner 00:31

I am. I'm in the liberal hub of Shorewood. Wisconsin. That's my base, right by Milwaukee.

Meg Ellefson 00:39

Is it really the Limousine Liberals over there? Is that who they are?

John Pudner 00:46

Believe it or not, we tied Madison as a 16% Trump locality. We're really on our own out here.

Meg Ellefson 00:54

Wow, isn't that interesting? Shorewood is quite a lovely suburb and very wealthy, so I thought that Republicans were the only wealthy ones and all those on the left were the ones that were downtrodden. It seems odd. When did that shift?

John Pudner 01:16

You know, I think...this id a good example, because 30 years ago, Republicans can win Shorewood when it really was kind of voting based on class, but obviously, things have changed, as the party has become more grassroots and concerned about the average person, ad that's not where the Shorewood demographic is.

Meg Ellefson 01:35

Let's talk about your organization. I know it's Take Back Action, is that right?

John Pudner 01:44

So, that's the shorthand, Take Back Our Republic Action is the whole name, we just often shortened it to Take Back Action. But, the idea is that the Republic has gotten away from ourselves, people aren't representing being represented for various reasons, the grassroots isn't, and so the Republic is a key word for us. We want to take that back where the founders had it to some degree.

Meg Ellefson 02:12

Well, and let's talk a little bit about your involvement in politics and what wat first inspired you. I always call it the racket of politics, John, because sometimes, I mean, and we briefly talked about this off air and via messages, but sometimes my greatest frustrations are within our own movement, and not even... The bad behavior on the left is to be expected, and I'd be surprised if we didn't see bad behavior from them, but to see it on our side is what has been most frustrating, and really, discouraging for me, because we oughta rise above it, and I think if we remain caught up in the mire of infighting, we're not focusing on beating our true opponents, which are Democrats.

John Pudner 03:04

I think it was good to come out of grassroots, which was my background. I started knocking on doors when I was 12 years old as a volunteer because a friend ran for office, just getting that door to door focus, or in rural areas, heavy work events, and I was really happy to go through 25 years of campaigns where I was always outspent dramatically because I was always working for a Republican minority and we were taking over a state legislature. We just didn't have money, so we're going to be outspent three to one, we had to figure out how you knock on doors, how do you work the fair, how do you find the place that people go to shop on Saturday morning, and through that, I flipped all three states in which I lived - Virginia, we took over legislature, went to Georgia, we took over the legislature, went to Alabama, took over the legislature, did Bush's national faith based in 2000 where we get 14 million names and church directories. It was just always grassroots and I think that's a better grounding then if someone came out just buying ads to send out to people. I'd think you'd lose the grassroots if that's your political background.

Meg Ellefson 04:17

Well, and you know, hearing about the victories that you've had over the years, and just really starting as local as possible, I think that has been more of a focus with with us here in Wisconsin, or at least in my circle, is that working on taking back these local elected offices, and being able to encourage and inspire those who start out in local office, like city council, town board, or county board, and then building a farm team for candidates to encourage to run for state office, and then potentially, obviously, then federal office. But, it's important that everything, and I would agree with you, begins at the grassroots level, because that's where we have the most impact and where we have the most influence in our own local communities.

John Pudner 05:22

That's right, you hit it right on the head. We actually have a separate sign-up sheet just for free candidate schools called, and that is for people who want to run for local office. I think, to isolate the real problem we have, the lack of a farm team, is there are 21 counties in Wisconsin that Ron Johnson won in a very close race last year, so it's a fair bellwether, and the Democrats control the local government in them, they have the majority, because they're always running for office and our people aren't. They don't think they can. I just encourage any of your listeners don't think, "Well, I know I can't run for Congress or governor", there are so many local offices, 1000's of them across the state, and the Democrats just show up and run, and we don't, so they win even Republican areas and control the local government, and as you said, out of these local officials, they have a lot of people who run for office, and then when the legislative seat comes open, they've got people who are trained, and we just don't, because we're hard working, but I just encourage anyone who can, whether you're young, you're retired, you're in between, think about a local office, whatever it is, and take a shot.

Meg Ellefson 06:37

I think it really does hinge on our involvement, and I think, unfortunately, those on the left are running for office year round, and even on off election years, I mean, they are always planning and scheming to take back an office or to take back their government, and we have to match that, and we have to work as hard as we can to beat that, despite the fact that we all have day jobs, too. Generally, and unfortunately, we don't have the funds, often, that those on the left do, and...I mean, it pours in whenever there's a statewide race. As an example, we just lost this state Supreme Court race, as you're well aware, and that was, in part, due to the fact that there was a lot of money coming in from out of state to support this very left leaning State Supreme Court candidate.

John Pudner 07:44

That's right, and for years, I've had people tell me, "Look, I'm focused on my job, or my running my business, or taking care of kids at home. I'm not going to get involved in politics", to which I say, "When politics and government gets out of your business, and your life, and your ability to be a parent, then you don't need to be involved anymore, but right now, they're coming for you, so you better get involved to whatever degree you can."

Meg Ellefson 08:13

John, it's almost to the point where it should be mandatory that every conservative-minded individual be serving in some way, because as you just said, we can all rest when the government leaves us alone, and we know that that's not ever going to happen.

John Pudner 08:34

That's right. My first legislator I worked for as just a Legislative Aide, and I was born in big bucks, I think it was $12,000 a year at the time, full-time job, but we'd always at the end of session...down south, they do first two months of the year, three months, you're in session, then you're out. We'd always send our newsletter the day we left saying, "You're safe again. Your family is safe again. The business is safe. All the legislators are leaving Richmond, Virginia", so that was a reprieve you got.

Meg Ellefson 09:05

Well, and interesting that you should bring up Virginia, because I've just read a really inspirational story about Glenn Younkin, the governor of Virginia, and I read information about him that I hadn't realized. I mean, he's characterized as a happy warrior. Have you had an opportunity to meet him in person?

John Pudner 09:30

I know his team real well, some of his cabinet members - my first boss, I was just down there again last week, is in the administration - I have mutual friends with him. I got tipped off a year before he ran by some of his big supporters who worked with him, and who said, "John, this is the guy." And, I hate to say I was envisioning Mitt Romney, just because he's so successful. This guy is charismatic, he's engaging, he was not Mitt Romney, he may have the same kind of money, and some polish, and connections, but He is charismatic, and the great thing is that he made everyone look good in Virginia. We occasionally have someone come out and say, "Hey, I worked with Youngkin, so I'm going to tell you how to do things in Wisconsin", to which my response is, "Youngkin made everyone look good. People have been losing campaigns, and came in and did things for Youngkin, now say they've got a winner", but he was great. He included everyone, he was politics of addition, not subtraction, and he really is a beacon.

Meg Ellefson 10:33

I think part of that is grounded in his Christian faith and his individual story. I think, immediately, someone jumps to the conclusion when they hear he's very wealthy, but he's self made. Part of the story that I read is that his father, unfortunately, was very unsuccessful in business, and it inspired Glenn to strive to be successful, and I think with the support of both of his mom and his dad, he really did. He got a college education, and then he did make something of himself. He's new to politics, per se. I mean, he hadn't run for any office prior to governor, isn't that right?

John Pudner 11:21

That's right, and I think that was an advantage of Trump, I think Vivek is seeing some positives are that. I had Duncan Hunter, was a congressman people had known years ago, and I talked to him once about how he ran for Congress. I asked, "Did you run for anything else?", And he said, "No, I had a master plan when I was young. I was gonna run for town council, then build up city council, and county executive, and my dad was in politics, and said, "Why would you make enemies at every level?" It was kind of a funny thing." I think executives are better as governors and presidents in general. ,It's different than legislators, a different talent to be a good legislator, I think.

Meg Ellefson 12:12

And this article from the New York Post, I finally dug it up, It suggests that there are those perhaps quietly talking about a presidential run. Are you hearing that same thing? Do you think that it'll become a reality? I mean, the field is pretty full at this point on the Republican side.

John Pudner 12:35

Yeah, there definitely are people who would like Youngkin to come in if it doesn't look like we're in a good spot in a couple months, whatever that means - if they feel like things aren't lining up or aren't lining up for a win - I think he's some people's kind of back-up. He's certainly got interest in it, and the funny thing in Virginia people out of state don't know, their elections are on odd years as opposed to even, so really the only game in town. The only trick for that is talking about him running next time would mean he's out of office for three years because the governor also can't succeed himself in Virginia. It's an old Thomas Jefferson rule. So, while some say that he should run in 28', that means he finishes up being governor and has three years where he's not in office. Now, maybe you just start running, but there are definitely some who would like to nudge him to run this time, others, of course, would like him to run for US Senate since that's a tough seat for Republicans right now, but I don't know, I think he's certainly a possibility in the back of people's minds.

Meg Ellefson 13:45

So I want to ask you this, and then I'll let you go, but since we're on the on the subject of Virginia, have you had an opportunity to meet Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears?

John Pudner 13:56

Oh, several times, she is wonderful. I mean, for any of your listeners who don't know, black marine woman that will say that she started as a Democrat, and basically realized how terrible they are, but she's fantastic. I like some of the real pro-Second Amendment people who actually have military experience to just add that to the equation, but yes, she's pretty blunt. She goes on liberal national TV shows talking about what happens if someone ever tried to break into her home, saying they won't survive that experience, haha. Winsome is incredible, but she's charming...she's just another one. I love just thinking about these diverse candidates and not to say no old white guys can ever run again, but every time you have some kind of breakthrough, like Tim Scott, Vivek, Winsome Sears, someone who says, "We're about issues. If you agree on the vision, and you love America, and you're on the side of businesses, and parents, and having good jobs, you're on our side. The other stuff that matter", So, she's a great inspirational story, I think.

Meg Ellefson 15:02

I think that there is a winning formula in women running for office. I think that's something that we should encourage more, and I think there are definite advantages. Of course, I'm not an affirmative action supporter, but I do believe that, if we can encourage this as much as possible on the Republican side, even starting at the local level, I think we'll have success. As you said about Winsome Sears and her winning formula, I remember we were all reeling from the results of the 2020 presidential election and then people, I guess, claiming that Republicans would never win an election again. But then, in 2021, both Glenn Younkin and Winsome Sears were elected as Governor and Lieutenant Governor, and I mean, that was a beacon of hope for Republicans and for the future.

John Pudner 16:14

And the third part of that was the attorney general Jason Miyares, who is the son of Cuban immigrants to the country, so talk about a coalition!

Meg Ellefson 16:23

Well, I'm gonna do a shameless thing and ask if you can connect me with Lieutenant Governor Sears because I am planning with our group called Get Involved Wisconsin, where we encourage people at the local level to get involved, whether it's running for office, or just participating in the process by going to county board meetings and city council meetings, and paying attention to what your elected leaders do, and we're getting some of the details in place for an event in late October called the Conservative Women's Conference, and it would be a wonderful addition to our lineup of speakers to have her there.

John Pudner 17:09

I will make every effort. A lady by the name of Diane Cullo on our board was one of the first overseers out there, and I love that you're doing that. It's so crucial, and I agree, so I may be setting expectations, don't hate me if I fail to come through with her being there, but I'll make every effort.

Meg Ellefson 17:28

I had to ask. John, will you find yourself at the debate tomorrow night?

John Pudner 17:39

I sure will. I'm actually, believe it or not, going with the Vermont GOP chair, it's gonna be great, because, you know, leaders from around the whole country are going to be here and they all want to kind of see Milwaukee. They're looking forward to RNC next year, the ones who haven't been here, and look, I love what what the area has to offer. I know some people more in the central part of the state think that it's not really a big city, but as far as having to have a convention, a big city, this is sort of a preview of next year, so I'm excited and will be there mingling with people.

Meg Ellefson 18:15

I know that our paths did cross at the Republican convention this past June, but I will be there too, so we'll have to try to connect in-person.

John Pudner 18:38

I will keep a lookout for you. That would be great.

Meg Ellefson 18:41

All right, thanks for joining me, John Pudner again, he's with Take Back Our Republic Action, takebackaction,org. It was wonderful to talk with you again. And I hope you have a great day and look forward to seeing you tomorrow at the debate.


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