Monday, August 8, 2016

MEDIA WAKES UP TO AUG. 9 DARK MONEY THREAT

By Dominique Paul Noth

Something I reported at DomsDomain  on July 13 has made mainstream media two days before the  Aug. 9  election – the emergence of dark money, though now we start to learn the volume of it.  Dan Bice of the  now Gannet owned Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on the main money players and rumors of half a million in combined expenditures. He also brought in other supportive groups that may not qualify as dark money.  But the fever of the campaign is  certainly heating up an already hot August.

DA John Chisholm now biggest
target of dark money.
The real target of the highest rollers is obviously Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, on the theory that the community is so upset at law enforcement right now they might be talked into taking it out on him.

That certainly seems the methods of attack. Republican money has cunningly combined black anger with Republican worries about the John Doe, which is moving into a US Supreme Court determination.  Of course, given Chisholm’s national leadership on community healing, his loss would be tragic.

My July 13 story named the other progressive favorites and the reasons to back them in many local races, discussing the outbreak of those mysterious flyers and radio ads. 

Then my next story  July 17 (picked up by many outlets) discussed the virtues of DA Chisholm and suggested he was the real target of the dark money, describing the motives and the financial fountain – Eric O’Keefe, who worked for Wisconsin Club for Growth and for Gov. Scott Walker simultaneously. He has fumed against the John Doe investigation of illegal coordination.

The other races his money is involved in are mainly camouflage for a virulent attack on Chisholm.

I and other journalists pointed out that these races were between the most progressive and the least progressive candidates. So perhaps it should not be a surprise that the biggest advertisers for the least progressive include  the impenetrable Leaders for a Better Community (with WNOV radio host Sherwin Hughes listed as the contact and his program and station receiving the most ads) and the right-wing blitz from Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance, operated by PR man Craig Petersen with money from O’Keefe and (only they know) whoever else.

Their support is heaviest for Verona Swanigan, Chisholm’s opponent, but their devoted subjects are using the vernacular of Queen to describe Swanigan and Lena Taylor, struggling to be re-elected in Senate District 4 against Mandela Barnes. Save Our Queens seems the motto. Wonder what the late Freddie Mercury would say to that.

Ads by the two groups are closely allied – aside from Swanigan they support  Thomas Harris, Taylor’s  former chief of staff, for Senate District 6 and Jason Fields for Assembly District 11, which Barnes left to take on Taylor (he beat Fields four years ago). Darrol Gibson is the best AD11 candidate, which the ads fail to mention.

Candidate  LaTonya Johnson, slimed in TV ad
This help for  Harris includes a TV attack ad that appeared during the Olympics aimed at taking down the most popular candidate for SD6, LaTonya Johnson.  It does not dwell on her admirable legislative record but on her personal bankruptcy efforts to keep her house.

Bice had a lot of fun with the fact that all three candidates for Senate District 6 had once filed for bankruptcy – Harris, Michael Bonds and Johnson. His story -- double entendre headline and all -- looks tame compared to this attack ad that supports Harris without mentioning his bankruptcy but throws everything at Johnson, even dragging in from nowhere a knee-jerk issue she has nothing to do with (bad lead pipes).  It should make sensible viewers want to support her more.

All this creates a  confusing picture for voters, which may be what the right-wing money machine is counting on. To the uncritical eye, Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance sounds like actual  members of the community working to build it up, not tear it apart.  In reality any  success on election day would be a deliberate rupture of the  newly organized and newly effective  Milwaukee Democratic delegation to the Madison legislature.

This right-winging has stirred up bile on the other side by the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, and John Chisholm for one wishes it hadn’t.

Reportedly with less money than O’Keefe commands but still sizable enough to do TV ads and mailers, Greater Wisconsin moved in to attack Swanigan in ways the sitting DA doesn’t like and has disowned.

“Some of the attacks on my opponent are also wrong-headed,” he wrote hours after the ads started appearing.  “She's absolutely wrong for the job, and does not have the requisite experience or understanding. However, there's nothing wrong with being a defense attorney. I respect and admire the hard work of my colleagues in the defense bar. No one should attack a lawyer based on who her clients are.”

While Chisholm has distanced himself,  Swanigan in contrast has embraced the third parties backing her and even echoes the acid thrown at Chisholm.  She has declined several debates but finally agreed to one in friendly territory Aug. 1 – Hughes’ radio show, where she openly suggested her election would be about “retribution.”  Knowledgeable listeners could almost hear O’Keefe pulling the puppet strings.

Much of this has been made possible by the US Supreme Court’s  2010 Citizens United decision. As the JS story rightly pointed out: “Corporations can spend unlimited cash on efforts to influence voters. Unlike candidate and political action committees, these nonprofits — most of which are organized under 501(c)(4) of the tax code — do not have to disclose their donors.”

I would add that labor unions and individuals who know how to bundle were also freed of restraints by Citizens United.

But Bice’s story may confuse some because it lumps all third party groups into the same dark box. Not so. One he mentions under the same headline and connectors is a political party that also supported Bernie Sanders, the Wisconsin Working Families Party.  Deep in the  story their leaders were allowed to point out that their money comes from liberal community groups and labor unions such as SEIU, so it is traceable.

Donors to the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund may not be known for months. Then  they will be known, and may clear up who is behind their campaign – but after the fact, which all journalists dislike.   Last spring, with help from County Executive Chris Abele according to news stories, the same group went after Sheriff David Clarke. 

Clarke meanwhile is doing robo-calls for Swanigan – bringing to mind the crushing letter about him Chisholm was forced to write two years ago after Clarke went on a media tear.

In contrast I can find no regulation that suggests the names of money-givers to  Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance will ever be revealed, unless they do it themselves.  So this is the truly dark money trying to sound like community advocates.

In my view, the Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance hopes to fool the black community into voting against Chisholm, dragging in some voucher friendly legislative candidates in the bargain. Of course, there will be some gleeful cross-over Republicans, but there always are.

I have also pointed out something the mainstream media missed – or has found no way to politely say.  There is a  glitch in state law that, if she were to win and  resign, Gov. Scott Walker could appoint a new DA for a full term, with the feelings of  residents of Milwaukee County shut out.  Swanigan has a history of medical problems. 

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

HOW KOOYENGA IS LOVING MILWAUKEE TO DEATH

By Dominique Paul Noth


Dale Kooyenga was generally taken apart by MTEA exec
Lauren Baker in an MU discussion that sure
looked like a debate.
If you wonder who besides Donald Trump is tone deaf in the Republican Party, meet Dale Kooyenga (Representative from Brookfield). He clearly regards residents of Milwaukee as untrustworthy children to be led around by uninformed outsiders like Dale Kooyenga.

It would be hard to find anyone as ill-schooled on issues of education while positioned to exert extraordinarily bad influence, as MTEA leader Lauren Baker revealed in a recent “discussion.”

(There is a rumor that Kooyenga has higher political ambitions, specifically Jim Sensenbrenner’s  seat in the House, but then again so does Wisconsin state senator Leah Vukmir. We may have to throw both into a chicken pit to peck away until Sensenbrenner decides to retire.)

Kooyenga is typical of legislators who say they love Milwaukee but not the decisions of its electorate. Read his now laughable explanation from two years ago opposing the streetcar,  advocating for more Madison interference in funding and taking credit for gains that should be spread around.  Yet it is dripping with love. He says he is working for Milwaukee and not against Milwaukee, so just give in.

There’s far more recent evidence of how his hug is the Night of the Grizzly. On Mike Gousha’s TV talk show July 31, Kooyenga totally misunderstood the strong negative  reaction toward his and Alberta Darling’s OSPP, the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program. That fanciful half-baked proposal (now law)  would take out of MPS hands a few schools identified as troubled (only it’s getting harder to figure out which are troubled since MPS is actually improving the usual suspects). They would be turned over for private school operation with state money by a commissioner selected by the Milwaukee County executive, currently Chris Abele.

Now every knowledgeable educator says a concept without a worked-out plan – and how about a budget? -- will never fly. That’s OSPP. And that’s why MPS offered an alternative that would benefit its education efforts. Everyone except Kooyenga and Darling (K&D)  thinks it’s a great idea and would preserve and enhance the MPS – an early childhood education center in the inner city open to the community and dedicated to best practices.

When Demond Means, that Abele appointed commissioner, learned that not only his plan but also this substitute would not fly with the bill’s authors (K & D), he resigned.  Kooyenga on Gousha’s show interpreted this as Means being “run out of town” not by K & D but by entrenched forces at MPS – rather than the thousands of parents and teachers who stood up and shouted OSPP  down. At several meetings it was like a Capra film. Seldom has Milwaukee seen such community uniformity and  involvement

This opposition called the OSPP what it is: Ineffective, unfunded and patently a takeover effort – another example of gutting local control and treating citizens as plantation slaves who need the master’s direction before they exercise their mental and moral faculties.

Meanwhile MPS chugs along improving schools to the point that Kooyenga’s targets keep shifting. I defy him to identify schools so poor they require a takeover as opposed to the ministrations of Superintendent Dariene Driver.

Of course, every self-proclaimed conservative visionary in Madison knows better than the Harvard educated Driver. They are just like studio executive Harry Cohn who once claimed that his ass twitched whenever he saw a bad movie. So naturally they have the monitoring asses for the educational universe while slowly but surely MPS is improving its educational ladders.

True to Harry Cohn’s behind,  Kooyenga pledged on the Gousha show that come next January, when the legislature goes back in session, he and Darling (from River Hills) will offer something “more aggressive.” He added: 

"What I want to know is, when are people in Milwaukee hungry for change? When do they say the status quo is not acceptable?" This from the incarnation of the status quo.

It’s a familiar arrogance past endurance.  It is also likely a hollow threat since there are elections in November that put half the Senate up for grabs and all the Assembly.  Kooyenga operates in the hubris that things will go unchanged politically. But he is Dale Kooyenga not  Dale Carnegie.

Events suggest he is spitting in the wind. Taking over the Assembly may be out of reach, given the GOP’s 63-36 edge but the Senate will go Dems if  the public gets irate enough.   Right now the Milwaukee public is that irate at how it remains a special whipping boy  for Madison meddling, without recognition that much of the state’s black population and jobless rate are packed into the city.

Dislike of the legislature’s heavy hand on education issues and funding is rapidly radiating across the state, as several conservative school districts will tell you.  

And the Senate (19-14)  is eminently flippable. It only takes three seats.

Kooyenga remains  a formidable threat only because city and county  officials are running scared of what crazy thing he might next do. Ald. Jim Bohl at recent committee meetings almost pleaded with his colleagues not to make the Madison legislature angry, lest they come up with something worse.

In reality, Kooyenga may  be  shooting blanks. He represents the heavy thumb that old-line common sense Republicans are longing to get away from. It may be high time to stand up to  his best shot, to quote “Hamilton.” 

But on education issues local officials are hardly profiles in courage.  The Right Step case has brought that  into bold profile. 

Right Step is being sued by what has now grown to seven parents and seven children for excesses in its boot-camp style all-boy military program,  now open to 154 students grades 5 to 12 at 8684 N. 76th Place (near Brown Deer Rd.  just east of the old Northridge Plaza). The plaintiffs’ attorney, Aaron DeKosky, tells me the case has advanced to the discovery phase.

Right Step wants to buy a former bank at 500 W. Center St., more recently a site for Head Start known as Centro Del Nino,   to open a similar school. But that requires rezoning. The building was owned by MPS and listed as one of its underutilized properties – but it was never a school where children walk the neighborhood, not with that nice liquor store across the street and the other commercial attractions.


Ald. Milele Coggs in a recent TV interview.
The Common Council, 9-6, approved the sale  – maybe because they feared that gun full of blankety  blanks. Most of the aldermen, even some who voted for approval, join Ald. Milele Coggs in disliking how Madison’s new law has taken away their ability to evaluate the quality or value of any charter or voucher school competitor that wants an MPS building. Only those voucher or charter operations are allowed to buy or lease one of the buildings (10 on the list) – which is bizarre in how it chills real commercial development.

The reason more aldermen are not upset is because the buildings are not stacked up in their territory. 

It’s an intrusive law, since MPS is known as a good absentee landlord and private operators offer a bit of upfront money and a lot of lingering doubts. Plus there seems an almost automatic pass-through of taxpayer money into their outstretched hands. 

The current Right Step,  aside from being sued by parents and investigated by the FBI, has a troublesome academic record along with its Heil Clarke mentality.

Coggs’ issue is not with the school per se, but the inability of aldermen to say anything but yes or no, the way the law is written. If it were not for the zoning issue, she points out, it would be full speed ahead despite the wishes of her constituents.

But local officials, and their lawyers at the city attorney’s office (which represents both the Common Council and MPS) are very squeamish about going to court against the right-wing money represented in the threat to opposing the law. 

This is actually more cowardly than Republicans are with taxpayer money.


AG Schimel has no hesitation on
spending taxpayer money.
The state went too far in its voter ID law, stretching its demands from driver license photo to limiting early voting and harsh strictures on what constitutes a proper ID. Appeals courts around the country have said so about similar laws. In Wisconsin two judges – both  federal in different suits --  have amended the law or ruled aspects unconstitutional (starting with November election). Yet  the state attorney general is spending on appeals – taxpayer money since the conservatives are in charge. He’s happily wasted such money before on issues he was clearly going to lose.  The city attorney’s office seems scared of any similar effort even as more courts are stepping in against these GOP laws.  

Coggs thinks many in her community would support court action on the MPS empty schools bill. Lawyers say there is a constitutional issue of local authority to fight for.  But when  the city attorney says don’t fight, the Common Council buckles. I guess it depends on who is risking taxpayer money. I also now  suspect that rather than Kooyenga’s OSPP law being threatened with local government court action – since it sure smells of overreach --  we’ll be subject to a similar crawl back into the shell.

Kooyenga could get a job in Door County because he likes to cherry-pick. Like when he said on TV about kids in Milwaukee, “40% of them are not even graduating high school.”

Let’s first clarify that most of the OSPP targets  are far lower than high school, and there is always a statistical lag between progress in  elementary schools and better graduation rates in high school. Few voucher or private charter schools even risk dealing with grades 9-12 – leaving MPS to absorb their poorly educated students.  Two of MPS high schools regularly rate in the top 200 of US high schools (Rufus King and Reagan) and several others are not far behind.

And while no one is happy with the graduation rates, Kooyenga – as did the McIver Institute in a similar story curiously timed to his TV appearance --  chooses what statistics to report, ignoring that the  state is a national leader in graduation rates.

In fairness, MPS schools are predominantly black, but that’s hardly the whole story.  In the latest 2010-2013 figures available for MPS graduation, it’s 58.3% for blacks,  56.4% for Hispanics but also  77% Asian and 74% whites.  So Kooyenga could have easily said 25% but chose 40%. 

The mostly black or brown  voucher elementary schools in Milwaukee  are now the feeders of  high schools, and many are worse than MPS and only a few are equal. In fact, the strong evidence emerging is that Milwaukee needs more integration rather than less. There’s nothing in OSPP for that.

Even in Mississippi, with an education system few want,  black students have a higher graduation rate from high school  because they are spread around the state in all schools. So white as well as black parents are fighting for fair funding.  In Wisconsin, the black  population is crammed into Milwaukee and each student receives some $1,300 less than a student  in Kooyenga’s  whiter Brookfield – and his ideas would make the gap larger.

Incidentally the large Elmbrook Schools administration building is for sale (the district includes Brookfield). Imagine how  that community would react if all-boy Right Step marched there rather than on Center St.  Kooyenga would never survive. He would be sent packing back to Trump University.


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

IS DA CHISHOLM RUNNING AGAINST A JUDAS GOAT?

By Dominique Paul Noth


 John Chisholm may  actually be running against
a right-wing plot, not a candidate.
In a previous commentary on why John Chisholm must be re-elected as Milwaukee County district attorney, I dismissed his Aug. 9  opponent as hardly worth the ink of writing her name.  I still believe that and I think Chisholm is so far ahead in community endorsements as well as national reputation that this is really not a contest. 

In the real world.

But then I had not realized the depth of her ineptitude, the fuzziness of  her resume and the extent of the  big money of Eric O’Keefe (furious over the John Doe probe led by Chisholm) and the orchestrated ministrations of his public relations cohort Craig Petersen, all  lavished inexplicably on a candidate who would never survive public scrutiny in office.

Knowing that she would never last – and never has -- led me to wonder why O’Keefe couldn’t find a better lawyer to run if he wanted to seduce the black community into blaming Chisholm for all of society’s ills.

And that led me to ask legal experts if, as crazy as it sounds,  this wasn’t a master plan right out of the right-wing playbook because of a quirk in the state law.

I am painfully aware that the  invoking of conspiracy theories, as I am about to do,   is usually the mantra of dirty politics from politicians losing badly.  Well, Chisholm will likely win big.  

The only dangers he faces are  unhappiness on the fringes of Black Lives Matter and mainly radio ad money – in a community dominated by influential right-wing talk radio – that could upset common sense and favorable public impressions. Those are being exploited, and it is important for the voters to consider the unseen consequences of their Aug. 9 vote.

Let me first outline how much Verona Swanigan has misled the public – not just her explanation for a little-known bankruptcy, not just her professed surprise that she represented an oft-fined landlord in nearly 300 evictions, not just her writing a book of erotic poetry,  as revealed by JS columnist Dan Bice.  

Her actual work resume is short on facts and long on insistence that she has “worked in all areas of the justice system from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections as a Probation and Parole Officer, Social Worker in Milwaukee at La Causa Wraparound, Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, Fresno County Public Defender’s Office, and private practice as a Criminal Defense attorney.”

Let’s pull that apart bit by bit since Swanigan has declined probing interviews.  The state department of corrections reveals she was a parole agent long ago for 15 months -- from “8/31/1998 to 12/20/1999.” That’s far scantier  than suggested by  the prominent placement in her resume. 

The Fresno District Attorney’s office reports  she was there less than nine months in 2006  as a paralegal.  (The Fresno Public Defender’s office – under new management after an ACLU lawsuit in 2013 citing widespread failures in representation – did not return inquiries.)

Her criminal defense experience is dotted with failures to appear, sanctions by judges and total lack of stick-to-itiveness, an essential quality for any DA. Hard, steady work is not in her repertoire and medical problems seem the reason.

Pore over the 55 pages of Swanigan’s 2012 bankruptcy filing. Much of her court problems indirectly unfold in the nearly half a million in liabilities ($448,508.62) with minimal assets. The bulk is mortgage and  Las Vegas property but below that in volume is a parade of unpaid, persistent medical bills (taking on new ones while still owing old ones) and collection agency debt that may or may not relate to medical problems. 

If this doesn’t blows up her qualifications, take a persistent stroll through her court records in California, Wisconsin and,  more rarely,  federal court, where noted District Judge Lynn Adelman once dismissed one of her cases “with prejudice” for her lack of follow-through. Examine the dearth of real trial experience. This does more than underline what Urban Milwaukee’s Bruce Murphy revealed in a recent column – she has minimal court experience compared to Chisholm. 

As a criminal defense attorney she has withdrawn often from cases both here and in California -- cited and even fined by the courts for failure to appear, racking up continuances and adjournments. The examples are a drumbeat --  more than two dozen docket entries documenting  such failures including several “no shows”  often coupled with case dismissals, sometimes turning the responsibility to perform back on fellow lawyers.  It’s always hard to read underneath the daily machinations of court proceedings, but this record is flat scary --  not only paucity in court  appearance but also chronic ineffectiveness.

Why would she have been picked to front the big O’Keefe money used to pay her heavy advertising in this race?

Why is she being supported by former alderman Michael McGee Jr. who blames Chisholm in part for the seven years he spent in prison for bribery? (That was actually led by a federal prosecutor with Chisholm’s office cooperating.) 

Solicitation for  votes on Facebook
Currently McGee  and Shalonda Ezell, a mother whose child was injured in a traffic accident, are on Facebook announcing they bought a party bus and have gift cards for people willing to vote for Lena Taylor and Swanigan (doesn’t this come close to the vote buying scandal that landed McGee in trouble 10  years ago?).
‎ 
Why is she being introduced to Republican women by conservative talk show host Vicki McKenna to encourage them to ignore their own party’s primary and cross over to the Democrats?  O’Keefe has spent a lot of money convincing Republicans that the John Doe was a “partisan witch hunt” – a case of saying an untruth so often and loudly that people believe it –and that’s part of what Swanigan is selling to Republican women far removed from the realities of the Courthouse.
.
Yes, she is a black woman from a respected Milwaukee family – but even with that, why should the militant sectors of the black community vote for her?  Are they that distrustful of a white district attorney who has reduced Milwaukee black incarcerations by 18%, has convicted dozens of police officers  and is striving mightily to reform the justice system and restore health, wellness and return from prison for the black community?

The frustration on central city streets  has a militant edge,  but is that embedded enough to play pawn to right-wing money? Or is her presence merely temporary?


O'Keefe has a history of working in the shadows.
I suspect temporary  --  that Swanigan is a placeholder for a deeper right-wing takeover of Milwaukee justice. Several independent legal experts believe my theory makes unsettling sense. They think,  given the history of O’Keefe and Petersen, “temporary” could  indeed be the master plan.

Swanigan is on record as complaining she is debilitated by Fibromyalgia, described as  “widespread musculoskeletal pain” accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. A top neurologist interviewed says it is a real disease and actually  a brain problem.

"People are disabled to some degree and the stress of full time employment generally leads to accelerated exacerbations of greater magnitude.  There are no known cures but chronic, ongoing cycles of exacerbations and partial remissions."

In simple non-medical terms, she is a setup for departure.

Apparently O’Keefe thinks  any black lawyer right now will appeal to the militant attitude in the community. And make no mistake, the upset over police relations is not just militants but captures a good portion of the black community in its emotion, sometimes outweighing  a more reasoned approach. I find any treatment of the black community as easily manipulated fools reprehensible,  given the constructive instincts and religious values within  that community. But then again, David Clarke keeps getting re-elected sheriff if faced by a moderate white officer in the Milwaukee police department.

We now arrive at that  quirk in the state law.

In the unlikely event she wins Aug. 9, there is no Republican in the race and she would be automatically elected Nov. 8 and take office early in January. Then she could resign for medical reasons and Gov.  Scott Walker would name a replacement.

This is the state law – Wisconsin Statute 8.50 – that most citizens don’t realize. The governor can step in and name a replacement for four years should the elected DA resign for any reason. No special  election, just four years of his choice.

Legal and political experts believe Chisholm will win handily but still found my theory  plausible, given the machinations of O’Keefe and Petersen in the past and rumors of a last minute ad rush. They have floated their own supposedly Democratic candidates or political coalitions against the party’s choices. They have attempted to influence city policy from the shadows.

This idea flowed naturally  to mind exploring her record. Still, I’m not big on conspiracy theories. I’m not connected to the Chisholm campaign, yet I worried that people who don’t know me would suspect a dirty campaign trick.

But Swanigan has been so murky about her qualifications, and so erratic in her court and financial records going back a decade, that her choice by O’Keefe and Petersen invites doubt.

Since I was born in Manhattan let me steal a line from Michael Bloomberg’s speech at the Democratic convention about Trump: “I’m from New York and I know a con when I see one.”


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

AS AUG. 9 LOOMS, FIXATING ON CONVENTIONS IS WASTE OF TIME

By Dominique Paul Noth

Donald Trump’s lengthy gloomy vision of America as he accepted the Republican nomination sounded, until near the end, like outtakes from “Kill Bill.”

It confirmed him as the nation’s darkest buffoon, a red-faced visitor to a sunless planet. But it took place in such gaudy triumphant surroundings of cheering fans, cascading balloons and well-spoken offspring from three marriages and multiple nannies that some may still not perceive how deeply untruthful was this wallow in the slimiest, sourest instincts of America.

That’s the worst thing about the heavy television presence inspired by both party’s conventions. They are hardly democracy at work but coronations – in Trump’s case a crown dipped in venom.   Perhaps the Democrats will succeed in not seeming so far removed from real life but will that matter?

The media thrives on conflict. Expect more time by TV, radio, print and Internet devoted to digging out contrasting views, failures and fumbles. It is doubtful that any other convention could have as many of those as the Republicans just did.  But television producers are praying for big stumbles or a convention so boring that they can complain about that.

All that time spent worrying about the conventions is pulling attention away in Wisconsin from the real opportunities for democracy in action.  Let’s face it – Wisconsin will have minimal impact, one of 50 states and one of the modest ones in population, on the national scene or direction. There are ample months left to realistically accept our role.   

But in the next few weeks the electorate can land enormous weight on the state’s future, district by district, county by county, city by city.  And given who is now in charge of the state government, the time they have chosen for us to decide – August 9 – is the worst imaginable for strong turnout and strong change.

What are you doing August 9?  Students of all ages are out of school and hoping for a break from using their brains.  Families are on vacation. Baseball, Olympics and nearby lakes beckon. Everyone feels lazy. This is the worst time to impose a schedule on yourself outside stern orders from your doctor.  Early voting is possible right now, but even that requires getting out of the hammock.

You’ll hear lots of justifications for the Aug. 9 date, suggesting the post office is so slow that sticky August is required to handle absentee ballots in time for Nov. 8. Even Federal Express will find that hard to believe.

Yet August 9 is a vital date for the electorate to change the face of Wisconsin. It is the date voters actually have multiple choices that either decide Nov. 8 races or permanently shape them. 

Statewide as we recently surveyed, there are numerous contests from the House on down that either limit or expand the voters’ horizons. 

Milwaukee County’s most important race determines if the unruly children take over the district attorney’s office or if the incorruptible John Chisholm can provide four more years of nationally recognized progress on justice issues.  

And as has previously been reported in detail, 575,000 citizens of the city of Milwaukee are facing wrenching choices within the Democratic Party, from coalitions of the least progressive to coalitions of the most progressive – and the least progressive apparently have the most dark money and secretive campaign methods. 

Whoever wins the Aug. 9 battle determines the direction of legislation.  

Sure, that national arena is always interesting or amusing. (Notice how Trump slid away from blaming all Muslims to saying we should not let in people from regions of the world “compromised by terrorists”?  From that wording, folks from France, Belgium and Germany had better give up tourism plans.  After carefully pronouncing LBGTQ as if  he never heard it before, he wants to protect them from foreign terrorists, while they want protection from the hatred next door – including Trump’s choice for VP.) 

Oops, just proved how easy it is to get sidetracked by national jokes. 

Ignore the conventions. Get all the information you can on local contests. There’s lots of work to do here at home -- in a time frame deliberately chosen to distract us from real change.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

CHISHOLM ONLY RATIONAL CHOICE – BUT THIS YEAR IS THAT ENOUGH?

By Dominique Paul Noth


Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm 
In a normal election year, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s opponent in the August 9 Democratic primary wouldn’t be worth a fleck of reporting space, not even the dot on a lowercase  i, so unprepared and ill-suited is she.

But this is not a normal year. Trump has taken care of that, as have other big money operators.  So have the state GOP machine engineers with their own brand of overreach – including packing the Wisconsin Supreme Court with their paid sycophants.

That court – accepting “evidence” that the facts refute -- halted the John Doe investigation into illegal financial coordination between Scott Walker’s campaign and the Wisconsin Club for Growth. 

More than that, frightened Republicans in the legislative majority have passed a John Doe amendment to make sure they never face such scrutiny again. They have declared that  the John Doe statute (once much admired as better than grand juries by requiring secrecy and a judge to oversee prosecutorial action) can no longer be used to pursue politicians or other (often related) “white collar”  crimes.

Chisholm is lead name among the state DAs who led that case, and three have now appealed to the US Supreme Court since so much of the “stop” John Doe decision seems to fly in the face of SCOTUS precedents.

Chatterbox Eric O’Keefe (who worked for Walker’s re-election and leads Wisconsin Club for Growth) has been the busy one-sided leaker of virtually all the public fantasies about this case, suggesting John Doe injured the privacy rights of the obscenely rich, and he still seems upset so many citizens have figured out what he was really up to, without being bribed into thinking ugly thoughts.

Now O’Keefe is trying to bury Chisholm, expending money and fury (both of which he seems to have in abundance) to deflect any resurrection of the corruption probe.

That means handing his pocketbook to local public relations friend Craig Peterson of Zigman Joseph & Associates who loathes the streetcar and Tom Barrett as much as Chisholm, a weird trifecta.

That means backing Verona Swanigan in how she dresses and campaigns, even getting conservative radio talk host Vicky McKenna to introduce her to North Shore Republican women as a cloud cuckooland knight to the rescue.  (Whoever wins the Aug. 9 primary is in effect the next DA, under Chisholm a hugely effective office of more than a hundred assisting prosecutors, from whom both conservative and liberal judges are often picked.)

[Updated author's note Aug. 6: As news reports warned, that dark right-wing money is saturating TV and radio  in the final days before the Aug. 9 election for  Swanigan, leading to some hard-hitting counter ads that the Chisholm campaign has protested and doesn't support.  There is also a wrinkle in state law that would let Gov. Scott Walker appoint the next DA if Swanigan's continuing medical situation forces her out -- and the public was made aware of that.]


Verona is black and has tried to tie herself belatedly to the movement against police killings of black men, which many feel sympathy for.  So the O’Keefe forces are trying to apply a double vise to Chisholm – right-wing money to fund her race and right wing money to capitalize on the fringes of Black Lives Matter.  

If I were the inner city community, I would be outraged to expect the black voters to fall for this canard. If I were a North Shore Republican, I would ask why Peterson wants me to cross over and vote in the Democratic primary.  This blandishment is not taking place among Republicans within Congressional District 1 on the south side.  That House seat has a hot primary race between challenger Paul Nehlen and Paul (I’m With Racist) Ryan. (I can’t resist inserting the NY Daily News headline into his name.)

Stop reading here if you don’t like Black Lives Matter in either name or intent – the issue as well as the term is a moment of cross-pollination and decision for white liberals.  There is much truth in African Americans’ belief that they are fighting a white supremacist system and have been for 400 years – and that law enforcement has not moved enough to rectify the meaning of justice.  The danger comes in blaming the DA for entrenched procedures, and not recognizing that it takes a strong DA to take upon himself the burdens of following the law no matter what emotions are telling you to think.

A further problem – the clear bias of DAs in other jurisdictions, particularly the South and among those hogtied to police sentiments.

As Chisholm has commented to friends, if one case came along he could win to wipe away centuries of racial injustice, he would be there. How many DAs do you know who have that desire? Or know what will work in court?

The lesson may now be unfolding in Baltimore. In response to personal and community fury, the prosecutor there charged seven police offices in the death in custody of Freddie Gray.  An African American judge you would expect to be sympathetic has tossed out every case so far, as a matter of law.  Passion seems to have led to overcharging.

There is also much truth that we hire police to act as instant judges on the street, where they face unimaginable pressure. Yet we also have a right to expect a higher standard from them of how they behave, given the higher favoritism they get in court considerations. Let’s not deny that police feel deep levels of fear on black streets and expect insulation in court verdicts, as many even moderate reporters and thinkers have observed

Does our society too easily permit this sense of isolation and invincibility we visit on law enforcement?  Or should they act even more ferociously? Political sides are muddled. Who do we ask to balance this? The district attorneys, for one, yet few have shown the empathy, ability and desire to maneuver these thickets as has Chisholm, who has reduced incarcerations in the black community mightily and has led many efforts to encourage a balanced sense of justice – sometimes taking the pressure on his own back rather than seeking to inflame the public’s desire for satisfaction. 

That requires a high degree of courage under fire. Knowing no side will be satisfied or supportive, he goes about his job with what judges and lawyers call bravery and distinction. I call it a vibrating inner moral tuning fork.


Nine years ago, as he has been many times since,
Chisholm spoke during Workers Memorial Day.
I have covered Chisholm throughout a decade in office and have come to see more than the prosecutor who puts drug lords and mass murderers in prison (a 95% conviction races in homicides). He has gone after criminal behavior in high places by Democrats or Republicans because he regards public office as a sacred trust particularly vulnerable to the perversion of money.  

What set Chisholm vibrating about shenanigans around Gov. Scott Walker was not the myths of vendetta O’Keefe is trying to sell voters. It was that moral tuning fork. 

That also struck me when viewing a Chisholm campaign video.  Usually these videos are mere ego self-approving, fulsomely one-sided.  But this one explores how much real difference Chisholm has made, aside from the testaments from almost every one who has worked with him.  It shows much of his core. 

Chisholm has been a leader in reform of judicial practices – alternative sentencing, meetings among perpetrator and victim, steps to separate curable addictions from criminal intent, consulted by the White House and in other national forums on criminal justice.  
Any judge will tell you such reform approaches don’t get far without a thoughtful DA.


He walks regularly amid the community rather that locking himself in the ivory tower Courthouse.  He was key to Milwaukee’s successful drug court and to using Sojourner Truth House to create a one-step center for family services in cases of domestic abuse, offender rehabilitation and family abandonment.  His tough law and order approach is equally tough on defining what is law and what is order.

He also has openly admitted these efforts aren’t perfect, though the statistics reveal remarkable success. Someday, somewhere, he notes, an offender will slip through the cracks and repeat. But he and other leaders of restorative justice and similar justice reform ideas forcefully and eloquently argue that this humane approach is working, and also saving a lot of taxpayer money. 

No wonder that a quiet, thoughtful international leader of restorative justice, former state supreme justice and county executive Janine Geske, was seen by the Swanigan team as too “biased a moderator” for a now canceled candidate debate on the issues. 

Along with lame excuses about canceling, Verona is on another apology tour of sorts. She is sorry she represented slum landlords regularly as a lawyer. She is sorry she struggled several times with bankruptcy.  She is not sorry she wrote a book of erotic poetry, though she may want to apologize for video selling it wearing a slinky dress and come-hither smirk.

What she ought to be most sorry for is simplifying the complicated issue of justice reform. It’s particularly annoying since Chisholm is one of the few DAs who has actually convicted dozens of cops and sent some to prison when the evidence warranted. 

The right-wing money attack was almost inevitable after the Walker case, though it deliberately ignores how many Democratic officials have also come under Chisholm’s gun for corruption and that his John Doe actions were completely within existing law (upheld by many courts).

But it has to pain Chisholm that right-wing money is being tied to left-wing anger (without the left knowing what the right is doing, apparently). 

Elections are worrisome even with such a clear difference in ability between the candidates. As a British economist recently noted after Brexit, “Democratic elections are always uncertain, since they tell us if emotion can be tempered by reason.”

If so, Chisholm stands alone.

Chisholm contest is countywide, but check were you live: Most city of Milwaukee’s legislative seats in Madison are up for grabs



About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com. 


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

MOST OF MILWAUKEE UP FOR GRABS IN AUG. 9 PRIMARY

By Dominique Paul Noth

A fascinating pattern emerges when you examine August 9 contests in Milwaukee. With some notable conflicts (voucher schools, castle doctrine, debt methods) all the candidates describe themselves as reliable votes on issues near and dear to Democratic hearts.

Today this is no longer enough. There may be times when working across the aisle makes sense, but these “reliable Democratic voters” who frequently do so either poorly explain themselves or tack to the right,  more to  accept the status quo than challenge it.

Constituents are toughening up. In community after community they want to sense a passion, a ferocity for the downtrodden, an intelligence with tactics, something deeper than social patter about general values.  They can still be conned by old allegiances, but who really speaks or knows how to speak for the people on the street, high and low?  Who really wants to be measured by accomplishment not rhetoric?

A fire for neighborhood needs is building in this election. It is no longer vaguely stabbing  at  the core issues the Democrats fight for in the Senate and  Assembly.

What the constituents want is that sense of belonging, despite fancy clothes and social parties required by etiquette, to the hearts and souls of long neglected children, schools, environment and communities.  It’s not change for change’s sake – in several cases it is retaining or elevating a proven commitment, not just any new face in the storm.

These sentiments underlie many Milwaukee races and explain why contests are erupting where veteran Democrats can’t yet grasp why they’re in trouble. Officials who once placidly believed they were shoo-ins have reason to fear an upset.


Mandela vs. Lena

Mandela Barnes looks like the face of change for SD4
Once upon a time, Lena Taylor was highly regarded by state Democrats and her senate colleagues for her energy  –  a graduate of my favorite MPS high school, Rufus King, a property rights lawyer, elected to the Senate in 2004 and every four years after, taking time to run for Milwaukee County exec in 2008 against Scott Walker (she lost by 18%), one of the 14 who fled to Illinois to block a senate quorum and force the Republicans to change Act 10 into a non-financial bill,  This action alone gave her oodles of speaking minutes on cable television.

Today’s Taylor is a far different creature – the peppy flirtatious manner more annoying than effective, the days long past when Emily’s List posed her with Gwen Moore and the late Tamara Grigsby as a female black trio to watch.  Things change. Remember 2013 just before her relapse and death, when the highly regarded Grigsby was contemplating a return to elected life? She  got unusually personal on Facebook and accused Taylor  of going to any lengths to "ruin my personal life and professional career."

Those  flights of rhetorical fury  with which Taylor  mouths off  on inner city issues?  Well, they no longer cause fear or create attention in Madison.  Some believe her work as a lawyer has diminished her progressive credentials. Journalists digging for truth have become furious at her tendency to talk her way around any issue they raise. Her personality positions have become controversial and testy – such as when she openly suggested that  Sandy Pasch, as a white woman, had no business running in AD10 (Pasch won), or  her two-step with the voucher school movement (whose campaign money dump into this race will arrive too late for this cycle’s financial reporting). 

Her instincts to drive a wedge between the black and white communities are still alive and being pushed today by surrogates, such as WNOV-AM talk radio host Sherwin Hughes, who rails against Mandela Barnes for something most political observers call astute – holding some fund-raisers in the more affluent and more politically involved Shorewood, part of Taylor’s district.

Anyone close to Barnes knows of  his visceral commitment to inner city issues and his dedication to effective solutions. But his common sense in a tough campaign only brings radio sneers from Hughes that “They’re buying something” -- on a station heavily accepting advertising from a group supporting Taylor that Hughes has been linked with,  the anonymous Leaders for a Better Community. (I called WNOV to ask for details and they offered nothing.)

Is this Taylor’s secret money group? It’s dropping flyers under the name Leaders for a Better Community -- and not just for her. Under the state’s new partisan ethics board, the public can’t begin to find who they are till next week.

The same printing style and name are helping the least progressive candidates in several races, playing on understandable but backwards-looking suspicion of all whites. At the time of Dallas, when Obama seeks to bring together Black Lives Matter and the killing of white policemen, pleading for shared improvement, these campaign cackles seem particularly regressive shout-outs to the black community.

Then there are Taylor’s  philosophical differences with Democratic colleagues, such as backing the castle doctrine that allows  home owners to shoot trespassers on sight in an era when the residents of Senate District 4 wish fewer people owned guns and were more cautious about using them.

In the legislature she is more known for starting fights than accomplishing results. Her once celebrated charisma has waned.  Otherwise she would not be under such notable danger from Barnes, who abandoned the Assembly to take her on – and seems likely of success.


Years ago on Fourth Street Forum, Barnes (right)
was considered expert enough on mass
incarceration to share a panel with DA John Chisholm
and Benedict Center's Jeanne Geraci.
I first became aware of Barnes when, as a young community organizer, he spoke on a Milwaukee labor council panel about runaway incarceration of blacks.  Soon after he became a social justice organizer for  MICAH, the interfaith group, and in 2012 against all predictions (except mine) he beat 8-year veteran Jason Fields to represent Assembly District 11. That was largely based on Fields’ support of voucher schools and payday loans, along with a seeming indifference to the progressive goals of his Milwaukee peers.  Fields became facetiously known in Madison as the Republicans’ favorite Democrat


Darrol Gibson
Barnes announced his shift to the Senate race in April  but filed notice of noncandidacy for the Assembly late. That did not help his handpicked successor, veteran progressive organizer Darrol Gibson. It opened the door for Fields to climb back in to a chorus of hallelujahs from right-wing talk radio and websites – along with another opening for outside secret money, this  new coalition that raises past specters of the tampering of American Federation for Children, voucher allies and dark money aimed at the inner city.  Many suspect that is what “Leaders” is really all about.

Gibson in contrast has gained widespread grassroots support with a platform that emphasizes an end to mass incarceration and improved public education.  He has been slogging away at such issues behind the scenes at many levels of government.

Barnes is friendly in person, but stoic compared to Taylor.  He works the doors with precise examples and controlled authority. Don’t underestimate his chops, lobbyists tell me – he is quicker to the point in legislative matters, where even Taylor supporters admit she is prone to ramble.  His effectiveness for Assembly 11 – which is within the Senate territory – is convincing over two terms. Almost out of nowhere his campaign has proven deeply rooted in the community and well organized. 

Even mainstream media recognizes that this contest is turning into a referendum on progressive values – Barnes the future, Taylor the fading past.  To that end the Working Families Party is among the groups throwing their full organizational weight behind both Barnes and Gibson.

Time for LaTonya



LaTonya Johnson -- moving up.
There is similar liberal enthusiasm for Rep. LaTonya Johnson who after a mere three years seems ready to elevate herself to State Senate District 6 – putting her support for replacement in Assembly District 17 to  another highly regarded progressive community organizer, David Crowley. Working Families supports both as do several groups like Wisconsin Jobs Now.

Johnson has notable shoes to succeed since in just four years Nikiya Harris Dodd (who is voluntarily leaving to raise her family)  learned the ropes quickly and became a strong player in the state legislature. Johnson may seem the inevitable successor because of how she identifies with constituents, but she has two curious obstacles.  One is a better known name in Milwaukee -- Michael Bonds, former chairman of the Milwaukee public schools board who also ran poorly for Common Council.  The other rather bizarrely is Lena Taylor’s chief of staff, Thomas Harris, who is benefiting as is Jason Fields from that curious flyer perpetrator, Leaders for a Better Community.  (Have you noticed how names mean nothing in this land of dark money?)   

Bonds’ presence in the race is mystifying since he has not demonstrated the sort of interest the community desires.  Johnson has. A former day care operator and head of the related AFSCME local, she boasts an organizational skill much needed in Madison.  She has spoken eloquently about helping children and standing up for corrections reform,  worker’s rights, women’s rights and economic justice – issues the legislature can indeed address.


David Crowley
She hopes to make even more noise in a fairly deaf senate. Her Northwest side district is home to many important neighborhoods  including much of Sherman Park, Lenox Heights, Enderis Park, Dineen Park and  Capitol Heights.

In her former District 17, Crowley has been working the doors hard for months. “You can't represent the people if you're not out there with the people,” he notes. He has also picked up an impressive array of endorsements – including former senator Nikiya Harris Dodd, Mayor Tom Barrett, the AFL-CIO and Working Families.


Token opposition


Elsewhere there are some token upstarts forcing races against established hard workers. Rep. JoCasta Zamarippa again has to fend off Laura Manriquez in Latino heavy AD8.  Out of nowhere, except a mental health meeting, Julie Meyer is tackling a stalwart of union and public school values,  Christine Sinicki,  in AD20, and it may be a sign of Meyer’s ineptitude that public school teachers are not supporting one of their own but embrace Sinicki, a longtime advocate for public education.  Over in Oak Creek AD 21, Teamsters business agent John Redmond seems to have massive support against one opponent in order  to take on incumbent Jessie Rodriguez in November. 

But there are also solid threats. 


Is Leon Young in Trouble?


Leon Young shouldn’t assume something from 24 years in office (his aunt, the late Marcia Coggs, helped him succeed her). After decades in a rapidly evolving district, Young is virtually unknown to many in District 16.  He is called a “reliable vote” aloud by colleagues but in private labeled “deadwood.”  To caring voices for the inner city, he has long been regarded as a major disappointment

He has sometimes faced no opponent and sometimes handily beaten others in a district that has notoriously shabby turnout– not the longed-for 18,000 but as little as 3,700. That has to change and probably will Aug. 9.


Edgar Lin's strong challenge
His district also has 53206, the ZIP code that signals extreme poverty and neglect. It is even the subject of a recent film and a center of outraged community brainstorming. Issues of mass incarceration and even economic development seem strangers to him, sneered colleagues (“Young couldn’t tell you which statute relates to criminal justice”). There is a quiet consensus -- Young has little to offer the Democrats but a reliable vote, often useful to trade.

The much vaunted Coggs political machine no longer exists though Spencer is city treasurer and Millele is city alderman, on merit not name. So this time Young’s best chance is that he  has drawn three opponents,  which might split the progressive vote.

Neither Brandy Bond nor Stephen Jansen has  drawn as much interest at the doors as Edgar Lin, a personable lawyer pointed out to me by several judges. But while he has distinguished himself as a public defender he sees his real calling as public service.

In interview and campaign literature he ticks off the problems and what he offers. “We need change. I’ve seen what neglect does to our communities. We’re worst in the nation for incarceration, jobs are gone, our public school funding has been gutted. I envision a Milwaukee where justice applies equally regardless of zip code.”

He even responded online after the shooting in Dallas and the deaths of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota: “We've seen what systemic oppression leads to all throughout history: Radicalization, and then, violence by the few. This must end now.” It is almost as if he anticipated Obama’s July 12 speech.

Lin acknowledges an uphill campaign hurt by two other opponents to Young, one entering late.  But he trusts the response at the doors in places like  Riverwest and the Harambee community. “It seems like an uphill battle but also very promising,” he told me.

Don’t Overlook Cabrera

The same optimism is riding another once unlikely campaign against Josh Zepnick in AD9. He has gone from strong labor and party support to a reputation as erratic and even quirky.   In any case it’s been a bad year for Zepnick, with a drunken driving conviction and a poor third-place showing against Ald. Bob Donovan despite the name recognition of 14 years in Madison.


Marisabel Cabrera
This time he is facing someone with a growing reputation for dynamism – Marisabel Cabrera, an immigration lawyer chosen by Mayor Barrett to sit on the Fire and Police Commission.  You can look out from anywhere in AD9 and see booming economic development nearby, but little affecting her district, which is one of her big arguments for change. She says the district needs someone leaning forward and positive – again, the argument that it’s not about the reliability of votes but the passion she lives.

A major Democratic figure and former legislator agrees. Interviewed about Cabrera and Lin, Gary Goyke noted, "These are the candidates asking the community to take a risk and choose someone who they believe can actually do something for the district.  Many in these districts feel they are in need of an active representative who can focus on local issues.”  

Commentator Gary Goyke
But Goyke’s analysis goes further looking at the entire city of Milwaukee. “Eight primaries involving some 575,000 citizens!  And only Sinicki and Zamarippa seem confident of making it through.”

“That means this August that SIX of the legislative primaries  are contentious,” he said. “The differences are certainly style but also actual dedication to the job, and an appeal to voters to expect more from their representatives. The incumbents are all more or less being challenged on that basis.” 

He’s talking about an earthquake -- nearly 10% of Wisconsin and some 468,000 voters in one city’s heavily uncertain races, probably the largest potential shift of legislative names in the state.

Here’s a discussion of those state races. 


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com.