Wednesday, November 9, 2016

WHAT COUNTRY DID YOU WAKE UP IN?

By Dominique Paul Noth

I wonder whether the nation woke up in shock or glee Wednesday. Whether real or not, regardless of the messenger, even regardless of the message, the desire for change was so palpable that the voters were willing to overthrow the Constitution, the interlocked branches and the historical nature of government. Because without doing that, almost  every promise Donald Trump made is unworkable. And the world will reel while he tries to figure it all out.

That sounds harsh, but no other conclusion is left. Trump made an unusually controlled and complimentary victory speech, saying he would deal fairly with everyone, but he had to be hoping the audience would still believe  all those things he had said about Mexicans, Muslims, his sniping at the press and at Republicans who disagreed with him, since this was what endeared so many to him in the first place.

Perhaps they will forget his pending trials for fraud and sexual abuse or his hidden tax returns because, really, could that be the real him? Could he have been elected by the world’s greatest democracy if that was the real Donald? Or was the real Donald the one promising to preserve the Supreme Court, the one promising jobs and more ferocious dealings on immigration, terrorists and trade, the one who would know how to throw America’s weight around.

Half of the citizenry stood aghast at what had happened – no crack in the glass ceiling, no balance to the Supreme Court, no freedom to marry whom you love (a pet peeve of Mike Pence), no work on climate change (heck it doesn’t exist), no campaign money reform, no future for Planned Parenthood, a supermodel whose naked pictures fill the Internet as First Lady, a victory midwived by Vladimir Putin, the FBI director and an enthralled media.

The other half is probably happy – they no longer have to hide from pollsters who they were voting for.  They  may not quite see they had committed to a Barnum salesman who  would need  a different form of government than a democracy to deliver some outlandish promises.

Brace yourself.  Not only was the Democratic Party dashed, the Republican  Party was equally devastated. Rudy Giuliani, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump Jr. and Ben Carson will now dominate your living room when Donald doesn’t want to supply the outrage on his own. We’ll be lucky if he doesn’t blaze a big TRUMP neon on the White House.

Brace yourself also for both the forgotten side and the bigoted side of white America to enjoy its last time at the top, because the march of demographics is irreversible, even if they find a way to deport 11 million residents.

Rail how you will that the votes can be blamed on  too much television illiteracy and other forms of ignorance, on the media’s failure to comprehend that some  college educated white voters went to very bad colleges.   The vote is the vote. The electorate must have wanted exactly the brash, nasty, in-you-face agent of change. Even those who didn’t like his words put that aside, as if the words didn’t stigmatize his character or his pledges. As one Trump voter told a TV interviewer, all men talk like that. 

Voters suffered this same short-term memory in 2010, where the electorate forgot the time capsule of FDR.

What does that mean? FDR, if you read history, took over the presidency three years into the Great Depression. By then the public was prepared for  emergency action,  even demanded it of the president.

But most Americans didn’t suffer that badly under the Bush years. He may have caused the Great Recession, but he left it to Obama to patiently solve it. The public was still absorbing pain.  Most had never experienced so devastating an economy, so their votes took it out on the president despite his slow steady repairs. Couldn’t he make the income, the jobs, the flourishing mortgage industry return?

In reality his progress had been considerable by 2016, wages were finally rising and Obama’s favorability ratings are higher than Reagan’s or any other president. But even today the electorate’s patience had not improved, the pace was steady but too slow in their frame of mind and they were primed for someone who pointed out the problems again and again, with exaggeration and no solutions.

They do not see they are acting as victims and seeking scapegoats.  But there’s also what Obama himself suggested two years ago about another Democrat succeeding him. The public, he mused, “may want that new car smell.”

Hillary Clinton thought the economy’s improvement was self-evident and offered detailed plans to pick up the torch and run with it – not the bravura of Trump to solve everything.  She knew the emails and Benghazi were simply a political distraction and thought the public would also see that, underestimating how powerful were the four years of negativity the GOP was pasting on her when they realized she would run for president. So she talked sense and policy about the economy, feeling it would be enough to remind voters of what Trump said and stood for. She never expected their hatred of someone out of office for four years would be that potent.

I didn’t see it coming – even hoped for a progressive wave.  Especially  in Wisconsin. Despite the iron grip of conservative money and control, what I saw were the small towns that have seen their schools struggle and their roads suffer under the GOP regime, the agriculturists and dairy farmers who desperately wanted a solution to the immigration issue that would keep their operations thriving.  Wouldn’t they stand up finally and vote for that kind of change?

But not only did the Democrats not pick up seats in the state legislature, two of their incumbents lost and some easily superior candidates were thrown away.  Ditto Congress, where no honest person in the state can say things have been improved in D.C. by who was sent there. Even those sent there are going to find it difficult to work with this president, in between struggling how to explain things to him.

My historical optimism?  It’s not present in this column, which may be dismissed as sour grapes by those who will all too soon learn what real sour grapes taste like. It’s really a diatribe of profound sadness, thinking how much work lies ahead to return the nation of Lincoln to equilibrium. 

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. 


Friday, November 4, 2016

NELSON STANDOUT IN 2ND MOST WATCHED RACE IN WISCONSIN

By Dominique Paul Noth

Tom Nelson could be Wisconsin's
most important new gift to House.
Next to the Senate contest between former holder Russ Feingold and GOP curiosity Ron Johnson, the House 8th District race is the most watched face-off in Wisconsin. It has national implications while explicitly revealing the danger Donald Trump represents to his own party down the ticket.

Several races in Wisconsin reflect the generally sour mood of the US electorate in fascinating ways.

This is the state where the Republicans in the primary ferociously rejected Trump after a talk media campaign in favor of Ted Cruz, while Democrats went for Bernie over Hillary. Yet Republicans I spoke to admitted then they had no love for Cruz just profound distaste for the Donald, who later swept over Cruz like a wild river.  Democrats in contrast were hoping Bernie would keep pressure on  Clinton from the left and are now upset that his younger enthusiasts are not coming around as they anticipated.

Even today, strong “never Trump” statements stem from the state’s best known right wing talk radio host, Charlie Sykes.  To the anger of many Democrats who feel Sykes is equally divisive as Trump but only on local issues so the national media never notices, Sykes has been elevated by MSNBC of all cable outlets into one of its frequent guests. But that’s   largely because he is an outspoken conservative who loathes Trump at length. 

Support for Trump is clearly lukewarm from the state GOP, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and even Gov. Scott Walker, who made his own feeble run for the presidential nomination. Both say they will vote for Trump but Ryan won’t campaign for him, though Walker recently did. Both Republicans and Democrats find their stances evasive if not two-faced.

The Trump resistance comes at a time when he is trailing Hillary Clinton in the statewide polls by 6 percent. But his campaign still regards Wisconsin as a necessary win. Further working against him is that Republican Rep. Reid Ribble, while abandoning the 8th District race for the House, is featured in Clinton TV ads as a prominent Republican who says Trump has disqualified himself from the White House. (He is immediately followed in the ad by Sen. Susan Collins.)

This split in GOP thinking is most notable right now in the race for Ribble’s successor.  Running on the GOP side is Mike Gallagher, whose only credentials are his military service.  You might think he’d enjoy a bump given Ribble’s outspoken opposition to Trump, but no maverick is Gallagher, more the dutiful soldier to the right. He has flatly supported Trump – and when challenged says he was sure Trump “would appoint strong people around him.”

So. He envisions a weak president saved by strong subordinates, but does anyone watching Trump think he would ever listen?

As I pointed out in another column, Gallagher is being propped up by huge advertising money and by slicing a debate video to make it seem that Tom  Nelson was questioning his battlefield courage when it was clearly about his evasiveness about Trump.

He is facing in Tom Nelson a Democrat often touted for bigger office, partly because of his atypical success in regions where Republicans have frequently won.

Only 40, and still looking a bit like silent movie star Harold Lloyd dangling dangerously from a skyscraper clock in “Safety Last,” Nelson already has quite a distinctive career.  He won election to the state Assembly out of Outagamie County (northeast Wisconsin, county seat Appleton) at age 28 and four years later was named by his fellow Democrats as Assembly majority leader. In 2010 he joined Tom Barrett as lieutenant governor in the race against Walker, which they lost.

But shortly afterward he beat out a well known Republican supporter of Walker for the nonpartisan seat of Outagamie County Executive, an influential position that has allowed him to elevate his administrative reputation.  Out of this he decided to run for Ribble’s seat.

There is little polling in this race, but Nelson is apparently going strong even among Republicans at a time when northeast Wisconsin is generally conceded to Trump because of rural dislike of urban Democrats. Nelson, with his still boyish appearance and clarion policy statements, seems to have conquered that. As Assembly majority leader and again as Outagamie County Exec, he has a proven record of progressive interests, bold action and fierce frugal government.

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, November 3, 2016

TWO WALKING DEAD BELIEVERS FACING WISCONSIN AX

By Dominique Paul Noth

This Nov. 8 election will likely seal the coffins of twin zombies – the misguided ideologies that have been the controlling falsehoods of the Donald Trump and Ronald Johnson’s campaigns.

Zombie One:  All the country needs is a businessman at the  top to get us out of the mess the world has become.  (Ludicrous Corollary: Sure, Trump is horrible, obscene, gross,  but Hillary is worse.)

Zombie Two:  Being a career politician, rather than signifying public service at its best, automatically means corrupt and hateful person eager to be enslaved by Washington gridlock. See Ludicrous Corollary above.

(We’ll leave aside the irony that Hillary Clinton, who has been out of office for four years, is painted as the ugly politician while Johnson,  the Wisconsin senator who gives way to every political bidding of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, still tries to sell the caveman message:  “Me businessman good,  Feingold politician bad.”)

The businessman argument has become the timeless ploy of corporate candidates, suggesting that because they survive by all means necessary  in the jungle of profits they are the ideal for success in the public environment, where choices for the people without concern for profits are the hallmark. You take one look at D.C. and you could think (without deeply thinking) that someone from the outside is needed. That hope elected  Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush the second and Obama, all regarded as outside knights to the rescue. Now Trump hopes the electorate has lost its head even further since all of those had careers as politicians.

“What this country needs is a good businessman.” You often hear Trump  voters say that despite evidence of his inadequacies and  even as their jobs have been stolen more by business maneuvers than trade deals or environmental demands from D.C.  The electorate always needs a scapegoat and right now the most successful president of the last 30 years is tagged you’re it.

That  oft-heard complaint – “we need a businessman” -- neglects how government has long mastered business tools better than the private sector has – indeed businesses turn to the government again and again as models of statistics, data and economic forecast as well as weather forecast. The proficiency of government is evident in the low-cost administration of Medicare and the high-speed reaction of first responders, who almost inevitably are government trained and licensed. Would you really fly on a plane if the government wasn’t overseeing?

Not only businesses but people rely on government regulations in all sorts of areas – food safety, drug safety, worker safety.  Businesses may occasionally struggle with those, but not the public who wants more in the way of food and drug oversight for sure, recognizing that commercial farms, supermarkets and pharmaceutical giants are the worst offenders if left on their own. The clamors are equally loud when worker safety regulations are violated for profit.  Day in and day out, hundreds of regulations guide our lives – from driving on the right side of the road to who wires our buildings. 

Nor do the conservatives do much about the regulatory mess of the tax code, a complex muddle that allows teams of corporate lawyers to dodge taxation and stop lawsuits over profits moved overseas. Everyone agrees the code warrants improvement, but the stubbornness emerges on the conservative side when you try to unravel business loopholes and on the other side when their lobbying groups get busy. Except with Clinton in the White House and the Senate back in her party’s hands, the head of the banking committee becomes Bernie Sanders, a bulldog on revising the tax code.

No, the main GOP objections to regulations fall in two areas – environmental rules and small businesses, though the Democrats have supported the small business concerns of simplifying  for years. Part of the complexity there is that while small businesses create most of the jobs, they also cause most job losses as businesses fail, and many of the rules are about that seesaw. 

The environmental objections are often inflammatory on the stump and exaggerated in reality, because the government is trying to limit toxins and reward companies that also do. Both activities require precise measurements, extensive records and red tape. We can argue about the details but not about the need to protect the environment, which makes the attack on the EPA way too simplistic.

Donald Trump demonstrates how the trickeries and boastfulness of his real estate world are the last things the White House needs. But perhaps he has dealt a death blow to the image of a businessman savior.  The good administration that public service demands and the concern about the taxpayer money are vital issues, but come on! Strengths in one area doesn’t necessarily transfer to another.  If you want to talk care with money, how much bang are these CEOs getting for their outlandish political bucks?  The gamesmanships involved in business may not even be welcome in public office. 

The politician  zombie is more difficult to kill, because there have been career office holders who have abused that privilege.  But there also have been thousands in both parties who haven’t.  The nature of government requires people willing to serve for sometimes comfortable but seldom remarkable pay, people willing to give up their normal sense of privacy and master complexities of legislation, both local and national. No wonder real business geniuses shy away from public service. 

I became more aware of the power of this zombie when the electronic media was stretching every report in the last week to find and include undecided voters (at this stage?) or unique first-time voters. They found several -- one a 69 year old woman who claimed she had never previously voted (what?) and was  big on Trump.  She said all men talked like he did (even when not wired on a media bus or preaching at rallies, I guess) and that best of all “he wasn’t one of those politicians like Clinton,” using the politician word as if she had just stepped into something nasty.

Enough politicians have been corrupt or lazy to give that vision some basis. But those examples have been hyped over the reality of how most politicians behave and why their practiced methods are vital in a democracy. So I for one hope that our next president is a good politician and has  a supporting cast she can work with.

It’s important to point out that the best of our politicians have a record of sticking with their own principles ahead of party loyalties, and sometimes ahead of their own constituents who may be stampeded by current events.  They also work  across the aisle, making deals and compromises to move forward.  There are more occasions for that kind of decent compromise than voters may realize. 

Curiously enough, two of the best at that when they’ve been in the Senate were Feingold and Clinton. Which is why they are expected to win.

The power of those zombie beliefs are strong enough to rise and walk again on another day.  Such misconceptions will always be with us. But it would be shameful to let them stagger toward the finish line this time.

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, October 27, 2016

CAN UNSEEMLY $$$ FLOOD SAVE GOP DOWN THE BALLOT?

By Dominique Paul Noth


Late and ugly ad blitz trying
to pick away at Feingold.
You wouldn’t know from the advertising blitz screaming at you. But the  Republicans clinging to – or tolerating - - Donald Trump are in big trouble with voters. Like the Obamas and Joe Biden, the electorate wants to take not just the candidate but anyone who supports him out behind the gym.

The fear of that paddling explains this spurt of secret money. Third party advertising has stepped in hard, knowing that Trump and his allies have turned off any faucet and are floundering rather than thinking of helping candidates down the ballot survive. Even solidly conservative commentators have abandoned Trump, wondering how any in the party can still support him.

Wisconsin is a particular hotbed. The Democrats are hard put to combat this unmatchable outlay. In fact, many Democratic  campaigns are candidly scrambling in the face of the avalanche of late anonymous money for GOP candidates not running for president.

Hillary Clinton’s clear advantage has run into an artificial wall -- not of Trump’s building but of  financiers who quietly hate him but also want to stop her bills that might cut into their amoral profits. So down the ballot they are trying to salvage seats important for her control of Congress and also important to correct misshapen state houses across the country.

The top anonymous spending in Wisconsin goes to the campaign to prop up Sen. Ron Johnson, who is losing in all the polls but dominates the airwaves with polished ads – some family friendly, some openly gruesome -- accusing Russ Feingold of being a political insider (ignoring his actual record in the Senate), even  accusing him of abetting Iran in nuclear proliferation, one of the sickest misdirected ads in the heritage of “Daisy” back when LBJ ran against Goldwater.

This ad tries to equate the 10 years the pact lasts – providing plenty of time to work on Iran’s internal politics – to the 10 seconds that can be counted off by schoolchildren before the nuclear bomb explodes.  It’s either frightening or laughable depending on the TV audience.

As JS columnist Dan Bice reported, it took only five rich Republicans to dump $1.7 million into the advertising coffers of Johnson (television and radio), which is partly why you can spin the dials in vain. Every stop brings an ad slamming Feingold. 

Their effort was led by $1.3 million from ABC Supply’s Diane Hendricks, the Wisconsin billionaire who also gave a million to salvage Scott Walker.  The Koch brothers are also reported to be separately dropping big money into Johnson’s third party pockets.

Interestingly Johnson is not part of the panicked GOP effort in six senate races,  rushing in  $25 million (the most going to Nevada). So national Republicans, it seems,  have given up while roof supplier Hendricks is trying to build a shed for Johnson to hide under. 

The main culprit still backing Rojo, Reform America Fund, is a right-wing super PAC headquartered in Black Creek, Wis., with many Wisconsin ties including  the late Terry Kohler (he died in September) .  Perhaps not coincidentally, the group’s  FEC filings leaped from zero in August to $1,723,095 in October and it is now upping the frequency of its filings.

Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers creation, is fielding reports disguised as news stories  several times a week attacking Feingold and meanwhile sinking money into state Assembly and Senate races. 


Tom Nelson also under ad attack.
Tom Nelson, the popular Outagamie County executive,  is  seeking Reid Ribble’s House seat (Congressional District 8)  and has been doing well on issues.

But suddenly the GOP’s unknown Mike Gallagher, who is wrapping himself around the American flag and Donald Trump (a reach of unusual girth), is receiving nearly $1 million in secret money, forcing Nelson’s campaign team into emergency counter-revenue-raising. 

Recently, probably using this money, Gallagher’s campaign chopped up a debate video to make it sound like Nelson was questioning Gallagher’s courage as a marine when Nelson was attacking Gallagher’s inexplicable support for Trump.  See for yourself.

The Nelson campaign (which I had ahead anecdotally even in an often Republican region) is disturbed how money  alone is closing the gap in a  swing district. So they have made the opposition money a key to their campaign plea to voters: “Friend -- We have the chance to win our swing district here in Wisconsin on November 8. But outside money is threatening our chances in the final stretch” goes one plea through ActBlue.

In the same territory, popular Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen looked pretty safe in District 30  until money and partisan attacks came charging in against him in the Green Bay market. 

Mandy Wright
Mandy Wright, seeking to reclaim her Assembly 85 seat, is being similarly burned not as much in air time but in fliers and phone calls, the traditional way to spread falsehoods in this region.  These are not only from AFP but American Federation for Children, again getting into many local races despite its pretense of being a national voucher school advocate. Its main money distributor in Wisconsin is Scott Jensen, whose conviction in past ethics probes signals his campaign style. For years, many of AFfC’s ads have been the lowest forms of political behavior.

AFP and AFfC are also pouring an amazing $800,000 into state Sen. Tom Tiffany’s search for survival in state Senate District 12 – and that is astonishing.

Votes looking up for Van Stippen
It signals understandable fear over the attention being drawn by Democrat Bryan Van Stippen who was once considered way behind but is making headway not only on general issues but also on Tiffany having the state senate’s most dishonorable voting record on environmental concerns. Van Stippen also held a recent fund-raiser in Milwaukee.  Northeast Wisconsin has long been considered the lone area of the state remaining strong for Trump but if that is changing all manner of things are newly possible. Van Stippen’s campaign is actually looking up after the attacks, according to several knowledgeable residents.

Despite Trump’s steady decline in most of the state, the Republicans hope the old game of money, money, money can keep them competitive.

It is an unusual situation. Trump’s own campaign is not raising money for today.  Those few national Trump ads you see are lingering third party sores. But big spenders (who like not having their names known) are force feeding money into the last week of the election for Republicans down the ballot.

It’s touchy separation – how do you distance yourself from the Donald without offending his hard-core supporters? How do you convince the growing chorus of Trump detesters in your own party that you did not help cause his elevation?  (Because you know you really did with your own rhetoric and preferences.)

The Wisconsin battleground has become even more volatile since early October when I outlined the state senate possibilities and went district by district with maps on the best chances for Democratic pickup in the Assembly.

Now I have to add another to the Assembly takeover possibilities if this indeed turns into a wave election for Hillary Clinton.  I neglected and shouldn’t have:


Nanette Bulebosh
Assembly District 27: Straddling Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties with about 57,000 residents, the district was a stroll two years ago for first-time GOP  Rep. Tyler Vorpagel, who picked up support from an incumbent who decided not to run.  Things are changing now, to the point that Nanette Bulebosh, an education and library specialist who has volunteered in many Democratic campaigns and is well known in the community, starting flashing her personality and savvy to a constituency that is growingly skeptical about how state government has been run since 2011. 

When pressed, Vorpagel agrees there should be property tax relief, but his ideas are  extremely cautious while Bulebosh’s dig deeper. Similar line-walking is evident with higher education, where he agrees with the cuts so far but says he will work to smooth them. Bulebosh is far more forthcoming  that Walker’s education policy is death by a thousand cuts. If her message gets through, and this is a  big turnout year on the Democratic side, this race should be on the map. 

Other things have changed in the fast-moving political environment. 


Mark Harris on campaign trail.
Despite the expensive ads against him, and despite political games intended to keep the popular Winnebago County Exec on the shelf, open District 18 seems headed Mark Harris way, and he got another boost with a fund-raiser and silent auction in Milwaukee Oct. 17.

Another Democratic pickup seems in the cards in District 14 where Waupaca Mayor Brian Smith is trying to oust GOP Sen. Luther Olsen, who was almost ousted in a recall.

But that’s only two. The third and perhaps fourth are uncertain, though clearly Brian Van Stippen is scoring points in District 12. 


Diane Odeen is X factor in
Democratic takeover
But also in the running is District 10. To help her  campaign, candidate Diane Odeen came to Milwaukee October 26 for a small but generous fund-raiser,  including fellow graduates of Emerge Wisconsin who have also won public office  (state Sen. elect La Tonya Johnson, who longs for Odeen as a colleague, and MPS board member Claire Zautke).

Odeen so far has not been hit with the big money negative ads her peers in other contests are suffering. She  may be benefitting from being under the radar, she told me.

The heavy TV ad blitz against Feingold is not being suffered in District 10, which is about as far west as you can get in Wisconsin and hence in the Twin Cities  TV market.  So Feingold, who has actually visited and talked to people in this area – which is a lake home paradise but also features pockets of poverty – seems to have an edge with locals that will help Odeen, who is running against Sheila Harsdorf, another Republican  who fought recall but now faces lingering hostility for participating in that lead paint immunity effort in 2011.

There could be familiarity with or fatigue with the Harsdorf name since she took the assembly seat of her brother, Jim, and then his senate seat. Odeen is counting on fatigue since her own energy is making her better known in person to voters than Harsdorf, who’s been in the state senate since 2000.

There is no reliable polling in the district, but many residents commute to Minnesota for jobs.  Odeen mentioned that the better living and employment conditions there under a Democratic government will resonate. They also give the lie to Gov. Scott Walker’s constant  arguments about cost of living differences between the states.  In fact, Odeen slyly suggests, Walker’s job numbers may be getting an artificial boost from all those residents who actually gainfully work in Minnesota. 

Without decent polling this is a race hard to calculate.  But Democrats in the area feel  positive about it. And Republicans? They are profoundly sad the big money train doesn’t run through District 10.


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, October 13, 2016

DEMOCRATS NOW EXPECT AN ASSEMBLY OF GAINS

By Dominique Paul Noth

Last column, I laid out the possibilities of the Democrats taking back the Wisconsin Senate. Somewhat likely. But in the Assembly the odds are gigantic. The Republicans have a 63 to 36 edge.

People better at math than I am say Democrats need to pick up 14 seats to take control.  They also say that’s impossible given how extremely the state was gerrymandered after the 2010 census. Few districts started out competitive based on the old voting patterns and there are even fewer now.

But if this turns out to be a wave election up and down the ballot, these smart politicos say, there could be an outsized impact. Major polls now suggest the people want the Democrats in control, and that could include state houses.

Even cutting deeply into the Assembly majority – say by eight or nine -- could have a positive effect, especially to curb Gov. Scott Walker’s tendencies.

A lot of money and pleadings are going on down the ballot to keep Republican voters in their own lane and try to protect locally from what is happening nationally. 

But nationally the country is pretty well off by every measure – economics, jobs, more health coverage, etc.  Wisconsin? It's lagging most of its neighbors in almost every category – jobs, environment, school funding and transportation.  So if people want a state legislative change, the evidence is firmly on their side.

Walker’s answer to everything has been that at least he held taxes down (questionable if you look at where state revenue went and the built-in inequities). To many even in rural Wisconsin that translates into holding down the quality of life.  


AD1 challenger Lynn Utesch
Democratic candidates who have risen out of these communities are now looking to bring change to places they never dreamed of influencing before.  It’s not just the national Republican swoon. Education and ecology are two enormous issues in rural areas and districts around bigger cities, and several Democratic candidates have the edge.

With attached map links to guide you, let’s take a numerical stroll among the most interesting races, possible and previously im.  If you have friends in those areas, they need to know this time they have real chance and choices.

Assembly District 1: Issues of clean water, better agriculture and local control are hot buttons right now and they’ve pushed Lynn Utesch into prominence in a race that once looked assured for the Republican.  But there is a difference between making noises for the ecology, as GOP Rep. Joel Kitchens has done, and knowing what you’re talking about, which is Utesch’s stock in trade. 

The district covers much of Kewaunee County, a sliver of Brown and all of Door County, so Utesch’s roles in Kewaunee CARES and in pushing the Gaylord Nelson environmental vision are having resonance.


Assembly District 14: This would normally be the longest of longshots for the Democrats – except the target is Republican Dale Kooyenga who has not done much for his Brookfield area district, except to drop conservative nostrums in every speech.  But he has done a lot of mental damage to the big city that many Brookfield residents believe they are a part of. He’s demeaned Milwaukee deliberately, thinking that is how his community wants him to behave.

If Milwaukeeans know people in his district and start talking things up – such as “Would these suburbanites like an all-boys legally troubled boot camp plopped in their own backyard rather than on Center St.?” -- he could face some embarrassing questions. 

Just October 12, the state DPI confirmed that he had been wasting a lot of taxpayer money and time on a bad “MPS Takeover” plan. His OSPP no longer has a target left given how well MPS had improved schools even before he interfered.

You shouldn’t have to live 10 miles away to realize he knows diddley about education. How he’s gotten away with this in Brookfield is hard to figure since back in Madison you can find a number of Republicans unhappy with his tampering in Milwaukee politics. 


Chris Rockwood
His opponent, Chris Rockwood, in the past has been a sacrificial lamb for the Democratic Party, a good speaker and capable political operator living in what has long been a terrible region to be a Democrat. But Rockwood points out that no one recruited him this time – he became so furious after hearing Kooyenga talk about Milwaukee schools that he volunteered to take him on, knowing the odds.

Now, after the national debacle for Republicans, along with the particular enmity Kooyenga has developed in Milwaukee, Rockwood emerges as prescient engager.  I don’t know if a wave could swamp Kooyenga, but I frankly have my fingers crossed.

Assembly District 21 (Oak Creek and South Milwaukee):  Here’s a strong chance for a pickup within spitting distance of a solid Democratic stronghold.  Republican Jessie Rodriguez is personable but her main focus, and the focus of her legislation, are voucher schools. Oak Creek certainly doesn’t give a fig about that, what with strong public schools and a record in both parties for moderation and working together. Their mayor is a Republican highly regarded by both sides. Their senator is Democrat Chris Larson, who pulled 6,895 votes out of Oak Creek and South Milwaukee in his losing April battle against Chris Abele. If that sort of thinking remains, that’s a lot of voters who could be looking Jack Redmond’s way.

GOP’s Rodriguez won a special election in 2013 and ran unopposed in 2014, but she won in 2013 by successfully branding the Democrat as an interloper. Rodriguez was only eligible then because she lived in the district’s narrow strip in Franklin, a bit of gerrymandering that cut out other potential GOP candidates.

Though she’s moved closer now, she’s the one whose interests look interloperish.   “No one has really stepped up to challenge her – the only backing she has is really AFP and AFC [the Koch brothers group and the voucher advocate group],” noted Dan Bukiewicz, Oak Creek resident and president of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council.


Jack Redmond
This time her opponent, Jack Redmond, has lived in the heart of the district for 25 years and is both a Teamsters business representative and an employee at UPS as well as active in community affairs.  

So Redmond knows a lot of people, they know him, and subsequently he  has powerful grassroots and union support – nothing Rodriguez’s right-wing backers can exploit.   His issues are the working man, more attention to infrastructure and public education, and his experience in negotiations will be a healthy change for Madison.

Assembly District 31: Anger over gerrymandering and what’s happened to public education underline a strange case of young college David taking on female Goliath in the Beloit area.

Republican Rep. Amy Loudenbeck is a true Tea Party baby having first been elected in 2010. So far her principal legislative accomplishment has been helping lift the financial cap on the state voucher school program.

It’s not just politics that ticked off Clinton Anderson, a junior psychology major at UW-Whitewater who easily won the Democratic primary. He knows he has an uphill race against Loudenbeck because of gerrymandering.

What upset him is the way Beloit was carved up to create a Republican leaning 31st, since he can literally step across the street from his house and be represented by a Democrat (Mark Spreitzer, District 45).

Anderson doesn’t give himself much of a chance unless this is an election determined to reverse the mistakes of 2010. “Obviously the same ole same ole isn't cutting it in Madison, so maybe someone like me might be a good change," he told a TV interviewer.

Assembly District 38 (a bit of Waukesha County, then  Jefferson County and the east portion of Dane): In 2012 Democrat Scott Michalak could only muster 40% against veteran incumbent and spouse of the lieutenant governor Joel Kleefisch, but there are signs that Kleefisch’s behavior is going to make this closer four years later.

From voter fraud on the floor of the Assembly in 2012, the male Kleefisch’s portrait in news stories has gotten uglier.

In 2013 it was interceding on behalf of a DNR violation by a supporter.   Also three years ago it was cribbing legislation and press releases. Two years ago it was attempting to sneak in a special law to please a rich constituent. Last year it was for turkey poaching.  And this year he helped Wisconsin make national television (uncomfortably) when HBO’s John Oliver skewered him over the voter ID bill

The Oconomowoc legislator apparently so assumes no Democrat can win that he isn’t worried about obeying the law. 

Michalak, a hearty outdoors type with a basic message of reform, seeks to make the race a squeaker this time even in strongly conservative territory.

Assembly District 40: Think Outagamie, Shawano, Waupaca and Waushara counties and consider the inroads other Democrats are making in this territory, which could well spill over into this Assembly race.

On paper, 10 year GOP veteran Kevin Petersen looked untouchable – but he often ran unopposed and lately supported raising the limit on campaign contributions. This is a new year where Petersen is under harsh attack for engineering an end to the moratorium on nuclear reactors, putting his district at risk of becoming a toxic dumping ground.


Dmitri Martin
His opponent, Dmitri Martin, runs a small business that helps homes become more energy efficient, GreenStar Home Performance. An active Bernie Sanders Democrat – with much of that Bernie energy and fundraising ability in his corner – Martin said it was worries about what the legislature was leaving his daughter Dhara that drove him into politics. With Republicans in power, he says, “We cannot decrease the use of fossil fuels at the rate we need and create the clean energy jobs of the future.”

Martin and Utesch have been cited in editorials as the fresh faces and community activists the Democrats need.

Assembly District 42: This is an area north of Madison that occasionally gets the progressive breezes.  George Ferriter hopes the greater familiarity with Democrats will give him a boost to knock out Republican Keith Ripp, chairman of the state transportation committee who has avoided forums or debates.


George Ferriter
“These debates allow voters to question legislators and their opponents about issues affecting our district – roads, water, schools and Enbridge oil pipelines running through our farms,” noted Ferriter.  “Why is this not happening? Is he so entrenched in his gerrymandered district the Republicans orchestrated that he no longer cares what the voters think?”

Ferriter has a lot of friends busy on Facebook to pass on his messages – but apparently not as busy as he has been at the doors. He’s a Vietnam veteran from a military family, recently retired as a mechanical engineer for Fairbanks Morse, with six grandchildren.

Assembly District 49:  No greater study in contrasts in these elections can be found than between progressive Jesse Bennett and WMC praised dairy farmer Rep. Travis Tranel. Bennett, a conservationist and goat farmer native to the region, is the latest to take on GOP’s Tranel, who was born in Iowa and arrived in the Assembly as part of that infamous 2010 splashdown. 

Assembly District 50: Juneau County has an interesting contrast in style and age. Republican Edward Brooks though 74 was first elected only eight years ago. Art Shrader, a community banker and veteran of Operation Desert Storm, is new to politics but eager to change things. 

 “Our state has simply gone the wrong way,” he said. “There are extreme agendas in Madison that have almost defied logic. I see some of these ideas that come out and ask myself, ‘Who wanted this? Who asked for this?’ and it’s not anyone in the 50th Assembly District.”

Assembly District 51:  Democrats are convinced they have the right candidate (pun intended) in Jeff Wright (sure enough and what a great name for a website), an assistant principal for the Sauk Prairie Schools whose family roots are deep in Wisconsin and whose anger over what’s been happening in the state propelled him into a winnable contest in this district west of Madison.

This district has been a closely watched thorn for the Democrats, who lost in 2014 to GOP Rep. Todd Novak by 65 votes.  So both sides are plugging hard, the Democrats through a Democratic Assembly action committee while Novak is turning to voucher school money (the American Federation for Children is off-loading funds for ads and mailers). 

Jeff Wright
Wright is a strong-voiced young candidate who started speaking up at hearings about the”deliberately destructive” state budget, an issue that has galvanized educators around the state. He told interviewers that his focus on roads and better rural broadband access is also attracting even one-time Trump voters.

Assembly District 63: Now this one is flat out of reach in Democratic calculations based on past performance. But it is the seat of Robin Vos, the popcorn man who is quickly becoming the second most disliked politician in the state for Democrats, right behind Walker.

Leader of the Majority in the Assembly (which means Speaker) he is noted for the speed with which he cuts off opposition to his ideas and the gleeful fury in his gutting of the Government Accountability Board (confirming his closeness to big business interests).  Lately he seems to be positioning himself to run for governor, even if Scott Walker wants to run. He long has been trying to steal Walker’s thunder on budget issues.

His opponent is Andy Mitchell who provides a quiet resume of family life and public interest, with  a simple platform of issues that stand in contrast to Vos’ wheeling and dealing.

No chance, the pundits say, recalling how the same candidate, Mitchell, was vanquished in 2014, 63.6 % to 35.7%.  But two years can be a long time in politics and Vos has raised his visibility in unflattering ways. Something Mitchell ran on in 2014 may have higher resonance today:  "I believe that a state representative should do the work of his constituents and not follow directives of powerful outside interest groups."

Vos has long been whipping the Assembly into line to do the bidding of others but never before has he faced such media exposure.  Now the voters are even aware of Vos’ repeated attempts to shut down open records

Assembly District 68: (Eau Claire and east) Rep. Kathy Bernier is another Tea Party baby from 2010 but she’s been challenged mightily every election since, partly because she makes it sound like Walker and GOP policies have nothing to do with the region’s problems in drawing more industry. She’s given token opposition to Walker’s education cuts, but no affect since there are too darn many Republicans and they don’t mind a selective protest vote.

This time, a truly mild-mannered lawyer, 61 year old Howard White, a lifelong Democrat involved in local issues, has stepped up in a little noticed race. White says he can “bring Chippewa Valley’s real voice back to Madison.”

Assembly District 70: It didn’t take freshman Rep. Nancy VanderMeer long to gain attention with her vote against Walker’s budget while otherwise being a good rubber stamp. But this Tomah region district has swung Democratic in past years and Mark Holbrook, a novice at running though he has supported many campaigns, has stepped up to the task largely because he doesn’t like the bulk of her votes. Other than the budget, “she voted right down the line with Republicans,” he said. “I’m not saying that voting with your party is wrong − I just think it’s wrong if it’s not good for your district.”

Holbrook certainly knows the district. Among his many jobs before he retired, he taught vocational agriculture and served as principal and assistant principal. He feels the legislature must return to issues the community cares about.  “I don’t have all the answers,” he tells interviewers, but then suggests he has the right questions and the right attitude – “an honest voice for the people of the 70th, not succumb to outside influences.”

Assembly District 72: Political newcomer David Gorski is taking on almost the poster child for that Tea Party wave of 2010, Scott Krug, who every two years is a chief target for Democrats in a district (Wisconsin Rapids south through Waushara County) they have often won.  Krug has been a notorious shadow voice for the state GOP, but Gorski seems unfazed.  (As a retired mental health counselor he could have his work cut out for him in Madison.)

Leading environmental groups are among Gorski’s backers in a region that regards ecology as crucial.  He wants to restore the meaning of the Wisconsin Idea.”The state needs to return to its historical support for both public education and environmental conservation,” Gorski said. 


Mandy Wright
Assembly District 85: This would be a Democratic pickup on the charts but it is actually looming as vindication for notable education voice Mandy Wright.  It was a strange situation. She narrowly lost in 2014 to Dave Heaton who now has stepped away.

Wright, a popular and influential Democrat in the Assembly, is heading back if she wins against radio talk show host Pat Snyder. 

The Republicans are not giving up and hope outside money remains a big advantage, if locals don’t get irritated with that. Several candidates are hearing the footsteps of right-wing groups where the donors can remain secret. 

Trying to recapture AD85 and known as a forceful fighter for public schools, Wright is facing a big threat of outside money from  Scott Jensen’s troublemaking group, the American Federation of Children, the  voucher school advocates who are making a habit of sticking their outside money into specific races.  (I’m told Mandy Wright and Jeff Wright of District 51 are not related, but both are respected educators, so this probably explains why AFC wants to stop them.)

AFC is also expected to dump $380,000 into the District 12 Senate race where newcomer Bryan Van Stippen is already facing a big ad buy by the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity.  So financial interests outside the district are hoping to steer the election back to GOP Sen. Tom Tiffany.

It will be interesting to see what voters let them get away with Nov. 8.

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.