Thursday, October 13, 2016


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  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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Reposted from October 6
By Dominique Paul Noth

Not choosing Hillary as pilot
almost as stupid as not
choosing Chesley Sullenberg.
The Democrats are praying that Hillary Clinton has long coattails and the Republicans are praying even harder that Donald Trump doesn’t. 

That’s one of the most bizarre things about this Bizarro election. When was the last time a party considered it smart to pretend to support while scurrying away from its leader?

After weeks of declaring the race a squeaker, the polls now see an undeniable national movement that puts Hillary up by six to ten points with a month to go.  Things can wobble before the Nov. 8 election -- but not just the media, for eyeballs and ratings, wants to keep this a horse race. So do Democrats. Their greatest fear is complacency – you know, “Hillary’s going to win, why should I bother to vote?”

Enough such complacency and Trump crawls back into the picture. Especially if some people don’t recognize that VP nominee Mike Pence’s performance in the Oct. 4 debate was more to position himself for 2020 than defend Trump, which he dodged doing again and again. Still, there may be some foolishly thinking he would assert some moderating influence on Trump.  That’s why Tim Kaine (not minding how much he weakened his own reputation as thoughtful and measured)  spent most of his time hammering  on what Trump thinks rather than what Pence thinks, knowing that Pence’s questionable record in Indiana doesn’t really matter right now. There’s time for that later.

But complacency could destroy the village Hillary needs to build around her to succeed as president. There is a clear strategy on both sides that transcends the debates.  Hillary doesn’t need a little win, she needs a tsunami to insure her goals. In fact, many Democrats are upset she isn’t already 10 points ahead given the general belief, even among Republicans, that Trump is unsuitable by both temperament and anti-intellectualism.

Editor's Note: When because of an Internet glitch I had to repost this Oct. 6 story, Clinton was indeed 10 points ahead.

Yet these Clinton supporters are at a loss at how to persuade people who will “never” vote Trump to turn out in record numbers to secure that “never never never” and help all the local races they should care about.   “We have scorched the snake not killed it,” to quote “Macbeth” in a modernized text and different context

For Democrats, the issue is as  lucid as picking Sully  – Chesley Sullenberger – to pilot your flight . Your other option is  that rubberband windup prop plane with a crazy man in the cockpit.  Sully had years of experience and training, test runs and millions of hours in the air, but he also had to ditch a plane once, though even that was called the Miracle on the Hudson. So you really want to go with rubberband guy?

Down the ballot Republicans are confounded by this dilemma and trying to hold Trump at arm’s length to save the core of their party.  They’re encouraging what otherwise would be blatant hypocrisy, letting candidates say they’ll kind of vote for Trump but not endorse him or  work too directly with poison ivy.  The two-face is having some success against the quiet anger among Republicans that their party is even putting them through this.

Debate points were easy for Maggie
Hassan after Ayotte imploded.
Nowhere was the dilemma clearer than in the recent New Hampshire debate between Democrat Gov. Maggie Hassan and incumbent GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte. When asked if Trump was a role model children should aspire to, Ayotte fumbled and fumbled and finally said yes -- and then the next day tried to recant.  Trump is clamping many down-ballot Republicans in the same vise.

So that is why the Democrats want a tidal wave and the GOP is clinging to regional life through one hundred and six degrees of separation.  The party doesn’t want to offend Trump’s intractable core of deplorables – sorry, that should be supporters – but recognizes how many stalwart Republican households are uncomfortable to the point of bolting. 

What a double bind the Republican National Committee has created for itself! Trump is hoarding his own money and came late to the game, so the RNC is now responsible for Trump’s grassroots turnout. Yet   in state upon state it has to figure how also to encourage a compartmentalized  campaign for others on the ballot.

What will happen in Senate?

The U.S. Senate is the big target on the horizon.  From calling the outcome a tossup,  the pollsters are now leaning  to the Democratic side and a big win for Hillary could tip several close races into the Democratic column, removing control from the Republicans.

With her win, and the vice president as a tie-breaker, the Democrats need to pick up four seats to take back control.  On Nov. 8 there are actually 11 Republican seats in real play and only  two (out of what once was five) Democratic seats that the Republicans might even think to pick up. 

(Some of these Democratic possibilities are much stronger than others, but with strong turnout I think eight is doable.)

In the” keep Democrat” seats, two newcomers are way ahead – Kamala Harris to replace Barbara Boxer in California, Rep. Chris Van Hollen to step in for outgoing Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski. Sen. Patty Murray is also given the lead in Washington State, which wasn’t always the case.

Two other “protect” seats look better right now for the Democrats -- Catherine Cortez Mastro seeking to retain Harry Reid’s seat in Nevada and long threatened Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado finally ahead in the polls against Republican Darryl Glenn. So at this point, the Democrats may not lose any of their seats. 

The Republicans have more to protect and less likelihood of doing so. Wisconsin is the standout predicted pickup with Russ Feingold over Republican incumbent Ron Johnson.  In Illinois, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, whose personal story as well as voting record are hard to combat, is leading incumbent Republican Sen. Mark Kirk. 

Recent polling puts Kate McGinty ahead of GOP Sen. Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and the afore-mentioned Hassan ahead  of Ayotte. Newcomer John Kander has stunned GOP Sen. Roy Blunt in the unlikely swing state of Missouri by running ahead. 

Indiana lures Even Bayh back.
In Indiana, popular former  governor and senator Democrat Evan Bayh was lured back when GOP Dan Coats retired from the senate, and he is facing a tougher contest than anticipated (the state’s governor is on the ticket with Trump and the state itself is on a Trump-Clinton seesaw). There is little polling in Indiana but Bayh still has a lead over Todd Young.

Even in Arizona, where legacy fondness may still give the nod to Sen. John McCain, the Democratic challenger, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, has pulled even in the polls.

The Democrats’ hopes are not done yet. In the always difficult North Carolina, little-known Catherine Ross remains tied with GOP incumbent Richard Burr, who has failed to untie himself from Trump. 

It looks bad for Democrats in Iowa where Patty Judge is trailing Sen. Chuck Grassley and even more disappointing in Ohio given Ted Strickland’s surprisingly light showing against GOP incumbent Rob Portman.  

These are races where high Democratic turnout for Hillary could make a difference --  which is also true in Kentucky, where Jim Gray, the first openly gay  politician to run for Senate, has surprised Rand Paul with his strength. In Florida, the on-again off-again reluctant incumbent Marco Rubio mystifyingly  has more traction right now than  Patrick  Murphy, who gave up a sure Democratic seat to run.

Making the House friendlier

Over in the House, where the Republican control seems too large to turn around until 2018, the Democrats are already assured of making inroads that will cut the margin, tame the Tea Party extremists and give Clinton a more malleable GOP to work with – high time that something in  this dam of resistance was blown up.  It’s not that Hillary will charm them into submission. The political reality of being weakened could do that all by itself.

Even expect some change  in Wisconsin’s House. Gerrymandering has protected so many GOP congressional districts by packing more Democrats into safe seats like Milwaukee Rep. Gwen Moore’s, and redesigning others to add Republican strongholds, as was done to protect Paul Ryan in CD1.

Hopes are high that Sarah Lloyd can
replace the grotesquery of Grothman
But the Democrats expect a pickup by Tom Nelson over Mike Gallagher in the open race in CD8 (GOP Reid Ribble is stepping away, so that looks like a pickup).  There are still hopes –turnout hopes more than hopes with evidence -- for Sarah Lloyd, an agricultural expert whose voice and experience are more empathetic with the needs of CD6 than Tea Party cartoon Glenn Grothman. And some even believe communications professor Mary Hoeft may finally rid the House of another GOP embarrassment, Sean Duffy in CD7.

Madison makeup could also change

It is the statehouse races that are more likely to reflect formidable change in Wisconsin. It is almost an echo of the national situation.  The Democrats are within three seats of taking back the Senate and are poised to  cut into the Republican grip on the Assembly.

The current once-safe  incumbents have a lot to explain back home, given how the GOP dominated legislature has set back local schools, local control and highway and ecological concerns throughout the state.   The well recorded distrust  rural communities  feel for big city Democrats may not stand in local races, where they know the sort of Democrat who is running.

It’s here the length of  Hillary’s coattails may combine with a Democratic strategy that is gaining editorial notice -- pumping in new blood and fresh names . That could begin a mighty rescue operation (particularly  if the myth of keeping taxes down runs hard into the business losses,  potholes, half-done highways, schools robbed of proper finances, and on and on through the failed GOP playbook).

Moderates as well as left of center voices with clear plans on the local level  could not only make gains. They could also stifle the worst instincts of Gov. Scott Walker, who has two more years in office but would be rendered impotent by a more balanced, alert legislature. 

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  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 


By Dominique Paul Noth

A longshot Democrat creeping up on
the outside rail of the Senate:
SD12 Bryan Van Stippen
Fear not, suburban Wisconsin, about that patter of little feet in the night. It is simply your neighbors creeping out to remove the Trump sign from their lawn.

That seems all that’s left to many lifelong moderate and conservative Republicans after the latest Trump revelations and his creep-behind-her debate performance. 

There’s a better gambit. Democratic candidates who spring out of these far-flung towns and rural communities now know they have a stronger chance to succeed at the polls.  Forget the track record of the past. Forget the simplistic generalities about labels.  They really may be able to change the state legislature.

As previously detailed, the U.S. Senate already seems lost nationally to the Republicans even as Russ Feingold tops Ron Johnson here in all reputable polls (though Feingold’s people still anticipate a close race). 

Now that Paul (Maybe I’m Not So Much With the Racist Anymore) Ryan refuses to campaign with the top nominee, the GOP is sensing that even the House is in trouble, which was nigh an impossible thought three weeks ago. A Wall Street Journal and NBC poll even indicates most of the country wants Democrats in charge of both chambers.

In Wisconsin this new thinking could be floating down the ballot to races for the Madison state house.  The GOP lock on those chambers may be unraveling even in conservative communities that hate Clinton and traditionally distrust anyone with a D after their name. They’re looking past the labels now.

Their old party at this point is reduced to arguing that at least Republicans can provide a check and balance, but one Republican legislator conceded to me in private, “I don’t think the people want someone to put on the brakes, they want someone who will step on the gas.”

The GOP candidates up and down the ballot have only two choices – abandon Trump and die (among the stubborn core that clings to him) or embrace him and die (among the ideological simpaticos you really care about). Do they really want to be part of this extremism?

And how do their supporters weigh the behavior of local party leaders?   Have they been enablers or ineffectual blindsided pros? Is Trump an aberration or an inevitable outcome of GOP positions and attitudes over the years?

Already the party bosses and secret supporters have pulled their coffers away from Trump and are moving desperately to shore up the bottom.  Even state candidates who didn’t seem in trouble are now getting such help. 

One such race is Senate District 12 in northeast Wisconsin. It was once regarded as inviolate GOP space. 

But outside forces are at work, and there are also inroads being made by Bryan Van Stippen, a local small business owner who grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm and since has gained broad government and community experience. He is running against the environment’s worst enemy and the NRA’s big supporter, incumbent Sen. Tom Tiffany.

The Kochs through their secret big money arm, Americans for Prosperity (which assures donors their names will be kept invisible), have announced a major ad buy to prop up Tiffany – and probably salvage him.  And AFP is apparently not done there, promising outside financial money in other more rural races.

Meanwhile, news reports from sources previously associated with Republican talking points are turning around and causing sharp discussion.  One reason is that the Republicans have been pushing legislative deals that promote income inequality – and voters throughout the state are sick of that.  They also know throughout the state that Social Darwinism is riding high in Wisconsin schools – the richest communities drawing the best teachers away from the more modest.

Media has been forced to explore the price all of Wisconsin – not just Milwaukee and Madison – are paying for Act 10. Journal Sentinel provided a district by district breakdown as part of the current triple whammy explored in other stories:  loss of teachers, loss of local property tax control, loss of state revenue for public schools to prop up an expanded voucher/charter private industry. Some of the former JS praise of Act 10 now seems written in sand.

Issues that Republicans  running for office could once pooh-pooh are clawing deep. Some are not as obvious as Tiffany’s support of a major property tax hike.  His slavishness to the lead paint industry and other industries smell of pay for play. Van Stippen is also scoring points on the issue of water quality.

It is still a fight from behind. But this race was once not even in the likelihood of the turnover in the Senate, where three seats could reverse control.  Now it’s among the races moving into the questionable column.

Take a journey through other contests, several on the cusp of change:

SD2: Another northeastern district (north of Appleton, west of Green Bay) is host to familiar GOP incumbent Robert Cowles against John Powers, a Vietnam veteran and three-decade teacher in the Shawano area who lost two previous tries for the Assembly.

This time he is running as a down-home change-agent  Democrat  with strong local connections and  refusal of outside money -- in an era where 70% of the country thinks the Citizens United decision has wrongfully allowed secret money to be dumped into local races.  

It’s hard to get a reading on this contest. But Cowles is vulnerable Not only was he the target of a close previous recall effort, he has since voted to expand voucher schools, remove supervision of high capacity wells from the DNR and generally fallen down on his fiscal hawk claims.  Most interesting is the remarkably fast shift in perceptions about him and the opponent.  On October 6 Powers was a long shot. By Oct. 11 he was in contention. You figure out why.

Diane Odeen
SD10: Scoot back to northwestern Wisconsin (beautiful country – do you have friends or relatives there?)  Another former recall target, GOP Sheila Harsdorf, is being crowded by a former foe, Diane Odeen, back for more but in a much stronger position.

Odeen has deep roots in the area, a law degree and a reputation as the sort of community advocate Wisconsin needs.  Harsdorf (like the Olsen race below) has been implicated in news reports about questionable dealings during her recall race.

The GOP was once dismissive of this contest, but they’re not laughing now.  Just looking across the river at Minnesota,  the residents can  see what better leadership can bring them.

SD14: In central Wisconsin. It looks like a strong likelihood for Democrats because their candidate, Brian Smith, has been broadly known for 15 years as an  effective Waupaca mayor.

In comparison, incumbent Luther Olsen, another recall survivor, has become extremely laughable.  Recently when given the choice between touring a deeply troubled veterans’ home in King or judging a local baking contest, he went for the munchies.  His excuse was almost as lame as the decision.

Moreover, votes Olsen took back at the time of the recall have come back to haunt him.  Like Harsdorf  he  was engaged in efforts to protect the lead paint industry with retroactive legislation, later ruled unconstitutional. The Guardian newspaper’s John Doe revelations suggest he would not have survived the recall without such shenanigans. District 14  could well decide it’s better off without him, especially since the people know Smith and like his sensible approach to government fundamentals. 

Mark Harris
SD18: In an open seat previously held by a Republican, Democratic candidate Mark Harris seems understandably way ahead because of past ability and popularity. He brings more than two terms as highly effective Winnebago County Executive where he showed fiscal discipline while improving infrastructure (an ability the state Senate sorely needs). 

Trying to deflect Mark Harris without naming him, the Walker legislature passed a special law that you cannot be both a county executive and a senator. Only Harris fit that description, so many in Winnebago County regard the law as slime politics.  Harris in the meantime cheerfully indicated he didn’t intend to hold both seats simultaneously.

The Democrats are also being challenged notably for three of their own seats but remain confident of beating the efforts back:  Julie Lassa in District 24, Dave Hansen in District 30 and Jennifer Shilling in District 32, where Dan Kapanke is trying to win back the seat he lost in the recall election – now in a year when many state residents in both parties wish that more recalls of these GOP question marks had been successful.

The next column looks at the Assembly.

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  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

Thursday, September 29, 2016


By Dominique Paul Noth
Gary Johnson's Libertarian brain lock.
I think the former Mexican president Gary Johnson was trying to remember  was Vincente Fox, who famously threw the f word at Donald Trump on video.

Or it could have been Felipe Calderón, who was president for six years ending in 2012. But I think it was Fox,  who came before Calderon and thus would have overlapped Johnson’s time as governor of New Mexico.

Yes, New Mexico, a state of multicultural heritage. Yet the Libertarian candidate for president who led that state for two terms couldn’t think of the name of a single foreign leader he admired on Chris Matthews’ MSNBC “Hardball” Sept. 28. If his vice presidential compadre Bill Weld hadn’t been there to throw in Merkel (Angela of Germany), Johnson would have been left dangling. (Weld’s lightness on his feet is one reason many think the Libertarian names on the ballot should be reversed.)

Johnson admitted he was having “an Aleppo moment,” describing a deer in headlights look he gave weeks earlier on “Morning Joe” where he blanked on the  one Syrian city that has been all over the news because of the refugee crisis and raging combat to liberate it from ISIL.
I’m not running for anything so my knowledge is not at issue.  But  Johnson’s blind spots on foreign affairs had me running my mind over how many admirable foreign leaders I could think of quickly, and that was two minutes I’ll never get back.

Netanyahu?  No, I think Bibi is almost as self-centered as Vladimir Putin. I certainly admire Justin Trudeau, who is far more than a People magazine hottie and is carving an impressive record, in two languages, on environmental, economic and  indigenous people issues.

I’d understand if Johnson had trouble digging out Theresa May’s name since she has only been the United Kingdom prime minister  since July. And this may not have been the moment for him to point out a successful woman in high office. (Why remind voters that the only bright spot in the presidential race was Hillary Clinton? I think one reason so many Republicans hate her is they realize she is the far superior candidate and can't bring themselves to admit it.)

I do admire France’s Francois Hollande who has dealt with two large terrorist crises with aplomb – and on the other extreme is Myanmar’s noted chief  councilor (equivalent of prime minister) who has gone back and forth from house arrest to humanitarian prizes (including the Nobel for Peace) and now is technically leader if the country is serious about giving her some power.  Her name is Aung San Suu Kyi and I confess to having double-checked the spelling.

All the above have been in the news recently and should be instantly familiar to anyone seeking the White House.  I know some aspects of the libertarian credo have appeal to millennials  (legalizing marijuana, pro-choice) but Johnson is also keen on fracking, the TPP and less controls on business.  So it is hard to understand any Bernie Sanders fan slipping that way – or, on the other hand, disillusioned Republicans heading into those high weeds.

When Obama says a vote for him or  Jill Stein, or no vote, is a vote for Trump,  I understand --  but don’t completely agree. I would look hard at where the voter lives, because in some precincts it makes no difference. In others, it matters mightily. In Wisconsin it could matter wherever you live.

I mean, libertarians like freedom, but freedom from knowledge is a bit much.

It was ironic after thinking about Johnson’s gaffe, in the next  hours I had to think about Trump.

Trump trots out stagecraft in Waukesha.
He was in Wisconsin Sept. 28 for a rally in the reddest area of the state, setting up in the Waukesha Expo.  A word about staging. The Expo is noted for expandable space and adjustable seating depending on the event. Since state Republicans have been tepid about Trump, the arena was arranged so that a crowd of about 1,000 looked on the TV screen like a Packers game.

In another  bit of Barnum,  Trump kept referring in his talk to thousands more waiting outside.  Well ask the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which according to its Twitter feed had more people covering a rather standard rally  than would have been used had the Pope come to town.

I just dipped in by live stream,  and the first thought was that the Expo was the appropriate venue since the audience is penned like cattle and there were endless delays. Just my experience at events there.

The attendees, clutching their signs and trying to keep their cool,  were kept suffering through multiple replays of Trump’s amped up audio tape interspersed with Ted Nugent style  screaming heavy metal. The music choice was understandable because the crowd has be kept agitated and on  nerve ends and so many recording artists had warned Trump not to use their music anymore.

I heard my favorite spiel line several times on tape --   that America needed  “a leader in the worst way possible,” which spoke for itself.

The event finally started off with an invocation from a female minister. It flatly preached  Trump as the embodiment of Christ’s values and Hillary, well, there’s that other guy. In the live stream a video of Hillary’s coughing was inserted (the music should have been Cheap Trick) and Trump’s actual speech claimed victory in the Monday night debate though all the polls say he lost badly. So in fact did sensible people in Waukesha County who stayed home.

He was preceded by an almost endless array of  enthusiastic politicians (Waukesha County Exec Paul Farrow, Waukesha Rep. Adam Neylon, state GOP leader Brad Courtney, DNR’s bubbly blond deerstalker Cathy Stepp, current arms merchant and former Sen. Bob Kasten, former Gov. Tommy Thompson (whom,  Trump claimed,  told him Wisconsin was back in play) and Trump’s traveling majordomo Rudy Giuliani.

Obviously Trump needs huge turnout from Waukesha. Also obvious at the rally he has his work cut out for him. The only special moment for me in Trump’s 40 minute speech (after hours of waiting) was an unintentional prediction of his future:  “If we don’t win, it will be one of the great wastes of time, energy and money — certainly in my life, that I can tell you.”

The brain does  strange things shifting from Johnson to Trump – it is sort of like a nightmare where you only dream of losers. But back in the real world it clarified a difference.

Johnson at least doesn’t mind looking like a fool, though he should.  Trump would have handled the question defiantly, saying he doesn’t need to know names because there’ll be people in the White House to teach him.  He so hates looking like a fool, which considering how often he acts like a fool is egocentric shameless.

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  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

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sure I’m for Hillary, but STOP YELLING!

By Dominique Paul Noth

To all the email money-raisers peppering my in-box, yes I’m reasonably responsive, as if you really care, yes I’m voting for Russ and both he and Hillary are on my front lawn and I am listed as financial supporter.  But my responsibility is to them, not you.

I’m sure there is some professionally prominent telemarketer behind your methods who thinks he knows how to motivate the herd for political survival, but I for one am sick and tired of your groveling for money and trying to make me grovel –four times a day in some cases, raising the level of panic and fear with each mailing.  To wit:


Honestly it’s terrifying! (guess this one wasn’t that terrifying since it wasn’t all in caps).

Trump is surging in the polls. Democrats should PANIC.



NO RESPONSE RECEIVED (in flashing code)

And on and on and on and on.

Now what university did these folks go to, teaching them that Democrats and millennials only open their wallets or purses when they’re worried to death? Who told them to demand daily that we tell them our vote? Or want us to dip back into the same well?

I troll Republican PAC and presidential sites, too, and find similar somewhat lighter techniques whenever Trump goes down or up in the polls, which happens frequently. The body politic as well as these marketing geniuses are amazingly predictive.  Every twitch in the polls sends whatever side is affected into the Saint Vitus Dance. 

Poor Rachel Maddow, whose reputation as a liberal commentator is being used regularly to warn about "the future of our country” if Trump wins, which she meant as common sense but is now being used by to make folks dig in their  pockets faster or Rachel will spank. I’m sure she never expected to play Cassandra.

Poor Nate Silver, whose reputation as an infallible pollster was already diminishing, for those who closely follow such things.  But nevertheless, since he keeps giving Trump a chance, his name has become part of the hysteria campaign to raise money in one camp and pronounce elevation in the Trump camp by such surrogates as Kellyanne Conway, the blond motor-mouth who has now switched candidates to say nonstop glowing things about her new employer just as she once criticized him.

End result. The same media Trump incites violence against at every rally is embraced by him for every poll bump. In her rallies, Clinton placidly plows ahead trying to talk issues and ignore the hiccups – but not her supporters on the Internet! They sure haven’t got the message.

In some ways I sympathize. By sheer contrast in ability Hillary should be way ahead. And she needs big changes down the ballot to turn the Senate and make strong inroads into the House – because then Congress will stop sitting on its GOP hands and begin moving forward on something, anything.  (Republicans don’t like to hear that, but the gridlock is mainly theirs and it is sickening.) 

I do understand that there’s a massive concern for turnout lest the people wake up Nov. 9 and flagellate themselves for what they let happen. So Democrats and independents recognize that this is the time to get busy.

But not the time to panic or sell fear! Yet some pretty notable fund raisers are doing just that on the web.  Biggest offenders are the End Citizens United campaign, Democratic Governors Association (sorry, not worried about governors right now – catch me in 2018), the SenateMajority (a com named in anticipation) and, sadly, my old friends ActBlue

There is more sensibility from Hillary Clinton’s own website, which sticks with issues and just a hint of let’s get going alarm. But even there the temptation is to bash Trump first and get around to reasons later, which reflects the media headlines. Since never before have so many Republicans abandoned their standard bearer, that’s a reality that can’t be ignored if you’re appealing to unsettled voters.

Emily’s List is fairly factual, too, and gives accurate poll rundowns of how Democratic female candidates for Senate are doing in local polls, which saves me the trouble of daily checking as telemarketers do to decide which panic button to push.

I also respect the sober “counting toward goals” methods of the sites of Tammy Baldwin and Russ Feingold, plus the thank you tone of Marc Pocan.

The Republican sites, for individuals other than Trump, are interesting, because they don’t rise and fall with his enthusiasm and panic but with the panic and enthusiasm of their own local polling!

Take Kelly Ayotte, in a tough race in New Hampshire against strong Democratic challenger Maggie Hassan. She can’t endorse Trump while saying she will vote for him, a schizoid hair-splitting that is understandably hurting with voters.  So she has now called in her senate buddy from Iowa, Joni Ernst, to borrow her “Let’s Make Them Squeal” pig holler to raise cash.

Sure, I’m bothered that Hillary isn’t winning in a walk, according to the polls. But I guess I’m more a realist about this measure of judging voter interest months in advance.

I talk to Democrats all the time who expect Clinton on pure merit to wipe the floor with Trump at the debates and seal the thing. But that’s only if Joni Ernst’s pigs can fly.  

I think her fans are waiting for a “Big Eyes” moment of embarrassment for Trump. That (true story, not just a movie invention) was when a judge ordered a paint-off between Margaret Keane and the charlatan Walter Keane to prove she was the only real painter -- and he could only muster bluster and excuses. How great that sort of defining putdown would be!

But even with the capable Lester Holt as moderator Sept. 26, this will not be that clear an eye-opening opportunity to expose the mountebank bluster.  She is playing on Trump’s home turf – electronic media, which illuminates every boast and outrage into “strong leader” and reduces every detailed logical explanation into ho-hum.  She’s answering with her head to an audience susceptible to fear and heartstrings.

Plus the TV audience will be grading him on a curve. If you are a traditional Republican you’re desperate to snatch some reason to feel better about your own party. You might just buy his spiel as long as he’s still standing at the end.

The debates will not be as conclusive as the Clinton forces hope and on the Internet are dangerously selling as decisive.  I take the longer view, the Obama view I guess, of trusting the American voters to act in their own best interests and security of the country when the final bell rings. 

I do worry that poor attention, lack of education, political ignorance and celebrity fascination will take a toll, but I think the panic from the Democratic fund-raising machinery is more likely a goad for the opposition. “Look how scared of us they are, the wimps!”

I will give in time and money as I can, but my email box is being embarrassed by the raw desperation.  It’s supposed to be the Republicans who treat raising money as the deciding god.

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  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