Wednesday, July 4, 2018

WEEDING DOWN GOVERNOR CANDIDATES – MY FINAL TWO

By Dominique Paul Noth

Surprisingly I am coming down to two quite different candidates in age and appeal for governor because final attention to them would clarify what the public really wants.


Forget the myth! There is no Bernie clone in race for
governor to replace Walker.
Right now there’s puzzlement.  Voters may want to get rid of Gov. Scott Walker, but they have not paid much attention to the large slate of candidate vying  to beat him – eight right now, coming down to only one winner Aug. 14, which is way too  early for a deciding primary for the  Nov. 6 election.  (That’s one reason for the lack of interest, not a time of year folks think of politics while Trump makes everyone want to hide under the covers from the news).

There are many weird attempts to winnow the field ahead of the electorate doing so.  Wisconsin Broadcasters gave up its idea of choosing the top four from  a Marquette poll and Wisconsin Choice, an amalgam of progressive left groups, continues it unscientific poll  push from 10 to 4 to 1 though everyone had a pretty good idea of who would win with that sponsorship.

None of those efforts, or mine, eliminate the possibility that a large portion of anti-Walker voters will wake up on Aug. 15 and say “Oops,” surprised they only have one Democratic choice, and it might not even be a Democrat!

There is internal division partly dating from the Hillary-Bernie wars and largely dealing with arguments about the nature of real progressivism -- civility versus in your face, personal appeal versus proven ability, age versus experience.  Under the anger looms a political reality:   The candidate must pull heavily from established older Democratic voters and urban strongholds while appealing   to the younger crowd and to rural communities – a pretty large task in this environment made harsher by current events.

On paper all the candidates talk an exciting game of change.  But none has caught fire and Democrats do like to squabble among themselves.  So there will be no universal choice.

And none frankly is the knight on horseback that voters seem to lean to – that was Carter, Reagan, Clinton, even the second Bush and Obama and -- many would add, holding their nose -- Trump. All were viewed as outsiders riding in to clean up D.C.  Are people looking for something similar for the stables of Madison?  If so, they should start with the dynamic realities of legislative races where there is a lot of action that could bolster Democratic voters for governor – whatever the final choice.

Walker’s failures and snarky behavior are amply recorded, though there is even more to say about the horrors of his environmental record. It is amusing how what he once regarded as the centerpiece of his re-election has backfired – Foxconn.

He will always  have more money than his opponent, but enough money to compete will be there for the Democrat after Aug. 14 no matter who wins, so let’s put cash on hand aside as a reason for choice.

Clay feet, individual quirks that may be misread and riddles about what a new governor can really do and what the candidates say – those will be the deciding factors.

One of the candidates whose mixture of clay feet and quirks took him off my list is Mike McCabe, the no-labels blue jeans guy who on the stump is the most effective talking populist in the race and rightly puts ideas ahead of labels.  Those are mighty plusses that have led some in the rank and file to back him even while established party leaders express doubts.  Would he be a uniter in office and would his ability match his uplifting rhetoric?

McCabe has refused to say he will back whatever Democrat emerges. He won’t become a Democrat yet he wants access to the party database. Before running nonpartisan watchdog groups on government he served as legislative aide to three Republicans in the Assembly while speaking articulately about what Wisconsin lacks in good government.

Some see that as Bernie Sanders Lite, but Sanders had a 30 year record in Congress that no Democrat questions, even if he insists on remaining a Democratic Socialist. There still are Sanders supporters around who think he would have won what Hillary lost, which is wishful thinking that may tempt them to swoon similarly over McCabe.

McCabe has no such record of accomplishment in government service, particularly in terms of winning over legislative colleagues – an essential skill in a governor.  Many looking at this race have longed to me for someone with independent credentials, even a business background to ride in to the rescue.  Most of those are no longer in the running – Andy Gronik has pulled out; Josh Pade is cripplingly unknown. McCabe is the known outsider left, which is appealing in abstract but not when it comes to running a state team.

Winning image does not always translate into ability – a similar problem affects Mahlon Mitchell, whom I have covered for years and personally like. He is handsome and affable, but he comes up poorly in how he handles ideas in a clinch compared to other candidates.  His union supporters will quickly move to another.

Despite some fans at age 72, Mayor Andy Soglin is still too much a Madison phenom to even pretend to the Bernie throne.

Another I personally like and find extremely knowledgeable about state government didn’t make my list – Rep. Kathleen Vinehout. Her folksy “gosh all gee” style is more appealing in rural communities.  I don’t think her mixture of clay feet and personal opinions can survive statewide – though I get angry at intense feminists saying someone who personally opposes abortion but believes in other women’s rights (Vinehout) is automatically disqualified.  How dare they?  I know a hell of a lot of progressives that demeans.  Vinehout also has a cautious rural outlook on gun issues, which is another factor that will keep many urban Democrats away from her personality.

Also harmed by his past experience as lawyer for the conservative Milwaukee archdiocese (now belatedly embracing the issues of social justice) is Matt Flynn, a solid veteran Democrat with the best shock of hair of anyone running.  His support years ago of many notable Democrats has led them to back him out of loyalty and his platform is detailed and appealing to millenials as well as fellow 70 year olds.

As lawyer he is probably being overly attacked for how child-abusing priests were shipped to other districts – he argues he did a lot to stop that. But his job to save the church money in settlements was to constantly pepper victims of abuse about details and finances – and those victims have long memories and strong media connections. Dodge he might, but this issue has legs that incapacitate his chances with voters.

Flynn has put legalizing marijuana at the top of his list, emphasizing personal use while the winning argument is about incarceration, and he is over promising on getting rid of Foxconn, which many want gone but realists prefer cutting back rather than pretending it is reversible. He also strikes many voters I talked to as aloof in manner, which may be part of their lingering desire for a firebrand.


Tony Evers on the campaign trail.
Though he threw a perfectly timed “damn” at Walker, which seemed out of character, Tony Evers isn’t running as a firebrand but as a well-known experienced leader who has worked with both sides while retaining progressive credentials. He hates the way voucher schools are funded but he cherishes their students.  He has detailed how to cut down the “financial travesty” known as Foxconn and how to bolster education – and I believe his attention to nuance will have legs.

He is being beat up a bit as “the old white guy in the race” (at 66!) but his stubbornness and ability are well known statewide, where he  has won the state school superintendent race three times.  I had also been seriously looking at Dana Wachs as a heartier echo of Evers’ ideas, but he withdrew to endorse Evers.


Kelda Roys talking education with a voter.
So Evers is on my top list along with one of the youngest candidates in the race, Kelda Roys, a former state legislature and youthful-looking mother who has leapt up on the outside in the race through personal appeal and a very astute platform on what she would do as governor. She displays the know-how.   Kelda’s problem is not young voters who like her positions but older voters who may doubt she has the maturity and are still burned by picking an unknown woman (Mary Burke) the last time.

But I admit I’m impressed – even more than the selling point of letting the younger generation have a chance at the helm. She has grown mightily in style from her previous fumbling race against Rep. Mark Pocan and she would be a strong contrast to Walker in debates while Evers would be a familiar contrast.  The two are quite different but they jump to the top of my list. 


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 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 Urban Milwaukee.  


Thursday, May 24, 2018

HOW BEST TO FLING WALKER’S CHILDISH BRIBE BACK IN HIS FACE

By Dominique Paul Noth

In a blatant ploy to buy votes for his re-election, Gov. Scott Walker signed a law in April that will give parents of young children $100 per-child cash rebate just in time to make them feel good about him -- if they apply by July 2 to get the money later in the summer, along with a one-week tax holiday in August on school supplies.  Sneaky Scott, loading up the pitiful goodies just before the November election.

An estimated 600,000 Wisconsin families could see the largesse from these two tax programs, some $137 million in all that will not be better spent directly on schools but try to make Walker look like a child-friendly governor.  It is such a raw attempt to buy favor and votes that many families are casting around to find a better use.

An educator friend has the best idea of how to turn the tables on Walker.

Families should take the $100 per child and give the money to their favorite local Democratic candidate to help turn the state’s education slump around and defeat Walker in the bargain.  Change the legislature and the governor -- and educational needs will start to be met!

It’s one of the few times that the cavalier way Walker has used state taxpayer money for his own image-stroking can be turned around and pointedly used to  tell him to go away. It is rightly being called Walker’s Folly – giving citizens ammunition to vote his gang out of office with his own misuse of our money. 

Trump (with Pence) may display Harleys but he sure shrugged off
promises to American workers.
There is, alas, no such simple turnaround with most of what the conservative elites are doing to cripple democratic norms.  And that has turned out to be particularly true about their own tax bill. They’ve made it a living breathing example of why trickle down doesn’t work – especially when no controls are put on greed. 

The main problem was giving most of the money to the wealthy who already have it and doing very little for the struggling workers.  All those words about how good businesses leaders would elevate Main Street along with Wall Street rather than line their own pockets are now exposed as a farce.

The tax bill dropped the corporate tax rate from 31% to 25% but according to many news sources, the corporate preference was to use that windfall not for workers but for stock buybacks –   $178 billion in the first three months of 2018 while hourly earnings for American workers averaged a 67 cent increase.

Trump and the GOP had touted the tax bill as good news for the American worker, but again and again companies have decided not to invest in their home workforces or expand them, or even improve their facilities – all of which could be accomplished, and the public was told it would be, by lowering the corporate tax rate. Instead, the tax bill has mainly resulted in using profits to benefit shareholders and continue to outsource jobs.

The picture postcard for this behavior is a Milwaukee landmark company – Harley Davidson. Whatever pride Wisconsin felt when its motorcycles were displayed on the White House lawn and Trump spake wonderful words about the company have now vanished.  Harley has taken its tax profit to reward shareholders – announcing a dividend and a stock buyback of 15 million shares – and close its Kansas City plant, throwing 800 out of work while claiming it was adding 450 various jobs in York, Pennsylvania, a loss of 350 jobs if you are keeping count.

The Steelworkers and machinists of Harley are keeping even better count, pointing to a new Harley facility about to open in Thailand as well as a plant in India to increase the company’s international fleet.  There is also a plant in Brazil. 

Though Harley spokesmen insist in press releases that opening a plant in Thailand had no impact on the Kansas City decision to close down, for which the unions had no warning, Harley workers dispute that, as Kansas City machinist Richard Pence did in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal: “Part of my job is being moved to York, but the other part is going to Bangkok.” 

In 2017 Harley and two unions representing production employees terminated their 22-year partnership, so Harley felt under no legal compulsion to tell the workers they were losing their jobs.

Machinist President Robert Martinez Jr.
Others in Wisconsin have long memories of broken promises, as when then House Speaker Paul Ryan traveled to the Harley-Davidson plant in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, in 2017 to preview the Republican tax bill as a way to “keep jobs here in America.” 

IAM President (International Association of Machinists) Robert Martinez Jr. even  sent a letter this March  to the White House asking Trump to save the Kansas City facility where “for decades, hard-working machinists have devoted their lives to making high-quality, American-made products for Harley.”

Asked to elaborate, Martinez said simply, “America’s working men and women deserve better than being thrown out onto the street.”    He clearly wants to hold Trump’s feet to the fire of his campaign pledges.

But Harley is hardly alone in seeing the tax bill as a way to line CEO  pockets and shaft the worker, both blue collar and middle class.   Other companies that have gone the stock buyback route rather than elevate its US workforce: Alphabet (Google’s parenting company), Cisco, Wells Fargo, Pepsi and many more.

Walker’s Folly may give voters a chance to fling his cash back in his face to help opponents, but curing the corporate behavior over the tax bill requires careful strategizing about what sort of votes will right the ship.

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 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 Urban Milwaukee.  


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

SOME UNDERTOWS BENEATH WISCONSIN BLUE WAVE

By Dominique Paul Noth

Of the nine active candidates running for governor on the Democratic side, the worst strikes me as better in policy and personality than that  tired, glib one-note  Scott Walker who has driven our beloved state toward the bottom of every poll on good places to live.

Wisconsin bishops leave the mainstream but Tammy tells it true.
But that’s not to say that several candidates don’t bring their own complicated resumes and controversial decisions to the table. And that’s not to say that voters don’t sometimes drive themselves away from candidates through their own pet peeves or unbending expectations.  As the moment  approaches when cleaving together, knitting together at the ballot box will be most important, Democrats have to face up to attitudes that tear at the fabric.

Progressive groups are applying pressure with online polls and meetings to thin the herd, an action that disturbed some voters I talked to. They fear this is leading to some kind of purity test about what peripheral issues should be important – and that some candidates demeaned as moderates may actually embody the path to victory. 

The pressure may elevate issues into a central position that many voters don’t feel as strongly about as devotees, and some may even feel differently about.

Bringing all ages and social classes along is difficult but essential. Despite the youth movement that has so excited the Democrats, the fact remains that seniors are more politically active, voting in numbers way out of proportion to their share of the population. Increasing the youth vote seems underway, but cultivating the older reliable voters remains crucial. It’s probably not good strategy to tell traditional voters, “Get with the program or get out of the way!”

All this plays against a national backdrop.  The Democrats want their platforms to weigh more heavily than their attitude toward Trump, but his presence is certainly felt. His efforts to turn the country back to 1930s isolationism or 1950s “what’s good for General Motors is good for the country” are forcing Democrats to look for fresher, bolder ideas and bolder statements to emphasize the antiquity of his views and the 21st century nature of theirs.

And let’s be honest – no candidate for governor has yet caught fire with the public.  So voters are more susceptible to attacks on those candidates they know little about and definitely susceptible to  vague rumors and  undercurrents.

Let’s explore two undercurrents that are not much discussed. Let’s start with the bluntest:

Catholicism. Or, more broadly, how people view religion within politics, and why Catholics in Wisconsin are central to the mix – they are the biggest segment of those who claim to be religious.

Pope Francis may be an ardent conservative but when asked if homosexuals can’t be religious, he said, “Who am I to judge?” It’s not a view that springs easily to the lips of Wisconsin’s conservative bishops who tend to put their oar in on issues other than social justice.

This became apparent when all sent a letter to Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who is gay, accusing her of opposing Catholicism when expressing doubts about Trump judicial candidate Gordon Giampietro. He failed to share his real thoughts with the selection committee (mainly that US Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision on same sex marriage was wrong and “worse than Roe vs. Wade”). 

It was a strange and even ludicrous attack on Baldwin, who routinely votes for Catholic judges,  or on the selection committee that chose three Catholics out of four picks, or  for that matter on the US Supreme Court, which has six Catholics.

But it underlines one problem with American Catholicism – and why it is losing many young people who think the church is strident on issues such as women or women’s rights.  These  cafeteria Catholics, as they are often called,   feel  free to select out what they believe in. That maddens bishops who meanwhile madden Catholics when they save their letters for issues like homosexuality and  don’t embrace social justice causes that are even more intrinsic to Catholic beliefs. 

These Catholics accept the separation of church and state, that  the US Constitution allows things the church doesn’t, so there shouldn’t be special tensions on Catholics who become judges about which oath they will be following. You might think JFK settled that issue but it keeps rising up.

There are even progressives who argue that anyone against abortion can’t be a member of the Democratic Party, much less a candidate.  But honestly, there are a heck of a lot of great social justice Catholics who personally oppose abortion, though they recognize that constitutional freedoms allow the pill, same sex marriage and Roe vs. Wade rules on abortion. To drum them out of women’s marches or out of candidate support groups is really shooting your candidate in the foot. But that is indeed happening in Wisconsin.

Many Catholics part ways from the hierarchy on how to handle the issues of LBGTQ  and same sex marriage.  Yet these are the voters who don’t always feel welcome by some Democrats though their personal views on social issues are anathema to the GOP. 

This is playing out in Wisconsin gubernatorial politics. If a candidate expresses pro-life concerns  -- or  times when women’s rights conflict with others’ rights --   a segment of the electorate looks with disfavor. Some don’t believe you can be pro-choice and pro-life.  Politics are making it hard to tread a middle path – where a surprising number of voters feel comfortable.

Marijuana -- That's another undercurrent fighting to become loud and central. Legalizing it has been the rallying cry of many campaigns, almost a definition in today’s politics of being progressive.  There are even groups that feel if this is not a central platform of a candidate for governor, he or she should be tossed to the curb.  

There are good reasons for the March for Cannabis. But the weakest in my view is personal freedom – the same sort of personal freedom that allows people to smoke tobacco or not wear safety helmets on bikes or cycles or drink 38 ounces of sugar soft drinks if they damn well want to. 

Legalized smoking or vaping has long been a health concern for individuals and their neighbors – you can start a good argument any place about whether tobacco should even be legal. And it is hard to imagine an entire party building its platform around introducing foreign substance into the body regardless of how extremist the penalty was in the past.

Even the push for pot for medicinal purposes is not about creating pills but allowing smoking or related access to CBD oil.  The medical issues are complex and rendered scientifically ridiculous by people like AG Jeff Sessions who  link pot with the opioid epidemic

Yet there are salient reasons for making pot legal – mainly the incarceration impact,  the reality of a pot to prison pipeline that has no justice in reality and brands good people with prison records they have to explain all their lives. 

There are also imbalances of race and income behind this incarceration and a lot of evidence that many so-called  felony non-violent  pot convictions stem from an exaggerated and painful era of our law and order excess. The human cost as well as the financial cost are enormous.

This alone should bring legalization. Candidates who push that side of the issue make a lot of sense. 

We haven’t even mentioned the money government could make from the business now rewarding underworld profiteers – and the attendant crime that would prevent.  But the money reward for states is there and the voters know it, even if it sounds greedy on the stump. 

Democrats should brim with sensibility when they discuss these issues – not assume that all Democrats of all generations are simpatico. When you want all to push together on the final road, you have to make roadblocks temporary and openness to variety essential.

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 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 Urban Milwaukee. 


Thursday, April 26, 2018

MONSIEUR MACRON GOES TO WASHINGTON

By Dominique Paul Noth

Macron and Trump
Tuesday (April 24) the media had grand fun with the man-hugs between Trump and Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron, president of France, during the first formal state meeting and dinner the US president has held. Lots of grimace-causing handshakes, a moment of dandruff brushing by Trump that Macron took with a grin, constant chatter about how these two leaders couldn’t quit each other.

But the media attempt to make Macron a laughingstock backfired bigtime when he addressed a joint session of Congress Wednesday morning and in impeccable English carved out a place for himself as the true leader of the West.

Even discounting the required standing, the cheers and rounds of applause that greet every speaker to these congressional gatherings, Macron was making the sort of impact across the aisles that Trump never enjoys. His reputation in Europe may be something of a conservative taskmaster but in the US he suddenly came across as a progressive.

He forcefully proclaimed the heritage of the two countries, defended the Paris climate accord and longed for the US to return to that accord and continue the Iran nuclear pact – elevating saving the planet as the concern that sooner or later would bring the US back to his side.

He discounted the value of “commercial wars” (read trade wars) and made it clear throughout, to spontaneous eruptions of applause, that his viewpoints were far more popular in Congress than Trump’s.  He bluntly said America would be judged by history on its maturity about climate change and intelligent world policy, rather than the fits and hiccups generally emanating from the White House.  It was a pointed rebuke.

And quite a turnaround for Congress.  Even the Republican gentlemen ensconced behind him, Vice President Pence and Speaker Ryan, were forced to their feet more often than they had planned, yet 16 years ago they were part of the group in Congress that changed French fries to “Freedom Fries,” so angry were they at France for not joining the Iraq war.

So let the media have its fun setting the Trump-Macron lovefest to music and providing constant front-page photos of the two leaders holding hands and patting each other on the back. 

Macron may have looked like a little boy standing next to Trump, but he was the one with the smile of a tiger.   It was Trump who looked fawning and it was Macron who was quietly grabbing the mantle of world leader.

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 Urban Milwaukee. 


Friday, April 20, 2018

WHY DEMOCRATS ARE CHOKING YOUR EMAIL ACCOUNTS ACROSS NATION

By Dominique Paul Noth

Meet the candidates nationwide in your emails and snail mail begging for money – not just through many political or party groups but more often in personalized notes from themselves or famous supporters. 


Among the liberal senators facing ferocious
GOP money attacks are Sherrod Brown . . .
As a journalist I sign into multiple campaigns of both parties to keep track of what is happening. This year the Democrats have made it much easier for all of us, since so many are sending missives laced with money hunger, deadline pleas, matching fund opportunities, desperation or even “where have you been?” panic. (Like “Why haven’t we heard from you, insert name?)

Sensing a momentous wave, candidates around the country have intensified reaching out.


. . . and Elizabeth Warren  . . . 
  One result is that the money sent Democratic candidates is bulging and so are the number of women candidates.  It’s all still second place to the GOP, but it is making more contests competitive and even making an  earlier impact than the Republicans.

Act Blue, an internet service that candidates use to make sending money easy, is already closing in on its 2016 results – seven months ahead of the election!

. . . and Wisconsin's own Tammy Baldwin . . .
Big progressive donors are being stretched to the max and so are the little donors who remain the bulk of the Democratic party giving and voting. For state parties, this is a mixed blessing, as they reluctantly confess.

Great if there’s a nationwide sweep but it comes at some cost to local election fund-raising. 

. . . but so are moderates like Claire McCaskill.
It may be unfair that the average citizen is being asked to give till it hurts, but how else to combat  the superior dark money offered on the GOP side from  such billionaires as the Kochs and the Mercers, an Addison demanding genuflection, an Uihlein here, a Hendricks there – just add your favorite villain. 

The Democrats cannot hope to match this outlay, so they need to pile up $25 donations across the land to reflect the reality of growing support. So it may be a good dilemma for local candidates who feel money for them is drying up from the national blitz –at least everyone is working in the same direction when it comes to turnout. 

The problem for many folks on fixed income or little discretionary money is – where do you put the dough and how much to how many?  Most progressives I know of are investing more than they sensibly can afford, but feel it is vital for the country.  But there are some races where “give till it hurts” causes moral pain, particularly in D.C. Senate and House races which once limited fund-raising to the state you live in. 

Not counting the two independents who vote with the Democrats – King and Sanders seem in good shape – there are 23 Democratic Senate seats facing renewal or replacement in November – and only eight Republican ones. Nine GOP if you include the Mississippi seat of retiring Thad Cochran, which requires a November election to complete his term until 2020.

Mississippi is usually unthinkable -- Democrats have not won a Senate race there since 1982 -- but the Democrats are making inroads in House elections and the senate picture is still shaping up.  Wyoming’s John Barrasso and Mississippi’s other senator, Roger Wicker, didn’t seem much threatened . . . until a few weeks ago. 


Arizona's Krysten Sinema
But the Republicans willingly leaving are certainly threatened seats -- Jeff Flake most notably in Arizona where Rep. Krysten Sinema is running an ardent campaign using the internet and even Bob Corker as Tennessee voters weigh the horror of Rep. Marsha Blackburn replacing him, rather than Democrat Phil Bredesen, a former governor far better liked and in some polls leading

Blackburn’s hard blond FOX persona is so frightening that Corker even toyed with un-retiring rather than see her run.

Nevada's Jackie Rosen
While still uphill, buoyant Rep. Jackie Rosen is mounting a strong challenge to Republican Dean Heller in Nevada and, amazingly, Rep. Beto O’Rourke has subdued his opponent’s insults in Texas by out-raising Ted Cruz, a race the internet seems eager to keep hot.  

But Mitt Romney seems a shoo-in replacement for retiring Orrin Hatch in Utah, keeping that seat Republican. And Deb Fischer seemed a shoo-in until Democratic activist Jane Raybould and others started hitting her on issues important in Nebraska – health care and her support for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

But the real Senate threats – and the real push for money – involve nearly two dozen sitting Democrats, many facing those outrageous amounts of third party money hard to trace.

Several  races the Republicans won’t much bother with – New Mexico’s quiet and popular senator Martin Heinrich, Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono, Delaware’s Tom Casper, Washington State’s Maria Cantwell, even Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and  Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse, Virginia’s Tim Kaine, and Maryland’s Ben Cardin despite a bizarre primary challenge from Chelsea Manning.

But everyone else, especially the most liberal Democrats, are burning up the web with pleas to combat the millions pouring in against them. 

Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin is heavily pounded by GOP money which doesn’t seem to care who she faces (two Republicans, each with their own billionaire in their hip pockets, are trying to knock each other off before the August primary).  

Also pounded by the right are Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow and Florida’s slightly more moderate Bill Nelson who now faces Florida’s well-heeled governor, Rick Scott.

Challenged by outside money are New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand and Connecticut’s Chris Murphy in states they should normally have a comfortable lead in.

In two cases, New Jersey’s Bob Menendez and California’s Diane Feinstein – the challenge may come from Democrats on the left, somewhat curious in the Feinstein case, where the arguments against her float dangerously close to ageism.

But there are Democrats desperate for campaign money that progressive Democrats raise questions about.  

These are the blue dogs whether they accept the name or not, likely to vote with the Republicans on some issues such as a tax bill and yet stand unblinking with fellow Democrats on issues like Obama healthcare. They look strong for the Democrats in reddish states when compared with their opponents.  But without weighing those opponents, what is a poor donor to do when email solicitations arrive from West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly? (In my experience, Casey has been less present on the Internet push than the others.)

The donor instincts are not just about differences of kind in a “big tent party”  -- which should and do exist regionally -- but in worrying about how these Democrats will vote  for six years into the future, and how hard they will work to reverse Trump’s mistakes should their party  gain the majority. 

These are the four that trouble me most.  But while also moderate in their votes, I have a great deal more sympathy and belief in Montana’s Jon Tester (who is fighting Illinois billionaire money from Richard Uihlein supporting his opponent) and particularly Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, whose fighting spirit is admirable and whose ideas are thought-provoking. Given their general control of Missouri, the Republicans are coming after her hardcore – she is considered the most threatened Democratic senate incumbent, though Baldwin might give her an argument. Even Democrats who don’t always agree with her are rallying to her support.

Last time, Republican backwardness on sex helped her win against Todd Atkins – can lightning strike twice?  This time her opponent is state attorney general Josh Hawley, who has been stymied in straightening out his own state GOP.  That stems from his governor, Eric Greitens  who admits to an extramarital affair, is battling blackmail and criminal charges and yet refuses to resign, accusing his opposition of  “a political witch hunt.” Talk about a Trump echo chamber.

Hawley had hoped Greitens would quit to put felony and blackmail charges behind him – and also behind Hawley early in his campaign against McCaskill.  His ineffectiveness has become a campaign issue. McCaskill may get another reprieve through self-imposed Republican folly.
[Editor's note May 31: Greitens did quit, which may be bad news for McCaskill.] 

Hiral Tipirneni is fighting from behind to win
an April 24 special election in Arizona.
As if the Senate elections weren’t busy enough, social media users have been badgered by innumerable House campaigns.  An Arizona House candidate facing a special election April 24, Hiral Tipirneni, is soliciting campaign letters from embattled senate Democrats like Gillibrand while Heitkamp has provided endorsing emails for California Rep candidate Brian Forde, a former Obama adviser.

Miami Beach’s David Richardson, hungry to replace retiring Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, has also flooded Facebook, causing Midwest confusion among people who have never heard of him.  Similarly South Carolina’s Joe Cunningham hopes you will directly help him knock Mark Sanford back to Argentina.

Likewise, South Carolina’s Archie Parnell running against GOP gun toting Ralph Norman has launched his own direct Facebook campaign while Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos is directly soliciting Democrats in border states for her threatened 17th District in a former Trump region. 

Emily’s List is in your email pushing 36 (!) House pro-choice women including Iowa’s Cindy Axne, Florida’s Mary Flores, Washington State’s Kim Schrier, California’s Mai Khanh Tran and Illinois’ Lauren Underwood (many of whom would flip red seats to blue) plus female candidates for governorships.  Even attorney generals in other states have gotten into the internet act.

On and on down every ballot, including those you can’t vote in, the money wheel spins across the US.  Will it tap your savings?


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 Urban Milwaukee.  


Saturday, April 14, 2018

ADD TOUGHNESS ON SYRIA TO TRUMP’S CHAIN OF MISCONCEPTIONS

By Dominique Paul Noth


Trump closed the barn door on dapper dictator Bashar al-Assad after
his chemical attack crushed his opposition.
We don’t need to rely on Russian bots to fill our email and news feeds with false history.  The Republican Party and the Trump administration have that well in hand, demonstrated by a selective and probably ineffective airstrike on Syria April 13 that closed with Trump reviving Bush’s false claim at the end of the Iraq war:  “Mission Accomplished.”

He was not alone. UN ambassador Nikki Haley lowered her reputation for accurate tough talk by declaring about the airstrike that “America was locked and loaded” (quoting Trump) and then added this:

“When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the red line.”

This red line rhetoric is meant to be a slap at Obama rather than at the Republican Congress that refused to back up his stance on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, first taken six years ago.

It has become a Republican centerpiece of fake news, suggesting that a weak Obama failed where a strong Trump is succeeding, building up the Tin Man to hide his Cowardly Lion bluster.

Now there are legitimate arguments that can be made about Obama’s approach to foreign policy. His was more a case by case solution  rather than a hawk or dove overview, but he contemplated intervention at a time when US action in Syria could have made a difference – when there was a real civil war and Assad’s authoritarian ruthlessness was in jeopardy. 

Things might have been different if the US stepped in then, but the US was clearly sick of such Mideast conflicts and questioned whether our government should insert us in a civil war regardless of the crimes against humanity that Assad was engaging in.

We drew a mental line, not a red one, between the brutality of conventional weapons and the use of poison gas. The second we wanted to act on. The first not so much, though it was killing more innocents. (View online the documentary that should have won the Oscar: “Last Men in Aleppo.”)

Thus in 2013, after Obama had drawn a red line around the further use of chemical weapons, Congress balked at giving him military authority to enforce it.  (Trump’s current authority is a paper-thin resolution previously used to justify the Iraqi War.) So a frustrated Obama maneuvered and accepted Russia’s promise to supervise removal of all of Assad’s chemical weapons, accomplishing by diplomacy what he had been denied militarily. 

Today we know the Russians misled UN inspectors and did a lousy job. But we forget the deal did hold up for Obama’s remaining years.  Once Trump came in 2017, Syria reverted to multiple uses of chemical weapons, not stopped by an air strike a year ago and maybe this time not stopped by a military one-off but by the facts on the ground.

In the intervening time Assad’s forces have dominated the opposition and, with Iran and Russia support, firmed up Assad’s dictatorship. Why risk universal condemnation over chemicals when ruthlessness with conventional weapons can bring the same result – and aren’t being protested by the US government? Besides, Assad's recent use of gas was specifically to drive out the last active remnants of the resistance, crushing their will by devastating their children. That Mission Accomplished may have been his.

Despite Trump’s full court press in the media, despite pretense that his America is tougher than the old America,  TV viewers had better get used to turning away from continuing images of brutality rained on Syrian families and cities – and certainly turn away from any pretense we are doing anything concrete about it. 

We have become good at turning away and at accepting false narratives.

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 Urban Milwaukee. 


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

DALLET’S WIN IS SURFACE OF A CHANGING ELECTORATE

By Dominique Paul Noth


JS expert photographer Rick Wood caught Dallet and her family
at her April 3 victory party.
It was rainy and cold throughout Wisconsin Tuesday but that did not deter the forces behind Rebecca Dallet from leaping in puddles, doing handsprings and yelling eureka! when she was the obvious winner with only half the vote counted over Michael Screnock for a 10 year term on the state’s highest court.

There were reasons for the Democrats to revel in glee in what is on paper a nonpartisan race.  Screnock had open backing from what has become in many minds the evil triumvirate – the NRA, the Republican Party and the conservative juggernaut disguised as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, literally flooding his campaign with dark money. 

Dallet had her own liberal backers and some big out of state names that usually ignore our high court race. But it was not just Joe Biden and Eric Holder making the race a national media story.  Ever since Trump, there has been a David vs. Goliath feeling to Wisconsin elections, so dominant has been the GOP grip on the state government and the state’s sad emergence as a national test tube for Trumpian ideas.

For many her win is the start of retrieving respect and balance for the high court. Even Gov. Scott Walker regarded Dallet’s win as the first surge of a Blue Wave.

It did not escape notice that part of Dallet’s victory was in Paul Ryan’s House District 1 where (except for Waukesha County) she won or basically tied in the other four counties, part of a district gerrymandered to remain Republican. Dallet’s reputation is not just as a liberal values judge but a judge with law and order credentials, which could explain the size of her win.

But much of it spells hope for less well heeled candidates running against Ryan in November -  if he decides to run (the polls have moved him from sure thing to threatened and as of this writing he had not announced his decision on his future).

The 12 point margin of her victory also suggested, as many elections around the country have recently done, that the one-time sure hold the Republicans believed they had on rural territories has evaporated.

Not that superior money doesn’t make a difference, but it is no longer the guarantee it once was in elections.  Nor are the usual outbreaks of slimy television ads, such as the one WMC increased showings of after the prosecutor and the named family in the case protested this perversion of the facts and invasion of privacy.  The ad reminiscent of the infamous Willie Horton commercial tried to paint the two-year sentence that Dallet had given as some kind of weakness. 


Louis Butler
The public wasn’t buying it, but it scared folks with long memories. Ten years ago Michael Gableman, who wisely decided not to run again, won his seat on the high court largely because of a Willie Hortonesque ad that was even more misleading but probably cost Louis Butler his incumbency on the court. Even today, Butler’s decisions and reputation on the court survive, but the ad robbed him of his career.

The public seems to have grown up – in most parts of the state.  In Milwaukee, County Executive Chris Abele, a rich man in his own and his father’s right, spent a fortune trying to reshape the county board to his preferences.

In the cases where he spent the most money, he lost handily, even suggesting that Oak Creek is fertile territory for a more progressive candidate for the legislature. Abele lavished more than $160,000 in flyers and campaign activities on his District 8 candidate, James Davies, who lost handily (56%-44% out of 7,682 votes) to public educator Steven Shea, endorsed by progressive groups.

In the race where Abele shoveled the most money – District 1 against board chairman Theodore Lipscomb Sr. – opponent Casey Shorts took advantage of the Abele LeadershipMKE’s $178,328 in anti-Lipscomb mailers and canvassers.  Shorts had entered the race on his own hook, but certainly didn’t deny the money help that gave him 48% of the vote, far closer than he would have gotten on his own steam.

Another Abele supported candidate, Patti Logsdon, benefited from $129,000 in his money to edge a conservative supervisor (Steven Taylor) in District 9, but with only 23 votes separating the candidates, expect a recount.
(Ed Note: Later results put the race 500 votes out of reach.)

Most successful was Abele’s support of incumbent Deanna Alexander over Sparkle Ashley in District 18, which retains on the county board his lone, very conservative and Trump-style supporter.  Abele also supported Alexander with campaign money, but Ashley did not provide a strong enough counter in a district ripe for change.

Abele’s money combined with pitiful turnout to defeat Supervisor Peggy West in the Latino dominated District 12, where his $63,945 effort paid enormous dividends, a sad comment on the Latino community where the voter turnout was a pitiful seventh of what District 1 drew.

The winner, Sylvia Ortiz Velez, may have run behind in the district before but never refused Abele’s help this time, though she told interviewers that she does not support all his  policies. But she clearly owes him her seat, so it will be interesting to see how she votes on the board.

The District 12 story, where only 1,417 turned out to vote, spells difficulty for many grassroots groups that supported West.   Whether it is the specter of Trump, Sessions and ICE or whether other factors, the US citizens of Hispanic heritage in this district are painfully reluctant to engage in local elections. 

In the District 7 race for an open seat, as all sides predicted, Felesia Martin won with a whopping 79% of the vote.

The sparse impact on the county board, most of whom did not face opposition, suggests that Abele is good at wasting money, not exactly the image he is working toward.   

Some will reduce the victories to progressive over moderate as they turn to thinning the field against Walker in the governor’s race.

But across the state there may be a different lesson.  Dallet’s main appeal was competence, experience and social values but in a form moderates also found appealing.  Putting absolutism in ideology first is not as smart as listening to the electorate.


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 Urban Milwaukee.