Thursday, December 10, 2015


Badly outnumbered in October, Assembly Democrats could do no more than stand in
recusal opposition to the self-serving campaign finance bill, typical of the self-protective changes that have occupied the GOP and rarely helped their constituents.
By Dominique Paul Noth

The extreme gerrymandering of Wisconsin districts, once the Republicans went ballistic with Census power in 2011 and 2012, made progressives throw up their hands in disbelief, look around the state in dismay  and in several cases I know decide to leave. They saw little chance to restore balance in assembly, senate, municipalities and school districts under the new strictures. 

Others deeply disagree. They cite some pretty potent legal action against the gerrymander that has an even better chance than an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary pass. They know similar national legal outrage is on their side.

They cling to the return to blue or at least respect for the purple that is traditionally the real Wisconsin. This balancing factor has long reared up in presidential year elections such as we have coming up in 2016 – and every sensible pollster expects a Democratic sweep.

Sober heads realize that you have to start with April of 2016 because November is going to be focused on federal level hopes – US presidency, Senate and House. The voters can’t change the governor’s mansion until 2018 though they can render the Walker juggernaut impotent by reversing just one state chamber in November and being intelligent about judicial and municipal races in February and April.

Still, that’s something of a Band-Aid until municipalities and statehouses return to sanity -- the stability to provide real choice year in and year out. And that will take aggressive turnout to counteract the gerrymandering and the misguided values.

A recent column rounded up the current statewide damage of the Walker years  and the damage to come as long as the machine controls not just the governor’s office but both legislative chambers and, worst of all, the corrupt referee known as the  state supreme court.  It all  makes for mighty accurate and depressing reading – and curiously enough even GOP analysts admit the consequences are chilling the districts once safely in that party’s control.

There’s something going on in Wisconsin, and if you discount the Pollyanna wish-fulfillment aspects – the demand for instant gratification rampant in public expectations, be the concern Isis or health care costs -- you might find reasons for patience and hope. Perhaps the Wisconsin Idea, the real meaning of reform and the place of the state as one of the leading factories of democratic advances might return, as opposed to remaining the hind end of US representative democracy

Rather amazingly on issues like public education, environmental protection for future generations, assault weapons, property taxes and local control,  the state’s lousy record is unifying  conservatives and liberals on the same general issues. They haven’t yet realized the truth in that or the advantages of working together. 

Pollsters keep running into traditional GOP voters not about to leap the fence to the Democratic side but no longer a shoo-in for the machine candidate.  Worries about how these voters will jump are now rushing into Republican legislators’ decisions of how to run again and in several cases why to take early retirement instead. 

The main mistake of the GOP, it seems, has been solidifying their power by taking away so many aspects of local control.  Their own supporters and especially their supporters’ children are now suffering the consequences of lording it over the opposition rather than directly helping the citizens in the bills they pushed.  They were dealing in revenge politics. It works for a while but has a limited shelf life in Wisconsin.
While retaining her seat, Supervisor Marina
Dimitrijevic quit her chairperson role
to run Wisconsin's Working
Families Party.

Meanwhile, the progressives are tired of being labeled losers or waiting four years between notable victories while they are still the dominant side of Wisconsin voting (that darn gerrymandering).  The danger of such frustration is apparent if you look at the national extremists on the Republican side.  (Remember when there was a time when Republicans had moderates and even progressive ideas?). They blame Romney’s loss not on Obama’s appeal but because Romney sought out the center.

So right now if you look at that cuckooland presidential field, the Republicans are reveling in the most outrageous excessive nastiness and un-politically correct revisionist they can find, viewing each tack to the middle as a sign of weakness not common sense.  No one can say how long this tendency will last – we’re nearly a year ahead of the actual election.

One thing is clear -- Democrats better not follow that pattern.   In online social media their camps might seem in similar disarray if you listen to the voices so pro-Sanders they say they won’t vote for Hillary, and vice versa. It’s largely nonsense or anticipatory sour grapes. But to casual observers and troublemakers it can sound like Republican style dissension rather than in-fighting among relatives around the dinner table.

Online where younger frustrated texters and strident voices thrive -- and law and order decisions foreign and domestic are constantly dissected and attacked -- it is almost inevitable that Sanders will win any online poll – as just occurred when the Working Families Party (WFP) gave Sanders the online voting nod for the presidency.  And that could seem divisive until you realize that Sanders himself and Hillary herself have been careful not to be so ornery in their disagreements as to bar future cooperation.

In Wisconsin, WFP this year established a chapter known as WWFP (the extra W for Wisconsin) led by such progressive voices as Marina Dimitrijevic, Eyon Biddle and Kim Schroeder.  Both Dimitrijevic and national organizer Joe Dinkin (based in New York City where notches in the WFP belt include Mayor Bill de Blasio) have discussed the importance of issues like public education and economic inequality ahead of personality contests. Sander’s platform is built around similar issues (raising minimum wage, paid sick days, reducing or eliminating student debt, opposing privatization of public schools, attacking Wall Street profits at the expense of Main Street) and he has been consistent for decades.

He is a lifelong organizer and politician -- he showed campaign astuteness in Vermont while wandering in the wilderness on national debates in the Senate, making friends far more than changing policy. So he is a particular champion of those beliefs and in context the pressure from his camp has forced front-runner Clinton to speak up on the same issues, which is what his supporters should want.  

Hillary in an interview shrewdly revived an old saying in politics – Republicans fall in line while Democrats fall in love. That reflects the tendency of Democrats to pick personality first. Seen in this context WFP is a necessary corrective to the Democratic past.
Former Supervisor Eyon Biddle returned to
Milwaukee to help run the WWFP.

The WFP is not squeamish as some Democrats have been about pumping issues first and rejecting candidates who talk a good game and then vote selfishly when in office and against the platforms they ran on.  That really isn’t Hillary whose progressive credentials are long and deep. But so is her pragmatism and experienced deal-making, which fosters some suspicion on the left. 

Cynics who want to win at all costs will take this online vote for Sanders as a way to dismiss WFP members as typically overly excitable or non-pragmatic progressives. But that is to misread the shift in emphasis and the embrace of Bernie for a lovable example of leading every speech with passion for issues.  To this point he hasn’t generated the national revolution he aspired to. Only selective states seem to be “feeling the Bern” if you believe the polls. But to dismiss his enthusiasts as naïve is itself naïve.

WWFP is operating in a Bern friendly state where it does not field its own slate of candidates or have a separate line on the ballot (so-called fusion voting). It matches its choices to the existing party structure and would accept the right Republican or Green Party fella  if he or she was an ardent believer in the same social issues and has a well planned campaign. So this is common sense fusion within the (usually) Democratic label, since most Walker acolytes are wishy-washy on these issues.

In this way, as the WWFP gathers strength and supporters, that means  a local endorsement from WWFP is difficult to earn and requires a lot of commitment to turning out voters -- new voters where possible. It is something of a stamp of true progressive values and approval, which is why WWFP takes time and care in putting its brand on candidates.

And WWFP represents only one facet of the notable changes in grassroots activity in Wisconsin.  The challenge for anyone who thinks of themselves as progressive, activists admit,  is getting their voters to put aside temporary disputes  to turn out – and they must not just turn out every four years and in the fall but  again and again on crucial local elections. A further issue largely discussed on the sidelines but growing in importance involves how you can be a moderate and still earn progressive support. There does tend to be passion around who deserves that label of progressive.
Martha Laning

Many other notable changes in the grassroots landscape warrant future discussion.  The state Democratic Party  in under new leadership and some new listening sessions in various districts.  It is still evolving into a big change of the perceived emphasis in the past on centralized party bosses and familiar avenues of decision. Martha Laning, for four months the new chair, is still developing a full staff and slate of November candidates, focusing on a likely take-back of the state senate.  

Other progressive groups and newly aroused activists are weighing how to fit into the picture. Already many veterans are recruiting new activists and organizing online groups, drinking clubs and hosting sessions with politicians around the issues they are eager to support.

Indeed, if you look at the just released Badger Blueprint for the future from Senate Democrats, while too generalized in its sweep, it is anticipating legislation that dovetails with WWFP and other progressive goals.   

The unions also have changed, not just for their own members. Union leaders always argued that their insistence on better wages raised all boats and generally improved working conditions for all over the decades and it is true.  But now they are plunging into the water and pulling those boats up, and that is a change from two decades ago. While once there was tension between unions and certain minorities, that has fallen away and today there are new embraces in supporting each other’s rallies and getting out the vote.

This new cooperation is especially important in Wisconsin where Walker’s minions have gone out of their way to weaken labor unions -- not because they ever represented any real economic danger to taxpayers, usually just the opposite. It was because unions were good at raising money against the GOP and mobilizing  grassroots support. If you look deeply into Act 10 and right-to-work laws, they really have little to do with freedom of opportunity for the worker. Their intent was to destroy the money flow against Republicans.  

But Walker’s weakening them in one area may have strengthened their determination in embracing groups with like-minded concerns and speeding modernized methods of getting the word out.  And they still have the best street campaign instincts in the election business.

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 

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