|Even in 1901 Robert M. La Follette Sr. looked like|
a governor, and he wasn't even a Democrat! What
will the new Democratic candidate look and
Talk about stepping on your own options! And having reality backwards. The race has already swept over Dane County Exec Joe Parisi, Green Bay Packers retiree Mark Tauscher (pretty smart idea), retired state senator Timothy Cullen and now is looking at businessmen (Andy Gronik???) and some more familiar names.
Not only do I think there is still time, but I’m worried about the price tag being put on the search, as opposed to the unity that must elevate the choice.
First, let’s dispense with the nonsense that Republicans do it better. Of course they will always have more money and if that is your standard, just go and lay down in the corner now. This is not a question the Republicans worry about, since Citizens United and unenforced campaign finance rules in Wisconsin mean they can rely on a network of dark money to fund Slenderman if that is the choice. Okay, I exaggerate but even if they pick Robin Vos they can raise money.
Inbred confidence about money puts the GOP ahead – but in ways that no one should emulate. And not that far ahead.
Trump may have talked endlessly about money during his campaign – and since -- and received endless free coverage for that. But his actual campaign outlay was lower. Maybe his voters thought some of his money would rub off on them. Promises were bigger in the Trump campaign. Only now the reality that he doesn’t know how to do diddly is sinking in.
The death rattle of weak deeds will count most in the campaign against Walker, who already is entering his seventh year in office. He is not a dumb politician. He makes it sound like it is his Christian and Boy Scout duty to oppose taxes in any shape except for his own secret and dirty ones. But he has been an ineffective governor. The ship of state just bobs back and forth in the same spot.
You can hardly quote him to create ridicule, as you can with Trump. Inelegant? Boastful? Sure, but hardly a memorable style. He’s much like Trump in promises exuded with confidence, but Walker already has a long track record of deception, of policies unfulfilled or exaggerated or misapplied. Current GOP legislators don’t admit this aloud, but he has put many in bind after bind.
This should be a campaign where the Democrats succeed by borrowing from Reagan – the “are you better off” question reaching back to 2010. Not just poor families but a typical middle class family of two parents and two kids, or single parents, or farmhands, or storekeepers or seniors – the bulk of the voters. It’s tax time. Have them write finances down and then look at the realities.
Despite Walker’s tax pledges, are you truly better off? Because of him? Can you claim real savings on property tax, faster transit to jobs, more assured life on the farm, better schooling at reasonable cost, health care improvements the state is responsible for, better treatment and balance in the environment – or is it mainly promises about not spending like the Democrats of GOP legend? And how has that welfare to educate the rich worked out for you?
Give Walker the votes of private school beneficiaries, throw in the upper class bureaucrats and managers, discount the GOP stalwarts who are wising up, and the Democrats stand a good chance despite Walker’s lock on the state GOP machinery and glib evasion on the hard statistics.
It may come down to how the Democrats argue for change, without a smidgen of arrogant superiority and a big dollop of common sense.
Of course money is essential to today’s campaign environment and it is harder for Democrats to scratch it up because they inevitably rely more on poorer voters. But a good candidate for the people is still an overriding advantage. History is one proof.
Leading into 2008, Obama was not the best heeled candidate but he stirred the most excitement and that allowed a working system to raise enormous funds. There were deeper initial coffers on the Hillary Clinton side and it did not matter.
In 2016, Hillary had the money advantage plus the universal sentiment that it was her turn – yet Bernie Sanders generated more excitement and probably took away the economy as the hottest issue for her. So she had to look elsewhere. In fact, back then, no one – not even the Sanders camp – questioned her plan to use Trump’s words against him, just as many now are pushing to use Walker’s words against him – you know the 250,000 jobs promise, the opposition to trains and other failures like that.
Forget the words. Walker’s record is prime for attack on basic principles. And never underestimate the power of taking a chance.
Right now the state party is consumed in discussing who will lead it behind the scenes even before picking a candidate. Not crazy about that priority. How about this one?
Imagine a Democrat with good ideas about transportation, about jobs and infrastructure, about how to rebuild Wisconsin as an education leader, about embracing the value of our land more than providing a free dump of hog manure into the river or a fouling of the water table.
Many Democrats need to put such ideas into writing and stop playing defense – or claims of “we obviously know better” -- against the GOP financial juggernaut. Remember, some Republicans are longing for the leash to be removed so they can just consider community needs. They may not jump over to the Democrats but their hesitation about Walker will be eminently exploitable.
Nor do the Democrats have a weak bench, just maybe a younger bench that may have to wait a few years to challenge for the top spot. I know the Milwaukee bench pretty well and asked some veteran Democratic rainmakers, such as former legislator Gary Goyke, to monitor my ideas and provide a few more names from around the state. That’s partly to put a lie to the attitude that the Democrats don’t have anyone anymore.
|Vinehout in 2012 campaigning at Serb Hall.|
Some are too green. Walker may for a long time represent the last gasp of trusting the state to an immature backbencher whatever his rep as a campaigner. So the Democratic candidate for governor should have some gravitas and proof of experience and results.
Name recognition is not as important as the impact that can be built over 18 months and the ability to withstand an onslaught of negativity. The interest should be from the angry bottom up.
Now it gets tricky. Think like a TV showrunner – because appearance carry weight in the modern era. It shouldn’t matter, but does the candidate have a voice like Ezio Pinza? Or a voice like Tiny Tim? How they sound and talk on the stump will be important.
|Can't look like a Coles Bashford in 1855.|
I have heard Vinehout’s peppy style and saw how it worked better with country voters than city ones, and I sense she is eager to run. There is another factor. Hillary may be right that there was some misogyny in play and Vinehout may suffer an interesting sort of backlash (men more enthusiastic than women) over the choice issue. But I also saw how she stepped right in to help dairy farmers in the Grasslands trade issue, as did Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
I don’t know what Dana Wachs sounds like or how well he speaks, never met him. I know he is being actively courted. Mainly I noticed the sort of bills Wachs introduced and backed, particularly a bill on voucher school financial openness that should have come out of Milwaukee. His ideas have geographic reach though I don’t know if his appeal does.
|Dana Wachs, an unknown face|
with a good resume
Basically I am annoyed if the Democratic search puts self-funding ahead of actual doing. The elements I have outlined -- what’s best for Wisconsin and who is proven -- count more than private income or potential celebrity. These are people we’re electing, not interchangeable brands.
I know this sounds idealistic and actually unrealistic to political insiders, who have to slave to raise funds and long for a head start. They are much more experienced than this outsider in those realities.
But I know what I want after Walker: Restoration in the broadest sense of the Wisconsin Idea. Even if they are new ideas. Our state has lingered too long in the middle and near the bottom while once it flooded the nation with hopeful concepts and successful programs.
For 10 years the author, Dominique Paul Noth, served as editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press until its demise in 2013 and continues to freelance to many publications as well as write for his own website and review theater for Urban Milwaukee. A professional journalist since the 1960s he has won multiple cultural and political journalism awards and for nearly two decades was film and drama critic before serving as senior editor at the Milwaukee Journal.