Wednesday, March 28, 2018


By Dominique Paul Noth

No one is sure anymore what it means to be a Republican.  Their traditional voters are even more confused. The people they hired to represent them in the state senate and assembly are swinging slightly left over here and then far right over there, clouding why they ever were sent to Madison.   Or they are simply refusing to run again, sensing a Democratic tsunami in their future.

AP Photo captures the three top state Republicans pretending to get
along -- Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald (left), Gov. Walker (middle)
and Assembly majority leader Robin Vos.
Similarly Scott Walker. Facing re-election for governor, he is suddenly putting some money into education (not as much as he took out), some money into the job market (not as much as he destroyed in Acts 10 and 44) and some nice words about Obamacare, which he spent two terms trying to strangle. 

Underneath he’s stuck in the same ruts that have driven the state to the bottom of polls on good places to live.

When he and the legislature start squabbling over details, we usually get a push further to the right than he originally wanted because of election worries.  But he goes along with his power base: Tilted higher education, tilted job training and – in a bow to Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos – an ever  higher family income level for voucher schools statewide, so that people mainly looking for a break on their private school tuition now have state government money to bolster them.

Both he and the legislature have been bollixed on issues of transportation and keep punting problems further down the road, even exploring ideas that were once anathema to the GOP but do stick it to the taxpayer – toll roads, higher gas fees. 

The concept of easing regulations, long advertised as a streamlined road for business, has mainly streamlined environmental pollution.  Food stamp recipients have been singled out as targets for reform, with programs that will cost far more than any perceived benefit.  Rules for local lakes and water, even down to piers, reward the richest landholders.  Foxconn, originally designed by Walker as an election winner, has turned into a troublesome boondoggle splitting the state between the average citizen the GOP still needs for votes and the traditional business lobbyists who never met a taxpayer handout they didn’t like.

Yet the Republicans doing this know they are facing wrath in November – if angry citizenry, including many who used to vote Republican, don’t turn complacent in anticipation that others will do the difficult lifting for house-cleaning.

Nothing new happens in politics without sweat and footwork, and there are fears that people will sit back anticipating a change rather than struggling for one. That habit of sitting back waiting for the tempest to die -- it may be what the Republicans hope for. They have in the past.

Is that why they are doubling down on bad bets? The latest moves may be the ugliest.

Former US AG Eric Holder made his mark on Wisconsin
politiics winning a lawsuit against Walker.
Clearly in fear of Democratic gains, Walker broke the state constitution to delay special elections for two open seats. It took a lawsuit by Eric Holder’s group and a decision by a judge Walker had appointed to the bench to tell him this was unconstitutional.

Now the GOP leaders in Madison set a special session to rewrite the law, which will also probably be unconstitutional.  But it may take so long moving through the courts that any election won’t take place until November, leaving the seats vacant for a year and robbing the residents of any representation in or out of session. Just like Walker wanted.

[Editor's Update: After three courts confirmed the unconstitutionality, Walker succumbed to reality and the legislature abandoned the idea of a special session.  Elections are now set for June 12.] 

Then a bill to fill in wetlands was resurrected at the last minute to benefit one Atlanta-based sand processing plant despite protests by environmentalists.

It is almost a death wish to be “hanged for a sheep as for a lamb,” a truism that writers like George Bernard Shaw used to describe deliberately committing a greater offense after perpetrating another offense.  It sometimes seems the Republicans are defying the Democrats to come after them.

Historically that may be their only course – counting on the Democrats to attack each other for the right to run and then losing energy after the primaries, which this year take place in August -- way ahead of the November finale.  The theory goes that Democrats will squabble so much before picking a candidate, particularly in the crowded gubernatorial race, that their energy for voting will be dissipated.

If you look carefully you can see signs of that already. Not just bad words and strident opinions in the gubernatorial field.

The House Democrats have a fund-raising arm known as the D triple C – or DCCC, or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which describes itself as the “only political committee in the country whose principal mission is to support Democratic House candidates every step of the way.”

Or oppose them every step of the way, because the DCCC has not been hesitant –usually for sound reasons -- to choose favorites among Democrats running for House office in primaries around the nation.

DPW chair Martha Laning
This is in sharp contrast to most state organizations, such as the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW, also I asked its chairman to explain its procedure and Martha Laning provided a simple sentence: “It is up to voters to decide who will best represent them and DPW stays neutral in Democratic primaries, supporting all candidates equally.”

Yet at the same time, Laning runs a grassroots organization that eagerly seeks out respectable candidates to run and this year intends to make strong showings in every state senate and assembly district.  So they may actually have favorites.

Yet Laning is sticking firmly to the neutrality policy and the DCCC doesn’t, which creates some interesting dilemmas.

Texan Laura Moser inadvertentlyhelped
by DCCC.
The DCCC’s opposition to Laura Moser in Texas’ 7th District is actually credited for her making the primary runoff in May in a very large field.  The DCCC came out against her for some past horrible statements about living in Texas, but she is also a progressive who got support from area groups and noted figures like Jim Hightower, and locals were also angry at the intrusion. That means she will face another respected candidate, Lizzie Fletcher, to then go against a Republican incumbent in November.

That’s not the only case. In Arizona the D triple C is backing Ann Kirkpatrick in that state’s 1st district, a seat she once held but is now competing for with other Democrats against a GOP incumbent.  In Pennsylvania’s 6th District,  retired fighter pilot Amy McGrath running a populist campaign on the Internet  has drawn nationwide attention but the DCCC is clearly conflicted since two other Democrats they know well are also running.

This dilemma for the DCCC often involves former Clinton and Obama figures who have the experience and often the financial edge that tempts the DCCC to jump in regardless if other Democrats are running.  Such thinking has them speaking out for Abby Finkenauer in Iowa’s 1st, Betsy Londrigan in Illinois’ 13th, and many Florida candidates ahead of primary competition.

It can be a dangerous game given how other factors beside establishment support are playing in these races.  Geographically there can also be a change in emphasis, where in one district a Bernie Sanders supported candidate appeals and others where such a candidate doesn’t.

DCCC decided to back Randy Bryce . . .
Where does Wisconsin come in?  The DPW remains neutral, but the DCCC has come down hard on the side of Randy Bryce, which has clearly upset the campaign managers for Cathy Myers. They have long been angry that Bryce has gained so much media coverage in his campaign against Paul Ryan in the 1st District.  And Bryce is clearly gaining money as well as attention, turning the contest from sure Republican to threatened Republican.

. . . which dismayed the campaign of the other  Paul Ryan opponent,
Cathy Myers.
At first the Myers campaign seemed confused about the neutrality of the DPW and then its email and Internet come-ons sowed confusion about whether the support for Bryce is local or national.  While Myers’ videos have remained focused on the GOP target, the edge of her remarks is shifting.

The campaign sometimes makes it seem she is competing against Bryce not Ryan, demanding debates quite early in the game as a way to draw attention to her effort.

The DCCC may step into other races.  One obvious one is Dan Kohl, nephew of Herb, against Republican caveman Glenn Grothman in the 6th District. This is an uphill battle by a well-heeled Democrat running in traditionally conservative counties where there is a lot of anger at the GOP for environmental and educational weaknesses.

Another case where the DCCC may care, though it hasn’t yet said, is the 7th District against Sean Duffy (and if you confuse him with Sean Hannity you are forgiven -- they are both strangers to the truth). Democrat Margaret Engebretson, a Polk County lawyer and Navy veteran, is making the sort of strong showing that has influenced the DCCC in the past, but there are multiple other Democrats anxious to take Duffy down. And in that race, the electorate seems ready to unite behind the winner.

Under the surface, there is enormous pressure on Laning and the DPW. An impatient membership or would-be membership doesn’t intend to wait for August to decide who to back, so they are pushing to speak out while Laning and company want to remain open to all.

In some ways, this is good pressure, a chafing at the bit like a spirited horse eager to bolt forward. The problem is maintaining that enthusiasm to capitalize on in November.

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 Urban Milwaukee. 

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