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.  


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