Tuesday, September 25, 2018


By Dominique Paul Noth

An outdoor lover in her heart,  Julie Henszey expects to add another
seat to her vision of Wisconsin  --  the Madison senate in November.
Two years ago, Wisconsin Republicans could not conceive the reality they are facing this November in the state legislature elections, which may well shift control of one or both chambers to the Democrats.

They had believed that their 2011 gerrymandering of assembly and senate districts would remain successful in perpetuity – the sophisticated packing that lumped Democrats into a few expected  districts and cracked together Republican enclaves in once “swing” districts the GOP wanted to keep under their control.  In several cases their new boundary lines carefully eliminated some natural opponents the GOP feared.

Combine incumbent Republican legislators with the nasty ads and traditional get out their GOP state machinery and the Republicans felt they were sitting in a tub of butter, swimming happily toward permanent rule of local politics.

Expectations are changing. Where one Republican strategist scoffingly assured me in 2015 his party was “nibbling away at the edges of Milwaukee County,” today he realizes the nibbling is being returned in abundance -- including in the surrounding WOW counties (Washington, Ozaukee and Waukesha).

Even worse for Scott Walker’s GOP, voters are starting to pay attention to state legislative races where the party used to rely on public indifference – voters who didn’t even know who was running and chose the R or the D after the name as some sort of validation of competence.

Today most of the Ds running are hardly party insiders. They were drawn out of their college educated and locally involved private lives by a desire to enter public service on their own terms --   small donations, volunteers door to door, bread and butter issues, amazingly asking the voters what their platforms should be.

Lawyers, small business owners, hikers, sports buddies, they are more like your concerned neighbors than politicians, because that is what they are. They believe that in a democracy you can translate common sense ideas into state legislation – a talent too many of today’s politicians have lost.

These new energetic candidates fashion their campaigns around Democratic principles but it is a big tent party and they range across it from moderate to liberal, asking the electorate to help them shape their platform. To no one’s surprise, the public’s issues are precisely the ones Walker’s camp has ignored (until now when he feels threatened at the polls) -- health care, education, environment, roads, living wage.

Some of this unnatural weakening of once impenetrable gerrymandering is the natural migration of more Democratic households and more diverse families into what was long a lily white flight environment.  Did the GOP truly think people would scoot away forever from urban centers like Milwaukee and Madison?

Some change is blunt defiance of the party in power. Much of it comes down to neglect of the local voice whatever the color of the household or the family’s legacy politics. Now even in rural and certainly in suburban markets, Democratic neighborhoods have increased as have active younger progressives and entrepreneurs. There are legions more independent thinkers that both parties must cater to.  Some say this is the year of the women but the Democrats are also putting heavy attention on the black and Hispanic communities and younger voters.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett recalled at a Sept. 24 campaign event for Senate District 5 that more than 25 years ago he was its senator in Madison!  That may seem impossible but it was way before the gridlock of gerrymandering and partisanship. Even then, Barrett loved to jog the neighborhoods (“I walk now”) and remembered how “the closer ring of suburbs around the city like Wauwatosa and Elm Grove contained lots of Democrats.”  Today, Barrett noted happily, that sense of “lots” of citizens eager to get involved has expanded westward. 

The district now includes Brookfield, Elm Grove, Wauwatosa, West Allis, New Berlin, much of Greenfield and slivers of Milwaukee  

The Democrat making surprising inroads today in District 5 is a lean cool drink of spring water compared to the district’s recent heavy-handed GOP thumpers.

Julie Henszey
Julie Henszey is an outdoor adventure guide, mother of two grown children, corporate trainer, former librarian with a gentle intelligent touch at the doors.  Her big issue is something the Madison legislature can do much more about – “investing in our education system and our kids, from pre-kindergarten all the way through the University of Wisconsin system.” She represents a quiet attentive campaign style the district responds to.

She approaches the job as what she is – a long distance runner who intends to carry marathon commitment to Madison. “My goal is to talk to every single voter,” she says – unrealistic, perhaps, but perfectly fitting her indefatigable style.  

Republicans had hoped that this was their safe domain when they encouraged that state senator Leah Vukmir to take on Tammy Baldwin for US senate, a move that is looking even more dismaying for the GOP as Baldwin gains strength – and every vote for Baldwin in SD5 is clearly a vote for Henszey.

Henszey  not only stands to win an important state  senate seat and shift control of that chamber to the Democrats --  her victory would be a much deserved extra nail in the coffin for  the wicked witch of the state’s ALEC steering committee, Vukmir, if she cannot even deliver her own community. 

And if Henszey wins, add The End to Rep. Dale Kooyenga.  The GOP, not knowing the troublesome reputation of this representative, also hoped this would be a natural step up to the senate for him forgetting how he voted for seven years in lock step with Walker to cut health care, messed around with Milwaukee K-12, ripped down campaign signs he didn’t like and generally behaved like the ultimate arrogant career politician (which he is but now pretends he never was, hoping voters will forget all those years obeying Scott Walker).

“Julie’s eating him alive at the doors. She’s waking up the whole community to what service could mean.”  So commented several state legislators who are helping out on her door to door campaign.

They are among many political insiders who wonder why the media has not been paying much attention to what is happening in this district.  Perhaps the pundits believed that any community that could elect Vukmir would never step over to the rational side.  They misunderstand how much these citizens have been waiting for a candidate who will work, not for her own advance, but for them.


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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