I want to pick your brains about the DPW chair race.

Just what does the DPW do?

I am a newly minted Wisconsin Democrat, and I have been trying to find out what is going on in the state party.  I'm going to my congressional district's convention, am signed up as a delegate for the Oshkosh convention, have my fingers in drafting and publicizing a health care resolution, took over the maintenance of my rather red county's party web site, and more.  I want to do my bit for the party.

It was my observation during the 2004 general election that the county organizations (white haired but infused with many new volunteers) and the Kerry/ Edwards and Feingold teams were the most active with rallies, canvassers, callers, money, headquarters, etc.  If the state party had a big hand in operations,it was a big, invisible hand.  If the state party was running ads, I missed them. What does the DPW do for us? Too little, I fear.

I want to know how best to use my vote at the state convention to begin to remedy the problem.  Please read on, gentle Cheesehead.

Where can we get the yard signs?

Wisconsin congressional districts are busy staging their conventions, leading up to the statewide convention in Oshkosh June 10th and 11th.  In the meantime, we have a decision to make as to who is at the party's helm for the 2006 elections.  We have two candidates for the state party chair, Joe Wineke and Jeff Rammelt.

Joe Wineke has been a high-profile name in Wisconsin politics for two decades, representing first the 79th Assembly District and then winning Russ Feingold's State Senate seat in 1993 after we sent Feingold to Washington.  Wineke has been a lobbyist for road builders and gambling interests in the meantime, and is described as the insider's choice and a loyal Democrat.  Linda Honold, the current party chair, and Governer Jim Doyle, the de facto chair, have given him el dedazo.  Honold will be running as his vice chair.

His opponent, Jeff Rammelt, has had a lower political profile, but has been around just as long, chairing the Jefferson County Democratic Party as well as serving as the current 2nd vice chair for the DPW. He is billed as the "grass roots candidate" and others describe him as a "scrappy underdog" and a "stand-up guy."  People perceive him as an outsider, despite his long years as a county party chair.  He is running with 2nd vice chair candidate Jef Hall, chair of the Winnebago County Democratic party.

Recently I went to a Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser and met Wineke, Rammelt and Hall, shook their hands, read their literature and listened to their speeches.  More about that below.

Then I asked some party wheelhorses whom they supported, and they began praising Honold and said that if they couldn't get her back ("She was the best party chair we've ever had,"), then Wineke was the next best thing.  

Former gubernatorial candidate Ed Garvey has some sweet words about that sort of thinking:

The state party is little more than a conduit for in-state and out-of-state campaign contributions. The party does little in terms of recruitment, training and funding for non-incumbent candidates, but they love to have lots and lots of meetings. Just try to reach one of them on the phone.

It has been more than a decade since Dems picked up more legislative seats in an election cycle than they lost. Even this year, with all the enthusiasm of the presidential primary and election, the Republicans gained seats. Now the Assembly and Senate are dangerously close to being veto-proof, and that means concealed weapons, reduced services, and more.

There has been no grass-roots strategy, no involvement in battles to save our environment or to stop Wal-Mart, little tolerance of outsiders in the heady atmosphere of the state party headquarters. The closed atmosphere surrounding the governor's office is a reflection of the closed party which has been dominated for 20 years by Madison incumbents.

The anwer to this problem? Lobbyist and former legislator Joe Wineke and current chair Linda Honold will run as a team. Whoa Nelly! Where can we get the yard signs?

Not a ticket that compels a new Dem to turn cartwheels.

On to my impression of Wineke.


Joe Wineke's glossy half-sheet color flyer is concise and nearly substance-free, promising, mainly, to fill the slots in all races (Dems have not been putting up candidates against the `Pubs in a large proportion of the races), and prominently featuring Linda Honold.  

Wineke is a polished, vibrant speaker, and clearly won people over with how he said what little that he did say.  As did his flyer, Wineke trumpeted his vice chair running mate, Linda Honold, who has served two terms as party chair so far and is stepping down.  "She has a Ph.D. in something called `organizational structures' and I wish she could be in the driver's seat," he said, which I thought was a bit unfortunate as a cropwn jewel of his campaign.  Indeed, Bill Scanlon, a Madison attorney and Democratic party activist, is widely quoted as saying:

"Joe Wineke hasn't been to a party meeting for at least 10 years--until last January, when he started running for chair," Scanlon added. "Joe doesn't understand the party. Joe is the governor's whipping boy, to be frank."

Scanlon went on to refer to a strange incident that has been reported and blogged about quite a lot, lately, in which some 60-70 Wineke supporters and Wineke himself flooded a Democracy for Wisconsin meeting that had been preparing to endorse Jeff Rammelt.

The majority of core local Democracy for Wisconsin members support Jeff Rammelt, the longtime chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Party, to chair the state party.

The others - a group that included students and activists along with Madison Ald. Austin King and Tim Sullivan, president of Dane County Local 65 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - support former state Sen. Joe Wineke, who sat in the front of the room.

At the end of the meeting, when the hands were counted, there were fewer than 30 votes for Rammelt. So many hands went up for Wineke that DFW organizers didn't bother to count.

DFW went ahead with its vote even though many of its members were irritated by the stacked turnout.

One of the Wineke people at the meeting was heard to say, "The grass roots just got mowed!"

This strikes me as essentially a fair and ultimately penny ante effort--as useless as "freeping a poll." When wasn't politics a bit of a brawl? But I also wonder what this says about the Wineke team.  Perhaps we can count on them to out-do Karl Rove and Donald Segretti in their Byzantine maneuverings.

Which brings me to a second major point that Wineke made in his fundraiser speech the other night: The GOP has overreached and essentially will immolate itself.

"I will make a prediction to you today," said Joe Wineke, a candidate for state party chair. "We are going to pick up a lot of seats in the Legislature next year. (The Republicans) have gone way to the extreme, and the public is catching on. The good news for Democrats is that when we lost the presidency, we didn't quit. The people in the party are ready for a fight."

After 17 years of seeing the Democrats lose ground in the State Legislature, this is welcome news.  Would that it were guaranteed.   (Can someone offer insight into how Minnesota's DFL achieved its statewide gains in 2004?)

Are we all quite sure that Gard and his crew will self-destruct and give way to a new Democratic era in Madison, with no apparent assistance from us?

Wineke did not go into much more detail than that.  His opponent did.


Jeff Rammelt's flyer was an 8 x 11 black and white sheet of pure wonkery, suggesting that the state party could provide stock ads for its candidates.  And, as Wineke also promised, candidates should be recruited and supported for all the races; no Republican need go unopposed.  Rammelt also suggested that candidate education should be more frequent and thorough than it is at the moment.  

And the flyer laid out ideas as to how the grass roots could be engaged in Wisconsin politics through improved resources for county party web sites (as my county's current web geek, I really liked that).  And especially dear to those of us Up Nort' still contemplating seceding from southern Wisconsin and forming the state of Superior, is Rammelt's notion to actually leave the boundaries of Dane/Milwaukeeland and work with red counties to revitalize their respective parties.

Rammelt's speaking style was low key, conversational and information-dense.  I was especially struck with the specificity of his ideas for ramping up party activity.  That, plus the fact that he has been toiling away at the retail level for decades makes me believe that he has the better skills and the better plan.

And so . . .

And so I came away feeling as though we are getting Wineke/Honold shoved down our throats, whether we want them or not.  As I said before, I did not see much evidence of statewide party help during the 2004 general election, and Ed Garvey's piece about the essential disconnect between the current statewide party organization and the people strikes me as a clear reason why we need to elect Rammelt/Hall.

Am I all wet?  Is Joe Wineke really hell-bent on mowing down the grass roots? Can someone tell me why Wineke would be the better choice?

And if "Chairman Wineke" isn't quite a fait accompli, it looks likely.  How best to help the Rammelt/Hall ticket?

I welcome your ideas.

Originally posted to Rhubarb Pie on Mon Apr 18, 2005 at 10:37 PM PDT.


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