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Last Saturday, I and a several dozen other DPW (Democratic Party of Wisconsin) members attended the 3rd Congressional District convention in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. The 3rd CD is a monumental Gerrymander, cut and sliced to include just about any area of outstate Wisconsin that might lean blue-ish. Republicans pretty much handed the district to Rep. Ron Kind (figuring he’d win anyways) and make sure that Sean Duffy would have a shot at keeping his seat.

We had talks from a number of state and local office seekers, including Mary Burke, John Lehman (Lt. Governor), all three candidates for Attorney General, a candidate for State Treasurer, Representative Kind, and an assortment of candidates for state Assembly and Senate.

We also had some good news from local races around the district.

Consider this your report from the ground. The observations below the squiggle are my own, just one delegate.

Mary Burke.

I’ve got to say I wasn’t very impressed with Ms. Burke the first time I met her back in November. She gave a pretty wishy-washy speech to a living room full of donors (myself included), wouldn’t commit to much, and seemed to say that she should be elected because she was the better manager. She was tentative and hesitant. I walked home pretty dejected, figuring that Walker would chew her up.

She’s progressed tremendously since that day. Saturday, she walked into the room with a lot more presence and energy. She delivered a compelling life story about her life growing up in Wisconsin. She forcefully stated that republicans were taking the state in the wrong direction, pitting us against each other. And she said without equivocation that she would fight for the rights for state employees to bargain collectively.

I’m a lot more hopeful about the gubernatorial race today than I was last week.

John Lehman.

Lehman is a retiring state senator. He delivered a good speech supporting Mary Burke, and why Wisconsin needs a change. Senator Lehman is not dynamic, but he certainly will be an asset to the ticket.

Attorney General – Jon Richards, Ismael Ozanne, Susan Happ

Jon Richards is currently a member of the State Assembly (19th District) from Milwaukee. He grew up in Waukesha County. Rep. Richards forcefully stated his support for marriage equality, reproductive rights, and voting rights. He also said that he would uphold the state’s Open Meeting law – our current state AG has taken a hands-off policy and has taken no action to enforce our state’s tradition of clean and open government. In talking with Jon later, it turns out we went to the same college & just missed overlapping; I’m guessing we took classes from some of the same political science profs.

Ismael Ozanne is currently District Attorney in Dane County (Madison). He pointed out that he filed a lawsuit against Act 10 on the basis of Open Meeting law violations (a lawsuit that was thrown out by our split and dysfunctional state Supreme Court). Ozanne made light of his deep Wisconsin roots (6 generations – not bad!). He also talked about the work he’s done in Dane County as a prosecutor and his work for alternative sentencing to try to reduce our jail/prison population. Ozanne also forcefully stated his support for marriage equality, reproductive rights, and voting rights.

Susan Happ is currently the District Attorney in Jefferson County. Jefferson County is part of the “red ring of republican fire” around Milwaukee (think Waukesha, Ozaukee…). She said that she, like her Democratic competitors, supported marriage equality, reproductive rights, and voting rights… and then segued into talking about how she was the only one who had won an election outside of Milwaukee or Madison. I get where she was going – we need votes from outstate – but it was just a little too much Democrat bashing for a Democratic meeting.

I will support any of the three who win the primary – all would be excellent candidates in the general election. I’d rate Richards and Ozanne above Happ. Having said that, I think that DA Happ  may have a bright future in the state.

State Treasurer candidate Dave Leeper

Dave Leeper has an interesting history as both an attorney and as a United Methodist minister. He talked about how we need to curb the influence of big banks, and would like to see a state bank like North Dakota has to handle state finances. He got a round of applause when he stated that he was from the “Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party”.

I don’t think the office has the power to enact the reforms he advocates. But as long as the office is mostly symbolic, there’s nothing wrong with electing a symbol.

Representative Ron Kind

I’ve seen an interesting thing happen with Ron Kind over the past four years. Before, he's always been so apologisingly accommodating I’ve wanted to slap him upside the head and tell him to grow a pair. I think that the last four years he’s finally seen what the opposition is like, and is drawing the line.

Ron gave a passionate defense of the Affordable Care Act. He talked about one of his last constituent meetings, and said

“the first two guys were the same kind of tea party people you always get. Obama this, Obama that. FREEDOM, you know! They were followed by a woman, twenty years old, who thanked me. She said that she’d had health problems as a teenager and had not been able to get health coverage, had not been able to get the medication she needed. Now, for the first time, she’s able to get health care. And this next fall she’s going to attend one of our local UW schools.

Those tea partiers just looked down. They had the wind knocked out of them.”

Ron has been very helpful to candidates for the Senate and Assembly, and has lately been on fire in criticizing the Walker administration and state republicans for limiting voting rights and for turning down Medicare expansion. He also came out forcefully for marriage equality.

State legislative candidates. I wasn’t in the room for all of them (it was a three hour ride to Stevens Point and I couldn’t sit still for hours), so I’ll just give the high points as I saw them.

Amy Sue Vruwink (70th AD, incumbent). My wife shadowed Amy Sue in 2012 as part of her Emerge Wisconsin training, so we know her. Rep. Vruwink got the shaft in the redistricting, the mother of all gerrymanders. Not only that, but we heard about how republican staffers go up to her tell her “You know, you’d make it so much easier on yourself if you just quit. You’re our top target.” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Dis) asks Dems “how Amy Sue’s doing, knowing that she’s screwed”. Amy Sue is diminutive, so these guys think they can bully her. What Amy Sue lacks in height she makes up for in spirit.

I’m not one to normally use these words in print, but Robin Vos is a fucking asshole. Please contribute to Amy Sue Vruwink to help her win re-election.

Steve Doyle (94th AD, incumbent). Rep. Doyle is, I believe, head of the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee (ADCC), responsible for fielding candidates for the Assembly. Steve struck a fighting tone, and expressed dismay that he was only third or fourth on the republican get-out-of-office list.

Katrina Shankland (71st AD, incumbent). You heard Katrina Shankland’s name here first. After graduating from UW-Madison, she started working in renewable energy. She hit the streets in the Stevens Point area in 2011 and worked in the recall elections. Then she ran for Assembly herself in 2012 and won – at the age of 24.


Jill Billings (95th AD, incumbent). Rep. Billings introduced a video about Emerge Wisconsin, dedicated to train and elect Democratic women. I know Jill, she's a good friend of my sister in LaCrosse, and I think Jill may be a rising star in the state.

Pete Flesch (96th AD, candidate). Mr. Flesch started out mentioning that, as a farmer, he really wasn’t a good public speaker. I immediately thought – hey, wait – this guy’s Crawford County Board Chair – he’s got to have some skills. And I was right. Pete talked about how his work as county board chair, and how it’s about getting together with your neighbor and getting things done. And he talked about how the current republicans have put all that at risk. He got on a real roll. He’s challenging Lee Nerison (R-Westby) in a swingy district.

Other candidates who spoke included Ernie Wittwer (SD-17), Dana Duncan (AD-72), and Jim Swanson (AD-29). Dana Wachs (AD-91, incumbent) also spoke.

Brett Hulsey (78th AD). At lunch I met Mr. Hulsey, who’s not from the 3rd CD. I recognized the name but couldn’t really place it, usually anyone from outside the district would be part of the leadership but I didn't think he was. Some little red flags went up immediately. Something about the guy bothered me. Something bothered me even more when he started talking about how we needed to keep Tom Petri (R) in Congress in the 6th district - Petri is being challenged by state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-10th century).

I did a quick look-up on my phone and found that Hulsey’s grown a beard,maybe so he’s not recognized:

Although Hulsey has had a chilly relationship with party leadership in the Legislature since he was elected in 2010, it was a series of bizarre headline-grabbing actions over the past 18 months – a disorderly conduct citation at a city beach, some provocative security measures that caused a staffer to quit. spending campaign funds on a 25-year-old convertible – that convinced some local Democrats that he had to go.
Hulsey’s stated that he might run as an independent if he feels he can't win the Dem nomination. (Brett, your "winning the nomination" left the dock long ago.)

I’m not ordinarily in favor of primarying out incumbents in our own party. It can end badly. But when a guy like this represents the city of Madison, the only question I have is – which of his challengers should I send a check to – Mark Clear or Lisa Subeck?

The grand finale – Senator Kathleen Vinehout (31st SD, incumbent).
We haven’t seen Kathleen since the car accident that knocked her out of the gubernatorial race. As she was being introduced, my wife and I each felt a hand on our shoulders – It was Kathleen as she was working her way up to the podium, her right arm still in a brace. She got a standing ovation.

No one works a small room the way Kathleen Vinehout does. She’s extremely smart, highly energized, passionate beyond all belief, and just a little quirky. Her arm brace meant that her hugs were only a little less enthusiastic as before.

She didn’t disappoint. She came up and talked about how she and Rep. Jill Billings had just met with George Lakoff, who’s written a book with Elisabeth Wehling titled “The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic”.

She talked about Lakoff and his book, and summarized it for us (along with her shock that she’s been doing things all wrong). She said that voters vote for a moral frame – they vote for what they think is right. She talked about how republicans talk about doing the right thing, and Dems respond with facts and a 10-point plan. Kathleen implored us to frame our policies and our ideas in the context of doing what’s right.

So there you are. I come away very optimistic for our chances this fall.

And if you've read this far, let me put in a pitch. If you want to have a voice and can do it, you should join your local Democratic party and get active. Go to meetings, go to conventions. Get to meet people in the party.

Change it from the inside.

Tue Apr 08, 2014 at 5:55 AM PT: I don't check diaries or post comments during the workday, but will be back at the end of the workday to reply to any other comments or questions.

Originally posted to Life in Wisconsin on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 07:06 PM PDT.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great roundup! (10+ / 0-)

    Thanks for writing this all up! Sometimes I get discouraged with DPW (for good reason) but sometimes there is good synergy between the grassroots and the establishment. I think your part of the state has got some good things going!

  •  Thanks for your excellent report, Mike (8+ / 0-)

    I'm more of a potty mouth than you are--and so I repeat your comment without reservation--Robin Vos is a fucking asshole.

    •  Oh, I drop the f-bomb pretty well in speaking (8+ / 0-)

      but I try not to in writing.

      I tell my students at the start of each semester:

      There are certain words that should not be used lightly. They are perfectly good words, however, and should be reserved for appropriate situations.
      Robin Vos? Yeah. That's an appropriate situation.

      And FWIW - I come from a Republican family (mother's side). My uncle was in the Legislature for nearly two decades. Right now, locally, politically, I'm working with several good old-time Republicans - good people, believe in doing the right thing, in fiscal responsibility, in the importance of community. When I refer to them, I capitalize the word "Republican" out of respect.

      For the current bunch in the legislature? They're republicans. Lower case.

      Screw John Galt. Who's John Doe?

      by Mike Kahlow on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 07:51:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Who's your uncle? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cadillac64, Mike Kahlow, Puddytat

        If you don't mind me asking. I have studied old Blue Books, so I've probably seen him.

        Gay farm boy, 21, who hit the city to go to college, WI-03 (home, voting), WI-02 (college), -5.12, -1.74, "No tears. Remember the laughter, stories and good times we shared."- My dad (1959-2013).

        by WisJohn on Tue Apr 08, 2014 at 01:35:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Robert Goetsch. (7+ / 0-)

          Since I'm using my real name here, I don't mind you asking.

          He's a Republican who listened to John Kennedy and did a stint in the Peace Corps in Africa in the early 60's.

          He held Jeff Fitzgerald's district for 18 years before Jeff did. He's told me stories about "getting into it" (good-naturedly) with these uppity young female Assembly reps - Gwen Moore & Tammy Baldwin.

          But what he's told me he's proudest about was when things needed to get done, they sat down together and did them.

          He left when he started getting heat from Scott Jensen because he was working with Democrats on legislation, and refused to toe the party line on the death penalty.

          He doesn't think highly of the current leadership.

          Screw John Galt. Who's John Doe?

          by Mike Kahlow on Tue Apr 08, 2014 at 05:22:09 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Well researched summary of WI politics today (5+ / 0-)

    Thanks for the somewhat optimistic post, and I really needed that. I'd gotten pretty dejected lately within the state of the Democratic hopefuls in WI. Most are not anywhere near the match for the Walker/Koch leviathan that is hitting the media outlets. Although I really like Mary Burke, she reminds me a little too much of Tom Barrett... a super-nice, likable, grown-up-in-the-room person with a winning platform, but lacking the tough in-your-face attitude that the WI GOP has morphed into. I have yet to see any Pro-Burke ads on TV, yet the onslaught by her detractors has been ruthless and omnipresent. They remind me of the barrage we saw when Ron Johnson overtook Russ Feingold. I will do my part to help the Dems, but I really hope the Dems can somehow compete better with the Koch-funded GOP with the media.

    "Man is a universe within himself." - Bob Marley

    by macleme on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 08:06:21 PM PDT

    •  I'm more optimistic now. (6+ / 0-)

      My sense is that Burke is trainable. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but I mean it honestly. Anyone who's good at anything needs to be able to learn from their mistakes, and her campaign demeanor in November left a lot to be desired.

      She came in Saturday with a lot better message.

      As for WI politics - my goal is that we need to have control of either one house or the governorship in 2020 for the next round of redistricting. That's a long time off, but not as long as it seems.

      We need to build our bench and dump theirs. We need to elect good progressives to local office and move the window of acceptable politics from "cut taxes and freedom" to community and opportunity for all.

      And we need to make the state party more responsible to the grassroots.

      None of that will happen overnight. The best time to have started was 2007. The second best time is now.

      Screw John Galt. Who's John Doe?

      by Mike Kahlow on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 08:18:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Severson (R-28th AD) not running (4+ / 0-)

    Eric Severson, R-28th AD, just announced that he's not running for reelection today. Just picked it up.

    Not in the 3rd CD (it's just north) but this seat might be winnable. It's been in Dem hands up until 2010.

    Screw John Galt. Who's John Doe?

    by Mike Kahlow on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 08:09:32 PM PDT

  •  Sounds like a very good convention (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mike Kahlow, Cadillac64, Puddytat

    indeed.  I’m especially pleased to hear that Burke is coming along.  And I got a real kick out of this:

    Steve struck a fighting tone, and expressed dismay that he was only third or fourth on the republican get-out-of-office list.
    •  I like Steve Doyle. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BMScott, Sark Svemes, Cadillac64, Puddytat

      He had the fire in his belly. He talked about all the miles he's put on his car trying to recruit Assembly candidates.

      As the spouse of a candidate in the last election - running is a hard job. There's a tremendous cost, both personally and financially. (Imagine taking three or four months off of your job. And the "job" you're hoping for - getting elected - doesn't pay as much as the job you've got now.)

      Steve's job is to go around the state and convince people this is a good idea.

      Screw John Galt. Who's John Doe?

      by Mike Kahlow on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 08:22:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I wish Hulsey was a a republican (5+ / 0-)

    He fits right in with the republican nut jobs.

    The sooner we get rid of him, the better.

    "Get away from me, Padre. You stink of the irrational.” - Lex Luthor

    by Sark Svemes on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 11:12:45 PM PDT

  •  Thanks! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Puddytat, Mike Kahlow

    It's always great to hear about how things are shaping up in other parts of the state. I'm often deep in the Madison bubble, so it's good to know that there's reason for optimism in other parts of the state.

    Hulsey's district deserves better (he's decent on environmental matters, and he generally votes with the caucus, but his behavior is just bizarre). I lean toward supporting Lisa Subeck, since she's more out front as a progressive, but it's not my district, so I don't have a say. Just as a side note, Mark Clear, to his credit, was arrested at the Capitol during the crackdown on the Solidarity Sing Along, but that was probably the only day he came. Lisa was there just about every day.

    "Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none And by union what we will can be accomplished still Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none" -- Waldemar Hill / Pete Seeger

    by kideni on Tue Apr 08, 2014 at 09:20:08 AM PDT

  •  Sorry I wasn't around Monday afternoon or eve (3+ / 0-)

    and didn't get a chance to read your most excellent post until today.

    Yeah, Brett Hulsey is a train wreck and embarrassment to Democrats everywhere.  It would be nice to see him seriously lose the primary.  Madison should be represented by liberals and not some phonied up excuse for a progressive.

    I'm also not thrilled with corporate Democrat Ron Kind who often forgets what party he belongs to.

    I find it hilarious that Glenn Grothman is going to carpet-bag himself into Petris district to challenge him from the right.  Grothman has a serious case of foot in mouth disease and if he wins the primary, a whole lot of what he's said and done in the past could do serious damage (i.e. cheese labeled as a junk food for food stamps, removing the legal requirement for 1 day off during the week, and the boatload of misogyny he spouts).  

    Thanks for the run-down and donation link.

    There already is class warfare in America. Unfortunately, the rich are winning.

    by Puddytat on Tue Apr 08, 2014 at 12:19:01 PM PDT

    •  I've heard some rumors... (0+ / 0-)

      ...that Peg Lautenschlager may run if Tom Petri decides not to run for re-election. Some other possible Democratic candidates for the 6th CD include Columbus Alderman Michael Thom, Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris, Former State Senator Jessica King, and Manitowoc Mayor Justin Nickels.

      In case you're wondering who Lautenschlager is, she's a former Democratic Attorney General of Wisconsin who was convicted of drunk driving a number of years ago. If it's a Lautenschlager vs. Grothman matchup, I could see Lautenschlager handing out bumper stickers like this:

      Vote for the drunk, it's important

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