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