Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pre-Convention State of The Party

By Jeff Simpson

I have written before about the state of the WISDEMS party in WI.  From their disappearing acts, to their complete silence on issues that matter, to what went wrong in the Wisconsin Primary.

It is time for a check in as the Fall election cycle starts to really kick in.

The first thing, that we need to understand is this election cycle is not like any other election cycle in our history.  The Trump Phenomona is something that, while was created by the electeds in the GOP party and we should have seen coming, no one did.

Simple case in point. At one point this ended a presidential run:

while this gained Mr. Trump more and more supporters:

The first thing we need to do is never start a sentence with the word "Historically".  

Second thing is we need some self reflection.  After the last election drubbing of 2014, the WISDEMS got togther and came out with a report explaining why they lost.  Unfortunately it was what you thought it would be, one with vague recommendations and no self reflection.   

Lets take a quick look at some highlights: 

*   The committee not only recommends a stronger rebuttal to the basic Republican argument, but to proactively identify and present a different argument.       Two plus years later we are still waiting for that argument.

*   A common point of contention is that the party and our candidates have delivered a flawed message based upon the actions of Governor Walker. Essentially the critical view of that message has been, “Governor Walker is bad for Wisconsin and we aren’t him.”     Find me an instance where Mary Burke or most candidates running criticized Scott Walker in the last race?  Martha Laning, our current state chair ran an ad with the theme "Republicans have great ideas" while running for an Assembly seat.   

*  To understand the crux of the issue of Rural Wisconsin, we sought out and reviewed qualitative academic studies done in Wisconsin.   Yoo Hoo, they are not that hard to find, go talk to the people in rural Wisconsin.   Looking at them through academic studies?  really? 

*  We need the conversation at the rural gas station in the morning to shift from the bad things that government is doing to a discussion about how government is working to enhance rural lives.  If you really think that rural Wisconsin 2016 is the same as life in Mayberry in the Andy Griffith show then you really really need to get out and talk to people.   WOW.  

Candidates: A common perception in Rural Wisconsin is that “candidates don’t come here.” This is a difficult conundrum as the logistics of campaigns make it impossible to be everywhere.   So says the consultants we pay big money too,  Bernie Sanders seems to have made it to more rural parts of WI during his campaign here

*  The 72 County Strategy, much like Howard Dean’s original plan, is not about winning all 72 counties,   'Nuff said! 

Now the recommendations:

*    Do not be afraid of primaries, hold the internal party units to the constraints of party rules and understand we do not control the decisions of outside forces.    The party has compeletely ignored this recommendation as when Jimmy Anderson announced a run against Robb Kahl(who later dropped out), Gordon Hintz became unhinged.  In Madison, Progressive Jacob Wischmeier, decided to challenge Lisa Subeck in a PRIMARY, and the Democratic party challenged his signatures.   We also see where Myron Bucholz has challenged Ron Kind and Mandela Barnes has challenged Lena Taylor and yet both were denied the VAN and shut down by the party.    

 When possible, hire campaign staff who have a background in rural organizing or if possible give those staffers additional time to shorten the learning curve.  Great idea I look forward to that actually happening.   

 Look for opportunities to build new relationships with community groups that have similar progressive interests to the Democratic Party to create a larger base of support.   With the aggressiveness that local party leaders have against anyone who questions them, the complete lack of outreach or interest in people with Democratic ideals who have yet to join the party and the lack of interest in engaging with the million Wisconsinites who signed the recall of our Governor, shows me that relationship building and increasing support is not even remotely in their plans(but it sounds really good). 

Despite the current electoral status of Wisconsin, history shows us that we not only have a road forward but the path to a new progressive era is entirely possible. We heed the advice of the late Congressman Robert Kastenmeier on this topic: "Don't give up the ship...there are better days ahead."    Apparently wishing so, while on the same path as previous elections,  will make it so.

Now the things they ommitted!  

* Leadership:  Not a word about how much leadership has let the party down.   Mike Tate was in charge for 6 years and in that time, the Democratic Party lost seats in almost every election and went from having control of the Governor's office, the Assembly and Senate to being so far in the minority that they are no longer relevant in any debate.   

In the whole time Mr. Tate was ahead of the party, it seems as though he was able to work mostly on advancing his own career.   Mike Tate allowed union busting Chris Abele prime speaking spots at Democratic dinners and in turn Chris Abele then hired Mike to help run his campaign against Democratic Senator Chris Larson.   Quid pro quo at its finest.  Then Mr. Tate did not just hekp Chris Abele win the election, he smeared Chris Larson, his old friend, often.  When you have someone in charge who will turn on his friends and allies for a few pences, then you can expect to have an organization with no ethics.   Heck even Rick Nielsen had more loyalty to the Party then Mike Tate.  

* Party Insiders:  After the Democratic convention, and after Bernie sanders won he Wisconsin Primary handily, Kristen Hansen unleashed a series of tweets@KHansen1724 aimed at Senator Sanders and his supporters:  

 - Can we get hair and makeup into this Sanders event? Thanks.
-  There's only 1 Democrat running for POTUS -  @HillaryClinton. I'm done pretending this is a primary. It's a hostile takeover. #fightback
-  Things I am no longer doing: pretending the Dem race isn't over, being nice to Bernie Bros, nod and smile at misogynists. #emancipation
- You know why we have superdelegates? Because people who are NOT Democrats and don't give a shit about the party can run AS Dems and fuck us.
 - Dear Sen Sanders: I will not let you destroy our party. You were never with us: 'It will be a contested convention'  Ok
I am not sure if that is the new inclusive message that the party is looking to send to win elections or not but there was no apology and she was so proud of these tweets that she has them still up.   

*Democratic Party of WI: The current state of the party shows major signals that even more dire election results are ahead.   If you pull up the WISDEMS website under the "Our Candidates" tab, you see a picture of Senator Russ Feingold and no one else.   Apparently no one explained to them that the 's' after candidate, means plural = more than one.   We have important races all over the state, local and nationa,l and the WISDEMS are only aware of Senator Feingold.  

Secondly go to the "news" section and what do we see there?  Under the latest from our party section:

The Latest from Our Party
November 24, 2015
Democratic Weekly Radio Address: "Happy Thanksgiving"

For those of you scoring at home, it is currently July 18,2016.  I guess nothing that is newsworthy has happened since last Thanksgiving.  

The Political Establishment in WI:  Tune into a Sunday political TV show and who do you see?  The same people week after week, Bloggers David Blaska, and Christian Schneider, For some un beknownest reason, Joe Zepecki and Sachin Cheda, etc...   All on, talking like this is a similar election to the one before and the one before, etc...   All bringing nothing to the table but the same ole drivel.   

   Against this backdrop, I attended a forum on building the Democratic bench recently, which The Progressive magazine co-sponsored, along with Emerge Wisconsin, New Leaders Council and Wisconsin Progress — three groups that are doing the hard work recruiting and training candidates to try to take back citizen control of our government.These groups’ efforts are unimpeachable. They are in the trenches trying to get smart progressives to consider public service, and they are supporting their campaigns and achieving some victories.
Actually these groups efforts are fine but hardly unimpechable.  As entrenched political organizations, while they do some good, they really have just become employment factories for political lifers.   

For instance, Scott Spector was running Wisconsin Progress unril Senator Tammy Baldwin called upon him to be her chief of staff. Which will be a nice job for him for a couple years before he founds a political consultancy/lobbyist firm where he will go and make quadruple his salary now.  

As Matt Taibbi recently pointed out, with the political lifers, winning is secondary to continual employment.     A Former head of the local Jefferson County Democratic party disliked a Democratic candidate running in Assembly District 38 because 10 years prior he had a messy divorce (with no actual charges filed against him and he ended up with full custody of his children).  The head of the JeffDems at the time was able to get this candidates blackballed from various fundraisers and from any help at all within the party.  He ended up putting up a good race but slightly losing.  The irony here is that the woman who was upset with him and got him blackballed, actually had charges AGAINST her for Domestic Violence but felt the need to be judge jury and executioner, all be herself. Now we have Representative Joel Kleefisch who has bills written to stop all stem cell research, while the former head of the JEFFDEMS is now in charge of one of these unimpeachable groups.    

Their main focus is raise lots of money, and only talk to Democratic Voters.  Which is a terrible way to bring more people into the party and has not led to many election victories.  

Then Ms. Coniff saw the only way out of the Democratic funk was by Hail Mary's" - 1. Getting someone charismatic to run for Governor and 2.  Win the lawsuit against redistricting. and hoping new districts would be much more fair.     

That is the self defeatist, lets look at historical attitude that we are so used to seeing, and one that will help us continue our landslide.    

Now that we have acknowledged much of the problems, let's look at some solutions. 

Unlike the bloodsuckers of the political consulting world, that have consulted us right into the minority(I am looking at you Nation Consulting), I am giving election advice for free.   

Some can be run this election cycle yet and some needs to be systemic changes.  Here are 9 observations, bits of advice that could be used to take our State back.  

1.  Go on the offensive at all times!   Quick, name all of the times you can think of that Scott Walker or the WISGOP have apologized?  When calling protesters ISIS(no)?  When Bob Gannon was writing racist press releases and flipped off the Democrats on the Assembly floor(no)?  There is not a time that the WISGOP will ever apologize. 

2.  Have each others backs at ALL times.  Yes, Gordon Hintz flipped out when someone decided to run for the seat that he felt Robb Kahl owned(Kahl ended up not running again), but when Hintz went unhinged, he tried to throw most of his base under the bus.  That is not what having your back means.  Hintz did not have a word to say about anyone else who had primaries and in his rants did not say a bad word about the GOP only the Dem base(most of which had nothing to do with the situation).   

When I say "have each others backs", I am thinking specifically of when Senator Dave Hansen retweeted a stupid tweet and was mercilessly attacked by the Wisconsin right wing echo chamber.   On the same day that Republicans at a Donald Trump rally were yelling "Sieg Heil" the right wing echo chamber was outraged over Senator Hansen's retweet.   While it was a dumb thing to retweet, Senator Hansen ended up closing his twitter account, but while he was being attacked, not a single Democrat stood with him. It was shameful.   Hard to build party when you so quickly throw your peers under the bus.  

3.  Update the website: There has unexplicably been a picture of Russ Feingold on the front page of the Democratic Party of Wiscosnin website for months now.   There should be a page you can go to and find not only your Assembly Rep, but your State Senator and if it is a Republican, who on the Democratic Party is running in your area, with a picture, a short bio and a link to their website.  If there is a primary then all candidates running should get the same treatment.  

Secondly update the news!   Coordinate with the party.  Rep. Kolste just write a very good op-ed that we picked up at COgDis.  Those should be written more often by all the reps, and they should be featured on the website when they get published. 

Finally, tell stories(more on this later).  I would send someone with a video camera to drive around Wisconsin and tell us stories of what is really happening, not the "Its Working" crap we get from the GOP.  

4 Stop Talking about all of the races you plan on LOSING!  How many times have you seen one of the rare appearances by someone from the Dem Party asked about the upcoming elections and they talk about the bare minimum that we could maybe possibly win.  Case in point: 

Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, highlighted three seats as pickup opportunities for her party: Senate District 18, an open seat; Senate District 12, now represented by Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and Senate District 10, represented by Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls.
Democrats would need to win all three to wrest control of the Senate — something Shilling isn’t willing to pledge.
“I always like to under-promise and over-deliver,” Shilling said. “This is a several-election-term plan that we want to implement.
I'm Sorry Jen, when have you over delivered?  Maybe when you start talking about all of the races that we are GOING to win, That will help build up some momemntum and enthusiasm from places that normally do not vote Democratic?  Who wants a quarterback that goes into the season saying "I can see us maybe winning three games?"  

5.  Stop letting the Republicans get away with their extremist, incompetent ideology!  Scott Walker, spent $7 Million dollars in about three months campaigning to the most right wing of his base and ended up with 0.0% support.   One of the straws that broke the Right wing camels back, was because he actually said that walling off Canada was a "legitimate issue".   I have yet to hear a Wisconsin Democrat bring that up.   

For example, look at Chris Larson's recent run for Milwaukee County Executive, or anytime he is in the news actually), he get referred to every time by the right wing echo chamber as "sticky fingers" Larson.  Why would the Democratic party not take advantage and bring up the Canadian wall every single time the get asked about Scott Walker?   Almost every GOP member running for office this time has statements/actions in their past that equate the Canadian Wall and yet the Dems never call them out.   

6.  Fire Nation Consulting from all inner workings of the party.  I know that candidates are free to hire whoever they want.  I also know that candidates are strongly encouraged who to hire and who not to hire. Over the years, they have been very strong advocates for their bank accounts and not much else.   Just stop it with them.   If they want to volunteer on campaigns fine, but in terms of sending them ANY money from anyone with D behind their name....just stop!    

7.  Stop the Madison/Milwaukee V the rest of the state debate.  As someone who grew up on a small family farm and has lived in Milwaukee and Madison, I am confused as to which issues matter to Madison/Milwaukee and not to rural areas and vice versa.  People in WI want much of the same things, a good education for their chidlren, opportunity, healthcare, a family supporting job, a chance to go on a vacation a year and have a house and a car that works.  There is some nuance between different areas and people on their main issues but in the end we all want the same things.  

8.  Do not fear the Republicans but watch what they are doing and learn.   They have more money than the Democrats and while they govern horribly, they do win elections.   In the recall elections, I knew it was over when the Walker campaign stopped campaigning on issues and focused on the recall itself.   The last couple months, their ads were strictly focused on - "while me dont like Scott Walker, we do not think he should be recalled".  We did not even need to see their internal polling, it was obvious his internal polling showed that as the biggest issue.  In the meantime, the Democrats responded with calling Scott Walker a rockstar.   The results speak for themselves.

The Donald easily won his primary because he ran as anti-establishment.   People are sick of the same people doing the same things over and over and also being perceived as above the law.   Senator Sanders also made huge inroads running against the estbalishment.   Look at how they campaigned here, Senator Sanders, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, had open speeches all over the state, while Hillary Clinton had private events where people in the inside could get in and take selfies for their facebook page.   Its great for them, but she also got creamed on election day.   Think about that.  

9.  Do Not Be Afraid of Progressive Populism. Actually, Progressive Populism is the ONLY thing that will beat Scott Walker in the next election.  It has nothing really to do with charisma(although that does help).   People in Wisconsin, did not take to Senator Sanders (and he won handily here) because of his sparkiling personality, award winning smile and ability to tell jokes.  Senator Sanders won here because he was saying what the people in WI have been desperate to hear.    Ms. Coniff pointed it out in her article, but did not recognize it for what it was.  

But what do you say to young people who are willing to devote their time to local community service when, at the state level, there appears to be very little infrastructure to bolster the opposition against a right-wing juggernaut?
I asked the panelists at the forum this question, and they looked pained. But then they started talking about some of their favorite candidates, and about the dedication of these young teachers, farmers and community activists to local issues. Most get involved in public work by running for nonpartisan offices, and at the very local level, they make common cause with their neighbors — including conservatives — on doing what’s best for their communities.
It occurred to me that if we can bring that community spirit up the chain to higher office, it would fix a lot of what has been going wrong in our state.
What do you say to young people willing to devote their time?   This:

Tell them that you understand that the Government, the economy is not working for them.   That you recognize that the scale is tilted heavily against them and that is not the American ideal.  Tell them that we have to stop letting Wall St and multi national corporations purchase our politicians.   Tell them everything Senator Sanders had to tell them because he reached them.   Not only did he reach them, he transcended the urban and rural areas(see point 7) and won 71/72 counties.    

However it is not to late to save our state.   The people of Wisconsin are starving for a change! 


  1. Some fair points. I will say I think Martha Laning is doing a very good job of trying to reform and modernize the party to be competitive again.

    Those groups you cited like Wisconsin Progress are doing tremendous work. Candidate recruitment doesn't happen out of thin air. It requires people down in the trenches at the local level.

  2. I think those groups are valuable and doing good work, I just wouldnt go so far as to call them unimpeachable. I think that they are part of a the big tent needed to bring back the party to relevance but they are not the end all.

  3. Good Article.

    Just curious; I don't watch the Sunday shows; but what's your beef with Sachin Cheda? I've met him and talked with him some, and he seems like a reasonable sort...