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Saul Newton: Did the race for Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair just take a dangerous turn?

The race for Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is the newest target for shady illegitimate groups seeking to co-opt and undermine progressive causes in Wisconsin, and they are getting help from an unlikely source: some of the candidates themselves.

The 2010 and 2014 elections were terrible for Democrats all across the country. The 2008 and 2012 elections, on the other hand, saw some improvements for the fortunes of some Democratic candidates. This is because Democratic voters tend not to show up as much for non-presidential elections, and that problem might be getting worse. It could be because of increased partisanship, greater income inequality, more money in politics since Citizens United, but it is a problem just about everywhere. This has made things especially tough on Democratic candidates in Wisconsin, and no one gets blamed more than state Chairman Mike Tate. So when Tate announced he would not seek a fourth term as chair and would step down this summer, five candidates stepped forward seeking to succeed him. The new chair will be elected by delegates at the state party convention in Milwaukee next week.

The candidates are:

  • Jason Rae, a Milwaukee consultant originally from Rice Lake who also founded and heads the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce. He’s a longtime Party activist who is an elected member of the Democratic National Committee. Rae is running with former State Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber of Appleton.
  • Martha Laning is a former executive from Target Stores and other companies, and also founded and led Generations, a community center in Sheboygan County. She ran for State Senate last year, and is running with freshman State Rep. David Bowen of Milwaukee. Laning has drawn notice for her reluctance to oppose so-called free trade agreements, and her claim of ignorance that the existence of the state Democratic Party until just about a year ago.
  • Joe Wineke preceded Mike Tate as state Dem Party Chair, and served in the State Assembly and Senate from Verona. He also worked as a lobbyist and labor union political director, and is running with Dottie LeClair, longtime Chair of the Outagamie County Democrats.
  • Jeff Smith is a former Democratic Party staff person who also served two terms in the State Assembly, but ran unsuccessfully to hold and regain his seat in 2010, 2012, and 2014. He is running with Stephanie Findley, a longtime Party activist from Milwaukee who also ran unsuccessfully for Assembly, but gained notice for earning support from the pro-voucher group American Federation of Children.
  • Finally, Stephen Smith served one term in the Assembly by beating “some girls rape easy” Roger Rivard in 2012 but was unable to hold his seat, and doesn’t have a running mate.

Over the last few months, the candidates have been campaigning across the state, speaking with community leaders and activists about their vision for the state party going into a crucial election year. Wisconsin is a critical swing state for presidential candidates to carry, and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson is widely seen as the most vulnerable Senator in the country. With the announcement from former Senator Russ Feingold that he would challenge Johnson to regain his seat, this race will be one of the most closely-watched campaigns in the country. Furthermore, anger at Scott Walker’s cuts to education and poor budgeting have led to great interest in the opportunity for Democrats to win next year.

So, the right wing is deeply interested in who wins. The question is, how are right-wing groups really trying to influence the race, and why are they receiving cooperation from some of the candidates for Chair?

A group called “Citizens for a Blue Wisconsin” announced this week they would host a forum with all the candidates for Democratic Party Chair and their running mates. No one has ever before heard of such a group, and none of the organizers are members of the Democratic Party nor are they delegates to the Convention where the election will be held. Furthermore, no record of this group exists with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board or any oversight agency. It is clear the group is not a real grassroots organization.

The forum, to be held this Saturday, was announced, cancelled, and then reinstated as candidates determined whether to participate. As of this writing, Martha Laning and Jeff Smith have agreed to participate, as has Joe Wineke. However, no candidate for Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair should be willing to be seen on a stage with the organizers of this event.

First and foremost, the moderator of the forum is retired judge Russell Stamper, Sr. In retirement, Judge Stamper has made statements that are charitably described as offensive, if not prejudiced and outright hateful.

Stamper is a vocal anti-Semite and homophobe, and has said that homosexuality is the equivalent of bestiality and pedophilia. He thinks there is a conspiracy by the United States to control the population of African-Americans, and that homosexuality is a mental war on African Americans to “weaken and feminize the mind of the Black man who would resist oppression.” He says homosexuality would create “weak, sissified” men incapable of “defending his woman, his children, his parents, grandparents and/or his people against the enemy.”

As a further insult, the forum is being held on the day that openly gay Jason Rae is marrying his longtime partner. The organizers and other candidates for Chair expect Jason to come to a forum on his wedding day, moderated by a known anti-gay activist.

If that weren’t enough, this is a forum for Democratic Party chair, yet Stamper equates President Barack Obama with Adolf Hitler and calls him “Der Fuhrer.” Stamper mourned the death of Muammar Ghaddafi of Libya, and sings the praises of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Stamper even defends ISIS and says they are the equivalent of the Catholic Church. He uses the most offensive possible language to describe Israel and the Jewish people. Finally, in an era where women are fighting for rights long-thought won, Stamper proudly speaks up and praises domestic abuser Floyd Mayweather and rapist Bill Cosby.

Why would any Democrat agree to be at a forum moderated by someone with such awful, extreme, anti-progressive views?

Judge Stamper’s involvement is not the only reason to be concerned about this group and their event. Organizing the event is perennial candidate Laura Manriquez, who has been supported by the pro-voucher school group American Federation for Children, and has attacked her opponents based on sexual orientation. See a theme here? She even proudly accepted an endorsement from disgraced GOP legislator Scott Suder. And, in case that wasn’t enough, Manriquez was stripped of her nursing license for stealing medication from her patients, and has been sued by the state for owing over $60,000 in taxes.

Manriquez’ buddy Robert Miranda has also been promoting the forum, after spending much of last three weeks loudly attacking Rae and his colleagues. Miranda has opposed many successful Latino candidates in Wisconsin that Rae and his firm have helped, including Alderman José Pérez, Judge Pedro Colón, and State Rep. JoCasta Zamarippa, and works under the banner of a website called Kingfish Milwaukee in addition to running the weekly Spanish Journal.

What is Kingfish? Well, this group, described as “shadowy” by Urban Milwaukee, served as an African-American front group for Sheriff David Clarke and has promoted privatizing public schools. They front for opponents of Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett and Police Chief Ed Flynn.

In fact, Kingfish allied with the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity to oppose economic development projects in Milwaukee. So, they must have salivated at an opportunity to make up a tie between Rae and the Koch Brothers, a falsehood which has been rejected by reporters at Urban Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and which was condemned by longtime labor reporter Dom Noth.

Miranda has a lengthy legal history, and was earlier this year convicted in a scheme to steal taxpayer money from the City of Milwaukee and obstruct the ensuing police investigation. He’s also been the subject of several restraining orders.

These individuals have used this playbook before, trying to pit progressives against one another in an effort to advance an anti-women, anti-education, homophobic, and bigoted agenda. Given that record, one must question the judgment of candidates for Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair who have agreed to appear at this event. Are Martha Laning, Jeff Smith and Joe Wineke really going to stand on a stage with these people? Do they endorse the attacks on Rae for not attending this terrible event on his wedding day?

The Republicans have a long record of trying to influence the Democratic election. Sometimes they run fake candidates in primaries. Sometimes they support weak candidates to try and defeat strong champions. They use misinformation and shadowy groups. We’ve seen this before, but now candidates to lead the state party are working with groups seeking to undermine it.

Jason Rae, who has a long record of standing up for Democrats, for labor, for education, for equal rights, is accused of conspiracy with right-wing groups. In this upside-down race, multiple candidates with a history of losing their own elections, and one who has no documented history of being a Democratic activist who didn’t vote in recent key elections now claim they have the formula to lead the party to victory.

If you’re willing to stand up next to a bigot, asking your opponent to come on his wedding day and submit to questioning from individuals with these beliefes, I seriously doubt that you’re the person with the competence and judgment to lead the Democratic Party. This event crystallizes the race between the leaders and the followers, and I think it is clear Democrats should stand with Jason Rae.

Saul Newton is a student at University of Wisconsin-Waukesha and a U.S. Army veteran, serving one deployment to Afghanistan. Newton writes about state and local politics, education and veterans issues for the “Rally Point” blog on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Purple Wisconsin community of bloggers.

Thursday Music: Simon and Garfunkel: America

I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why

and I miss Mrs. Wagner pies…

Wisconsin GOP wants high school dropouts educating our children

Among the lesser-publicized (but still disconcerting) provisions tucked into the 2015-17 state budget is a Republican backed provision that would deregulate licensing standards for middle and high school teachers across Wisconsin.

Adopted as a K-12 omnibus motion by the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC), the education package deregulates licensing standards for middle and high school teachers across the state. The legislation being rolled into the biennial budget would require the Department of Public Instruction to license anyone with a bachelor’s degree in any subject to teach English, social studies, mathematics, and science. The only requirement is that a public school or school district or a private choice school determines that the individual is proficient and has relevant experience in each subject they teach. Traditional licensure requires educators in middle and high school to have a bachelor’s degree and a major or minor in the subject they teach, plus completion of intensive training on skills required to be a teacher, and successful passage of skills and subject content assessments.

Additionally, the JFC motion would require the DPI to issue a teaching permit for individuals who have not earned a bachelor’s degree, or potentially a high school diploma, to teach in any subject area, excluding the core subjects of mathematics, English, science, and social studies.

It’s worth noting the DPI’s press release also indicated both deregulation provisions in the JFC motion might also prevent the fingerprinting and background checks required of all other licensed school staff.

Poorly educated staff who’ve not had proper background checks? Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me, but apparently Wisconsin’s Republicans think it’s a fine idea!

Pretty In Pink To Lure Women Hunters?

The legislature is ready to pass legislation to allow hunters to wear blaze pink. Now I have no idea what the history is around wearing blaze orange but I would think this should just be under the purview of the Department of Natural Resources (or at least whatever is left of it). But that’s not the inane part.

We need to add blaze pink to increase participation in hunting by women…

State Reps. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) and Nick Milroy (D-South Range) said at a Capitol news conference they hoped the attire would encourage more Wisconsinites to hunt and appeal to women (emphasis mine) and new hunters.

Really? Hunting togs in pink so it appeals to women? Cripes!

blue cheddar: The gaming of the WI Democratic Party by Jason Rae and Nation Consulting

A lot has been said and written about the race to succeed Mike Tate as Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, notably how dirty the race has gotten, but I felt this post shared by blue cheddar is worth folks reading in its entirety.

Here’s just a snippet of the larger post.

But in some ways, depending on who wins the election to replace Mike Tate, it could end up as essentially we have a new Tate. Consider it Mike Tate version 2.1. We may be stuck with the status quo, to keep trying to raise big money to give to the consultants, campaign managers from out of state, old friends and career cronies. In other words we could all end up with a big plan to stay the same, which is to concede that the GOTea will always be the Harlem Globetrotters and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin should remain as it has, the Washington Generals of Wisconsin politics.

And this is why a good many people are very concerned about the candidacy of Jason Rae. Jason Rae has been part of the big money, spin doctoring business. And Jason Rae has many people scared that he is going to copy Mike Tate’s plan from the last election. That seems to be how Rae plans on winning his bid for Chair of the DPW. Only this time there is a huge difference, this time focusing on Milwaukee County and forgetting completely about the rest of Wisconsin could actually work out for the Jason Rae big money machine.

You see, under the election rules of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, the Chair will be elected from among 5 candidates by plurality after a single round of voting. This means that getting 21% of the vote is all you need to win. And guess what? Under the current (but hopefully not the future) way that the DPW chooses delegates to vote for its Chair and other officers, Milwaukee alone has enough votes to take it all.

And so Jason Rae and the staff of Nation Consulting have been focusing on Milwaukee with a fevered interest. They know there is big money at stake for themselves in Milwaukee, even if it is only second place, Washington Generals money. Hey its the only game in town folks.

And a big part of the Rae/Nation machine has been focusing hard, daily, on claiming for itself, the Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. We have received so far, thirteen requests by Milwaukee County Democratic Party members to use this blog [the author’s blog – not the blue cheddar blog] to let people know that under Rae/Nation, that the Chair of the Milwaukee County Dem Party is choosing their delegates to the state convention based on how much they support Jason Rae. If you do not support Jason Rae and pledge to vote for Jason Rae, then you don’t become a delegate and you don’t get to go to the convention and vote for your candidate of choice.

Democracy? Democrats? Check the definitions at the top of this page again if you need to. Because these tactics hardly represent the concept of democracy or the mission of the Democratic Party.

Now technically by the bylaws, charter and constitution of the DPW, Chairs are allowed to subjectively screen party members to find the best, most active people and reward them with delegate/voting status at the convention.

The system was not meant to be used to push for one candidate and one candidate only. But the loophole exists and Rae/Nation is pushing it for all its worth to promote their own interests which are of course, going to be mostly financial in nature.

So under the current system, which most of the party seems to want to change to be more inclusive, our next Chair could be elected with the support of only 21% of the delegates over the opposition of 79%. This is not a recipe for party unity. This is a recipe for party implosion and even death. And that would mean the complete and final decimation of any reasonable quality of life for Wisconsin’s citizens for as far as anyone can see into the future.

Scott Walker: forced ultrasounds for women are “a lovely thing” & a “cool thing out there”

This is beyond bizarre.

In an interview with conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch on Friday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker defended his anti-choice record, saying that a bill he signed requiring that women seeking an abortion first obtain a medically unnecessary ultrasound merely provided them with access to “a lovely thing” and a “cool thing out there.”

Here’s an audio clip of Gov. Walker’s remarks.

Keep in mind Gov. Walker’s comments about forced ultrasounds for women seeking abortions come just a year after he signed a law forcing women seeking abortions to obtain an ultrasound prior to being able to undergo the procedure, because apparently he and other male Republicans in Wisconsin know what’s best when it comes to women and their bodies.

No More Mud Slinging

Jeff Smith has an hilarious new campaign video out. Great message too!

Twitter bans right-winger for trolling & threats, right winger responds with trolling & threats

Earlier this weekend notorious right-winger blogger and professional troll Chuck C. Johnson was banned from Twitter after he began soliciting donations toward the goal of “taking out” civil rights activist DeRay McKesson, who quit his job as a school administrator in Minnesota to join and cover the protests following Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri.

Here’s a quick recap of what’s going on with Twitter’s expulsion of Chuck Johnson.

For at least the fourth time in his sad, shameful, misogynist, racist career, Twitter has suspended the rightwing blogger Chuck Johnson.

This expulsion came after Johnson solicited donations toward the goal of “taking out” civil rights activist DeRay McKesson. McKesson, who quit his job as a school administrator in Minnesota to join and cover the protests following Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, says he took the tweet “as a serious threat” and thus a violation of Twitter’s policies against threatening acts of violence. Johnson claims it was not a death threat but rather a call to support “investigative journalism” into McKesson’s past, presumably to discredit him.

Moreover, Johnson is outraged over the suspension, tweeting under a new account @citizentrolling– which a few minutes prior to my writing this sentence has now also been suspended — that Twitter is guilty of “censorship” and writing that the company’s enforcement of its policies exhibits a clear political bias against rightwingers like himself.

“Twitter doesn’t seem to have a problem with people using their service to coordinate riots,” Johnson wrote. “But they do have a problem with the kind of journalism I do.”

I’m struggling to know where to begin in describing the lunacy of Johnson’s argument. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t engage at all with Johnson who has failed to build a career through producing quality journalism or analysis and instead — in what must be an overwhelmingly sad discovery — has found that the only thing anyone will pay him for anymore is to spew hatred at the most vulnerable members of society, in particular rape victims. But his complaints raise some important misconceptions about Twitter, free speech, and who controls what can or can’t be said in the new digital content paradigm.

Now it appears that Johnson is threatening legal action against Twitter for loss of income that would otherwise be generated by his hateful tweets. Johnson emailed me the letter his attorneys sent to Twitter demanding the reinstatement of his accounts, attached in full below. What makes it so absurd is the notion that Twitter is somehow guilty of “censorship” or that the company owes him a living.

I felt this story was worth sharing because Chuck Johnson is perhaps the most famous example of the kind of tactics – namely trolling and/or intimidation – that so many on the right-wing are so fond of employing.

Senator Ron Johnson Is Trying To Save Obamacare

Remember our Senator Ron Johnson’s lawsuit against Obamacare? Who can forget one of the most inane things he’s done in Washington so far in is term as senator.

Well apparently the GOP wised up to the fact they states led by GOP governors who refused to set up their own state insurance exchanges will be in a major world of hurt if the Supreme Court rules against the current implementation of the Affordable Care Act:

A Supreme Court ruling due in a few weeks could wipe out health insurance for millions of people covered by President Barack Obama’s health care law. But it’s Republicans — not White House officials — who have been talking about damage control.

A likely reason: Twenty-six of the 34 states that would be most affected by the ruling have Republican governors, and 22 of the 24 GOP Senate seats up in 2016 are in those states.

Obama’s law offers subsidized private insurance to people without access to it on the job. In the court case, opponents of the law argue that its literal wording allows the federal government to subsidize coverage only in states that set up their own health insurance markets.

Most states have not done so, because of the intense partisanship over “Obamacare” and in some cases because of technical problems. Instead, they rely on the federal HealthCare.gov website.

And of course the timing couldn’t be worse…not smart to take affordable health care away from millions of your constituents just before the presidential election cycle….not a good idea at all. So what’s a GOP legislator to do? Well pass a new law to extend the subsidies if the Supreme Courts rule against it. And guess who is out front on that line of thinking? Wisconsin’s Republican Senator Ron Johnson:

If the subsidies are overturned, Republicans will first try blaming Obama and the Democrats for writing flawed legislation and then trying to paper over problems with regulations. Then they’ll move ahead with a patch to appease angry constituents.

A bill introduced by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., would continue the subsidies for existing customers only on the federal exchange until Sept. 2017. That would open a window for states to act, but it would ultimately leave the problem for the next president and Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is a co-sponsor.

Whoa whoa whoa…wait…what?

But of course Sen. Johnson is also taking a swipe at the ACA:

Johnson’s bill would repeal the requirements for individuals to have insurance and for larger employers to offer coverage to workers.

So the president is likely to oppose the legislation on these last grounds and get to take the blame for not extending coverage for those who may lose it. But of course the court could just surprise us and say the intent of the legislation is clear and let it stand.

BTW: why is Yahoo news the first place that I have seen this information @ Sen. Johnson’s new found support for Obamacare?

Separate But UnEqual

This past Sunday weekly Milwaukee Journal Sentinel education columnist Alan Borsuk wrote a great column on the GOPs attempt to require all Wisconsin students to pass a civics test as a requirement for a high school diploma. This new requirement would apply to public, private, charter and voucher schools. It’s a great article and I recommend that everyone interested in education in Wisconsin read it.

But here is something near the end that really caught my eye:

As far as private schools, this would be the first time there would be a state-imposed graduation requirement.

So there are no state imposed graduation requirements for private schools…so when we see comparisons of graduation rates between private and public schools…we aren’t really comparing apples to apples? So private school graduation rates could be inflated? and not based on the same requirements as the public schools?

So once again we have separate but unequal?