The folkbum endorsement: Doug La Follette for Governor

Doug! Image courtesy Alan David Charles Photography

One of the nice things about being slave labor at the Zach Wisniewski Home for Wayward Bloggers posting at Blogging Blue is that we have the editorial freedom to write about the things that interest us, and to promote candidates that we feel deserve support.  So even though not all of us are going to agree on whom to vote for on Tuesday, we give each other latitude and respect to make our own choices.

So here’s mine:  I will vote for, and I think you should vote for, too, Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette in the Democratic primary for governor.

I can hear your surprise from all the way over here.  I may well be the only person on the whole internets writing an endorsement like this, but by any measure–at least, the measures that all along in this process I have felt were key to winning this campaign–La Follette is the man.

Last fall, I wrote this:

Finally, if anyone is going to beat Walker, it won’t be Kathleen Falk, as much as she holds a special place in Mike Tate’s heart. Jon Erpenbach, as much as he holds a place in the heart of #WIUnion, isn’t it either. If it were me, I’d be camped out in Dave Obey’s living room. If it takes some buckets and This Is What Democracy Looks Like to talk him into it, so be it. But there’s your winning candidate, especially if he promises to step in as caretaker until 2014, just to clean up the mess.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s a check in my checkbook with Falk’s name on it if she wins this primary, same as there is with Barrett and Vinehout.  I am a Democrat, dammit, and I will support the Democrat whoever it is.  So do not, my brothers and sisters, accuse me of whatever it is you people like to accuse folks of.  This is not the time.

The key part of the paragraph there is the Dave Obey part:  Obey was attractive to me as a candidate because he possessed four key qualities:  He’s a Democrat, he’s got a long history of electoral success, he’s widely viewed as an elder statesman of Wisconsin politics and as such has the respect of moderates and even some conservatives, and he was visibly involved in supporting Wisconsin’s workers during the protests at the Capitol last spring.  Further, as I suggested, an aspect of a winning message, especially from a guy like Obey, would be that he was running not to become a two- or three-term governor, but to step in for the remainder of this term, not seek re-election, but clean up the mess that Walker and the Republicans created–no demagoguery required.

Doug La Follette has all of that, in spades:

1.  He’s a Democrat.  When people make lists of Wisconsin’s most important or visible Democrats, La Follette seldom makes the cut.  Why?  Probably because he’s not, as I hinted above, a demagogue.  He has never sought the spotlight, angled for wider name recognition or the big-money donors.  In this tense primary season, he hasn’t run an attack ad or gone after the other candidates.

But he’s right on the issues.  All of them.  Really!  Pick one:  From fully restoring collective bargaining rights to protecting the environment, from campaign finance reform to ending the Republican war on women, Doug La Follette is on the right side of the issues.

2.  He has a long history of electoral success.  Neither Tom Barrett nor Kathleen Falk ever won a statewide race.  Not that they couldn’t–in 2006, Falk won 1,056,600 votes running for attorney general; in 2010, Barrett won 1,004,300 votes running for governor.  That’s a lot–and I imagine given the antics of Van Hollen and Walker in the years since, a lot of people who voted against Falk and Barrett the first time are really regretting their decision.  I feel pretty confident that either of those two is fully capable of mounting a successful challenge to Walker this year–they just don’t have a big win under their belts yet.

Doug La Follette, on the other hand, has been Wisconsin’s Secretary of state since 1975 (minus four years when the inimitable Vel Phillips served).  He wins re-election handily; in 2006, he got 1,183,000 votes, and in 2010, he got 1,073,900.  Admittedly, he was running as an incumbent and his opponents were not the well-financed, high-profile candidates that Van Hollen and Walker were.  But he has a history of winning that none of the others can match.

3.  He’s an elder statesman.  And I mean this literally–in both senses of the word elder.  La Follette is a spry 71, and his history in Wisconsin is long and without stain.  He’s widely respected and, if he had better name recognition, could easily be beloved.  He’s also a statesman–part of why he keeps being elected is that people know he takes the responsibilities of office seriously, he approaches everyone and every issue with respect.  He consistently earns significant support among Republicans and independent voters, and that’s how he wins.  Ask yourself this:  How many people who would be voting Barrett or Falk on June 5 would vote for Walker if La Follette was the candidate?  Probably near zero.  On the other hand, how many of those who might be turned off by Barrett’s and Falk’s more strident campaigns and more bellicose rhetoric would rather have a calm, straight-shooting man like La Follette to support?  Probably many.

And more than that, picture the debates–college drop-out and pouty-boy Walker versus college professor La Follette, one of whom has destroyed way Wisconsin used to be and one who represents a return to sanity.  Walker simply wouldn’t stand a chance.

Plus, there’s a cow:

Check out La Follette’s campaign, “Returning Power to the People.”  Everything Walker has done to wall off state government from the people of the state, La Follette wants to change back.  In the spirit of his near-namesake–though not his ancestor–Fightin’ Bob LaFollette, Doug La Follette believes that the real authority lies with the people, not with the government.  It’s not merely that La Follette can restore some semblance of sanity and comity to the Capitol, it’s that he will also prioritize returning the people’s voice to prominence.  This deserves our support.

4.  He was involved in the fight to protect Wisconsin’s workers last spring.  Part–hell, most–of what makes La Follette’s candidacy exciting to me is not that he’s a solid rank-and-file Democrat seeking office, but that he is a newly radicalized Democrat seeking an office he’d never seemed to aspire to before.  In campaign stops and forums around the state, he’s explained this.  Quiet, mild-mannered Doug La Follette found himself last spring as the last line of defense for Wisconsin’s public sector workers after the Fitzgerald brothers rammed through a revised Act 10.  “I tried to stop them as long as I could,” he explained at one forum.  “They wanted me to publish the law right away.  I knew better.  I knew what was going on.”  And so La Follette fought for us, in his office and in court afterwards.  He was furious that Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen acted in his name without his consent, and took actions that won La Follette kudos and made Van Hollen look like a cheap partisan hack–so much so he demanded to represent himself in court even though by law and tradition the AG defends the SOS in court.  In more than 30 years of service as Secretary of State, La Follette has never been more needed, and, quite simply, he stepped up.  Here he is last spring:

When given the choice between rolling over and standing firm, La Follette stood firm.

So there it is.  La Follette has not pledged to be the fixer-slash-caretaker governor who will step side for the 2014 election.  I think that kind of bold statement, the idea that he has no reason to sell out or compromise his principles in the service of campaign donations or re-election concerns would have a powerful appeal.  I have always thought so since the idea of the recall first started floating around.

But for all of these reasons and more, Doug La Follette deserves your vote.  Join me on Tuesday, voting for him.

7 comments to The folkbum endorsement: Doug La Follette for Governor

  • John

    The only reason he gets a lot of votes for Secretary of State is because that is a low interest office that 90% of the people voting have no idea who either candidate is. In a low interest office in Wisconsin having LaFollette as a name just about ensures a win, just like if he had been named Ron Howard instead.

       2 likes

  • Jay, John is entirely correct. Doug La Follette has almost no name recognition throughout the state. His position is largely powerless and he has not been active in party politics for a very long time. In fact, last election cycle Tom Barrett proposed getting rid of his office!

    At the very least, it has been many, many years since La Follette has run a serious statewide campaign.

       1 likes

  • standswithafist

    Thanks, Folkbum. Here’s a couple of other reasons: La Follette is the one candidate who will surely restore power to the Secretary of State’s office. The next Governor needs to re-balance power between government units and give away the excessive power of the Governor’s office. La Follette understands this better than anyone else.

    La Follette will think and act independently of both parties. He’s his own guy and will uphold his oath of office regardless of political pressure. I can imagine the establishment of both parties pulling their hair out when La Follette speaks bluntly about what’s really going on at the Capitol or pursues his job according to the letter of the law even when it disadvantages the Dems. It’s possible that he will be best able to “heal” the political divisions because bribes, threats and histrionics won’t have any effect on his behavior. I think there would be “certainty” in Wisconsin government again as La Follette is a steady hand. It would also be fun to watch the more ambitious, self-interested pols run into the La Follette administrations steady program.

       2 likes

  • Bob

    Sorry, Jay, much as I admire your writing and views, you’re out to lunch on this one. Dave Obey is an Elder Statesman. Doug LaFollette is an elder flake. There is a reason his office has no power or authority; he squandered it through bone-headed moves. Did you know the SoS was once responsible for regulating lobbyists and lobbying in WI? Back when Tommy was Gov and WMC called the shots, Doug decided to exert his authority by taking a stand against legislative Democrats. Three representatives from the north were bought a modest lunch at the old Pinckney Street Hideaway by a constituent who worked for the railroad. He was in town to advocate for some issue of the railroad, so he was technically lobbying. He picked up the tab for their bowls of soup because they were buddies and he thought it was his turn. Doug found this scandalous and BeanSoupGate cost them all hefty fines and dinged reputations. The silk-stocking real lobbyists at the Madison Club laughed their asses off. The Democrat-controlled legislature yanked his (inept) lobbying oversight authority, and Tommy was only too happy to sign the bill. Your first two commenters are correct; nobody really knows who he is or what his office does (not much; mostly minor administrative duties). If my name were Teddy Roosevelt, I could probably get elected to a backwater office and keep it the rest of my life, too. The best I can say, in regards to Act 10, is that he had greatness thrust upon him by circumstances and didn’t screw it up. This is who you think should be put up against Walker? Wrong-o. I can’t believe I have to tell YOU this: don’t piss-away your vote.

       2 likes

    • Jane formerly of the UP

      Bob is right. I hate to rip on the old guy but how would he POSSIBLY launch a statewide campaign when he can’t raise $10k? And, what poor judgment does it show to spend $112k of your own money on a couple of fancy ads?

         0 likes

  • Other Side

    I voted for Shirley Chisholm way back when. You swayed me, Jay. Besides, the back and forth was getting old.

       2 likes

  • Voodoo Doug

    Doug La Follette is an incompetent twit. Yes, the man has a PhD in Chemistry from Columbia, but he is a complete cipher.

       0 likes

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