After the disastrous results of the 2014 election here in Wisconsin, many Democrats here in Wisconsin have called for Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate to step down from his position. Many (including yours truly) have criticized Tate for what’s seen as a lack of success in helping Democrats across Wisconsin win elections, and as a result a number of individuals have begun preparing to challenge Tate when his term as DPW Chair is up. It’s been speculated Tate may not seek reelection when his current term is up, but there’s no doubt that whether Tate seeks another term or not there will be no shortage of candidates vying to replace him.

Image courtesy Jeff Smith for Assembly Facebook page

Image courtesy Jeff Smith for Assembly Facebook page

One such candidate is former Democratic State Rep. Jeff Smith of Eau Claire (pictured, left), who told me during a recent conversation that he’s “pretty far down the road” towards formally announcing his candidacy and that he expects to make a decision shortly after the holidays. Smith noted that while other individuals have expressed interest in vying to become the next DPW Chair, he believes his abilities and experience make him the most well-prepared of anyone considering a run for DPW Chair.

When prompted to talk about what he felt separated him from other possible contenders for DPW Chair, Smith cited his experience having been on a ballot six times. Smith noted that while he didn’t win every election in which he was a candidate, he took pride in having run very competitive campaigns that in many cases exceeded expectations. He noted he got more votes in his races than the Democratic candidates at the top of the ticket in 2008, 2012, and 2014, and he added he won an Assembly Race in 2006 when he wasn’t expected to win.

Smith also cited his strong roots in a largely rural part of the state as something that would benefit the party, given the difficulty the Democratic Party has had in bringing rural voters who largely support Democratic Party issues into the fold. “Voters like the issues that Democrats support,” Smith noted, “but they still vote Republican,” adding that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin needs to figure out how to engage and educate those voters to bring them back into the Democratic Party “tent.” Smith added that it’s his belief the Democratic Party has focused on winning votes in urban centers for too long, and he noted that in his experience staff were often sent by the Democratic Party to work in the Party’s Eau Claire office with orders to only send volunteers or do phone banking in the city of Eau Claire while largely ignoring the rural areas surrounding the city.

“The Party can’t continue to win by engaging urban voters only,” Smith told me, adding that the Democratic Party can win rural voters back by listening to them. “All people want is someone to listen to them,” Smith said, noting that the results of referendums in which Wisconsinites opposed corporate personhood and the idea that money equals speech, supported the state accepting federal Medicaid funds for BadgerCare, and supported an increase in the minimum wage show that Democrats are on the right side of the issues but simply lack the right message to convince voters to vote for the Democrats who will address those issues. As an example Smith cited the fact that many rural voters care deeply about preserving their community schools, as many small rural communities are faced with the prospect of losing their community schools due to education funding cuts. “Many people are concerned about losing their community schools, yet they continue to vote for the very Republicans who cut education funding,” Smith said.

If elected DPW Chair, Smith said he’d make it a priority to engage county parties and empower them to be more proactive and make more of a difference in their communities. Smith said he wanted to see county parties doing more to recruit local volunteers who can both relate to local voters and who will have more credibility with those voters while doing outreach.

As I noted earlier, Jeff Smith expects to make a final decision on whether or not he’ll run for DPW Chair by the end of this year, and no matter what he decides to do it promises to be a crowded field come time to choose the next DPW Chair.

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43 Responses to Jeff Smith: The Blogging Blue Interview

  1. CJ McD says:

    Anf what about Joe Wineke?

  2. Greg says:

    Joe Wineke told me he’s definitely running– just wants to give Tate the room to exit gracefully. Joe wasn’t perfect but he was ten times better than Tate.

  3. I worked on Jeff’s campaign throughout late summer until the November election. As far as I know he’s the only Dem candidate in Wisconsin to state unqualified support for both Badgercare expansion and raising the minimum wage on his door cards, and we went off the walk lists and knocked doors in low income areas in his district and even held a grill out in a trailer park south of Eau Claire and talked to everyone who approached us.

    We got absolutely no help from Madison and in spite of that, when everything is weighted, we did better than their targeted candidate in a district right next door who got every consideration and resource available from the ADCC.

    After four years of preaching to Dems from County Chairs to elected about the need to return the party to its New Deal ideals I finally got someone to listen to me. Jeff Smith.

    I may even re-up my DPW membership at the end of the month, become a delegate, and vote for him next June.

    Given my history with the DPW over the last several years that’s no small maybe.

  4. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    I like this idea of Jeff Smith, if it’s not going to be Wineke. We need people outside of Mike Tate’s pro-corporate insider club, and Western Wisconsin is already on the verge of turning back hard to the Dems (Burke gained 3-4 points in that area compared to Barrett, and Vinehout has won 3 times on 50-50 territory).

    We need people that’ll stand up for public education (as a concept, not just backing teachers), for BadgerCare and against rigging elections and gerrymandering and related power-hungry BS. Jeff Smith does both very well.

  5. kevin kratsch says:

    there’s a difference between being on the the ballot 6 times and actually winning 6 times. dpw has had candidates on ballots the last 6 years, they do not know how to win. and that is what we need.

    • Kevin,

      Jeff won twice, narrowly lost twice, and lost by significant margins in 2004 against a long time GOP incumbent, and in 2014 against a heavily gerrymandered district. Has Joe Wineke ever had to face a tough election? Has Jason Rae ever had to run a campaign?

      Jeff’s got determination and grit. That’s what I want in my corner in a fight.

    • Kevin,

      Jeff won twice, narrowly lost twice, and lost by substantial margins in 2004 against a longtime GOP incumbent and in 2014 against a heavily gerrymandered district. Did Joe Wineke ever have a tough election? Has Jason Rae ever run a campaign?

      Jeff is tough and determined. That’s what I want in my corner in a fight.

    • kevin kratsch says:

      many factors affect a win or loss and that alone doesnt disqualify a person to be chair. what i am saying is that if we want to salvage 2016 it has to be someone with experience working (and winning) within the “system” if you will. we just dont have time to train someone on the job now.

      many opportunities also exist for people within the dpw besides chair (paid and volunteer). if we get the right person in they will staff it correctly.

      • Daisy Sedona says:

        Mike Tate didn’t do a very good job of “working (and winning) within the ‘system'”. No one in his corner should get the nod. DPW needs new ideas.

    • There are valuable lessons to be learned in electoral losses, not just in the wins.

  6. Anne Josephson says:

    Jeff has the energy, the commitment, the drive, and the intelligence to be a leader who can bring progressives together. I have been so disappointed at the leadership, and lack thereof, in the past 3 elections. It’s time for a man like Jeff, who will apply his leadership skills to bring us together, because there will be no unions to take for granted any more. I have known Jeff for over 20 years and I have seen the way he works. He is a tireless campaigner, and I would love to see him as the next DPW chair.

  7. I’d also note that in this last campaign we only sent out four mailers, which we wrote ourselves. The targeted race I spoke of previously sent out probably at least eight mailers, from spendy vendors, and all things weighted equally we did better. Jeff can identify wasted money to the tune of upwards of $20,000.00 in an Assembly campaign and recommend it go elsewhere, like a field program with a strong volunteer training component. These are the kinds of details he can bring to a winning strategy for candidates across the state. Wineke and Rae are Tate 2.0. Raise money for the TV and the mailbox and then lose.

  8. Karen Wigent says:

    Jeff is perfectly suited for the position of DPW Chair. I have never seen a candidate work harder or more creatively than Jeff Smith. After this last election cycle it was clear to me that Mike Tate does not have his finger on the pulse of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. I could not be happier to hear that Jeff Smith is seeking that job! I hang my hopes for the future success of the Democratic Party in Wisconsin on Jeff Smith!!!

  9. kevin kratsch says:

    agree Wineke’s district is much easier to run in and i don’t fault jeff for losing. in fact i commend him for running. the sad part is the DPW gave him no support. if jeff had received perhaps 20k for yard signs and a couple flyer dumps no doubt he would have had better success.

    given the current situation that tate and company have left us in, personally i cant see anyone who can step in and have an immediate positive impact on 2016 like joe can. that doesnt mean jeff is not qualified. it means joes been there 2 terms as chair and is off and running from day one.

    i also have concerns about barca’s priorities in that he couldnt care less about winning elections anymore he wants to control the caucus and the ADCC cash. joe is the only person i know of who can “work with” peter and change that.

  10. kevin kratsch says:

    @steve. i hope you do get a membership, attend your county meetings and become a delegate. i renewed to do just that. also you made a comment about jason rae. to my knowledge hes not running although i think hes qualified and very popular.

    he is also around tates age and i think that was a major factor in mikes lack of success. at 28 jason should get in as 2nd vice chair, mentor under experience and then hes ready to go in a few years.

    worked for the packers (farve/rogers)

  11. EmmaR says:

    Smith sounds both fearless and innovative. Plus he’s not from Madison.

  12. nonquixote says:

    First, nice to see some people unfamiliar to me, in the comments.

    Not to rain on anyone’s parade here, but just a thought. Having colaborated extensively with my county Dems throughout the recall, attending the “open to the public,” non-party member portions of their meetings for close to a year, but until the DPW cuts national affiliation and re-organizes to dump existing county neoliberal leadership, there is no way I would join the party no matter who fills the Chair position.

    Just saying, without getting the present leaders out of the way here, nothing politically in this county will move beyond the status quo, which as has been mentioned, sucks.

  13. Nimeria says:

    Joe Wineke is not from Madison, he is from Verona. Verona is a small town outside of Madison.

  14. AnonyBob says:

    Jeff is a nice guy, earnest as a candidate, but basically kind of a doofus. I had peripheral involvement with him as a legislator and as a candidate. He was ineffective as a legislator (puppy mills was his big issue; while a heartstring-puller, not really important) and bull-headed and difficult to work with as a candidate. We need someone shrewd as Chair. He is not.

  15. Tammy Tollefson says:

    I don’t know Jason or Joe at all other than from word of mouth, party history and email outreach. Jeff, on the other hand, I do know. He understands how to connect to people without making it all about him. His hard work and dogged determination are unmatched. On top of it all, Jeff brings an admirable brand of street smart politics to the table. His strongest quality, however, is that he is the REAL deal, and definitely has my support.

  16. Bob Andruszkiewicz says:

    Jeff Smith makes the most sense to me. I am not from WI, I just moved here 6 years ago. I met Jeff when the Dems lost big to Walker. Jeff seemed to me like he was willing to except defeat but only if he knew why he and his party lost to Walker. He set out to do this immediately. He had his own hunches but he still went out to talk with people because he knew that is what it takes. He invited me in to speak with him at the Dem office in Eau Claire. With this invitation I felt like I could tell him my exact thoughts even though he knew I was a Dem who was supremely disappointed with the Party. He reached out to get my perspective and when he disagreed he explained his side with quantifiable means. In the end I know Jeff can work with anybody. He is determined to help the Dems get back in their game and he will work tirelessly to get the job done. I feel he knows from his experience how to reach not just rural voters but urban ones as well. He wants a Dem Party that speaks to the people where ever they are. Without Jeff Smith the Party will fumble the ball again until there is no Party.

  17. Brian W says:

    Before 2010, I had no involvement in politics, except for voting. When Governor Walker took office, the Eau Claire Democratic Party ramped into high gear, and Jeff Smith was at the forefront of the process. Through my last four years of political involvement, he is the one that has been visible everywhere I turn. Through his campaigns, he reached out to ALL voters, and set up his truck throughout his district for Stop and Talk sessions in the early morning hours and on the way home from work for anyone to stop by and talk about the issues. I have never seen anyone work so tirelessly for the Democratic ideals then Jeff. Jeff was out there EVERY day campaigning and engaging the general public. He listens to everyone’s viewpoints, but is not afraid to make tough decisions either. If I wanted someone to be able to move the Democratic Party forward, Jeff would be the person for the job.

  18. Larry Heagle says:

    As a former educator in the Eau Claire school System, I had Jeff Smith as a student and using the word “doofus” to describe him either then or now could not be further off the mark than calling Dick Cheney a supremely compassionate human being. I worked closely with Jeff throughout the most recent campaign and I know of no other candidate who spent every day canvassing the vast 93rd district from dawn until dusk listening to anyone who would “stop and talk”.
    Jeff would make an excellent replacement for Mike Tate. He has proven himself to be a dedicated, tireless worker who would represent all of Wisconsin.

  19. kevin kratsch says:

    I hope jeff smith does run. both he and joe wineke are spirited leaders and we will see a healthy exchange of ideas. i am reading alot of comments about concern that this person or that person is from madison. I used to share that concern but in regards to the dpw chair i would urge everyone to be more concerned about a candidate from milwaukee.

    SE WI is where tate is, its where is base of support is and its where they will try to field a candidate that is a clone of tate. and that concerns me.

  20. Cat Kin says:

    Jeff Smith is a friend of mine and probably the most faithful and committed Democrat I know. He’d be a great and loyal legislator but I don’t think he’d make a a very good party leader. Jeff’s approach to political races mimics the old aggressive “march and knock” approach–an approach that has been shown to turn off voters even if it is on the right side of the issues. Being a member of a political party is like joining a country club…and the Democratic country club is on the bottom rung of the social ladder in Wisconsin. Peeninial Democratic winners like Ron Kind, Tammy Baldwin, Mark Pecan, Peter Barca and Katherine Vinehout are social and educational standouts. They seldom ever belittle opponents and engage in disputes with decorum and solid logic. And they engage 24/7 at every opportunity.

    Wisconsin Democrats must build up their country club’s prestiege. This will take a 24/7 campaign with the inclusion and backing of many of Wisconsin’s top private citizens.
    Jeff is a very good man, but is he qualified for such an all out effort? Is there any Wisconsin Democrat who is?

    • Cat Kin,

      If you’re going to claim that knocking on people’s doors has been shown to turn off voters then you should provide a link to the research. Or what did you mean by ” march and knock? ”

      And your “country club” analogy is, frankly, not particularly useful.

      Mark Pocan, Peter Barca and Tammy Baldwin, (up until she was aided mightily by Obama in 2012 ) have run in safe state and federal seats their entire careers, Ron Kind is not the kind of democrat we need going forward, and Kathleen Vinehout won back her seat from GOP one termer Ron Brown in 2006, a seat that was held previously by Democrat Rod Moen from 1982 until 2002, so it’s not as though Vinehout has achieved any remarkable political feat.

      So I’m having a tough time understanding how a Country Club Party modeled after the political styles of the people you mention is going to help us going forward.

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