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In January I asked the readers of Blogging Blue what questions they’d ask the candidates vying to replace Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Mike Tate if they had the opportunity, and the questions you all came up with where whittled down from several dozen to ten.
After whittling down the questions, they were sent to each of the announced candidates for DPW Chair – Jeff Smith, Joe Wineke, and Jason Rae. Each candidate sent back their responses to the questions, which can be read HERE (Rae), HERE (Wineke), and HERE (Smith). After Martha Laning entered the race, I emailed her the very same questions, and her response is HERE.
After I was informed former Democratic State Rep. Stephen Smith was also a candidate for DPW Chair, I emailed him the very same questions, and he was quick to respond. The questions sent to Stephen Smith are highlighted in bold, with his responses immediately following the questions. Smith’s responses were not edited or altered in any way.
What is your plan for rebuilding the Democratic Party of Wisconsin?
The way to rebuild the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is to make the DPW a team. We’re one team on a mission with a goal to win elections and govern. The way to do this is by building the base and working our way up. We don’t fertilize the leaves of a tree, we fertilize the roots. We need to focus on every county party. The way to rebuild and expand our county parties is to grow their memberships. They are the roots of the DPW. The way to do this is to empower each county party unit, they should be the real driver within the Democratic Party. This process cannot be accomplished overnight, but will take a period of months. We need to remember that we are a voluntary organization; and we need to have local leaders who are willing to take ownership of their actions and who want to be part of our state wide team working to make a difference for the better in Wisconsin. Good results will be rewarded.
What would the DPW’s messaging look like if you are elected state party chair?
The answer to your question is a question in itself, what is the definition of messaging? The DPW’s messaging system can’t be done with a universal tool, it will take multiple techniques and some new ideas. The state of Wisconsin is so vast and expansive that first, we need to find out what the people need, then we will be able to create our message. I can make phone calls while travelling across the state meeting with our county parties. A messaging technique would be a statewide newsletter. Within this newsletter we would focus on our county parties, candidates and local leaders from every region of the state. The 8th CD has a good template for the state organization to copy. There is no need to reinvent the wheel in Wisconsin. Currently, I am constantly bombarded with emails from Democratic Organizations the main message being “donate” as I imagine you are getting these emails too. We can do better. We need to pay attention to our audience and how they react to the messages we are sending them.
What are three issues that the Dems should focus their message on?
The three issues that Democrats should focus their message on are: equality, investing in education and quality affordable health care for everyone. Equality stands for equal rights, equal opportunities and equal pay. Equality is what puts everyone on the same level playing field. Investing in education is crucial for not only our future but every future generation. Taxpayer dollars should only be used for public schools. Education is the pipeline out of poverty; let’s not change it into a ticket to a train wreck. We need to invest in education to ultimately invest in the future, to keep the state of Wisconsin high in quality of life. Healthcare along with education and equality is a main driver in our state. Affordable healthcare for everyone is what keeps the door open for education and equality. There isn’t a way to rank these three issues in order of importance. These issues are like a level three legged stool. Each leg of the stool is an equally important foundation for a good healthy life.
What would you do to ensure that a quality candidate run in every race regardless if the race is considered winnable or not?
The way to ensure quality candidates run in every race regardless of their district outlook is by building the root system of the DPW. This is our county parties. We are one statewide team. By empowering the local leaders and county parties we can build our bench through a focus on April elections. Helping progressive candidates achieve victory in local elections. When there are progressive majorities governing at the local level we can show what good governing accomplishes, not just talk about this subject. Another way to ensure great candidates run is by having a long term focus. We need to be thinking about elections four, six or eight years down the road; not just election by election. We need a well thought out plan. I know this can be achieved using the creative collaboration of many DPW members.
What is progressive? Are you one? Tell us exactly how you’ve walked the talk. Be honest if you’re not.
Yes, I consider myself a progressive. I believe a progressive is someone who puts people before money, regardless of what it takes. I have done this throughout my life. I will share this example. In January 2009, when a local business in Rice Lake was either going to sell or close its doors for good; my wife and I made the difficult decision to risk our nest egg to buy this business. With our business partners we kept the doors open and saved the jobs of 49 good hardworking people.
How will you manage your role between the Assembly & Senate caucuses and the County Chairs Association?
It will be a team effort. As I said before, we don’t fertilize the leaves of a tree. We fertilize the roots. It begins at the county level and works upwards. We can start by putting an emphasis on county parties. By empowering the main driver in the DPW we have the capability to start a team effort among the local leaders, county parties and the legislative caucuses. By having an effective base we can start to gain back the State Senate and begin working on retaking the State Assembly. Every single stakeholder within the Democratic Party of Wisconsin wants the same thing and that is to win elections and govern. By working together and communicating efficiently as one statewide team we will be able to achieve our goal to make Wisconsin a better state by winning elections and governing.
What will you do to change/modernize our image to something appealing to people that are not active members?
I take this question to be: What will you do to change/modernize our image to something appealing to people who are not active members? When I am the chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin the path to image modernization begins with talking to our neighbors. This doesn’t just include local leaders and county chairs. It includes many people, both active members as well as non-members. By including local candidates/elected officials, volunteers and our outside allies we have the capability to create a 24 month election cycle strategy not just a nine month strategy. We need to have a strategic plan that stretches beyond each election cycle. Our image is changed for the better when the DPW finds the right message and pays attention to the audience reaction our message receives. We have all of the tools we need at our disposal, we just need the right team and work group to accomplish this task.
How do you plan to bridge the gap between local candidate recruitment efforts and the legislative caucuses?
The best way to bridge this gap is through communication and team work. We are a voluntary organization; and we need to have leaders who are willing to be team players. This applies to caucus leaders as well as the DPW chair. What happened to us in the 2014 elections should never happen again. Leadership from the DPW chair is the catalyst for good results. Effective leadership makes sure all groups are in the same boat and everyone is grasping their oar, rowing in unison. This is why my slogan is “One mission, one team, one goal: win elections and govern”.
Demographics alone won’t win elections, so which populations do you think the Dems can improve with for future years, and how can you win those voters over?
There isn’t one or a select few of populations or groups of people the Democrats need to improve with. The fact of the matter is that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin can improve in this area across the board. Every person who shares our values should be welcome to be a member of the DPW. The main way to find out how to win over these voters is to empower the local county parties. They know best what is going on their neighborhoods and districts. And the DPW, as one team, can use this information to implement its message to gain votes and ultimately reach its goal of winning elections and governing to make the great state of Wisconsin a better place.
What are your life experiences including formal education, past and current employment, service or Religious affiliations, person, and events which you believe have contributed to make you the person you are today and in what way?
I have four brothers and a sister. I am the oldest, the leader. Six weeks after I graduated from high school, my father died. My youngest brother had just finished kindergarten. My mother became a widow with six children. Soon I was helping my mother with both raising my siblings and running the family school bus business. I earned an accounting degree at UW Superior. And along the way I married my wife of 43 years – Christine. We have been blessed with three children and two grandchildren.
Eventually we ended up as the owners of the family business. One cold December morning at 6am we had 101 flat tires on 36 school buses. At 6:30am I was told by the Rice Lake School District there would be school that day. So working as a team we started to accomplish the impossible. By 10 am all the children were in school. This was accomplished through teamwork and communication. We received help from outside of our business because the goal was important. Also if you want to know, you repair 101 flat tires, one at a time.
After more than 30 years we sold the school bus business in 2006. After some traveling I entered into a comfortable semi-retirement working part-time in the hardware department of Rainbow Home Center in Rice Lake. In 2009 when the owners of Rainbow decided to sell the store or close the doors Christine and I risked our nest-egg and together with our partners, we were able to keep the doors open at this long time Rice Lake business – 33,500 square feet of retail happiness. In April of 2011 I retired from day to day involvement in store operations. We have sold our interest in the store to our partners. People who know me well use the adjectives hard working, disciplined, and focused, as well as integrity, experience and values to describe me.
I have a track record for working hard with discipline and staying on task in my campaigns. My reputation for making the phone calls to raise funds is well known among my former peers in the Assembly, this dedication will continue when I am the chair of our party.
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