Christine Welcher: The 2016 election is over – where do we go from here?

The election is over. My mind is slowly coming out of its frozen, numb state. I’m beginning to do some deep soul searching as to what happened on Tuesday. While many are mourning over Trump’s election, my tears have been for the State of Wisconsin. Dems did not pick up any seats, in fact we lost some. Russ, our progressive leader, lost to a do-nothing candidate. I lost to an even worse do-nothing candidate. How could this have happened?

I declared my candidacy for Representative to Wisconsin’s 32nd Assembly District in December of 2015. We knew we needed time to build our reputation and get the word out about our campaign and our message of bi-partisan reform. From the very beginning I found myself fighting with the state party and the local, county party over resources, access to the VAN and training. I finally realized none would be coming and I honestly think that’s what saved my sanity through the next 10 months.

We formed a grassroots movement made up of fabulous letter writers, activists and volunteers willing to knock doors and make phone calls and people willing to make videos for us and design websites, flyers and banners. We held listening sessions starting in February. We attended community events and fundraisers. We knocked doors every weekend and even during the week, all while I worked 40+ hours farming and teaching at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. During the last 2 months we upped our game. Wednesday and Friday we held signs and waved at busy intersections throughout the district as people were coming home. Thurs, Sat and Sun we knocked doors to build relationships and let our neighbors know we were going to be there, right by their side, until things improved. Whenever I got a few minutes I worked on my call list of targeted possible Trump Supporters. You see, we knew the stats and reality. Dems can’t win in these districts by only getting out the Dem vote. WI isn’t the 5th worst gerrymandered state in history because of unwillingness to vote. It’s the 5th worst because they (the GOP) did a damn fine job making sure they would never lose a seat.

Even with all of this, I lost. The silver lining is we did do better than both Hillary and Russ in our district so we know we are on to something. This year the anti-establishment craze was so strong, no one even remotely connected to it was safe. My sin was I had a “D” behind my name. Hillary Clinton has 30+ years of ties to Washington and government. While in most years that would be seen as an impressive resume, this year it was the cement shoes that sunk us all. Of course hindsight is 20/20, but some of us have been saying this from the beginning.

I know this will ruffle some feathers, but I don’t blame the people who voted for Trump. I blame the DNC and the DPW. I especially blame the DPW because we all knew how much we needed to pick up some seats in both the Assembly and Senate. There was no mention or support for Assembly or Senate races in the Monday Messages, or the weekly Chair’s Report. Nothing! At the county level, things are so disorganized and short staffed the parties just stood back and let the coordinated campaign take over. Somehow with their fancy “science” and numbers they (The Coordinated Campaign – CC) was able to convince local people, who know the breakdown of D vs R, that it’s ok to just target Dems because, “When people turn out, Dems win!” YAY!!!! Except that didn’t happen. Not only did that not happen, but somehow the GOP got the majority of new voters to come out and vote against someone, instead of for someone, for the first time in a long time.

There were not voter registration drives in my area. There were no listening sessions or town halls to try to spread a message of empowerment and togetherness. Hell, we didn’t even try to talk to people on “the other side” because it was seen as “a waste of time.” A waste of time??? A waste of time to try and pitch your side? To try and see where they are coming from and give them a better option? I was pretty much blown over when I got that response from my local CC organizer. That’s the day I stopped coming into the county office and decided I was officially 100% independent of the party and their support.

Where exactly does the blame lie? I don’t know. I’ll be honest; I don’t know how this whole party thing works. I was naive enough to think if you put yourself out there and sacrificed a year of your life Dems would support you as best as they could. Turns out you have to be in the “inner circle” or a “sure thing” in order to get support and that’s really sad. I honestly don’t know what we could have done differently. We worked our butts off and my opponent literally did nothing.

That’s been the hardest pill to swallow. The fact that an incumbent can have a reputation for not attending district meetings, not responding to citizens’ concerns, and then not even attempt to campaign and still be elected by 20+ points. The reputation of the Democratic Party is so tarnished in the rural areas that a good candidate with an amazing team can’t even have a shot at winning. Where do we go from here?

1) Stronger County Parties
In my experience, county party boards last for a few years, get burnt out and then everyone quits. There are so few volunteers or members the same handful of people gets stuck doing everything. When they do quit there’s no records or continuity so the whole county has to start over. This is the same for candidates who try to run. No notes on where to leave signs, who’s willing to organize, make calls, knock doors, etc. Even though I declared in December of last year, it really wasn’t until July/August that we finally got things semi-figured out and organized. That’s a lot of wasted time.

The state party needs to re-allocate their budget. All counties should be able to apply for grants and assistance to keep an office open all year, every year. Parties and party members should get involved in the community on off years by volunteering, helping with community fundraisers or holiday meals, you name it. The more active the party is with their community the more support and resources they get from the state. We need our neighbors to see we value them every day, not just 2 months every 4 years.

2) More resources for training and outreach
We need a new message. We need big ideas and we need the courage to stand behind them. This is going to take a whole new approach to messaging, outreach, and basic community building. We need our neighbors to know we are just like them. We, too, want a brighter future for our kids, roads that don’t send our cars to the shop for alignment problems, better paying jobs.

We need monthly workshops on communicating with other viewpoints, on messaging and organizing. We need committees for aspiring writers who can channel their pain and anger into letters to the editor or opinion pieces. We need small subgroups to keep people involved, engage and active. I don’t know about other areas but we go from 200 members in an election year to 80 members a year later. This has to stop. We have to keep our members and continue to grow our county parties, especially with younger blood! (Sorry, not sorry!)

3) Whole New Approach to Elections
We cannot continue to pander to people for their vote. We need to start building relationships, lasting relationships. Not just to get through the presidential elections. We also need to change our focus from top of the ticket to bottom of the ticket! We need the majority of resources going to local and state races. The presidential candidates can raise their own money and can pay for their own volunteers. We are going to keep ours!

We live in this state. We don’t get to move back to some other area once the election is lost. Start investing in Wisconsin! Start emphasizing the importance of local candidates, assembly candidates, senate candidates. These are the people who are responsible for the majority of legislation that affects our daily lives. Once we turn the focus to local elections and make people understand how important they are, we don’t have to worry about low voter turnout in mid-term years. Every year is important!

This might be a good place to start, but the important thing is we start. If the state party won’t listen, we do it ourselves. What happened on Tuesday can never happen again! Democrats either need to become the Party of We, the People, or we need to replace them with a party who will. I have to say at this point I’m fine with both options. I’m done talking and thinking and “let’s see-ing.” I want change and I want it now.

Christine Welcher
East Troy, WI

How The Dems Have To Run Locally In Wisconsin

I have seen any number of suggestions around the internet about the state party platform for the Dems in the Fall 2016 local elections. Most of them focus on the big ideas that are the big ideologies of the party. But Wisconsin has elected Governor Scott Walker three times and handed him a Republican majority in both houses under the dome in Madison. So running on the repeal of Act 10 and Right to Work etc…aren’t going to play in most of the state and the Democrats may continue its role as the minority party.

So on the eve of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s state convention, let me suggest a couple of planks that should be hammered home across the state…things that will read as less partisan and more Wisconsin.

JOBS: one of the things that the GOP has promised to provide and said they were laser focused on the past two election cycles is jobs. And they have failed miserably to produce any…Wisconsin lags almost every state in job growth and is far behind many of our Midwestern neighbors. So the GOP is particularly vulnerable there.

INFRASTRUCTURE: There is no county or community in Wisconsin that isn’t hurting for help in repairing or replacing infrastructure. Local roads, bridges, sewers, parks, you name it…are begging for upgrades. Yet all the GOP has managed to produce is major interstate expansions that waste money and in some cases are boondoggles…complete sops to their road building contributors. Wrap the JOBS issue around this as well.

EDUCATION: the last round of budget cuts to public education (local elementary and high schools) along with the expansion of the statewide voucher program has even rural districts in red counties crying foul. Get behind supporting local public schools again in a way that makes local sense. Build on the issues around state interference in local controls as well.

CLEAN WATER: From the blind eye as private wells and spring fed bodies of water dry up due to high capacity commercial wells in north and central WI to fecal contamination of wells from huge industrial livestock farms in Door and Kewaunee counties to the demands for Lake Michigan water from Waukesha and eventually surrounding environs to the under-response to lead pipe issues throughout the state (and the incredible underfunding in Milwaukee) …there is plenty of opportunity to unite local governments in working for the right to fresh water throughout the state.

The other issues can come later…we have to win first!

WisDems: still a hot mess!

This is why Wisconsin Democrats just can’t have nice things…

When officials from the state Democratic Party show up for their convention in Green Bay in a couple of weeks, they may have to pay in cash.

That’s because they still haven’t paid the full bill from their 2009 convention at the same hotel.

Records filed earlier this month with the Federal Election Commission show the state Democratic Party still owes $5,807.34 to the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center — Green Bay.

The total bill for the event was just over $15,000, according to federal reports. It appears that the party last made a payment for $7,350 in January 2011 but has coughed up zilch since then.

The fact that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin still has unpaid bills from 6 years ago underscores why I have little to no faith that the party will be able to win back the governor’s office or majorities in the State Senate and Assembly, because a group that can’t do something as simple as pay its bills certainly can’t be counted on to do something more complex, like put together a winning electoral strategy.

Meet the new Democratic Party of Wisconsin….same as the old Democratic Party of Wisconsin

For those of you who haven’t heard, incumbent Democratic Congressman Ron Kind has a Democratic challenger for his seat. Retired teacher Myron Buchholz has decided to challenge Rep. Kind, and while Buchholz has a very uphill climb in his quest to unseat Kind, that challenge is being made all the more difficult by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

During an interview I conducted earlier this week with Buchholz, he made mention of the fact that when his campaign reached out to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin to obtain access to their Voter Activation Network (VAN), which is an invaluable tool for any Democratic campaign seeking information on voters, but his campaign’s efforts to purchase access to the VAN were completely rebuffed by Brita Olson.

According to my conversation with Myron Buchholz, his campaign was told the Democratic Party of Wisconsin does not sell access to the VAN to challengers of Democratic representatives in good standing.

While the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s efforts to keep access to the VAN limited to their preferred candidates is not surprising, it is disappointing because many of us hoped that Martha Laning’s election as DPW Chair would bring about a change from the “politics as usual” system that protects the status quo and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s preferred candidates.

Jeff Simpson at Cognitive Dissidence has his own take on this.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin pays $23,000 fine for campaign finance violations

Well isn’t this special….

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin has paid a $23,000 fine to federal regulators for campaign finance violations during the recall campaigns of 2011 and 2012.

Those violations include failing to keep required payroll logs in 2011 and 2012 and underreporting its spending in 2011 by about $185,000, according to an agreement between the state party and the Federal Election Commission. It was first reported by the Center for Public Integrity.

The violations occurred around the same time as the historic recall elections involving Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and 13 state legislators.

It’s reports like this that make me glad the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has turned the page on the Mike Tate era.

It has been said that Einstein (and Voltaire and Ben Franklin) defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. Whoever said it wasn’t wrong.

All day yesterday, I was ruminating on the upcoming Supreme Court primary and the great opportunity it presents for Democrats to vote Rebecca Bradley out of the race altogether. Even though the race is non-partisan, she is clearly one of Walker’s “tools” and would pretty much put an end to any hope of turning that court around. While I will admit that I have been distracted by all the fun associated with the Holiday Season and haven’t been paying close attention to the topic, a quick search of the internet confirmed that, indeed, there hasn’t been much coverage. And even though there was a lot of stuff swirling around in my head, I just couldn’t figure out how to approach the topic for a Blogging Blue post. Last night, a Plain Talk article written by Dave Zweifel popped up in my Facebook feed, and suddenly, all my thoughts came together:

“The key question is whether the state’s dysfunctional Democratic Party can get its act together in 2016 to get the message out to the voters on what’s been going on the past several years.”

As you all know, in the last 6 months, we’ve changed leadership in both the Democratic Party of WI and the Democratic Party of Milwaukee. In June, Martha Laning was elected the new DPW Chair. A quick check of the DPW website shows an easily navigated fund raising page with very little about specific races, candidates (except Feingold) or substantive issues….there’s one page called “Stop Unlimited Corporate Campaign Contributions in Wisconsin” that looks like a petition/fund-raising tool and links to a few articles, press releases and the bills themselves, but it’s from OCTOBER. Most of the Twitter (the most immediate form of communication for most grown ups) feed is two weeks old. Seriously? It was hard to find any detailed information on anything. It was slick and I don’t mean that in a good way. A quick Google check of Martha Laning yields nothing newsworthy since November (when she did a Q&A on her goals for the Party), except for the letter from the Trump campaign asking for help in getting on the ballot. The bulk of the search cites articles about her election….in June! This is exactly the reason I let my membership lapse…the State party is clearly out of touch with the situation. I had hoped that new leadership would turn it around, but I guess they have decided to stick with the “trite and true” style that allowed the complete takeover of our State by the WIGOP.

With this negative mindset, I then turned to the Milwaukee Dems website. And I was pleasantly surprised. The first thing I saw were photos of the three Democratic Presidential candidates and a mission statement which focused on action. There was a calendar of events, current press releases, and the Twitter feed was up to the minute. Fund-raising is clearly a priority, but after GOTV action. My first thought was that they are ready to “rock n roll” and will do what it takes to get folks to the polls. This group recently elected new leadership as well, and the Chair, Robert Hansen, has clearly made a commitment to change. However, there is virtually no coverage of the upcoming Spring Primary and General Elections, despite it including the Supreme Court, the Circuit Courts, and the Milwaukee County Executive races. They clearly support a particular candidate in the upcoming County Executive race, so this is the time to go all in. To be fair, the Spring ballots are still fluid, but by Tuesday we will know who is running in every race. With this Spring election being the Presidential Preference (that just cracks me up) Primary, we know that we will have a better than average turnout.  It’s a numbers game, we need to get folks who vote our way out.  We know that the Republican Party of Wisconsin will be whipping their supporters into a frenzy (and the Tea Party will tell their base that ISIS will kill you personally if you don’t vote for Trump) to get them to the polls.   And they will all vote for Bradley.  It will be easier to take her out in February than in April, so we had better make the most of this opportunity.  It doesn’t knock on your door every day, you know.

As Democrats, and Progressives, we need to take the steps to get our act together now, get the message and the voters out, and change the course we are on.   Anything less is pure insanity.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin signs fundraising pact with Hillary Clinton

Meh. Here’s yet another example of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign has received commitments from four Democratic state parties, including in the crucial proving ground of New Hampshire, to enter joint fund-raising agreements with the campaign just as the nomination battle is beginning.

The four are a small fraction of the dozens of state parties that the Hillary for America campaign has asked to join such agreements. Many are still considering the request; some officials said they are working through how the arrangement would be put into effect while the nominating fight is underway.

Mississippi, Virginia and Wisconsin have also signed agreements with the Clinton team, according to two people briefed on the issue who were not authorized to speak publicly. Virginia, a critical general election battleground, is home to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close friend of Mrs. Clinton’s and a former Democratic National Committee chairman.

The move to create the “Victory Funds” – in which the money raised would be divided between the state parties and the Clinton campaign – comes as efforts to form a joint fund-raising agreement with the Democratic National Committee have repeatedly hit snags over concerns in the Clinton campaign about the current party leadership’s controlling the money in any shared account. The national committee, which is intended to remain neutral, has been accused by Mrs. Clinton’s rivals for the nomination of taking actions that could benefit Mrs. Clinton, such as restricting the number of debates.

While an arrangement along these lines between the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and Hillary Clinton, the preferred Democratic presidential candidate of the establishment isn’t unexpected, it shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

At the end of the day, the Democratic establishment will always work to help elect the so-call “safe” (i.e. corporate) Democratic candidates for higher office at the expense of those pesky, bothersome progressives who actually might upset the proverbial apple cart and work to change our broken system instead of protecting the status quo.

Russ Feingold calls on Sen. Ron Johnson to sign anti-super PAC “Badger Pledge”

Earlier today Democrat Russ Feingold signed the Badger Pledge and asked Sen. Ron Johnson to sign as well. The Badger Pledge, which is modeled after the successful bipartisan agreement used in the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race, would seek to limit the amount of third-party spending in Wisconsin’s 2016 U.S. Senate race.

Here’s what the agreement entails:

  • If a third-party organization airs or publishes any independent expenditure advertisement on TV, radio, or online that supports or promotes either specified candidate, the supported candidate’s campaign shall pay 50% of the cost of the advertisement buy to a charity of the opposing candidate’s choice.
  • If a third-party organization airs or publishes any independent expenditure advertisement on TV, radio, or online that attacks or opposes either specified candidate, the opposing candidate’s campaign shall pay 50% of the cost of the advertisement buy to a charity of the opposed candidate’s choice.
  • If a third-party organization airs or publishes any issue advocacy advertisement on TV, radio, or online, which does not include “express advocacy,” but does otherwise support or promote either specified candidate, the supported candidate’s campaign shall pay 50% of the cost of the advertisement buy to a charity of the opposing candidate’s choice.
  • If a third-party organization airs or publishes any issue advocacy advertisement on TV, radio, or online, which does not include “express advocacy,” but does otherwise attack or oppose either specified candidate, the opposing candidate’s campaign shall pay 50% of the cost of the advertisement buy to a charity of the opposed candidate’s choice.
  • The candidates agree not to coordinate with any third party on any issue advocacy advertisements for the duration of the 2016 election cycle. In the event that either candidate coordinates any issue advocacy advertisement with a third-party organization that candidate’s campaign shall pay 50% of the cost of the ad buy to a charity of the opposing candidate’s choice.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin has also called for Sen. Johnson to sign the Badger Pledge, with DPW Chair Martha Laning issuing the following statement.

“As I talk to voters all over the state, whether it’s a Democrat who owns a small business or a Republican community leader, I’ve never once heard someone say they want to see in our elections more mudslinging from third parties funded by unlimited, anonymous donations,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning said Friday. “That’s why I’m calling on Ron Johnson to join Russ Feingold in signing the Badger Pledge — there is broad bipartisan support for limiting the influence of money in politics. I hope Ron Johnson is committed to keeping the Senate race focused on the issues that matter to Wisconsinites.”

I think it’s safe to assume Sen. Johnson will absolutely not sign the Badger Pledge, though I would be pleasantly surprised if he did.

It’s time to move forward

This weekend Democrats elected Martha Laning as the new Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

As has been noted here and elsewhere, the race to succeed former Chair Mike Tate was not without negative and attacks, with yours truly having been at the center of some of those attacks. As I’ve noted here and elsewhere, I regret my role in the negativity of the DPW Chair race, especially in the last few weeks of the race. That being said, it’s time to move forward.

Now that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has chosen its new figurehead, it’s time for Wisconsin’s Democrats to work to heal the rifts we created between ourselves in the months and weeks leading up to the 2015 convention. What’s more, we all need to start looking forward to 2016, because we Democrats have a huge undertaking ahead of ourselves if we’re going to start reversing the damage Republicans have done to our fair state.

We’re all going to need to be on the same page if we’re going to beat Republicans at the ballot box, and I’m willing to do my part – are you?

CogDis: The Democratic Party of Wisconsin By the Numbers

Over at Cognitive Dissidence, DFL: DATA, FACTS, LOGIC has an interesting piece up outlining just how easy it may end up being for political consultant Jason Rae to end up as the next Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, thanks almost entirely to Milwaukee County’s convention delegates.

As noted by DFL, based on the DPW’s rules a majority is not required to elect the party’s Chair; a simple plurality is all that’s needed. That means that with a field of five candidates, a candidate can win the election with just 21% of the total votes cast. That means that fully 79% of the convention’s delegates can vote for someone other than the winning candidate.

Let that soak in for a second, then ponder this:

Milwaukee County will have 375 delegates to the DPW Convention, and it’s widely known those Milwaukee County delegates are being handpicked by the leaders of the Milwaukee County Democratic Party based on their support for Jason Rae. Those 375 delegates from Milwaukee County represent fully 19% of the total statewide delegates, meaning that even if Jason Rae garners just 2% of the votes from the delegates representing the other 71 counties in Wisconsin, he’ll be elected as the next Chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

If Jason Rae does in fact win the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairmanship in such a manner, it will be fully within the rules and bylaws of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, but it certainly won’t do much to engender warm fuzzy feelings towards the Democratic Party of Wisconsin by large numbers of the very grassroots folks that the party needs to win over if it’s going to accomplish anything meaningful in the next few years.