No, the title of this entry isn’t a mistake; I really did sit down and interview Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dave Westlake.
I had an opportunity to sit down and chat with Westlake for a few hours recently, and despite the fact that we’re on opposite ends of the political spectrum, we had what I’d categorize as a positive, pleasant, and interesting conversation. Our conversation started with a discussion on why Westlake chose to run for the United States Senate, given the fact that he has never run for – or been elected to – any type of elected office. In explaining his decision, he noted that he didn’t see any difference between leadership in the U.S. Senate versus the House of Representatives or the State Assembly, noting that each position requires leadership that will do what’s right, and he added that he has always had an interest in politics on a national level. Westlake went on to note he decided to run for the U.S. Senate because while he respects Senator Russ Feingold, he believes Sen. Feingold is “doing things that don’t represent all of Wisconsin,” and he made a point to note he took an oath to defend the Constitution as a cadet at West Point, which is what he wants to do if elected to the U.S. Senate.
After discussing his motivations for jumping in to the U.S. Senate race, my conversation with Westlake turned to the kind of campaign Westlake has run thus far. Asked to explain how his “Blaze Orange Army” and his blaze orange shirts aren’t a gimmick, Westlake was quick to note something’s only a gimmick if it doesn’t have a purpose behind it or is just for show. He noted his true intention behind his use of blaze orange is to make it clear that he wants his potential constituents to hold him accountable, not to gain attention for himself as some gimmick.
As we continued to talk about his campaign, I asked Westlake about the perception among his fellow Republicans that he isn’t a serious contender for the U.S. Senate. His response was that talk he wasn’t running a serious campaign was a “slap in the face to the tens of thousands of volunteers” who are supporting his campaign, and he noted he and his family have made sacrifices during his campaign. Westlake was quick to point out pundits and political operatives may not think he’s serious just because he’s not running his campaign a certain way, “according to a preformed template,” as he put it, but he was quick to add he believes there shouldn’t be a set model for how a political campaign is supposed to be run, adding, “campaigns that promote American Exceptionalism shouldn’t have boundaries.” Westlake noted his campaign is “as serious as it gets,” because the issues he’s focusing on – the issues that define his campaign – are the same issues that matter most to citizens. Westlake also added that despite what his critics may say, his campaign must be doing something right, given there’s no appreciable difference between how he and Terrence Wall are polling.
As our conversation continued, I asked Westlake why should any self-respecting Democrat vote for him. Westlake was quick to point out his campaign isn’t just about Democrats or Republicans – it’s about Americans coming together to solve their problems. He noted if he was a pure ideologue, he wouldn’t have gone to Drinking Liberally, but he added he went because he wants to hear from everyone, because everyone should have access to their elected officials and because everyone has good ideas. Westlake went on to add that he believes “politics as usual” hasn’t been working, and that if you agree with that assessment, then his candidacy is worth considering.
I also had an opportunity to pick Westlake’s brain regarding the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and he made it clear he isn’t a fan of other entities – such as corporations – making decision for people, because corporations with the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections is dangerous territory. Westlake added that he believes individuals should be able to donate as much as they want to a campaign, but he believes companies shouldn’t be allowed to influence elections – only individuals should.
As our conversation drew to a close, I asked Westlake to share his thoughts on his Republican opponents. Westlake had little to say about Ron Johnson, saying he didn’t know Johnson well but that he “seems like a nice guy.” Asked to share his thoughts on Dick Leinenkugel, Westlake noted he had never met Leinenkugel, but he wondered about Leinenkugel having held fundraisers for Democratic elected officials, asking, “what are his true intentions?” Much of my discussion with Westlake regarding his opponents centered on Madison multi-millionaire real estate mogul Terrence Wall, with Westlake noting he knows Wall “pretty well” from their time on the campaign trail. Westlake questioned why Terrence Wall is really running for the U.S. Senate, and he wondered if Wall really wanted to serve the citizens of Wisconsin. Westlake went on to add there are questions Terrence Wall needs to answer about things has said and done, and Westlake cited the controversy surrounding the fact that Wall has not paid state income taxes in 9 of the past 10 years as one example. Westlake added that while Wall did nothing illegal, he feels Wall owes the average guy an explanation as to why what he did is legal. Westlake also cited Wall’s flip-flop on trains – Wall was previously an advocate for trains but is now opposed – as another example of how Wall has some explaining to do to voters in Wisconsin.
Dave Westlake may be a likable guy who’s passionate about what he believes in, but ultimately he faces an uphill battle (to put it mildly) if he’s going to beat his Republican opponents for the chance to lose to Sen. Feingold in the general election.