Last week I had an opportunity to sit down with Milwaukee County Supervisor Chris Larson, who recently announced he’s mounting a primary challenge to incumbent Democratic State Senator Jeff Plale, who represents the 7th State Senate District.
I started out our conversation by asking Larson why he decided to challenge an incumbent from his own party, and his response was that he’s been frustrated for a long time about the representation Sen. Plale has provided in the 7th District, but he noted he didn’t have the ability to get anything done to change the status quo. Larson went on to note that the makeup of the 7th District is almost sixty percent Democratic, adding that Sen. Plale is a very moderate with conservative leanings on a number of issues. Larson also noted that while he had been considering the possibility of a challenge to Sen. Plale, it was Sen. Plale’s efforts to thwart passage of the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA), as well as the failure on the part of legislators – including Sen. Plale – to implement dedicated funding for transit and a Regional Transit Authority that significantly influenced Larson’s decision to challenge Sen. Plale.
Larson also added that he and many others had worked hard for years on the issue of funding for transit, only to see those efforts get killed behind the scenes in the State Senate, adding that when he went to Madison to testify about legislation dealing with transit, the Assembly held hearings on the issue while the State Senate didn’t want to hear what Larson and others had to say. In discussing transit, Larson noted that transit is a huge issue in the 7th District, adding that as fares get raised and routes get cut, it becomes more and more difficult to get people to their jobs if they don’t have transportation of their own.
As our conversation continued, I asked Larson how his campaign has been received, and he said that while he’s gotten enthusiastic support from voters, party insiders have been less enthusiastic about his campaign. Larson went on to explain that prior to his announcement that he would challenge Sen. Plale – when his candidacy for the 7th District was just a rumor – he got calls from party insiders advising him not to run, stating that if he did challenge Sen. Plale they would put Larson “through the shredder.” Smiling, Larson noted that those phone calls also helped seal his decision to run against Sen. Plale.
As our conversation wound down, I did ask Larson how he expected to beat an entrenched incumbent like Sen. Plale, and he answered with one word: doors. Larson made it clear he plans on working hard to win the primary, and he was also quick to point out that he hopes to capitalize on the general anti-incumbent sentiment among voters this year. Larson added that Democrats had high hopes that with majorities in the State Assembly and the State Senate, they’d be able to do great things on issues like property tax relief, a Regional Transit Authority, and dedicated funding for transit and parks, yet there were no measurable gains on any of those issues in the State Senate during the last legislative session. Larson added, “There’s no way we can reset the table with the same elected officials who let us down and expect a different result.”
While there’s no denying Chris Larson has an uphill battle in his campaign to unseat Sen. Jeff Plale, Larson certainly seems to have the energy, enthusiasm, and determination to get the job done.