On Saturday Ed had an excellent writeup about the bevy of challengers to African-American Democratic elected officials in Milwaukee and the negative reaction of at least one of those elected officials (State Rep. Jason Fields) as well Stephanie Findley, the chairperson of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s Black Caucus, to perceived meddling in African-American races by Democratic State Sen. Chris Larson.
As Ed noted in his piece, there’s a contingent within the Democratic Party here in Wisconsin that eschews any primary challenges to incumbent Democratic elected officials, something that Sen. Larson himself knows a thing or two about. As you’ll recall, back in 2010 then-County Supervisor Larson decided to mount a primary challenge to incumbent Democratic State Sen. Jeff Plale. At the time, Larson said 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.” Ultimately Larson prevailed over Plale, and I’d argue the Democratic Party in Wisconsin is better off as a result, having gained a stronger voice for progressive ideals.
That brings me back to Rep. Jason Fields (pictured, left). While the pro-incumbent bloc within the Democratic Party establishment wants to protect Rep. Fields from a primary challenge, there may be a valid argument to be made that change might not be a bad thing when it comes to Rep. Field’s seat in the Assembly. See, Rep. Fields has a knack for accepting campaign contributions from some rather curious contributors. According to Rep. Fields’ July 2011 continuing report filed with the GAB, he accepted a $205 campaign contribution from disgraced former Republican Speaker of the Assembly Scott Jensen. You might remember Jensen for his role in the Wisconsin legislature’s caucus scandal, which resulted in the convictions of Democrats and Republicans alike for using their offices/staff/resources to do political campaign work. For his role in the scandal, Jensen was convicted of “Code/Ethics-Use Office for Illegal Gain” and was ordered to pay a fine and restitution. What’s more, Rep. Fields has taken $900 in campaign contributions over the past two years from various members of the Walton (Wal-Mart) family, who aren’t exactly known for their fondness for (or support of) liberal political ideology.
Obviously there’s nothing untoward about Rep. Fields accepting campaign contributions from Scott Jensen and the Walton family – after all, he’s free to accept contributions from whomever he wants (as the law allows), but I’ve long been a believer that you can tell a lot about an elected official or candidate for elected office by who chooses to support their campaign, especially financially. Reached for comment regarding the contribution to his campaign by Scott Jensen, Fields wrote, “I don’t recall the specific contribution. I will review my finance report.”
While I don’t presume to know what’s best for the residents who live in the Assembly district served by Rep. Fields, I do think a primary challenger to Rep. Fields will serve to foster a strong debate about the issues that matter most to citizens of his district, while also promoting a discussion about Rep. Fields’ record as a member of the State Assembly. I understand the desire of some within the Democratic establishment to “protect the incumbent” at all costs, but sometimes challenging an incumbent isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and this might be one of those cases.