Can someone explain progressive support for Kathleen Vinehout?

I’ll admit that I have not yet made up my mind about which Democratic candidate (if any) I’ll support in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

While I absolutely love that Democratic State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout has been unambiguous in her support of reinstating collective bargaining rights for public employees, I’m less thrilled about her support for concealed carry, the Castle Doctrine, and for the “conscience clause” allowing pharmacists not to fill prescriptions for birth control based on their personal beliefs. What’s more, Vinehout’s candidacy is the very epitome of a grassroots “insurgent” type of campaign, as she’ll be hard-pressed to raise the kind of funds expected of a candidate for statewide office.

On the other hand, the pragmatist in me recognizes that while Madison School Board member Mary Burke may not be the “dream candidate” for progressives in Wisconsin (she’s clearly more of a moderate Democrat), she certainly seems to be a more formidable candidate to go against incumbent Gov. Scott Walker. While questions have been raised about Burke’s campaign strategy, she has worked hard to try to allay concerns that she wouldn’t be much better than Scott Walker if elected governor, with her statements supporting reinstating collective bargaining for public employees as just one example.

Since her initial struggles, Burke has hired a solid team of campaign professionals to run her campaign, and her campaign has demonstrated good message discipline in the face of attacks from Gov. Walker and the Wisconsin GOP. Burke’s ability to raise money (an unfortunate necessity in order to run a winning statewide campaign) will give her a fighting chance against Gov. Walker.

So here are my questions:

There’s no denying Mary Burke is far from the ideal progressive candidate many grassroots activists were hoping for, but is Kathleen Vinehout really any better? Does Kathleen Vinehout’s record merit her gaining support from progressives in Wisconsin?



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28 thoughts on “Can someone explain progressive support for Kathleen Vinehout?

  1. There are several reasons why there are many Wisconsin progressives who support Kathleen Vinehout, who is what I’d call a “rural populist” and not a “progressive”:

    1) For all intents and purposes, Mary Burke is the “Democratic establishment” candidate in the Wisconsin gubernatorial race, and there are more than a few progressives in Wisconsin who have a group grievance with the Democratic establishment for a number of reasons. Some of them include alleged sabotage of the 2012 recall attempts against Walker and Fitzgerald by the Democratic establishment, Obama proposing Chained CPI, Doyle cutting funding to education in Wisconsin, the Lautenschlager/Falk debacle in 2006, too much of a focus on fundraising than advocating for progressive ideals, the horrid Kelda Roys congressional campaign in 2012, Russ Decker stabbing the unions in the back, Bill Clinton implementing NAFTA and repealing Glass-Steagall, Chris Abele stabbing unions in the back, Obama and Doyle forcing Barbara Lawton out of the 2010 Wisconsin gubernatorial race, etc.

    2) Burke’s track record is far from progressive. Burke’s past political advocacy involves being a board member at the Bicycle Parts Suppliers Association, which has advocated for free-trade policies that have undermined our country’s economic sovereignty to the point that very little of it is left these days, as well as supporting the proposed Madison Prep charter school, which was never opened. Additionally, as a member of the Madison school board, Burke voted against a 1% pay raise for teachers in Wisconsin’s second-largest school district.

    3) Although most people who support Kathleen Vinehout won’t admit to this, Mary Burke is politically similar to Hillary Clinton, and, if Kathleen Vinehout were to defeat Mary Burke in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in Wisconsin, that would send a message to Hillary that she might have serious trouble trying to win the Democratic presidential nomination if she were to run for president.

    1. Aaron, tell me how the Democratic establishment is responsible for Helen Kelda Roys’ run for Congress or for Russ Decker’s absolute betrayal of public employees.

      I’d love to hear how the Democratic establishment is responsible for that.

      1. Zach, a lot of the Democratic establishment supported Roys when she tried to run for Congress and Decker was an establishment Democrat himself.

        1. Aaron, a lot more of the Democratic establishment supported Mark Pocan, and Roys getting support from among her Democratic peers shouldn’t be surprising, considering she and Pocan were running for an open seat. By your logic, it would have been much more nefarious if the Democratic establishment had all gotten behind Pocan in an attempt to avoid a primary.

          As for Decker, if you think he acted with the consent of the Democratic establishment in Wisconsin when he stabbed public employees in the back, then you clearly don’t know the whole story, because he was removed from his leadership position in the State Senate IMMEDIATELY after he stabbed public employees in the back.

          Look, I understand that you don’t like Mary Burke, but if you’re going to attack the Democratic establishment in Wisconsin at least focus your attacks on legitimate issues.

    2. You wrote, “Burke’s track record is far from progressive.”

      And I can cite examples of how Vinehout’s record is far from progressive, case in point being her votes in favor of concealed carry, the Castle Doctrine, and the conscience clause regarding birth control. You say she’s a “rural populist,” but her populist rhetoric alone doesn’t negate her record.

  2. Regarding Roys, I don’t know of a single elected official that endorsed Pocan when he ran for Congress in 2012, although there may have been some. I do know that Fred Clark (until he withdrew his endorsement late in the campaign), Peg Lautenschlager, and many others backed Roys.

    Also, Zach, you’re right that Decker did not act with consent from the Democratic establishment when he attacked Pocan, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was an establishment Democrat who went rogue by stabbing public employees in the back.

    1. Aaron, if you don’t know of a single elected official who endorsed Pocan when he ran for Congress in 2012, then you might want to check out his endorsements page. Pocan was endorsed by two former Democratic governors, the Mayor of Madison and four former mayors of Madison, 11 members of the state legislature, 21 members of the Dane County Board, etc., etc..

      As to Russ Decker, I’m not sure how the current Democratic establishment should be held responsible for the actions of one rogue former elected official, but that’s just my opinion.

  3. Most importantly, Vinehout is probably going to make the WEDC scandal a main attack line against Walker if she were to run for governor and win the Democratic nomination. Vinehout has publicly supported the creation of a state lending agency in Wisconsin that struck me as being similar to North Dakota’s state economic development bank.

    1. Who’s to say Burke won’t attack Walker on WEDC? That’s a line of attack that any Democratic gubernatorial candidate should use against Walker, because WEDC has been an abject failure on multiple levels.

  4. 99% democracy vs. 1% plutocracy. And Vinehout has a much larger understanding of issues and ability to connect with casual people that aren’t in the insider’s club.

    The money shouldn’t be considered nearly as much as it is. And by the way, if Burke’s got so much money to throw into this campaign, why is she holding fundraisers and not revealing how much she’s going to throw into the guv’s race?

    Plus, having Vinehout’s voice will raise the level of debate, and get it out of the distortions of the right-wing lie machine. Even if she doesn’t win, her candidacy helps Dems in a big way from that alone, because interest in the winning Dem candidate drives turnout, and TURNOUT is a big key in 2014.

    1. Jake, I absolutely agree that having Vinehout in the Democratic primary will raise the level of debate, and it’ll help drive turnout, as you noted.

      Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t made a decision on which Democratic candidate I’ll be supporting – I just find it curious that so many progressive activist types are gravitating towards Vinehout given how unprogressive her record is.

      1. I find Vinehout to be more “Russ Feingold-style independent”, and while I don’t necessarily agree with her on a few gun issues, it’s not a deal-breaker. And it must be noted that the Senator who Mike Ellis cut off for saying too many pro-choice things during the trans-vaginal probe bill was….Kathleen Vinehout. So I don’t see where you’ll get anything different on reproductive rights from a Gov Vinehout vs. a Gov Burke, and I trust Kathleen to use the bully pulpit a LOT better than Burke would on the subject.

        I get the point of the post, but we need tough-minded Feingold-type “progressives” more than ever these days.

  5. Kathleen has more often than not, done what an elected official is supposed to do. She has repeatedly said her positions largely reflect those of the majority of the people she represents. Quaint notion?

    Positions are written up every week on her web page and repeated by left leaning bloggers, with each new position paper or the most important news coming out of Madison. She explains what is being done in our names by the Republican regime and I don’t get any of that kind of insight and understanding of the issues so easily and in such a matter-of-fact manner, anywhere else.

    Biggest immediate issues before us, health care, mining, water use and jobs, tell me anyone else in state government at the moment who understands the problems and likely best solutions to those issues which would provide positive outcomes for the people of the state.

    1. Forgot to include public education in the list of biggest issues (note to self, have coffee first on the coffee break).

  6. Lisa, Zach, Aaron, Jake, what I don’t like is 2 be told who 2 vote 4 and I feel that we r being told who 2 vote 4 in this election and who am I talking about I am talking about Mary Burke. All of r groups r telling us 2 vote 4 burke even before there is a primary. I will not stand behind somebody who does that 2 me. Also, I have said this before that Vinehout knows everything that Walker has done 2 r state and she will try 2 fix everything that walker has done. Mary Burke don’t know what walker has done she probably won’t be able fix it because she don’t know all he has done.

    1. Mike, explain how Sen. Vinehout “knows everything that Walker has done” to our state while Mary Burke doesn’t.

      Are there some secret things Gov. Walker has done to our state that Sen. Vinehout is privy to while the rest of us are in the dark?

  7. The question Zach seeks to answer with this particular blog post seems to be:

    How can a candidate with a history of some regressive votes be considered the “progressive hero”?

    This doesn’t make logical sense, so Zach’s trying to better understand it. That’s all.

    1. Lisa’s on point.

      While I like Sen. Vinehout a heck of a lot, especially when it comes to her stand on collective bargaining for public employees, I simply can’t choose a candidate based on one issue and one issue alone. I need to take a look at the bigger picture, and in the bigger picture Sen. Vinehout has cast some votes that give me pause.

      1. Vinehout is smart, articulate, and humane. I subscribe to her weekly newsletter, and she pushed back hard against the proposed pro-drilling bill that would have removed local control from all drilling–including gravel pits. Under the FAQ section of her website, she explained about the pharmacist vote to my satisfaction. Read that section and see what you think..

        1. Marilyn, I’ve read that section, and I’ve spoken personally to Sen. Vinehout regarding her vote on the pharmacist conscience clause, but that’s not the only vote of hers that gives me pause.

          1. I understand, and have spoken with her also at an Oregon event. She has a more conservative constituency that she needs to respect–especially as an elected official. I trust her more than I trust Mary Burke to be the most progressive if elected.

            1. Let me preface my response by noting that I’ve met with Sen. Vinehout and talked with her several times, and I think she’s an impressive woman.

              However, I’m not sure that Sen. Vinehout would be more progressive than Mary Burke if elected, because I’m not convinced either of them is really the kind of progressive candidate so many of Wisconsin’s Democratic/liberal voters are looking for.

              1. There is a leap of faith to take with either of these people. Burke carries out-state Dane Count baggage and Trek China outsourcing. Not exactly in the well-paying job growth business anymore. But, few others are in this country. This is just the kind of Koch fodder available, however. You know, the dark shaded ads with yellow writing and a scary voice predicting the end of the world.
                Thank you for the good conversation.

                1. Marilyn, no matter who the Democratic gubernatorial candidate is, the various groups doing the bidding of the Koch brothers will find ways to attack.

                  1. Well, we’ll see. It’s all about defeating SW. Burke, Walker, and Vinehout are in a statistical tie per the Marquette poll. I truly think that Vinehout has the stronger resume and the greater depth–just not the personal fortune. This whole conversation may be moot if Walker gets his tax cut and enough is given to the $30,000-$50,000 wage earners. Is Walker that smart? Sometimes he is, sometimes not.

                    1. Well, it looks like this is all a moot point, because it’s being reported Sen. Vinehout will announce tomorrow that she won’t be seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination this year.

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