What were the “unusual circumstances” that led to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin endorsing John Lehman in a contested primary

According to this report by Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, last month members of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s Administrative Committee (30 of whom are Democratic party insiders) voted to endorse state Sen. John Lehman, a Racine Democrat, for lieutenant governor,despite the fact that Madison activist Mary Jo Walters had also registered to run for lieutenant governor.

That might not seem like a big deal, except for one minor problem: Article VIII of constitution of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin makes it clear that the state organization cannot endorse candidates in contested partisan primaries unless there are “unusual circumstances.”

ARTICLE VIII – Endorsements of Candidates in Primary Elections
The state organization, congressional district organizations, county organizations, the College Democrats of Wisconsin, the youth caucus, and all other subdivisions at any level of the state organization are prohibited from endorsing or supporting any candidate in a Democratic presidential preference election or any partisan primary election which will determine the candidate of the Democratic Party for the ensuing election to office unless the county or local Democratic group or congressional district recommends a certain candidate (or candidates) be endorsed or supported due to unusual circumstances and these circumstances be submitted in writing to the state Administrative Committee in a timely manner for approval of an endorsement and support of a specific candidate (or candidates) for a specific reason and the Administrative Committee approves said recommendation by a two thirds majority.

.At the time of Bice’s report, Mary Jo Walters had registered to run, but here candidacy was not official until she actually submitted enough signatures to get her name on the ballot. However, as of the latest report from the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB), Walters had in fact submitted enough signatures to get her name on the ballot as a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.

Reached for comment on what the “unusual circumstances” were that led to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s endorsement of John Lehman for lieutenant governor despite the presence of another Democrat on the ballot, here’s what DPW spokesperson Melissa Baldauff said (emphasis added).

The administrative committee, which is comprised of 40 locally elected activists all over the state, fielded requests from multiple congressional districts to make an endorsement in the Lt. Gov.’s race once it became clear there was only one serious candidate. These requests are based on feedback and suggestions from Party members and grassroots activists alike. With virtually no debate whatsoever, the committee voted unanimously to make an endorsement and we support their vote.

So with “virtually no debate whatsoever,” the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s Administrative Committee chose to endorse the establishment Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor for no other reason than the fact that the Democratic establishment in Wisconsin felt he was the only “serious candidate.” I’m not entirely sure that the DPW determining a candidate is the only “serious candidate” qualifies as an “unusual circumstance” as outlined by the DPW’s constitution, because I’m inclined to believe it’s more of an “unusual circumstance” for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin to pick and choose which candidates to endorse based on its own evaluation of whether or not those candidates are “serious.”

The decision by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin establishment to endorse John Lehman reeks of party bosses making decisions, and it’s one reason I’m less than enamored with Wisconsin’s Democratic Party establishment.


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11 thoughts on “What were the “unusual circumstances” that led to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin endorsing John Lehman in a contested primary

  1. Zach, You have written an excellent summation of how the DPW operates. Wish this could run on the front page of the major newspapers in the state. The action to endorse isn’t so much about Lehman as it is about Walters. They are saying she is a nobody and don’t want anyone to consider her. This attitude is pathetic but pervasive within the party. Those on the Administrative Committee are scared to death to oppose anything the Party wants. If you want to run for office but are not in the the Party’s inner circle, they will do all they can to minimize your candidacy or keep you off the ballot altogether.

  2. I am not okay with the endorsement by the DPW in a contested primary and frankly not even for Burke against Hulsey. 2008 shows one way to grow a party is by having an open primary, which is a strong reason it should not endorse Hillary Clinton before the convention 2016. The DPW should focus on winning General Elections against Republicans. Now if the DPW had an endorsement system set up by Caucus that the party sticks with for every election as the DFL does in Minnesota, I might think a little differently about it than an endorsement by an administrative committee.

  3. From what Wendi Kent (a Madison-area progressive activist) told me via Twitter, Walters is considered unfit for public office (which would be a justifiable reason for the DPW to endorse John Lehman), although Kent didn’t go into any detail about it.

    Only one candidate in a contested primary with any chance of winning being the reason behind an official endorsement, which is what the DPW is officially citing as the reason behind their endorsement of John Lehman, is not an exceptional circumstance, since it’s quite common in races in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the country for there to be one Democratic candidate who is expected to get nearly all of the vote in the Democratic primary despite having at least one primary challenger.

    Here’s what I consider to be an exceptional circumstance:
    1) All of a Democratic candidate’s primary challengers are considered unfit for public office, hold views that are not even remotely in line with Democratic/progressive values (i.e., conservative, Tea Party, far-right, LaRouche movement, etc.), and/or are implicated in major scandal(s).
    2) Nobody is running as a Democrat, but an independent, third-party, or write-in candidate in the race is worthy of support from those who usually vote for Democratic candidates in the general election.
    3) Democratic nominee dies, ends his/her campaign, is found to be unfit for public office, is found to hold views that are not even remotely in line with Democratic/progressive values, and/or is implicated in a major scandal before the general election, and someone worthy of support from those who usually vote for Democratic candidates in the general election is running an independent, third-party, or write-in candidacy in the general election.

    Mike Tate and the DPW Administrative Committee are clearly trying to run the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in a similar manner to how the Democratic Party in my home state of Illinois is run (where official endorsements by state and local party organizations are commonplace, even in genuinely competitive primaries), which is certainly not in line with Wisconsin’s progressive traditions.

  4. How might mischief voting factor into this or any contested Dem primary in WI? It wouldn’t be just Dems voting in a Dem primary, would it?
    Maybe it’s because I live in one of the reddest counties in the State, so maybe I’m just overly pessimistic, but I wouldn’t discount motivated Republicans paying more attention to voter turnout in a primary than Democrats.

    1. Sue, I’ve alleged that Brett Hulsey’s campaign is a Republican operation to rig the Democratic primary for Hulsey.

      Here’s why I’ve alleged that:
      1) Dave Blaska, a conservative blogger from the Madison area, signed Hulsey’s nominating petitions and said that he was going to vote in the Democratic primary for Hulsey but vote for Scott Walker in the general election regardless of the outcome of the Democratic primary.
      2) Hulsey met with Republicans in an attempt to join the Republican Party last year, but he either was denied entry into the Assembly GOP caucus or otherwise backed down from his threat to join the GOP.
      3) Republicans have won competitive Democratic primaries in Wisconsin before due to Republican voters voting in the Democratic primary, most notably Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.

  5. Doug- You could leave off the word “signing.”

    But Cantor’s loss does tell you one thing- VOTE, because the goofballs sure will.

  6. I agree. Fighting Bob’s central issue was fighting for primaries that weren’t dominated by party insiders. Good candidates don’t need the field cleared for them.

  7. I’m really just a neophyte observer in politics but wouldn’t it be better to have Sen. Lehman remain in the Senate in the hopes that the Democrats can retake at least one house in the legislature. It doesn’t make sense to me.

    Just curious!

    1. Thanks to the way Republicans gerrymandered his district, he’d have been likely to lose. The district now favors Republicans, while Sen. Wirch’s district was made more solidly Democratic.

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