Some thoughts on three of the candidates for DPW Chair

Yesterday three of the four announced candidates for Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) Chair – Jason Rae, Jeff Smith, and Joe Wineke – came together at Camp Bar in Shorewood to speak to Democrats and share their ideas on how they’d move the Democratic Party of Wisconsin forward if elected to succeed Mike Tate as Chair of the DPW.

I had a chance to listen to each man share his vision for the DPW, and I also listened as each candidate answered questions from those in attendance. I’d like to share my thoughts, but before I do I’d like to preface my thoughts by noting that I do not have a preferred candidate in the race. I don’t know much about Mary Lang Sollinger, the fourth candidate in the race, but of the three candidates I do happen to know more about, each has strengths and weaknesses, leaving me torn on which candidate strikes me as most capable of moving the Democratic Party of Wisconsin forward.

Anyhow….back to my thoughts from yesterday.

Jason Rae
Throughout his remarks and his answers to questions from attendees, one common theme of Jason’s was his desire to listen to Democrats – including grassroots activists – to hear their feedback on how best to move the Democratic Party of Wisconsin forward. Jason also noted if elected DPW Chair he would work with anyone – including his opponents in this race – to find good ideas to move the DPW forward.

I’ll also note that of the three candidates present yesterday, Jason was the most polished speaker. He was able to clearly articulate his points and engage attendees, but I would have liked a little more detail in some of his answers.

Jeff Smith
Jeff struck me as very much the “outsider” candidate in the race, despite the fact that he is a former elected official and a former employee of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Jeff talked a lot the need to build a statewide party by investing resources year-round throughout the state, instead of devoting resources in certain areas only during election cycles. Jeff cited his personal experience working with a group of committed Democrats to keep their office in Eau Claire open year-round.

While not as polished a public speaker as Joe Wineke or Jason Rae, Jeff definitely had a folksy style that seemed to engage those in attendance. Many of his answers to questions included anecdotes about his experiences as a candidate and then as a political director for the DPW.

Joe Wineke
One promise Joe made that stuck with me was his promise that he’d only serve one term as DPW Chair if the party hadn’t gained seats in the legislature in 2016. One criticism (whether fair or not) of current DPW Chair Mike Tate is that he was never held accountable for the failure of the Democratic Party to “stop the bleeding” in regards to Democrats losing the governorship, one U.S. Senate seat, two Congressional seats, and dozens of seats in the State Assembly and State Senate during his watch. Wineke’s promise to hold himself accountable if his tenure as DPW Chair doesn’t yield tangible positive results is a breath of fresh air.

I was also encouraged to hear Joe give a brief outline of his desire to devolve the Democratic Party of Wisconsin from a largely top down organization into an organization that works from the bottom up.


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11 thoughts on “Some thoughts on three of the candidates for DPW Chair

  1. Maybe It’s just me.

    But I’d like to hear from people who want to invest resources around the state year round how they would get the increased resources.

    In particular, it’s important to acknowledge that this costs money, and if you don’t have a plan to raise additional funding, you will be woefully under funded during the time in which you need the people the most.

    Sure, it’s nice to have a field organizer year round in every county, but that costs a legitimate amount of money.

    1. If memory serves me, Jeff Smith touched on this a little bit when he mentioned that he didn’t necessarily want paid staff in every county, but that he’d divide up the state based on district lines and allocate staff according to those districts. That might lessen some of the financial burden, but you still have a valid point.

      1. I guess that furthers my questions, Zach, how many staff does he envision to carry year round?

        I mean, it’s been a while since I was super involved at the party, but in off years the party doesn’t necessarily carry that many staff that don’t have essential keeping a train on the tracks tasks.

        If he wants to repurpose someone who’s job is compliance with laws, then the chair has to do that type of job. What would qualify any of htese candidates proposing something like that? Are they certified Accountants/familiar with the laws on compliance?

        1. This Dj,

          A good first step would be looking through the job descriptions of the current DPW staff and see who does what for how much per year. I was on a Facebook thread recently in which Mike Tate participated quite heavily and he wouldn’t tell anyone how he actually spends his time. It’s also a tad misleading to suggest additional funds would need to be raised to fund field organizers year round. What we’d need to know first is how much money is being raised on an annual basis and how is it being spent.

          1. Great question about what Tate does with his time. Has he done anything at all to organize any sort of fight against “right to work”? DPW has been oddly silent this whole time.

          2. Sorry to come back for this.


            It’s pretty easy actually when you see what the staffing level is typically like in off years.

            Not to out myself, but I worked at the party when Joe Wineke was chair, am I supporting him? Unclear, I know I’m not supporting 2 of the candidates that have thus far fully announced.

            However, during the off years the staffing level of DPW proper is fairly scarce. Typical structures include a director of compliance, a fundraiser, an executive director, a communications director and perhaps one other position (Depending on budgeting).

            Under wineke we had an extra staffer here and there due to Joe not taking a salary, alleviating the budgetary crunch.

            Could you not have an ED and split that position and staffing in half for 2 field operatives? Sure, however someone would have to take up the organizational work. Having seen at least 2 of the candidates for chairs organizational styles, I’d say that’s a dubious impression.

            Could you eliminate the communications director? I find that truly difficult, because those things are truly important especially in this environment. Does the party need to be smart about who they hire for that position, yes. Can we afford another graeme situation? No.

            If you find someone who can do compliance and fundraising together, that’s probably your best case for savings. However, that person will likely command the going rate for top notch compliance and fundraising (And anyone with the track record you want for that… that going rate is incredibly high.)

            sorry to ramble. But we need someone who has actual plans, and a blueprint to fulfill that vision. Saying you want X without saying how you get there isn’t a plan, that’s an empty promise. We get that from the politicians, we need our chair to be something else. IMHO.

  2. It is not necessary to spend any large amount of money to energize a network of volunteers in a strategically organized network. Just check out the Wisconsin Grassroots Network (} which is entirely self funded and staffed by volunteers. WGN in collaboration with a network of county party leaders and community activists already has launched a regional organizing structure in the North and South ends of the 3rd CD. So fare two face to face meetings and several conference calls have been held in each of these regions. This regional structure mimics many aspects of what the DFL has used effectively in Minnesota. These structures would be organized around two or three senate Districts and their imbibed Assembly Districts. This can be implemented at minimal cost if the right people do the work. This approach is already working in Minnesota. Let’s try something new. What do we have to loose? Contact me if you have questions. Nate Timm

  3. A suggested goal: We should have a Democratic candidate running in every legislative seat in Wisconsin. We are giving the Republicans a pass on far too many seats. For example, no one is bothering to contest the Grothman Senate seat right now. That is shameful. That race (one we know we’re unlikely to win) could be used as an opportunity to talk about our issues and why what the Right Wing is doing to the UW, unions and the environment is bad for everybody in the state — including Republicans and independents. Alas, another missed opportunity.

    1. Agreed, and that should be a completely achievable goal. I wish I had been paying attention about six months ago, before Cody Horlacher moved into my district and won an assembly seat, completely unopposed. It may or may not have been a winnable race for the Democrats, but you have no chance if you’re not even on the ballot. Why didn’t DPW get on that one and at least try to recruit someone to run?

  4. Shouldn’t the county parties be the sort of year round grassroots base of the DPW? And of course, whoever is the DPW chair should support the county parties, but at the same time, the whole point of a grassroots is that there isn’t a hierarchical leader.

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