A few weeks ago I asked the readers of Blogging Blue what questions they’d ask the candidates vying to replace Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Mike Tate if they had the opportunity, and the questions you all came up with where whittled down from several dozen to ten.
Each of the candidates for DPW Chair – Jeff Smith, Joe Wineke, and Jason Rae – were sent the questions at the same time via email, and each has sent back their responses to the questions. I’ll be sharing the answers each candidate gave in the order I received their responses, so today we start with former Democratic State Senator and former DPW Chair Joe Wineke.
The questions sent to Mr. Wineke are highlighted in bold, with his responses immediately following the questions. Mr. Wineke’s responses were not edited or altered in any way.
Question 1. What is your plan for rebuilding the Democratic Party of Wisconsin?
1. Quit playing defense all the time. The GOP has been able to successfully brand Democrats for too long. We need to hit back and hit back hard. We have the issues on our side, but too often assume people know what we stand for…they do not.
2. We play offense through better messaging. Message matters. We need to create an “Opportunity Agenda” for Democrats focused on economic security, educational opportunity and equal opportunity. We can’t have 20 messages, we need to boil it down to a handful and repeat them over and over in simple language. Let’s also not play around the edges. For example, I believe that the DPW should strongly stand for public dollars for public schools. Period. Let the GOP have the voucher crowd. There is a crisis going on in our schools and we need to be at the forefront of fighting it.
3. We need to rebuild our party from the bottom up. Neither a top down party or a top down message resonates with average people. I propose that we set up as many as 12 regional party groups that will bring county leaders, allied groups and interested citizens together to help the DPW recruit candidates, develop regional message and build local units. The issues of one part of the state are often not the same as in another part of the state. Let’s go local.
4. You can’t beat somebody with nobody. In the last election cycle, the Democrats only fielded candidates against 29 of 60 GOP incumbents in the State Assembly. In 2008, while I was Chair of the DPW, we fielded candidates in all but five or six GOP seats. We won back the Assembly. Let’s do it again.
5. We do a poor job with Social Media. I will immediately create a Social Media Advisory Council within the party to coordinate a daily message that can be promoted by party leaders and friendly bloggers to create a unified message. I repeat…message matters.
Question 2. What would the DPW’s messaging look like if you are elected state party chair?
Unlike my opponents, I have done thousands of interviews with newspapers, radio stations and television stations. For example, I am a regular on both Joy Cardin’s show on WPR and Sly’s radio program. I am comfortable being the voice of the party and I am told that I am good at it. I will use every contact I have to improve messaging.
As stated above, I will create a Social Media Advisory Council to improve our messaging. I don’t have all the answers, so I want to bring in people that are good at this and have them build our social media messaging center. I want a daily messaging plan sent out by the DPW.
I also believe that the party has to stand for something. Our Platform is a fine set of ideals. I doubt that one-tenth of one percent of the population of Wisconsin has read it. We need to come up with a simple message for the DPW that focuses on only a handful of issues that people can relate to and support. I believe the issues are economic security, educational opportunity (especially in rural Wisconsin) and equal rights for all.
We also have to rebuild our relationship with the liberal blogosphere. We have been hostile to bloggers with a generally friendly viewpoint and made them enemies. This needs to stop. I want our friends to be our friends. Trust will take time, but I intend to prove to them that we are their ally.
Question 3. What are the three issues that Dems should focus their message on?
1. Economic Security. People know they are falling behind. We as Democrats have not given enough people the belief that we will help them succeed. Supporting the middle class is paramount to that security. Better wages, reducing student loan debt, support for the right to collectively bargain and making housing more affordable and attainable need to be key to that effort.
2. Educational Opportunity. Democrats need to stand behind public schools. Let the GOP side with the rich and powerful on this issue. We need to remind people that public dollars should go to public schools…period. Rural schools in Wisconsin have reached a crisis point. If we quit playing on the edges and show people whose side we are on, we can win this issue. We are currently losing it. I believe that the Democratic Recovery will begin in rural Wisconsin and the issue is education.
3. Equal Opportunity. Political parties must stand powerfully behind core issues. Equal opportunity for all, whether one is straight, gay, black, white, Native American or anything else must be a defining issue for Democrats. Republicans have been allowed to pander to prejudice for too long. Let the issue define them and us.
Question 4. What would you do to ensure that a quality candidate run in every race regardless if the race is considered winnable?
As the only candidate in this race that has actively recruited candidates in a number of election cycles, I can tell you that the only way to win an election is to field a candidate in every election you can. And that is what I did while Chair of the DPW from 2005-2009. We won the State Senate back in 2006 and the Assembly in 2008. In both elections, we fielded candidates in nearly every race. Compare that to 2014 when we left 31 out of 60 Assembly GOP incumbents unopposed. We do well when we field candidates everywhere. We lose when we become selective.
I want to build recruiting from the bottom up. I propose the creation of up to 12 regional party groups to work with the DPW to bubble up candidates in different regions of the state. I want groups like Emerge and Wisconsin Progress to keep doing what they are doing, but I want to go well beyond those targeted races. We may not win some of these areas, but we can use local elections for party building and to increase the democratic percentage in areas that we have been getting creamed. That helps our top of the ticket races, as well as building excitement in county parties.
Question 5. What is a progressive? Are you one? Tell us exactly how you have walked the talk. Be honest if you’re not.
I am a progressive…however, I prefer to call myself a liberal. I am not afraid of the term. Let me give a couple of examples in my career that prove my point:
In 2006, when the GOP pushed the amendment to allow for discrimination against the LGTB community, I became the first state chair in the country to come out publicly against the amendment. In other states it was considered too controversial (things have changed a lot on this issue in the last 9 years). I didn’t care. Fairness is fairness and I wanted the DPW to clearly stand on the side of equality.
While in the Legislature, I stood with only three other Senators against the dismantling of our AFDC system. It was mean spirited and wrong, but most “so-called” progressives voted to dismantle the system. Sometimes you just have to do what is right.
Actions speak louder than words…My actions in these instances prove my point.
Question 6. How will you manage your role between the Assembly and Senate caucuses and the County Chairs Association?
First of all, they are three distinct entities that are allied with the party, but separate. They have every right to do as they please. As a former member of both the Assembly and Senate (and chair of the SSDC in 1994) I know firsthand how they operate. I want to have a cordial and friendly relationship with both, but know that our roles will sometimes collide. That is healthy and proper.
As it relates to the CCA, I want to give the Chair’s Association more authority and power. For example, I want the CCA to take up a leadership role in my goal of creating 12 regional party groups. They are part of the DPW, but need to also occasionally be a buffer if the DPW is going against their wishes and needs. Once again, this is healthy.
Question 7. What will you do to change/modernize our image to something appealing to people that are not active members?
Let me start with messaging. We need to develop a simple message that relates to average people. Too often we tend to speak above people. We can even get to the point of lecturing them about why we are right and they are wrong. As soon as we do that, we lose that voter. No one wants to be told that they are wrong. So let’s start talking to them in a positive way with a few simple themes. We can get to them, but only if we do it correctly.
Second, there are literally hundreds of groups that have formed since the “Wisconsin Uprising of 2011”. We have tended to ignore these groups or have been openly hostile to them. I want to change that. I don’t need these groups to formally align with the DPW. I do need these groups to work with us to create positive change that will elect Democratic candidates. I will put a great deal of time and effort into making this happen.
Third, we need to work better with our social media friends. We can work with these groups to get our message out to people that may not want to listen to the DPW.
Finally, we can’t just be the party that hates Governor Walker and the GOP. We need to challenge them and be critical of their bad ideas, but then we need to pivot into a positive message about what will be different for them if they vote Democratic. People are hungry for a positive message that they can relate to. We haven’t delivered.
Question 8. How do you plan to bridge the gap between local candidate recruitment efforts and the legislative caucuses?
First, see my answers in questions 1, 4 and 6. I have already stated answers to this question in those responses.
Let me state one other issue clearly. As long as I am Chair of the DPW, the party will never again get involved in a primary. We will not endorse one candidate over the other, we will not block candidates from access to the VAN and we will allow them to speak at our meetings, including the state convention. Only by being inclusive can we win elections.
Question 9. Demographics alone won’t win elections, Which populations do you think the Dems can improve with?
I am not 100% sure I understand the question, but let me give it a try.
We need to get a better voter turnout on college campuses. In 2014, our percentages were o.k. on campus, but the turnout was poor. We need to focus like a laser beam on this.
We can’t keep ignoring rural Wisconsin. I remember when Democrats held seats in towns like Wabeno, Chilton, Luxembourg, Rice Lake, Mosinee and others. We now control none of them. If we could win them before, we can win them again. We just need to put a greater focus on the 1/3 of the state that lives in rural areas.
Question 10. What are your life experiences including formal education, past and current employment, service or religious affiliations?
I am a 49 year resident of Verona Wisconsin and a graduate of the UW-Madison. I am married with three kids, one grandchild and two dogs. I was a member of the Verona City Council for three years. I served in the State Assembly from 1983-1993. I served in the State Senate from 1993-1998, I was the Political Director for a state-wide labor organization from 1998-2004. I chaired the Wisconsin Democratic Party from 2005-2009. Finally, I was the state’s chief labor negotiator in the Doyle Administration in 2009 and 2010. If you must know, I am a Lutheran.
My background shows a broad depth of experience in both the public and private sector. I have been involved in elections for over 30 years. My lifetime record in elections is 15 wins and 4 losses. Not a bad winning percentage. When I was chair from 2005-2009, we regularly won elections.
My number one goal as DPW is to win elections again. Everything else is secondary. I hope you agree.