Ten questions from Blogging Blue readers to DPW Chair candidate Stephen Smith

In January 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.

After whittling down the questions, they were sent to each of the announced candidates for DPW Chair – Jeff Smith, Joe Wineke, and Jason Rae. Each candidate sent back their responses to the questions, which can be read HERE (Rae), HERE (Wineke), and HERE (Smith). After Martha Laning entered the race, I emailed her the very same questions, and her response is HERE.

After I was informed former Democratic State Rep. Stephen Smith was also a candidate for DPW Chair, I emailed him the very same questions, and he was quick to respond. The questions sent to Stephen Smith are highlighted in bold, with his responses immediately following the questions. Smith’s responses were not edited or altered in any way.

What is your plan for rebuilding the Democratic Party of Wisconsin?

The way to rebuild the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is to make the DPW a team. We’re one team on a mission with a goal to win elections and govern. The way to do this is by building the base and working our way up. We don’t fertilize the leaves of a tree, we fertilize the roots. We need to focus on every county party. The way to rebuild and expand our county parties is to grow their memberships. They are the roots of the DPW. The way to do this is to empower each county party unit, they should be the real driver within the Democratic Party. This process cannot be accomplished overnight, but will take a period of months. We need to remember that we are a voluntary organization; and we need to have local leaders who are willing to take ownership of their actions and who want to be part of our state wide team working to make a difference for the better in Wisconsin. Good results will be rewarded.

What would the DPW’s messaging look like if you are elected state party chair?

The answer to your question is a question in itself, what is the definition of messaging? The DPW’s messaging system can’t be done with a universal tool, it will take multiple techniques and some new ideas. The state of Wisconsin is so vast and expansive that first, we need to find out what the people need, then we will be able to create our message. I can make phone calls while travelling across the state meeting with our county parties. A messaging technique would be a statewide newsletter. Within this newsletter we would focus on our county parties, candidates and local leaders from every region of the state. The 8th CD has a good template for the state organization to copy. There is no need to reinvent the wheel in Wisconsin. Currently, I am constantly bombarded with emails from Democratic Organizations the main message being “donate” as I imagine you are getting these emails too. We can do better. We need to pay attention to our audience and how they react to the messages we are sending them.

What are three issues that the Dems should focus their message on?

The three issues that Democrats should focus their message on are: equality, investing in education and quality affordable health care for everyone. Equality stands for equal rights, equal opportunities and equal pay. Equality is what puts everyone on the same level playing field. Investing in education is crucial for not only our future but every future generation. Taxpayer dollars should only be used for public schools. Education is the pipeline out of poverty; let’s not change it into a ticket to a train wreck. We need to invest in education to ultimately invest in the future, to keep the state of Wisconsin high in quality of life. Healthcare along with education and equality is a main driver in our state. Affordable healthcare for everyone is what keeps the door open for education and equality. There isn’t a way to rank these three issues in order of importance. These issues are like a level three legged stool. Each leg of the stool is an equally important foundation for a good healthy life.

What would you do to ensure that a quality candidate run in every race regardless if the race is considered winnable or not?

The way to ensure quality candidates run in every race regardless of their district outlook is by building the root system of the DPW. This is our county parties. We are one statewide team. By empowering the local leaders and county parties we can build our bench through a focus on April elections. Helping progressive candidates achieve victory in local elections. When there are progressive majorities governing at the local level we can show what good governing accomplishes, not just talk about this subject. Another way to ensure great candidates run is by having a long term focus. We need to be thinking about elections four, six or eight years down the road; not just election by election. We need a well thought out plan. I know this can be achieved using the creative collaboration of many DPW members.

What is progressive? Are you one? Tell us exactly how you’ve walked the talk. Be honest if you’re not.

Yes, I consider myself a progressive. I believe a progressive is someone who puts people before money, regardless of what it takes. I have done this throughout my life. I will share this example. In January 2009, when a local business in Rice Lake was either going to sell or close its doors for good; my wife and I made the difficult decision to risk our nest egg to buy this business. With our business partners we kept the doors open and saved the jobs of 49 good hardworking people.

How will you manage your role between the Assembly & Senate caucuses and the County Chairs Association?

It will be a team effort. As I said before, we don’t fertilize the leaves of a tree. We fertilize the roots. It begins at the county level and works upwards. We can start by putting an emphasis on county parties. By empowering the main driver in the DPW we have the capability to start a team effort among the local leaders, county parties and the legislative caucuses. By having an effective base we can start to gain back the State Senate and begin working on retaking the State Assembly. Every single stakeholder within the Democratic Party of Wisconsin wants the same thing and that is to win elections and govern. By working together and communicating efficiently as one statewide team we will be able to achieve our goal to make Wisconsin a better state by winning elections and governing.

What will you do to change/modernize our image to something appealing to people that are not active members?

I take this question to be: What will you do to change/modernize our image to something appealing to people who are not active members? When I am the chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin the path to image modernization begins with talking to our neighbors. This doesn’t just include local leaders and county chairs. It includes many people, both active members as well as non-members. By including local candidates/elected officials, volunteers and our outside allies we have the capability to create a 24 month election cycle strategy not just a nine month strategy. We need to have a strategic plan that stretches beyond each election cycle. Our image is changed for the better when the DPW finds the right message and pays attention to the audience reaction our message receives. We have all of the tools we need at our disposal, we just need the right team and work group to accomplish this task.

How do you plan to bridge the gap between local candidate recruitment efforts and the legislative caucuses?

The best way to bridge this gap is through communication and team work. We are a voluntary organization; and we need to have leaders who are willing to be team players. This applies to caucus leaders as well as the DPW chair. What happened to us in the 2014 elections should never happen again. Leadership from the DPW chair is the catalyst for good results. Effective leadership makes sure all groups are in the same boat and everyone is grasping their oar, rowing in unison. This is why my slogan is “One mission, one team, one goal: win elections and govern”.

Demographics alone won’t win elections, so which populations do you think the Dems can improve with for future years, and how can you win those voters over?

There isn’t one or a select few of populations or groups of people the Democrats need to improve with. The fact of the matter is that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin can improve in this area across the board. Every person who shares our values should be welcome to be a member of the DPW. The main way to find out how to win over these voters is to empower the local county parties. They know best what is going on their neighborhoods and districts. And the DPW, as one team, can use this information to implement its message to gain votes and ultimately reach its goal of winning elections and governing to make the great state of Wisconsin a better place.

What are your life experiences including formal education, past and current employment, service or Religious affiliations, person, and events which you believe have contributed to make you the person you are today and in what way?

I have four brothers and a sister. I am the oldest, the leader. Six weeks after I graduated from high school, my father died. My youngest brother had just finished kindergarten. My mother became a widow with six children. Soon I was helping my mother with both raising my siblings and running the family school bus business. I earned an accounting degree at UW Superior. And along the way I married my wife of 43 years – Christine. We have been blessed with three children and two grandchildren.

Eventually we ended up as the owners of the family business. One cold December morning at 6am we had 101 flat tires on 36 school buses. At 6:30am I was told by the Rice Lake School District there would be school that day. So working as a team we started to accomplish the impossible. By 10 am all the children were in school. This was accomplished through teamwork and communication. We received help from outside of our business because the goal was important. Also if you want to know, you repair 101 flat tires, one at a time.

After more than 30 years we sold the school bus business in 2006. After some traveling I entered into a comfortable semi-retirement working part-time in the hardware department of Rainbow Home Center in Rice Lake. In 2009 when the owners of Rainbow decided to sell the store or close the doors Christine and I risked our nest-egg and together with our partners, we were able to keep the doors open at this long time Rice Lake business – 33,500 square feet of retail happiness. In April of 2011 I retired from day to day involvement in store operations. We have sold our interest in the store to our partners. People who know me well use the adjectives hard working, disciplined, and focused, as well as integrity, experience and values to describe me.

I have a track record for working hard with discipline and staying on task in my campaigns. My reputation for making the phone calls to raise funds is well known among my former peers in the Assembly, this dedication will continue when I am the chair of our party.


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12 thoughts on “Ten questions from Blogging Blue readers to DPW Chair candidate Stephen Smith

  1. Wow, as an “old fart,” I may be biased, but I am impressed by Stephen Smith’s bio or credentials, his energy, and his plans or strategy for the future.

    I believe the burden of the unfair or illegal (your choice) gerrymandering coupled with Citizens United places our Party at an extreme, if not insurmountable, disadvantage in local elections, until it is corrected. In Senate and Presidential elections, a Democratic candidate with an effective campaign and excellent credentials should prevail in Wisconsin.

    But I also believe we must continue to “fight the good fight” at all levels. In numbers, currently and even more so in the future with ever increasing African American and Latino segments, I believe a majority of the Wisconsin population is progressive or “blue.”

    It seems to me, Stephen Smith is qualified to meet our current challenges.

  2. I liked his answers. I think convention delegates are going to have a tough choice on their hands between the five candidates.

  3. Smith isn’t actually a progressive. He isn’t pro-choice, isn’t pro-LGBT, isn’t pro-Democratic. He is an NRA member who touted that during his debates this last fall. I know. I was there.

    1. I’d love to hear some other confirmation of all this. Can anyone confirm what “David Paul” posted?

    2. @David Paul,you provide no authoritative or secondary source to support your allegations. Already there are apposing statements asserting Smith is not a member of NRA and is not anti gay. Who is mistaken or lying?

      As a Catholic, I oppose abortion except for rape, incest, or health reasons, but respect the right of others who have different beliefs, which are protected by our Constitution. In that respect, I am pro-choice. IMO, the Pro-life assertion is a political, not a moral label, when you consider the denial by a vast majority of Pro-life representatives who oppose other “life” factors such as health care, a living wage, support for the poor, and those fleeing oppression.

      Accordingly, I ignore such false or hypocritical labels as “Pro-life” in casting my vote.

    3. @David Paul wrt the NRA, if you want to win state-wide elections in Wisconsin, you have to realize it has a long, deep, hunting tradition. Deer, ducks, and birds are still big. If Sen./Sec. Clinton’s supporters aren’t familiar with this, they should talk to Sen. Feingold or read JS Outdoors editor Paul Smith.

      “Lena Taylor: Most NRA members back background checks on all gun purchases” http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2015/mar/18/lena-taylor/most-nra-members-back-background-checks-all-gun-pu/

      The problem isn’t the NRA members, it’s the NRA leadership, who are a wholly owned subsidiary of the guns and ammo manufacturers. The money is in ammo, so the NRA leadership wants people shooting.

      OT, since a lot of NRA members are anti-choice, it’s always helpful to remind them that, if they want government forcing birth, they’re no friend of the Second Amendment.

      Strongly recommend, “TBogg: I was the NRA.”


  4. @David Paul @Maseman.

    These base claims deserve no place in the civil exchange of ideas this should election should be, allow me to clarify point-by-point.

    Stephen Smith if pro-choice. While raised Catholic, Stephen has always believed and campaigned on the idea that a woman has a right to make her own choices about her body. And when the rubber hit the road, he voted that way too. In his time in the legislature, there were three bills (AB 216-17 and SB 206) put forward to limit women’s rights, and he voted against all 3. He stood by his word, and by women.

    Stephen has close family who are members of the LBGT community, one of whom is married. He loves and supports them the same as he does other family members. And he was never a member of the NRA. While running rainbow he had a FFL (Federal Firearms Licence) and he sold guns. Sportsmen run the political gambit in Wisconsin. Everyone, especially up north, hunts, Progressive Democrats and Conservative Republicans hunt together. Equating guns with the NRA is the kind of politics we should be pushing back against.

    Which brings me to the “Anti-Democrat” claim. What is that? What does that mean, exactly? Look, I know this is an internet comment section, but the Democratic Party has a lot of room to make up in off year elections. We don’t have time for infighting. We must unite at all levels and work together.

    1. Thanks for your responses, but you are just wrong. I know Stephen and was there. He clearly said he doesn’t support marriage equality for LGBT people. While he said he has family members, because of the strong ties to Church, just can’t be for marriage. Which is wrong for any Democratic candidate for Chair. And as far as abortion, we voted that way because he was told to or he’d lose the Caucus support. I talked to them about it. He is just wrong on all our issues. He’s running as a Democrat now, but hasn’t been a true progressive. Yes, we are a big tent party, but our Chair has to be someone how can be out there fighting on our issues legitimately.

      1. David,

        Corporate Dems have been using affluent members of the LBGT community to bludgeon unions and dilute the party’s focus on income inequality. See Burke, Mary for the latest example in Wisconsin. Son of a billionaire Chris Abele always leads with his commendable support for the LBGT community, but then bashes unions. It’s a nationwide issue.

        Someone calling himself “Gregory,” played the “gay” card/identity politics at 10:12pm in this thread.


        Back in 2013, @masaccioEW really nailed it:

        “…Suddenly it looks like we are seeing political victories for progressives, on LGBT rights, on issues important to Hispanics, even occasionally on issues important to women. At the same time, we lose every single battle over economic issues. How is it that when polls show that a huge majority oppose cuts to Social Security, Democratic politicians like President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin are all for it, as are the Republicans? How is it that when Obama gets elected on a pledge to hike taxes on incomes above $250K, with a huge majority and control of the Senate, and a legislative situation where all he has to do is nothing and it happens, and then it doesn’t? How is it that the same bill continued a bunch of disgusting loopholes for the richest Americans and the corporations they control, like the NASCAR loophole that essentially only benefits one enormously wealthy family? How is it that within days of hearings showing the incompetence of JPMorgan’s derivatives traders the House Agriculture Committee cleared legislation to inflict derivative losses on the FDIC?

        The primary impact of this leverage in the hands of the minority is on economic issues. The oligarchy is just as divided as the rest of the population on social issues, like immigration, LGBT rights, women’s issues and similar non-financial matters. It turns out that, for example, some of the oligarchs have family or friends or are themselves LGBT. Their interests in wars and other kinds of issues are also divided. Because of that, democracy could theoretically work on those issues. It’s only those economic issues where the rich are on the same team, and they always win those battles.

        And that’s exactly how things are working out. On matters of direct interest to the oligarchy, they win. You can have your silly laws about marriage or abortion as long as they get their way on money. It’s a lousy bargain, and it doesn’t have to be that way.”


        1. Great points, John Casper. Advocating for equality for LGBTs and minorities is great, but is it enough to win local and statewide elections here in Wisconsin? Nope, not even close. In order to reach working class people, the party needs to stand for raising wages and closing the wealth gap. Also, protecting the environment and public education. Unfortunately, I fear more and more that the “corporate Dems” you allude to are not willing to really fight or stand up for those issues.

  5. Zach- Could you please contact Steven Smith and ask him to clarify his stances on abortion rights and marraige equality.

    Ala far as the rest of the discussion goes, I agree that the DPW needs a true progressive leading the party. From what I’ve seen and heard from all the candidtes thus far, that would be Jeff Smith. Not to be confused with Stephan.

    Jeff Smith.

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