Travis Bille: I’m running as a Democrat to unseat Rob Cowles for Wisconsin Senate District 2

My name is Travis Bille from Kaukauna, and I’m running as a Democrat to unseat Rob Cowles for Wisconsin Senate District 2.
I’ve always had a deep interest in serving the public, but my politics have shifted over the years, and I was never able to find a place in that world. I grew up an unabashed Republican, which was the norm when you grow up on a farm outside a town with a population of less than 1,000. But in college, I started to see the complexity of many issues that I previously had viewed through overly-simplistic explanations and solutions. As an example, I once thought ending abortion was as easy as banning it. Over the years, I realized that my Republicans were only talking about it, but Democrats were the ones actually doing things that drastically lowered abortion rates, such as providing sex education and affordable and available contraception.

I found myself disagreeing on some parts of the platform in each party, but the Republican Party doesn’t allow dissent, so that was never an option for me. Instead, I found a place where my dissent is welcome and provides for open discussion rather than open ridicule, as Republicans are known to do to each other these days.

I graduated in 2007 with degrees in both Religious Studies and Music, met my wife and got married in 2009, and bought a house in Kaukauna in 2012. I had firmly planted my roots, and I knew it was time to go to work.

I quickly got involved with the Outagamie County Democrats and started helping with campaigns for the ’14 cycle, working on the Jeff McCabe for Assembly campaign and as treasurer for Gruett for Congress. I was also re-elected this past April to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Administrative Committee as the elected representative of the 8th Congressional district.
I had read up on my elected officials when we first moved here and was relieved to learn that Senator Cowles was someone many considered to be a reasonable, moderate Republican. It didn’t take long to see past the mirage.

I’ve been watching the actions of my state representatives throughout this time with great interest, and over time, the reasonable, moderate Republican idea of Senator Cowles was clouded with a bit of doubt. In 2011, he made statements concerned about the reach of Act 10, yet still voted for it. Add to that the rumors that he had been threatened with a primary if he caused trouble on that vote, and I found myself questioning the point of his moderate views if his strings were being pulled by Republican leadership.

So I started paying close attention, and my concern grew. With every controversial piece of legislation put forth by Wisconsin Republicans, he seemed to follow the same general pattern. School voucher expansion, and most recently with Right-to-Work legislation, he stuck to this same template.

1). Put out statement attacking the legislation as an overreach or fiscally irresponsible
2). ???
3). Vote in favor of legislation

The more it happened, the more I wanted to know the source of those question marks. Recently, he made a big show about how he was the only Republican Senator to vote against the budget, due to the non-fiscal policy items in it. It was awfully convenient to do so during this budget, when his vote wouldn’t make a difference. But in the ’13-’15 budget, when his vote was the difference (final vote was 17-16), he voted in favor of a budget that also included non-fiscal policy items. To make matters worse, he voted against Senate Amendment 8, which was an amendment introduced by Democrats that would have removed major portions of a non-fiscal policy item regarding 7-day work weeks. So he voted against removing a policy item, then voted against the full budget due to the policy items. In other words, he once again got to pretend that he’s a moderate making his own decisions.

I’m running because I want this district to have an engaged leader that wants to keep them informed about their government. I want them to know that even if we disagree on the best solution to a problem, I am listening to their ideas and taking into account the needs of my constituents. That may sound like something any politician would say, but anyone that has sat down to a conversation with me knows that my goal is to find the best solution, not to advance my own solution. Most importantly, I want to stop our legislators from playing games with the people. The citizens of Wisconsin are smart enough to know when they’re being played, so it’s time their government stopped treating them like children.

My primary focus and what I am building my campaign around is campaign finance reform and election laws. At the national level, I don’t foresee much of a campaign finance change for quite awhile, but when it does get addressed, the federal government will need state templates to show what works. I plan to build a comprehensive plan for the state of Wisconsin that will create a robust public financing system, so that lower-middle class citizens such as myself have more opportunities to compete in elections without getting crushed by self-financing wealthy candidates. It will also actively engage voters, requiring the candidate to garner enough invested support to get on the ballot. Most importantly, it will challenge the current campaign climate which allows the wealthiest donors to have the loudest voice, even to the extent of a single donor having a direct impact on legislation.

The broader task of my campaign is simply to start having conversations again. This is evident in our campaign slogan, “The Conversation Starts Here.” The last five years have been full of family members not speaking to each other over political differences and ridiculous, childish social media name-calling that does nothing to further any conversation. Our electorate is ready to have civil, adult conversations about issues that really matter, but they haven’t been engaged by the crop of Wisconsin Republicans that currently lead both state houses.

Frankly, I get bored when everyone agrees with me on everything.

Travis Bille (D)
Wisconsin 2nd Senate District


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9 thoughts on “Travis Bille: I’m running as a Democrat to unseat Rob Cowles for Wisconsin Senate District 2

  1. Hooray! Thanks for stepping up and good luck, Travis!
    Easily the best campaign announcement today 🙂

    You probably already know this, but Cowles did an even more underhanded thing with the current budget… Before casting his “principled” vote against the budget for all of its “excessive policy… that could, and should, be introduced and debated as separate legislation” he made sure to insert some policy himself. He was the deciding vote (17-16) to tack on Prevailing Wage Repeal (Senate Amendment 2).
    Cowles, Gudex, Marklein must have drawn straws or something to see who would vote against the budget and who would vote against Amendment 2.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out. I was so zoned in looking for 19-14 party line votes that I missed his vote on prevailing wage. I’ll have to look through again…that’s at least 2 policy items he voted to keep before voting against the budget due to policy items. And I’m guessing there are more.

      1. Travis, Cowles is also Co-Chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, which directs the Legislative Audit Bureau.
        This should be a huuuuge liability for him.
        I’m sure you’re aware of the devastating audits and pay-to-play shenanigans going on at WEDC. Generally, when there’s an LAB audit as bad as this one, there would be a hearing before the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, but so far Cowles (and Co-Chair Samantha Kerkman) have refused to schedule one. This is where it gets extra weird… LAB has a policy of not commenting publicly on their audits until after there’s a Committee Hearing, so with Cowles sitting on his hands, LAB is kinda stuck in limbo.
        On 6/30 WEDC had an Audit Committee meeting and the whole purpose was to go over the LAB audit, but because there’s been no hearing yet, the Committee didn’t get to hear a word from the folks who, ya know, actually did the audit. Instead WEDC staff skimmed thru the audit at lighting speed and dismissed just about everything and even called the LAB “misleading.” I suggest you watch video of this farcical meeting:
        Until Sen. Cowles schedules a hearing, all this WEDC stuff is on him just as much as it’s on Walker. I suggest you start hammering on this right away, and demand that he schedule a hearing.
        I’ve been trying to follow WEDC very closely, and have posted several blogs on this in the last few months. If you want to get fired up about WEDC, take a look at some of these.

  2. What are those question marks? They’re what GOP leadership tells him to do.

    He was allowed to vote against the budget this time, in anticipation of having to hold his seat against someone like you.

    Go get him!!

  3. Travis, I am glad to see you running for this seat. Senator Cowles needs a challenge, and I believe that with a good campaign in a presidential year he can be beaten.

  4. A warm welcome to you Mr. Bille; it’s great to have a singing, praying candidate!

    I realize you already have sideboards on your plate of issues to address., but don’t forget the redistricting fraud by the GOP. IMO, a correction of their blatant gerrymandering is basic or necessary to solving many of our problems.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Travis for your sacrifice, your energy/effort, and optimism.


    P.S. We may have something in common in addition to our political beliefs; I spent some time as a singing or chanting monastic and working in a “soup kitcfhen.” I had no problem following my vow of poverty , but I do not wish to renew it under Walker and the 1% he serves.

    1. Hi Duane,

      I appreciate your support, and I assure you that gerrymandering is on my list. It’s all part of a larger idea covering everything to do with elections. Public financing and voter engagement are one facet, while the other is addressing partisan election laws. The whole idea of elected officials setting election laws that get them elected just boggles my mind. Not only should districts be drawn by and independent, non-partisan agency, but they should also determine necessary ID requirements, how early and often voting and registration can take place, what machines and ballots are used, and how the machines are maintained. The last thing the legislature should do related to election laws is set a foundation for fair elections that excludes the legislature. The only thing to vote on after that is to make sure they’re funded.

      I’m just going to take “sacrifice” as a compliment 🙂 I’m fully aware of the uphill battle in this district, but Marcus has it right. If ever there was a time to boot out a long-time incumbent, it’s during a Presidential election year. We also have a Senate election, and either of Hillary/Bernie (or both?) + Russ goes a long way towards balancing the odds. We’ve got a few unique campaign ideas that I think could put it over the top. Fair warning: I have way more confidence than I have any business having.

  5. Let’s See, you never were able to find yourself in the World. You, plan to build a comprehensive plan for the state of Wisconsin that will create a robust public financing system, so that lower-middle class citizens such as myself have more opportunities to compete in elections without getting crushed . You will be wasting your time, and perhaps some Democrat Monies, that they might send you , but, ultimately, you will get Trounced. Just look at Mary Burke, in the Governor’s Race. The Democrats will be losing more State Seats , in the Assembly and Senate. The Republican will gain back the Presidential Election as well, and gain a few more US Senate and Congressional Seats . The Great US Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin, will receive an additional 6 more Year Term. Its going to take a Decade to undo the Damage the Obama Administration has done to the World and United States.

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