My final thoughts about the race for Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairperson and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Convention

Just a couple of days before the opening of the 2015 Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) convention in Milwaukee, I’ll share my final thoughts about the race, which, despite the fact I live in Illinois, I’ve actually had a major role in.

First off, I’m going to raise an issue with the scheduled convention speeches. Tim Kaine, a former DNC chairman who absolutely failed at that job and later got elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat, is scheduled to be the keynote speaker of the DPW convention. This is despite the fact that Kaine represents Virginia, not Wisconsin, in the U.S. Senate. The DPW apparently can’t find a Wisconsinite to give the keynote speech at their own convention, despite the fact that Democratic statewide candidates in Wisconsin regularly get more than a million votes nowadays! While I’m an Illinoisan, I believe that state-level Democratic Party organizations should pick someone who is a resident of state where the convention is being held and a supporter of Democratic/progressive causes to give the keynote speech. Additionally, U.S. Representative Ron Kind and Secretary of State Doug La Follette were not listed as speakers on the list of speakers that I’ve seen. While I disagree with Kind over his support for President Obama’s free-trade deals, Kind is a Democrat and a federal elected official from Wisconsin, so he should be given a speaking slot, just like Mark Pocan, Gwen Moore, and Tammy Baldwin. Additionally, La Follette is the only state executive in Wisconsin who has been elected in a partisan race as a Democrat, so he should be given a speaking slot. Hopefully, all candidates for DPW Chair and other party offices elected by convention delegates are allowed equal speaking time before the vote for the office they are running for, and the winners are allowed to give victory speeches.

Now, I’m going to talk about all five of the candidates in the race for DPW Chair.

The candidate who I think should be the next chairperson of the DPW is Martha Laning. Laning, who is from the Town of Sheboygan in Sheboygan County, ran unsuccessfully for a Wisconsin State Senate seat last year. Prior to joining the DPW and entering electoral politics, Laning was a finance executive for Target and a key player in helping raise money to get Generations Intergenerational Center, a community center for both young and old people in Plymouth, Wisconsin, built and operating. Laning’s supporters include, but are not limited to:

  • Lori Compas, a professional photographer, the organizer of the unsuccessful, but valiant recall attempt against Republican State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and the Democratic nominee in the recall election against Fitzgerald
  • Elisa Miller, who was Compas’s assistant campaign manager during her state senate campaign
  • State Senator Kathleen Vinehout, the legendary prairie populist from Alma who unsuccessfully ran in the Democratic recall primary for governor in the 2012
  • State Senator Mark Miller, who was briefly Majority Leader of the Wisconsin State Senate for several months after the 2012 recall elections
  • Former State Representative Sandy Pasch, who was the Assistant Minority Leader in the Wisconsin State Assembly prior to her leaving electoral politics last year
  • Pierce County Supervisor Mike Kahlow
  • Mary Lang Sollinger, a Democratic fundraiser who was briefly a DPW Chair candidate before dropping out of the race
  • Kelly Westlund, the chair of the Chequamegon Democrats (the joint Democratic Party organization for Ashland and Bayfield Counties along the Lake Superior shore) and a former congressional candidate
  • Progressive blogger Chris “Capper” Liebenthal
  • Progressive blogger Zach Wisniewski

If elected, Laning has promised to make the DPW more inclusive, and she has also promised to provide more financial support to county-level Democratic organizations in Wisconsin. Laning has been the most heavily criticized candidate in the race for DPW Chair, with most of the criticism being over her ties to Target (she did not have a direct role in any anti-union efforts at Target), false allegations that she’s opposed to reproductive rights (she actually supports reproductive rights), her being relatively new to the DPW (she only joined the party a year and a half ago, and this is something I don’t have a problem with), and her infrequent voting record (not everybody was born into a civic-minded family, and 2010 was a political wake-up call for many Wisconsinites who don’t support Scott Walker’s far-right agenda).

Up until a few days ago, I was supporting Jeff Smith, a former Wisconsin State Representative from the Eau Claire area, for DPW Chair. Jeff Smith’s campaign, which had focused heavily on bringing progressive messaging to the DPW, had energized many anti-establishment progressives in Wisconsin, most notably 1998 Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Ed Garvey and Mike McCabe, the founder of the progressive group Blue Jean Nation, both of whom are staunch supporters of progressive ideals. However, I pulled my endorsement of Jeff Smith after he sent a letter to DPW delegates promising to appoint Laning to the DPW Executive Director’s post if elected, which sounded to me like an attempt by Jeff Smith to set up a political patronage system within the DPW. Also, Jeff Smith bashed Laning while offering her a job at the same time, flagrantly violating the first rule of job offering, which is don’t criticize the person you’re offering the job while offering him or her the job. Jeff Smith has since dropped out of the race and is supporting Laning.

Another candidate running for DPW Chair is Joe Wineke, who is from the Verona area in Dane County. Wineke is a known quantity to those who knew him as DPW Chair, as he had a very successful record (albeit one aided greatly by a wildly unpopular George W. Bush being in the White House at the time and two elections featuring national Democratic landslides) in the four years he was DPW Chair. Wineke has, among other people and groups, the support of the United Steelworkers (USW) union, progressive talk radio host John “Sly” Sylvester, and progressive bloggers Jud Loundsbury, Michael Leon, and Jeff Simpson. However, the last time Wineke was DPW Chair, he was also a lobbyist for AT&T, which has fought for laws making it easier for them to jack up telephone service rates in Wisconsin, other states, and at the federal level, which rightfully outraged many Wisconsin progressives.

Yet another candidate running for DPW Chair is Stephen Smith, a former Wisconsin State Representative from Washburn County in the northern part of the state. Although Stephen Smith and Jeff Smith share the same last name, I’m almost certain they’re not related, but I’m not 100% sure of that. Stephen Smith is the most obscure of the five candidates for DPW Chair, and I predict that he’ll get the least amount of votes from convention delegates.

In my opinion, the worst candidate for DPW Chair is Jason Rae, a Democratic National Committee (DNC) member from Milwaukee who also works at the Milwaukee-based consulting firm Nation Consulting. To put it mildly, Rae represents the destruction of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Rae represents a desperate attempt by former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle’s cronies, the DNC, and Nation Consulting to keep their death grip on the DPW, which has caused Democrats to lose a lot of offices in the six years that Mike Tate has been DPW Chair. In fact, I strongly suspect that Rae wants to use the DPW as a cash cow for Nation Consulting and other political consultants and insiders connected to him. Rae himself has a very vindictive attitude (in fact, he thinks that people shouldn’t question him or candidates that the Democratic establishment supports, which is a textbook example of a royalist mindset), and many of his supporters have used blogs and social media to attack me, other progressives, others who don’t strongly agree with Rae and/or the current Democratic leadership, and those who are running against Rae for DPW Chair, often in downright vicious ways (examples here). In fact, the attacks I’ve had to deal with from Rae’s supporters have been the nastiest attacks I’ve ever had to deal with. Rae’s supporters include, among others:

  • Jon Richards, a former Wisconsin State Pepresentative who got only one-third or so of the vote in the 2014 attorney general primary in Wisconsin (losing the primary to Susan Happ, who ran a terrible general election campaign, losing to far-right Republican Brad Schimel)
  • Tanya Lohr, the head of the DPW County Chairs Association (DPW CCA), the Washington County Democratic Party chairwoman, and a former state senate candidate
  • Sachin Chheda, a former Jim Doyle aide, former Milwaukee County Democratic Party chairman, and Nation Consulting employee
  • Marlene Ott, the Milwaukee County Democratic Party chairwoman who has tried to fill her county’s delegate slate with as many Rae supporters as possible
  • Graeme Zielinski, the disgraced former DPW communications director who has been busted for drunk driving multiple times
  • Melissa Schroeder, the current First Vice-Chairwoman of the DPW
  • Michael Basford, the Dane County Democratic Party chairman who ran Scott Resnick’s unsuccessful campaign for Mayor of Madison earlier this year (Resnick lost badly to incumbent Paul Soglin)
  • Brandon Savage, the guy who ran Chris Moews’s unsuccessful campaign against far-right gun nut David Clarke in last year’s race for Milwaukee County Sheriff and the most hateful person I’ve ever interacted with online
  • Andy Suchorski, the corresponding secretary of the Milwaukee County Democratic Party and Nation Consulting employee (although he tries to hide his role at Nation Consulting on the Milwaukee County Democratic Party website, and he tries to hide his role at the Milwaukee County Democratic Party on the Nation Consulting website).

The main problems that many Democrats and progressives who follow Wisconsin politics have with Rae is that he’s not significantly different than Mike Tate and, most importantly, he’s an employee at Nation Consulting, a firm that is led by Thad Nation, who has indirectly given tens of thousands of dollars to right-wing front groups that have opposed Democratic and progressive causes. Additionally, Rae is too closely tied to the national Democratic establishment and that he either is or was an associate director for Wired Wisconsin, a Thad Nation-led, AT&T-backed political front group that has fought to make it easier for landline telephone companies in Wisconsin to jack up the rates they charge customers. My blog post exposing the ties between Nation Consulting and right-wing groups that have opposed Democratic and progressive causes has caused Rae’s supporters to go completely nuts since I wrote that blog post, and it’s drawn the attention of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Wisconsin’s largest newspaper, and the Milwaukee-area webgazine Urban Milwaukee.

While these include some ideas that none of the five candidates for DPW Chair support, here’s my own recommendations for what the next DPW chair should do:

  • Operate the party as independently of the DNC as reasonably possible
  • Run the party in as much of an inclusive manner as reasonable possible
  • Use progressive messaging on the DPW’s social media accounts, and make promoting progressive values a key part of the DPW’s operation
  • Encourage various Democratic organizations to use progressive messaging, although allow them to use their own messaging if they wish to do so
  • Provide a template for various Democratic organizations in Wisconsin to use so they can build easy-to-use websites, if they wish to use the template
  • Design a new DPW website to put progressive values, voter registration info, membership registration info, etc. on the front page, not pictures of Scott Walker
  • Allow for the creation of a DPW Progressive Caucus
  • Push for reforms to the DPW’s election process for state party officers to prevent county-level party officials from filling their delegate slates for favored individuals and allow multiple rounds of voting if one candidate doesn’t get a majority on the first ballot…if it takes amending DNC rules to do so, push for the necessary changes to the DNC rules
  • Eliminate the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee (ADCC) and the State Senate Democratic Committee (SSDC), two slush funds used by Democratic state legislators in Wisconsin to funnel money to political candidates
  • Prohibit county-level Democratic organizations in Wisconsin from covering multiple counties, as is currently the case in Ashland and Bayfield Counties…One county, one county-level Democratic organization
  • End all payments by the DPW to political consultants and consulting firms, including, but not limited to, Nation Consulting
  • Fire everyone in the current DPW leadership who can be fired by the chair and hire progressive-minded people to fill positions in the DPW
  • Invest more in county-level Democratic organizations
  • Quit praising Republicans in official DPW messaging
  • Emphasize workers’ rights, marijuana legalization, restoring public education, and other progressive ideals that the DPW hasn’t been as forceful in advocating in recent years in party messaging

I also provided some suggestions for the next DPW Chair in this blog post.

Regarding who I think will win the DPW Chair’s race, I think that Jason Rae, Joe Wineke, or Martha Laning all have realistic chances of winning, and it appears to me like it’s a three-way race between the two. Unfortunately, I think Rae is a very slight favorite. However, Wineke may have more support than I think he does, and Laning may be able to win over enough undecided delegates, which there’s probably quite a few of, to win. I think that Jeff Smith will get several percent of the convention vote, and Stephen Smith will probably get around one to two percent of the convention vote. I’m predicting that the delegate count will be in the mid-to-high 1,000’s, probably around 1600-1700 total delegates voting for DPW chair and other DPW officers.

This will be my final blog post in regards to this year’s race for the leadership of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. I thank everyone who has viewed my blog and supported my work exposing the inner workings of the current DPW leadership and Nation Consulting. The DPW Convention will be held June 5 & 6 at the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, located at 1721 West Canal Street in Milwaukee. Given how important Wisconsin will be on a national scale in the 2016 elections, ensuring that someone other than Jason Rae is elected DPW Chair is an absolute must for Democrats to have any chance of winning Wisconsin next year. I recommend that DPW delegates vote for Martha Laning for DPW Chair.

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7 thoughts on “My final thoughts about the race for Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairperson and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Convention

  1. Some of your recommendations for the next DPW chair make absolutely no sense at all. I won’t quibble with them all as there’s certainly some validity to some of the more generic points (be inclusive, support progressive messaging, etc. which I think every candidate will say they are for), but some involve absolutely shooting ourselves in the foot if they could even be done.

    First, as a former ADCC Director I can tell you have no idea what ADCC and SSDC even are. They are legislative campaign committees authorized by state statue, hardly slush-funds which implies something illegal or secret. They are entirely separate from the DPW in terms of legal organization. Certainly they work closely with the DPW, but DPW and it’s chair would have no way to get rid of them first of all. Second, they are legitimate vehicles for raising money for Assembly and Senate political campaigns. Most all of the work to recruit, train, prepare and assist Assembly and Senate candidates couldn’t happen if the committees didn’t exist. To get rid of these committees, if it could even be done, would be to outright give away needed resources.

    You advocate for firing all DPW leadership the chair could. I assume this means staff since the chair obviously can’t fire elected leadership. The statement implies that some on the staff don’t share progressive values. I strongly dispute this. I know of not a single DPW staff person who is not a solid, strong progressive, probably more so than the average party member. This may be at times tempered by pragmatism, but the party staff is hardly a bastion of moderates.

    Finally, what would it mean to end payments to consultants? I realize there are some firms you may take issue with in terms of other work they do (and that can be fairly argued), but the party and campaigns cannot operate without various consultants. In fact, this post advocates for updating the webpage and assisting county parties with webpage templates. Consultants are ideally suited to assist in such work. Campaigns cannot function without messaging that is based in research, evidence and polling. Those folks are consultants. The VAN which provides voter lists each campaign relies upon more than any other tool perhaps is managed by experts that are consultants. To eschew all consultants would be to disarm our operation.

    That’s my two sense for now.

    Joel

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I would disagree heavily. I would like to see people that have experience outside of politics in fields of work that can translate well to the kind of political work they’re being asked to do (such as someone with a background in computer science or something along those lines designing websites/website templates for political party organizations) and a good knowledge of politics hired for political party positions. One could argue that a high school computer class teacher would be more qualified than a political adviser to design websites and website templates for a political party organizations.

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        1. You are still talking about hiring consultants to do that work. They may be computer science specialists, but still consultants. And not every task I identified can be done by someone like this. And you ignore the rest of the critique.

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