It’s official…former Wisconsin State Senate candidate Martha Laning is the new chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. According to Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio, here are the official results:
- Martha Laning – 721 (53.45%)
- Jason Rae – 428 (31.73%)
- Joe Wineke – 191 (14.16%)
- Stephen Smith – 6 (0.44%)
- Jeff Smith – 3 (0.22%)
A total of 1,349 valid votes were cast for a chair candidate by delegates and alternates who were elevated to delegate status prior to the vote. Of the five chair candidates, Jeff Smith dropped out of the race right before the DPW Convention and officially nominated Laning, however his name remained on the ballot.
Laning ran on, among other things, identifying the cause of lower turnout in midterm elections, promising a more inclusive Democratic Party of Wisconsin, providing more financial and technical support to county-level Democratic organizations in Wisconsin, encouraging Democratic candidates in Wisconsin to use values-based messaging based at least loosely on George Lakoff-style messaging (more on that here), and helping candidates use foreign-language materials to reach out to Wisconsin voters who don’t speak English as their first language. In short, Laning has promised a stronger, more inclusive Democratic Party of Wisconsin, and I will hold her accountable to her promises.
For a while, it appeared for quite a while that Jason Rae was going to win the chair’s race easily. However, many of Rae’s staunchest supporters attacked Laning, me, and everyone else that opposed Rae in any way, shape, or form, and Rae himself had a royalist mindset throughout his campaign. Another problem that gave Rae nothing but trouble during his campaign was his affiliation with Nation Consulting, a Milwaukee-based political consulting firm. As I wrote about a month ago, Thad Nation, the head of Nation Consulting and Rae’s employer, used a political front group to give tens of thousands of dollars to right-wing political organizations that have strongly opposed Democratic and progressive causes. I’m not sure how many delegates I managed to persuade to vote for a non-Rae candidate with that blog post, if any, but I can say that it certainly didn’t help Rae’s campaign at all.
Additionally, Laning benefited from the implosion of the Jeff Smith campaign for chair. About a week or so before the convention, Jeff Smith sent a letter to delegates, which was received by at least one DPW official that I know of, in which Jeff Smith offered Laning a job if he had been elected. Laning responded by criticizing Jeff Smith for using campaign literature to tout a job offer without her permission. That ended any chance of Jeff Smith being elected chair, so he bowed out right before the convention, and, in a move that helped solidify Laning’s “party unity” credentials, Laning allowed Jeff Smith to officially nominate her for chair.
Initially, I despised Laning and her candidacy. When I first heard that Laning was going to run for DPW Chair, I thought that she’d be a terrible candidate for DPW Chair, as I initially viewed her as a candidate of appeasement towards Republicans. However, when Jeff Smith dropped out of the race, I reviewed Laning’s plans for the DPW, and I quickly realized that Laning would be the best candidate to lead the Democratic Party in the state that could be the most critical to a national Democratic victory next year. I sincerely apologize to Martha Laning and her supporters for my criticisms of her campaign prior to Jeff Smith exiting the race for DPW Chair.
One person I will credit for Laning’s victory (other than Laning herself, who obviously deserves most of the credit), is Lori Compas, a professional photographer and the organizer of the unsuccessful, but valiant, recall attempt against Republican Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald in 2012. While the endorsement of Wisconsin State Senator Kathleen Vinehout was the first noteworthy endorsement that Laning received, Compas endorsed Laning early on in her campaign, and, when Compas endorsed Laning, that was the first time I viewed Laning as a serious candidate for DPW chair. Laning’s coalition of support represented a cross-section of the DPW, ranging from ultra-progressives like former Madison Common Council member Satya Rhodes-Conway to centrists like Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris. For all the talk about Vinehout’s political instincts, nobody in Wisconsin has better political instincts than Lori Compas, and Laning’s victory is an example of that.
Martha Laning is going to have a lot of pressure to lead the Democratic Party of Wisconsin to victory next year, because Wisconsin is probably the one state that is going to decide control of the White House and the U.S. Senate in the 2016 elections.