Tag: Stephen Smith

BREAKING NEWS: Martha Laning elected Wisconsin Democratic chairwoman

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:

  1. Martha Laning – 721 (53.45%)
  2. Jason Rae – 428 (31.73%)
  3. Joe Wineke – 191 (14.16%)
  4. Stephen Smith – 6 (0.44%)
  5. 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.

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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.

PROVISIONAL ENDORSEMENT: Jeff Smith for Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairperson

I’m provisionally endorsing Jeff Smith’s campaign for Chairperson of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW). Please note that my endorsement of Smith for DPW Chair is only a provisional endorsement and not a full endorsement at this time, since I’m only endorsing Smith provided that a potential candidate for DPW Chair, Lori Compas, does not enter the race for DPW Chair. If Compas runs for DPW Chair (which is not likely, since it’s been a while since she stated that she was considering a run and hasn’t said anything about whether or not she’ll run since then), I will pull my endorsement of Smith and endorse Compas instead, while, if Compas does not run for DPW Chair, my provisional endorsement of Smith will automatically become a full endorsement of Smith.

Smith has some excellent ideas for reviving the currently moribund Democratic Party of Wisconsin, which is barely relevant in Wisconsin politics nowadays due to current DPW Chairman Mike Tate and others in the failed Democratic establishment badly mismanaging the state party, and making the party, whose list of former statewide elected officials includes people like Gaylord Nelson, Bill Proxmire, Pat Lucey, Tony Earl, and Russ Feingold, great once again. Some of Smith’s ideas include more support for Wisconsin College Democrats chapters to help the party reach out to young voters more effectively, making the DPW’s messaging more progressive, and making the DPW less dependent on political consultants who are more interested in getting payoffs from the party and its donors than doing anything to actually help Democratic candidates.

Mike Tate, who is not running for re-election for DPW Chair, is one of many individuals in the DPW who are responsible for the DPW being in so much disarray. Tate was the one who hand-picked corporate hack and Jim Doyle crony Mary Burke to run against Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker last year, and, in the process, Tate single-handedly turned Burke, who tried to run for governor as a political outsider, into the ultimate political insider, which destroyed what little chance she had of defeating Walker. Sadly, that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Tate’s mismanagement of the DPW.

While I’m not a Wisconsin resident (I live in Illinois, and we could certainly use better, more progressive Democratic leadership here, although trying to pry the Illinois Democratic Party out of the hands of Mike Madigan is nearly impossible), the election for Chairperson of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has massive national implications, because Wisconsin could very well determine which party wins control the White House and the U.S. Senate in next year’s elections. Of the candidates currently running, I believe that Jeff Smith is the best candidate for DPW Chair, and that’s why I’ve provisionally endorsed Smith’s campaign. This year’s DPW Convention, which will select the next DPW Chair, will be held on June 5 & 6 at the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee, and DPW members who are selected as delegates to the state convention by their home county’s Democratic Party chapter will be able to vote for DPW Chair.