After eight years of politically motivated mismanagement, Scott Walker is no longer the Milwaukee County executive. He left Milwaukee County in dire straits, with recently devalued bond ratings, constant structural deficits, crumbling infrastructure, a failing transit system and social services that were severely neglected.
Walker’s time as Milwaukee County executive was not only a problem for the public in general, but it was also problematic for the LGBT community. Walker repeatedly targeted the LGBT community to court his right-wing base. He stood in the way of offering benefits for the domestic partners of county workers, and he repeatedly cut funds for important work, such as that of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.
One thing Scott Walker’s failed tenure surely should have taught us is that the office of the Milwaukee County executive is important. Both the LGBT and the broader community should pay close attention to who seeks to replace Walker. We literally can’t afford to make the same mistakes again.
The major conservative candidate seeking to replace Walker is state Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greenfield. In making his formal announcement, he gave us a very good idea of where he plans to take Milwaukee County. His goal is to continue with Walker’s failed policies, and it’s clear that he plans to court the same extreme right-wing base that supported the governor-elect.
That doesn’t seem like a sound strategy, given the dire straits in which the Walker playbook has left the county. In fact, Walker’s popularity continually dropped with each election. In his run for governor, he didn’t even manage to get 40 percent of the vote in Milwaukee County.
Some describe Stone as a more moderate Republican than Walker, but he voted twice to put the constitutional amendment against marriage equality on the 2006 ballot.
He also voted against the budget that created the state’s domestic partnership registry in 2009. Stone even went so far as to vote against bullying legislation meant to protect students in our schools, joining forces with extreme members of his party like Leah Vukmir and groups like Wisconsin Family Action.
Although it seems that Republicans already have decided on their candidate for Milwaukee County executive, the more progressive field is much more fluid.
Not many established progressive candidates have yet announced. Possibilities include state Sen. Jim Sullivan, Milwaukee County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic and local philanthropist Chris Abele.
Dimitrijevic was a lead sponsor of the legislation that would have allowed domestic partners of Milwaukee County employees to receive benefits. Sullivan served as a consistent ally to the most important legislative interests of the LGBT community.
Abele served as CEO of the Argosy Foundation and on other local boards, and he seems to have some bipartisan support among business leaders. He’s supported progressive candidates who are community allies.
While a local spring election may not garner the attention it deserves, the LGBT community would be well advised to closely monitor and fully participate in the race for Milwaukee County executive. As Walker proved, the stakes for us could be high.