Inspired by Baldwin’s candidacy

Jamakaya

It seems incredible, but within a few months we are going to be in the thick of another presidential election and an arduous recall campaign against Gov. Scott Walker.

I have serious doubts about whether the president can win a second term with the economy in the shape it’s in. And I’m concerned that the gubernatorial recall will expend enormous amounts of energy and money only to result in maintenance of the status quo.

So what’s a depressed cynic to do?

There is one campaign that faces challenges but promises to be energizing, inspiring and – dare I say it? – victorious. That is Tammy Baldwin’s campaign for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Herb Kohl.

Baldwin is an intelligent and dedicated public servant. She first got politically engaged on her middle school student council in the 1970s, raising money for a school in Nicaragua (Wisconsin’s “sister” state) and resolving hot-button issues like students tramping over a nearby resident’s flower garden.

Upon graduation from Smith College, Baldwin got an internship in Gov. Tony Earl’s administration and was assigned to monitor Madison City Council and Dane County board meetings. That’s where she learned about the nitty-gritty of the political process and realized, “Hey, I can do that!”

While earning a law degree from the University of Wisconsin, Baldwin won election to the Dane County Board of Supervisors, serving four terms (1986-94). She then won election to the Assembly, representing the 78th district from January 1993 to January 1999. She ran a smart, successful campaign for U.S. Congress in 1998 and has been re-elected ever since.

Less important than her resume are the causes Baldwin has championed during her 30 years of public service. Her priorities have been promotion of a universal healthcare system, environmental protection and sustainable energy, civil rights and liberties, and peace. In 2003, she voted against the war in Iraq. This summer, she voted against more hundreds of billions for our endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Baldwin has performed a public service of another order by always being open about her lesbianism and speaking out in support of LGBT rights. She defuses the issue of her own sexuality matter-of-factly, saying that her constituents are less concerned with her personal life than the fact that she represents them well and responds to their needs. Her openness on the issue has added to her reputation for integrity.

There are challenges ahead. Republicans and the mainstream media are already dismissing Baldwin as too liberal, a label that has been thoroughly demonized in recent years. When push comes to shove, I expect the other “L” word – lesbian – will be trotted out as an overt or covert fear tactic.

Baldwin also faces potential backdraft from voters’ disenchantment with Obama, which could lower Democratic turnout next year. Ultimately, she may need to defeat still popular former Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Baldwin has always been a good fundraiser with a crack campaign organization that energizes hundreds of volunteers. That machine needs to be retooled to encompass all of Wisconsin. She needs advisors who can immediately respond to the attack ads that are inevitable. Mostly, she needs to become a familiar face and voice to Wisconsin voters over the next year, offering reason and reassurance about the bread-and-butter issues worrying everyone.

Working to elect Wisconsin’s first woman senator – and a liberal lesbian to boot! – makes the 2012 election much more enticing.