Tag Archives: herb kohl

Money ball | Public financing for the Bucks arena entails hidden costs

Polling shows that voters strongly oppose public funding for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena complex. Yet elected officials forge ahead with the project, which could put taxpayers on the hook in myriad ways that lie buried beneath piles of hype and denial.

New Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wesley Edens and Jamie Dinan have pledged $150 million to the project and former owner Herb Kohl has pledged $100 million. The new owners now are pressuring elected officials to contribute at least $250 million from taxpayers to complete the complex, which will cost at least $500 million, according to estimates.

But throw in financing costs, tax incentives, property-tax exemptions and other freebies, and the public could be on the hook for up to $1 billion in subsidies.

While the owners promise Milwaukee residents pie-in-the-sky rewards in the form of  increased economic activity and more jobs, the payoff equation is lopsided. The new venue would handsomely reward the Bucks, a for-profit business, with free rent and a large percentage of every dollar collected from all enterprises located within the expansive proposed complex (in 2014, the Bucks received 41.6  percent). But the taxpayers, who would bear the lion’s share of expenses, would receive no ownership stake in the team — a detail that belies the project’s billing as “public-private partnership.” This “partnership” entails  taxpayers investing in a rapidly depreciating asset (a building) that supports a greatly appreciating asset (a major-league franchise). 

City, county costs

The Bucks want the city and county to kick in from $50 million to $100 million in direct cash, free land and buildings and other subsidies. The county has indicated it would donate vacant Park East land. The proposed arena site, which is due north of the Bucks’ current home, is on vacant BMO Harris Bradley Center land, which already is owned by the public. (The Bradley Center owns almost all the land between North Fourth and Sixth Streets and State Street to Juneau Avenue.)

Mayor Tom Barrett recently proposed giving the Bucks additional land — the former Sydney Hih site — at Third Street and Juneau Avenue, valued at $1.1 million. He’s also proposed providing infrastructure support worth $17.5 million through a tax-incremental financing district and a block-long, multi-use parking complex.

That 980-space parking structure generated $920,000 in parking revenue last year for the city. It’s in a prime location — directly across from the new arena site and next to the tony Moderne residential high-rise and a dining/nightclub district. It includes two large storefronts. The city built the structure in 1988, reportedly for $25 million, and officials say it’s meticulously maintained and debt-free.

But a proposed Bucks plan shows the parking complex demolished and redeveloped. Replacement parking facilities would be built elsewhere, adding to arena costs.

The city would forgo the nearly $1 million in annual income that it currently receives from the existing facility.

The parking garage offers an excellent case in point of how ever-increasing taxpayer subsidies have crept into the project. The Bucks proposal encompasses 27 acres, nearly twice the Bradley Center’s current footprint. But the city-owned parking complex is not needed for an expanded arena footprint, when there’s vast undeveloped acreage both west and north of the proposed arena site, much of it already publicly owned by the Bradley Center. The value of that public land is not even mentioned as part of taxpayers’ contributions.

Gov. Scott Walker wants the new arena to follow the model of the Bradley Center — a state-owned facility managed by a  tax-exempt authority. That would cost an estimated $450 million over 30 years in  lost property taxes, according to a report by Bruce Murphy in Urban Milwaukee. The public also may well end up covering ongoing management costs and maintenance shortfalls. The city currently pays the Bradley Center $175,000 annually for its upkeep and state taxpayers have paid $10 million for arena repairs since 2009.

Lease terms give the Bucks a share of every concession, along with catering, suite leases and merchandise sales for all arena events, not just Bucks games. In fiscal 2014, the Bradley Center paid the Bucks $4.7 million on gross revenues of $11.3million. The Bucks also receive any Bradley Center surpluses, while the public authority struggles to cover deficits (and has not kept up).

As a mechanism for funneling state money into the project, Walker has proposed issuing $220 million in state bonds. Legislators believe the governor’s plan ultimately will cost $380 million after tacking on interest. They propose limiting bonding to $150 million.

‘Stars in their eyes’

Even when subsidies are disguised and direct taxes avoided, economists say that public financing is nearly always a losing proposition. Nonetheless, for myriad reasons, municipalities continue the handouts. 

Hope and hype that an arena will spur more nearby development were expressed when the Bradley Center was built in 1988. Mostly, that did not happen, although downtown development has been booming since the recession ended. 

Now Lasry and Edens, who are big-time real estate developers, say they will invest in private development, including a nearby team practice facility. A 2013 City of Milwaukee report noted that sports economist Andrew Zimbalist warns “professional sports have been historically unreliable when it comes to making such local investments.”

Although cities often provide tax incentives to businesses to encourage redevelopment, subsidies often take many years to be recouped. In contrast, huge sports-venue footprints exempted from property taxes deplete a budget permanently. And, it’s not uncommon for taxpayers to pay much more for a sports venue than is initially negotiated (as, famously, with Miller Park). Some cities are still paying for sports palaces when they’re being pressured to replace them.

Journalist Neil deMause, co-author of Field of Schemes, a book and website about sports-venue funding, reports that one reason governments keep giving sports teams sweetheart deals is that public officials are completely outmaneuvered when negotiating with pro-sports reps. Basically, teams ask for the moon, knowing they can always backtrack.

However, public officials often simply acquiesce, surprising even hard-bargaining owners. Jim Nagourney, a 30-year negotiator of sports-venue deals, told deMause that cities are “always poorly represented” and often “get stars in their eyes.”  In the “most scandalous” deal Nagourney helped negotiate, he told deMause, “We put in all these ridiculous things and the city (St. Louis) did not have the sense to say no to any of them.” Nagourney says this always happens, because cities use in-house attorneys to negotiate these deals. Team officials understand all the issues and where the money is — concessions, advertising, TV rights and so on — while city attorneys do not. 

Teams threatening to leave town has become a routine bargaining chip, even though teams rarely follow through with the threat, according to deMause’s decades-long research of sports venues. DeMause calls it extortion and says the gambit works very effectively, since cities do not call team owners’ bluffs.

In Milwaukee’s case, Bucks owners keep dangling the NBA’s threat of relocating the team. Seattle is reportedly eager to get another NBA team. DeMause says that politicians’ fear of losing a team usually trumps public opposition and empirical data by economists.

Politicians often go to great lengths to get new sports venues financed. For example, in a deal negotiated in 1996 by former Brewers owner and MLB Commissioner “Bud” Selig, the City of Milwaukee agreed to give $1 million annually to Miller Park. This payout continues, even though the city receives no property taxes from the stadium, the Brewers or any ancillary enterprises, including parking and franchised restaurants. 

Many economists assert that team owners should finance their own new digs. The owners of several teams, including the San Francisco Golden State Warriors, are doing just that.

Some NBA teams are now valued at $2 billion and stratospheric TV deals will reportedly make every NBA team worth at least $1 billion within a decade. With those numbers, why aren’t government leaders demanding that Bucks owners invest much more, if not the full freight? And why not ask Herb Kohl to donate more? He bought the team for $18 million in 1985 and profited from free rent and eye-popping revenue shares before selling it last year for $550 million. Other arena tenants, including Marquette University and AHL’s Admirals, pay hefty rent — in MU’s case, it’s $20,000 per game.

Mayor Barrett has offered to relinquish at least $1 million a year in parking and ownership of prime real estate. However, that lost revenue may soon be forgotten (out of sight, out of mind), and thus not become a source of annoyance to city officials who have to make up for it. As long as public subsidies are not paid outright in cash, they’re easier to rationalize and accept. But the public costs are the same.

A 2013 report by the City of Milwaukee’s Legislative Reference Bureau noted “proponents of public financing for sports venues have often abandoned the ‘economic impact’ argument and contended the value of sports venues is the added prestige gained by the host city from having a professional sports team in town.”

Just don’t try to take that warm-and-fuzzy feeling to the bank.

Thumbs-down on state arena funding

Only 17 percent of Wisconsin voters back proposed state funding of $150 million to support a new arena complex for the Milwaukee Bucks, according to a recent Marquette University Law School poll. In the Milwaukee metro area, opposition to the funding stands at 67 percent, compared with 88 percent of residents outside of Milwaukee.

For the record

“The highest-cost (stadium) deals include Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, where the National Football League’s Colts play; Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, home of the Bengals; and the Milwaukee Brewers’ Miller Park in baseball. In those cases, the public share of costs, once ongoing expenses are included, exceeds 100 percent of the building’s original price tag.”

— Aaron Kuriloff, quoted in Bloomberg News reviewing Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilitiesby Judith Grant Long.

Endorsement: Baldwin easily the best candidate for U.S. Senate

The progress represented by electing an out candidate to the U.S. Senate is tremendous. But there are many other important reasons to support openly gay Democrat Tammy Baldwin over Republican Tommy Thompson in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl – reasons that benefit both Wisconsin and the nation.

Baldwin is unimpeachably one of the most genuine, intelligent and committed lawmakers serving in the U.S. Capitol today. Every day of her career as a public servant – and that is quite literally how she views herself – Baldwin has demonstrated her support for the middle class and for such traditional values as social justice, economic opportunity, access to education and health care, individual liberty and tolerance. 

Early in her congressional career, Baldwin was one of the few members of Congress to oppose lifting the Glass-Steagall Act, which since the Great Depression had kept banks from engaging in the kinds of risky practices that led to the worldwide 2008 economic collapse. She stood up for Wisconsin homeowners by stopping the Justice Department from granting immunity to big banks guilty of mortgage fraud. Ultimately, the banks were forced to pay billions of dollars to victims of their unethical practices.

Blustery and boastful in temperament, Thompson is the polar opposite of the warm, soft-spoken Baldwin. In his heyday, Thompson was a moderate whose political success was built on compromise. He created BadgerCare, which helped low-income earners obtain affordable health care coverage.

But the Thompson of today is not the popular governor that older Wisconsinites remember. During the Republican primary, he positioned himself as a hardline conservative, promising tea party extremists that he would act as an obstructionist if elected. Since then, he has taken to labeling himself alternately a conservative or a moderate, depending on the audience. He is as disingenuous as Baldwin is authentic.

Thompson left Wisconsin in debt despite presiding over a period of great national economic expansion. He took the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services in George W. Bush’s administration. After leaving that job, he capitalized shamelessly on the connections he’d made, shilling for pharmaceutical companies in which he had financial stakes. Among his gifts to the drug industry was changing federal law to make it illegal for Medicare to negotiate with them for lower costs. That put affordable, life-saving drugs out of reach for millions of middle- and lower-income seniors, but it helped to make Thompson $13 million richer. 

Now 70 and somewhat worse for the wear after years of notorious hard living, he’s back in Wisconsin pretending to be a farmer. During the Sept. 28 debate, Thompson had the temerity to depict himself as loving and devoted family man and a Washington outsider, one of the more audacious distortions of reality heard this election cycle. 

Tellingly, Thompson has refused to release even one year of his tax returns since 1997. But of even more concern is his inability to articulate why he’s running for office, other than to offer the obligatory political promises de jour of wanting to create jobs and lower taxes, without explaining how.

Like GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Thompson would sacrifice the nation’s future as a whole for the short-term financial benefits of a very few, themselves included. Beyond cutting taxes for the uber rich, a strategy that has failed to deliver the promised economic bonanza for more than 30 years, Thompson and Romney have not laid a single job-creating proposal on the table.

Baldwin, on the other hand, would help to reinvigorate the economy by investing in critical infrastructure and education needs.

Baldwin, who has released all of her tax returns, has not enriched herself through public employment as Thompson has. Instead, she has enriched the lives of those she has served by faithfully representing their interests, by standing up to the greedy and the powerful and opposing GOP policies that have pushed the American dream farther and farther from the grasp of average individuals.

Baldwin would be a stellar choice for the U.S. Senate regardless of her opponent, but this race is not even close. Thompson just isn’t in the same league. He’s running to run, while she’s running to make a difference.

Poll: Wisconsin views on gay marriage shift slightly

A survey of Wisconsin voters by Public Policy Polling finds that 43 support legalizing same-sex marriage. Opposition is at 47 percent.

Last August, support for gay marriage in Wisconsin was at 39 percent and opposition at 50 percent, according to PPP.

Republicans in the state oppose marriage equality – the percentages are 12 percent for, 81 percent against.

A majority of Democrats, however, support marriage equality – 68 percent, up from 62 percent a year ago.

Independents are at 47 percent in favor of gay marriage.

PPP finds that 69 percent of Wisconsin voters favor recognizing same-sex couples at least with civil unions – a 2-point increase from last August.

PPP, a liberal firm, surveyed voters on other issues:

• U.S. Herb Kohl’s approval rating is 46 percent.

• Ron Johnson’s approval rating is 38 percent.

• Green Bay is voters’ favorite city, with Appleton in second place.

• Voters give a higher approval rating to cheese than beer, but both ratings are high, with cheese’s likability at 85 percent and beer’s at 66 percent.

• Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun’s approval rating also remains high among Wisconsin voters – at 55 percent.

Inspired by Baldwin’s candidacy

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.

Baldwin leads Dem senate race

Although the election is more than a year away, Tammy Baldwin is the current Democratic frontrunner in what is destined to be a fiercely competitive race for retiring Herb Kohl’s U.S. Senate seat.

If Baldwin runs and wins, she would become the first openly gay U.S. senator in the nation’s history.

Baldwin, who represents the Madison area in Congress, was waiting to see whether former Sen. Russ Feingold would seek Kohl’s seat before making her candidacy official. On Aug. 19, Feingold sent an e-mail message to Wisconsin supporters of his political action committee Progressives United announcing that he would not seek Kohl’s seat – nor would he challenge Gov. Scott Walker in a prospective recall election.

“While I may seek elective office again someday, I have decided not to run for public office during 2012,” Feingold said. “This was a difficult decision … and I know that progressives are eager to reverse some of the outrageous policies being pursued by corporate interests at both the state and federal levels. I am also well aware that I have a very strong standing in the polls should I choose to run again for the U.S. Senate or in a recall election for governor. After 28 continuous years as an elected official, however, I have found the past eight months to be an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective.”

Feingold taught this spring at Marquette University Law School and will return full-time in the fall. He’s also working on a book called “While America Sleeps,” to be published in January, about how the nation has lost its way in responding to the attacks on Sept. 11.

“I thank Russ Feingold for his incredible service to this state and look forward to his continued leadership in the progressive community,” Baldwin said in a statement responding to Feingold’s decision not to run. “As I have said since Sen. Herb Kohl announced his plans to retire in May, I am seriously exploring a race for U.S. Senate in 2012. I will have an announcement in the coming weeks.”

Feingold’s announcement came after a recent survey by Public Policy Polling that found Baldwin is the “early favorite” among the other likely Democratic contenders. The poll did not include Feingold.

PPP found that in a three-way Democratic primary race with U.S. Rep. Ron Kind and former U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen, Baldwin leads with 37 percent, Kind places second with 21 percent, and Kagen comes in third with 15 percent. In a two-way race with Kagen, Baldwin leads 48-19.

“If she runs and Feingold doesn’t, she’s going to be pretty difficult to beat in a primary,” PPP concluded.

On the Republican side, the apparent frontrunner is Tommy Thompson.

Thompson, 69, served as governor of Wisconsin for an unprecedented 14 years, but he hasn’t won an election since 1998. He recently named co-chairs of a campaign advisory committee, although he hasn’t officially entered the race.

Thompson’s dalliance with another run for office has become an almost annual event in Wisconsin since he left President George W. Bush’s cabinet, where he served as Health and Human Services secretary, in 2005. But this time he appears to be more serious. In addition to naming co-chairs of a campaign committee, he has hired political consultants and has said publicly that he’s seriously considering a run.

Thompson ran for president in 2007 but dropped out after finishing seventh in the Iowa straw poll. He briefly considered running for governor in 2009 and kept speculation swirling for months about whether he would challenge Feingold last year. Just a day before announcing he wasn’t running, Thompson insisted he still didn’t know what he was going to say.

While Thompson has great name recognition, rumors of his extra-marital affairs are likely to become campaign distractions in the current political environment. He would also have to overcome political history: Kohl’s seat has been in Democratic hands for more than 50 years.

A moderate who worked closely with Democrats, Thompson is also expected to face a challenge in a Republican primary from more conservative members of his party who have risen to power and moved the party far to the right in the years since he left the governor’s office.

Those include: state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon, a close ally of Walker and Koch Industries; state Sen. Frank Lasee of DePere, who once sponsored a bill allowing teachers to carry firearms in the classroom; former state Sen. Ted Kanavas of Brookfield; and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann of Nashotah.

Fitzgerald has a “strong interest” in the race but has no timetable for making a decision, said his spokesman John Jagler.

The Wisconsin Senate race will come amid what is shaping up to be a high stakes election year for the state, which is expected to be a key part of President Barack Obama’s roadmap to re-election. He won Wisconsin in 2008 by 14 points, but last year voters handed control of the governor’s office and both houses of the Legislature to Republicans in the largest flip of power to conservatives in the country.

In addition to the hot Senate race and presidential contest, Wisconsin Democrats also are promising to force a recall election of Walker in 2012.

All of this comes after voters kicked out two Republican incumbent state senators in recall elections this month. But a 2,000 vote win in one race left the GOP with a one-seat Senate majority.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Tammy Baldwin posts strong fundraising numbers

In reports to be filed with the Federal Election Commission today, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin’s campaign committee reported receipts of $502,485.62 for the second quarter, and cash on hand totaling $1,114,488.59.  Baldwin raised more than $435,000 during the month of June and received contributions from 2,339 donors during the current quarter. a

Baldwin, who has represented Wisconsin’s 2nd District since 1999, is a likely candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl. In addition to impressive fundraising, her campaign reports that Baldwin had a strong showing at the Wisconsin Democratic Party’s State Convention in early June and has encouraging public and internal poll numbers.   

“As I reach out to people throughout the state, I am gratified by the encouragement and support that I’m receiving,” Baldwin said. “Senate campaigns are expensive and fundraising is an important measure of support.” 

Baldwin is one of only four out gay representatives serving in Congress. If she won a senatorial race, she would become the first out gay ever elected that body and the first woman to serve Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate.

Baldwin is considered a strong campaigner, who has consistently won re-election by wide margins. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund predicts Baldwin would receive unprecedented support from the nation’s LGBT community if she decides to run.

Run, Tammy, run!

Herb Kohl’s retirement from the U.S. Senate at the end of his fourth term opens the way for a rush of candidates to the wide-open race in 2012.

I’d love to see U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin make a run for the seat. She’s great on all the bread-and-butter issues – LGBT and women’s rights, healthcare, labor, Social Security, agriculture, clean energy, consumer rights and peace.

Plus, she’d be a refreshing alternative to the boring old usual suspects, such as Tom Barrett, whom Democratic Party bigwigs probably will promote. Having a woman and an open lesbian run for the Senate would infuse new energy into the race and attract lots of young campaign workers.

Baldwin is a great fundraiser and a vigorous campaigner. She would provide a real contrast to whatever corporate shill or wing-nut the GOP puts forward. She knows how to connect with people and frames the issues well. She’s smart and ambitious and, despite whatever anti-gay crud the opposition would throw at her, I’m convinced she could overcome it and win.

I have never been a big fan of Herb Kohl, who is often described as “beloved” by the state’s mainstream media. His personal fortune and name recognition, due to his family’s history in the retail trade and his ownership of the Milwaukee Bucks, have fueled his success as a candidate. It certainly hasn’t been his charisma or, for me, his stands on the issues. As a senator, Kohl voted for NAFTA, the PATRIOT Act and the Iraq war, and he’s been a real Herbie-come-lately to LGBT rights.

In 1993, Kohl voted for “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the Armed Forces as long as they shut up (or lied) about who they were. In 1996, he voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman and declared that no jurisdiction would be required to honor the marriage rights of any same sex couple.

Kohl belatedly had a change of heart on both issues. He voted last year to repeal “don’t ask” and recently signed on to support S598, the “Respect for Marriage Act,” which would repeal DOMA. S598 faces stiff opposition from Republicans and some Democrats, so it’s just the beginning of a long fight.

I shouldn’t be too hard on Kohl though. He did provide me with one of the most satisfying moments in my career as a journalist and activist. I attended a State AFL-CIO Women’s Conference in Manitowoc in 1993 at which Kohl appeared. It was shortly after his vote for “don’t ask,” and some of the women there really let him have it, questioning him aggressively about his alleged commitment to civil rights. They loudly scolded him and told him he should be ashamed of himself.

I asked Kohl whether he thought the anger over his vote could be due to the perception that he might be part of our “community.”

“You mean, am I gay or lesbian?” he asked. I nodded, and he shook his head and said, “No.”

More important than my little coup in getting Kohl to address the long-time speculation about his sexual orientation, I will never forget how fierce those union women were in speaking truth to power and demanding accountability. The attack on unions today is designed to quash forever that type of principled opposition and it must be met with equally fierce resistance.

Baldwin likely to run for Kohl’s Senate seat

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin is seriously considering a run for the Senate seat that’s being vacated by retiring Sen. Herb Kohl, putting her on track to possibly become the nation’s first openly gay U.S. senator.

“I take major decisions very seriously,” Baldwin said. “I intend to study this very carefully, because if I do decide to do it, I’m going to be in it all the way. By summertime I should know.”

Baldwin flew back to her Madison office from Washington on May 13, the day that the 76-year-old Kohl announced he would not seek re-election next year. She spent the weekend talking to leaders and advisors, getting their feedback on her prospective candidacy.

“This is the first open Senate seat we’ve had (in Wisconsin) in a generation,” said Baldwin, who represents the state’s Second Congressional District. “There’s been lots of discussion and lots of dialogue, and I’ve been encouraged to run, both from people in Wisconsin, as well as national leaders.”

Among those who want to see the seven-term congresswoman run are Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin, and Denis Dison, vice president of communications for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

“Her running for the Senate would be a huge milestone for the community,” Belanger said. “And the fact that she really is an incredibly viable candidate means there’s a very good chance that she would win, and we would have the first out senator in the entire country.”

Dison said that having an out LGBT person in the Senate would create “a tremendous opportunity to educate other members.”

“The Senate is a much more close-knit legislative body than the House,” Dison said. “To have somebody in the Senate ranks from our community to develop those relationships and friendships is going to be a game changer in terms of having people understand what the community is really about, not only on her side of the aisle but the other side. She would be our public face in the Senate, and that’s something we’ve never had before.”

Baldwin made history in 1998 when she became the first out non-incumbent ever elected to the House of Representatives. While she said she’s aware of the difference it would make for LGBT people throughout the country if she were elected to the U.S. Senate, Baldwin added that if she runs it will be for all of the people of Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin is my home, and I love the state and its people,” she said. “This is a time politically when we need someone who can bring people together. I want to see the state and our country flourish again.”

Dison said that if Baldwin runs, she could count on significant support from the Victory Fund and its national network of donors. In 1998, the organization raised $250,000 for Baldwin’s congressional election, and in 2009 it raised $400,000 for Anise Parker’s successful Houston mayoral campaign.

Baldwin could count on considerably more for a U.S. Senate campaign, Dison added.

“It would be a top priority for us,” he said. “The LGBT community nationwide would be so excited about this race. People love her. She’s a true hero of the community. She’s going to have the support of women, of pro-choice groups and of labor. I think she could put together a really, really strong campaign.”

Most pundits believe that Baldwin would be a formidable candidate. Although her congressional district includes the state’s liberal bulwark of Madison, it is somewhat of a microcosm of Wisconsin. A demographic checkerboard, the Second Congressional District is one-third urban, one-third suburban and one-third rural. Before Baldwin was elected, a Republican represented the district.

Baldwin has consistently earned comfortable re-election margins of more than 60 percent, proving she can connect with dairy farmers and soccer moms as well as students and government workers.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin marches with civil rights activist Jesse Jackson

Tammy Baldwin considering U.S. Senate run

Out U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin is considering a run for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Herb Kohl, according to multiple sources.

Just hours after the 76-year-old Democrat announced on May 13 that he would not seek reelection next year, Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate predicted his party would have one or more strong candidates in the race to succeed him, including former Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost his seat last year, and Baldwin.

Meanwhile, sources close to Baldwin told the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund that she is very likely to run for the seat. If she runs and wins, the seven-term congresswoman would become the nation’s first openly LGBT Senate member.

“This would be a remarkable milestone for LGBT Americans,” said Victory Fund president and CEO Chuck Wolfe. “Baldwin is one of the most admired public officials I know. She would have the strong support of those who want to see our economy work for all Americans, and who believe that all voices deserve a place at the table.”

In 1998, when Baldwin became the first openly LGBT candidate to win election to the U.S. Congress as a freshman, the Victory Fund raised nearly a quarter million dollars for her campaign.

“This would obviously be a top priority for us,” Wolfe said. “Tammy Baldwin has been an outstanding congresswoman, and she’d be an outstanding senator.”

A blogger with the Washington Blade quickly penned an editorial titled “Run, Tammy, Run!” urging her to enter the race.

“There’s no more reliable or visible LGBT ally in Congress,” wrote blogger Kevin Naff. “Baldwin should take the plunge and run for Senate.”

Tate said that other Democrats who might join the race include Rep. Ron Kind, Milwaukee Mayor and 2010 gubernatorial nominee Tom Barrett, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, and biotechnology executive Kevin Conroy.

Roll call: The repeal votes

On Dec. 15, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 250-175 to lift the ban against gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

The vote paved the way for a U.S. Senate vote Dec. 18, which was 65-31 for repeal. Both chambers voted on stand-alone bills for repeal. The president signed the repeal legislation into law Dec. 22.

In the House, 235 Democrats and 15 Republicans voted to repeal DADT, while 15 Democrats and 160 Republicans voted no.

In the Senate, 55 Democrats, eight Republicans and two independents voted to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Thirty-one Republicans voted against repeal.

How did Wisconsin lawmakers vote?

  • Yes: House Democrats Tammy Baldwin, Steve Kagen, Dave Obey. Senate Democrats Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl.
  • No: House Republicans Tom Petri, Paul Ryan, James Sensenbrenner.

From AP and WiG reports