Following an outcry from leaders on both sides of the aisle, the head of Wisconsin’s scandal-plagued flagship economic development agency nixed a Republican-backed proposal to bar the agency’s board members from talking about its operations.
The backlash followed a report on the proposed gag order that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation CEO Mark Hogan cited feedback from “various board members” in announcing that he would withdraw the order, which would have barred WEDC board members from talking to reporters or sharing information about the agency, which is taxpayer-funded.
Under the proposal, WEDC’s chief legal officer would have investigated board members suspected of speaking to the press for disciplinary action.
Democratic and Republican legislators blasted the proposal, calling for more transparency and oversight of the agency, which has faced frequent many embarrassing scandals since Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers created it in 2011.
The agency was created for job development, but it has not succeeded on that front. Critics say it has become a corporate welfare agency for Walker’s cronies, doling out taxpayer money to Walker donors who then cut jobs or sent them overseas. In fact, records show that Walker might have given out millions in unearned tax credits.
“After years of controversies, scandals, and failure to deliver jobs to Wisconsin, Walker and his WEDC cronies are trying to hide their misguided actions and agenda from the public,” said the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in a statement to the press. “This just adds to the long list of Scott Walker’s attempts to sweep the failures of his administration under the rug. Despite the objections we see from Walker and his colleagues as they continue to try and hide their actions and treat WEDC like their own personal piggy bank.”
“Multiple audits have shown that Gov. Walker’s flagship job-creation agency is riddled with incompetence and mismanagement,” said Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Martha Laning. “Furthermore, news reports have brought to light how WEDC has funneled taxpayer dollars to donors who fill their campaign coffers and corporations that ship jobs overseas. After years of controversy coupled with poor jobs numbers it isn’t surprising that the governor would want to sweep his failures under the rug. Wisconsinites deserve to know the truth and anything short of that is wrong for the taxpayers and wrong for Wisconsin.”
Wisconsin’s Democratic leaders issued a flurry of statements, analyses and rebuttals in response to Gov. Scott Walker’s annual State of the State address. Many questioned his cherry-picking of economic data, blasted Walker-backed policies promoting secrecy and cronyism, and illuminated gaps in the speech’s coverage.
State of the State video responses from Sen. Shilling and other Democratic caucus members can be viewed and downloaded here. Below is a written compilation of several Democratic reactions, beginning with the Democratic Party’s televised official response from Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca:
From Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha
During his speech tonight, Governor Walker offered nothing more than Band-Aid proposals that are anemic and weak compared to the significant challenges we face.
The numbers are staggering.
In 2015, roughly 10,000 hardworking Wisconsinites received layoff notices, the highest single-year total since the governor took office. Wisconsin still ranks in the bottom third for job growth and worst in the Midwest, and our middle class is shrinking faster than any other state. We rank third-worst for student loan debt and our roads are also third-worst in the nation. And Republicans have cut $1 billion from public K-12 schools since 2010.
Wisconsin should be a leader; however, under Republicans we are falling behind. When I travel the state I hear people say we should invest in our public schools, level the playing field for the middle class, promote good-paying jobs and invest in our roads and bridges.
The truth is the State of our State is being neglected by Republicans putting their own needs above the needs of everyday Wisconsinites.
Last year, legislative Republicans turned their backs on Wisconsin’s interests in order to help Governor Walker in his failed run for president.
The Republican agenda included:
- Shifting $800 million from public schools to unaccountable private voucher schools over the next decade;
- A quarter billion dollar cut to our world-class university system;
- Driving down wages for hardworking families;
- And rejecting federal funding that would have meant health care coverage for tens of thousands more of our citizens.
This past fall, Republicans opened Wisconsin for corruption with an agenda designed to consolidate their own power and enrich the special interest groups bankrolling their campaigns. Perhaps most egregious was their late-night, secretive effort to dismantle our open records laws so they could hide their actions from the public.
It is clear after that Republicans cannot be trusted to do the right thing for the people of Wisconsin.
The difference between Democrats and Republicans at this juncture could not be clearer. My Democratic colleagues and I have made growing our economy and rebuilding the middle class our top priorities.
Our “Economic Opportunity Agenda” would help create good-paying jobs, close the skills gap by connecting workers with available jobs, increase wages and make us more competitive in a global economy. Our “Bring Back the Middle Class” package would boost retirement security and provide relief from high child-care costs and student debt.
Today alone on the Assembly floor, Democrats voted for proposals that would ensure significant investments in our public schools and affordable health care coverage for tens of thousands of Wisconsinites that, incidentally, would save Wisconsin taxpayers more than $300 million over the next two years. Democrats also voted for much-needed relief for more than a million student loan borrowers and equal pay protections for women in the workplace.
Sadly, Republicans rejected every single one of these bills.
Yet even in the face of Republicans’ inaction on these important issues and their betrayal of your trust and your interests, I believe the State of the People of Wisconsin is resilient.
I am inspired every day by the hardworking men and women who make up the fabric of our state. Wisconsin is in need of bold action for our workers and middle-class families and Democrats are ready to lead.
As Republicans continue to stack the deck against ordinary Wisconsinites and obscure their harmful agenda with election-year distractions, Democrats are focused on leveling the playing field and rebuilding the middle class the Republican agenda has hurt so deeply.
You can trust Democrats to restore opportunity and grow wages for ordinary, hardworking people.
You can trust Democrats to work to rebuild a strong middle class.
You can trust Democrats to grow an economy that works for everyone, not just a privileged few.
While legislative Republicans pursue an agenda focused on helping special interests and their own self-interests, legislative Democrats will continue to advocate for the people’s agenda in 2016 and beyond – but we need your help.
One of the proudest moments of 2015 was when you rose up and demanded the Republicans end their assault on open records. Your hard work and advocacy forced Republicans to back down, and you can do it again.
I encourage you to talk to your neighbors, friends and families about the direction our state is headed. Become engaged and make your voice heard. Together, we can put Wisconsin back on the right track and make sure the State of our State is stronger for all our citizens.
Thank you for watching, and as always, my fellow Wisconsinites, Forward!
From Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-LaCrosse
Over the last five years, we’ve seen deep cuts that have limited economic growth, stifled innovation and denied thousands of families the opportunity to get ahead. Democrats continue to believe that the best way to move our state forward is by restoring investments in our schools, infrastructure and worker training programs.
When it comes to the challenges facing our state, we need solutions, not sound bites. Placing more students in unpaid internships isn’t going to help the nearly one million Wisconsinites burdened by $19 billion in student loan debt. It’s time to follow the lead of other states like Minnesota and allow families to refinance their student debt at a lower interest rate just like you can with home and auto loans.
Democrats remain committed to creating a childcare tax credit for working families, supporting new jobs through infrastructure investments and expanding retirement security options for hardworking residents. With Gov. Walker’s presidential bid behind us, it’s time to look forward at ways we can improve our state and rebuild our middle class.
From Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh
1. The truth behind Wisconsin’s workforce numbers
CLAIM: “We have at least according to two of the statistics from the federal government, the highest number of people last year working in the last 20 years.”
In May of 2010, Wisconsin had 3,074,000 people in the labor force (BLS). In May of 2015, Wisconsin had 3,076,000 people in the labor force. The labor force growth rate over the past 5 years is an anemic 0.01%. Compare that to the growth of Indiana (.41%), Iowa (.31%), and Minnesota (.61%) over the same time period.
CLAIM: “We’re one of the top 10 states in terms of the percentage of people in the work force.” (http://www.wearegreenbay.com/news/local-news/state-of-the-state-preview) 1/17/16
This is not significant or new in any meaningful way. Wisconsin has typically had a higher labor participation rate than the rest of the U.S. going back to 1990. And it was higher than it is now under Governor Jim Doyle. Regionally, it has been higher than all neighboring states except Iowa and Minnesota.
What is significant is that Wisconsin’s labor participation rate has dropped nearly 6 percentage points since 1995, exceeding all but Indiana and Michigan. This reflects that Wisconsin’s labor force as a percentage of population appears to be shrinking faster than most of our neighboring states.
2. Low unemployment + slow job growth ≠ successful economic measure
CLAIM: “A recent revised report from the federal government shows that the unemployment rate in Wisconsin is the lowest it has been since the spring of 2001.”
Wisconsin does have low unemployment by almost any measure, although not as low as 15 other states.
So how can our unemployment rate be so low if our job creation rate is so bad?
The answer is that Wisconsin is losing workers at nearly every age level over the prime working years, with more people moving out of the state than are moving in. And the people who are moving out are predominantly 20-to-50 year olds. Had Wisconsin’s population growth stayed at the level consistent with our neighboring states growth rates, we would have had an additional 46,000 state residents 16 and over. Our low unemployment rate is in part the product of workers who are choosing to leave the state for work. (http://www.uwosh.edu/faculty_staff/mcgee/Jobs_or_Unemployment.pdf)
3. Job numbers need context
CLAIM: “The 16,600 new jobs created in the month of October is the best monthly jobs gain since April of 1992 and the best October since at least 1990.” And the 45,100 new private sector jobs added October over October is statistically significant.”
It is interesting that the Governor chose to tout October jobs in December, after the newer November numbers had been released. The 12-month growth in November was nearly 13,000 jobs less than October’s 32,400 and trailed neighboring states. A classic example of cherry-picking.
4. “New businesses” that don’t actually exist.
CLAIM: “There has also been a net increase of over 43,000 new businesses.”
Governor Walker is referencing the number of newly registered “business entities”. However, many of these entities have no employees at all, and never will. According to Politifact, that is because the Governor’s numbers also include non-profits such as youth groups, recreational athletic leagues, and home associations. It also includes thousands of limited-liability companies only set up to function as holding companies, startups, and out-of-state companies that register as a placeholder in case they were to do business in Wisconsin in the future.
5. Chief Executive Magazine
CLAIM: Chief Executive Magazine today ranked Wisconsin the “12th Best State for Business” in its annual survey of CEOs, an increase of two spots over the 2014 ranking, and a significant increase since 2010, when the state ranked 41st.”
Business leaders were asked to grade states with which they are familiar on a variety of competitive metrics that CEOs themselves regard as critical. These include: 1) taxation and regulation; 2) quality of workforce; and 3) living environment. The tax and regulatory grade includes a measure of how CEOs grade a state’s attitude toward business, a key indicator. “
One of the State Advocate CEOs for Chief Executive.Net Magazine is none other than Diane Hendricks, Chairman of Hendricks Holding, Beloit, WI. Forbes Magazine estimated Hendricks’ March net worth at $2.8 billion. Hendricks and her husband, Kenneth, built ABC Supply. She became chairman of the company after her husband died in 2007. The company posts annual revenue of more than $4 billion.
She was also Scott Walker’s largest donor, and yet owed no state income tax in 2010.
In Summary, the rankings include “a measure of how CEOs grade a state’s attitude toward business, a key indicator.” In this case, how Diane Hendricks, Governor Walker’s largest donor perceives things to be in Wisconsin.
6. K-12 education: taking credit from decades of investment
CLAIMS: “Schools are doing better.”
“High school graduation rates are up again — now ranking third in the nation.”
“Reading/Math scores are up in fourth and eighth grades.”
“ACT scores are second best in the nation.”
Most 2015 Wisconsin high school graduates started school in 2000 or 2001. Fourth graders started school in 2008 or 2009. Eighth graders started school in 2004 or 2005. The point is that the achievement at any of these levels is not a snapshot of momentary success. It is the product of investments made in public education in our state over time.
Under Governor Walker and Republicans, K-12 GPR School Aids have lost more than $1 Billion ($1.05 Billion). Recent cuts in state education spending, no matter how damaging, take years to work their way through the system as students moved from grade to grade.
Wisconsin is just beginning to feel the effects of Act 10 as there are fewer teachers, fewer students enrolling in teaching programs and a reduction in education licensing.
7. The UW System: When less is actually less.
CLAIM: “For the first time in University of Wisconsin history, in-state tuition is frozen at all UW campuses for four years in a row. That makes college more affordable for our students and working families.”
The UW System has lost $795 million in state aid since Governor Walker became Governor. In the strongest national economy in a decade, Governor Walker and the Republican Legislature cut $250 million in the most recent budget from our UW system. These cuts will lead to fewer courses offered and longer graduation times. And the low morale is leading to high faculty turnover as talented professors leave for other states.
From WisDems Chair Martha Laning
Democrats were hoping to hear Governor Scott Walker outline a plan to work across the aisle to solve the challenges Wisconsinites face each day. Unfortunately, Gov. Walker gave an election year speech focused on spinning a failed agenda rubber-stamped by his Republican-controlled legislature instead of a plan to increase opportunity for citizens in every corner of our state.
Wisconsin Republicans have spent the last five years on an agenda that decreased family incomes and shrunk the middle class. Local schools are struggling to do more with less in the face of budget cuts, our roads and bridges continue to deteriorate, and mass layoffs just hit a five-year high.
If Republicans are ready to listen to concerns of Wisconsin families instead of focusing on their self-interests, Democrats are ready and willing to help lead on an agenda focused on growth, innovation, and opportunity.
After a year of missed opportunities, it’s time to return to basic Wisconsin values and make sure that those who pay their fair share and play by the rules will have an opportunity to succeed and get ahead. Our state deserves an economy that works for everyone, not just millionaires and billionaires.
From Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee
Wisconsin is 32nd — dead last in the Midwest — in private-sector job growth over the past four years. It was reported recently that layoff notices in Wisconsin topped 10,000 in 2015, the highest single-year total since Governor Walker took office. In sharp contrast, the Democratic agenda features job creation, wage growth, and other efforts to rebuilding the middle class as our top priorities.
In his State of the State speech, our governor failed to mention the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), his privatization scheme, which has been plagued by outsourcing, corruption, and allegations of pay-to-play while failing to create jobs. Democrats have put forward a plan for a job creation agency that would be fully accountable and help entrepreneurs.
Tonight, Governor Walker spoke of his plan to address student debt, but it falls comically short of where our state needs it. Wisconsin is third-worst in the nation in student loan debt, yet Walker’s plan would provide relief to a mere 3% of Wisconsinites who need it. The Democratic plan allows people to refinance their student loans just like a mortgage or car payment, a common-sense plan supported by the vast majority of Wisconsinites.
Republicans have been actively tearing down our state’s public, higher education system, disregarding the many Wisconsinites who depend on it. This included massive cuts to our technical colleges and a total loss of $795 million in state aid to the University of Wisconsin System under Walker and Republicans.
It should be no surprise our governor is out of touch with Wisconsin’s needs. During his failed presidential campaign, he spent approximately 48 minutes per day doing state business. Still, he blamed his gubernatorial duties, which he was elected to do, for his campaign’s failure. Democrats know that we need to listen to our constituents and respond to their concerns all the time, not just when it’s politically convenient.
Governor Walker is not on Wisconsin’s side, so I am very concerned about the State of Our State.
From Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-Milwaukee
While Gov. Walker and Wisconsin Republicans claim there’s a Wisconsin ‘comeback,’ more and more Wisconsinites are falling further behind under their willful ignorance and neglectful watch.
The governor himself said that ‘we need to think more about the next generation than just about the next election.’ If that were true, we would have heard about the tragic epidemic of gun violence ravaging our communities. We would have heard how deep cuts have devastated our local public schools, and how too many students are drowning in debt due to our crushing student loan debt crisis. We would have heard about how families have been shattered by the lack of access to good paying jobs, so that they can put food on their tables and provide basic necessities for their loved ones.
We have serious problems to solve, and we need people serious about doing their jobs and serious solutions to fix them. I will continue to fight for a brighter future and better opportunities for families in Milwaukee and across the state. This means standing strong for our values and fighting for safe neighborhoods, healthy children, strong local public schools, real student loan debt relief, and opportunities for workers to provide for their families.
From Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison
During this entire legislative session, Governor Walker and legislative Republicans have shown that their priorities are protecting their own political careers, not the people of this state. Time and time again we’ve seen this Governor and this Legislature put themselves, their campaigns and their own jobs, first.
Since coming into power and following Governor Walker’s lead, legislative Republicans have cut more than $2 billion from our public schools, universities and technical schools. They expect our public schools to Book Fair and Bake Sale their way out of the black hole they have created for our state, and our children. Tonight we heard Governor Walker’s plan for Divide and Conquer 2.0 – taking health care options away from state employees to throw pennies at our public schools, instead of making the education investment our children need.
The vision outlined by Governor Walker tonight exemplifies a series of bad choices that continue to catapult Wisconsin’s families to lower wages, more student debt and fewer quality health care providers.”
It is not too late for Wisconsin. We are just one decision away from starting to turn this ship around. Accepting the federal Medicaid dollars provided a pathway to put more money into the classroom while reducing if not eliminating the funding cut to our higher education institutions. Despite my colleagues taking their marching orders from the special interests bankrolling their campaign coffers, we as legislators must continue to fight for the Wisconsin we all believe in, and protect the people’s backs, not our own.
From Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville
While he was running for President, Governor Walker focused on the priorities of Republican primary voters and wealthy donors. Now that he has dropped out of the race, it is time to focus on things that affect everyone in Wisconsin.
The Governor has vowed to restore a commitment to public education and the University of Wisconsin. After leaving thousands of students and families behind while pursuing the presidency, it is refreshing that Governor Walker finally recognizes that it is time to focus on what is good for Wisconsin.
Everyone in Wisconsin has been affected by the cuts to public education and the UW-System. We need to make sure that our workforce is prepared to fill the jobs that are currently available and that everyone is trained for the jobs of the future.
I wish we would have heard about are how we are going to fix our transportation budget and repair the crumbling roads and bridges throughout our state. This is a problem that is hurting every business, every community and every family in Wisconsin.
Kicking the can down the road while our highways and bridges are falling apart is a failure of Governor Walker’s leadership. It is time to bring people together and fix this problem for the future of our state. We cannot borrow our way out of this crisis and doing nothing only makes the situation worse.
I hope that Governor Walker can provide the leadership needed to focus on the issues that affect everyone in Wisconsin and not just the fringe group of primary voters and special interests.
From Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit
I am disappointed in Governor Walker’s State of the State address this evening. Wisconsin is in need of bold action for students, workers, and middle class families, but the Governor and legislative Republicans seem content to merely offer Band-Aids that are too little and too late for the challenges we face.
Student debt is a very real problem facing millions of Wisconsin residents, including senior citizens who are still paying off student loans decades after graduating from college. But Gov. Walker’s student debt plan would help only a tiny fraction of student borrowers. However, the Democratic plan provides real relief and allows people to refinance their student loans just like a mortgage or car payment. Allowing refinancing of student loans will help lower interest rates, level the playing field, and give more Wisconsin residents the opportunity to buy a car, own a home, and start a family.
Additionally, despite 10,000 layoff notices given out in Wisconsin last year, Gov. Walker and Republicans still have taken no significant actions to promote job growth in our state or make meaningful reforms to WEDC, our struggling economic development agency. As these layoffs occur and our economy progresses in the 21st century, the importance of retraining for laid off workers and preparing tomorrow’s workforce continues to grow.
Instead of bolstering our future workforce, Republicans have done serious harm to education in our state, handing down massive cuts to our public schools and technical colleges, and a $250 million cut to our world-class university system in their latest budget. If Republicans are serious about workforce development and growing our economy, they should restore these cuts and fully fund our public schools from kindergarten through college.
Wisconsin Democrats are ready to lead and will continue to demand action for the middle class and Wisconsin communities. We know we need better roads, stronger schools, more economic opportunity and real relief for all student loan borrowers. We know we need to expand access to healthcare, raise the minimum wage, make childcare affordable, and ensure retirement security for all workers. Unfortunately, Gov. Walker’s anemic plans for Wisconsin are too little and too late, and simply a distraction from the Republican inaction on these critical issues.
From Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, D-Milwaukee
Governor Walker is out of touch with the everyday needs of Wisconsin families. It is no surprise that while he was busy campaigning across the nation, he forgot about the real concerns of families at home. Wisconsin families are facing increased costs in childcare, layoffs from good-paying jobs and the daunting costs of student loans. Our children are suffering from the historic budget cuts to public education, and our parents are facing rising costs of healthcare due to the Governor’s failure to accept the federal funds for Badgercare. Rather than prioritizing the needs of the wealthy, we need to invest in an economic plan that will work for all Wisconsin families.
Senate Democrats drafted the Badger Blueprint because we know a strong Wisconsin starts with a comprehensive plan to strengthen and raise the standard of living for families across our state. From proven solutions to grow our economy as well as new ideas to increase opportunities for workers, the Blueprint shows that Senate Democrats are committed to helping all individuals succeed.
“You have to be crazy to want to be president,” Gov. Scott Walker told voters last November during his re-election campaign.
But eight months after he assured Wisconsin voters, “I’m going to do the best job I can over the next four years” as governor, he formally announced his presidential bid in Waukesha on July 13. Walker delivered a red-meat speech that positions him at the right margins of the crowded GOP presidential field, which now numbers 15 — with two more announcements expected in the coming days.
Pundits said it was an extremist speech that could help him win the Iowa caucuses but could come back to haunt him later in his campaign. But Walker hopes to win by driving the far right to the polls in massive numbers, a tactic that’s served him well in Wisconsin. And he hopes to capitallize on new Republican-backed laws that make it harder for traditional Democratic constituencies to vote.
Walker’s chief talking point was that he knows “how to fight and win” at imposing ultraconservative policies on a purple state. Walker won in 2014 with 52.3 percent of the votes cast, but only 27 percent of registered voters. His policies have landed Wisconsin at or near the bottom economically, devastated education budgets and environmental protections, taken away women’s rights — and are hugely divisive and unpopular. The last time his approval rating was measured (in April), it stood at 41 percent. And that was before a bruising budget battle cost him support even among the state’s Republican leaders.
Walker is nothing if not a political shape-shifter, who changes positions so often that he sometimes appears to forget where he stands on any given day. He’s also a master of factual distortion. Among the governors whose statements are most frequently checked by Politifact, Walker leads the pack with the number of falses.
Walker rose to national fame after boldly — and without prior warning — gutting public unions after taking office in 2011. He used the move to fuel middle-class resentments, pitting workers who enjoyed union protections and bargaining powers against those who did not. He went on to eliminate all wage-protection laws and exploit the indignation of older white males toward poor people who receive public assistance.
As he was caught on videotape telling billionaire supporter Diane Hendricks, Walker’s political strategy is based on “divide and conquer.” Hendricks, who paid no income taxes in 2012, gave Wisconsin Republicans $1 million in 2014.
About 5,000 conservatives cheered his passionate, commanding 30-minute speech on July 13 at Waukesha County Expo Center. The crowd went wild when he talked about unions and jeered when he mentioned climate change, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
In an effort to show that he was boning up on foreign policy knowledge, Walker made generalized remarks about the Islamic State group that reflected what others in the Republican field have been saying.
While national media afforded Walker his moment of glory, seeds of the trouble that lies ahead for him were also present at the Waukesha County Expo Center — specifically outside Gates 1 and 2.
There, more than 200 sign-waving protesters gathered, organized by the Democratic Party, environmental groups, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. They hoped to draw attention to their view of Walker’s record. Some wore bags over their heads labeled “Ashamed of Walker.” They lingered for three hours.
Although the size of the protest was significantly smaller than the 100,000-plus anti-Walker crowds that surrounded the Capitol for days in 2011, the rhetoric hasn’t cooled over the past four years.
Media largely ignored the event, which was designed to deliver a message that was best summed up by Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Martha Laning.
“Scott Walker’s record in Wisconsin is one of unprecedented corruption, division, extremism and a failure to foster economic growth and opportunity,” she said in a press statement. “And now, with wages in Wisconsin stagnant, job growth that’s dead last in the Midwest and trailing most of the nation, a flagship jobs agency that’s known more for scandal than economic development and a $2.2 billion budget deficit created by his failed policies, Scott Walker wants to take that record nationwide.”
Critics hope that Walker’s scandals, gaffes, shoddy management and other failures become more widely known as he faces increasing scrutiny — and the probing eyes of opposition researchers in both parties.
Despite being extremely well funded by special interests, especially the fossil fuel interests that he’s catered to during his gubernatorial tenure, Walker will have to fight for attention in a crowded field, duck difficult questions about the state’s economy and his foreign policy knowledge and overcome the numerous scandals that have plagued his career.
As Susan Page, USA Today’s Washington bureau chief, put it, “Walker’s relative obscurity is both a big asset and his chief vulnerability.”
The next few months are going to be riveting — and frustrating — for Wisconsin liberals and independents who have watched Walker turn the state from a bastion of reform and progressivism into the Midwest’s equivalent of Mississippi.
At its annual meeting in early June, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin elected Martha Laning to succeed Mike Tate as party chair.
State Rep. David Bowen, who ran for the position of Laning’s vice chair, also was elected. “We’re already a team,” Laning said.
Laning is a former state Senate candidate who lives in Sheboygan, where she’s been visibly active in local political and civic projects. She faced four other candidates in what became a bruising and sometimes ugly campaign.
One of her competitors, former state Rep. Jeff Smith, dropped out of the race on June 4 and threw his support behind Laning after it was revealed that he’d offered her a high-level party position if she threw her support to him. The backlash over that seemed to be a turning point.
The party’s leadership appeared to be lined up behind Democratic National Committee member Jason Rae, who is the director of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
Rae took a lot of heat during the campaign for his job with Nation Consulting, a Milwaukee-based political consulting firm that represents candidates all over the political spectrum. Rae, however, only worked for Democratic and progressive candidates.
Rae served as the board chair of Fair Wisconsin, the state’s LGBT advocacy group. Katie Belanger, who worked with him when she was the group’s executive director, threw her support behind Laning.
Other candidates included former state lawmaker Stephen Smith and former state party chairman Joe Wineke.
Laning received 721 votes. Rae received 428 followed by Wineke with 191, Steve Smith with six and Jeff Smith with three votes.
Tate held the party’s chairmanship for nine years, but announced he would not seek another term several months ago, after state Democrats suffered major losses at the polls both in 2010 and 2012.
At the convention, Jeff Smith nominated Laning and was seconded by state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout.
“We have the best chance in our lifetime to make a real difference in this state,” Vinehout told the delegates. “We have the opportunity to elect an intelligent, tenacious woman.”
Laning gave a forceful speech, interrupted by cheers, which apparently prompted some delegates to switch their votes to her. She spoke about how the state’s progressive values helped create a level playing field that enabled her father to rise from poverty to success. She vowed to elect “proud, progressive Democrats” and to promote “values-driven messaging.”
Democrats in Wisconsin often are criticized for their fear of taking strong stands that might put off independent voters.
“Wisconsin has a rich tradition of being behind … progressive values and today we are seeing that slip away,” Laning told the enthusiastic crowd. “Our values of opportunity for all, responsiveness to others, fairness and fair play are but a distant memory, and we need to stand up for them.”
Following the election, the new leaders went directly into a two-hour administrative meeting.
Laning promised she and Bowen would bring together diverse people from around the state and empower the party’s grassroots.
“I am here to bring our party in a new direction,” she said.
Martha Laning over the weekend announced her candidacy for chairperson of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
Laning is a community leader, businesswoman and former candidate for Wisconsin’s 9th Senate District.
“I’m running for Democratic Party chair because our progressive principles of quality public education, economic prosperity, a clean, sustainable environment and equality for all citizens is under attack by the Republican Legislature,” Laning said in a news release. “I want to offer my services to my party to build a stronger democratic party that serves the best interests of all Wisconsinites.”
Laning made her announcement at the annual Democratic Party County Chairs Association meeting, where, according to the news statement, she stressed a need to support and invest in local party leadership.
“We need build a strong grassroots team across the state — a team where all voices are important and are heard. Our party is great because of all of you — you’re the boots on the ground, the heart of our party and when we empower and strengthen you, we strengthen our progressive message, our legislators, and our candidates,” she stated.
Laning thanked Democratic activists across the state for encouragement and support as she considered entering the race.
She also thanked Mary Lang Sollinger, the former chair candidate from Madison who announced on the weekend that she would be suspending her campaign and supporting Laning.
“I’m humbled by the outpouring of support from grassroots leaders of our party from all around Wisconsin,” Laning stated. “Together we’re going to overcome the challenges of recent years and elect Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in 2016 and beyond.”
The news release said Martha Laning is a business professional and community leader. She has experience in budgeting and finance for large companies, such as Target Inc. Laning also has a record of success in leadership, including spearheading the effort to fundraise and build a $4.6 million community center in Sheboygan.
Laning and her husband Wayne live in Sheboygan and have three children.
On the Web …
Martha Laning’s website is www.laningforwisconsin.com.