Tag Archives: mike tate

Wisconsin Democrats elect Martha Laning as new party chair

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. 

Dems must stop going after each other and focus on ‘the message thing’

A nasty internecine war has erupted inside the Democratic Party over choosing a replacement for retiring chair Mike Tate. As a result, when the party elects Tate’s successor on June 6, Democrats will have to focus on honing and effectively articulating their message.

The victorious candidate can’t afford to be hobbled by the lingering hostilities. He or she will have more than enough challenges already. Foremost, the next chair faces low morale following successive defeats since 2010. Except for the 2012 Wisconsin victories of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and President Barack Obama, Democrats have repeatedly lost big in the state.

The state’s Democratic leaders shirk blame, pinning the losses on gerrymandered districts. Yes, the political map has been rigged to favor Republicans, and it’s going to remain that way for five more years — and beyond, unless Democrats succeed in regaining one house of the Legislature. But Democrats’ constant complaints about the unfairness of it all only serve to make the base feel permanently defeated. Why bother going to the polls?

Democrats also are discouraging young and minority voters by failing to convince those constituencies that the party has the will and ability to address their most pressing issues. WisDems are failing to make a place for them at the table, whether it’s in delegate selection or in leadership roles. The party asks for their votes, but besides College Democrats of America, there’s no successful outreach to potential youth supporters. If you want to see just how ossified and white the party has become, attend the next meeting of the Democratic Party of Milwaukee County.

The next WisDem’s chair must focus on laying out a positive vision of the future and selling it proudly to the electorate. It should not be hard. In the last election, non-binding referenda promoting Democratic policies overwhelmingly won at the polls, even while Democrats lost. There were plenty of voters at the polls who agreed with Democrats. They just didn’t know it.

Democratic leadership in Wisconsin must restore power to its grassroots instead of operating in top-down fashion, a style that’s horribly out of synch with the progressive agenda. The perception that the party’s chiefs are rigging the selection process for a new chair is causing rifts today that could cost dearly in next year’s election.

You can’t rally people by disempowering them. Candidates can’t inspire voters by smearing the opposition or, worse, not standing up forcefully for their positions. Regardless of what consultants say, leaders have to sell their policies — not try to bury them beneath ambiguities.

Finally, the party’s next chair should forget the idea that Democrats can only win by getting strong turnout in Milwaukee and Madison. That strategy does nothing to help pick up state Senate or Assembly seats. The party must energize voters throughout the state, not just in Democratic bastions.

Wisconsinites generally want the same things — more and better jobs, an excellent and accessible education system, a clean environment, affordable health care and confidence that their tax dollars are being spent shrewdly. If Democrats can fulfill those goals, then they need to explain how, and they need to do it 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year between now and November 2016.

Tate will not seek another term as Wisconsin Democratic Party chair

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate will not seek another term when his contract expires in June 6. 

In 2009, at the age 30, Tate was elected with the endorsement of state party chair, Joe Weinke, becoming the state’s youngest Democratic Party chairman to date.

Tate formerly served as executive director of Fair Wisconsin, the state’s LGBT advocacy group. In that position, he tried to defeat the 2006 referendum to amend the state’s Constitution to ban same-sex marriage in the state. The referendum passed with nearly 60 percent of votes cast.

Tate says his reasons for moving on are personal.

“I’ve got a three year old, and I feel it’s the best decision for my family,” he told WiG. “(The job) places an undue burden on my wife, because I’m gone so many nights during the week. When it’s time to move on, I think you know.

“I could have left in 2012 on a relative high note. However, I had some unfinished business with respect to the governor, and I did everything I could to win that election for us.”

Under Tate’s tenure, Democrat Tammy Baldwin became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Wisconsin and the first out lesbian ever elected to Congress’ upper chamber. Wisconsin voted solidly for President Barack Obama in 2012. Party membership doubled under Tate’s leadership, and the party raised $45 million dollars

But Tate’s tenure was rocked with criticism as his party’s control of all branches of government collapsed over the past six years. A costly but failed 2011 recall election solidified Gov. Scott Walker’s base.
Critics said Tate as too inexperienced for the position and failed to articulate a clear, positive message about why people should vote for Democrats.

Critics said that Democrats under Tate became focused on negative messaging.  

Former party spokesman Graeme Zielinski was an example of what went wrong under Tate, according to his critics.  Zielisnski sent out a much-criticized Tweet comparing Walker to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. 
Still, a MoveOn.org petition calling for Tate’s resignation garnered only 246 signatures. Tate said he had “no doubt” that he could have been reelected to another term.
Over the past seven years, Wisconsin favored the Democrats in presidential elections and Republicans in other elections.

“Quite honestly, Mike Tate’s performance one way or another doesn’t have a lot to do with the outcome of our elections,” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan told Capital Times.

Possible new Democratic leaders include Mary Lang Sollinger for state party finance director and 28-year-old political consultant Jason Rae.

New leadership will take control after the Democratic State Convention on June 6.

In new book, Scott Walker suggests Mitt Romney lost in part for ignoring his advice

Republican Gov. Scott Walker is using his new book to renew his criticism of 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and raise his own national profile as a reformer who took on public sector unions and won.

Walker’s book provides a detailed account of his 2011 battle against public unions, the campaign he won against their efforts to recall him, and his unhappiness with Romney and other Republicans he says didn’t learn the lessons from his political victories.

The Associated Press on Friday obtained a copy of Walker’s book, “Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge,” before its scheduled release Nov. 19.

Walker’s book includes an excoriation of Barack Obama’s presidency and Washington politics, saying Obama has laid out a second term agenda that “doubles down on the failures of his first.” He says Wisconsin’s Republican-led policies have shown a better way forward for the country.

“If we can do it in Wisconsin, we can do it anywhere – even in our nation’s capital,” Walker writes.

Democrats who fought Walker’s agenda in the Legislature, and who helped organize the recall attempt, said his book was nothing more than fodder for a future campaign.

“I’ve never met anyone who wants to be president more,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Madison who served in the state Assembly during the union fight. “We knew the book was coming. We know he’s traveling all over the country. It would be nice if he put even a portion of that energy into creating jobs in Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said Walker’s book shows that he would only cause more divisiveness.

“He’s not the type of person who’s going to bring people together and sit people down around a table,” Tate said.

The release of Walker’s book comes roughly a year before he faces re-election in Wisconsin. One Democrat candidate, former Trek Bicycle Corp. executive and state Commerce Department Secretary Mary Burke, has announced she will challenge Walker.

Burke, who had not announced her candidacy before Walker wrote the book, is not mentioned in it.

Walker spends a chapter dissecting Romney’s campaign. He recounts an email he sent to voicing his frustrations about its tone, and urging Romney to show more passion, get out from behind the podium and connect directly with voters “like you did to the Olympic athletes” when Romney oversaw the 2002 Winter Olympics. Walker said he got no response.

Walker writes that Republicans in 2012 didn’t run on their principles, didn’t criticize Obama enough and did a “lousy job of presenting a positive vision of free market solutions to our nation’s problems in a way that is relevant to people’s lives.”

While criticizing Romney, Walker is much kinder to Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. He calls Ryan, who is a close friend, “one of the smartest and most decent people I know in or out of politics.”

Walker says Ryan has the courage to tackle big issues and is a bold reformer, but that Romney distanced himself from many of Ryan’s fiscal proposals. Walker also offers praise for other Republicans who are considered possible presidential candidates in 2016, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Ryan plans to publish a book titled, “Where Do We Go from Here?” next summer.

Walker devotes most of his 278-page book, co-written by Marc Thiessen, to retelling the story of his 2011 fight to effectively end collective bargaining rights for most public workers. He reveals details of closed-door meetings with Republican lawmakers, death threats his family received, and some private conversations with his wife, Tonette.

Walker says it was after Tonette questioned why he was pushing for the union changes in the face the fierce backlash that he realized he hadn’t done enough to explain his proposal to voters.

“If I could convince Tonette,” Walker writes, “I could probably convince most of our citizens as well.”

Walker repeats his rationale for the collective bargaining proposal, saying changes were necessary to deal with a $3.6 billion budget shortfall. He derides protesters as “agitators” who “harassed and spit on lawmakers” and questions the strategy of union leaders who fought to stop his plan from passing.

Walker said he was never worried about his political future, even though polls showed his approval rating dipping to as low as 37 percent during the union fight. With the Legislature controlled by his party, “We had the votes, and we had no choice,” he said.

Dems call on Thompson to fire senior adviser who gay-baited Tammy Baldwin

Democrats are calling on GOP U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Thompson to fire his campaign’s senior communications adviser more than a week after he sent out messages attacking rival Tammy Baldwin’s “heartland values” because of her sexual orientation.

After refusing to address the matter for six days, Thompson denounced the actions of Brian Nemoir on Sept. 11 following a speech to the Rotary Club of Milwaukee. He told reporters that Nemoir had been shuffled to another role with his campaign, implying that it was a lesser – and less public – role.

But last night, Nemoir sent out e-mails negotiating debates for Thompson under the title of “senior advisor/communications” for the former governor’s campaign, showing that his role had not changed.

Thompson also told reporters that Nemoir had apologized, but he actually told the media that he stands by his attacks on Baldwin, who would become the first out gay person ever elected to the U.S. Senate if she wins.

“Thompson needs to start telling the truth and he needs to show Brian Nemoir the door,” said Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman Mike Tate in a prepared statement. “Today we are calling on Tommy Thompson to do the right thing and take responsibility for his divisive campaign and reject the personal attacks that are out of touch with our Wisconsin values.

“It is time to hold him accountable for his record, the positions he takes and what his campaign does and says. If Tommy Thompson is afraid of standing up to his own political handlers then what makes anyone believe he will stand up for us in Wisconsin.”

During the Bush era, Republicans frequently gay-baited opponents who supported equality in an attempt to drive their hardline Christian fundamentalist base to the polls. Tate said he believed Nemoir’s attack on Baldwin reflects this divisive style of campaigning.

Gay foes funnel big cash into recall races

An anti-gay extremist group is pouring big money into commercials for GOP senators facing recall elections on Aug. 9.

Wisconsin Family Action has spent at least $304,000 in recent weeks on broadcast ads smearing the Democratic opponents of two right-wing state senators. That’s a remarkable level of spending for the small evangelical group, according to political observers.

Although WFA is not required by law to disclose individual donors, contributors are likely to be some of the same out-of-state groups that are shoveling cash into Wisconsin senate races at levels never before seen in the state, observers said.

WFA is an evangelical Christian group headed by Julaine Appling, a never-married woman who lives with her lifelong companion, Diane Westphall, in a home they own jointly in Watertown. The two also work side by side at WFA.

But despite the marital status of its leaders, WFA’s stated mission is to bolster the institution of “traditional” marriage. The group works to achieve this goal exclusively by fighting legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships.

Appling spearheaded the successful 2006 campaign to amend the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state. She’s currently mounting legal challenges aimed at revoking the domestic partner registry law signed by former Gov. Jim Doyle.

Yet the commercials paid for by WFA never mention gays, abortion or any other right-wing social issues. In fact, WFA’s most frequently aired ad attacks the driving record of state Rep. Fred Clark, who hopes to unseat Sen. Luther Olsen in Senate District 14 (which stretches from Waupaca County to the eastern part of Sauk County).

“They’re not talking about gay marriage, they’re talking about Fred Clark accidentally hitting a bicyclist with his car,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate.

Tate said Appling was able to spend only about $200,000 for WFA’s flagship effort, the voter referendum that prohibited same-sex marriage and civil unions. Put in that perspective, Tate finds WFA’s sudden high-stakes position on issues outside its narrow purview to be alarming and suspicious.

“All of a sudden this little, tiny anti-gay outfit becomes a major player on the political scene? Come on. They’ve become a front group for somebody’s dirty cash,” Tate charged.

Cash from outside interest groups is dominating the summer recall races, as it did the recent Supreme Court race. It’s possible that WFA’s dollars are coming from Focus on the Family, a right-wing organization designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Tate said. According to Tate, who once headed Fair Wisconsin, Focus on the Family leader James Dobson often engages in stealth campaigns in local races.

All of the Republicans facing recalls have anti-gay records, according to Fair Wisconsin’s current executive director Katie Belanger. That would make them natural magnets for evangelical Christian donors like Dobson.

But ironically, Olsen is the only one of the group who ever sat down to speak with LGBT advocates, Belanger said. So why is WFA spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on defending this particular incumbent, when there are five others who won’t even bother listening politely to FW’s equality pitch?

WiG put this question to Appling via voicemail but she declined to return the call.

Experienced observers said there’s not much mystery to the situation. According to them, WFA has likely become another tool in the far right’s well-coordinated strategy to ensure Wisconsin remains solidly red. It’s speculated that Club for Growth, a front group used by the billionaire Koch brothers to promote their company’s corporate agenda, is now throwing money at Appling in an attempt to spread out its dollars.

If so, that represents a significant shift in Koch’s political strategy.

Koch money

David and Charles Koch run Koch Industries, the nation’s largest privately held company, with 70,000 employees and sales of $100 billion in 2008. The company was built by their father on oil trading and refining, but the brothers have expanded it to include coal mining, the paper company Georgia-Pacific and household products such as Teflon.

David Koch, a Kansan who’s intent on buying his way into New York society through massive gifts to art groups, has never been directly involved in anti-gay campaigns, Tate said. He would probably avoid being connected to a group of religious zanies as odd as WFA, which appears to be a tabloid scandal waiting to happen.

“That’s why there’s such a premium on being able to raise unlimited, anonymous dollars, so people don’t have to be publicly affiliated with causes and agendas that have some liability attached to them,” said Kelly Steele, spokesman for We Are Wisconsin, which is coordinating the effort to recall Republicans.

There’s no question that Koch and other big players on the corporate right are desperate to maintain the GOP’s tight grip on Wisconsin government. “At this point it is about absolute power,” Steele said. “They have both branches of the Legislature, the governor’s office and the Supreme Court to back them up.”

But it’s also about money. The state is considered Ground Zero for Koch’s national efforts to dismantle the organized labor movement. Since virtually assuming control of Wisconsin government in January, Koch and his fellow corporate nabobs have managed not only to incapacitate public unions but also to reduce access to the ballot box among minorities and students. They’ve decimated financial regulations, corporate rules and environmental standards in the state to benefit their business interests.

All of this has been accomplished through cookie-cutter bills created by the corporate-right group American Legislative Exchange Council. The bills are modified by local lawmakers to fit into each state’s existing statutory framework, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, which has created an online archive of over 800 ALEC bills.

Many of those bills have become familiar to Wisconsin residents in recent months, as the GOP has rammed them through the Assembly in advance of next month’s recall races. Some Wisconsin lawmakers even sit on ALEC’s board or hold prominent positions in Wisconsin government. State Sen. Alberta Darling is a dues-paying member.

Introduced in Wisconsin by Koch-backed lawmakers, ALEC bills have changed the state in six months into a place that would have been unrecognizable a year ago. In fact, a study published earlier this year said Wisconsin now resembles Mississippi in terms of the “pro-business environment” here. That means Republicans have given big tax breaks to the wealthy, created corporate welfare in the form of taxpayer-funded “incentives,” relaxed environmental and product liability laws, and eliminated many worker protections.

The study’s corporate-right authors touted all this as a great achievement, but few Wisconsin residents would want to be positioned alongside the nation’s perennial lowest-ranking state in terms of health, education and other quality-of-life issues.

Koch Industries has at least 17 facilities or offices in the state that stand poised to secure millions in lucrative no-bid government contracts from Walker and GOP lawmakers. But it appears that Koch wants not only to get those contracts but also to wring the maximum profitability from them by avoiding potentially costly rules and regulations – and by not having to deal with an empowered work force.

Steele said that’s why Koch will go to the mat to prevent the Wisconsin Senate from changing leadership next month. That change would occur if three of the six Republicans being recalled were to lose their races, while the two remaining Democrats being targeted win theirs.

As of July 22, Club for Growth had spent at least $1.5 million on commercials in Wisconsin to support Republicans, Steele said. He expected that figure to climb much higher as the election draws closer.

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For the record: Voting history of the GOP senators facing recalls

WiG looked at the ratings that various special interest groups have awarded the six GOP senators facing recalls. The ratings indicate the percentage of time the senators voted with positions taken by the groups during the legislative sessions shown in parentheses.

Robert Cowles, Green Bay
District 2

Voted to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in Wisconsin.

  • Planned Parenthood: 25 (2007-08),
    0 (2006), 0 (2005)
  • Americans for Prosperity: 90 (2007-08), 71 (2005-06)
  • Wis. Manufacturers and Commerce: 100 (2010),
    90 (2009)
  • ACLU: 0 (2006)
  • Fair Wisconsin: 0 (2004)
  • League of Conservation Voters: 67 (2009-2010),
    50 (2005)
  • Sierra Club: 29 (2005-06)
  • Wis. AFL-CIO: 27 (2007-08)

Alberta Darling, River Hills
District 8

Voted to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in Wisconsin.

  • Planned Parenthood: 50 (2007-08),
    17 (2006), 0 (2005)
  • Americans for Prosperity: 100 (2005-06)
  • Wis. Manufacturers and Commerce: 75 (2010),
    90 (2009)
  • ACLU 0 (2006)
  • Fair Wisconsin: 0 (2004)
  • League of Conservation Voters: 50 (2009-10),
    39 (2005-06)
  • Sierra Club: 14 (2005-06)
  • Wis. AFL-CIO: 27 (2007-08)

Sheila Harsdorf, River Falls
District 10

Voted to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in Wisconsin.

  • Planned Parenthood: 50 (2007-08),
    0 (2006), 0 (2005)
  • Americans for Prosperity: 79 (2005-06)
  • Wis. Manufacturers and Commerce: 100 (2010),
    90 (2009)
  • ACLU: 0 (2006)
  • Fair Wisconsin: 0 (2004)
  • League of Conservation Voters: 58 (2009-10),
    50 (2005-06)
  • Sierra Club: 43 (2005-06)
  • Wis. AFL-CIO: 36 (2007-08)

Luther Olsen, Ripon
District 14

Voted to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in Wisconsin.

  • Planned Parenthood: 25 (2007-08),
    33 (2006), 20 (2005)
  • Americans for Prosperity: 76 (2005-06)
  • Wis. Manufacturers and Commerce: 100 (2010),
    100 (2009)
  • ACLU: 0 (2006)
  • Fair Wisconsin: 0 (2004)
  • League of Conservation Voters: 67 (2009-2010),
    29 (2005-06)
  • Sierra Club: 29 (2005-06)
  • Wis. AFL-CIO: 45 (2007-08)

Randy Hopper, Fond du Lac
District 18

First elected to public office in 2008, Hopper has a limited legislative record.

  • Wis. Manufacturers and Commerce: 100 (2010),
    100 (2009)
  • League of Conservation Voters: 50 (2009-10)

Dan Kapanke, La Crosse
District 32

Voted to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in Wisconsin.

  • Planned Parenthood: 0 (2007-08),
    0 (2006), 0 (2005)
  • Americans for Prosperity: 76 (2005-06)
  • Wis. Manufacturers and Commerce: 80 (2010),
    81 (2009)
  • ACLU: 0 (2006)
  • League of Conservation Voters: 67 (2009-2010),
    50 (2005-06)
  • Sierra Club: 43 (2005-06)
  • Wis. AFL-CIO: 50 (2007-08)

Source: Project Vote Smart

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The conservative tide: how high will it rise?

In his inaugural address, Gov. Scott Walker might have fired his administration’s opening salvo against LGBT equality when he vowed to “honor and respect the foundational role of the family in our society.”

Although most LGBT people would agree with Walker’s statement on its face value, it sounded to many like standard-issue rhetoric from the anti-gay right. “I certainly saw that line, and it certainly is a concerning line,” said Fair Wisconsin executive director Katie Belanger.

Amid the rising conservative tide in Wisconsin, as throughout the nation, LGBT citizens and political progressives are anxiously watching the Tea Party-infused GOP and searching for signs of coming struggle. Although most of the newly elected Republicans ran campaigns focused on creating jobs, eliminating deficits and reducing government, their social views are largely in step with those of the radical right.

“We can’t even see the end of the right wing they’re going to run to,” predicted Wisconsin Democratic Party chair and former Fair Wisconsin director Mike Tate.

“We know that they’re going to come out and do some very anti-LGBT stuff,” he said. “If they start persecuting LGBT people, it sends a signal right out of the gate that these people are going to dismantle the Wisconsin way of life.”

But Belanger was relieved that the first round of legislation proposed by the incoming GOP did not include a measure to repeal the state’s domestic partner registry. “It’s really going to be interesting to see how closely (Republicans) stick to their jobs agenda,” she said. “Hopefully, they’ll stick to the jobs development stuff, but it’s something that we’re really watching.”

For now, Belanger is taking a wait-and-see approach about the new Republican majority. So is Bill Keeton, director of government relations for the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin. While Belanger is concerned about the domestic partner registry, Keeton will focus on the GOP’s proposal for HIV/AIDS-related funding and Medicaid programs.

During his campaign, Walker made conflicting statements about cutting the state’s BadgerCare program. Various sources estimated that he would enact policies to eliminate between 68,000 and 350,000 people from healthcare coverage under the program, which includes many Wisconsinites with HIV/AIDS.

But Keeton is confident that HIV/AIDS funding has bipartisan support in Madison.

“The fight against AIDS has really been something that members of both parties have embraced,” Keeton said. “We’ve worked hard all these years building consensus and not focusing on programs where there’s dissension.”

Tanya Atkinson, vice president of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, is more wary of the impact conservatives will have on her area of interest – sexual health and reproductive freedom.

“Signs indicate the new leadership will be pursuing a dangerous agenda,” Atkinson said. “Their goals are to outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, to restrict access to birth control, and to stop comprehensive sex education that also protects students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender.

“If Scott Walker and new legislative leaders are serious about reducing government intrusion and enhancing fiscally responsible healthcare practices, they should support strengthening the health of Wisconsin with access to basic reproductive healthcare.”

On the Legislature’s opening day, lawmakers proposed a flurry of measures that, while not attacking LGBT rights or reproductive freedom, contained a strong conservative bent.

“At 8:01 a.m. this morning, the Republicans began their bait-and-switch away from job creation and onto right-wing social issues,” said openly gay state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, in a statement released Jan. 3.

“Between 8:01 a.m. and 8:02 a.m. this morning, Rep. Joel Kleefisch circulated 15 co-sponsorship memos to all legislators asking us to become sponsors of right-wing legislation, highlighted by permitting guns on school property, eliminating same day voter registration and a bill that prohibits certain stem cell research equipment from a proposed tax exemption,” Pocan said. “Not one bill will create jobs. Less than one hour later, Rep. Dean Kaufert circulated further expanded gun legislation.”

“Wisconsinites deserve better from Republicans on their first day on the job, but this is just the start,” Pocan added. “It makes me wonder what other right-wing bills they are going to introduce.”

Since Jan. 3, many Democrats have echoed the charge that GOP lawmakers have wandered off their campaign message of job growth and budget cutting. An Associated Press analysis of eight bills submitted by Walker during his first week in office concluded they would increase the deficit by $80 million a year over the next two years.

Democrats, already incensed over Walker’s decision to give up $823 million in federal funds for a high-speed rail project, now say the governor’s decision to have Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen join a lawsuit against federal healthcare reform will prove costly both to the state and the nation.

“At a time of deep financial crisis, Scott Walker has sent J.B. Van Hollen on a costly political errand that, if it were successful, would have the effect of denying healthcare to tens of thousands of Wisconsinites and adding $1 trillion to the federal deficit over the next 20 years,” Tate said. “Van Hollen has already shown how political this is by consulting with Texas Republican operatives on the taxpayer dime. He must now be explicit about what costs there will be to Wisconsin taxpayers when their lawyers are doing Scott Walker’s partisan bidding, instead of fighting crime.”

In order to fulfill his campaign promise of creating 250,000 new jobs over the next four years, Walker is relying primarily on bills to make Wisconsin more attractive to corporations by giving them tax breaks, curbing union power and making it extremely difficult for consumers to sue manufacturers and other companies. This combination of proposals led Tate to charge that Walker was trying “to turn Wisconsin into Mississippi.”

More of Walker’s economic plan will be revealed when he submits his budget next month.

Democrats say they will tap more than 15,000 volunteers to counter any Republican proposals that are not targeted to improving the state’s economy and to hold Republican freshmen legislators accountable for their campaign promises to focus on the economy and the budget. In a similar spirit, the progressive group One Wisconsin Now has launched meetthemajority.com, a website that’s designed to be “a continuing clearinghouse of information about the 31 new conservative members of the Republican legislative majority.”