In The News
Whitefish Bay’s Rogers typifies revolution in politics
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted September 20, 2012
What's happening on the Milwaukee North Shore is typical around the state. Articulate family-focused lifelong residents interested in politics but novices to public office have been stirred to run by all this obstinate resistance to facts, by the misguided focus on antique concepts of families and values rather than on modern children and communities.
Deals made behind doors in the State Capitol have been exposed to main streets and forced people to wonder about the overreach of Act 10 attacking basic collective bargaining or Act 43 forcing a redistricting tightrope of extreme partisanship or the broad effects of Act 32 cutting the local citizens' ability to solve education, health care and general services.
That's not what we sent people to Madison to do. That's the cry you hear around the state regardless of political history. Perhaps that's why people find their neighbors who step forward to run far more credible than those paid pretend-neighbor outsiders from Koch-funded ugly rallies against health care, contraception and Obama's birth record.
There has been a widespread emergence of people everyone knows from down the street who are now running for office whatever the odds. It seems quite legitimate in contrast to the coordinated Tea Party outrage. It's an uncoordinated but now active and necessary outbreak of citizenship, a groundswell of civic involvement to slowly restore sanity and progress. Noted one political consultant, "These are not people who can be dismissed as some sort of flaming liberal activist."
The consultant was thinking of Cris Rogers, married to a business lawyer, well-to-do, raising two sons and more and more convinced the current crop of controlling legislators don't deserve a walk in the park to re-election. So she's forcing Jim Ott to finally face someone -- her, and she’s got the connections to make it interesting.
But there are examples everywhere. In Burlington, the GOP's major smart-ALEC Robin Voss, pushing ugly social legislation to enhance his clout to become Assembly majority leader, is under scrutiny and attack he never expected.
Publicizing his self-serving record in this District 68 contest is a housewife and community volunteer, Kellley Albrecht, mother of three, rooted in the working community. She admits to being a novice at political campaigning but already has the most sophisticated political website in the state -- - and a forceful voice for legislative balance.
In the Ozaukee-Washington counties Senate District 20, Tanya Lohr is the big story but she also reflects how many concerned citizens like teachers and environmentalists are now running all over the state -- from nurse Kim Peterson in another Burlington district to James Brownlow in Muskego.
The political insiders who look at the red red history of Senate District 20 haven’t examined the dislike of the sitting senator Glen Grothman -- even among people who voted for Walker. Nor have they examined how embedded in campaigning and how convincing at the doors Lohr has been, turning thousands of voters personally to her cause -- in fact, almost everyone she talks to.
Rogers is Assembly District 23’s own variation -- a Bayside native now Whitefish Bay stalwart making a spirited contest out of opposing long unopposed Republican Ott, whose actual extreme opinions ought to be unrecognizable to those who remember his three decades as the placid meteorologist on WTMJ-TV.
Ott is now a Tea Party staple winning awards from right-wing groups equally ignorant about the environment. He denies the climate change that gave him a TV job for three decades, opposes any state effort to advance green jobs, wants penalties for criminals increased rather than efforts to change or rehabilitate them and believes that people should have a choice - not on women's rights but on refusing to pay for their emergency health costs that raise our premiums.
That ought to inflame anyone like Rogers with a background of political caring, a degree in psychology and track record of helping nonprofit social agencies. Like so many others she was content to stay informed and involved as a citizen until she "felt my basic rights being taken away."
She decided to enter politics directly partly out of anger at the deliberate removal of a Bay neighbor, Rep. Sandy Pasch, as her legislator. But most of her disappointment is the "the failure of today's GOP to emphasize our similarities of concern in order to make too much of our differences," she said.
Rather than start her door-to-door campaign in comfortable territory - Whitefish Bay and Fox Point, which are new regions for Ott - she worked down from the north.
How will they vote? Rogers laughed. "If I was playing poker with these people in Grafton, there's no tell. But even when I'm having a conversation with someone who is, say, totally against Obama, we find we have a lot in common and I always look for that common ground."
"I'm finding it," she added. "Everyone is tired of politicians fighting things. People don't see compromise and want some. Win or lose, it's equally important that we agree on so many things regardless of party label. I think that's what's been lost in the current political climate and people are upset about that."
It's pragmatism she talks about. While she opposes the radical budget cuts to public education, she marries her philosophy at the doors to how the Walker approach will inevitably drag down property values as well as good teachers. She wants to grow small businesses and create jobs but balance that with environmental protection. Most appealing at the doors is that she wants the ideas of citizens not special interests to determine government transparency.
Rogers has no doubt she is a distinct underdog, "but something is happening on the ground that most reporters are not paying attention to," she said. "It may work this year or not, but it will work." As the polls indicate a pronounced climb up at the top of the Democratic ballot by President Obama and US Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin, her possibilities simultaneously increase.
She is not nearly as well known as her opponent - or as mis-known when you consider what Ott has become. When he and the equally dour Paul Joseph were hired at WTMJ it was because science was to be taken seriously in weather forecasting. When ratings, small talk and personality became more important, both were let go for lower salaried workers. (Maybe that is the real economic stormfront that Ott is now selling.)
But even friends at the station were shocked when Ott turned as a legislator to only like weather patterns coming in from the right.
He made his bones with the Madison right-wing as their token faux-scientist (because of his decades of TV blandness) denying climate change, opposing cap and trade legislation with such pontifications as "If you're fighting climate change and global warming … then I believe what you're trying to do is make it colder." It caused fellow notable meteorologists to criticize Ott for pandering to the right-wing by "leaving science behind,” leaving his talks on the environment covered only by the right-wing funded McIver Institute.
Most of the folks who have elected him to the Assembly don't know how Ott became an ostrich on so many issues. Nor has it dawned that while other redistricting forced Democratic legislators to abandon their homes if they wanted to stay in service, this redistricting while it eliminated much of the Mequon he represented carefully kept Ott's Lakedrive mansion within the boundaries.
But the new district removes regions that tolerated him, including most of Mequon, and added entire suburbs he did not represent (Grafton, Fox Point and Whitefish Bay), which are not alone in having citizens more concerned about political progress than party labels.
Discussing the race, analysts from both parties concede how shifting alliances and detest of extremism have made Ott vulnerable and Rogers more genuine.
But they also note he has reputation from all those years on TV where he was as comfortable to viewers as an empty suit.