In The News
Lohr’s blue velvet rubbing red out of District 20
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted September 24, 2012
Madison insiders and GOP lawyers can spread out their definitive pattern charts to confirm that, despite some unintended softening in redistricting, Senate 20 remains the reddest of red districts and any Democrat who even dreams of running there is deluded.
But there sure is something astir in Ozaukee and Washington counties. While notorious as Scott Walker's designated talking head, and a Tea Party darling painting himself as the next Jim Sensenbrenner, Glen Grothman is actually a burr under the region's natural saddle.
His three P reputation - prickly, prissy and pedantic - hardly matches the hardy Ozaukee Washington neighborhoods or even the educated elite running businesses and building homes.
The only match he has is the Republican label - and it is lifelong Republicans joining Democrats in dismissing him.
Tanya Lohr, on the other hand, is the glove-fit Midwestern daughter, devoted to her family, shy with the media, forthright with people, quiet but firm. Her weapons are hardly secret, just honest and direct. Many of her supporters voted for Walker and detest Grothman and if there is time for her to meet all the district residents up close, or get him to stop ducking face to face debates, she could upset those voting map devotees.
That includes Democrats who count numbers more than feelings in the electorate. If you talk to them after liberal gatherings along the Milwaukee River or out near Miller Park, you hear some harsh negatives about Ozaukee Washington citizens, stemming from those voting patterns and the bad old days of white flight and enclaves hostile to urban lifestyles and racial mix.
Whatever vestiges of truth in such fear of progressive ideas, the clichés don't fit the families you meet from Port Washington to West Bend and farms in-between and villages to the north, and it is there that Lohr reflects the concern about family, community and restoring local control and input.
Lohr comes from these people, from large clans of kin and neighbors devoted to hearth and kids, willing to pitch in, proud of their self-help roots and educational advances and hardly deaf to the spirit of cooperation. A devoted mother and teacher for 17 years, she is hardly a novice to the realities of their lives. It is Grothman who represents an anti-community spirit and "keep away from me" approach to life more than any party label.
Past patterns don't consider Lohr's mastery of the communication and technological revolution that is overtaking the nation. It may not be fast enough beneath the presidential election to change outcomes. No one should pretend that Facebook, Twitter and the rest don't also bring disturbing elements of intrusiveness and triviality, much less turning older thumbs into slabs of jelly.
But the social media that is as natural to Lohr as swimming and clearly alien waters to Grothman has also changed the immediacy and imagery of relationships and how people know and deal with each other.
When that horrible shooting erupted at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, it was social media and cell phones that within hours brought hundreds to the site and to a religious service that evening at Cathedral Square. It is social media that hooks Lohr to volunteers who will walk the doors with her or watch her children when husband Andy needs a day off. (And when Lohr gets that rare day off from campaigning, she doesn't go home to sleep, she goes out to golf, as you discover from her Internet followers.)
WisconsinEye provided an insightful in-depth heads-on interview with the candidate, revealing her personality in your living room. It is on computers that people follow her district treks and see how in the most unlikely places and hard-core GOP areas her humanity and ideology jump through. It matches what people discover when they meet her in person handing out cookies or rushing over to help with the children.
Grothman, a lifelong bachelor who lives with his mother, has minimal presence on social media. He is actually the butt of multiple laugh hits on YouTube given the video captures of his prattling diatribes calling his own constituents slobs for showing up in Madison, explaining how the purpose of the voter ID law in Wisconsin was to help elect Romney, attacking women for clogging the workplace at Tea Party picnics or pontificating about need based aid and sneering at citizens during legislative hearings -- in other words, Grothman in his natural element.
One Lohr volunteer noted: "If we could only get every woman in the district to watch YouTube, Tanya could stroll into Madison."
Progressive women in the city of Milwaukee are not so sure when they look north and east. "Those wives will never vote against their husbands," one said. "They're lost to the right wing."
Again, the dismissal of the openness of the community is something Lohr on the campaign trail refuses to be part of and without trying actually serves as the clarion counter to.
Cheerfully she meets hostile voters and charms them into listening to her common sense approach to governance. "You win," they tell her in the end, ready to reverse a lifelong habit of voting. The direct honesty and conversational touch that keep ninth graders in line and devoted to her in West Bend classrooms ("I like them right back," she says) work wonders at the doors.
All this has made her the queen of the Internet. The Huffington Post headlined an analysis of her race "Beauty and the Beast" (guess which is which) and had readers rolling in the aisles describing Grothman's positions in his own words - money means more to men than women; women shouldn't get equal pay or value in the workplace because they leave to do such terrible things as have children; women pregnant out of wedlock lie about their needs because of society's stigma; single parents should be a condition of criminal child abuse investigation; alternate energy standards should be reduced; early kindergarten should be eliminated; most education of women is a fraud; Obama wants more welfare because that translates into more lazy voters for him, and on and on -- leaving traditional Republicans aghast that this is the guy they have let speak for them in the legislature.
Lohr not only wins the publicity battle hands down. Her use of social media lets voters daily follow the campaign. She clearly adores her husband of 10 years, Andy, also a teacher, their two teenagers from his first marriage (Mallory and MacKenzie) and their young twins, 6 year old Elena and Eadrick.
She is the accidental candidate surprised as anyone to find it all quite normal. Running for senate was hardly a planned chapter. She is active in her school union and was deeply upset and politicized by the cuts in education and the general handcuffing of local communities from running their own affairs. As a social studies teacher, "I paid attention to events and policies but more as a spectator," she recalled in an interview. But when she got involved, she was a quick study and a bright organizer and campaigner with something to say.
It first happened in Saukville when she organized a recall event 18 months ago. Knowledgeable people at the outdoor park - 400 plus at a progressive rally! In Saukville! - wondered who was this personable busy bee when she spoke briefly. New state Sen. Chris Larson was there, as was state AFL-CIO leader Stephanie Bloomingdale and Emerge Wisconsin leader Wendy Strout and several others - and all eyes lit up when she spoke. They got busy encouraging her to share her ideas and personality.
Lohr flew through Emerge's intense candidate training and found that voters throughout the region also responded to her natural gifts and down-home directness. She now has a sophisticated devoted legion of volunteers charting the entire district and helping spread the word and arranging meetings with voters.
Very little of her race is about demeaning Grothman, though that understandable tendency sure exists among her champions as well as media pursuers. "This is not a race about name calling but about finding common ground," she told me. "People in splintered communities want to hang out with their friends again and want a representative who will think about that and fix that."
Asked about her platform, she avoids getting into national areas where "I need further study" but steps hard into detailed community concerns that Madison can address. "No. 1 is jobs, what we can really do step by step to keep jobs here not pie in the sky stuff. No. 2 is working together. No. 3 is health care. And within all that is concern about rebuilding communities, restoring music lessons and simple values to our schools and listening to people who still do not have access to health coverage and why they deserve it."
So all you political know-it-alls: Continue to rely on your old voting maps. Dismiss if you must as conservative zombies the honest-to-gosh citizens so many observers actually discover throughout the district.
Ignore the genuine concern that harmony and cooperation be restored in Madison. Laugh that even dislike of Grothman will not cause voters to abandon the Grand Old Label. Convince yourself that the good side of social media that reveals real character will not make a fig's worth of difference at the polls this year (even conceding it sure will the next time around).
Lohr has heard all the negatives. She just does the doors and talks to the voters. She rebuffs every stereotype attack from the right about public teachers and Democrats, substituting good hard common-ground explanation of what she is and what she will do.
In this partisan hostile world, will Lohr make a difference? Win or lose, she already has.