In The News
Doyle and Dems set to turn country around
By Dominique Paul Noth
Milwaukee Labor Press
By the wee hours of Wednesday morning in Wisconsin and across the nation, the Democrats left only a couple of billiard balls spinning near the side pockets as they ran the table.
Gov. Jim Doyle won re-election by a remarkably easy margin – nearly eight percentage points, or 160,00 votes – despite nervousness in his own camp over the onslaught from conservative radio and TV ads seeking to paint him as a failure.
Meanwhile, the verifiable failures, the obstructionist GOP in the state legislature, lost their majority in the Senate and, to considerable surprise, saw their lopsided dominance in the Assembly shrink to seven seats. All this signals an era where Doyle should have a legislature that stops pestering him with wedge issues and works to get things done.
Gone as well from public office is John Gard, the Assembly majority leader who sought to replace Mark Green in the Green Bay area US House seat. In the most costly House race in Wisconsin history, Gard was felled by political newcomer Steve Kagen, who held a 51-48 edge in the final counting. That could have been Mark Green’s margin of loss, rather than more than double that in his race for governor.
Kagen was one of some 30 pickups by the Democrats in the House, giving them a larger measure of control (at least for two years) than the Republicans had -- and assuring that Wisconsin Rep. David Obey would take over the chair of the powerful appropriations committee.
Most shocking of all – and unlikely a few months ago – the Democrats look to have regained the US Senate, certainly a tie and depending on the recount in Virginia a probable majority (given that two “independents” have committed to work with the Democrats).
Update: On Nov. 9, GOP Sen. George Allen conceded in Virginia, as did Sen. Conrad Burns in Montana, giving the Democrats a one-vote controlling margin in the Senate.
The spinning billiards included a neck and neck race for state attorney general, with Democrat Kathleen Falk, originally projected as the winner, falling behind Republican J. B. Van Hollen. This race was so slowly counted that both candidates decided to sleep on it. Less than 10,000 votes out of 2.1 million separated them but on Wednesday it was Falk who was declared the loser by the Associated Press. Recount talk was in the air given the half-point difference.
Update: Falk on Nov. 9 said she would wait for the official canvas (perhaps mid-November) to decide what to do.
Also disappointing to progressives was Wisconsin’s comfortable approval of two amendments deliberately put on the Nov. 7 ballot by the Republican legislature to defeat Doyle. It turns out, curiously, that voters approved a mandatory marriage amendment to the State Constitution and an advisory referendum to return the death penalty while re-electing the governor handily, and then picking a legislature unlikely to take that death penalty advice.
Clearly upsetting to many young voters who signed up to vote in droves – a record turnout for UW-Madison and a burst of new voters in Milwaukee – was passage of the marriage amendment, though clearly there was confusion at the polls about the meaning of yes or no votes.
The new voters will get their turn in the near future (if they are not too embittered by their elders) while Doyle, despite all these wedge issue shenanigans, actually improved his percentages from four years ago in both Milwaukee and Dane counties and then neutralized Green in his own home territory.
Opposition to the marriage amendment may have been set back by some last minute tactics to emphasize how confusingly it was worded, but the Fair Wisconsin campaign was most clearly hurt by Sunday pastors and priests who from the pulpits urged their congregations to render unto Caesar the choices that should be God’s.
In some ways, the election was a reminder of the power of money. Doyle had somewhat more than Green, which only led “issues groups” backing Green to become even more virulent in their ads, probably turning off a satiated public. Van Hollen had more money and outside groups than Falk, who had survived a costly primary against the incumbent AG, Peg Lautenschlager.
But in Wisconsin as well as nationally, the overall results represented a failure of Karl Rove’s much touted 72-hour pre-election blitz of sophisticated computed technology and paid privateers (some of whom are now under investigation for dirty tricks).
It turns out that the vaunted operation was not superior to the union, party and community volunteers, nor could it stand up to genuine anger about the direction of the Iraqi war, the homeland security gridlock on terrorism and hurricanes, the tax cuts for the wealthy that hardly trickled down, the continuing legal and moral scandals and the general incompetence and paralysis of the Republicans in charge.
Two races in the Milwaukee area helped wrest control of the state senate from the GOP – and both were nail-biters given the way the returns came in. John Lehman, an Assembly veteran seeking to move up to the open District 21 senate seat, seemed far behind in early returns until the full vote gave him a comfortable 53-47 percent win out of some 60,000 votes over Racine’s well-heeled county exec, William McReynolds. Lehman’s District 62 Assembly seat was won by former AFT organizer Cory Mason, but two other labor-backed Assembly candidates lost – Tim Daley in District 63 and Stan Teplin, who for a while ran ahead of former meteorologist Jim Ott in the Mequon area District 23.
Counting glitches delayed results in the crucial Milwaukee-Waukesha Senate District 5 before Jim Sullivan, strongly backed by a two-county labor coalition, ousted Tom Reynolds by 2,453 votes. Helping was the lopsided two-to-one win in Assembly District 13 by David Cullen, who shared the victory party with Sullivan.
In Senate District 31, Kathleen Vinehout bumped GOP veteran Ron Brown by 3 percentage points while many Democrats went to bed not knowing they had a likely fourth pickup in District 23 where Pat Kreitlow was leading veteran Republican character Dave Zien by a scant 1,000 votes.
The turnout was remarkably high for a midterm election and, with the notable exception of the Falk squeaker, the extent of the Democrat fever was reflected in a probable win no one predicted. A frequent candidate and AFSCME Milwaukee County worker, Dawn Marie Sass, seems likely to be the state’s new treasurer, with an 8,000 vote lead over GOP incumbent Jack Voight.
Control of the US Senate depended on final results in Montana, which Democrat Jon Tester finally won, and Virginia where Jim Webb, who seemed too far behind a few months ago against a potential GOP presidential candidate, incumbent Allen, actually ended the race with an 8,000 margin – out of 2.3 million votes cast.