In The News
Listen to the street: The Underdogs are rising!
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted September19, 2012
What's driving local elections has not been much reported. It's not as simple-minded as those virulent TV commercials used to outline partisan positions on news shows. What is truly happening is a frustrated public, a desire among everyday people, not people stigmatized with labels, to get things done and not sheepishly marry the ever-narrowing social agenda that has taken over the Republican Party.
Down-ballot, beneath the presidential race for Obama and the US Senate race for Tammy Baldwin, that longing for cooperation is palpable - the dream to elect people committed to the slow haul upward not the demeaning rhetoric downward. At the end of this article, we list how around the state there are a number of races that the media and the professional political hired hands are not paying attention to, but the voters are.
An irony not lost on many traditional conservatives is that the candidates radiating the courtesy and desire for cooperation are Democrats more than the current faction of the GOP. While their chances are clearly growing, they are fighting uphill in a vacuum of coverage.
It will be hard for Democrats to gain attention to win back the state legislature given the coverage factors. There is general fatigue over elections combined with citizen focus on everyday survival. There is a view that partisan gridlock has cemented most voters in place and there will be no movement before Nov. 6, though history demonstrates that is profoundly untrue when you drill down to cities and districts.
But sometimes this Olympus pronouncement from political science experts trumps attention to nuances. Add in, especially in Milwaukee, a profound media indifference to roundly informing and educating the public. Under the radar the longing for true cooperation and reform is clearly confounding the expectations of negativists who thought right-wing excesses, superior money, redistricting and other games would simply produce submission and subservience. Go on the street and you'll find something else - foment and potential upsets.
Redistricting is a partisan maneuver allowed the winning side every 10 years after the US census. But the GOP insisted that they were simply doing this time what the Democrats would have done to protect turf. That’s false. In modern history the Democrats never went so extreme with secret dealings and possibly illegal cabals, forcing courts to step in and redraw maps.
So now that hard right shift has been exposed. It has also spit out strange backfires for Nov. 6. The Koch-funded Tea Party disguised as the Republican Party, with its narrow party label, smells foreign to many Republicans who grew up thinking of themselves as Eisenhower Republicans or even Reagan era Republicans.
Listening to the harsh rhetoric about contraception, shoot at will, punish children of immigrants, never support a government program, never agree to a tax, never help people with pre-existing conditions -- listening to the attacks on public workers and on struggling single parents. on retirees who worked all their lives and active military who also don’t pay federal income taxes -- true traditional conservatives describe being "shocked" and "isolated." They feel sidetracked from their own party by the peculiar ugly new breed stealing their label. Neighbors once sympathetic to their political activism now chuckle over their gullibility.
Their children shake their heads over modern moderate parents duped by a brand name -- something the grownups always accuse the kids of falling for. And this time the brand is GOP.
By making Democratic districts even more Democratic to increase Republican volume in nearby districts, the Walker contingent offended more than the minorities further ghettoized. They offended more than the Democrats seeking a distinct voice in communities such as Greendale, Fox Point and West Allis where they know they aren't always a majority but could still fight to be one.
They also offended traditional GOP voters, several of whom grew up regarding the Democrats as the "dark side" but now know a swing is hardly as horrible as a Packers fan turning into a Bears fan. Not today, when a moderate hard-working Democrat is like the Republicans they used to support.
Not surprisingly, several Ds on the ballot don’t flaunt their party label even on their literature, just detailing how they are committed to creating jobs, raising communities and restoring schools to full strength - and talking across the aisle. They bill themselves as moderate progressives or even just flatly progressive, but their tone and demeanor are respectful and responsive to the communities they deal with.
One political adviser bluntly told her candidate to "talk frankly about what you believe, what you will do and how you will work with both sides -- and only then reveal your affiliation." A candidate pointed out to me that "even a Democrat can connect with conservative voters if you don't ask them to put up a lawn sign in a strongly Republican neighborhood."
"They no longer say they won't ever vote for a Democrat," another candidate said, "Even conservatives are tired of the polarization. In the privacy of the voting booth they are free to choose." Other candidates told me of people stealing up to them at places like the farmers' market and pledging support.
Little of this shows up for the bean-counters and money dispensers who dominate on both sides of the political equation. Several of these candidates are getting moral support but no active financial help from the state Democratic Party. They must rely on their own devices and doorway sweat, on independent alliances from like-minded groups, individual unions and volunteers. Since the numbers don't look easy for them, the side with less money has decided to be frugal.
Yet these Democrats have a distinct advantage over those official Republican candidates - it's called freedom. They can speak out without looking over their shoulder. Republicans running for office are clearly nervous about saying something at the doors that may make sense but doesn't fit the Tea Party playbook, which can get you drummed out of campaign money. Some GOP candidates are shackled by the right-wing tilt, knowing how many of their party's moderates were sidelined months ago for straying off the reservation.
Aside from worrying about social and religious principles they never thought of as the central Republican legacy, there is also the inertia of overconfidence given the PAC-MAN redistricting in Milwaukee County. It is a gobble video game that turned compact or familiar senate and assembly districts into bars or crescents floating across counties, seeking to gulp down chunks at the corners generally regarded as a Democratic stronghold. Where they win, expect the Republicans to crow that Milwaukee County is turning more conservative.
That myth would normally be a hard sell with fiercely progressive US Rep. Gwen Moore now striding even through the North Shore and nine progressive Democrats sweeping legislative races Aug. 14. But the GOP does have a secret weapon to sell the myth - media silence and indifference.
Any political combat and turmoil on the ground will not be covered in depth by local media - except for that token story with short bios a week or two before Nov. 6. That's why the candidates release their news to local and Internet outlets rather than deal with being ignored by the establishment media. That is why the citizenry that cares is turning more and more to smaller news outlets and social media.
They have learned that the corrupt establishment media in Milwaukee is in the service of the right-wing cause -- not just Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling on talk radio but in terms of political and education coverage the Journal Sentinel, whose managers daily tilt the agenda of even once-reliable reporters. It would require strong media attention to drill down beyond the president and senate to examine local races.
Yet a surge for Obama and Baldwin could change the coloration. GOP overconfidence in their own redistricting already has - it has resulted in campaign inertia and neglect of constituent service.
There is no overriding opposition to state Sen. Alberta Darling yet considerable heat within her Assembly districts. To the west and north, US Rep. Sensenbrenner is hobbled by injury and the GOP party machinery trundles along concentrating on Romney - missing much of what is really happening.
In Congressional District 1, Rep. Paul Ryan is in big trouble as polling numbers close on him – simply because of a strong opponent and little national boost in local feeling because he is the VP nominee. Rather than help his congressional race it seems to have exposed him to media scrutiny and unflattering descriptions even from his own party as an evasive exaggerator prone to fabrications and misstatements. Redistricting added retirees and veteran workers who deeply understand and detest his ideas about Medicare and Social Security. The door has been opened wide for opponent Rob Zerban, with echoes down the ballot for other Democrats.
The media can sniff away that the public won't miss much from their silence because most of the challengers to seats held by the Republicans or redistricted to add Republican areas are notable underdogs. What they are not covering is the possible along with the probable - and the human factors in play that deserve attention.
People are listening to more than sound-bites- so shouldn't the media?
WHO ARE THESE UNDERDOGS?
In the fight to take back the senate from the Democrats the Republicans are concentrating their big money on ousting Jessica King who won a recall and retains popularity even in redistricted District 18 -- and to hope that despite his clay feet in avoiding taxes GOP Tom Tiffany can beat newcomer Democrat Susan Sommer for the District 12 seat vacated by Democrat Jim Holperin.
They have overlooked how in the once comfortably red District 20, unpopular Glen Grothman is losing the grassroots battle to schoolteacher Tanya Lohr. Even in Senate District 28, teacher Jim Ward is making inroads against Mary Lazich.
Foment on the street the media is missing is stirring the Burlington area, particularly as home-grown Kelley Albrecht makes political and personality points against exposed ALEC henchman Robin Vos in Assembly District 63. Meanwhile, nurse Kim Peterson is fighting for attention in Assembly District 22.
In and around the larger Milwaukee area, the GOP assembly applecarts are being upset in terms of ideas and concerns at the street level. In Muskego, James Brownlow raises environmental obeisance to corporate bandits by the GOP names in the area to intrude on their stranglehold in District 83. Veteran teacher, hiker and community leader Kathleen Wied-Vincent is tirelessly opposing Jeff Stone at the doors in the Greendale area District 82.
Cindy Moore made a late start but now an active race out of District 15, West Allis area, where county supervisor Joe Sanfelippo thought he had a comfy walk on the GOP side to replace retiring Democrat Tony Staskunas. North of there in Districts 13 and 14 now straddling from Brookfield to Wauwatosa, Democrats John Pokrandt and Chris Lockwood are drawing attention.
Almost because of redistricting intended to protect the GOP, the North Shore is also vulnerable to knowledgeable Democrats – such as businessman Shan Haqqi in District 24 and particularly Whitefish Bay known Cris Rogers opposing long unopposed Republican Jim Ott in a new District 23 that includes much of Sandy Pasch’s old territory and some of US Rep. Gwen Moore’s new territory.