Monday, July 18, 2005

The Five Best Democrats in Wisconsin

Inspired by all the talk of bipartisanship in the wake of Gaylord Nelson's death, I have taken it upon myself to engage in an unpleasant mental exercise – picking the best Democrats in Wisconsin. For the time being, I will ignore Ann Coulter's admonition that "there are some bad Republicans, but there are no good Democrats," and pick people who I believe most effectively carry the message of the Democratic Party. Xoff at Wispolitics.com , their in-house Democratic blogger, told me he would try to come up with a “Best Republicans” list, which I am sure he finds equally as unappealing.

Aided with the input of others, I set out on this monumentally difficult task to serve as a guide to who I believed best represented the Democratic Party in the state, in terms of honesty, integrity, and reasonableness. I made it my mission not to pick Democrats that I agreed with on certain issues, because then it would just become a list of “Most Conservative Democrats,” and who really cares about that, right? For that reason, I have specifically excluded pro-life Democrats, as they would quickly fill my list and make it meaningless. In fact, the more you disagree with me, the stronger case you have for being on the list.

The fun part of doing such a list is having to defend people that you normally would never support. When weighing possible additions to the list, it was akin to “would you rather be seen driving a Pinto or a Gremlin?” or “would you rather set fire to your own eyeballs or staple your lips to a zamboni machine?”

The parameters are as follows:

Honesty – Is this person genuine in what they believe, or are they overtly political? Do they say one thing and do another? Do they have ulterior motives behind their actions?

Integrity – How strong is their rhetoric? Do they criticize the other side constructively, or are they just partisan bomb throwers? Is there any moderation in their tone (not necessarily their positions) or do they merely criticize actions by Republicans as a knee-jerk reaction?

Reasonableness – Does this person strike you as someone that you could work with on issues and would give you a fair hearing? Even if they disagree, would they make an effort to understand your side?

With those criteria in mind, here is the final list from 5 to 1: (drumroll, please…)

5. Julie Lassa – State Senator, Stevens Point

Independent, and seems as though she would be easy to work with. Limits comments to what she believes in, rather than resorting to attacking Republicans. Broke with Governor Doyle and most other Democrats to override Doyle’s veto of “concealed carry” legislation, which shows she has a mind of her own. Vigorously defended her own integrity against ads linking her to Chuck Chvala. A leading contender for Dave Obey’s seat when he finally petrifies. Obliterated a Democratic primary opponent for her Senate seat (66% to 33%), despite her opponent spending over $400,000 and being backed by Doyle. Cute as a button.

Side note: The 2002 Alex Paul/Julie Lassa primary campaign was set to go down as the most disastrous primary in state history, until it was eclipsed two years later by the 2004 Mary Panzer/Glenn Grothman primary (80% to 20%). Seriously, this is like Mark McGwire breaking a 40 year old record by hitting 70 home runs, and Barry Bonds hitting 73 three years later.

4. Kathleen Falk – Dane County Executive

I had to type her name onto the list while holding my nose. Former Public Intervenor and potential Attorney General Candidate, currently serves an executive role in Dane County. Has positioned herself as a Democrat who understands the need for fiscal restraint – imposed her own “property tax freeze” parameters and has stuck by them. Very measured in her tone and rhetoric, and exudes professionalism. If she gets in the AG race, she will beat Peg Lautenschlager by a margin that resembles a U.S. versus Zaire Olympic “Dream Team”score.

3. Herb Kohl – U.S. Senator

How can one state have such two different Senators from the same party? While Russ Feingold is a self-congratulatory media hound with national aspirations, Herb Kohl quietly goes about his business. Has become the state’s most popular political figure, with Tommy Thompson gone. While Feingold serves his true constituents (nationwide editorial board members) Kohl bleeds Wisconsin. Proof to all the hyperventilating DC politicians that your popularity isn’t commensurate with the number of press releases you issue. Absolutely bulletproof – in the U.S. Senate as long as he wants to be. Will never receive another serious GOP contender in a state willing to elect Republicans statewide.

2. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin - 2nd Congressional District

Can you remember the last inflammatory thing Tammy Baldwin said? A stalwart left winger who coats her positions in frosting to appeal to her constituents outside the Isthmus. Likely shares many of the positions that the looniest left wingers do (see her part in “Fahrenheit 911”), without the obnoxious rhetoric. From all accounts, a friendly, kind and genuine person. A regular at veterans’ events. I can’t imagine being any more diametrically opposed to someone, but for some reason I can’t shake the feeling that I don’t mind Tammy Baldwin being my Congresswoman. It just doesn’t make sense, and I might seek therapy as a result.

1. Spencer Coggs - State Senator, Milwaukee

On his way to being the pre-eminent African American political figure in state politics (if he isn’t already). Calm and reasoned, fights hard for liberal causes and ideals without using flame-throwing, over the top rhetoric like Gwen Moore, Lena Taylor, and others. Showed his independence by ripping his leadership over being left off the powerful Joint Finance Committee, a position he held in the Assembly. Senate Republicans are missing an opportunity to pick up an ally on certain social issues if they don’t reach out to Coggs. A Republican will never win his seat, so what harm does it do for him to look good in his district while helping Republicans on a vote here and there?

Just missed the list: State Representative Sheldon Wasserman, Milwaukee, and Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee

Up-and-comer: State Representative Jason Fields, Milwaukee

Notables Not on the List:

Governor Jim Doyle - On my tentative list for a while, but I couldn't justify it with his actions on the tribal gaming compacts, which don't pass the ethical smell test. To have the tribes support your campaign financially to the extent that they did, then to turn around and give them an unlimited expansion of gambling in perpetuity is shady, regardless of whether you think there should be expanded gaming or not. Has not kept his word on not balancing the budget with tax increases, instead shifting the tax burden to property taxes. Otherwise, seems like a decent guy, despite his slipping poll numbers.

U.S. Senator Russ Feingold - I took a lot of heat for not including him on the list, as some have completely bought his line of being an "honest maverick." In the movie "Singles," Steve (played by Campbell Scott) approaches a woman at a bar, and tells her that he'd really like to meet her, but he really doesn't have a smooth "act." She promptly points out that his "not having an act" is his act. Feingold's not having an act is his act. He rolls up his sleeves and shows up at hearing session after hearing session, but his mind is clearly elsewhere. The only place more dangerous than being between Feingold and a microphone is between Ricky Williams and a bag of marijuana.

Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager - One word: Wow. Only elected official whose approval rating is lower than her blood alcohol level. From a previous column:

Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager’s comical attempt to personally prosecute North Woods Shooter Chai Vang has sparked more ideas for character rehabilitation for the AG. It has been announced that Lautenschlager will re-open the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial later this month. Lautenschlager also has plans to exhume the skeleton of Jeffery Dahmer to collect on some old parking tickets.

U.S. Representatives Ron Kind, Dave Obey, and Gwen Moore - No, Hell no, and God no.

Keep in mind I would, under no circumstances, support any of these individuals with my vote, and I would encourage everyone to vote against them if you get a chance. If you have any suggestions or want to rip me, feel free to e-mail me or comment below. If I get anything good, I'll post it. I'm actually most interested in hearing from Democrats, to see if I got it right.

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Other Lists:

As I said, in formulating my list, I solicited input from others. Discussions ensued, and my team of advisors submitted their lists to me. Here they are, with limited comments.

Advisor A:

5. Tony Staskunas, State Representative, West Allis
4. Bobbie Gronemus, State Representative, Whitehall
3. Julie Lassa, State Senator, Stevens Point
2. Peggy Krusick, State Representative, Milwaukee
1. Jeff Plale, State Senator, South Milwaukee

Comments: Note that Advisor A had no qualms about putting pro-life Democrats on the list (I think there are three). A quote: "Whether you are pro-life is inextricably linked to whether you are honest and whether you have integrity, so it is impossible to leave them off a list where you are judging those characteristics."

Advisor B:

5. Amy Sue Vruwink, State Representative, Milladore
4. Annette "Polly" Williams, State Representative, Milwaukee
3. Sheldon Wasserman, State Representative, Milwaukee
2. Mark Miller, State Senator, Monona
1. John Steinbrink, State Representative, Pleasant Prairie

Comments: Advisor B has a different tactic, saying that their favorite Democrats were ones that seemed nice but were completely ineffective in promoting Democratic legislation.

Advisor C:

5. Julie Lassa, State Senator, Stevens Point
4. Tammy Baldwin, Congresswoman
3. Jim Doyle, Governor
2. Kathleen Falk, Dane County Executive
1. Russ Feingold, U.S. Senator

Comments: Advisor C was more within the spirit of the exercise, but the pick of Feingold is inexcusable.