Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

State Democrats Could Sink Still Lower

Yes, they’re at a historic low. But things could get worse.

By - Dec 8th, 2016 12:41 pm
Tony Evers and Tammy Baldwin.

Tony Evers and Tammy Baldwin.

To get a picture of just how low Democrats have sunk in Wisconsin, you might start with the Republican margin in the Wisconsin Assembly, where they now have 64 members compared to 35 Democrats. The media has noted this is the biggest margin for Republicans since they had 67 representatives in 1957, but that’s actually far worse than it sounds, because the Democratic Party barely existed back then. During the entire first half of the 20th century the battle was mostly between stalwart Republicans and Progressives, with the Democrats almost like a third party. So for Democrats to sink to the level of the 1950s is to hit the very bottom, when the party was beginning to be reborn.

Republicans have all the marbles, including a 20-13 margin in the Senate, the positions of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and treasurer, and a 5-2 conservative majority in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Democrat Doug La Follette still serves as Secretary of State, but the position is meaningless, as the office was stripped of all power and most of its funding years ago.

The only official of any power in state government not thinking conservative Republican thoughts is Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers. Yes, the position is non-partisan, but Evers is sympathetic to teachers unions and willing to oppose the administration of Gov. Scott Walker on key education issues.

Evers is up for reelection this spring and you can expect Republicans to go all out to defeat him. “Now’s the time to continue to get what they can,” Republican lobbyist Brandon Scholz crowed to the Wisconsin State Journal.

For decades, the state teachers’ union, WEAC, had great success getting their candidate elected superintendent. But the end of collective bargaining has left the union greatly diminished, with far less ability to fund elections and marshall supporters.

And you can expect dark money from voucher supporters to come pouring into Wisconsin to take out Evers. “I do believe there is likely to be some national money in this race,” said Dodgeville School District administrator John Humphries, who is running against Evers. “School-choice advocates are going to be a very important player,” he told the paper.

Humphries and former Beloit School District superintendent Lowell Holtz are eyed as the candidates who support school vouchers, American Federation for Children’s Wisconsin lobbyist Justin Moralez told the State Journal. The federation spent heavily on the November legislative races and will undoubtedly do the same for this election.

And the challengers, aping Trump, “can paint Evers as the establishment who has done nothing,” as Scholz declared. Evers, in short, could face a very tough election.

Meanwhile, you might think Walker is vulnerable in 2018. The most recent Marquette University Law School Poll showed his approval rating at just 42 percent, and his rating has been slumping (in the high 30s to mid-40s) since his reelection in 2014. But recall that Sen. Ron Johnson’s approval rating was even worse and after way outspending Democrat Russ Feingold in the final months of the election, Johnson still won.

Moreover, we’ve yet to see a powerful Democratic challenger to Walker emerge. Former state senator Tim Cullen says he is running, but it remains to be seen how strong a candidate he will be. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele told me he’s not interested and businesswoman Katherine Gehl told the Journal Sentinel she won’t run. Other possible candidates were listed by the Cap Times, but it’s not the most formidable assemblage.

The reality is the Democratic Party has a very weak bench. They have been so decimated in the legislature that the talent pipeline has shrunk. And while the gerrymandering that helped create this situation has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal court, the chances that the U.S. Supreme Court (with a new Trump appointee) will uphold the decision don’t look great.

Next to be targeted by Republicans will be Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. She was elected in 2012, a presidential year, but will be running for reelection in 2018, a mid-term election when the Democratic turnout (particularly of minority and college student voters) is always lower. The Hill picked Baldwin as one of 10 Senate seats that could flip in 2018.

Two possible opponents are Northern Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy, a rising star in the party (who recently declared that Madison is a “Communist” city and then laughed about this with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson). Another possible challenger would be Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, whom GOP operative Chris Rochester salutes as “incredibly likable, genuine, sharp, and steeped for years in the issues at the forefront of Wisconsin voters.” A rather different take on her was offered here.

Republicans seem to expect so many possible opponents to Baldwin that a GOP primary is likely. Yep, everything’s coming up roses for the party these days. It remains to be seen if the moribund Democrats have any kind of strategy to turn around the party.

Update 2:30 p.m. December 9: This story originally suggested Tim Cullen was likely to withdraw from the race due to health problems. Cullen has contacted me to say  “That is 100% not true. I pursue this effort, calling people, meeting with people almost daily… looking to a formal announcement early next year.” Sorry, Tim. My apologies for the error.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

14 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: State Democrats Could Sink Still Lower”

  1. WashCoRepub says:

    Just when I thought my day couldn’t possibly get any better!

    BTW, kudos to Mr. Murphy for working in two biased verbs replacing ‘said’ in the same piece. Two Republicans ‘crowed’ and ‘declared.’ Now if he’d worked in ‘chirped,’ that would have been the trifecta.

  2. Bruce Murphy says:

    I’m not sure there’s much use replying to an anonymous entity with a fake email, but I leave it to readers to decide if those uses were “biased” or simply descriptive. Indeed, I think one might say this anonymous commentator has just “declared” something and his/her/its first sentence sounds like crowing.

  3. SteveM says:

    That’s because ponder, deprecate, or expostulate just don’t quite seem to fit Mr. Scholz’s demeanor…or WCR’s vocabulary!

  4. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    The reason they are, where they are, are the entries on this site most of the time: LOSERS>
    They have ignored the working people of this country, favor of Global warming, toilets, min wage, nutty economic ideas and redistribution, instead of creating wealth. As long as they do thes things they will never go anywhere. Hell, they cannot even teach kids in third grade tor had.

  5. Bill Kurtz says:

    I agree that the state Democrats are in pathetic shape, but one thing could bail out Tammy Baldwin and help their candidate for governor (Dana Wachs?) in 2018: The usual midterm swing working against the GOP. Trump already has higher disapproval than approval, and he hasn’t even been inaugurated yet! And I can’t imagine him becoming more popular, with the chaos I expect in Washington.

  6. duncan says:

    It’s a sad reality: There is no end in sight for the Democrats’ plight. Wisconsin has turned to a red state, full stop. The court case on redistricting may make a slight difference, but not enough to tip the Senate or Assembly. Sen. Baldwin will lose in 2018, you can bet the house on that.

    I do very much believe the protests and recalls of 2010 set WI on the GOP path, and their message of cutting taxes, services, and compensation for all public employees, and especially teachers has .. simply won enough of the public over to have majorities for, well, likely decades.

    It takes a certain world-view to accept that we need government and taxation for the public good, and the majority of Wisconsinites aren’t there any more. — The same could be said about the entire US.

  7. JJY says:

    A native Wisconsinite, I recently emigrated to Minnesota from Madison. There is a stark contrast between the Twin Cities and Madison (my favorite city). The economy is doing well here, with many decent paying jobs across the labor spectrum; the Arts are booming; immigrants are welcome. Of course, there are tensions–work to be done certainly– but generally things get done with much work from all sides.

    There are so many fine people in Wisconsin–politicians working hard to make things fair. Democrats working hard to make things fair (Republicans?). It seems every time I believe there can be progress to stem the financial onslaught of Republican money and influence, instead of getting better, things just get worse. The Walker Republicans should just build a wall around the state, erect a sign and label it a money making factory for themselves.

  8. tim cullen says:

    Reports of my demise are premature!! I pursue making the race every day calling people, meeting with people, etc. The formal announcement will come in the early part of next year. I feel great and grateful for that. TFC

  9. Virginia says:

    Duncan: “Wisconsin has turned to a red state, full stop.” That’s true in terms of legislative bodies, but not in terms of overall votes for respective parties.

    That’s why the outcome of the gerrymandering lawsuit is so crucial. It seems the only potential tool for a rise in fairness and real representative power at this time.

  10. duncan says:

    Sorry, Virginia, but perhaps you didn’t notice not only Trump, but also Sen. Johnson won state-wide.

    Wisconsin has gone red.

  11. Virginia says:

    I’m aware of this election’s results. However, there are still many indicators that Wisconsin remains a very “purple” state. Although the gerrymandering lock indeed seems overwhelming for potential fairness.

    But what happens if the GOP policies continue to gut the state? Their policies are not producing desirable results except for a few.

  12. John says:

    And yet, the strongest Democratic candidate with the greatest national attention is David Clarke.

  13. duncan says:

    Virginia, I’d like to know what your “many indicators” are that WI is a purple state, that somehow over-rides the Nov16 election results that plainly show the GOP thumping all state-wide Democrats.

    We agree that GOP policies are ruinous in the long term.

  14. Wally Graeber says:

    Wondering if voters would welcome a young candidate rooted in agriculture, children, our environment and local economies?

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