Robert Kraig
Op Ed

How to Elect a New Governor

We need a progressive, Bernie Sanders-style candidate.

By , Citizen Action of Wisconsin - May 30th, 2017 03:32 pm
Bernie Sanders. Photo courtesy of Bernie 2016.

Bernie Sanders. Photo courtesy of Bernie 2016.

Given Scott Walker’s abysmal record, anemic approval ratings, and the growing likelihood that 2018 will be a Democratic surge election, there is growing angst that elected Democrats are reluctant to throw their hats into the ring. As UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden told Governing magazine: “Democrats are really at a loss for what kind of person would even be competitive against Scott Walker.”

Driving this paralysis is a corrupt campaign system which has escalated the price of running for Governor by 400% since 2002. Walker is a new breed of super-charged conservative politician who has nationalized Wisconsin elections with support from right-wing billionaires, movement conservative donors across the country, and corporations seeking to cash in on legalized bribery. This formula helped Walker shatter all records in 2014, and he could spend $45 million in 2018.

Potential challengers are dropping like flies for fear they can’t compete with Walker in the corrupt money game. They are certainly right if they follow the old playbook prescribed by the Democratic consultant class, which has not changed dramatically since the days of Jim Doyle. The viability of the old model has been crippled by Walker’s assaults on union rights and other traditional Democratic fundraising bases.

What we need is a new playbook, and the most promising is a Wisconsin version of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. The conventional wisdom that it is impossible to compete without raising millions from corporate interests and rich donors was thrown on its head when Sanders raised more than Hillary Clinton.

If Wisconsin progressives adapt the Sanders model in 2018, they will be walking in the footsteps of our most revered political leader, “Fighting Bob” La Follette. Most don’t realize that La Follette won the Governorship by creating a new campaign model which overturned a big money system that campaign professionals of his age thought impregnable.

La Follette capitalized on growing public disenchantment with the abuses of early industrial capitalism, and a deep sense that the economy was stacked against workers and farmers. He appealed over the heads of political and corporate elites with fiery populist speaking tours that generated massive media coverage (reaching far more people than the speeches themselves), inspired the creation of grassroots voter contact operations in every corner of the state, and brought in new voters excluded from the old system. La Follette created an effective mass communication model for electing progressive candidates which spread across the country, generating two decades of state and national reform that laid the groundwork for the New Deal.

Sanders built a modernized version of this movement campaign model by capitalizing on a movement moment, where the public is hungry for transformational change, and the candidate is charismatic in a non-traditional sense (an anti-politician taking on the status quo, willing to speak truths which offend many elected Democrats).

Both the surge of new voters inspired by the Sanders campaign and the unprecedented democratic outpouring of the Trump resistance are signs we are in a movement moment. The moment is rooted in a growing awareness that the economy is rigged against average people on behalf of a tiny, ultra wealthy minority that increasingly controls our politics, our economy and our lives.

To capture this energy we need a much bolder agenda than any Democratic candidate for Governor has run on in years. Sanders did not run on the complicated half measures we often hear from mainline Democratic politicians. The safe poll-tested messages marketed by consultants fall flat because they don’t inspire and motivate or speak to the underlying desire for fundamental change. Sanders ran on free college tuition, breaking up the big banks, and Medicare for All. His clarity and boldness cut through the political clutter with a public hungry for real change, built huge crowds filled with new voters who felt included for the first time, and inspired an avalanche of small dollar donations.

This should not be confused with the way progressive “protest candidates” run for office. The Sanders model diverges sharply in leveraging new communications infrastructure needed to build on the memberships of organized progressive groups to construct a large scale voter contact operation, and to turn the enthusiasm generated by the campaign into small donations at the scale necessary to fund massive paid media. Too many progressive candidates talk themselves into a false choice between principled opposition to the corrupt campaign finance system and raising the resources needed win.

To stand in the ring with a corrupt big money politician like Walker, we must not only maximize small donor contributions in the state, we must galvanize progressives across the country the way La Follette did at the turn of the 20th century. As Walker is funded (in other words bought) nationally, the only way to beat him is to turn the 2018 Governor’s race into a national referendum pitting Walker, Trump, and Ryan’s vicious right wing agenda against an exciting progressive vision for what Wisconsin and America can become.

Robert Kraig is Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. He also served on the Democratic National Platform Committee in 2016 as a representative of the Bernie Sanders Campaign.

This column was originally published by the Cap Times.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

24 thoughts on “Op Ed: How to Elect a New Governor”

  1. Jason says:

    How does your party reach the rural vote? As Scott Walker keeps taxes at or less than they were in 2010 when he became Governor how does your Sander’s type candidate fight for the tax payer? Will you storm Madison again a P.R. night mare for your party? A recent Washington Post/ABC poll has 2/3 of participants claiming that Democrats are out of touch, how do you turn that around. Lastly, can a Bernie Sander’s type candidate work in a state budget that needs to balanced each year or will they go the way of Illinois and bankrupt the citizens of our neighboring state.

  2. Vincent Hanna says:

    Who benefits most from Walker’s tax cuts Jason? That’s how a Sanders type fights for the taxpayer, by pointing out the simple fact that Walker’s tax cuts mostly help the rich and that he eagerly picks up the phone when he thinks a Koch brother is on the other line. Polls also show that voters prefer Democrat policies over Republicans by a very wide margin. You can keep saying we’re not as bad as Illinois (WOW!) but we also aren’t nearly as good as Minnesota.

  3. Vincent Hanna says:

    Here’s the message a Sanders type could hammer home:

    For decades, politicians had been spewing empty platitudes of praise for “the heartland,” “real America,”, and “small-town values.” Then, with shameless hypocrisy, they supported the very policies that helped destroy thriving small towns.

    Corporate elites said they needed free-trade agreements, so they got them. Manufacturers said they needed tax breaks and public money in order to keep their plants operating in the United States, so they got them. Banks and financiers needed looser regulations, so they got them. Employers said they needed weaker unions – or no unions at all – so they got them. Private equity firms said they needed carried interest and secrecy, so they got them. Everybody said they needed lower taxes, so they got them. What did these towns get? Job losses, slashed wages, poor civic leadership, social dysfunction, drugs.

    From Brian Alexander’s new book about Lancaster, Ohio, “Glass House.”

  4. Jason says:

    Vince, under both Republican and Democratic governors property taxes skyrocket from 1976-2010. Walker has froze property taxes, cut property taxes and even froze UW System tuitions for college students and their parents. For every one Koch brother, there is a WarrenBuffett ,Bill Gates, George Soros, Bloomberg and Mark Zuckerberg backing Democrats. You actually protect the five riches Billionaires, yet your party never asks to take from their wealth. Our side will protect the income tax providers. Your side protects the billionaires that pay no income taxes.

  5. Vincent Hanna says:

    Ah yes back to your tic and mention of George Soros, etc.., who have nothing whatsoever to do with the subject at hand. So what if those guys back Dems? We are talking about Scott Walker, the governor of the state we live in. Those guys aren’t relevant. Stop tying to change the subject. It doesn’t help your argument. See the book excerpt above. That’s what your “side” is all about and who they protect. The rich and the filthy rich. All those tax cuts have done nothing to make Wisconsin thrive economically Jason. Because you don’t cut your way to growth and blue states do much better than red ones.

    You are beyond delusional if you think Republicans are protecting the average Joe.

  6. Jason says:

    Scott Walker would thank all the Illinois business for moving to Kenosha. Democrats have run the Illinois houseof Representatives for a decade and what do the numbers say? In 2002, the average Illini household owes public servants $7, 600 to their pensions in 2016 each house hold owes $27,000 to public servants. It would be a kin to the Milwaukee County pension gold rush over the last decade at the local, county and state level. Democrats support millionaire bureaucrats.

  7. Vincent Hanna says:

    Saying we aren’t as bad as Illinois is the same as saying the Brewers aren’t as bad as the Padres or the Packers aren’t as bad as the Browns. And? It’s one state. Compare us to the 40 or so states that are in better shape. Your arguments are pathetic and worthless.

  8. Janice says:

    Lee Sherman Dreyfus had an effective campaign model, based on very little money, a lot of charisma and a bus. It can be done.

  9. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    It’s well past time for good old-fashioned truth-telling that calls out the failed, pro-corporate garbage that has left this state and especially Milwaukee behind.

    Last week, the “gold standard” jobs report showed a 70% DROP in job growth in 2016. Just today, this report hits “The largest year-over-year decrease in employment occurred in Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wis. (-4,700).”

    And yet the MMAC and WMC and other oligarchs say “Things are great in Wisconsin, we want,more tax cuts and wage suppression.”

    Stop the Madness. FIRE the WMC, MMAC, and their GOP puppets in the Capitol

  10. WashCoRepub says:

    Perhaps the Dems can import an out-of-state activist to run against Governor Walker, as they’re doing with Paul Ryan… I don’t think the “sky-is-falling” meme is getting much traction from the Doom Crew (mostly public employees still furious about getting their rich bennies trimmed a tad).

  11. Steve G says:

    ‘Free Tuition’ isn’t free to you and me!

    “…national referendum pitting Walker, Trump, and Ryan’s vicious right wing agenda against an exciting progressive vision for what Wisconsin and America can become.”
    Become what?
    A false utopian society that will end up a failure for sure, because you always run out of other people’s money?
    How exciting and progressive!

    Don’t forget, not all of the Sanders voters stayed home.
    Many voted for Trump.
    He ran against the establishment status quo as well.

  12. Steve G says:

    One more thing.

    Hillary didn’t care enough to even show up in my home state.

  13. Vincent Hanna says:

    No doubt that was a huge mistake on her part Steve. I understand how you feel about progressives. That’s quite clear. But can you address what Alexander says in the excerpt above? Is he wrong and if so how?

  14. Steve G says:


    I actually agree with Alexander’s points.
    And do put the blame on the globalist ‘corporate elites’.
    Special Interests (including unions) hold way too much sway in federal and state governments.
    They for sure are not looking out for the little guy.
    And they ‘persuade’ the establishment politicians (like Ryan, McConnell, Pelosi, Reid, etc) to go in their direction via PACs and big $$ support.

    Plenty of those folks on both sides of the aisle.
    I say throw them all out. Or at least term limit them.

    I’ve often wondered how it is that virtually every senator and long term congress members retire quite a bit more wealthy than when they assumed office.

    So now you know where I stand on corrupt politicians, unions and other special interests.

    Both Trump and Sanders ran on populist messages and against those special interests.

    Frankly, I think had Sanders had a fair shot at the nomination, he might have squeaked past Trump in the general.
    His rallies were as big as Trump’s oftentimes. He certainly had most of the young new voters.

    I would never have voted for Bernie personally because he’s a socialist which I believe is antithetical to the America I know and remember.

  15. Vincent Hanna says:

    Alexander specifically draws a line between Friedmanism and the present situation. And of course we are now learning that Trump was all talk, which really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

  16. Steve G says:

    Too early to tell on Trump but he’s certainly swimming upstream against the Dems, GOP and the entrenched Deep State.

    He’s already wealthy so I don’t think special interests are going to change his direction.

  17. Jason says:

    Mr . Kraig is that picture of you ten years old or have you discovered where the fountain of youth is that Ponce De Leon could not find.

  18. Vincent Hanna says:

    Oh I see Steve you’re one of those purists who lives in denial. His wealth has nothing to do with it. It’s about power and ego. I can’t imagine you are that naive. It’s really not too early to tell.

  19. Wis. Conservative Dgiest says:

    Bring them on, the Left never learns. All their Leftie ideas screw the working people, in Wisconsin, and they lose their votes. They want jobs, money to pay there mortgage, car payments not more idiot social schemes, that raise taxes to give money to those that will not work, catch and release for criminals and stupid programs that never work. Concentrate on jobs, economy and the Leftwing schools try teaching kids to read.

    Please, please, please, keep whining Lefties, love to hear Hilalry make dumb excuses for failing to connect with the working people in wis.

  20. Steve G says:

    What the hell does ‘purists who live in denial’ mean?

    Show me a national politician in recent history who doesn’t or didn’t have a big ego (self confidence is required for success) or doesn’t use political power to reach their vision. Unfortunately the rules have changed. Statesman no longer prevail because the progressives have taken the whole system into the gutter with their divisive identity politics approach to win (at all costs).

    My point regarding Trump is that he (like Reagan) is anti-establishment and will need to fight on all fronts in order to achieve the vision he laid out in the campaign.

    All this talk about 40% approval ratings for Trump is just a smoke screen to mask the decidedly lower approval ratings for the Congress and Press.

  21. Wis. Conservative Dgiest says:

    40% is BS. Same polls showed Hilalry winning by 12 points. Fact is that draing the swamp of the sleaze in DC creates controversy.

  22. Steve G says:

    Wis. Conservative :

    Agreed. It likely is BS, but it’s not going to be easy.

    On the other hand, one has to admire his commitment to the task at hand.

    Especially when compared to his admittedly ‘lazy’ predecessor.
    (just opened the flame proof door) 😉

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