Op Ed

Does La Follette Believe in Democracy?

Secretary of State for 40 years, he calls his primary challenge "a nuisance.”

By - May 8th, 2018 10:53 am
Doug La Follette. Photo from the State of Wisconsin Blue Book 2017-18.

Doug La Follette. Photo from the State of Wisconsin Blue Book 2017-18.

It’s disconcerting to hear Secretary of State Doug La Follette, politically speaking the highest-ranking genetic heir of Wisconsin’s greatest governor, call a primary challenge against him a “nuisance.”

Having served more than three decades in the office he currently occupies, La Follette recently recognized that a Democratic primary challenge coming from Madison Ald. Arvina Martin is acceptable, albeit annoying from his perspective. “I respect anyone’s right to run for office,” La Follette said. “That’s how democracy works. But it’s too bad Democrats have to argue among themselves.”

That sort of tone should be rejected by members of the party, and beseech them to push the “pause” button before endorsing La Follette for another term in office. His statement, describing Martin as a hindrance, doesn’t help his candidacy at all, and creates the appearance of an air of hostility on his part toward the institution of democracy itself.

Granted, La Follette posits the caveat of “that’s how democracy works” in his statement, suggesting that he’s well aware that it’s a necessary burden he must endure to get re-elected. But the declaration from the current secretary of state can be likened to the reaction you might have when a friend prefaces a statement with the words, “No offense, but…” (which is typically followed up by something truly offensive).

In other words, La Follette’s contention, while recognizing that the way our democracy is set up often requires him to fend off a primary challenge, laments the very ideal he’s trying to say he supports.

La Follette is also hypocritical: He did, after all, win his second term of office as secretary of state by challenging another Democrat in the race, the late Vel Phillips, who had won the position four years before, after La Follette attempted a failed run at the position of lieutenant governor. Were he consistent, he’d have welcomed a challenge to himself in the race, perhaps endorsing the idea that he’s the better option to choose from, but not knocking the notion of voters having multiple options either.

The debate we have right now is misguided. The two candidates on the Democratic side of the ticket should be highlighting ways in which to revitalize the office, to make it an effective and strong check within the executive branch of the state. Instead, the most attention paid to this race so far is over the primary challenge itself. La Follette’s remarks have added fuel to that fire, making it more difficult to have an honest discussion of policy over the empty substance of a horse race.

All of this is to say that I may still end up supporting La Follette. I’ve voted for him in the past, and had every intention of supporting his renomination, and eventual re-election, this year. But what was once a sure measure of support is now a questionable one, and it’s due entirely to the statement discounting his primary challenge as a problem. That kind of rhetoric isn’t needed in the Democratic Party, and La Follette, more than anyone else, should know better.

This column was originally published by the Cap Times in Madison. 

Chris Walker is a Madison-based writer.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

2 thoughts on “Op Ed: Does La Follette Believe in Democracy?”

  1. Matt says:

    Sounds like someone asked him a question and he gave an honest answer. You might think primaries are not expensive, are never destructive, and don’t distract working officials from doing there job. But that would be silly.

    So he told the truth. You don’t like it so you interpret his words and read his mind to deduce some foul motive. Alas. Nice try though.

  2. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    We know Walker and the Republicans don’t. They believe in authoritarian control and domination.

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