• WisPolitics

Saturday, June 14, 2008

 1:44 PM 

At least four eyeing leadership of Assembly Dems

Regardless of the outcome in November's elections, Assembly Dems are going to need a new leader.

The question is whether it will be a speaker for the first time in 14 years or -- once again -- a minority leader.

At least four candidates have emerged to lead the caucus next year with current Minority Leader Jim Kreuser, D-Kenosha, leaving the Legislature now that he has been elected Kenosha County executive. Kreuser will remain in his legislative role through the end of this two-year session, but a team of Assembly Dems is working now to lead the party's efforts at re-taking the Assembly.

Should they pull that off, state Reps. Pedro Colon of Milwaukee, Fred Kessler of Milwaukee, Jon Richards of Milwaukee and Mike Sheridan of Janesville are all eyeing a run at speaker. All four were at the convention this weekend and spoke with WisPolitics about their interest in leading the Dem caucus, which went from 39 members after the 2004 election to 47 after the 2006 election.

All four expressed confidence about their chances of re-taking the Assembly for the first time since losing control in the 1994 elections, though they cautioned it was not a given.

Colon, a member of the Joint Finance Committee, said the Dems' next leader needs to be able to deliver on issues like health care and education while being prepared to deal with a series of challenges, including a difficult economic picture.

He said while eager to run for speaker, he also realizes the challenges facing the next caucus leader.

"We haven't been in the majority for a long time, so the next leader is really going to set the tone for Democrats for the next four, maybe six, maybe eight yeas, if that were to happen," Colon said. "It's an incredible responsibility."

Kessler, who's making his third go round in the Assembly, said he would be "flattered to be speaker."

He said he tried to convince his colleagues in 2006 that they had a chance to take over the Assembly and felt if leaders had followed some of his suggestions, they could have pulled it off. He said he played a "major role" in seven of the eight seats that Assembly Democrats picked up two years ago and two of the Senate seats the party won.

Kessler faces a complaint by the Office of Lawyer Regulation stemming from his wife's campaign for the state appeals court. He said it was "such a minor thing" that it wouldn't hurt his candidacy for a leadership spot and said he expects to be exonerated in the end.

"I am a person who has a set of values that I'd like to see implemented," Kessler said of his motivation in running for Dem leader.

Richards has spent the past five years as the Assembly assistant minority leader and cautioned the focus now needs to be on winning the majority, not who might lead the caucus if that effort is successful.

He said the public is tired of inaction by the state Legislature and the next Assembly Dem leader needs to have a "strong compass in terms of what they believe in" as well as the ability to put together a legislative agenda that can keep Dems in the majority for years to come.

"I think someone who is workmanlike and can demonstrate that they can get things done, those are the types of things that we need in a leader, and I think those are the types of things that I bring in the caucus," Richards said.

Sheridan recently retired from General Motors in Janesville and is set to leave his post as president of the United Auto Workers. He said he remains hopeful that GM will decide to keep the Janesville plant open with a new product after deciding it would shut down its SUV line there by 2010. But he admitted it would be an uphill battle.

He said he'd be honored to lead the caucus, if his fellow Assembly Dems believe he has the skill and ability to do the job.

"I tongue in cheek say that we're just like this big, dysfunctional family. I don't mean that in a bad way," Sheridan said. "You're dealing with a lot of different personalities. I've had to do that within the UAW and General Motors and have great skills in that area. I get along with everybody, Democrats and Republicans. It'd be an opportunity to really change the way politics are played in the state of Wisconsin."

Listen to the interview with Colon.

Listen to the interview with Kessler.

Listen to the interview with Richards.

Listen to the interview with Sheridan.

-- By JR Ross


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