• WisPolitics

 5:33 PM 

WisPolitics.com straw poll: WisDem conventioneers favor Clinton for president, Sanders close second

Democratic Party of Wisconsin conventioneers backed Hillary Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination next year, while Bernie Sanders finished a strong second, according to a WisPolitics.com straw poll.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma was favored in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary straw poll.

Clinton drew support from 252 of the 511 delegates, alternates and registered guests who voted in the straw poll. Sanders was backed by 208, while Vice President Joe Biden and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley tied for a distant third with 16 votes each.

Clinton was also the favorite of activists at last year’s convention, taking almost 55 percent of the vote in the WisPolitics.com straw poll.

In the governor’s race, Vinehout drew 149 votes, while Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse was second with 89 votes and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind of La Crosse was third with 85.

Vinehout, in her third term as a state senator from western Wisconsin, was weighing a 2014 bid for governor when she was involved in a car crash and decided against a run as she recovered from her injuries. She also sought the party’s nomination in the 2012 recall attempt of Gov. Scott Walker, finishing a distant third in the Democratic primary with 4 percent of the vote.

State Dem officials said 1,590 delegates, alternates and registered guests attended the convention.

See the full release.

-- By Staff


 4:54 PM 

Laning: We're going to win and win big

New Dem Chair Martha Laning promised Dems are going to "win races and win races big in the future" under her leadership.

Speaking with reporters for the first time as chair, Martha Laning said the house of cards Republicans built has begun to fall down around them because of a series of misplaced priorities.

"It's time we send that message in a values-driven way," Laning said.

Laning has worked for companies such as Target Inc. and led the effort to raise and build a $4.6 million community center in her home county of Sheboygan. She ran for the 9th Senate District in fall, but lost with 40 percent of the vote.

She said she would make chair her full-time job and plans to take a salary in the position. Laning said she did not know what the salary would be. A check of the party's federal campaign finance reports shows former Chair Mike Tate was paid $122,496 over the past year.

While Laning has experience fundraising and as a Senate candidate, she has not run a statewide campaign or political organization. She pledged to bring in "the people that have the skills that you need" to round out her team at the party. Laning said she would talk to "our customers" to get feedback on the party and did not expect any immediate staff changes.

Going into the convention, the race was largely considered a three-way contest between Laning, DNC member Jason Rae and former state Chair Joe Wineke. The day before the convention commenced, a fourth candidate, former state Rep. Jeff Smith, dropped out and asked his backers to support Laning.

Laning again said she did not offer Smith a job in exchange for his support and promised to begin the process of reaching out to others after a contentious race that included deep divisions, particularly between the Laning and Rae camps.

"That’s my job," she said. "I’m going to reach out to everybody and say what has happened is in the past, and its time to move forward."

-- By JR Ross


 4:37 PM 

Republicans slam 'same rejected rhetoric'

State GOP spokesman Chris Martin, responding to the Dem message of this weekend's convention, slammed "the same rejected rhetoric that has lost them election after election."

“Rather than present hard-working Wisconsin families with ideas to move the state forward, Wisconsin Democrats continue using divisive attacks that contribute nothing to a productive dialogue,” Martin said.

-- By JR Ross


 4:12 PM 

Laning elected chair

Martha Laning was elected chair of the state Dem Party with 721 votes.

Jason Rae was second at 428.

After announcing the results, outgoing Chair Mike Tate handed over the gavel to Laning, who takes office immediately. 

She thanked her supporters and then gaveled out the convention, telling delegates she will see them at next year's convention in Green Bay.

The rest of the vote totals for state chair were: Joe Wineke 191 votes, Steve Smith 6 votes, Jeff Smith 3 votes.

State Rep. David Bowen was elected 1st vice chair. He ran as a ticket with Laning. Party rules require gender balance between the chair and vice chair. Because Laning won the chair's race and Bowen was the only man in the race, he was the only one eligible.

-- By JR Ross


 3:22 PM 

The last vote has been cast

Party spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said the last ballot has been cast for state chair.

The ballots are now being counted by hand, and Baldauff says it will probably be 90 minutes until a winner is announced.

The latest tally for attendance is 1,321 delegates, 71 alternates and 198 guests. Only delegates were eligible to vote, though alternates would be raised to delegates if their county's full allotment of delegates did not show up.

-- By JR Ross


 2:39 PM 

Milwaukee Assembly Dems want more details on Bucks deal

Assembly Dems from Milwaukee say they’re still digesting the proposed Bucks package and need time to decide if they support the concept.

But they have largely already come to one conclusion: No matter how the final package looks, it wouldn’t be enough to win their support of the budget on final passage if it remains as is.

“I will never support that budget,” Rep. Christine Sinicki said, declining further comment until the delegation can meet next week.

Some of the Milwaukee Assembly Dems interviewed today said they’re not ready to back the deal because they have yet to see the package put into writing and get a fuller explanation on it.

“Senate Democrats and Assembly Democrats have not had a seat at the table in negotiations,” Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa said.

Rep. Dan Riemer said he would be more comfortable with the public dollars that would go to the arena if Republicans and the guv would accept federal Medicaid money to expand the program through the Affordable Care Act. He also has concerns Republicans will attach conditions to the package that would lower wages for those who work on the project, noting past proposals to create right-to-work free zones in Milwaukee, for example.

Leggie Republicans are still weighing whether to include the package in the budget or break it out into standalone legislation.

The latter, many believe, would require Dems' support for passage. Rep. Evan Goyke said he wants to see more details before he saying if he would support a standalone bill. But the effect on Milwaukee schools in the budget as drafted, for example, would prevent him from voting for that document even if the Bucks deal was included. That includes a plan that would allow for the takeover of failing Milwaukee schools.

“I want to see an arena," Goyke said. "But what’s the point if our schools are devastated?” 

Some believe if the hangup is in the Senate, that chamber could take up the budget first without the arena deal. Then when the document was sent to the Assembly, members of that house could vote to add the arena package as an amendment with Dem support and send it back to the Senate for a straight up or down vote on the amended budget. The theory, some say, is that would give senators some cover on the arena deal because it would be in the budget without them putting it there. Others question if that would truly shield anyone from attacks over backing legislation that included the deal.

Rep. Fred Kessler said if it came to a vote to add the package to the budget as an amendment, backers would have to address his concerns over things such as collecting outstanding debts to cover $4 million a year in county payments.

Rep. Josh Zepnick said in addition to the collection of outstanding debts, he has concerns about turning over county land for next to nothing to be part of the possible development around the arena. He wants assurances that minority businesses, for example, would win some contracts on the arena and that more than just bars and restaurants are included in the business corridor around the project.

“I would love to get to a point where we should not only keep the Bucks, but have a fair deal for Milwaukee taxpayers,” Zepnick said.

-- By JR Ross


 11:04 AM 

Time for recess

The convention will come back at 11:30 to announce the raffle winners, and the window for voting will open at 12:30 p.m.

Anyone in line at 2 p.m. will be allowed to vote via paper ballot. Those votes will be hand counted, and it's unclear when the results will be announced.

-- By JR Ross


 11:04 AM 

Stephen Smith calls for teamwork

The party's focus must be on working together toward a common goal of taking back the Legislature and governor's office, chair candidate Stephen Smith said.

He said that is why he has avoided slinging mud in his campaign.

"I kept my stones to throw at Republicans," Smith said.

And if he is elected, he said, he will commit to raising an additional $550,000 every two years so the party can give $5,000 to every Assembly primary winner and $10,000 to every Senate primary winner. He said he has a reputation for making the calls to raise money, and he intends to continue that as chair.

"Now is the time to stop the conservative frenzy changing our state into something we don't recognize," Smith said.

-- By Chris Thompson


 10:57 AM 

Wineke: 'I want to be the Aaron Rodgers' of the Dem Party

Joe Wineke says he wants to be the Aaron Rodgers of the Dem Party, promising to "throw deep" and go on offense against the GOP.

Wineke, who previously served as chair, said he comes with the experience of having won elections and will not need on-the-job training if elected. He also promised if Dems don't win in 2016, he would not come back to the party in 2017 to seek re-election, and Wineke laid out three principles he said should define the party compared to Republicans.

One, Dems should always be for public dollars going into public schools while Republicans back vouchers and privatization. Dems should always be for the average person, while Republicans cater to the rich and powerful. And Dems hould be the party of equality.

"The Republicans don't just pander to prejudice, they practice it," Wineke said.

-- By JR Ross


 10:52 AM 

Rae touts his experience

Saying the party does not have time for on-the-job training in the chair position, Jason Rae said his experience makes him the best candidate.

He said he has spent more than half his life working for the Democratic Party and knows what it takes to make it stronger.

"Our job as volunteers, activists, community leaders is to form the foundation of the team that will take Wisconsin back," Rae said.

That means focusing on schools, living wages, access to health care, environmental protections and ensuring that everyone has a right to vote, he said.

"What I bring to the table is this: a deeper commitment to the Democratic Party and its values than anyone else,"  Rae said.

-- By Chris Thompson


 10:44 AM 

Laning: Time to elect proud, progressive Dems

Martha Laning, the first chair candidate to address the crowd, told delegates it's time to elect proud, progressive Dems up and down the ticket.

She said the state has a proud progressive tradition.

“Today we are seeing that slip away," she said. "Our progressive values of opportunity for all, respect for others, fairness and fair play are but a distant memory. We need to stand up for them."

Laning was introduced by former Rep. Jeff Smith, who dropped out of the race Thursday and encouraged his backers to support his one-time rival.

Smith told the delegates it was "time to stop rattling sabers toward other Democrats" and to channel their anger and frustration "into one might sword of justice and turn it on the real wrongdoers who control the Capitol in Madison."

-- By JR Ross


 10:35 AM 

LeClair promises to ask tough questions

Dottie LeClair promised to offer honesty, integrity, leadership and experience if she is elected first vice chair.

She said she has experience running campaigns, running for office, volunteering and leading her county party. And, LeClair said, she will continue to push the party leadership to explain decisions, make rules clear and let everyone know where their money is going.

"I am not afraid to ask the tough questions to get answers," she said.

-- By Chris Thompson


 10:28 AM 

Bowen: I work in the most depressing place for Dems -- the state Capitol

State Rep. David Bowen, who's running for 1st vice chair as a ticket with Martha Laning, said he works in the most depressing place for Dems -- the state Capitol.

The Milwaukee lawmaker, who was elected last fall, noted Dems have their smallest caucus in the Assembly since the 1950s.

"Our stagnation has allowed them to enforce budgets that are penny stupid and pound foolish," he said.

-- By JR Ross


 10:24 AM 

Parisi calls on Dems to step up

Dane County Exec Joe Parisi dropped out of high school but found opportunity when he was ready to accept it, he said.

Parisi said he now runs a county government with a budget at more than $500 million and with more than 2,000 employees.

But those types of opportunities are not as available in a state under the leadership of Gov. Scott Walker and GOP leaders, Parisi said. He said signs of that lack of opportunity are seen in the shrinking middle class and in "tax-funded giveaways" to corporations that ship jobs overseas.

"But a state suffers and people suffer when opportunity is available only to those at the top of the economic ladder," Parisi said.

He said Dems can rise up together and recognize that the party's diversity is its strength.

"It is time for Democrats to step up," he said.

-- By Chris Thompson


 10:22 AM 

Bernard Schaber promises change in structure, message, success rate

Penny Bernard Schaber, the first 1st vice chair candidate to address the crowd, promised to change the party's structure, message and success rate if elected.

Bernard Schaber, a former Dem lawmaker from Appleton, is running as a ticket with Jason Rae and told the crowd they have energy, drive, passion and imagination.

If elected, she promised a "strong, value-drive message that tells people why we are proud to be Democrats and encourage them to be Democrats, too."

-- By JR Ross


 10:15 AM 

Nelson rips GOP leadership

Outagamie County Executive Thomas Nelson ripped into Gov. Scott Walker and GOP leaders for damaging Wisconsin.

"Instead of leading and bringing people together to solve our problems," Nelson said, "the governor and GOP Legislature have picked fights."

He said the state has enacted policies that have sent UW researchers and faculty outside of Wisconsin and humiliated women with forced ultrasounds. Nelson said Walker and GOP leaders brag that those types of policies are changing the face of Wisconsin.

"They have not changed the face," he said. "They have disfigured it."

But Nelson said Dems can change course for Wisconsin.

"We didn't pick this fight," he said, "but we can win it.

-- By Chris Thompson


 10:15 AM 

2nd vice chair, secretary, treasurer elected unopposed

That party has filled three offices via voice vote because the candidates were unopposed.

Jeff Christensen and Meg Andrietsch were re-elected second vice chair and secretary, respectively. Party Treasurer Michael Childers did not seek another two-year term, and Randy Udell was elected without opposition for the post.

We're now onto the speeches from first vice chair and chair candidates.

-- By JR Ross


 9:50 AM 

Harris looking at bid for 18th SD

Winnebago County Exec Mark Harris, who lost a bid for the 6th CD last fall, said he is exploring a run against GOP state Sen Rick Gudex in 2016.

"I'm very worried about the direction they're taking the state," he said.

In 2013, Harris flirted with a bid for guv before later settling on the congressional race, which he lost with 40.9 percent of the vote.

Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, is the Dems' top target in 2016. He won the seat, which covers an area that includes Fond du Lac and Oshkosh, by 600 votes in 2012.

-- By JR Ross


 9:44 AM 

We're back

Gary Hawley of the Credentials Committee just gave us the latest numbers: 1,099 delegates, 60 alternates and 57 guests. Registration remains open until 11 a.m.

-- By JR Ross


 9:14 AM 

Delegates recommend change to chair elections

The delegates approved recommending the party adopt an instant runoff system for future state chair races.

Under current party rules, there is one vote held with a simple plurality needed to win. With a four-way race today, that means a candidate could win with 26 percent of the vote, and some have complained about what they believe has been a divisive race.

The resolution urges the Administrative Committee to implement an instant runoff system anytime there are more than two candidates in the race for chair.

Under that system, delegates would rank their preferences. If it were in place today, that would mean ranking them one through four. If a candidate won more than half of the votes cast for first preference, that candidate would win. Otherwise, the candidate receiving the fewest votes is eliminate. That votes of that candidate's supporters are then assigned to the person they ranked as their second preference. The process would continue until someone breaks the 50-percent mark.

  -- By JR Ross


 8:47 AM 

Delegates adopt series of resolutions on school choice, labor issues

The delegates got the debate rolling by signing off on a series of resolutions that include opposing public money for private schools in the voucher program, opposing the repeal of the prevailing wage and urging the reversal of a series of GOP priorities.

The resolutions were approved with unanimous consent.

Other resolutions include:

*reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, which was repealed in 1999.

*investing in broadband.

*opposing drug testing for unemployment compensation and assistance programs.

*supporting applying the Social Security tax to all earned income; it now cuts off at $117,000.

*repealing the mining law Republicans pushed through in 2013.

*allowing undocumented residents to obtain a driver's license.

*repealing the voter ID law.

*supporting legislation that would require candidates to raise at least 85 percent of their campaign contributions from Wisconsin.

*and requiring free access to all C-Span channels.

We're now onto several resolutions that were broken out for separate discussion.

-- By JR Ross


Friday, June 05, 2015

 10:07 PM 

Now to the hospitality suites

The convention has officially moved to the hospitality suite portion of the evening.

Russ Feingold is doing his usual sloppy Joe setup, while Tammy Baldwin has a made-in-Wisconsin theme, including New Glarus beer.

Others having hospitality suites include Gwen Moore, the ADCC/SSDC and the state chair candidates other than Stephen Smith.

Tom Nelson has something planned in the morning.

And with that, we're done for the night. We'll be back at 8:30 a.m. with the resolutions debate.

-- By JR Ross


 9:49 PM 

Feingold calls for return to Wisconsin that 'honors everyone's work' as he slams Johnson

Russ Feingold tonight called for returning to a Wisconsin that honors everyone’s work, criticizing U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson as someone who lectures his constituents and is happy to sacrifice state jobs “at the altar of his personal ideology and his corporate friends.”

Feingold, who has announced plans to run against Johnson next year, said instead, he would listen to the residents of Wisconsin, visiting all 72 counties by the end of this year and doing it again in 2016.

He slammed Johnson for calling job losses “creative destruction” and being willing to shut down the government “and outsource it like a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin” because he doesn’t like a health care law or immigration order.

Feingold also knocked Johnson for opposing government-assisted student loans and favors cutting Pell Grants because not every child needs to attend college.

“You know what that means?” he asked. “It means when he looks at your children he thinks ‘what opportunities do they need to be useful to me?’” Feingold said. “I look at your children and think ‘what opportunities do they need to be useful to themselves and their families?’”

The crowd responded with a change of “We want Russ.”

“It’s good to be back,” Feingold responded.

The former three-term senator was the final speaker on the opening night of the state convention, and most of the speakers who preceded Feingold sang his praises while urging the crowd to return him to the Senate.

The party also set up Friday night as an opportunity for Feingold to reintroduce himself after largely being out of the public eye since he lost to Johnson in 2010. He struck many of the populist themes that were his trademarks while in office and levied a series of digs at those who he said don’t respect the average Wisconsin worker.

He called for rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, which he said means prioritizing access to broadband. He compared it to the electrification of the country in the 1930s that helped America’s rural communities. 

Feingold also criticized “secretive trade deals that are sold on the false promise of elusive global profits” and knocked what he said was “the relentless mocking and personal attacks” by some ultra-wealthy and powerful on the hard work Wisconsinites do. He compared it to a GOP attack on voting rights, saying it was an effort by the powerful to “make people feel defensive about their work” as part of a cynical political strategy.

“For too long Republicans have tossed aside Wisconsin’s tradition of respect,” Feingold said. “For too long they’ve talked down to so many of us from their perch of privilege. For too long, they’ve ignored people’s daily efforts to provide for themselves and create opportunities for their families.”

Feingold also laid out a six-year plan to return Dems to power. He said that begins with winning back his old Senate seat, keeping Wisconsin in the Dem column for the presidency next year, and making progress in the Assembly and Senate, where Dems are now in the minority.

He said 2018 will be about re-electing Tammy Baldwin to the Senate, electing a Dem guv and continuing to make gains in the state Legislature.

Then, by 2020, they will help elect Dem majorities in both houses of the Legislature and “return to the great Wisconsin traditions of cooperation and progress.”

-- By JR Ross


 9:23 PM 

Kaine highlights difference between Dems, GOP

Dem U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, of Virginia, boiled down the difference between the two parties to one sentence.

"Democrats like high-turnout elections; Republicans like low-turnout elections," said Kaine, the former mayor of Richmond who was elected governor in 2006 and to the U.S. Senate in 2012. He also was the chair of the Democratic National Committee from 2009 to 2011.

Kaine said that difference between the parties shows up over and over again. He cited voter identification, immigration debates, campaign finance changes and the "psychological disenfranchisement" generated by super PACs that he said direct money to a "torrent" of negative ads that lead Americans to say "why bother."

He said that difference is part of a larger strategy by Republicans to reduce turnout. Kaine said he believes the approach began after Barack Obama was elected president.

"This is not an accident," he said. "This is not a coincidence. This is a carefully thought-out plan."

He said that makes the 2016 elections even more important. Dems, Kaine said, cannot engage in the negative back-and-forths that send voters away. Rather, he said, Dems should represent the "happy warrior party," telling the stories of what they have accomplished and how they can do more.

"Folks, this isn't just about elections," Kaine said, "it's about what Democracy means."

-- By Chris Thompson


 8:52 PM 

Baldwin: Dems can't re-take the Senate without Feingold winning next fall, says Walker had 'Todd Akin moment'

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin told the crowd the 2016 race for Wisconsin's other Senate seat can't come soon enough to put Russ Feingold back in the chamber.

She praised Feingold, saying both voted against the Patriot Act more than a decade ago due to their concerns over civil liberties. She also said Feingold always stood up for the state's history of manufacturing and "I want Russ with me to make sure Wisconsin workers don't get screwed by another bad trade deal."

Baldwin ticked off a list of what she said were misplaced GOP priorities such as refusing to "lift a finger" to help protect women from pay discrimination and repeatedly trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. She noted fellow Dem Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia was here to address the convention and they will vote down the worst GOP proposals.

"But if we want to stop this right-wing rampage once and for all, we need to win back the Senate majority, and we can’t do that without winning back this seat," she said.

Baldwin also knocked Gov. Scott Walker for comments he made this week when asked about adding exceptions for rape and incest to pending legislation that would ban abortion after 20 weeks. Walker said, "it's in the initial months where they’re most concerned about it" as he said he'd sign the bill regardless of whether the exceptions were added.

Baldwin called that a "Todd Akin moment" and said that gave the nation a "sneak peek at the ugly side of Scott Walker's ambition."

“He said that, out loud, and people across the country were shocked and appalled. But that’s the Scott Walker we here in Wisconsin have come to expect," she said.

-- By JR Ross


 8:35 PM 

Moore calls for a Dem gold rush

Telling Dems that they have to dig for gold before the 2016 elections, Congresswoman Gwen Moore urged the party to work tirelessly to end the "nightmare" of Republican leadership.

The gold, she said, includes voter apathy, the state's youth, organized labor and women who are disenfranchised with laws that limit their control over their own bodies.

"When you leave here tonight," said Moore, of Milwaukee, "if anyone asks you who you are, you tell them, 'I'm a gold digger.'"

She said that this week, she thought back to everything that has happened since the elections in 2010 that put Scott Walker in the governor's office and sent Russ Feingold home. She walked through many of the big changes in the state since then, such as Act 10 and right-to-work.

"In weather terms, the condition for progressives was stormy and grim," Moore said.

But there is hope, she said, and 522 days until the 2016 election to turn that hope into reality.

-- By Chris Thompson


 8:16 PM 

Pocan: Wisconsin Dems need to make sure rest of country knows the Walker they know

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan urged Dems to make sure the rest of the country understands the Scott Walker they know, saying he looks reasonable to others when compared to the rest of the GOP field.

Pocan charged Walker has attacked working families in Wisconsin by destroying collective bargaining rights, attacking private sector workers through right-to-work and is "shrinking our paycheck" by going after the prevailing wage.

Amid all that, he's proposed huge cuts to the UW System and K-12 education while showing disrespect to women by restricting their health care choices. All the while, she said, Wisconsin is last in the Midwest for job growth.

"That's the Scott Walker we have to make sure the rest of the country knows because Scott Walker is selling out Wisconsin's future for his own political ambitions," he said.

Pocan got in a shot on the GOP field, joking Netflix plans a new version of "House of Cards" called "Jokers Gone Wild." A picture flashed on the screen with "House of Cards" star Kevin Spacey with a joker's hat on.

Pocan then had pictures put on the screen of the actors who would play the GOP field. That included: Grandpa Munster of "The Munsters" as Ted Cruz, Ricky Ricardo from "I Love Lucy" as Marco Rubio and Cruella DeVil from "101 Dalmatians" as Carly Fiorina. He joked George W. Bush would play Jeb Bush playing George W. Bush and Alfred E. Neumann would play Lindsey Graham. Then screen also showed a picture of Jabba the Hutt from from "Star Wars" as Chris Christie.

"Now that's not nice," Walker said of the Christie comparison.

Pocan finished by showing a pair of flip flops that he said would play Walker.

The lawmaker noted Walker has been on several trade missions lately, including one to Canada next week. Pocan said prior to that, Walker's most extensive foreign policy experience was a family trip to the Epcot Center.

"This is embarrassing for Wisconsin and our country," Pocan said.

-- By JR Ross


 8:00 PM 

Tate gives final report as chair

In his final report to the party, Mike Tate summed up the Dems' circumstances under Gov. Scott Walker by quoting Winston Churchill: "If you're going through hell, keep going."

"The rise of Scott Walker and the tea party has not just held us back," Tate said, "but left too many families behind."

Tate acknowledged the party's struggles in the past five years, He said the reasons for those losses are complicated and cannot be attributed specifically to turnout or candidates.

"I'm even told that in some places on the Internet," Tate said, "it says this is all my fault."

He said, though, that those struggles have strengthened the state party, which has reached a record 15,000 members. And he highlighted the party's wins, such as sending Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate and re-electing Barack Obama.

He insisted the party is witnessing the rebirth of the progressive movement and is poised to reclaim the Legislature and governor's office.

And the person elected tomorrow to replace him and lead that movement, Tate said, needs the entire party to rally around. He said each candidate — Martha Laning, Stephen Smith, Joe Wineke and Jason Rae — is a "great Democrat."

Tate, 36, closed his final report by thanking the party for the time he has spent as chair.

"Words can't express," he said, "the gratitude I feel for being able to match my love with my labor for the past six years."

  -- By Chris Thompson


 7:29 PM 

Barrett brags about his city, urges party unity after chair's race over

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett bragged about his city this evening, telling delegates it's a great place and touting its successes.

"Don’t listen to what they’re saying in Madison, don't listen to conservative talk radio," Barrett urged. "This is a great city, and we want you to come back and treasure the largest city in the state."

Barrett, who was twice the party's nominee for guv and lost in a three-way primary in 2002, said he's always enjoyed his statewide runs.

"I say I love the entire experience except for the last 10 minutes," joked Barrett, who lost to Scott Walker in 2010 and 2012.

The mayor said pundits and some legislators continue to talk down Milwaukee. But he said thousands of people are moving back downtown, many of them young and young at heart. He said the Menomonee Valley has seen a rebirth and the city is becoming the world leader in freshwater research.

"We are proud of the fact that we can have economic growth and you can respect the environment at the same time," Barrett said. "They are not mutually exclusive."

Barrett then made a plea with delegates, saying it's been an exciting race for party chair. But the party needs to congratulate the winner, come back together and move on once it's over.

"I want us all to remember we are one family, we are on family and we’re here to improve the quality of life for every person in this state," he said.

-- By JR Ross


 7:19 PM 

Shilling rallies Dems to undo GOP's damage

With the crowd yelling "check," Senate Dem Leader Jennifer Shilling listed the areas in which she said Republicans have harmed the state.

"We must understand the damage Republicans have done," said Shilling, of La Crosse. "You name it, they've harmed it."

The job of Dems, Shilling said, is to correct those problems in areas such as public education, the UW System, health care, worker training, the environment, and voter and women rights.

"We have gone from the heartbeat of the heartland to having our Democratic values on life support," Shilling said.

She acknowledged Dems have "taken our lumps" in the past five years, but she insisted there is hope for the party and opportunities in elections in 2016, 2018 and 2020. She said it is crucial Dems retake control in the Senate before the 2020 redistricting vote.

"Get ready to dust yourself off," Shilling said, "get up and get back to work."

-- By Chris Thompson


 7:04 PM 

Shankland: 'Let's not wave the white flag'

Assembly Assistant Minority Leader Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point urged Dem activists to keep their hopes up, remain motivated, close ranks and to rally harder.

Shankland, filing in for Minority Leader Peter Barca, said Republicans are fighting for out-of-state billionaires, while Dems are in the trenches on behalf of every-day Wisconsinites, and it is no time to give up the fight.

"These are moments that define us," she said. "Let's not wave the white flag."

Shankland told activists some feel disenchanted because the people who have been elected to power don't believe in government and are trying to break it while persuading the public "it's not possible to fix it."

Dems, she said, have to inspire people by showing the party is on their side. That includes standing up for the rights of women while Republicans "turn painful personal medical decisions into talking points" and standing up for kids while Republicans "dismantle neighborhood schools" to scratch the backs of out-of-state donors.

In the face of that challenge, Shankland said she's often asked by those she meets if they should give up hope.

"There is no room in my heart for hopelessness," she said. "There is no greater risk than staying quiet."

-- By JR Ross


 6:32 PM 

Hillary Clinton sends her regards

Hillary Clinton sends her regards.

2nd Vice Chair Jeff Christensen, who was giving the convention an update on the postmortem the party did on 2014, took a moment to read a letter Clinton sent after being unable to attend this weekend.

Clinton wrote she looks forward to "visiting soon." She also promised to organize in all 50 states and territories, adding she is committed to building the party.

“That means doing what you do best, registering voters, inspiring volunteers and getting the message out about the values we hold dear as Democrats," she wrote.

Clinton also wrote the "deck is still stacked for those on top" and promised she wouldn't take anything for granted as she runs.

-- By JR Ross


 5:57 PM 

The straw poll is open

WisPolitics.com will again be conducting a straw poll this weekend, asking about the Dem presidential primary next year and the race for guv in 2018.

Here are the questions:
If the Wisconsin Democratic primary for president were held today, whom would you support?
Joe Biden
Lincoln Chafee
Hillary Clinton
Martin O’Malley
Bernie Sanders
Jim Webb

If the 2018 Democratic primary for governor were held today, whom you support?

Peter Barca
Ron Kind
Tom Nelson
Joe Parisi
Jennifer Shilling
Kathleen Vinehout

Delegates, alternates and registered guests are eligible to vote in the poll, and both questions have a write-in option.

The poll closes tomorrow.

-- By JR Ross


 5:52 PM 

We're here

The WisPolitics.com operation is officially up and running.

One program note for this evening. Party officials say Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca will not speak tonight after his mother passed away this week. Assistant Minority Leader Katrina Shankland will replace him in the speaking lineup.

In addition to the previously announced speakers for tonight, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will also address the convention.

-- By Staff


 11:22 AM 

Single ballot planned for Dem state chair with plurality winning office

Winning this weekend's state party chair race could take as little as 26 percent of the vote.

That's because a simple plurality is needed in the four-way race with only one ballot to determine the next chair.

"I can tell you it is a very high level of interest for the first time that anyone can remember going back 30, 40 years," outgoing Chair Mike Tate said during a recent WisPolitics.com luncheon.

Here is a short overview of how the race will be run and who's eligible to vote:

*Only delegates at the state convention who are in good standing are eligible to vote. County parties sent in the names of their delegates to DPW several weeks ago, and those who applied faced a deadline last month to make sure they were in good standing with the party, which includes making sure their dues are up to date.

*Each county is assigned a number of delegates to attend the convention based on results in the previous fall's election, and there is a maximum of 2,223 slots for delegates. If more party members apply to be delegates than there are slots available, each county can choose its own system to designate delegates. Those who are not named delegates can still attend the convention as alternates.

*Dane and Milwaukee counties -- by far -- have the largest allotment of delegates, according to a list from the state party. Dane County has a maximum of 305 delegates, while Milwaukee County has 299. Brown County is a distant third with 87, while Waukesha County has 77 and Racine County 74. Dane and Milwaukee counties account for more than one-fourth of the vote alone.

*If delegates do not show up at the convention, alternates who are present are elevated to delegates.

*Registration runs Friday and Saturday morning between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. Those in line to register by 11 a.m. will be allowed to vote. Open delegate slots will then be filled by alternates.

*The vote is scheduled to run from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. Each campaign is allowed four election observers in the room while votes are counted.

*The new chair takes office immediately after a victor is declared.

"The transfer of power is about 90 seconds long," Tate said, "which some question if that is the best modus operandi for handing over what is essentially a multimillion-dollar-a-year corporation, but that's how we do it."

Editor's note: This post has been updated to correct it's now a four-way race and 26 percent could win.


 11:21 AM 

WisPolitics.com interviews with Dem Party chair candidates

Ahead of this weekend's Dem convention, where four candidates are now vying to head the party, WisPolitics.com interviewed the candidates for chair about their platforms, their views on the party's electoral future and their thoughts on campaign financing.

Read below for excerpts and click through for complete summaries of their interviews, which were conducted the week of May 26. Jeff Smith, who has since dropped out of the race and endorsed Martha Laning, was still a candidate for chair at the time of these interviews.


Laning, 50, was born and raised in Wisconsin and lives with her husband, Wayne, in Sheboygan. She graduated from public schools and went to UW-Madison, where she earned an undergraduate degree and MBA in finance.

Q: What is the platform you're running on for state chair?

Laning said she believes the state is "going in the wrong direction" and that the Dem party and its values are the keys to correcting course.

"The way I believe our party can turn things around," she said, "is we need to first create values-driven messaging that really resonates with our voters and helps get a message out to voters across the state that we believe that there should be opportunity for all and responsibility and fairness."

She said she also wants to find ways to improve voter turnout and strengthen the Dem party.

"I want to bring people together, all the different Democrats that are working for our progressive values out there," Laning said. "And I want to do things that help them get our message out in our communities year round and also help us identify great legislators that can help us build a stronger Wisconsin."

She said she does not "like the fact that money is in politics at all" but understands the importance of strong fundraising.

"And that's the rules we have to play by," Laning said.

Read more from Laning's interview


Jason Rae, 28, said he started volunteering for candidates in and around his native Rice Lake before he could vote. Later, he ran for and won a 2004 campaign to represent Wisconsin at the national convention, becoming at age 17 the youngest person elected to the DNC.

Q: The party now has the least number of seats in the Assembly since the 1950s. Knowing the maps Republicans drew in 2011 will be in place for the remainder of this decade, what would you do as chair to begin winning back seats in the Assembly?

Tate said expanding voter engagement and bringing more people into the party would make a big difference in Assembly elections.

"I know that the Republicans have gerrymandered the maps to the point that it will hurt Democrats," he said "But if we are out there expanding who we're engaging with, and making sure that we're bringing more people in, I think that will help us get a really great opportunity."

He also said it was important to plan ahead and look a couple election cycles into the future.

"When I win on June 6, if we're not starting to talk already about the election 2018 and 2020, I think we're severely behind."

Read more from Rae's interview

NOTE: About a week after this interview, Smith dropped out of the race and endorsed Laning for chair

Jeff Smith, 60, served in the state Assembly for two terms -- winning elections in 2006 and 2008 -- before losing in the 2010 GOP wave.

Q: The party now has the least number of seats in the Assembly since the 1950s. Knowing the maps Republicans drew in 2011 will be in place for the remainder of this decade, what would you do as chair to begin winning back seats in the Assembly?

"First of all, I really never accept the excuse that we can't win, because they've gerrymandered the district," Smith said. "With that attitude, then we are forever going to be in the minority because that means we're waiting for something to happen. It's not going to happen unless we make it happen."

He said Dems can win back seats by listening carefully and finding common ground to communicate with constituents. In the past, he said, there have been operatives from urban areas coming in to communicate with rural voters, which he said can sometimes be problematic.

"They've determined that our messaging should be pretty much the same all across the state, and it doesn't necessarily work that way," he said.

He said his working-class background as a window cleaner gave him a different perspective on work and on talking to voters. He said his work -- which included climbing ladders, carrying things and sweating all day -- meant he showered after work.

"When we have persons who shower before work determining our messaging and how to talk to people, I'm going to tell you, from my own experience, sometimes it seems rather offensive to someone like me when they tell me how hard they're working for me, when I know I work harder than they do."

Read more from Jeff Smith's interview


Smith is a 64-year-old retired businessman living in Shell Lake. He owned a school bus company and a retail store. He served in the Assembly one term. He said he has been active in getting Dem candidates elected since 1974.

Q: What would you do as party chair to build the Dem bench for statewide races? And what do you need in a candidate to win back the guv's office in 2018?

Strengthening the bench goes back to becoming more involved in April elections, he said. The majority of legislators started out in local governments, and that's where the focus must be, he said.

"In order to have good future leaders, candidates, we need to help people get elected at the local level," Smith said. "If we get some progressive majority at the local level, we'll be able to point at what good governing looks like, not just talk about it.'

He said taking back the governor's office depends on conducting a complete, statewide campaign. He cited U.S. Tammy Baldwin's election in 2012, saying her numbers in Waukesha County were better than the average Democratic candidate, and that pushed her to victory.

"You have to win in all the nooks and crannies in the state of Wisconsin," he said.

Read more from Stephen Smith's interview


Joe Wineke, 58, was the chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin for four years and a division administrator in charge of collective bargaining under Gov. Jim Doyle. He spent 10 years in the state Assembly, six years in the state Senate and three years on the Verona City Council. He still lives in Verona.

Q: The party now has the least number of seats in the Assembly since the 1950s. Knowing the maps Republicans drew in 2011 will be in place for the remainder of this decade, what would you do as chair to begin winning back seats in the Assembly?

The Dems need a strong message, Wineke said.

"We have allowed the Republican Party to define us as Democrats," he said. "We have not come strongly back beyond our criticism of the governor and the Legislature into explain to people in a simple way what Democrats will do for them if they vote for them."

That message, he said, touches on economics, equal rights, tax fairness and making sure public money goes to public schools.

He said redistricting didn't help Dems, but there is more to it than that.

"I would argue, though, it was the Democrats in '09 and '10, when they had the governor and both houses of the Legislature that failed to pass redistricting reform," he said. "So we can't blame the Republicans completely. We have to look in the mirror."

Read more from the interview with Wineke


Thursday, June 04, 2015

 5:52 PM 

Jeff Smith asks supporters to support Laning in Dem chair race

Former Rep. Jeff Smith this afternoon posted a letter on his Facebook page asking his supporters to back Martha Laning for state party chair.

"I am excited for the potential that a new leadership style will bring to our party and to working with a team dedicated toward a true progressive Wisconsin," he wrote in the letter.

Smith did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone.

Over the weekend, Smith sent delegates a separate letter promising to make Laning the party's executive director if he won the chair's race.

In that letter, Smith wrote delegates have suggested he and Laning former a partnership to “take the party back from the professional consultants and insiders who seem determined to maintain their control.”

Laning said she was "shocked" at the letter, and Smith said it was intended to start the process of bringing the party back together after “a very contentious campaign."

In today's letter, Smith said the party needed to unite, and it was crucial the next chair have the support of a majority of delegates.

"We need to be able to restore trust and build confidence to make the Democratic Party of Wisconsin effective and return to the path of success," he wrote.

UPDATE: Smith said he dropped out of the race for the good of the party, saying he believed it was important for the new chair to win a majority of the delegates in Saturday’s vote. He said that wasn’t going to happen with a five-person race.

“We need to heal, and we need to pull our party together, and we need a leader who can get the majority of the votes behind her,” Smith said.

-- By JR Ross


Wednesday, June 03, 2015

 3:34 PM 

Dems announce Friday speaking lineup, release tentative schedule

The state Dem Party today announced the lineup of Friday speakers at the state convention to go along with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine.

Those speaking Friday include: Russ Feingold, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan, outgoing state Chair Mike Tate, Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca.

Meanwhile, the tentative schedule can be found here

The convention doors open at 5 p.m. Friday with the speaking program beginning an hour later.

Things fire back up Saturday with a debate on resolutions starting at 8:30 a.m. and voting on state chair running from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.

-- By Staff


Monday, June 01, 2015

 10:55 AM 

Laning 'shocked' by Smith letter offering to make her exec director if he wins chair race

Dem state chair candidate Martha Laning said she was “shocked” by a letter rival Jeff Smith sent to delegates offering to make her executive director if he wins this weekend’s race.

In the letter, Smith wrote delegates have suggested he and Laning former a partnership to “take the party back from the professional consultants and insiders who seem determined to maintain their control.”

“It was just surprising to me,” Laning said, adding Smith has not been one of the candidates “smearing us.”

“I just think it’s really unfair to put something out about another candidate.”

Smith said in a separate interview the intent of the letter was to start the process of bringing the party back together after “a very contentious campaign.” Still, he noted it “may have caused a furor among some people,” particularly Laning’s supporters.

“If it starts the conversation of how we come together, then it was worth it,” Smith said.

Party delegates will vote Saturday in the five-way race that also includes DNC member Jason Rae, former state Rep. Stephen Smith and former state Chair Joe Wineke.

Smith and Laning said in the interviews they have talked about ways to unify the party and had discussed the general topic he touched on in the letter. Both said they had not reached any agreement, and Laning said she doubted she would accept the offer, should Smith win.

See more in today's WisPolitics.com PM Update.

-- By Staff



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Editor: JR Ross
Reporters: Chris Thompson, David Wise

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