Tuesday, September 14, is date of the primary election in Wisconsin. There is a very competitive race going on for the State Assembly seat of the 77th District held by retiring representative Spencer Black. This is a big deal for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party because it is one of the most reliably liberal districts in the state. The district boasts a distinctive record of progressive innovation, particularly in the area of environmental conservation legislation. Gaylord Nelson, who later became the governor and then a US Senator and is remembered for having played a major role in the founding of Earth Day in 1970, once represented the area in the state senate. Black has held the seat since 1984.
And, yes, this is the district in which I make my home.
Of the eight candidates, five are Democrats. One is a Green Party candidate, Ben Manski. One is a Constitution Party libertarian David Olson, and one is a Republican, David Redick. The winner among the Democrats will be the highly likely winner of the general election in November. So these five have been out working it like one rarely sees for a state assembly primary election.
Four of the Democrats have been particularly visible. Fred Wade can be seen chatting up people at the west side farmer’s market. Brett Hulsey has a solid base in our neighborhood since he is already represents our area on the Dane County Board of Supervisors. Small eco-businessman John Imes has been out doorknocking most evenings over the late summer. And County Supervisor Diane Hesselbein, whose area covers most of Middleton and the far west side of Madison, seems to be all over the place.
Hesselbein’s supporters have mustered an impressive yard sign campaign, a direct mailing effort, a Facebook page, and at least one prominent billboard along heavily traveled westbound University Avenue.
But I’m not buying it. The problem is her vagueness and reliance on boilerplate progressive rhetoric. Case in point: her direct mail campaign literature includes as one of her bullet points the protection of Medicare. But the state assembly has nothing to do with Medicare. She is either ignorant, careless enough to let an ignorant staffer write her campaign copy, or cynically pandering. Whatever the backstory, in my book she loses credibility.
The Cap Times tells the story of Dane Co Executive Kathleen Falk taking Hesselbein to task for more serious charges of deceptive campaigning.
John Imes came to our door on a warm August evening. I give him points for pounding the pavement, but I had some problems with the way he spoke about commuter rail (it’s about choices!) and bi-partisanship (we gotta reach across the aisle!).
My choice will be between Fred Wade and Ben Manski. Wade is a lawyer and former head of the Madison Institute. His motivation to run is based on a structural understanding of the legislative process. He wants to take out the partial veto power of the governor, which is abusively deployed to selectively de-fund initiatives, and worse, to increase borrowing and fees without any check from the legislature. Wade’s analysis and explanations of the partial veto problem are really clear. Also, he is the most outspoken in defending the University at the state level. The UW system needs a strong advocate in the legislature. Manski, for his part, is a creature of social movements and grassroots organizing, in the best way it seems. Whether he has a well-conceived strategy for winning the general election is my question.
Residents of the 77th District, vote on Tuesday, September 14. Elections like this don't come around very often.