On the 17th District

Amish buggy on a winding road in LaFayette County.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Amish buggy on a winding road in LaFayette County. Photo by Callen Harty.

Today Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Mike Tate released a statement claiming that due to a newly announced primary challenge of 17th District State Senator, Republican Dale Schultz, the Democrats would take the seat from the Republicans and regain control of the Wisconsin Senate. Notwithstanding the fact that the Republicans currently hold an 18-15 advantage in the Senate and gaining that one seat would still leave the Democrats with a 16-17 disadvantage, the district has been a solidly Republican district for many, many years. While it is always a possibility to steal a seat Tate’s statement comes across as little more than hyperbole to anyone who knows anything about the district. It is part of his job to be a cheerleader and put a positive Democratic spin on everything, but it often sounds like he’s stretching to make a pumpkin pie out of mud, maybe even with a little Wisconsin dairy-made whipped cream on top. His statement reads more like a ploy to scare Schultz into considering switching parties than anything else, and it doesn’t seem very likely that Schultz will do that.

The press release implies that conservative money will pour into the district to support Republican challenger Howard Marklein, currently an Assembly representative from the area, and it presumes the outside money will defeat Schultz in a primary and that the Democrats will then be free to crush Marklein in the general election. Here is part of what Tate has to say: “The good news is double for Democrats-not only will we be able to defeat Howard Marklein in a general Senate election, his Assembly seat in a Democratic-majority District now is ours for the taking as well.” This presumes that if the Koch Brothers and others pour money into a primary to defeat a Republican who doesn’t kowtow to their every whim that they will then leave their candidate out to dry without pouring more money into defeating whomever the Democratic candidate will be. Not very likely. If the Democrats can find a candidate who has a chance s/he will have to withstand a barrage of Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, and other smear ads.

For Tate to say that it’s a “Democratic-majority district” is ludicrous. While it’s true that the district went for Obama in both of the last elections and that both Congressional members are Democrats the State Senate and Assembly offices have historically been held by Republicans, and Presidential and Congressional races have wavered between Democrats and Republicans. The Assembly is a little more susceptible to an occasional Democratic win, but when the Democrats do gain a seat their terms tend to be shorter. In the 51st district Republican Joseph Tregoning served from 1967 until well into the 1980s. There was one Democrat, Joanne Duren, who managed to last ten years in the 50th.

The State Senate is another story entirely. In the 17th district the Senate has had one Democrat elected to office since 1854. One. Since 1854, not 1954. That was popular UW-Platteville professor Kathryn Morrison, who became the first woman ever elected to the Wisconsin Senate and who lasted one term of three years before a Republican took the seat back. The opponent she defeated was Gordon Roseleip, a man who embarrassed himself by failing a taste test when fighting to keep margarine illegal in Wisconsin and who wanted to build a new bridge between Iowa and Wisconsin in order to be able to transport troops more efficiently. He failed to show up to at least one debate with her and was generally seen as past his prime and out of touch, though a likeable fellow.

If the Tea Partiers manage to get their candidate to beat Schultz in the primary there is little reason to believe that Marklein would not go on to win the seat, leaving it not only in Republican hands, but more conservative Republican hands. As noted, the Koch Machine would likely continue to pour money into the district and as of now it might be difficult to name a Democratic candidate with the experience to put up a fight. All three Assembly representatives in the region are Republicans. Perhaps they could find a county sheriff or someone who is well-liked in one part of the region, ideally one with little history for the negative ads to use as fodder for attack.

The other thing that Tate’s missive misses is that the driftless area of the state is incredibly independent. They like people like Dale Schultz, who generally stand behind more conservative views but who will stand up to his own or other parties for what he believes is right. There is no guarantee that outside money can unseat him in the primary, particularly if the voters perceive it as outside money trying to influence their local choice of representation. You can bet if they stand behind him in an ugly primary that no Democrat will likely defeat him in the general election. The likelihood is that the best Tate can hope for is that Dale Schultz is reelected and that he becomes more independent. The reality is that while he stood up against the mining bill and Act 10 he has, according to his own press release today, “a 98.7% Republican voting record.” Does Tate really believe that a man who brags about that voting record is likely to caucus with the Democrats? Do they really want him? If Tate believes that, it may be time for the Democrats to find a new cheerleader grounded in just a tad more reality.

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Both are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he has been an actor, writer, and director since 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events.
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One Response to On the 17th District

  1. Pingback: "The best Tate can hope for is that Dale Schultz is reelected and that he becomes more independent" : blue cheddar

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