Screwing the Democratic Grassroots (Again)

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But some activists are challenging Larson’s commitment to a truly competitive primary, worried that he and other Capitol insiders are maneuvering in favor of a candidate with connections to other parts of the state, rather than one with roots in the district.

Those words, written by Jack Craver of the State Journal, sum up the top-down system employed by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin to force candidates through primaries who will toe the line drawn behind the party leadership. By pushing a carpetbagging toadie to be the anointed Dem for Dale Schultz’ former senate seat and outrightly snubbing the candidate strongly favored by the rank-and-file Democrats in the district, the DPW is hard at work screwing its grassroots yet again.

The DPW is lining up behind the candidacy of Pat Bomhack, a southeastern Wisconsin native who has only lived in the district for three years, over longtime area activist Ernie Wittwer, the strong preference of the Democrat Party’s grassroots in the 17th Senate district.

The party isn’t just encouraging people to support Bomhack, though. They’re lining up key endorsements for the 32-year-old transplant who actually moved into the district just in time to make his first run for office in 2012, in which he lost a primary for the 51st Assembly district. Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson at the Dems’ state convention gave a shout out to Bomhack but brazenly snubbed Wittwer, a slap in the face to the party’s grassroots.

“The vast majority of involved Democrats in the 17th favor Ernie…Perhaps there’s a little bit of a disconnect on what this district values. A difference between urban and rural,” said a Democrat activist in the district. Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, the grassroots progressive Democrat who was similarly screwed out of any chance at her primary challenge of Mary Burke, also weighed in. She has endorsed Wittwer.

Bomhack is a prototypical embryonic Democrat politician in vitro. A law clerk, former Jim Doyle and Russ Feingold aide, and aspiring lawyer, Bomhack – a junior member of The World Belongs To Me club of ivy league judges, lawyers, and political hacks, couldn’t have “wannabe career politician” written any larger on his forehead. A rare Waukesha Democrat, he also has about as much in common with district lifers as a Fall Harvest Combine does with a waxed and washed riding lawn mower.

The scenario is obvious when one accepts the premise that The Left doesn’t like an intellectual challenge, even within their own ranks: Bomhack if elected would toe the party line and answer to the Democrat party brass, grateful that they elevated him over the Democrat who actually has support in the district. As Democrats, both of their platforms are wrong. But at least Wittwer has deep enough roots and honed instincts from years of active involvement in the area that he could faithfully represent voters there.

Bomhack was born and raised in the provinces of suburban Milwaukee, hardly rural Wisconsin, “rural” being a defining characteristic of the 17th. Also, according to the State Journal he’s received the “great majority” of his contributions from outside of the district, particularly back home in southeastern Wisconsin and California. I’ve written about the disjoint between the Democrats’ blabbery and whining about evil out-of-state money in politics and their laughable embrace of that same money. Jennifer Shilling, the recallista who beat Dan Kapanke in the neighboring 32nd Senate district, also received a large majority of her donations from out of district, much of it from California. Ron Kind takes hundreds of thousands of dollars from PACs. C’est la vie, I guess.

To borrow a line from the Pinkobabble talking points generator, it raises serious questions about whose agenda Bomhack will support. Wrestling political control of a region requires money and dishonest rhetoric.

Whoever wins that primary will go on, battered and bruised, to face Republican Howard Marklein, who has represented the 51st Assembly District since 2010 and has stepped up following Dale Schultz’s tuck and roll. If it’s Bomhack, he’ll have serious problems finding basic campaign labor and enthusiasm as he’ll basically have been forced upon the district. If it’s Wittwer he’ll have challenges of his own: as one activist put it in the WSJ story, “Wittwer [is] a loose cannon unwilling to do what is necessary to win the race.”

My money’s on Senator Marklein.

About the writer: Chris Rochester is editor in chief of Morning Martini. He’s a communication specialist with experience in the private sector and on various campaigns. He's the communications director for the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy. Commentary here is strictly his own.