The following column originally appeared at the MacIver Institute.
At long last, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will have to make a decision on whether to adopt a self-funded insurance system for state employees’ health insurance. The bad news is that Governor Walker’s proposal to make the switch and save $60 million is all but dead in the state Legislature.
On Monday, the Group Insurance Board submitted contracts with third-party administrators for a self-insurance system. Those contracts spell out in black and white at least $60 million in savings over the biennium – that’s on top of $22 million in possible savings if Obamacare and its obscene tax burden is not repealed. With the contracts in hand, JFC now has about three weeks to convene a meeting and make a decision.
“Since taking office, we have sought to reform government to make it more accountable and cost effective to the hard-working taxpayers,” Walker said in a statement on Monday. “Moving to self-insurance is one of these reforms and we urge the Joint Committee on Finance to approve these contracts and invest these savings into the classroom.”
Unfortunately, it appears that JFC is prepared to leave this windfall for taxpayers on the table. Why? We’ve heard a carousel of arguments against self-insurance that have all stalled, but the final stand for self-insurance naysayers might boil down to pure politics.
Early arguments by opponents of self-insurance breathlessly claimed that the move would gut state workers’ health insurance plans. Ignoring how out of step these lavish plans are compared with their private sector counterparts, it quickly became clear this doom-and-gloom claim had no basis in reality – especially after the actual proposals were received.
Next, the self-insurance doom-mongers portrayed the switch as a journey down a long, dark tunnel. The fact is that there’s nothing mysterious or scary about self-insurance; Wisconsin already partly self-insures its dental plan and its pharmacy plan.
At least 20 states completely self-fund their state employee health plans, including Minnesota, which moved to 100 percent self-funded insurance in 2002. Also, 46 states use self-insurance in some way.
In the upper Midwest, no states are fully-insured, meaning none completely rely on private insurance and all are self-funded at least in part.
More than 90 percent of all large employers, companies that employ 5,000 or more employees, also use self-funded insurance. To say adopting this system would be risky and experimental is diametrically untrue. In fact, it would be routine and economical.
Critics then moved on to prophesizing that the switch could pose a potentially catastrophic financial risk to the state. True, the state would be directly assuming the risk rather than putting insurance companies in the middle. But barring an unprecedented epidemic sweeping state office buildings, the risk factor has been greatly hyped.
The risk would actually be low because of the sheer size of the state’s workforce, which means total annual payouts would be predictable and fluctuations minimal, according to insurance expert Dean Hoffman, who recommended the switch to the Governor’s Commission on Government Reform last May.
Legislative Republicans are also uncertain about the future of Obamacare, which imposes a variety of taxes and fees on the insurance marketplace that would be absorbed by taxpayers in Wisconsin.
JFC co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling cited Wisconsin’s relatively low premium increases at a Tuesday press conference. “Why would we want to shift out of that and into uncertainty at this point?” she asked.
Caution isn’t unreasonable, but moving to self-insurance would actually protect Wisconsin taxpayers from uncertainty. Taxpayers should be the focus, not protecting the platinum health insurance of government employees.
Obamacare hits the insurance market, and thus taxpayers, in two big ways. The reviled Obamacare Cadillac Tax applies an exorbitant 40 percent tax on all employee benefits exceeding $10,200 annually for an individual, $27,500 for a family.
Sadly, the AHCA healthcare bill that passed the House last week retains the Cadillac Tax, although it pushes off the starting date of the Cadillac tax until 2026. Self-insurance would help mitigate that cost by eliminating the middle man in the current setup.
Then there’s the insurer tax, a special levy charged to private insurance companies that’s tied to the insurer’s premiums collected in the previous year. In 2016, the insurer tax ranged from 1.5 to 3.5 percent, with future rates yet to be decided. As the state’s deputy commissioner of Employee Trust Funds, Lisa Ellinger, pointed out last year, the state pays out about $1.4 billion annually in premiums.
Self-funded insurance systems are exempt from this tax. Quick cocktail-napkin math shows that switching to self-insurance would conservatively save tens of millions on top of the $60 million outlined in the contracts.
Despite ongoing uncertainty about Obamacare, keeping the status quo is precisely the wrong decision. Assuming Obamacare’s taxes are here to stay, seizing the $60 million moment would be responsible management of taxpayer dollars. Keeping the status quo and hoping Washington politicians do the right thing would not.
Instead, legislative leaders are considering “finding” $60 million in savings within the existing system. “We’re not saying no to savings. If we do that we’re going to find a similar amount of savings in some way, shape or form,” said JFC co-chair Rep. John Nygren on Tuesday.
If that’s actually possible, it begs the obvious question: how much taxpayer money has been wasted by not finding these supposed savings years ago?
With most of the arguments against self-insurance out of gas, opponents’ final stand may betray the truth: self-insurance is good policy, but protecting the status quo is even better politics. Or protecting the status quo is better politics for any politician worried more about the next election and less about taxpayers. Unfortunately for taxpayers, just about every politician in Wisconsin fits in that category.
The fact that self-insurance is good policy is evident from how many states and large employers use it successfully.
The likely end result is that Wisconsin taxpayers will get a watered-down half-measure that goes through the motions of saving taxpayer money while keeping the bloated and expensive existing system in place. That’s bad public policy.
Wisconsin Democrats are turning to a U.S. Senator from Illinois to highlight their party’s annual convention in June. From the AP:
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, of Illinois, will be the keynote speaker at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention in June.
The state party on Thursday announced Duckworth as the headliner for the first day of its meeting Friday, June 2. The annual gathering bringing together state office holders, party activists and others is in Middleton, just outside of Madison.
The meeting comes as the Democratic Party prepares to defend the seat of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin next year and find a challenger for Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Numerous Democrats have said they will not take him on, while others are still mulling whether to get in the race.
The AP report mentions Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin, who would seem to be the obvious choice to serve as the keynote speaker. That, in part, is because the Democrats don’t yet have a candidate for governor to put front-and-center.
But why is Baldwin taking a lower-profile role? Is she afraid of reminding everyone that she’s the far-left Democrats’ superhero in a state that’s been consistently rejecting Democrats? Considering several of her recent initiatives, including advertising that President Trump supports her “buy America” plan, as well as a politically motivated move to de-list the Grey Wolf, that’s not an unreasonable guess.
In any case, importing a senator from a neighboring state to highlight a convention is a loud statement about how little talent the party has in-state.
Is it possible that no viable candidate will step up to challenge Scott Walker for the governor’s mansion in 2018? Well, after what passes for the Democrat Party bench in Wisconsin ran for the hills en masse, one more high profile name declared his intent to sit this one out – Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.
From our friends at Media Trackers:
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin bristles at the notion that it is in disarray. But that denial comes at roughly the same time as news that one of their highest profile potential candidates to challenge Republican Governor Scott Walker in 2018 is taking a pass. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said Tuesday he will not be running for governor in 2018. Most political observers, both left and right, felt Parisi was a lock to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Walker. Instead, Parisi joins a growing list of names who will skip the 2018 governor’s race.
Parisi’s announcement comes after Rep. Ron Kind, state Sen. Jennifer Shilling, former state Sen. Tim Cullen, and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele all bowed out, leaving the party with no candidate with even a modicum of untarnished statewide name ID. Susan Happ, Jefferson County DA who ran a failed bid for Attorney General, hasn’t bowed out yet.
Bader also raises an interesting question. If the Dems can’t shake another business person out of the bush (a la Mary Burke – we saw how that turned out) or cajole someone like state Rep. Dana Wachs into launching himself into a highly unlikely campaign, then they just might be stuck with Bob Harlow, the 25-year-old who ran a failed bid for Congress in 2016…in California.
The Journal Sentinel is also reporting that a Milwaukee businessman, Andy Gronik, 59, also personally funded a poll that compared him to Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and Parisi. In an inauspicious turn, the out-of-state polling firm referred to Wisconsinites as “Wisconsinians,” the JS’s Dan Bice reported. Bice wrote, “Think of him as Mary Burke 2.0, but with a skinnier wallet and and less public service experience.”
The poll didn’t ask about Wachs or Happ.
Vinehout, who is up for re-election in 2018 in an increasingly Republican district (her Senate district contains the only seat where a Republican ousted a Democratic incumbent in the Assembly, and she squeaked out a win over Mel Pittman in 2012), is still in the running.
Will Vinehout eschew a potentially tough re-election bid and run for governor instead?
Here’s a list of announced candidates for statewide and federal elections in Wisconsin in 2018. While formal announcements by incumbents from governor to Congress are so far few and far between, it’s generally expected that all incumbents will run for re-election. We will update this list as formal announcements start rolling in.
- Bob Harlow (D) – 25-year-old Stanford graduate who last ran for Congress in California in 2016
- *Governor Scott Walker has not yet formally announced he’ll run for re-election
- Former state Sen. Tim Cullen, Rep. Ron Kind, state Sen. Jennifer Shilling, Dane County exec Joe Parisi, and Milwaukee County exec Chris Abele have all declined to run.
- No formal announcements yet.
- *Lt Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch has not yet formally announced he’ll run for re-election.
- Josh Kaul (D) – A 36-year-old Madison lawyer and son of former Wisconsin AG Peg Lautenschlager, who recently resigned as head of the state Ethics Commission.
- *AG Brad Schimel has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet.
- No formal announcements yet.
- *Sen. Tammy Baldwin has not formally announced she’ll seek re-election yet.
- Rep. Sean Duffy declined to run.
Congress, 1st District
- *Rep. Paul Ryan (R) has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet.
Congress, 2nd District
- *Rep. Mark Pocan (D) has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet.
Congress, 3rd District
- *Rep. Ron Kind (D) has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet.
Congress, 4th District
- *Rep. Gwen Moore (D) has not formally announced she’ll seek re-election yet.
Congress, 5th District
- *Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R) has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet.
Congress, 6th District
- *Rep. Glenn Grothmann (R) has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet.
Congress, 7th District
- *Rep. Sean Duffy (R) has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet, but declined to run for U.S. Senate.
Congress, 8th District
- *Rep. Mike Gallagher (R) has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet.
Wisconsin Democrats are showing how desperate they are to raise money and find some way – any way – to bend over backwards to oppose commonsense GOP-championed legislation fighting scourges recognized on both sides of the aisle.
In a debate over bipartisan legislation to combat the opioid epidemic championed by Rep. John Nygren, Democrats used the opportunity to launch fundraising efforts advocating Medicaid expansion under Obamacare as the silver bullet to the problem, ostensibly portraying the GOP measures as somehow half-asked.
As if Democrats think signing up for BadgerCare will cause heroin addicts to see the light, quit the habit, and go frolic through the nearest dew covered meadow newly freed from the hell of addition. Really? Either Dems’ worship of bloated government programs is delusionally messianic, or they are using the issue to pander.
Forget that Medicaid actually produces worse outcomes for patients, saddles taxpayers with an increasing burden, and traps people in the quiet desperation of government dependency with a low, hard, government imposed ceiling on their economic potential. Also, just ignore the tangible benefits of and desperate need for Nygren’s legislation that no serious person would deny.
The very fact that there’s a debate over Nygren’s admirable and necessary HOPE legislation serves as a measurement of the depth of the morass of absurdity that Wisconsin’s Democrats have descended into. When Rep. Ron Kind and other liberal activist groups joined them in using the opportunity to demand Medicaid expansion, the sad stratagem became clear.
At the height of its severity, the crack cocaine epidemic killed 1.5 people per 100,000. By contrast, the opioid and heroin epidemic – the worst drug scourge in American history – kills between 10 and 30 people per 100,000. And the Democrats are using the issue to push a divisive, partisan political agenda that would do zilch to alleviate addiction.
They know there is a precisely zero percent probability that the Obamacare Medicaid expansion will happen under Walker and the Republicans – who have torched Democrats mercilessly at the polls for six straight years, all the while opposing Obamacare and refusing the Medicaid expansion. Knowing this, the Democrats’ ploy is clearly intended strictly to raise money.
It’s sickening, and it demonstrates the bottomless capacity of Democrats to exploit an opportunity, morality be damned. It also reveals the depth of desperation that their party is mired in. Their bench is thinner than Japanese Mulberry paper and, evidently, they need to lay in the ditch to collect whatever dollar bills might float by on the way to the sewer.
It doesn’t stop there. Amid debate over a similarly heralded effort to combat homelessness, Democrats denounced the measures as “appalling” and a merely “cosmetic solution.” I didn’t see in the LRB analysis that the GOP wanted to deliver makeup and lipstick to the needy. Again, the Democrats are trying to transmogrify a bipartisan plan into political hay.
This, by the way, was from the Democrat lawmaker who once proposed state government provide free tampons at all state buildings and parks. If that’s what passes for serious policy ideas for Wisconsin, the Democrats might as well give up on politics.
Without the money funnel that depended on forcing people into unions and stealing dues money of their pockets, apparently this is all Democrats have left. So devoid of values and intellectual consistency, it’s no wonder their party has struggled to survive (let alone compete!) on a level playing field.
State Rep. and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke took his frustration to Facebook:
To my liberal friends: Democrats in Madison are not serving you well. Two sad instances in the last week.
Last Tuesday we were in session debating broad bipartisan bills that addressed the opioid epidemic. During the debate, the Democrats hijacked the conversation to make political points while simultaneously sending out a fundraising email using that floor debate as a tool to raise the cash.
Now this week I, along with a few colleagues, introduced a package of bills aimed at combatting homelessness in WI. This package was developed in coordination with homeless advocates who called the initiatives “a huge step forward”. The response from state democrats? They called the dollars allocated and the reforms themselves “a cosmetic solution”
This is what your dollars, your volunteer hours, and your votes are getting you my friends.
Democrats are desperate, and will use any hook to galvanize their base. That, I suppose, is what politics can devolve into. Steineke’s message to liberals will fall on the deaf ears of a hyper partisan left-wing base, but that’s the very definition of a party in the bunker. To save its heart, the Democrat Party appears willing to amputate what’s left of its atrophied limbs.
These bills are thoroughly bipartisan, a fact hardcore liberals may not be aware of in the din of partisan hyperbole. They are serious efforts by a serious governing majority to address serious problems in the state of Wisconsin. Indeed, the opioid problem is as serious a problem as Wisconsin has faced. And to those in the grips of homelessness, there could be no more serious an issue than living under cellophane on a park bench.
To prove how un-serious they are, and how unfit they are to return to governing Wisconsin, Democrats have chosen these issues as a rallying cry to their most rabid supporters in the far-left bastions of the state in downtown Madison and Milwaukee.
As if to scream out to Wisconsin voters just how profoundly not serious their party is, Assembly Democrats actually played bingo as Gov. Walker gave his State of the State speech in January. Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling added the exclamation point when she said the Republicans “own this legislature” and the transportation funding debate was the GOP’s problem. We are paying these people a salary?
It’s really quite sad.
At this rate, the Assembly Democrat caucus will have all the appeal to mainstream voters as a screeching vulture. Like the Senate Democrat caucus, perhaps in the near future the Assembly Dems will also be able to fit into a pair of minivans and flee for Illinois…for good.
But hey, they can always blame gerrymandering.
Just as Republicans around the state were getting all excited about Nicole Schneider, it seems they may have been taken for a ride.
Schneider, the heiress of the Schneider National trucking fortune, was supposedly considering a run for U.S. Senate against Tammy Baldwin. Her appeal was chiefly that she could self-fund an expensive campaign.
But as it seems to always do, Schneider’s social media history can’t hide. Judging by some of her past activity, she may not be all that conservative at all. From Vicki McKenna’s website:
Yesterday, Mediatrackers broke this story about a woman named Nicole Schneider running for US Senate against Tammy Baldwin. See that story HERE.OK FINE. But IS SHE REALLY A REPUBLICAN? Or is she just a faker? Well, you be the judge. Here are links to her now DELETED tweets on everything from abortion and Planned Parenthood to Transphobia to like Tammy Baldwin, Hillary and Elizabeth Warren…to hating on Trump. It’s a pile of anti-conservative stuff that for reasons only SHE knows, she doesn’t want anyone to see.Here is her now deleted post on “How to be a Social Justice Ally: Working from and Against Privilege”.
Here are some deleted Tweets. In these, she is critical of Gov Walker, Paul Ryan, Donald Trump–while seemingly praising Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton and Tammy Baldwin. Oh and she also seems to dislike SODA CONSUMPTION (!!) (By the way, ma’am, I’m a Catholic and I voted for Trump!)
Schneider has since deleted the tweets, but Vicki preserves them at the links above. Is Schneider a bona fide RINO? (a pejorative that gets tossed around far too often by people who can’t handle disagreement and believe everyone should agree with them…a paradox for an individualist ideology that stands opposed to homogeneity and collectivism. But I digress).
I don’t want to make any definitive conclusions about Ms. Schneider or her politics. I’ve been asked, after all, why I like this Democrat’s Facebook page or why I follow that progressive on Twitter by people who don’t really know their way around social media. People are also dynamic, and Trump a lightning rod who I’ve also criticized. However, Republican voters should use caution that Schneider might be an opportunist who doesn’t actually share many of their positions on the issues.
Now that Sean Duffy is officially out of contention, Republicans are starting to line up for the chance to take on Baldwin, who is widely seen as potentially vulnerable, especially after she locks arms with other Democrats and opposes the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. She’s also in hot water over her handling of the Tomah VA “Candy Land” scandal.
Wisconsinites have little patience for political grandstanding, and even less patience for politicians who leave veterans hanging out to dry – then pins the blame on a staffer and offers her hush money.
Names often bandied about as potential challengers for Baldwin are state Sen. Leah Vukmir, state Rep. Dale Kooyenga, hedge fund manager Eric Hovde, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and Marine veteran/businessman Kevin Nicholson (who recently got the endorsement of mega-donor Dick Uihlein).
What the GOP needs to avoid at all costs, however, is a replay of the 2012 GOP primary, variously comparable to a circular firing squad, bloodbath, melee, or train wreck. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson emerged so badly injured from the primary, he had practically no money, while Baldwin had an entire summer to raise cash and plot her messaging.
Going back to the recall of state Senator Dan Kapanke, La Crosse area Republicans have become quite familiar with reports of property damage and even attempted acts of violence against supporters in the community.
Of course, damage to and theft of yard signs is pervasive and doubtlessly both sides are guilty of their share of this. However, during the Kapanke recall, swastikas were spray painted on several Kapanke yard signs. Numerous people – many times, the same ones – dropped by the GOP field office for new signs after theirs were repeatedly stolen. Clearly, the work of certain anti-Republican individuals.
King among such anecdotes is when Dan Kapanke’s wife, returning home late at night from her nursing job, stepped out of her car to find roofing nails in the Town of Campbell driveway. Well, a recent court case and admission of guilt finally put the problem at large in the black and white of news print.
The La Crosse Tribune reports:
A La Crosse man admitted throwing roofing nails into driveways of residents who supported Republican candidates after someone stole his lawn sign supporting a Democratic candidate, according to La Crosse police reports.
Martin Sellers, 59, of 2126 Hoeschler Drive, told police he “has done some stupid things” during his arrest Sunday for criminal damage to property and disorderly conduct, reports stated.
Five homeowners on Lincoln Avenue, Ward Avenue, Elm Street and Springbrook Way for three years reported nails in driveways. One homeowner reported eight incidents.
Sellers said he periodically targeted driveways of homes that displayed signs supported Republicans “out of anger for the political system,” reports stated. One homeowner stated the vandalism resumed after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
A homeowner who installed a surveillance system caught Sellers’ vehicle on camera. One victim reported having to replace four tires on his car.
“Both sides do it…it’s just one person” someone ostensibly trying to defend the behavior might claim while simultaneously claiming to not be defending the behavior. No, both sides don’t spend their time throwing nails in their neighbors’ driveway, and no, it’s clearly not the behavior of just one guy. I can assure you that having worked in or spent considerable time in five different local GOP offices over the years.
This one just happened to have gotten caught.
Rep. Ron Kind – whose gubernatorial ambitions, or lack thereof, Morning Martini has tracked for years – is once again stringing along his Democratic groupies when it comes to his interest in running for governor.
The congressman from La Crosse just told WPR he hasn’t ruled out running in 2018:
“I’ve been troubled, as many people have throughout the state, in regards to the direction of where we’ve gone as a state, the unnecessary division, pitting people against each other, dividing families,” Kind said. “We deserve better leadership, but no decision’s been made on my behalf.”
Like the star quarterback telling a half dozen ladies he might take them to the prom, Kind continues to tease Wisconsin Democrats desperate for a candidate strong enough to knock off Scott Walker.
Will he run? If he does, he has a lot of factors to weigh, including the increasing distance between himself and the mainstream of his own party, competing pressure to stay in his rightward-trending district, and the possibility of a damaging primary.
If he ran for governor, Kind could face a challenge from the left, a front on which he’s vulnerable for any number of reasons. For one, he’s been on the outs with labor interests in his district for some time, particularly because of his open-armed embrace of multilateral trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP. The erosion of support by the union left was also evidenced by his Bernie Sanders-inspired primary opponent in the 2016 election. At least one union actually endorsed his opponent, Myron Buchholtz. Superdelegate Kind was also hounded by a pro-Bernie gaggle at the Democratic National Convention for being too moderate on trade issues.
Still, 2016 was a hopscotch for Kind, who eventually trounced Buchholtz and strode onto a general election in which his oddly named opponent, “scattering,” barely amounted to a blip (translation from geek humor: he ran unopposed). However, the strain between Kind and labor remains. The strain between Kind and the newly empowered and proliferating far-left, for whom Kind is far too nuanced and rational, is also growing more pronounced as Sandersism takes hold within the new Democratic Party.
Ironically, Kind has long marketed himself as a leader in the “New Democrat” caucus, a group of middle-of-the-road Congressmen who, with the upheaval that’s dragged his party to the precipice of socialism, now appears to be a relic of the days of Clinton. The New Democrats should re-brand as “The Tattered Wreckage of a Dead Dream.”
As one of few remaining rural, flyover state Democrats still in Congress, he admitted to voting against Nancy Pelosi in recent House leadership elections, telling the Wisconsin State Journal that a new minority leader would be “a breath of fresh air.” In the same article, Kind was critical of Hillary Clinton. “She didn’t set foot in Wisconsin once after the primary. I knew that was going to be a problem,” he said.
After the results of the November elections hit, Kind no doubt started seeing the ground moving beneath him as his electorate’s gradual transformation became manifest – or at least the electorate is realizing how far left the Democratic Party has drifted away from New Deal populism.
Voters are changing their voting patterns accordingly.
When Kind was first elected in 1996, President Bill Clinton was reforming welfare and trumpeting that “the era of big government is over,” an apparent last gasp of the Democratic ideals of the Kennedy era. Such notions are thoroughly in the mainstream of Republican thinking today, but it’s utterly unthinkable rhetoric from a modern Democrat – except the likes of Jim Webb, whose moderate candidacy for president went over within the post-Obama Democratic ranks like ketchup on ice cream.
How much has the electorate changed in Wisconsin’s Third? In 2012, the first presidential election after redistricting made the district even more blue by removing parts of right-leaning St. Croix and adding parts of left-leaning Portage, Barack Obama won with 54.8 percent. In 2016, the same electorate voted for Donald J. Trump by 49.3 percent; Hillary Clinton won just 44.8 percent, about the same amount as Kind’s last Republican challenger, Tony Kurtz.
Kind endorsed Hillary and pledged his superdelegate vote for her.
In addition, the two state legislative seats in which an incumbent was defeated in 2016 (both Democrats) were in Kind’s district. Rep. Chris Danou lost to Republican Treig Pronschinske 52-48 and longtime Sen. Julie Lassa lost to Patrick Testin, who hadn’t held elected office before challenging Lassa. Lassa lost by 52.4 to 47.6 percent, losing every county in her senate district save one, Portage, the most liberal.
In the era of Trump, Kind is buoyed by a sort of Bermuda Triangle of liberal enclaves – the City of La Crosse (the rest of La Crosse County went for Trump), Portage County, and the City of Eau Claire.
The tectonic plates have shifted on the Democratic side of the ballot since 1996, too. Sanders obliterated Clinton in the Third District – the Democratic Socialist won the district with an astounding 61.3 percent of the Democratic primary vote.
Kind’s district might be increasingly vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean Kind himself is, too. Though the district’s voting patterns seem to be shifting Republican, especially in the rural areas bounded by the Bermuda Triangle, Kind is hardly the poster child for the “new left” that pawns off responsibility for Hillary Clinton’s abysmal candidacy on conspiracy theories of Russian hacking, fake news, or a nexus of corruption in James Comey’s office. He’s not likely to be seen flipping over cars, smashing windows, or throwing rotten fruit at controversial alt-right agitators. Perhaps most scary to the coastal elites that run his party, Ron Kind is pro-Second Amendment. It would be fair to assume he actually owns guns – AND USES THEM TO SHOOT ANIMALS!
No, Ron Kind is rather astutely in touch with his electorate, even though he’s become quite comfortable with accepting millions of dollars from special interests via his lofty perch as ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, a vaunted position that allows him to amass war chests of millions of dollars each election cycle, which he typically spends airing recycled TV ads depicting him throwing a football and watching the Packers. His image could be summed up in two words: Captain Wisconsin.
Captain Wisconsin is at no risk of losing in the near future; the 53-year-old has a job for life in Congress if he wants.
He also seems to be quite unambitious, at least when it comes to any aspirations for higher office. He passed up running for U.S. Senate in 2012 (presumably the Democrats preferred a cleared field while the flame thrower-wielding Republican candidates formed a circular firing squad and torched their own chances of taking the seat). He passed up a run for governor against Walker in 2014, leaving the Democrats with Mary Burke and her hairdo. He deferred to Russ Feingold for U.S. Senate in 2016, who shocked the world in his failure to take down Ron Johnson. He’s also passed up other leadership opportunities in the House.
Then, there’s the issue of the Democratic bench in Wisconsin, a topic we’ve clobbered for years on this website. It’s so thin that former state Sen. Tim Cullen, who was among those who famously took a vacation to Illinois in a failed attempt to stop Act 10, is actually considered a strong contender for 2018. Susan Happ – the failed attorney general candidate from 2014 – has been discussed. Jennifer Shilling, the Senate Minority Leader who came within 60 votes of losing her own seat in the state Senate in 2016, is still somehow being mentioned. Add to that the usual cast of yet-uncasted characters in the Mary Burke mold, people who can be mutated into featureless canvasses onto which any generic Democratic persona can be grafted, an approach that flopped like a wet waffle with Mary Burke.
Ron Kind For Governor would tickle the Democrats to no end. He is the Democratic bench in Wisconsin – and he’s perhaps the one Democrat with a very, very, very good shot at defeating Walker (that’s three verys more than anyone else). But there’s also the issue of time. Though he’s not old – at 53, he’s a puppy compared to 72-year-old Tim Cullen – the clock is nonetheless ticking. If he passes on 2018, he will be nearly 60 before his next shot at governor comes around, and that’s if Walker gets re-elected. (Kind will be 54 this year, 55 at the time of the 2018 election, and 59 at the 2022 election).
Any Democrat with the exception of Kind running against Walker would be an admission by that party that Walker is unstoppable – akin to their failure to put up even a token challenge to Annette Ziegler for Supreme Court.
Kind would have a unique appeal statewide to the vast sea of moderate, inconsistent, politically independent voters. Voters who lean left and those who lean right will both find something to like about his positions. He’s also extremely disciplined in his message, to the point of being the embodiment of the quintessential Ivy League plastic politician. Think Cam Brady, Will Ferrell’s parody of the entrenched, self-interested congressman in The Campaign.
But perhaps Kind’s greatest strength is the intangible reason why he’s so popular in the Third, anecdotally at least. (I’m qualified to peddle anecdotes about voters’ perceptions of Kind because I worked on Tony Kurtz’s 2014 campaign against him). People LIKE Ron Kind. They see him as a nice guy. Invariably, they think he has their interests in mind out in D.C., neverminding the coincidental nexus of his voting patterns and his vast list of PAC contributors. Were he to run for governor, he would need to translate that reputation, which he’s spent twenty years building in west-central Wisconsin, to the rest of the state.
Were he to run, he’d have to come up with something better than telling people he likes football and guns.
The Walker machine would face a formidable foe in Kind, but they’ve proven extremely effective at what they do, which is to win. How could they do that against Kind? Labeling him a “career politician” is a nonstarter – Walker is one, too. How about a “Washington insider?” That hasn’t hurt him in the past, despite his opponents’ best efforts. But perhaps a better strategy would be to use the populist upswell that manifested in the Sanders surge and Trump triumph against Kind. Introducing Ron Kind to both Trump and Sanders supporters as both a thoroughly embedded establishment insider, a vocal supporter of Obamacare (right) and even more unabashed proponent of anti-labor trade deals (left, labor) could throw a wet blanket on enthusiasm for a Kind candidacy during a potential primary.
Dampening enthusiasm among Democrats, especially the new breed of rabid ones who want to see a Socialist winter descend on the country, could be a winning strategy. Wisconsin as a whole overwhelmingly voted for Sanders (see the map). Meanwhile, shoring up traditional Republican and Trump Republican support for Walker…think “Working and Winning for Wisconsin”…would keep the Walker fires stoked and drive turnout.
There’s also the matter of the Tomah VA “Candyland” scandal, which will be used against any politician with even a Kevin Bacon degree of connection to the Tomah facility that was revealed to be doling out highly addictive opiate painkillers to veterans in unimaginable quantities, resulting in deaths and drug diversion. Far from being twice removed from Tomah, Kind has in fact represented the area for decades, and of all the state and federal politicians whose constituencies overlap in Tomah, Kind is most directly that facility’s overseer in Washington. He would have to answer for that in any high-profile race he undertakes.
Kind will no doubt be facing competing pressures – pressure from within Wisconsin to run for governor, and pressure from Washington to stay in Congress. Kind’s district is already being targeted by Republicans for 2018, one of 36 Democratic-held seats that Trump carried that are on that list. A group called American Action Network is already running ads hitting Kind for his support of Obamacare.
Even with a pittance of outside involvement and money, absent the influx of many, many millions of dollars, Kind is unlikely to be unseated in 2018. But, if he gives up the seat to run for governor, there’s a pretty good chance that a Republican would replace him given the makeup of the district, its history (moderate Republican Steve Gunderson represented the district before Kind) and, of course, the deep Republican bench in the district.
Possibly the top contender would be Republican Tony Kurtz, the 50-year-old veteran, former Apache helicopter pilot, and farmer who pulled nearly 44 percent against Kind in 2014 despite a massive cash disadvantage (although Kurtz outraised Kind among individual donors toward the end of the campaign). Kurtz fits the district well, is extremely popular among the Republican base, and is a superb retail campaigner who could win over Kind’s coalition of moderates and independents in a race without Kind on the ballot. Other possibilities are former state Senator Dan Kapanke, who came within a hair of knocking Kind off in 2010, Sue Lynch of La Crosse, the former president of the National Federation of Republican Women, and any number of Republican officeholders in the Third – Sen. Howard Marklein of Spring Green comes to mind, as does freshman state Senator Patrick Testin of Stevens Point.
To be sure, there are Democrats who could vie for the seat. State Rep. Steve Doyle of Onalaska, Sen. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse, and state Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire are among them (Wachs has also been mentioned as another possible gubernatorial candidate). Wisconsin Rapids’ 28-year-old mayor, Zach Vruwink, has also been mentioned anecdotally as a potential future candidate.
But it’s time to return to reality. In all likelihood, Kind won’t be giving up his well-paying job-for-life in Congress anytime prior to the time he chooses to retire to a life of fishing, hunting, and watching the Packers from his barcalounger. It’s not likely that Kind will abandon the cushy enclaves of swanky soirees at Bullfeathers and the comfortable social circles of D.C. for a tumultuous – hellish – waltz into the Walker buzzsaw, only to take a five-figure pay cut for a job in which he’ll constantly be butting heads with an almost-certain long-term Republican majority in the state legislature.
He’d be crazy to do so. And if I’ve learned one thing about Ron Kind after being represented by him for 20 years and working on a campaign against him, he’s certainly not crazy.
It looks like Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald agrees with Morning Martini that Sean Duffy is in a good position to take on Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018. A talked-about possible candidate for the office himself, does this mean Fitzgerald is throwing cold water on those rumors?
— Jessie Opoien (@jessieopie) February 9, 2017
We’ve previously written about the Duffy versus Baldwin dynamic. Because Duffy is demonstrably stronger in northern Wisconsin than other Republicans, and theoretically stronger elsewhere because of his early support for Trump (who won Wisconsin, and won big in rural areas of the state), he is uniquely positioned to be the leading contender against Baldwin.
That calculus is this: Duffy was a strong Trump supporter from the very beginning. This turned out to be genius; Duffy’s district swung heavily for Trump in both the primary and general elections, and newfound GOP voters in rural areas could prove crucial.
Broadening the scope to the prospects of the Senate GOP in 2018, I write:
If Trump’s tenure as president is a success, it’s very possible – I daresay likely – the Republicans could gain a filibuster-proof majority in 2018. Most importantly for Wisconsin, the Badger State could oust one of the farthest-left Senators currently in the Senate and replace her with a commonsense, well-liked, and steadfast conservative.
Hedge fund manager Eric Hovde, who hasn’t said whether he’ll run again, could be formidable because of the name ID he built in 2012 and because he’s (to paraphrase Trump) very, very rich. Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch would also be formidable since, in all likelihood, she would have the support of the southeastern establishment.
The biggest obstacle to the GOP toppling Baldwin in 2018? A brutal primary like the one in 2012 that left eventual nominee Tommy Thompson essentially broke, paving the way for a surprisingly astute Baldwin campaign messaging apparatus to paint the former governor as “not for you anymore.”
The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson camped out in Trempealeau after the election. Trempealeau and the surrounding western Wisconsin county by the same name went solidly for Donald Trump, and she wanted to know why.
In her story, she probes patrons of bars and diners in the small, historic river town, many of whom have been reliable Democrat voters – until Trump. The area including Trempealeau, Buffalo, and Jackson Counties, however, has been swinging more Republican for years.
The Trempealeau County line is just a few minutes from my hometown, Holmen, so I was brought up in the same culture as the folks Johnson spoke with (unless something profound changes after you cross the Black River bottoms). In fact, I’ve been to all the establishments she visited in writing her story.
The Democrat voters here aren’t the same Democrats Johnson would find in D.C. Their party affiliation is vestigial, mostly left over from the days when the Democratic Party emanated the spirit of “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The Democratic Party was once the party of the average American, or at least it pretended to be.
This year, many of those vestigial Democrats switched sides and voted for Donald Trump and the Republican ticket.
They sensed in Trump the potential for change – the potential for the political class to start focusing less on maneuvering and manipulation and more on getting to the root of the souring fortunes of people in rural America, people who are increasingly disaffected by having their lives intruded upon by the self-anointed ruling class in a capital thousands of miles away, their paychecks raided, their economic prospects dimming, and their family-oriented way of life disrespected by coastal elites in both parties.
They’re people who are tired of being disrespected and dismissed as not smart enough to run their own lives – not smart enough to see through the smokescreens of Washington politics.
Which brings me to Chris Danou.
The former Assemblyman from Trempealeau was also a victim of the increased Republican turnout; he lost to Republican Treig Pronschinske, making Danou’s seat the one pick-up by Assembly Republicans. According to the Post article:
“It’s infuriating, and it’s sad,” said Danou, who lives in Trempealeau but will soon move to the Madison area with his family. “I was disappointed in my constituents.”
Danou, a former police officer with two graduate degrees, lost to Treig Pronschinske, a technical-college graduate who worked in construction and was a small-town mayor.
Pronschinske said accusations of racism are “a cop-out” from Democrats who are out of touch with how frustrated many in rural towns have become.
There are numerous anecdotes about Danou’s pomposity. According to one, Danou once bragged that the 92nd Assembly seat was his for life, if he chose to keep it.
The voters thought otherwise – but then, Danou is better suited for Madison, a town where haughty, self-serving superiority complexes are the norm rather than the exception.
Danou’s loss is a reminder to all politicians about the value of humility and servant leadership, and about who writes their paychecks, and who can fire them at any time.