Wisconsin Democrats Do 2018 Victory Lap At Annual State Party Convention

Liberal Politicians Speak About Campaigns, Political Gridlock, Health Care

Tony Evers
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks during an interview during the National Governors Association 2019 winter meeting in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo

Wisconsin Democrats used their annual convention Saturday in Milwaukee to do a victory lap after a strong showing in 2018’s statewide elections.

Hundreds gathered at the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino for the annual event that includes the election of new state party leadership and speeches from elected officials, including Gov. Tony Evers.

Evers began his remarks by noting Democrats control the state’s executive branch for the first time in eight years.

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“Holy mackerel — well, I guess it’s about time we had a keynote speaker at convention who’s a Democratic governor from Wisconsin,” Evers said.

The governor used much of his speech to reflect on his win over former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and lessons learned from the campaign.

“We decided we weren’t going to get down into the mud with Republicans — we weren’t going to spend our time attacking personal beliefs or character,” Evers said. “We made a decision not to be consumed by the things we were fighting against or distracted by the things that divide us.”

Wisconsin Republicans held their state party convention last month, during which GOP leaders were sharply critical of Evers and his policies.

Evers did not directly address continued conflict at the state Capitol over the state budget in his remarks.

However, Democratic legislative leaders took their time on the stage to throw their support behind a number of Evers’ initiatives that are facing a steep climb in the GOP-controlled state Assembly and Senate.

“There’s no policy reason to reject the Medicaid expansion,” said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. “It’s such a no-brainer from a moral and fiscal perspective.”

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said Republicans “still haven’t learned that they don’t control everything anymore.”

“They’re struggling to work through the five stages of grief,” Shilling said.

Congressional Delegation Talk Health Care, Trump

Two members of the Democratic contingent of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation focused on a number of high-profile issues at the nation’s capital in their remarks.

Baldwin spoke at length about an issue central to her 2018 campaign: health care.

“You did not send me to Washington, D.C., to take away people’s health care — just the opposite,” she said.

Baldwin said some health care plans in America “aren’t worth the paper they’re written on,” and called on GOP leadership in Congress to “stop sabotaging our health care.”

She also called for legislation to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

Rep. Gwen Moore took much of her time on the stage to criticize President Donald Trump.

“I’m going to do some anti-Trump dumping tonight,” Moore told the convention crowd.

Moore said Trump needs to “learn the principles of 4- and 5-year-old kindergarten kids,” including “share everything” and “play fair.”

The congresswoman said she is in favor of impeaching the president.

“We’re going to continue to investigate — that’s our duty,” Moore said.

Party Leadership Election

Saturday also saw speeches from party activists and politicians angling to take official leadership roles for Wisconsin Democrats.

State Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, the party’s current vice chair, is running against former national party activist Ben Wikler to replace state party chair Martha Laning. Laning has held the role since 2015.

“We have a lot more work to do,” Laning told convention attendees Saturday afternoon. “It is imperative the future leaders we select tomorrow help us do that.”

Wikler, former Washington director for MoveOn.org, a national advocacy group, pitched himself as a savvy, experienced organizer.

“I’ve spent my whole life in this work,” he said, also touting a campaign slogan of “FIRE: Fight, include, respect, empower.”

Wikler called on the party to continue engaging in advocacy efforts between elections. He mentioned Democrats’ push to accept a federal expansion of Medicaid in particular, as well as movements to bolster union rights.

Bowen called on the party to expand its reach across the state and to change the way it engages voters in some communities. He said the party needs to stop “parachuting” organizers into unfamiliar areas during election cycles.

“We lose when we don’t work to expand the electorate,” Bowen said.

Still, he touted the party’s 2018 victory over Walker.

“When we do the work, that’s when we win,” Bowen said.

Party delegates will vote on the chair’s race Sunday, the second and final day of the convention.

Supreme Court Candidates Speak

Convention attendees also heard from the two liberal-backed candidates for the state Supreme Court.

Marquette University law school professor Ed Fallone and Dane County Judge Jill Karofsky are running to fill the seat currently held by Justice Daniel Kelly, who was appointed to the court by Walker in 2016.

Kelly announced his election bid for a full, 10-year term on the court Tuesday.

Both Karofsky and Fallone called for change on the state’s highest court, which has been controlled by conservative-backed candidates since 2008.

“Our judiciary, our legal system, are being increasingly politicized,” Karofsky said. “We need fair, honest and independent judges.”

Fallone criticized Kelly by saying he received his appointment from Walker as “a reward for political loyalty.”

“I’ll be a voice for working families on the Supreme Court of Wisconsin,” he said.

Karofsky and Fallone each called for protecting women’s reproductive rights in Wisconsin, as a number of other states move forward with tightened regulations surrounding abortion. The Wisconsin Assembly passed a so-called “born alive” abortion bill last month. It is expected to go before the Senate soon.

Both candidates also touched on issues of criminal justice and the environment.

“We’re locking up too many people of color —this is a failure of our justice system,” Fallone said.

“We must uphold laws that protect our beautiful environment,” Karofsky said.

The state Supreme Court is currently controlled 4-3 by conservatives. That will move to 5-2 when Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn takes his spot on the bench in August.

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