Bad Democrat: Call it now – It’s got to be Obey

David Obey isn't perfect, but he's effective with both parties. And in a heated Wisconsin recall election, what could be more important?
December 26th, 2011 |
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After weeks of silence, the Wisconsin Democratic Party and United Wisconsin finally announced on December 15 that they had gathered more than half a million signatures in the effort to recall newly-minted Governor of the Year, Scott Walker. At the same time, they raised their goal to 720,000, while some activists within the party are urging a goal of one million.

They’ve got 21 days to do it, and while the million-mark might be a little high, it’s fairly certain that at least two recall elections – against Walker and Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch – will proceed. (Note: Signature-gathering for four state Senate races is also progressing, with the campaign to oust Racine’s Van Wanggaard reporting it has reached its goal.)

It’s time to talk turkey in the light of day. Who will run against Scott Walker? More importantly, who can win?

Photo courtesy Tom Barrett for Governor

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Last week, leaders of two unions – the powerful WEAC teachers union the WSEU state employees union – met with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to discourage him from a recall run, though it now appears they acted alone, according to MJS watchdog Dan Bice.

Barrett, who appears to be well-positioned to sweep the next Milwaukee mayoral race, might be keeping his options open in his famously non-committal style. In fact, during a recent press conference with Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, the two were surpassingly nonchalant about the current recall efforts, implying they had yet to even sign petitions, let alone concern themselves with it directly.

[This, as an aside, has an odd ring to it. Abele wrested Walker’s County Exec seat from Walker's designated GOP successor, Jeff Stone, and Barrett lost to Walker in the 2010 governor’s race. To boot, both their respective budgets and their ability to set policy have been substantially altered in the new Madison world order, and not favorably. The very idea that either of them is disinterested in the fate of the recall election is absurd. I predict they will work behind the scenes with money, advisors and influence. There’s no other possible scenario. Unless, of course, Barrett can’t resist the call one more time.]

Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk

Back to the unions. They want Kathleen Falk, claiming she polls best statewide based on a recent 602-person, three-day phone survey from a liberal research institute. The Anzalone Liszt Research memo states that Falk “gains the support of key target groups including independents, women and seniors.” She’s also proven herself a good Democrat over the years and has the unions’ seal of approval.

But this race won’t be won along conventional vote-gathering lines. Walker took the governor’s mansion one year ago because he had the support of conservatives, and few of them have changed their minds about whether he should be there, according to a recent survey by non-partisan think tank Public Policy Polling (PPP).

Former Rep. David Obey

With all due respect to Ms. Falk, there’s not a snowball’s chance that she will swing red voters. Same goes for Barrett, should he decide to blush and run. Only one of the other potential contenders, frankly, has what it will take to succeed in this most historic of races.

That man is former Congress member David Obey.

I know, he’s far from perfect. In 2009 he was accused of getting into a shoving match over an earmark with California legislator Maxine Waters. Watchdog website ThatsMyCongress.com gives him only a 32 Progressive Action score. In addition, the PPP survey has Obey and Falk almost dead even, with Barrett and He Who Will Not Run ahead of both of them. So where’s the science behind my assertion that David Obey should be the Chosen One?

A recent PPP survey shows Walker would still beat most Democratic candidates by at least five points.

From Public Policy Polling's recent survey of Wisconsin voters

Admittedly, there isn’t much empirical data to support my belief so far, but there is this: the sometimes cranky but typically transparent Obey worked an underrated miracle for 42 years. He was an unapologetic Democrat elected 21 times in a row by a majority Republican constituency in the 7th Congressional district. In fact, his seat had been previously held by Democrats for only four of the prior 96 years since its creation.

Obey is one of the longest-serving members of Congress in U.S. history, and was either ranking Democrat or Chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee for 17 years. He’s kind of a big deal, and would likely attract both support and out-of-state money from sources Falk could not tap.

In a recent Op-Ed piece for Madison’s Cap Times, Ed Garvey (who has laid permanent claim to channeling Bob La Follette) made some interesting points about the benefits of an open primary, namely real transparency and the potential downside to a candidate seemingly sponsored by either Mike Tate or the unions. Then again, he also suggested we organize a statewide meeting to organize this primary… Moving on.

Republicans are showing signs of discontent with Walker’s lack of progress in attracting jobs to the state, but that doesn’t change the fact that a thin majority of Wisconsites still believe he should serve his full term. To unseat him and change the way every American looks at the electoral process, Democrats must mount a candidate who can be effective in rebuilding broken relationships and once again move the state forward. And they must do it soon.

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7 Responses to “Bad Democrat: Call it now – It’s got to be Obey”

  1. Mortified West Allis Resident says:

    I also strongly favor David Obey. Kathleen Falk will lose…it’s that simple! She has already lost two recent state-wide races. The stakes are so high in this race that we can’t afford another loser. Tom Barrett seem like a nice guy but he also just lost a race against Walker. His campaign style put me to sleep. We need a tough, no BS candidate to run against Walker. Can you imagine little Scotty, the baptist ministers drop-out son, in a debate against Dave Obey? Both intellectually and visually it would be no match.

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  2. xoff says:

    This may be the first time anyone has suggested that Obey is someone who can get Republican or independent votes. His election to the House in 1969 was indeed an upset, but he was reelected since then because he was the incumbent, and 98% of them are reelected to Congress. He didn’t run in 2010 because the polls showed he would probably lose. Add to that his age and volatile personality and you have the makings of a loser.

    The one Dem who actually could pull in some independents and Republican votes is Herb Kohl, who’s probably not interested. But he has been the most popular politician in Wisconsin in every poll since 1988 when he first ran. Dems should be trying to draft him.

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  3. Russellito says:

    PPP shows a Feingold win? You didn’t even mention him. I admit, I may have missed something obvious vis a vis recent events… can someone fill me in? Did Feingold bow out of this goat rodeo? I hope not…

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    Lucky Tomazek Reply:

    Indeed – Feingold bowed out before the signature collecting even began. There are some who keep their fingers crossed that he’ll change his mind, but it seems unlikely at this point. And the Dems continue to scramble…

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    Jon Anne Willow Reply:

    Lucky’s right. He actually made it official in August (August 19th, if I remember correctly), and has been re-affirming it ever since. Here’s a link to a December 13 interview with Mike Gousha where he says it again: http://www.todaystmj4.com/news/local/135556198.html

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  4. Patti Wenzel says:

    It would be difficult to for either Barrett or Abele to run against Walker, since they made extensive use of Walker’s tools to balance their budgets this year. Plus, other than his fight with Sheriff Clarke, Abele is looking more like Walker than Stone ever would have.

    Obey is a great guy and could easily bring his harmonica to the Solidarity Singers daily set. But if the Democrats want consensus and a governor who can work with divided government (no matter how much you change the Senate, the Assembly is going to stay Republican) Dave is not your man. He is professorial, grumpy and firmly subscribes to the “my way or highway” philosophy. In addition, he is not in the best of health and wants to be considered the senior statesman on the sidelines, not the man in the hot seat.

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  5. Lucky Tomazek says:

    I don’t know much about Dave Obey, but I’ll check him out. I actually want to comment about Barrett and Abele’s position (or lack thereof) on the recall. It makes total sense to me that they’re ducking out of it publicly. Remember – it was Scott Walker who camped out at the fire of Ament’s recall and look what’s happening to him. He rode the glory of that 2002 political undertaking (think morgue, not intensive labor) all the way to the Governor’s Mansion. Now, the ads he produced supporting the people’s right “To Take Their Government Back” are being thrown back at him, and at the GOP. It seems to me that staying out of the fray of this recall is the smart thing to do. Whether it’s the right thing is another matter entirely.

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