MIDDLETON, Wis. — Wisconsin Democrats, still stinging from unexpected and deep losses in the 2016 election, voiced optimism Friday at the kickoff of their annual state convention that they can defeat Republican Gov. Scott Walker and re-elect U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin next year.
“We are not afraid,” said Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach. “Bring on 2018.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, of Illinois, joined with Baldwin and other Wisconsin office holders to rally an announced crowd of more than 1,100 Wisconsin Democrats at a hotel outside of Madison.
Baldwin urged Democrats to stay focused on the fights that really matter to working people and not get distracted, while also ripping President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts to health care, Great Lakes cleanup while cutting taxes for the wealthy.
“Folks in Wisconsin are fed up with getting screwed over,” she said.
Baldwin and other Democrats focused their ire on both Walker and President Donald Trump, while also promising that energy from grassroots activists organizing to fight the state and national GOP agenda will reinvigorate the party for 2018.
“I am so excited about our prospects in 2018 I can barely contain it,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, who represents the Madison area in Congress. “There is great enthusiasm out there for turning our nation and state around.”
Trump carried Wisconsin, making him the first Republican presidential candidate to win the state since 1984. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson also became the first Republican Senate candidate to win in a presidential year in 32 years and Republicans also gained seats in the Legislature, giving them the largest Senate majority since 1971 and the biggest Assembly margin since 1957.
Last year’s election was “the worst gut check in my life,” said Democratic Assembly Leader Peter Barca. But that’s why the energy shown through the national and local women’s marches in January, and increased activism seen since then, “has been so inspiring and important,” he said.
Garcetti said that while Democrats were feeling pessimistic, it was up to them to advance a counter agenda to what Walker and Trump are pushing.
“We are living through an urgent moment in our nation’s history,” Garcetti said.
Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles since 2013 and Duckworth, elected to the Senate last year, are both considered rising stars in the Democratic Party nationwide. Wisconsin Democrats are searching for their own star who can emerge from a crowded field of possible challengers to Walker and take him on as he’s expected to seek a third term next year.
Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Alex Zimmerman said Democrats were in disarray and had no agenda. Republicans organized rallies at field offices across the state at the same time Democrats were meeting.
Potential and declared Democratic candidates for governor and attorney general worked the crowd but were not given speaking slots, even though candidates in the nonpartisan race for Wisconsin Supreme Court were allowed to address the crowd. They were allowed to speak because that election is in April, while those running in the fall 2018 election can speak at next summer’s convention, said Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Weathersby.
The court candidates, who are running for the seat currently held by conservative Justice Michael Gableman, made strikingly different pitches to the crowd.
Longtime Democratic donor turned Supreme Court candidate Tim Burns called Trump a “demagogue” and stressed the importance knowing the political background of candidates for the state’s highest court.
“The political values of judges matter,” he said.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet, who announced her candidacy on Thursday, said the current Supreme Court, with a 5-2 conservative majority, is rejecting “our progressive history” but stressed that the solution was not to elect partisan judges “from the other side.”
“If we fall into the trap of politicizing the third branch, we turn our back on our true progressive history,” Dallet said. “We need independent judges who follow the law and decide every case based on the Wisconsin and U.S. Constitutions and the law.”
State Democratic Party Chairwoman Martha Laning faced three challengers on Saturday in her bid for a second two-year term leading the party. Challengers were Glendale Mayor Bryan Kennedy, attorney Eric Finch and retired business owner Joe Donovan.
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