The next-to-last election in our seemingly never-ending 2012 election cycle takes place Tuesday, with the “fall” primary elections.
The voters with the most to decide Tuesday are two groups — Grant County Republicans (that is, Grant County voters who announce themselves as Republicans at the polls), who get to vote in the U.S. Senate and 49th Assembly District primaries, and Lafayette and Iowa county Democrats, who get to vote in the Second Congressional District and 51st Assembly District primaries.
(Readers know that voters declare their primary party affiliation at the polling place on Tuesday.)
One thing should tie together the GOP U.S. Senate and Democratic Second Congressional District primaries. That is disgust at the mud-slinging (I’d use a stronger term than “mud,” but this is a family newspaper) in both of those races, among GOP Senate candidates Tommy Thompson, Eric Hovde and Mark Neumann, and among Democratic House candidates Mark Pocan and Kelda Helen Roys.
The problem in both those races, as well as the race mentioned a couple paragraphs from now, is the conclusion the political experts came to years ago: Negative campaigning works. Negative campaigning is proven to move votes in the direction the negative campaigner wants. If it didn’t work, given the zero-sum nature of politics today (one side wins, the other side loses), political candidates and their campaign managers wouldn’t do it. Negative campaigning will continue as a campaign tactic until it stops working. (If, for instance, a candidate not named Pocan or Roys gets the Democratic nod in the Second, or if Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R–Horicon) shocks the world and wins the Senate primary.)
The silly thing about the Thompson–Hovde–Neumann circular firing squad is that I cannot believe any of those three believes U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D–Madison) would make a better U.S. senator than whoever ends up with the GOP nomination. They are certainly acting that way, though. As someone who hasn’t decided my vote in this race yet, I think each needs to tell voters why each deserves your vote; the winner has plenty of time to tell you why Baldwin does not deserve your vote before Nov. 6.
(If you want to watch Thompson, Hovde and Neumann try to tear each other to ribbons, plus Fitzgerald, you can watch their debate on Wisconsin Public Television or listen on Wisconsin Public Radio Friday at 8 p.m. … assuming the Olympics isn’t more compelling to watch.)
The most interesting local race is the 49th District GOP primary, meeting number three between Rep. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba City) and Dave Kuhle of Hazel Green. It’s as if the signs for Tranel or Kuhle — some right next to each other — popped up seconds after the polls for the gubernatorial recall election closed June 5.
(You can read The Journal’s stories about Tranel and Kuhle online at www.swnews4u.com/section/1/article/6207/ for Kuhle and www.swnews4u.com/section/1/article/6459/ for Tranel if you haven’t saved your June 27 and July 11 issues of your favorite weekly newspaper.)
For a legislator who is young enough to be my son (sigh), Tranel seems to be the party establishment candidate in the race, with the endorsements of, among others, Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder. Gov. Scott Walker showed up on Tranel’s farm while campaigning in the gubernatorial recall election and took the step of recording a commercial to endorse Tranel.
Both Tranel and Kuhle have been doing an interesting dance around the issue of the public employee collective bargaining reforms that sparked the recall of Walker and several GOP state senators. I refer you to the aforementioned stories to get each’s take on Act 10, and each’s stance on the other’s stance on Act 10.
Regardless of how one feels about who supported what, the Act 10 changes will be state law for the foreseeable future. Voters are more interested in what Tranel and Kuhle would do if elected than what they did in an issue decided by the Legislature in 2011.
As with the U.S. Senate race, it would be more helpful in the waning days of one of their campaigns for Tranel and Kuhle to explain to voters why each would be better than the other representing the 49th Assembly District. (The same applies to Maureen May-Grimm and Pat Bomback in the 51st.) That means persuasively explaining your own potential contributions, not merely dumping on your opponent. That also means explaining how you would represent your constituents first, as well as how you would be effective in representing southwest Wisconsin’s causes with Assembly leadership.
This state is facing a lot of problems for which there are not easy answers, and those answers haven’t been forthcoming anyway in legislative campaigns so far this year. State finances are legally, but not factually, balanced. The state’s business climate still needs substantial improvement. The rural economy needs substantial improvement to stop the best and brightest of rural Wisconsin from seeking greener pastures elsewhere. (Grant County, for instance, grew in population at half the state’s overall rate between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census.)
On the other hand, watching politics the past few years creates an argument for less, not more, government. Elections are as nasty as they are because the stakes in elections — the power of elected officials regardless of party — are too high. That is the reason for the present levels of campaign spending and the tone of the TV ads. Spending limits and public financing of campaigns will not change that. The only thing that will change that is taking power and perks away from those we’re voting for Aug. 14 and Nov. 6.