Democratic gubernatorial candidate(s) not named Burke

Christian Schneider said earlier this week:

In 2014, Wisconsin will hold its third gubernatorial election in a little over four years. And in the run-up to an election that will shape the future of the state, Democrats have created the perfect candidate to win the election. Unfortunately for them, that candidate is Republican Scott Walker.

On the day after the 2012 Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election, I argued that Democrats essentially moved the 2014 election ahead two years. In trying to oust Walker over his plan to virtually end collective bargaining for most public employees, the Wisconsin left created a Republican star with national street cred and a database of donors that spanned the 50 states.

Now, Walker can raise a million dollars in the amount of time it takes him to listen to a Styx album. His talking points are now forged of titanium, impenetrable by any prospective electoral opponent.

Polls have shown that Walker is more popular than President Barack Obama, who also won the state twice. According to the latest Marquette University survey, Walker’s approval rating is down to 48%, although that number was only 51% when he won the recall election by seven percentage points. In fact, a large share of Walker’s slight drop is due to Republicans who believe his recently signed budget isn’t conservative enough. Presumably, in an election, those voters will come back home.

Of course, it takes two candidates to make an election, and in 2014, Walker only has to be better than the candidate the Democrats throw his way.

To date, the most prominent name rumored to be taking on Walker is Madison School Board member and millionaire former Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke. The fact that an untested local school board representative is the best option the Democrats can dredge up in a statewide election is telling enough; but the progressives aren’t so hot on Burke’s candidacy, either.

In many ways, Burke is a moderate. If the state’s liberals were displeased with Tom Barrett as their Walker adversary in 2010 and 2012, they won’t be high-fiving over a Burke nomination; Burke makes Barrett look like Che Guevara.

Calling Burke the “Mitt Romney of the left,” many progressives have criticized Burke for donating $2.5 million to a failed effort to start a charter school for at-risk African-American and Latino children in Madison. Her critics on the left point out that she once supported a study urging staff cutbacks in the Milwaukee Public Schools — a post at the DailyKos asks the Romneyesque question, “Who would Mary Burke fire?” In taking on Walker, clearly Democrats want a choice, not an echo.

The GOP also quotes Ruth Conniff, an occasional Wisconsin Public Radio foil of mine, as saying, “The Democrats have seemed alarmingly unprepared to challenge him.” Which brings two lessons to mind: (1) Don’t be a member of a political party (and I am not), and (2) never underestimate your opponent. Wisconsin Democrats have underestimated Walker ever since he became Milwaukee County executive, and that is now biting them in the, uh, donkey. Recallarama not only flushed tens of millions of Democratic donor dollars down the drain of media companies’ bank accounts for no actual effect, it turned the governor of a state representing not even 2 percent of the U.S.’ populatoin into a conservative star and a potential presidential candidate, if not in 2016, then later.

If not Burke or Democrats you’ve heard of, then who? How about state Rep. Brett Hulsey (D–Madison)? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice reports:

With embattled Rep. Brett Hulsey, you never know what to expect.

This started out being a post on Hulsey’s unusual use of campaign funds to buy an old convertible and register for a triathlon. But by the end of two chats on Monday, the Madison lawmaker was openly contemplating a run for governor after dismissing the leading Democrat eyeing a bid.

“I was at an event with Mary Burke the other day,” said Hulsey, a Democrat. “She’s got the charisma of a turnip.”

Yes, that was on the record.

For those who don’t know, Hulsey is a 54-year-old liberal lawmaker who has made a name for himself with his sometimes bizzare behavior.

When he’s not getting ticketed for photographing and engaging in horseplay with a boy at a Madison beach, he is terrifying his Capitol staff by carrying around a box cutter and talking about toting a muzzle-loading rifle onto the Assembly floor.  …

In May, Hulsey also paid $85.39 to participate in a triathlon. He wouldn’t identify which one it was, but online records show he finished 139th out of 324 competitors at the Pardeeville Triathlon on July 6.

Of course, Hulsey wore Speedo-style swimwear, and a  photographer has posted shots of him during different legs of the event. …

Actually, Hulsey believes it’s his fellow Democrats who are leaking negative stories about him. Earlier this year, he said said he might bolt his party to become an Independent.

“It is pathetic that Democrats are going after me rather than fighting Gov. Scott Walker and trying to get Wisconsin working again,” he said Monday.

Hulsey certainly is not fond of Burke, the millionaire Madison School Board member and former Trek Bicycle executive who is making the rounds with Democratic leaders as she gears up for a possible gubernatorial run next year.

Not only did he suggest that she is personality-deprived, Hulsey said she was MIA during the fight with the GOP governor over his legislation stripping most state workers of their collective bargaining rights.

“While we were fighting Gov. Walker — trying to keep him from cutting $800 million from education and gut Wisconsin’s school system — she was working with right-wing interests to take money away from Madison schools to create this bogus private academy,” Hulsey said. “I’m not impressed.”

He’s referring to Burke’s $2.5 million donation in 2011 to set up two public charter schools in Madison targeting low-income, minority students. It has since been voted down by the Madison School Board.

Burke did not respond to a message about Hulsey’s remarks.

So who does Hulsey like for governor?

As crazy and implausible as it sounds, he suggested that he is pondering the idea. He said people like his message when he’s out and about the state.

But Hulsey  — who raised only $30 in the past six months — certainly doesn’t have the campaign stash to match Burke or Walker. Undeterred, Hulsey said he would like to run a low-budget, populist-style campaign in the manner of former Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire.

Given that Hulsey’s red convertible appears to be a Volkswagen Golf, one wonders how unions will feel about that.

The self-comparison to Proxmire is ludicrous, given that Proxmire was able to run his “low-budget, populist-style” campaigns after winning the 1957 special election to replace the deceased Sen. Joe McCarthy because Proxmire was an incumbent. Proxmire also was popular with non-Democrats because he was a fiscal conservative. No one considers Hulsey to be a fiscal conservative; the past five years prove that fiscal conservatives do not exist in today’s Wisconsin Democratic Party.

However, every Wisconsin political reporter, myself included, hopes that Hulsey does run. (Whether as a Democrat, presumably forcing a primary, or as an independent is immaterial, because no one who would consider voting for Hulsey would be voting for Walker anyway.) At a minimum, Hulsey would be entertaining to watch.

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