Stephanie's Political Arena

Critiques and Perspectives on National Politics and More

Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin

State of Budgeting Chaos

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The view from the third floor office in which I work.

It isn’t everyday that your employer is featured on nearly every national news network and media outlet imaginable, so I will devote a brief posting on the events unfolding in Madison, Wisconsin as we speak.  I must disclose that I generally do not discuss Wisconsin politics on this blog as I believe it would be a conflict of interest given that I am employed by the state (while attending graduate school at the same time – which is definitely a challenge).  I will make an exception at this time given the circumstances.

From The New York Times, to Politico, to Fox News, to CNN, and many more, virtually the entire nation is now familiar with the massive protests that have taken place throughout the week in and around Wisconsin’s capitol building.  Additionally, my fellow legislative staffers and I have been dealing with hundreds of phone calls and thousands of e-mail messages as well as impromptu “meetings” with the protesters as they make their way to Assembly and Senate offices demanding to “kill the bill.” The protests began in response to Governor Scott Walker’s introduction of Special Session Senate Bill 11, also known as the Budget Repair Bill needed to fill a nearly $200 million shortfall for the current fiscal biennium that ends on June 30th this year, and also address a projected $3.6 billion deficit in the 2011-2013 state budget cycle.  

Included in the 144-page document are concessions that unionized state employees will be required to make once the bill is signed into law.  Among them are changes to collective bargaining rights and increases in contributions to their pensions (5.8 percent for 2011, which is in line with the national average for the private sector) and health insurance plans (at least 12 percent of the monthly premiums, which is less than half of what private sector employees pay for their plans).  These changes alone are expected to save the state $30 million through June 30th, though they have also proved to be the most contentious components of the Budget Repair bill.

Demonstrating complete disregard for the legislative process as well as their obligations as elected officials, the Democratic members of the State Senate left the Capitol and headed down to Rockford, Illinois in boycotting the scheduled vote on the Budget Repair bill that was to take place on Thursday.   At this point, it’s uncertain if the Assembly will instead take up the measure or wait until the Democratic Senators are brought back to the Capitol and the Senate reconvenes to vote on the measure.  Stay tuned to those national headlines for updates on Wisconsin’s budget repair progress.

The view of the Capitol rotunda from the third floor


Continuing into the night...


Written by Stephanie

February 18, 2011 at 6:49 am

U.S. Rep. Dave Obey Steps Down After 40 Years

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Surely to compete with Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts as the top political story of 2010, Congressman Dave Obey of Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District announced today that he would not seek re-election this cycle.  Politico initially broke the story which came as a “shock” on Capitol Hill, according to Congressman Paul Ryan during an interview on WTMJ earlier today.  Within Politico’s online forum The Arena, top policymakers and analysts weigh in on the significance of Obey’s departure and how this affects Obey’s Republican opponent, Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy.

I had the privilege of interviewing Sean Duffy and his staff earlier this spring as part of a  project I did on the campaign for a multimedia class I’m taking this semester (conveniently enough, the same class for which this blog is required).  Wow, talk about a major turn of events since writing the text portion of my project, which I’ve posted below (and likely will not get published given today’s leading political story):

A Campaign Challenger’s Challenge

Republican Sean Duffy looks to make history in the 2010 Midterm Elections by challenging long time incumbent Democrat Congressman David Obey in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District.

By Stephanie Kundert

ASHLAND – Sean Duffy has played a number of roles throughout his life.  The former star of MTV’s The Real World is a world champion lumberjack, a prosecutor, a four-term district attorney, a husband, and a father to six children, including a newborn. 

But, there is one more role he would like to add to his repertoire: Member of Congress, representing Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District. 

His competition for that role is the 40-year incumbent Congressman David Obey, the “Goliath” of the Northwoods who, according to CQ Politics, has been re-elected during all but two election cycles with more than 60 percent of the vote throughout his career.

The current Chairman of the powerful House Committee on Appropriations, Obey has represented the 7th Congressional District of Wisconsin in Washington, D.C. since he was first elected in 1969, when Richard Nixon was president.  Since then, no challenger has come close to defeating him.

Duffy, however, may not be an easy challenger for Obey to defeat in the post-Scott Brown era.

In just the first three months of 2010, Duffy’s campaign has raised about $220,000 which is more than the previous fundraising record set by Obey’s 2006 challenger, Nick Reid, who had raised $210,000 according to Duffy’s campaign website.  The Federal Election Commission’s Center for Responsive Politics reports that Duffy’s campaign has raised more than $505,000 since July 2009

Yet, Obey has more than $1.3 million cash on hand, and already spent more than $600,000 so far this cycle.

But, that hasn’t deterred Duffy.

Compared to Republican Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown by National Review Online, Duffy and his team put together a campaign that has garnered widespread national attention, with political pundits upgrading Obey’s vulnerability for the current election cycle.  Duffy has been named among the top Republican challengers in the country by the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Independent, TIME magazine, and most recently CQ Politics, to name a few.  His race has also appeared on the radar screens of Politico and ABC News.

“If these were normal times, Duffy wouldn’t have a hope in hell,” writes Patrick Roberts of ABC News.  “But these are not normal times.  And Duffy brings some populist talents to the table.”

“While Obey again merits a strong edge this year, he will probably be held below that 60 percent threshold,” CQ Politics indicates on its Race Ratings Chart.  “He has to be mindful of a determined Republican challenger in Sean Duffy.”

Though he acknowledges the importance of keeping his campaign focused on the district he is vying to represent, Duffy appreciates the traction his campaign is gaining at the national level.

“This is a race that could have a huge impact not just on Wisconsin but on the entire country,” said Duffy.  “People are paying attention to this race in northern Wisconsin, a race they haven’t paid attention to for 40 years.”  “[They] see Dave Obey as a main player” in the government’s role in the economy. 

As a result, “we’ve been very effective in meeting our goals” in terms of fundraising, recruiting volunteers, and gaining overall support, Duffy indicated.  The support was evident at a family-oriented chicken soup fundraiser held in downtown Ashland on the evening of March 25th, where more than 100 people attended in support of Duffy’s campaign for Congress.

A key player in Duffy’s growing popularity at the national level is his campaign manager, Chris DeRose.  A veteran of national politics who served as Director of Election Day Operations for newly-elected Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell during the state’s November 2009 election, DeRose oversees the day-to-day operations of Duffy’s campaign. 

And he continues to look for new and innovative ways of increasing Duffy’s name recognition across the country.

“To defeat someone who has national stature like David Obey, you really do need to turn this into a race that is on the radar of everyone nationally.  You need to make the case to voters outside of the seventh district of Wisconsin that this is your fight too,” DeRose explained.

When DeRose arrived in Ashland to work on Duffy’s campaign in January, he immediately began promoting Duffy to national media outlets such as the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report.  He particularly emphasized Duffy’s strengths as being “someone who’s very much of the district,” given his background as a lumberjack and as the fourth-term District Attorney for Ashland County. 

DeRose indicated the goal behind this strategy was “overcoming the credibility gap” and “making the case to people that this is a race that could be won” despite challenging a 40-year incumbent who happens to chair one of the most powerful committees on Capitol Hill. 

Once credibility has been achieved, that’s when more resources (money, volunteers, consultants, etc.) will become available to the campaign, DeRose explained.

When asked if he believed the campaign had achieved the credibility he had been seeking, DeRose answered, “I think we have absolutely achieved that level of credibility.  This is a race that people feel comfortable getting involved in and…it could honest to goodness upset David Obey on Election Day.”

* Since completion of this story, Chris DeRose resigned from Duffy’s campaign and was replaced by Matt Seaholm. *

Written by Stephanie

May 6, 2010 at 5:31 am