Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Fight For Wisconsin's Future: Chris Larson


Chris Larson, building a progressive bench in Wisconsin

The whole country had a chance to look at Scott Walker a few times over the last couple of years, most recently as he stumbled through-- and then out of-- the Republican presidential primary, where even early backers like the Koch brothers were horrified by his terrible performance. How did this clown even get elected governor of a sensible state like Wisconsin? Well... it all started when he ran for the state Assembly in 1990 and lost to now-Congresswoman Gwen Moore in a landslide. He was only 22 and he figured out he'd have to find a whiter, more bigoted and more right-wing place to run from. So he moved west to the wealthy suburb of Wauwatosa (90% white), ran for its much more conservative Assembly district and won-- five times. He was a union-bashing ALEC member right from day-one and made a name for himself as a right-wing extremist in the state legislature.

In 2002, when Milwaukee County Executive, corrupt, conservative Democrat Tom Ament, resigned over a pension fund scandal, Walker was a shoe-in because voters were eager to punish the Democrats. (No Republican had ever won the office before-- or after). Walker used that position to launch a bid for the governor's mansion in 2010 and won with 52% of the vote.

In 2011 wealthy conservative Democrat Chris Abele-- son of the founder of Boston Scientific-- defeated right-wing Republican Jeff Stone with 61% of the vote. He's not as bad as Walker... but almost. And he wants to run for governor in 2018. Keep in mind, he worked with reactionary Republican lawmakers in the Wisconsin Legislature to subvert the democratically elected school board by giving him the power to close schools, fire teachers, and open charter schools in their place. This piece of legislation would have only moved forward if the County Executive had been willing to use these powers, and Chris Abele stood up and said he would. He also cooperated with the Republicans in the legislature to strip oversight from the democratically elected Milwaukee County board over county land sales. He has sole authority on a number of them, and first used this power to sell prime downtown real estate to the Milwaukee Bucks billionaire owners for $1. (No, I did not forget any additional digits-- one buck for the owner of the Bucks.) And, in an effort to secure public financing for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena, Abele put $80 million of Milwaukee County taxpayer money on the table, and wanted to help pay for it in part by allowing Scott Walker’s state government to collect outstanding property taxes from residents who can’t afford to pay their bills. This is the same arena deal that John Oliver famously pilloried.

So why am I bringing this up at DWT? The progressive Democrat running against Aberle-- as of Monday-- is our old friend, Chris Larson. Chris is a state senator, the state senator who has been most aggressive in holding back Scott Walker's agenda.
Larson, joined by family and a few political allies in the driveway of his parents' home in Greenfield, outlined the main themes of his campaign against an incumbent he criticized as "out of touch" with county residents.

Larson, a resident of the Bay View neighborhood on Milwaukee's south side, said he would ride the county bus as often as possible if elected, as oppposed to the costly security detail that drives Abele around in an SUV.

And those buses would continue to roll, Larson said, because he would restore labor peace in the county.

He blamed Abele for the July 1-3 transit strike-- a first in the county since May 1978-- because the executive would not meet personally with the union representing drivers and mechanics.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 members have rejected two proposals this year from the Milwaukee County Transit System. The old contract ended March 31.

"We will end divide and conquer" tactics in county government, Larson said. Last week, Abele agreed to give up the company's request to hire 45 part-time drivers in an effort to break the impasse. A bargaining session is scheduled Friday.

Two former Abele supporters-- former state Rep. Sandy Pasch and U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore-- stood on the driveway to emphasize their endorsements of Larson.

Two former Abele supporters-- former state Rep. Sandy Pasch and U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore-- stood on the driveway to emphasize their endorsements of Larson.

Pasch will be treasurer for this campaign. Moore, a Milwaukee Democrat, said she was disappointed Abele was willing to go along with GOP lawmakers intent on "a takeover of Milwaukee public schools."

The Republican-controlled Legislature gave Abele the authority to appoint a special commissioner who could take over a limited number of underperforming schools each year.

Larson repeatedly hammered Abele for accepting that authority as part of the same state budget in which the GOP imposed the largest cuts to public education in state history.

"The county executive is not elected for that" job, Larson said. He said he would examine the law and pledged to attempt to repeal it.

The takeover of MPS schools would not have been approved if he had been county executive, according to Larson.

Larson has said he intends to challenge Abele on the Democratic incumbent's collaboration with Republican lawmakers on bills to boost county executive authority while undercutting county supervisors. Most recently, GOP lawmakers gave Abele sole authority to sell or lease county-owned properties not zoned as parks.

Among the other planks in a campaign platform, Larson said he would prioritize job creation in high unemployment neighborhoods and boost maintenance of county parks.
Chris, a Milwaukee County native and the youngest member of the state Senate, served as Democratic leader in 2013­-14. He was first elected by defeating conservative Democrat and Scott Walker ally Jeff Plale. The big money was with incumbent Plale, but Chris beat him by knocking on doors and having thousands of conversations with his neighbors. We got to know Chris during his first term in office, when he was leader of the "Wisconsin Senate 14" which fled Wisconsin to stop Walker’s disastrous "budget repair bill." Chris is campaigning on ending the takeover and privatization of Milwaukee Public Schools and on a wide array of local progressive issues.

If you'd like to contribute to Chris' grassroots campaign, you can do it through the Blue America ActBlue page for Milwaukee County Executive.


With all precincts counted, Chris has won the primary with a 708 vote margin! General election is April 5. Chris: "Organized people can beat unlimited sums of money." Chris raised $100,000. Abele spent $2 million. Best grassroots campaign of 2015-16 so far!

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