In The Midst of The Wisconsin Presidential Primary-- The Milwaukee County Executive Election
Shepherd Express, I feel your pain. In 2006, Blue America was tricked into endorsing a reactionary posing as a real Democrat, Chris Carney. He won-- with our help-- and as soon as he did, he pulled off the mask and exposed himself as a bigot, a Blue Dog and one of those "Democrats" who vote more with the GOP than with the Democrats. We apologized-- and then raised and spent over a quarter million dollars to defeat him in a subsequent election. This week Milwaukee's weekly newspaper, the Sheperd Express, one of the only locally owned alternative newsweeklies left in the country, apologized to its readers for being so eager to get rid of the Scott Walker agenda that was tearing Milwaukee apart that they recommended a lesser-of-two-evils alternative with a lot of progressive promises, Chris Abele. "We had some serious questions about Abele and we expressed them at the time," the editors wrote this week, "but given the choice, we asked our readers to support Abele because he was supporting the policies that were better for working people in Milwaukee County. We were wrong. We have never had to do this before in our 34-year history, but the Shepherd Express apologizes to our readers for what turned out to be a poor recommendation. “WE SINCERELY APOLOGIZE TO YOU, OUR READERS.”
Not only has Chris Abele carried on Scott Walker’s policies, but unfortunately he has moved into new and very anti-democratic territory beyond what Scott Walker would probably have ever done. Many observers feel that he has shown himself to be a bit fast and loose when it comes to the truth on many issues. Much of what he promised in his first campaign he either ignored or did the opposite of what he promised. Also, he has demonstrated some very serious character issues that even surprised some of Abele’s biggest critics.Like Blue America, People for the American Way, the Sierra Club, the Working Families Party, and DFA, and virtually all of Wisconsin's labor unions, the Shepherd Express has endorsed progressive state Sen. Chris Larson's campaign to replace Abele as Milwaukee County Executive. Last month Larson beat him in the primary, despite being outspent 20 to 1. Abele has poured millions of his father's money into the race. But Larson has people power behind him and people power is what's beating Abele. The election is a week from Tuesday and Abele has poured millions into a vicious smear campaign beyond what you'd expect even from a Republican. With a huge turnout generated by both parties' presidential primaries, Chris is going to need some last minute help to get his name out to low-info voters. (And remember, this is the office that probably leads to the Wisconsin gubernatorial nomination.) Please consider tapping the thermometer:
In that same endorsement, we also promised that “we will monitor his administration very carefully and provide you with a critical analysis of what is happening at the county level.” Over the past five years, we have done that. Now, with an election a couple of weeks away, we, the citizens of Milwaukee County, can vote to begin to undo the damage done and begin to move our county back to the honest, transparent and intelligent government that our grandparents and great-grandparents created for us.
There are two areas that we would like to explain about Abele-- the personal and the policies-- which are separate but also inextricably linked. We have talked to some of the people who have worked with Abele over the past five years and some who still do. All of the people we spoke to demanded that they be off the record for fear of reprisals from Abele because of his position and wealth. These are some of the people who know him best, and this is a summary of their opinions.
Many of the individuals felt that Abele is one of the most insecure individuals they have ever met. He constantly has to tell you how smart he is and how rich he is. The general impression is that when everything you have ever done in your life, including getting elected to public office, is because of your family’s wealth, you never develop the confidence that people who have to struggle and succeed on their merits gain through that process. This insecurity creates serious problems when you have a position like county executive, because if you are always trying to get the approval of certain wealthy and influential individuals, you are often working against the interests of the average Milwaukee County resident.
...If there’s any single issue that defines Abele’s tenure as Milwaukee County executive, it’s his quest to consolidate power in his own hands. He never campaigned on this issue but he made it the hallmark of his administration and his power grabs threaten to destroy county government and make government ripe for corruption. A too-strong, unaccountable county executive can use his or her powers to strike deals with insiders and strip the county of our valuable publicly owned assets.
Abele began by working with conservative suburban Republicans and Scott Walker to push what would become Act 14 through the state Legislature. The bill cut the duties of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors and gave them to the county executive. Act 14 builds on years of right-wing radio hosts’ attacks on Milwaukee County supervisors because they stood up to Scott Walker and make their decisions in public, where debates can get messy, but that is what a functioning democracy is all about.
As a result of Act 14, Abele, a very distrusting and a secretive man who shuns the public, can rule the county from behind closed doors. The public and county supervisors are shut out of the decision-making process.
In addition, last summer, Abele convinced his ally, state Rep. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), never known to be friendly to Milwaukee, to surreptitiously slip into the state budget a last-minute amendment that would have given Abele near-total power to sell off county assets, including the zoo, the airport and the Milwaukee Public Museum. Abele needs to get the OK of either the independently elected county comptroller or just one real estate expert from the municipality in which the asset is located.
...Even worse? Abele is seeking even more power. As the Shepherd reported last year, state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) apparently wants to introduce a bill at Abele’s urging that would give the Milwaukee County executive almost total power to rewrite the county budget without public oversight or a vote by the board. This power grab ought to outrage every Milwaukeean. No person-- no matter how well-intentioned or popular-- should have that much power over a $1.4 billion budget of our taxpayer dollars. This bill is so dangerous and leaves the county open to such easy corruption that it should never see the light of day.
We aren’t sure why Abele seems to have an unquenchable thirst for power, but we do know what he can do as the king of Milwaukee: sell off county assets to his friends in secret, without a competitive bid, and starve county government of valuable resources... What’s so galling about Abele’s sweetheart deals with his friends is that he argues that he can’t invest in the county because the county can’t afford it-- similar to Walker’s argument that “we’re broke” and that therefore he had to gut the rights of public employee unions and make historic cuts to public education at all levels.
...We’re asking Milwaukee County residents to simply look at Abele’s record as Milwaukee County executive. After reviewing his record, including the items we highlighted above, it is clear that we called the race terribly wrong and why we are apologizing for our endorsement of him when he launched his bid for office in early 2011. We never could have imagined that Chris Abele, allegedly a Democrat, would be Scott Walker on steroids. In two weeks we have a chance to change things.