April 8, 2005
Spreading the word
Howard Dean inspired millions of Americans to jump back into politics or to put their toes in the water for the first time. The media, yes that crowd, had to elminate him as a serious contender for the top job, and they did.
But lots of Dean supporters continued to meet, calling themselves Democracy For America, or here, Democracy For Wisconsin. I spoke to the Deaniacs several months ago about the People's Legislature and I was impressed with the diversity of the crowd and its enthusiasm for grassroots democracy. There were probably 45 or 50 people, young, old and in between.
Democracy For Wisconsin had its regular monthly meeting on April 6, but there was a surprise waiting for them. Some 70 people from the Democratic Party, including the man annointed by Jim Doyle to lead the party for the next two years, Joe Wineke, and Tim Sullivan of AFSCME, attended a meeting of Democracy For Wisconsin, for the first time, so they could vote for Joe Wineke over his opponent for party chair, Jeff Rammelt. Of course the naive Deaniacs, thinking this was their group, had no rules to protect against a hostile takeover and they allowed everyone to vote and, guess what? Wineke won the straw vote.
Incredibly, one of those who came to pack the meeting uttered these words: "This is what democracy looks like." Whoa Nelly! If a thousand Dean supporters showed up at the Democratic Convention they would be escorted from the hall.
If this is what democracy looks like then we are in trouble. Wineke should be embarrassed. He will unboubtedly be the next chair of the Democratic Party and then he will be the representative of Governor Doyle as well as all incumbent Democrats at all levels of government. And his job? Convince the Deaniacs, Greens, and politically homeless to join the Democratic (not democratic) Party. Good luck, Joe.
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Naive? We knew well in advance that Joe Wineke was going to pack our meeting, and while we had enough time to block him, we decided that it would be more advantageous to use his actions to our advantage.
DFW as an organization had very limited power and resources, and our endorsement of Jeff Rammelt would have been insignificant. We certainly realized that, even if Wineke didn't. We decided that it would help Jeff Rammelt more to let Wineke go ahead with his plan, but to use the fiasco to show that Wineke was eager to "mow the grassroots", as his (paid) campaign chair Mike Tate put it. We drew up a little PR plan, and invited reporters to the meeting. The result was a fair amount of negative press for Wineke, particularly in online sources which are popular with the party's base, such as Fightingbob.com.
Wineke won in the end, of course, but Rammelt got almost 40% of the vote, almost unheard of for someone who was running against the governor's hand-picked candidate with only grassroots support. Taking on the party establishment was a difficult and bruising experience, but we learned a lot, and by God it was fun!
-Russell Wallace | Madison, WI | November 3, 2009