Having written this blog for over 10 years I am mindful of the foundations which root this place on the internet. Process in government is as important as the outcome, gun control is essential, gay rights are human rights, and the free press is a vital part of democracy. Also thrown into the mix is a desire to see cleaner political campaigns which are driven by ideas and less money.
It is those last two items–the free press and less money in elections–which has thrown Madison into something of a loud and nasty verbal back-and-forth.
It all started when Isthmus Reporter Dylan Brogan wrote a story about Madison Alderman Maurice Cheeks spending massive amounts of money ($18,000 which was more than 3x that spent by his opponent) on a high-priced campaign. The story was titled “Hey Big Spender” and can be summed up by showing Cheeks used large amounts of money on professionals for an aldermadic race. His full-color lit was mailed, with the work being done by a Washington, D.C. business. To add to the over-the-top style of this campaign Cheeks hired as a consultant the same campaign operative who directed Hillary Clinton’s presidential operation in Wisconsin. Surely his fellow council members seeking election this spring had to ask what more could Cheeks do to further run up his numbers for Election Night?
He showed them by hiring a full-time campaign manager. When the ballots were counted Cheeks had won 84% of the vote.
While I am always applauding the ones who get into the arena and seek public office I am ever mindful that the way one runs is as important as if one wins. Every kid has had this principle firmly planted within them from the first days of group sports. But of course the importance of the lesson learned plays out on a far more important stage when an adult. Which is why I am totally perplexed that so many of my fellow residents in the city are not more concerned about what this means to our local political process.
Instead of talking about controlling the ever-larger amounts of money it takes to compete for office many in Madison are challenging Brogan for some racial intent for writing the story.
Eileen Harrington commented on his story that she had to “ask whether this is racially motivated? Or sour grapes? Or what? I’d like to see the author explain why attacking Mo Cheeks for his successful campaign is newsworthy.”
I have no idea who Harrington is but I would bet she would answer, if questioned on the street by a pollster, that campaigns in this nation are too costly, and too few people people dig down for the issues due to slick ads. She might agree in general that too often style outpaces real content in our electoral process.
But when it came time to apply that reasoning to the Cheeks campaign there seems an easy off-ramp for too many liberals in this city. All of a sudden striving for more issue-oriented campaigns with less money is no longer the focus. It would seem since Cheeks is being given a pass based on being black.
I would be interested to know–based on the amount of money spent–if Cheeks’ constituents are now brimming with facts and data and policy ideas that match the level of money that was spent. After all, I have stated over and over, that one reason for waging a campaign is to start a dialogue on issues that matter. So even if one loses the race the months of campaigning would be worth the time as something bigger was gained.
So might Alder Cheeks now state what his large campaign treasury imparted to his constituents which now makes them better able to be part of the political process. Or was the stockpile of money, and the way it was used, just a sign that he really wants to be mayor? (The answer is yes.)
And to hell with the idea that ever-more expensive campaigns undermines the very local government he seems so desirous of leading.
And so it goes.