President Joe Biden: Steady, Measured Campaigner In Era Of Over-Charged Politics

Opening my email Tuesday morning brought me the headline I had heard on NPR when I woke up.  President Joe Biden made it official; he is seeking a second term in the White House.  It was not a surprise moment akin to 1968 when a sitting president announced a bombshell of not running again.  It was also not a take-to-the-podium event where family and top supporters gather in some hometown high school gym or public square and as the words of another term are spoken loud applause is registered and captured on film by a bevy of news reporters gathered around.  A digital recording was offered instead to the nation.  Just like that the 2024 presidential race was engaged by a man who has proven campaigns and governing is a one-day-at-a-time way of operating. 

As I looked at the video of Biden speaking to the nation it seemed so calm and ordered and structured.  Yes, it was a professional script and tone for the candidate but there was something more to be seen.  Or rather, not seen.  There were no hair-on-fire chaotic statements or crudeness or red meat that was planted to roil the base or add incendiary partisans into overdrive. It was a normal type of campaign statement that shows deportment and gravitas about the role we want from a president–of any party–being on full display. Voters can discuss the age of the man, the conduct of foreign affairs, or the domestic policies that have been implemented or planned. But what will also be noted and perhaps even more important to voters, felt by voters, is the steady and normal way Biden’s White House operates.  The way Joe Biden lives his life and operates as president.

I believe that people understand the way a president–of any party–conducts himself and offers service to the nation is hard to measure in polls.  Polls can evaluate snapshots of concern about guns or interest rates or progress with changing over to green energy and there can be a strong sense of where the nation stands.  But knowing that there is a strong even-tempered person in the White House, even if one disagrees with this or that policy, is far harder to measure but I argue vital to the success of an election than many heated partisans care to admit.

As I read the other headlines of the day in quick fashion while enjoying my first cup of coffee, I noted Donald Trump’s rape trial starts today, charges against Trump will likely be forthcoming this summer in Georgia over election issues in 2020, and some Proud boys are nearing the end of their trial that will surely end in convictions.  As the nation takes in all the harsh headlines and political and legal turmoil they will also see a soft-spoken guy who looks like his temperament and style matches the way our politics played for most of this nation’s history.  That mood and recognition may not make people honk their horns and rush into the office today to measure their fellow worker’s reactions but it is that steady calm from Biden that will secure him another term.

Tale Of Two Concessions Speeches: Paul Vallas Vs. Dan Kelly

Paul Vallas addresses the crowd at his election night party to concede the race to Brandon Johnson. 
Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-times

From time to time in conversations with friends, I am asked what moves me about politics and politicians.  After watching campaigns and election nights for nearly 50 years, what truly uplifts and inspires me? One such moment took place on Tuesday but ironically was the same night when I witnessed a stunningly low moment in our politics.

Most people are now aware of the low-brow behavior of Dan Kelly when addressing his supporters after the Associated Press was able to call the race for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court less than an hour after polls closed.  Kelly did not call Janet Protasiewicz and offer a verbal concession but instead went on television stating, “I do not have a worthy opponent to which I can concede.” And then seemed to enjoy offering up the line, “My opponent is a serial liar. She’s disregarded judicial ethics“.

That was clearly the lowest moment in memory for politicos who follow such events, but soon thereafter something happened in Chicago that lifted the sails for those watching that city elect a new mayor.  Paul Vallas competed with Brandon Johnson in the run-off election and when it was clear Vallas had come up short something occurred that the city can be proud of as they move past a hard-fought campaign. The Chicago Sun-Times reporting tells a fabulous story.

Though 90,000 mail-in ballots remain uncounted, Vallas did not hold out for a full count that would have dragged Election Day into Easter weekend.

He took the podium at the Hyatt Regency Chicago at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday to tell his supporters he had called Johnson to offer his support to the mayor-elect.

“I ran for mayor to bring this city together, and it’s clear, based on the results tonight, that this city is deeply divided,” Vallas said. “So tonight — even though we believe every vote should be counted — I called Brandon Johnson and told him that I absolutely expect him to be the next mayor of Chicago.”

When some of his supporters shouted, “No,” Vallas responded: “Please, please, please. It’s critically important. This campaign that I ran to bring this city together would not be a campaign that fulfilled my ambitions if this campaign is gonna divide us more. So it’s critically important that we use this opportunity to come together.”

With 90,000 absentee ballots uncounted and a 52% return rate, Johnson likely will pad his margin of victory as late-returning mail-in ballots are counted later this week. Several analysts predicted he could get as many as 70% of the uncounted absentee votes.

When it comes to campaigns and elections, as witnessed on Tuesday night, there are two ways a losing candidate can proceed.  The high road and the low one.  As one who enjoys Chicago politics, I was watching coverage from their CBS affiliate (Channel 2) and needed the uplift that Vallas provided. It was not only an antidote to Kelly last night, but a lesson about how more politicians need to operate going forward.

Dan Kelly: Churlish Behavior And Bad Sportsmanship In Concession Speech

When one competes in an election there are certain situations that are going to occur.  Not everyone is going to be cordial to a candidate so grinning when confronted with the opposition’s supporters is a must. There are doubtless too many selfies that need to be endured, but with each one, a candidate grins and bears it.  Then comes the night when the ballots are counted and regardless of the outcome a candidate needs to be gracious.  If winning the candidate expresses how much the victory depended on the scores of volunteers and their tireless efforts.  Harder still, but equally important, is when the loser in an election steps up to the microphone and offers a concession speech that honors the victor. Even if one needs to fake the graciousness of losing, conducting oneself in such a manner is simply part of the deal of entering a race in the first place.

I have always said that how a losing candidate conducts themselves says far more about their character than any other outward display can convey to the public.  As such, I was truly and totally stunned by the dreadful way Dan Kelly admitted defeat Tuesday night when losing his second race to sit on the Supreme Court.  He stated, “I do not have a worthy opponent to which I can concede.” And then seemed to enjoy offering up the line, “My opponent is a serial liar. She’s disregarded judicial ethics.”.

The brittle, harsh, and truly troubling display from Kelly alerted the television audience that Midwestern niceness is not a trait equally shared.  Voters who had endured far too many television commercials over the months and had been alerted that Kelly was not properly suited for the Court, had the rare opportunity to witness why many worked so feverishly to defeat him.  No one on either side of the political aisle can condone or rationalize Kelly’s truly churlish behavior and completely undisciplined emotion.

Sports coaches from little league to the Green Bay Packers, forensics coaches in high schools from Superior to Lake Geneva, and parents who try to teach values at home all know the necessity of instructing about losing with grace and taking the high road when things turn sour.  When so many try to guide youth in a positive direction it is unacceptable to have someone who asked for our vote as a judge utterly disregard any sense of decency and act in such a surly fashion.

I have watched campaigns and candidates for over 45 years. I have been thrilled by speeches of victory, but also strongly moved by ones of defeat. The Dream Shall Never Die speech in 1980 at the Democratic National Convention placed Senator Ted Kennedy in the heart of the party, even though he was defeated for the nomination. He offered soaring words as he ended the race. “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die”.

Dan Kelly upon losing took the opposite tactic and acted with bitterness. He has to now live with that was his final campaign curtain call.

April Election Endorsements And Predictions From Caffeinated Politics

This post will be mercifully shorter for both ends of the blogging experience than what resulted before the November 2022 election.  It took time to fashion my predictions last year, and more than a couple minutes for readers to take it all in. The April Election have highly consequential races, but just fewer of them. The race for the Wisconsin State Supreme Court on one hand impacts everyone, but the absolutely vital referendum for school funding in Adams-Friendship has a dire outcome if not handled with maturity by local voters.

There has never been more of a controversial and partisan figure who wished to wear a black robe on the Supreme Court than Dan Kelly.  He does not even pretend to be objective, having taken well over $100,000 in pay from the State Republican Party and the Republican National Committee to work on election issues.  He then pranced about with fake electors following the 2020 election in Wisconsin which Joe Biden won and now has the audacity to ask voters to place him on the high bench.  While I very much find fault with the politicized nature of Janet Protasiewicz and her campaign style for the seat and know more than ever merit selection is the sane path going forward, there is no way we can entrust our court to Kelly, who has an utter disregard for fair election processes.  We must never, ever, give an inch to the crowd who brought us January 6th.  

Janet Protasiewicz wins, and the race will be called by 8:40 P.M.  Forty minutes after the polls close.

Statewide voter referendums.  Question #1.  Voting no.  Question #2.  Voting no. The reason for my two resounding no votes is due to my background from the decade when I worked under the statehouse dome.  I always felt part of the role I served was to be an educator, of sorts, for constituents and voters.  Both of the ham-handed offerings from the GOP are poorly worded and utterly confusing for the average person showing up at the polls.  In no way do the measures promote public safety or better allow judges to do their work.  These referendums are the pure folly of the type the GOP is known for at election time.  Another way of saying it is this is just another reminder of why Republicans in the majority at the statehouse have too much free time; time they could have invested in gun control measures and merit selection for court justices.  

Both Questions #1 and #2 pass at the state level. 

Madison’s Referendum question about staggering aldermanic races has promoted strong thoughts in our home and with our friends. I am so opposed to the efforts afoot over the past few years to make changes to the way the council is composed, the salary to be paid, the number of years in a term, and the professional staff we are asked to consider is required. It makes me wonder who takes these efforts seriously.  When I watch the 6th hour of a council meeting where members are searching for words and reason, I am aware that what is most needed is a teaching coach to instruct them about how meetings should run and function.  Not about staggered terms. An efficiency expert would be most useful to the council!

The city will correctly dump this awful idea with about 60% saying No.

I knew in the summer of 2020 that Satya Rhodes Conway was not going to have my vote for reelection when iconic State Street was allowed to be destroyed, not by protesters against police violence, but rather by willful and out-right villains who acted as if they could do so with impunity.  Gloria Reyes worked with her family in my home county when she was a girl, knows the importance of our police department, and acts like she is aware that there is always more to learn in life.  That stands in stark contrast to Conway who considers herself, regardless of anyone else in the room, always to be the smartest. 

Conway wins.  The odds were always in her favor. Her Achilles heel will turn out to be in the years ahead her highly controversial bus rapid transit plan. But by then she hopes to have landed a federal job that has been rumored strongly in the past four months. Surely in the transportation arena!

The Madison School Board race to be decided has a candidate, Blair Feltham, playing to a voter base that is so out of the ballpark they would find it hard to locate residency in the city. Telling a student in a forum who admitted to not feeling safe on school grounds “we need more time to build in opportunities for restorative justice and conversations about safety” I nearly lost my dinner. Clearly, she likes to talk airily about issues, but parents and taxpayers want to see safety concerns firmly dealt with in the classrooms.  I will place my vote with Badi Lankella.

Feltham wins as her lingo sells to just enough white voters with liberal guilt.

Madison Alder race 6th District.

Marsha Rummel has not always received the highest praise on this blog, as I have had some sincere differences with her.  But what has happened to local alder races with the obscene amount from Realtors injected in recent weeks has made for a wide U-turn for me regarding her attempt to win again for alder.  Conservatives running for office at one time could take for granted support from Realtors but since Madison ran conservatives into surrounding counties, that money needs to find a new place to be used. So, they aim for the ones they think can be of best use if elected. The money poured into certain aldermanic races this year (nearing $200,000) did not just ‘happen’ as no one gives the money in such a cavalier fashion without knowing they are going to have a friend once they are elected. We may have been born on a Monday, but not last Monday. We need to vote wisely and inform neighbors and friends what is afoot.

I think good government types prevail in the 6th and Marsha wins 52%-48 over Davy.

When it comes to the three conservative rubes who wish to take over village offices in Wauanke, well, I find them so loathsome and low on the scale they do not even get named. Enlightened candidates and campaigns will prevail over the mouth breathers on Tuesday in that community. Do not mess with a public library—-readers know how to win.

Finally, the Adams-Friendship school referendum will pass as even Trump voters and conservatives (that area is known for wacko-crazy types) who attempted to block the needed tax monies last November will be pushed to admit their community is at stake. But by less than a hundred votes. Never discount the ones who deny the importance of book learning.

Madison Needs Mayor Who Will Listen To City Staff, Gloria Reyes Has My Vote

“It was disconcerting to sit in a meeting, where several people had degrees and strong backgrounds and many years of expertise, and still know that the Madison mayor felt she was still the brightest one around the table.”

That is a direct quote that came my way two years ago by someone who was taken aback at the tone-deafness of Satya Rhodes-Conway, a mayor who is known for her self-assurance about every topic that lands at city hall.  She is, needless to say, a smart woman and has proven political skills.  No one can deny she is to be respected.  But so are the professionals and a number of city employees who also bring a wealth of insight and information to the table.

The race for the top job at city hall has been filled with debates over bus service, housing, and policing concerns.  There has been some beneficial back-and-forth with Gloria Reyes, a proven leader in her own right over the years in our city. The voters are getting a clear sense of the issues that will drive the city and those who govern it over the next four years. But they also are becoming more aware of the troubling style of management of the current mayor.

When I worked in radio there was a concept when interviewing people for news reports called the 80/20 rule. That is when the one who is being interviewed talks 80% of the time, and the reporter listens, and then makes queries with the other 20%, even though there may be glaring reasons to interrupt and say, “But that is factually wrong” or “did you not previously say”?   I can say in hindsight, that much was learned from letting the one not holding the microphone have the chance to make their points.

City departments have many truly qualified and informed employees who have much to add to a discussion about the topic at hand but need to have a mayor who is truly interested in listening and learning.  A mayor who is not so cock-sure about every facet of city operations that there cannot possibly be anyone smarter at the table.

Satya Rhodes-Conway is not about to change who she is when it comes to her self-centered perspective.  But voters can change the tone of the mayor’s office by electing Gloria Reyes.

Chicago Mayoral Election: Paul Vallas Has Administrative Skills, Brandon Johnson Has Heart Of City

I recall with much fondness the long car drives in 1983 from Sturgeon Bay to my family home when the heated Chicago mayoral race was front and center on all their radio stations.  The drives were pleasant though the heated campaigns that year from the Windy City were not.  Harold Washington was doing battle with Bernard Epton and every racial dog whistle that could be employed against the Black candidate, overtly or covertly, was used in the dirty race.  The reason I recall that period so clearly surely is aided by the recollection of a bag of donuts from a local bakery and coffee for the journey as I visited my folks once a week while employed at WDOR. It took a number of chocolate donuts to offset the rancor from Edward Vrdolyak, Edward Burke, and Edmund Kelly. The three Eddies were simply ugly in every political context. Ahhh, Chicago politics.

Fast forward to 2023, and the upcoming mayoral election, which will land on the anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr, a race that pits Brandon Johnson, a Black candidate with a passionate message about inclusion and lifting all parts of the city, with Paul Vallas a white contender with a skill set and background which would greatly aid in running a city.  If you find it hard to discern who should be elected in Chicago from that last line, you have great good reading comprehension.

The idea is often heard from voters about wishing to be able to ‘pick and choose that character or attribute from two candidates and make a blended person’ a result that would please the vast majority. Perhaps in no other campaign in many, many a year has that mood been truer than what is playing out between Johnson and Vallas.  I was pleased when Vallas announced his candidacy and was surprised how Johnson won the votes to put himself into the April runoff, considering the other candidates vying for votes.  It was impressive to see Brandon’s campaign foster so much goodwill and grassroots support.  I have said often in conversations with others that Johnson does not have the best honed political skills, as evidenced by some of his remarks or not being able to deftly glide around an issue as Vallas does due to the latter having been in the game far longer. But Johnson has a well of deep sincerity and determination that is required in any big-city mayor.

Readers may have noted that last week I posted about a very well-done documentary concerning Jayne Byrne.  Though she used a populist theme of the insiders vs. the outsiders to win the election following Michael Bilandic and a snowstorm he had no way of controlling it was clear she had not the skill set to run the city. It showed even with the basics, such as not talking to the press at every turn and certainly not attacking them when rough waters buffeted her. She was gritty and I recall her term in office as being just fun to hear play out over the radio airwaves, but she simply did not have the political and administrative qualities needed to govern a major American city.  

While the polls are way too close to call a winner in this year’s important mayoral race, I try to consider how the average voter there might view the landscape.  Even though Johnson is a conventional family man and has a strong religious background, which does matter to some voters, and Vallas admits to having lived apart from his wife for decades and is known for profanity-laden angry outbursts, I suspect his skill set proves to be the weight that moves the voters.  It was, after all, Valas’ skill set that first brought a smile from this desk upon learning he was to be a candidate. I can not vote there but I do love the Windy City.

We are a week away when the bulk of voters head to the polls, and then politicos such as in this home will turn to the CBS app and watch live coverage of all the excitement from Chicago on Election Night. Good times for pols and polticos.

Madison Crime Data Vs. Political Perceptions As We Roll To Spring Balloting

As we approach the Spring Election in April many issues are bandied about in an attempt to link a candidate with voters.  In the Madison race for mayor and a wide array of aldermanic contests crime and policing are often topics being presented for answers from those on the ballot. While those who commit illegal actions make headlines the fact is the fear of crime outpaces the actual data of what is happening in our communities.

When it comes to the top-of-the-fold crimes that get attention the statistics from Madison are heading in the right direction.  The city saw six homicides in 2022, 40% fewer than the previous year; shots fired calls were also down 39%.  It goes without saying there has been a raft of car thefts and wayward teenagers who seem hellbent on making for a mugshot rather than an honor roll lineup. Even then the data proves stolen vehicle cases were down 12% and home and vehicle break-ins fell 33%.  But when it comes to the city as a whole it is not improper to say that for the general population, the crime rate should not be the first or second concern that roils voters at the polls.

We recall the stem-winding rhetoric that led up to the midterm election in 2022 with Fox News decrying violence up and down their broadcast day.  But then a funny thing happened once the balloting ended.

With the vote over, however, the rightwing news channel appeared to decide things weren’t that bad after all, and decreased its coverage of violent crime by 50% compared with the pre-election average.

I faulted the Republican rhetoric at the time on my CP Facebook page as far more about election ranting than most of the nation experienced.  I noted in November 2022 that what occurred starting in 1829 still resonated.  President Andrew Jackson was going to root out the corruption and rot that had been placed into the governmental offices by sacking those appointed by former President J. Q. Adams.  But historians have discovered that in the Tennessean’s first term, he removed only 1 in 11 officeholders.  Clearly, with that evidence, the use of hyper-based rhetoric for political aims far exceeded any actual abuse in departments of the federal government. Repeat and rinse.

While I had my lawn sign firmly planted for Gloria Reyes prior to the Madison Professional Police Officers Association making their endorsement and understanding that some locales in Madison have economic and social issues that are meshed with crime statistics it bears repeating that we need to stay true to the data. Our city always has room for improvement, like putting body cams on every officer and making sure there is a resource officer in every high school. We know that any criminal act is absolutely out of bounds.  But let us not drift away from another fact. We have a city we can be proud of and no candidate for any office should try to paint it otherwise.

Madison Aldermanic Races Flooded By Realtors Association Money, Neighborhood Elections Should Not Be For Sale

Pressing for a process where elections are issue-oriented has been one of the foundations of this blog over the past 17 years.  Ushering more money into campaigns has not created policy wonks among voters but instead pressured elected officials to be more susceptible to casting an aye or nay that aligns with the monied interests who ‘brought them to the dance’.  As we near the April Spring election heavy monied maneuvers have been employed by the Realtors Association of South Central Wisconsin in a large number of Madison aldermanic races.  It is creating a backlash across the city that I suspect news operations will soon find merits coverage. In the newsroom of the radio station where I worked, we termed a story of this kind as ‘having legs’.

Central to this story is that races for alderperson, one of the most local and personal types of elections we are engaged in as citizens should not be smothered by the monied interests from outside our districts. They do not care about the community spirit we wish to maintain in our neighborhoods but rather about the use of raw political power during election season. 

As noted on the Marquette Neighborhood listserv this weekend, where one of the candidates for an alderperson in the 6th district next month received $20,000 in assistance from the realtors, there is ample reason to understand what is happening.  First, a brief primer about a similar move where Satya Rhodes-Conway, while serving as a city council member, weighed into what then was a political stink bomb lobbed into the Willy Street neighborhood.

“In the 2013 District 6 Alder race, the Building a Stronger Wisconsin PAC sent out a mailer supporting one of the candidates.  It raised quite a stir on this list-serv (and in the neighborhood) not only due to its scurrilous content about the opponent but also because a PAC directly entered into a local race.  As one poster at the time said:  “If a Madison council seat can attract this kind of PAC intrusion, what’s next?  PAC mailers for Co-Op, MNA and Wil-Mar board seats?”  Or, as then-Alder Satya Rhodes-Conway was quoted as saying in another post:  “Shady front groups have no place in Madison Politics.” 

Venture forth to March 2023.

Now, for the District 6 election, we have received a mailer from the RASCW Housing Advocacy Fund.  This Fund is an IRS section 527 political organization, first registered with the IRS on March 6, 2023.  The Fund is affiliated with the Realtors Association of South Central Wisconsin, and the Association’s CEO is the records custodian for the Fund.  The Fund’s IRS registration form states the purpose of the organization is “to influence elections.”  The Fund’s first registration statement was filed with the state on March 10th

WHAT IS ABSOLUTELY APPALLING is that this Fund has spent $ 169,889.02 (estimated costs, not all invoices have been received) on Madison Alder races. The Fund has spent money on candidates for Districts 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 15, 16, 18, and, 19.  In addition, the Fund spent $17,477 on a Fitchburg mayoral candidate. 

The Fund spent $20,000 in the District 6 race for mailing services, online advertising, and phone/robo calls.  To put this in perspective, in 2021 Brian raised $1,080 and spent less than $400, Alder Abbas spent about $6K, Alder Bennett about $2K, and Alder Carter about $2.5K.”

Why this matters to voters is something I can speak to with first-hand knowledge. In 1988, for the first time, a race for a Wisconsin state assembly seat would top $50,000.  Most rural races were easily waged with $15,000 but the GOP desperately wanted Lary Swoboda’s First Assembly seat (Lary had taken the Door/Kewaunee seat after it had been held by the GOP for almost a century), so they pumped over $50,000 into the opponent’s war chest. I was working with Lary at the Capitol in those years and though we prevailed at the ballot box, due in part to people knowing the high gloss multicolored brochures in the mail were not aligned with the way they had long known races to be conducted, this race changed how our caucus in the assembly viewed future elections. Seeking large amounts of campaign cash and viewing the coming election cycle as a frenzied money-grabbing event greatly altered politics and undermined good governance. The way to remedy a similar cash grab locally from happening is to reject this kind of spending by sending a clear message at the ballot box about what good government means.

Finally, after the 1988 election, our campaign had some political buttons produced.  You read that right, after the election.  That race was so grueling we needed some way to alert others to the insanity we endured. “We Survived The $50,000 Club”. Today people think of $50,000 as start-up money for an assembly race, but in 1988 that was a major war chest to run against. 

Voters have the power to reject this monied interest and reverse the attempt to sway elections followed by their desire to plow through changes in the common council.

Here is the filed report. Type “rascw” into the search box, and the fund name will drop down.