Sunday, March 3, 2013

Unless change comes soon, state Dems will struggle to stay relevant

Comments from communications director among the many challenges the party faces

The history of the Democratic Party in Wisconsin is remarkably shorter than some realize. Largely dormant for much of the state’s lifetime, the party itself didn’t become a significant player until after World War II. Before that time, the Republican Party and the Progressive Party (founded by Fighting “Bob” La Follette) sparred for the votes of the Badger State.

The Progressives eventually merged with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin mid-20th century, and since that time the dual-party system consistent with the rest of the nation has been in place: Democrats representing the left and Republicans representing the right.

To say that the DPW's presence is relatively young in our state would be no exaggeration. Though the Democratic Party is the oldest political organization in our nation’s history, in Wisconsin it’s still considerably new, despite always being around in the background. It’s relevance as a political actor in our state is still being tested.

That test is all-the-more evident this week. Following the “exoneration” of Gov. Scott Walker in the John Doe investigation (if you can call it that), DPW officials acted less than cordially over an issue they banked on in the 2014 gubernatorial election. Specifically, DPW communications director Graeme Zielinksi railed off a series of “tweets”, some of which were aimed at comparing the governor to the infamous Wisconsin serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

DPW spokesman Graeme Zielinski and Chair Mike Tate
There can be no doubt that Zielinski’s tweets crossed the line. He has since apologized for them, but the damage has already been done.

Instead of taking the opportunity to re-examine the next move to make, the DPW looked foolish, becoming the subject of mockery across the state -- and deservingly so. Scott Walker is many things, but comparing him to a serial killer is a ridiculous notion to make. Such comments come off as childish, and fail to win over any Wisconsinites who might consider becoming or supporting Democrats.

Zielinski could have pointed out that the length of the John Doe investigation implies that Walker was under consideration for criminal behavior, and that the closing of the case at this point merely means that his guilt couldn’t yet be proven. Though a remark of that nature still could come with some questioning glances, it pales in comparison to what Zielinski actually said:
@GovWalker had better lawyers than Jeffrey Dahmer in beating the rap. Clear that he committed crimes
It may be forgivable of the party to let this action slide were it the first instance -- but Zielinski’s words have previously been over the top. It’s nothing new for DPW Chair Mike Tate to have to make excuses, to apologize for his Communications Director’s uninspiring temper.

Some have called for Zielinski to be fired; others have called for Tate himself to be replaced. Perhaps those calls are justified, and perhaps they aren’t; but unless some significant action is taken soon, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin may once again be finding itself in the same position it was a century ago: as an irrelevant player in state politics.

Whatever course of action that is taken, it needs to go beyond merely detailing what Gov. Walker has done, beyond the destruction his administration has wrought, to what the party itself would actually do in his place. When that message becomes clearer to understand, and when it’s shown how it will work positively for the people of Wisconsin, the problems that Democrats face will be far easier to overcome.

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