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Citizen Dave: Mike Tate is not the problem for Wisconsin Democrats


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When a baseball team is losing, the manager gets fired even though he never swings a bat or fields a ground ball. The manager is sandwiched between a small number of people above him (the owner and general manager) and a larger group below him (the players) that can't be fired. So he becomes the designated fall guy.

Mike Tate might be feeling a little bit like a big league manager right now as he faces a challenge for his reelection as chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair. As reported by Judith Davidoff in Isthmus this week, Tate is getting some of the blame for the current deep minority status of his party. Still, the challenge doesn't seem to be all that serious because Tate retains the apparently strong support of the party's top elected officials and biggest stars.

That's as it should be. Mike Tate has done a good job with the material he's got. The party is well-organized and has a very solid field operation. And it's important to remember that Democratic Assembly candidates received some 193,000 more votes than Republicans in the 2012 elections. Republicans hold a 60-39 lead in that chamber only because they made gerrymandering into an exact science when they redistricted Wisconsin (with taxpayer money behind closed doors) following the 2010 census and their sweep of state offices in the election that same year.

As for that 2010 sweep, it was part of a national disaster for the Dems. For example, there's no way in a normal year Wisconsin voters would exchange Russ Feingold for Ron Johnson. It was a tsunami of anti-government hysteria that we are not likely to see again anytime soon.

Tate also can't be held responsible for last year's failed recall attempt against Scott Walker. Voters just weren't ready to vote a guy out of office who hadn't been convicted of a crime before his term was up.

If I have a problem with my party, it's not with Tate's leadership. It's with the fact that we don't really seem to have a strong, coherent and consistent message of any kind. We know what Republicans stand for: "small" government, lower taxes (on the rich), guns, religion (as long as long as it's Christian), discrimination against gays, environmental exploitation, use of lots of fossil fuels, and various other 19th century economic and social policies.

As much as I disagree with the Republican agenda, at least when they gain control of the government they hate, they know what they want to do with it. When Democrats held the majority in the Wisconsin legislature, their primary goal was to retain the majority. That meant they were always ducking votes on progressive issues to protect their members from the most conservative districts. Worked great, right? We got creamed anyway and even Russ Decker, the architect of that strategy, lost his own seat.

"I am a member of no organized political party. I'm a Democrat!" That old Will Rogers joke doesn't apply here. My party is plenty well organized these days. But organized to accomplish what exactly is the question that needs to get answered before we will get -- or deserve to get -- another chance at governing.

Have a good weekend.

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