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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 24, 2014

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In Milwaukee Buzz Commentary

Brett Hulsey seems to have ordered a Gimmick of the Week campaign package from the back pages of a comic book. (PHOTO: WISN-TV)

I'm so sorry about Brett Hulsey

Hey, Wisconsin, I'm really, really sorry. I feel just terrible. See, Brett Hulsey is my fault.

He's running around the state threatening to hand out little KKK hoods as I type this and, like most of you, I just cannot. I cannot even.

I know what you're thinking. In your mind you're doing that scene from "Good Will Hunting" where Robin Williams talks Matt Damon off the ledge with "It's not your fault. It's not your fault." Nice try, but it really is on me.

Last fall, after Mary Burke – a moderate corporate Democrat who seems nice enough – started her campaign for governor, I thought somebody should challenge her from the left. I figured it would be good for her and good for the party. The 2008 Democratic presidential primary, while overlong, was helpful in getting our messages to general election voters and in proving the Obama team's mettle before the big show in November.

For a while last year, it looked like state senator Kathleen Vinehout, herself not exactly a raging leftist, would be Burke's primary challenger. But then Vinehout fell victim to winter (and not wearing a seatbelt), so for a while there, it was looking like nobody else would step up, and it would have to be me.

That's right, I considered, almost kinda sorta seriously, offering a primary challenge to Burke's left. I knew it could be done, and done thoughtfully. Beyond Burke's statements vaguely in favor of liberal causes, there is a lot of room for a platform calling not just for the rollback of the Republicans' recent agenda (Act 10, voter ID, gutting school education), but for moving beyond that: single-payer health care reform like Vermont, higher minimum wage like Seattle, demand-side jobs bills rather than tax giveaways. I'd even go crazy and push hard for legal same-sex marriage like in that well-known hotbed of marxism, Iowa.

And I would totally my campaign, using the good data that are out there about not just the efficacy but the popularity of these issues as the centerpiece of my run. Sociologists have long known that people tend to believe that their neighbors are more conservative than their neighbors really are, and so they try to moderate their actions to fit in (a recent example is here: both Protestants and Catholics think the vast majority of people in their faiths oppose same-sex marriage, but that's not true!). I'd ask Wisconsin to live up to its potential, and I'd try to run that campaign from the best season of "The West Wing," when President Bartlett gets elected by being the smart, classy one in the race.

Brett Hulsey is not running that kind of campaign. Instead, he's ordered a Gimmick of the Week package from the back pages of a comic book, advertised there next to the Sea Monkeys and X-Ray Specs. So far Hulsey has toured the state handing out fake checks, dressed up like "Confederate General Bass Ackwards," and in a moment pulled directly from the worst season of "The West Wing," considered sending a chicken-suited supporter to taunt Burke about her not wanting to debate him. His Twitter feed has turned into Selfie Central, with the candidate's gap-toothed smile turning up in front of anyone or anything holding still enough to be caught on cameraphone.

And because of all that, I doubt anyone can tell you a single position Hulsey's taken on a major issue. I know I had to pause while writing this paragraph to google and see whether there's anyone working backstage at Hulsey's Bad Decision Theater. (This was a challenge; a search for "Brett Hulsey governor" put his campaign website pretty low on the first page of results, below news reports about his antics.) Yeah, there's something, but nothing revolutionary, nothing to distinguish him from Burke, even.

So this is where we are. In a week when the state GOP held its state convention, where the secessionists and nullificationist crazies had their moment in the sun, Democrats could have offered a substantive debate over the future of Wisconsin. Instead we got Brett: Cultural Learnings of Campaign for Make Benefit Glorious State of Fitzwalkerstan, and enough fodder for six months of "both sides do it" reporting about the fringes.

And, guys, I'm sorry I let that happen. Never again.


fetlarpo | May 6, 2014 at 8:48 p.m. (report)

Good article. Mary Burke must be told by her Obama campaign team to act like a conservative but behind the scene ssshhh! Im a liberal just like you. On Saturday May 3rd she was huddling around the Milwaukee Teachers union strutting around that she was from Marxist Madison with no media presence. Come Tuesday May 6th with the cameras present she is a staunch conservative. (Media voice) Mary, how do you feel about the trolley downtown. Next question, Mary you said you would use Madison money to fund an arena in Milwaukee last week. (that must have been Madison Mary ???) She has no opinion on Act 10, she does not want to talk about the Casino in Kenosha and she back peddles on Trek. Lets hope the War on Women puts her at the big person table.

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AndrewJ | May 6, 2014 at 2:47 p.m. (report)

"Mary Burke a moderate corporate Democrat ". Aaaaaand, column credibility gets flushed down the toilet. Whooosh. Excellent attempt to distance yourself from Hulsey and his antics. The fact is that all he's doing is walking the walk that Liberals whisper in back rooms. A few years ago your tiny fearless leader, Mike Tate, compared Republicans and the Tea Party to the KKK. But now it's this enormous stretch for one of your Liberal cohorts to hand out white hoods to those from the opposing party? The best part is that this goof is forcing the media to shed light on on the Liberal mindset. But, hey, enough about Brett. Let's talk about Graeme Zelinski...

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