I had lunch recently with my friend and former Milwaukee alderman Jeff Pawlinski.
We discussed a number of things, and, of course, politics were included. He made an interesting point when we were discussing who could be Milwaukee's next Mayor? Who are the new young Democrats in the state? Wisconsin has a ton of younger Republican leaders, but the other side of the isle seems to be a bit old.
I told Jeff to blog his thoughts, and here they are. Enjoy, and react.
Former Milwaukee Alderman asks, Do Democrats have a hope?
Governor Scott Walker is a rock star. Congressman Paul Ryan is a rock star too. And opening acts in the Wisconsin Republican Party's version of The World Series of Rock include Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, Assembly Speaker and U.S. Senate Candidate Jeff Fitzgerald and his brother, current State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
And what do these Wisconsin Republicans have in common? They are all in their political prime and they are all under 50 years old. Which begs the question: Who are the bright young Democrats poised for party leadership and capable of challenging this Republican fab five? Crickets. Anyone?
The fact is there are no young Democratic leaders that come close to rivaling these Republican heavy weights. The old guard of Herb Kohl, 77, Russ Feingold, 59, and 3-time gubernatorial loser, Mayor Tom Barrett, age 58, are retiring, retired and tired.
The Democrats haven't done a good job of cultivating new talent, particularly women. I personally like and voted for Kathleen Falk in the Democratic recall primary. But at 60 and with no constituency, the Democrats rejected her in favor of the Walter Mondale of Wisconsin politics, Tom Barrett.
Democratic Congresswoman and US Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin is probably the de facto party leader now. She's 50, has a significant Madison following but faces a tough November election - especially considering Scott Walker's recall triumph - which may have tilted Wisconsin red for the first time since Reagan's 1984 re-election. I believe Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald will be the Republican nominee for US Senate and if Baldwin loses to him, there goes another Democrat. Congressman Ron Kind, 49 has shown no interest in leaving his cozy La Crosse congressional seat. He twice passed on bids to run for Governor. Mahlon Mitchell, 35 acquitted himself nicely, garnering over one million votes for Lt. Governor. He's bright and articulate but with no base other than public employee unions, what are his prospects?
Locally, Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines, 47, is the Democrat's brightest, ready-made hope. He's a smart consensus builder but has shown no desire to grab the regional leadership mantle many want him to pursue. After 8 years in council leadership he has yet to separate himself from Mayor Tom Barrett on any issue of substance. State Senators Lena Taylor, 45 and Chris Larson, 31 are too polarizing to appeal to voters outside their legislative cocoons and their 21-day Illinois protest of Walker's budget will always irk many voters.
So strangely, and perhaps for the first time in decades, the future for the Democrats may reside in Milwaukee County Government. After all, Milwaukee County Government gave us Republican Governor Scott Walker. Is The County the new hotbed for developing party leadership? County Executive Chris Abele is 45, personally wealthy and hard to pin down as a moderate or a liberal. So far, in tax policy he's just a conservative as Walker was. He's raw but smart enough to surround himself with talented staff to offset his weaknesses. Is he even interested in partisan elective office though?
His chief rival on policy, as well as a potential Democratic Party destiny, seems to be Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, 30. Dimitrijevic is an interesting case. She's young but already an 8 year County Board veteran. She's driven and savvy enough to have established her own PAC to cultivate new comers to public office. Building personal and party loyalty with a singular purpose of political advancement separates her from her peers. She, in my opinion, is the only woman and perhaps the only regional Democrat on the horizon.
The fact is the Republicans have a loaded bench in addition to their starting five. The Democrats are the aging team looking for an infusion of youthful talent while having simultaneously neglected their farm system. It's a fatal combination.
So where do the Democrats go from here? The first rule of rehab is admitting you have a problem. And the Democrats have a huge problem. No more excuses, finger pointing, blaming, protesting and hoping the John Doe investigation eventually stings Scott Walker. It's time to get to work cultivating young adults interested in public service. Their future depends on it.
-Jeff Pawlinski is a health care marketing executive and a former Milwaukee Alderman.
A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.
He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.
Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.
He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.
He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.