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Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010

DINO in the Crosshairs

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Even people who are repelled by Republican policies frequently express respect for the lock-step party discipline that prevents Republican politicians from thinking on their own and straying from the right-wing party line.

It may not be good for democracy, but it means that when Republicans are in the majority, they have more power to pass extreme laws, and when they are in the minority, they have more power to prevent the Democratic majority from accomplishing anything.

Democrats, on the other hand, are notoriously unorganized. Even with historic Democratic majorities in Congress, President Barack Obama was openly extorted by conservatives within his own party to pare back health care and job creation.

One of the ways Republicans rigidly enforce party discipline is by periodically purging politicians they call RINOs—Republicans In Name Only. This year, the Tea Party has been only too glad to help.

With troglodyte Tea Party primary candidates running against Republican incumbents, anyone who wanted to win a Republican nomination had to renounce any pretense of independence.

Even that proud maverick Sen. John McCain was forced to abandon his past opposition to tax cuts for the rich and start spewing hatred for immigrants instead of supporting immigration reform.

It works for Republicans, but the bad part is it prevents Democrats and Republicans from working together for the benefit of all of us at a time when our economic recovery depends upon it.

Ousting Sen. Plale

Now in Wisconsin, some Democrats have decided that since Republicans refuse to do anything to assist the recovery anyway, the only way to succeed is to purge their own ranks of DINOs—conservative Democrats who cannot be counted on to support a progressive agenda.

In the Milwaukee area, the No. 1 target is state Sen. Jeff Plale, the conservative Democrat from South Milwaukee whose district also includes Oak Creek, Cudahy and St. Francis, as well as Bay View and up into the East Side around UW-Milwaukee.

Plale’s opponent in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary is County Supervisor Chris Larson, an energetic young leader on mass transit and environmental issues.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin strongly support Larson. One reason for that support is because Plale blocked the Clean Energy Jobs Act, Gov. Jim Doyle’s anti-global-warming, pro-green-jobs initiative.

Almost as telling are some of the groups and personalities who have come out of the woodwork to support Plale.

A slickly produced, full-color mailing went out to the district last week. It doesn’t mention Plale. In fact, it claims to be “The Secret to Chris Larson’s Success, By Chris Larson.”

As soon as you open it up, you know you’ve been had. It’s not by Chris Larson. It hates Chris Larson. Then you notice the flier was mailed by the American Federation for Children in Washington, D.C.

Golly, how could Larson have ticked off a bunch of kids in Washington, D.C.? What you need to know is the American Federation for Children is a pro-voucher education lobby whose Wisconsin point man is former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen.

Yes, that’s the same Scott Jensen who was convicted in 2006 of three felony counts of misconduct in public office for using state employees to campaign for Republicans. That conviction was reversed on appeal and Jensen is awaiting a new trial ordered to take place in Waukesha County, his home county, rather than in Dane County, where the crimes originally were charged.

Jensen also has flooded Plale’s district with automated phone calls denigrating Larson. Democratic voters may wonder why a defrocked Republican politician awaiting his second trial on corruption charges is campaigning for their state senator.

The same could be asked about right-wing talk-show host Charlie Sykes, who regularly attacks Larson. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s right-wing columnist Patrick McIlheran even devoted a column to denying that Plale was a conservative owned by special interests, which is pretty strong evidence that he is.

Particularly interesting was the discovery by Lisa Kaiser of the Shepherd Express that Plale had received a campaign contribution from a lobbyist for Koch Industries.

Koch Industries is the oil conglomerate owned by two billionaire sons of a founder of the ultraconservative John Birch Society recently exposed in detail in The New Yorker as the silent financiers of Tea Party groups and global-warming deniers around the country.

In Wisconsin, Koch Industries and its front group, Americans for Prosperity, lobbied strongly against the Clean Energy Jobs Act and Plale danced just as fast as he could.

Progressive Democrats have challenged Plale in the past, but the stars may be better aligned for success this time.

With Scott Walker and Mark Neumann seeking the Republican nomination for governor and Ron Johnson all over TV running for the Senate, conservatives who voted Democratic for Plale in the past may be voting in the Republican primary this time.

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