By Jimmy Lemke
Admittedly, I’m a newcomer to the state political world and in general don’t have an opinion on everything in the realm. I like to call the past couple of months my “feeling out process” in the Democratic Party. Sure I’ve always voted Democratic, but for the first time I became a contributing member. I’ve gotten to know people in the local Milwaukee chapter, read up on everything around the state, and followed the blogging and press from the state party closely. It’s only natural that someone with a journalism background notices the delivery of the message before the message itself. So you can take this post with a grain of salt or not if you wish.
However, there’s something I have to say. After these few months as a fledgling member of the Democratic Party, there is nothing I’m sure of more than this:
Graeme Zielinski has got to go.
The Communications Director of the State Democratic Party is a position of the utmost importance for the future of Democrats in Wisconsin. To get elected, Democrats need to get their message out there. To get their message out there, they can use any medium of press available to spread it. But to target fellow Democrats specifically, people who can be foot soldiers for them and reach the largest audience possible, they need the voice of the Democratic Party behind them. That voice is all of us, the voting members of the party, and through voting we have chosen Mike Tate to determine what that voice says. His communications director is the one that broadcasts that voice to the state.
Graeme Zielinski does an astonishingly poor job of doing that. This goes far, far past the Jeffrey Dahmer tweets. Everyone knows they were in poor taste. But it’s not the first time Zielinski has played the internet troll when he should be playing the boxing trainer.
Almost everything from the Wisconsin Democratic Party is wrong. It’s a flood of anti-Walker sentiment, repackaged in 50 different ways for the most vindictive of us to snicker at like the latest meme on Facebook. But that’s all it is. There’s very little here propping up the next round of Democrats.
Of the last ten press releases on the WisDems.org website, eight of them bash Walker. Of the other two, one is a generic call from Tate to avoid the sequester and one is a spotlight on Rob Zerban and his stance on Paul Ryan’s plan to support the GOP plan of the sequester.
So that’s one. One post in the last ten that promotes a Democrat running for office (I’m hoping/expecting Zerban takes another shot at Paul Ryan in 2014). Anything supporting Ed Fallone? His challenge to Pat Roggensack may not be along “party lines,” but it’s pretty obvious which candidate espouses Democratic values. In just one month, Fallone is challenging Roggensack for the right to a ten-year appointment on the State Supreme Court. Do you think he could use some pub from the state party?
Press releases are the tip of the iceberg. On the state party’s Facebook page, there’s a post about the same Zerban comments and a celebration of the passing of VAWA. Besides that? A lot of screw Scott Walker with a little screw Sean Duffy thrown in.
My question is this: if the State Democratic Party plans to run “Anti-Walker” versus Walker in November 2014, who do they expect to win?
There was nothing about Tom Barrett’s State of the City speech, despite the fact that he’s one of the most high-profile Democrats in the state right now. Nothing about Kathleen Falk, who would be great candidate in the gubernatorial election next fall. Neither is there anything about Peter Barca, Russ Feingold, Kathleen Vinehout or Doug La Follette.
The State Democratic Party of Wisconsin has 20 months to build up a challenger that can beat Scott Walker. It’s obvious that this isn’t their philosophy, at least in how it is being espoused by Graeme Zielinski.
Say we have a candidate who would have a great shot at beating Scott Walker in 2014. If the current party line (according to GZ) continues, we will hear nothing about these people until the primary elections. Once those are over, the line from Zielinski will show everything this candidate disagrees on with Scott Walker. That candidate will line up against Walker in November, and they’ll lose handily.
Now, I’ve never run a campaign. I’ve never worked on a campaign, never made cold-calls for someone or stood and had my picture taken with a state senator or a assemblyman. But I know how I’d try to beat Walker’s message, and it would be starkly different from how Zielinski’s handled things thus far.
Take that same candidate from the previous scenario. Say they haven’t even decided to run for the governor’s mansion. Say they haven’t even been asked by anyone. But they’re a good candidate. I would go to them, discuss how things are going now. Senator Barca, what legislation are you working on? What are you supporting that helps the people of Kenosha? Senator Feingold, what have you been up to since the last election? What made you decide to get into teaching? Kathleen Falk, it was a tough loss in the Democratic primary for the recall election. How is life since then?
People love personal interest stories. They lap it up. And politicians need those kind of things to get out there. So I’d oblige them – each and every one of them. When Penny Sikora was running for Alderman, it was a great story. A bus driver running for public office? Obviously events besides that have kept Sikora from being a good candidate, but the story of someone “of the people” running for public office is solid. But there’s no promotion from the Democratic party here. It seems like they want everyone to run their own campaign, and the best we can do is throw some money your way or help you throw a fundraiser.
You do these things now – over a year before the Democratic primaries – because you want people to know who these Democrats are before they see the name in the ballot box. Otherwise all they’re going to do is connect the arrow on the candidate whose name they remember the most, and that’s not what you want when you’re preparing to take on the guy whose name everyone remembers the most.
Zielinski is the worst on Twitter, which he must think is a place for him to make the @gjzielinski account his own personal troll’s paradise.
Not counting the Dahmer tweets which have since been deleted, the last 50 tweets from Zielinski feature 28 bashing Governor Walker for various douchebaggery, five discussing the papacy (I’m assuming from the Polish last name that Zielinski is Catholic), five about VAWA, five bashing Sean Duffy, a couple attacking Ron Johnson and Reid Ribble, and one retweeting the Bucks.
How many are in support of Democratic candidates for public office? Especially considering we’re just one month away from the April general election? None. He has no interest in supporting anyone running for public office next month. This is the Communications Director of our party. That should be his entire job.
He hasn’t tweeted since yesterday’s apology to Walker, which is also a mistake. Move on. Of course, he could be on twitter ban from Tate, but that’s just delaying the problem while leaving the latest gaffe fresh in everyone’s mind.
Let’s not forget the fact that because most of Zielinski’s posts are anti-Walker, the chances things blow up in his face are tenfold. Many posts of Zielinski’s reference the John Doe case. Well, seeing as the case is closed for now, Zielinski’s words just seem hollow across the board. It’s not just there; he has frequently brought up Walker’s lack of a college degree. What happens when a Democrat without a degree wants to run for public office in this state? All their GOP opponent will have to do is bring up tweets from Zielinski that point out this contradiction and they have news.
By staying positive and keeping negative posts to the issues at hand and not people, Zielinski would be able to build up candidates and the Wisconsin Democrats’ point of view. Instead, he just looks like your average internet troll – except this internet troll holds a high office in the State Democratic Party.
Earlier today, Dougie Cyanide called for someone to run against Mike Tate at this summer’s state convention. He characterizes current party leadership as something of a “frat house,” and he’s not off point.
As a journalist myself – you’re welcome to visit my site PantherU.com for new on the Milwaukee Panthers at UWM – I look at the delivery more than the message itself. And it’s abundantly clear that the delivery of the State Party’s message is absolutely hogwash.
I’m not going to call for anyone to run against Mike Tate, but I will call for Mike Tate to make the tough decision and oust this pledge from the frat house. It bothers me that time after time, Graeme Zielinski makes the dumb decision to hit “Post” without thinking, and Tate has yet to make him accountable for his actions.
Graeme Zielinski’s gotta go – or else “Not Scott Walker” is going to lose to Scott Walker by a landslide next fall. With all the trolling and unintelligent rambling of Republicans across the country, the Democratic Party – especially here with the State Democratic Party of Wisconsin – has the opportunity to look like the intelligent, measured, calm and mature party.
Graeme Zielinski has had the opportunity to raise the level of public discourse in this state, and all he’s done is respond in kind with idiotic, hot-headed and immature rhetoric.
This is why Graeme’s gotta go. Make the call, Tate.