OSHKOSH — Ten Wisconsin Democrats jockeying for the chance to take on Republican Gov. Scott Walker in November made their cases to the party faithful at the party's state convention on Friday, while party leaders stoked enthusiasm for candidates up and down the ballot.
"We control our own destiny this fall if we can retain the enthusiasm that is in this room tonight … if we can build on the momentum of a blue wave cresting across the country," said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. "But you can't catch a blue wave without a surfboard and some hard work."
Hintz and Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, talked up the Democratic candidates in the June 12 special legislative elections: Caleb Frostman, running in the 1st Senate District, and Ann Groves Lloyd, running in the 42nd Assembly District.
"From the beautiful shores of Door County to the banks of the mighty Mississippi, and from the Chequamegon Bay down to the Rock River — I couldn't be more proud of our Democratic candidates in every corner of the state who are leading the charge for change in 2018," Shilling said.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan told Democratic activists and supporters that he'd promised the previous year that the party would field some good candidates for governor in 2018.
"I didn't underpromise, but maybe I overdelivered a little bit," Pocan joked.
Each candidate was given five minutes to speak, in an order determined at random. To earn a slot in the speaking lineup, candidates were required to show they had obtained enough signatures to earn a place on the ballot for the Aug. 14 primary election and the Nov. 6 general election — a minimum of 2,000.
Roys, a former state legislator and the CEO and founder of real estate tech company OpenHomes, pledged to create a "world of opportunity and fairness for all our children and grandchildren." Roys promised to give new parents 12 weeks of paid leave and guarantee access to early childhood education. She pledged to stop funding vouchers for private schools and to allow student loan refinancing, expand public service repayment and make all University of Wisconsin System two-year colleges tuition-free.
"In our Wisconsin, it’s time to reinvest in higher education and address the student loan debt crisis. Too many Generation Xers and Millennials have had every one of life’s milestones delayed or denied because of debt incurred before we were old enough to drink a Spotted Cow," Roys said.
Evers, who is serving his third term as Superintendent of Public Instruction, focused heavily on education and health care in his speech.
"I am running for governor because I am goddamn sick and tired of seeing Scott Walker gut our public schools, insult our hardworking educators and destroy higher education in Wisconsin," Evers said, adding that he believes what's best for children is best for the state.
Evers pledged to protect access to health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, and to accept the federal Medicaid expansion money. Evers noted that he has been cancer-free for nine years after an esophageal cancer diagnosis.
"I beat cancer and I will beat Scott Walker," he said.
Mitchell, the head of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, promised to prioritize funding public education, to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour "as a floor," and to "decriminalize addiction."
He also reminded Democrats they have the opportunity, in him, to elect the state's first African-American governor.
"As firefighters, when our communities are at their worst, we respond and we have to be at our best," Mitchell said. "That’s what we need in elected officials, that’s what we need in state government."
Gronik, a Milwaukee businessman and political newcomer, touted his "outsider" status in his appeal to state Democrats. Gronik said after spending 35 years helping companies solve problems, he is uniquely qualified to do the same for state government.
Gronik said his opponents are "wonderful candidates," but argued that Walker has "beaten the establishment politician three times in a row."
"It’s time to do something different. It’s going to take a fighter," Gronik said. "I am uniquely equipped to go toe-to-toe with Scott Walker."
Pade, a corporate attorney, disputed Walker's claims that Democrats are filled with anger. Looking around the room, Pade said, he saw people who are energized and organized.
Pade argued that "pro-growth and progressive are not opposing values" as he described his economic agenda.
"Democrats are united for a change and we’re going to make that change happen for working families all across the state of Wisconsin," Pade said.
Vinehout, a state senator from Alma, used her speech to contrast the economic struggles of working-class Wisconsinites with the state's deal with Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn.
"Our priorities are upside down," she said.
Vinehout pledged to put everyday Wisconsinites first rather than large corporations. Corporations don't need a handout, she said, but everyday Wisconsinites need a hand up.
Soglin, the longtime mayor of Madison, painted a grim picture of Wisconsin under Walker and the United States under President Donald Trump, mentioning negative effects on schools, water and wages among other things.
"Scott Walker started with Act 10 and he’s finishing with Foxconn. If we hadn’t had enough with Scott Walker, we have Donald Trump," he said.
Soglin prioritized health care, transportation, nutrition, quality childcare and transportation. He also pledged to protect Dreamers brought to the United States as children.
McCabe, a political activist and the only candidate who has not pledged to support the party's eventual nominee if it isn't him, railed against "cronyism, corruption and … legal bribery" in state government.
"There is a cancer growing in the body of our democracy that must be cut out," he said.
McCabe also encouraged voters to dream big, voicing support for making Badgercare available to all Wisconsinites, implementing a universal basic income and powering the entire state on renewable energy.
Flynn, a Milwaukee attorney and former head of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, was met with a smattering of boos from a small group of people wearing McCabe shirts when he took the stage. Their comments seemed to reference his work defending the Archdiocese of Milwaukee against victims of priest sexual abuse.
Although he has addressed the issue with reporters, Flynn did not respond to the jeers. In his speech, he pledged to end the state's contract with Foxconn, undo Walker's Act 10 legislation, guarantee broadband access and legalize marijuana.
"I will make Scott Walker answer for what he’s done to Wisconsin," Flynn said.
Wachs, a state representative from Eau Claire, laid out a long list of policy goals to return Wisconsin to the state "we grew up in."
His priorities included a $15-an-hour minimum wage, restoring collective bargaining, protecting access to women's health care, fixing roads, allowing student loan refinancing, and ensuring protections against discrimination based on gender identity.
Wachs pledged to return Wisconsin to a state "filled with love, a Wisconsin that cares."