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Ben Manski
Ben Manski is shown in November 2004.

The most surprising and potentially significant development so far in the 77th District state Assembly race, where five Democrats are battling to replace retiring state Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, does not involve one of the Democratic contenders.

Despite the fact that the Democratic primary in this historically Democratic district is just a few weeks off, the big news involves Green Party candidate Ben Manski.

The endorsement of Manski’s candidacy by Madison Teachers Inc., one of the most politically powerful and engaged local unions, alters the character of the fall race -- no matter who wins the Democratic nomination.

Manski has already been running a strong race, securing significant endorsements and building a credible war chest.

But MTI’s backing lends credibility to his run as a third-party candidate. The union’s political arm, MTI VOTERS, spends money, works hard and gets its members and allies to the polls -- having honed skills in school board races over the years.

How did Manski win the MTI endorsement? An attorney and the director of the Liberty Tree Foundation, he has a long track record of working on education issues. That counts for something. But he was, as well, a known entity for many in the union’s leadership.

Manski was educated at public schools in the district -- Randall, Van Hise and West -- and MTI President Mike Lipp was actually one of his teachers. Indeed, Lipp says, “Ben is one of the most remarkable and driven students I have ever taught.”

Adds Lipp: “His work over the years on behalf of educators has been equally impressive. It will be great to see his intelligence and determination in the Assembly.”

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Manski is still a long way from the Assembly. No Green has ever won a legislative seat in Wisconsin, and few have won elsewhere.

But this key endorsement suggests that Manski will be a factor in the fall, and that, given the right set of circumstances, he could pull off an upset not just of the eventual Democratic nominee but of political expectations in general.

John Nichols is the associate editor of The Capital Times.

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