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Democratic governor candidate forum

Mike McCabe gives a response during a gubernatorial candidate forum presented July 15 by Wisconsin's Choice at the Goodman Community Center. Also appearing at that event were, from left, Kathleen Vinehout, Kelda Roys and Mahlon Mitchell. Candidates not invited to that event included Tony Evers, Matt Flynn, Josh Pade and Paul Soglin. PHOTO BY BEN BREWER

Every candidate running in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary for governor of Wisconsin has the same big idea: “Nominate me and then let’s go beat Scott Walker.”

That’s a good idea.

But that’s not the only good idea. To their credit, several contenders have mounted campaigns that think big about what a governor and a state can do.

To wit:

MIKE McCABE has done what too many state and national contenders are failing to do. He has recognized the radical changes that are taking place in an economy that is being transformed by globalization, a digital revolution and an automation revolution — the modern equivalent of three industrial revolutions happening all at once. With this in mind, McCabe is proposing to have Wisconsin become the first state in this country to experiment with providing a basic income for displaced and vulnerable workers.

“We can’t afford to stick our heads in the sand about how the economy is changing,” said the candidate. “Robots are here. Driverless vehicles are coming. Many of yesterday’s jobs are in jeopardy today and are going to be gone tomorrow. Working people aren’t blind, they can see what’s coming. It’s why most Americans believe our kids will be worse off than their parents. That bleak future can be avoided if we renegotiate the social contract. Totally new approaches to maintaining social stability and cohesion in an increasingly jobless economy are going to have to be considered. The sooner we figure out which approaches work best, the better.”

To that end, McCabe is proposing a $9 million-a-year program for 1,000 participants — with 500 people receiving a basic income of $1,000 a month and another 500 individuals receiving $500 per month for comparison purposes. This experiment — like one that is being tried in Stockton, California — would evaluate how participants fare economically compared to the rest of the state’s population.

“If it has a positive impact, great. This could pave the way to Social Security for All nationally,” said McCabe. “If it doesn’t work or it has too many negative side effects, then we take what we learn and develop better ways to create economic and social stability so no one is left behind.”

McCabe is on the cutting edge here, with a serious proposal for making Wisconsin a laboratory of democracy.

KELDA ROYS, a former executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, understands what could happen if Donald Trump succeeds in tipping the balance of the U.S. Supreme Court against abortion rights. “If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion will immediately become illegal in Wisconsin. It will be illegal even in cases of rape, incest, and grave danger to a woman’s health,” said Roys. “Victims of sexual assault and domestic violence will be forced to bear the children of their abusers. The only exception is if the woman will otherwise die — something that is very rare, and often impossible to foresee until it’s too late. Even in those cases, many doctors will be unwilling to risk prison time. This cruel, dangerous, archaic abortion ban must be repealed immediately.”

Roys promises that, as governor, she would make the repeal of the abortion ban a top priority. But the former state representative recognizes that overturning the old law could take time and involve significant political wrangling with anti-choice Republicans. With that in mind, she said, “I will pardon any provider charged under the ban.”

That’s a bold commitment, and an important one — not merely with regard to this particular issue but with regard to the activist style Roys would adopt as governor.

MATT FLYNN, like Kelda Roys, is ready to use the full power of the governor’s office. The Milwaukee attorney and former state Democratic Party chair has made marijuana legalization one of the themes of his campaign. But if the Legislature does not move as quickly as it should on this criminal justice reform, Flynn has a plan to address the issue quickly and efficiently. He said that, as governor, he would pardon Wisconsinites who have been convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses.

"The Legislature can do a lot of things that I think are wrong, but I think a good, active Democratic governor through executive orders and pardons can accomplish a lot," argued Flynn, who promises that he would intervene on behalf of Wisconsinites who have been convicted of marijuana offenses. “(If) it is pure possession and even multiple possessions,” he said, “I will pardon them.”

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Flynn won’t stop there. If Republican legislators resist legalization, the Democrat said he’d take the issue to the people — by supporting "a public referendum on cannabis legalization in Wisconsin.”

Together with his commitment to pardon nonviolent offenders convicted of marijuana possession, Flynn’s legalization agenda is a model for gubernatorial candidates in Wisconsin and across the country.

The gubernatorial candidates are not the only statewide contenders who are proposing big ideas. Former state Treasurer DAWN MARIE SASS, who is running as a Democrat for her old job, has proposed to work to create a State Bank of Wisconsin, which would build on the ideas behind the successful State Bank of North Dakota. Sass said Wisconsin “needs a citizen-owned state bank with a mission to serve the public instead of Wall Street investors.”

“It's a mechanism to generate interest revenues which are given back to communities in the form of loans, grants, and direct student loans at excellent interest rates,” said Sass, who explained: “A citizen's bank doesn't compete with small local banks, instead it partners with them to make affordable loans to small businesses. And with the interest collected the bank will make Wisconsinites money instead of costing us.”

That’s a very good idea.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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Associate Editor of the Cap Times