OSHKOSH — Ten Democratic gubernatorial candidates made their pitch to party faithful Friday night in a city where the welcome signs feature a blue wave.
Party leaders emphasized that symbol as they sought to build enthusiasm ahead of the fall election, which officially kicked off Friday with the deadline for candidates to get on the Aug. 14 primary ballot.
“They’re going to work hard and then we’re all going to work hard to ensure that November 2018 is the blue wave that we all have dreamed of,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairwoman Martha Laning said.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is running for a third term, has warned Republicans that a blue wave could be coming in November after a Democrat won a special election in January and a liberal-backed candidate won a state Supreme Court seat in April.
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, speaking to reporters in Oshkosh earlier in the day, said Republicans have an advantage because they are unified behind Walker coming out of their convention, which was held last month in Milwaukee.
Democrats, she said, will remain divided into “factions” by their sprawling field of candidates.
“They’re not uniting behind a single candidate,” Kleefisch said. “Nothing galvanizing, nothing exciting about that.”
The 10 Democratic candidates were each given five minutes to speak at the convention. The order was randomly determined. Here are highlights of those speeches in the order they occurred:
The former state lawmaker from Madison opened with a story of her 3-year-old daughter participating in an active shooter drill at school, saying “that’s not the world I want her to grow up in and I’m ready to do something about it.” She didn’t mention Walker in her speech, but said “it’s time for a new generation of leaders with a hopeful vision for our future.”
Key quote: “Our Wisconsin will be known, not just for cheese curds and the Packers, but for the best schools in the nation once again.”
The state schools superintendent emphasized the many places around Wisconsin where he has lived, including Oshkosh, where his children graduated from high school.
He also talked about his battle with esophageal cancer, highlighting his support for accepting expanded federal Medicaid funding and declaring, “I beat cancer and I can beat Scott Walker.”
Key quote: “I’m (expletive) sick and tired of Scott Walker gutting our schools and insulting our hard-working educators and destroying higher education in Wisconsin.”
The state firefighter union president told a story about firefighters rallying around a young man who became a quadriplegic after a snowmobile accident, and how that inspired him to join a union. He invoked President Barack Obama’s “fired up, ready to go” rallying cry and noted he would be the state’s first African-American governor.
Key quote: “As firefighters, when communities are at their worst, we respond and we have to be at our best.”
The Milwaukee businessman highlighted his outsider status, saying Walker “has beaten the establishment politician three times in a row.” He also mentioned he was the only candidate who went to the Republican state convention, where he circled the building with a mobile billboard.
Key quote: “I can’t wait to go toe-to-toe with Scott Walker and have him give me that ‘open for business’ nonsense.”
The Kenosha native and former J. Crew analyst said he wants to bring a new face and a new perspective to progressive politics. He said being pro-growth and progressive are not mutually exclusive, and announced he is embarking on a statewide My Wisconsin Idea listening tour.
Key quote: “We go around and hear this myth that Democrats are angry. There’s no angry people here. We are excited, we are focused and we are going around the entire state of Wisconsin getting organized with some of the best crop of candidates I’ve seen in a long time.”
The state senator from Alma harped on Foxconn’s $3 billion state taxpayer subsidy, saying that money laid end-to-end in $100 bills would create a road stretching from Racine County to the Pacific Ocean. But for a Wisconsin woman named Rachel making minimum wage, her lifetime earnings would stretch less than a mile.
Key quote: “Our priorities are upside down. I’m running for governor to put Rachel first when it comes to state spending, first when it comes to making state policy. Foxconn and those other international corporations, they don’t need a handout, but people in our state like Rachel need a hand up.”
The Madison mayor painted a bleak picture of Wisconsin under Walker with contaminated water, deteriorating public schools, low wages and increasing geographic and racial disparities. He said he was on the front lines during the 2011 protests, “unlike one of my competitors in this race who was writing flattering letters to Walker.” He said Walker is working for corporations who are exploiting Wisconsin’s resources.
Key quote: “After eight Walker years it is time to reward your hard work. We must protect our labor from Walker exploitation. No excuses, no exceptions, no exploitation.”
McCabe urged Democrats to “dare to dream” about making Badgercare a public option, experimenting with a universal base income, debt-free higher education and a state fully powered by renewable energy.
He said Wisconsin can have all of that, but it first must address cronyism and corruption that has become “a cancer in our democracy.”
Key quote: “We will never get living wages from a dying democracy. We will never get good health care from a sick political system. We will never get clean air and clean water from dirty politics.”
The retired Milwaukee lawyer and former Democratic Party chairman said under Walker the state has become part of the “Koch belt.” He said he would legalize marijuana, end mass incarceration, expand broadband access for everyone and create public “pre-K through 14.” His speech was interrupted at times by some hecklers in the audience who drew attention to his representing the Archdiocese of Milwaukee against priest abuse lawsuits.
Key quote: “We have gone backwards on our values and that has got to end.”
The state representative from Eau Claire contrasted “Walker’s Wisconsin” with “our Wisconsin.” Under Walker, he said, roads and bridges are falling into disrepair, LGBT rights are under attack and the future has been mortgaged to Foxconn. In “our Wisconsin,” he said, roads and bridges will be fixed, young people will return to the state and “we’re going to end that deal with Foxconn.”
Key quote: “When I’m governor, the Wisconsin Idea is making a comeback.”