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Former Wisconsin Democracy Campaign director mulling run for governor

Former Wisconsin Democracy Campaign director mulling run for governor

From the 2018 Wisconsin governor's race series

Former Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe said Wednesday he’s considering a gubernatorial campaign in response to a letter from 190 Wisconsinites urging him to run.

McCabe said he’s willing to run but cautioned that he wouldn’t make an announcement until after Labor Day, and it would depend on his supporters helping to organize a campaign.

“Obviously a lot of pieces would have to fall into place to make that happen,” McCabe said in an interview. “It’s not something that I’ve been planning for. So I really have to take the coming weeks and months to be able to pull everything together. That’s not something that can all be figured out today or this week.”

McCabe, 56, of Madison, is founder and president of Blue Jean Nation, a nonprofit that engages citizens to challenge the political establishment. He was a founding member of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks campaign finance in the state, and served as director from 2000 to 2015. He previously worked for the Madison School District, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance and three Republican legislators. He ran for Assembly in 1998 as a Democrat, but lost in the primary to Mark Pocan.

He recently wrote a book, “Blue Jeans in High Places,” about the influence of money in politics and the corrosion of American democracy and has toured the state promoting it.

McCabe said he doesn’t know if he would run as an independent, third party or major party candidate but acknowledged that it would be difficult to run a third-party campaign.

“The most comfortable thing for me would be to run as a nonpartisan, because that’s what I am,” McCabe said. “I’m fully aware that running as an independent puts a candidate in the position of dividing the change vote and getting blamed for continuing the status quo. I’ve seen that countless times.”

Dozens of citizens from across the state signed a letter urging McCabe to run for governor “because the major parties are broken and you belong to no political party.”

“For decades you have shined light on the misdeeds of Republicans and Democrats alike, and have blown the whistle on them without fear or favor,” they wrote. “That makes you a public servant in the truest sense.”

One of the signatories, Rick Adamski, 61, a farmer from Shawano County who identifies as a Democrat and supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, compared McCabe to Lee Dreyfus, who won election as an outsider Republican in 1978.

Adamski said he was drawn to McCabe after hearing him speak five years ago at a Wisconsin Farmers Union event. In his speech McCabe criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which struck down limits on corporate spending on elections.

“(Excess money in politics) is influencing decision-making and who can and can’t run,” Adamski said. “Many people are frustrated and dropped out of the political process because of that. Mike is about trying to right the ship.”

Republican Gov. Scott Walker has indicated he will announce a run for a third term after the state budget process wraps up in late June. Several high-profile Democrats have announced they won’t run.

“Wisconsin Democrats are in such disarray, even a far-left candidate who doesn’t identify with their party is considering a run,” Republican Party of Wisconsin spokesman Alec Zimmerman said. “No matter who they decide to prop up, it’s clear that all Wisconsin Democrats and the far left in this state have to offer is the same old policies of yesterday instead of fighting for hard-working Wisconsin families.”

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