So far the race for Herb Kohl's soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat looks a lot like the race for the Republican nomination for President did up until very recently. No one has officially declared, but a lot of individuals are giving strong hints that they will.
That means all us political junkies can do is speculate, which we love to do, about the future of Wisconsin's senatorial representation in Washington D.C.
Part of that enthusiasm to see who might be coming down the pipeline surely stems from the underwhelming Sen. Ron Johnson, that other senator, who - as far as I can tell - has done nothing during his time in office but go with the GOP flow.
Turns out Johnson may also have worked out a pretty sweet deal to get his company, Pacur, to reimburse him for the $9 million of his own money spent on the campaign. Not overtly, of course. Instead, Johnson arranged for Pacur to pay him a $10 million send-off bonus ("deferred compensation") right before he was sworn in as our junior senator.
Nice gig if you can get it.
Johnson wasn't too keen on explaining how exactly Pacur came up with that oh-so-perfect number when deciding what to pay him, either: When questioned by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Daniel Bice, Johnson got a bit prickly: "You take a look in terms of what would be a reasonable compensation package, OK? …It's a private business. I've complied with all the disclosure laws, and I don't have to explain it any further to someone like you."
Dirty hippie reporters, always wanting to know whether or not their politicians are corrupt.
Meanwhile Johnson would like some of his poorest constituents to simply tighten their belts instead of finding money to support things like children's health services.
Thus far the most likely candidate for Kohl's seat (and, one can hope, to balance out Johnson's Koch-fueled presence) is current Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin.
In a recent interview with The Capital Times Baldwin straight-up said that she is "likely to run."
I've been hearing a lot of back-and-forth about Baldwin's potential Senate run here in Madison and from people around the state, and opinion on the matter does seem to be split down the middle. Skeptics wonder if she has the kind of name recognition and reputation outside of her district to pull it off, and why she would risk such a safe Congressional seat in the first place.
Others, including me, suspect that Tammy's less concerned with safety than she is with pursuing a seat that might give her a bigger role to play in representing the state on the national stage. And that's good. A Senate bid in this currently volatile political climate will be turbulent, to say the least, and whoever ends up going for it will have to endure some serious slings and arrows. In other words, they'll have to really want it to see it through. There should be no thoughts of whether or not the office they're possibly leaving behind is safe or not - only of whether that person would make the best candidate for the new job.
Given that there was so much wailing and gnashing of teeth when Russ Feingold was unseated by Johnson, Baldwin can be fairly well assured that she would easily win all the usual Democratic strongholds in the state - and likely many of the more moderate areas as well. The results of the upcoming recall primaries and elections may also give a good indicator of if and how the mood of the electorate has changed since Gov. Walker's rampage began early this year.
Recent polling shows that, in two of three districts where recall elections loom, the Democratic challenger leads the Republican incumbent (Shilling over Kapanke by 56-42, King over Hopper by 50-47, and Moore trailing Harsdorf by 45-50).
Generally the temperature of the state has also turned against Gov. Walker and a recall effort against him later this year stands an at least very good chance of going forward. That bodes well for Democrats efforts to retake a majority in the state Senate, but certainly does not guarantee it.
Baldwin might be able to ride that wave of discontent, as well as her own record of championing progressive causes (health care, LGBT rights, quality education, etc.), right into the Senate.
There is still speculation that Feingold might make a go of it, too - he's said he'll make his intentions clear by the end of the summer - but my guess is that he won't do it. Especially if Baldwin ends up declaring it would be ridiculous to have the two face off against each other in a primary. Plus, Feingold - whether he likes it or not - may currently stand the best chance of defeating Walker in a recall. My personal prediction is that either Feingold waits to run for governor or simply decides to continue enjoying his time outside of public office. I'd give each possibility about a 50/50 chance.
Other potential contenders for Kohl's seat include State Senator Frank Lasee (R-Ledgeview), who is apparently "strongly considering" a run. Lasee was elected to his current seat with the healthy margin of 60 percent, but his vote in favor of the bill stripping public workers of their collective bargaining rights (not to mention a long history of Wisconsin bashing), among other things, could make him a little less popular in a statewide election.
Baldwin's fellow Democrat in the House, Rep. Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) may also be considering a bid for the spot. He's said he'll make up his mind after the state Senate recall elections are over, perhaps indicating that Kind is looking to gauge the political climate based on their results.
Other potentials apparently include former Gov. Tommy Thompson - who I doubt very much would win very enthusiastic Republican support in this more toxic and hyper-partisan climate - and both of the Fitzgerald brothers.
Politiscoop has an interview with the ex-wife of Republican state senate candidate David VaderLeest, Rachel Gerritsen, in which she talks about his history of domestic abuse, tax evasion, and more. Honestly, I don't think VanderLeest has a chance in hell of winning anything - Republicans had wanted state Rep. John Nygren to face off against incumbent Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay). Nygren fell two signatures short of the amount required to get his name on the ballot, though, and his subsequent lawsuit challenging the GAB's decision on the matter failed.
And so we have VanderLeest, a man who, based on his criminal record and own press releases, may actually have serious mental problems.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that members of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee also facing recalls accepted huge campaign donations at the time they were writing the state budget. Cute.
Speaking of outside influence on legislation, the folks over at Badger Democracy have uncovered emails that prove Gov. Walker's assertion that he'd never met with Foley & Lardner lobbyists and the Greater Milwaukee Committee to discuss "municipal government reform" - aka possible state takeover of local governments - was, surprise surprise, a lie.