State Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-MIlwaukee) is the most recent Sconz interviewee. Coggs has been in the legisature for 27 years, first as a state representative, and since 2003 as a member of the Capitol's upper chamber.
Coggs, 60, declared his candidacy for lieutenant governor in December, but, like his fellow Democratic opponents, Henry Sanders and Tom Nelson, he has been largely left out of the vibrant political conversation that the governor's race has sparked in the Badger State.
Nevertheless, Tom Barrett has promised to delegate important powers to his lieutenant, and since the position currently has no constitutionally-defined powers, I feel it is important to press the candidates on why they feel the job is worth the $80,000 taxpayers fork over ever year. Today I sat down with Coggs at Ancora Coffee to discuss his campaign, as well as his take on state politics.
First, the questions that all LG candidates are being asked these days: What does the position do, and do we really need it? "I believe it is a position that can be more and should be more," says Coggs.
He adds that when he was first elected to the legislature, Gov. Tony Earl empowered his lieutenant, James Flynn, to take an active role in government as Secretary of Economic Development. The position's powers were eroded, he says, by Gov. Tommy Thompson's neglect of Lt. Gov. Scott McCallum, and he believes the tradition has continued into the Doyle administration. He acknowledged that Doyle and LG Barbara Lawton do not get along, and that it has been detrimental to the office.
In a similar fashion to opponent Henry Sanders, Coggs emphasizes his record of job creation across the state. However, he distinguishes himself from his competition by highlighting his considerable experience in government, and touting the legislative savvy that he believes will make him an effective liaison between the governor and the legislature, including Republicans. "Even if you talk to Steve Nass or Glenn Grothman, they'll say I'm open to talk," Coggs said when discussing some of the most right wing members of the GOP.
The senator also characterizes his opponents as unqualified. "If you look at my opponents, one has no government experience and one has very little," Coggs responded when I asked him to assess Sanders and Nelson.
When prodded on Nelson, who was elected Assembly majority leader after four years in the legislature, Coggs seemed to dismiss the position's importance, attributing Nelson's election to the many new members in the Assembly.
"It was a great elevation for him, but frankly, I don't see that there was a lot of background and experience there."
Moreover, Coggs added that many Democrats see Nelson's decision to run for LG as hurting the party's chances to retain its majority, since Nelson will have to vacate his Green Bay area seat, which will create another tempting target for the GOP.
Coggs says Democrats have a tough battle this year to protect their control of state government. "The Tea Party stuff can be a distraction. We need to get back to our core values; we need to get to people who have been apathetic or have been turned off by politics. Those are the people, who when they vote, they vote Democratic."
Coggs says he would be the best candidate to reach out to disillusioned African-American voters, Latino voters as well as progressives. "I've got the best progressive record in the state," he said.
The Milwaukee legislator did not shy away from touting endorsements from Sanders' own turf, including those of Rep. Spencer Black, Rep. John Erpenbach, and former Rep. Dave Travis. He says he plans to use his vast network of friends in the legislature to gain support across the state and mobilize voters. In addition, he was confident that he would have solid labor support, and boasts endorsements from the Teamsters, the Firefighters union and the Postal Workers union (he is a former postal worker himself). A former chief steward for AFSCME, he also expects to get that union's support.
Like Sanders, Coggs supports gay marriage unequivocally, and expresses hope that people are becoming more tolerant across the state. When prodded on Tom Barrett's reluctance to support early-release program for prisoners, he said that the focus needs to instead be on trying to avoid incarcerating non-violent offenders more.
He was less emphatic than Sanders and Barrett about eliminating the State Treasurer's position and the Secretary of State. "I'll look at it. If it saves money I would seriously look at it," he says. (See Sec. of State Doug La Follette's response to Barrett's "gimmick")
Will the race get dirty, I asked. "It's already started" Coggs responded. He says his opponents are spreading rumors that he is going to drop out any day. However, he remains confident in his ability to reach out to voters and dispel the gossip, and points to a new advertisement that he says will be on TV soon. Check out this web ad he put up yesterday.