Yes, that really is Mark Green's house and basketball hoop in the TV commercial touting his candidacy for governor. It's his lawnmower and family as well. The Green campaign's inaugural TV spot tries to make him look like a regular guy - as opposed to the rather stolidly delivered achievement themes coming from Gov. Jim Doyle's media consultants. We see Green missing basketball shots, mowing the lawn and acting like a nerdy dad in front of his teen kids.
"He is a regular guy," insists Mark Graul, Green's campaign manager. "He is approachable."
Oh really? Green, through his campaign, rebuffed repeated requests, made over a period of six weeks, for a face-to-face interview, or even a phone interview. He absolutely refused to meet with a reporter from Isthmus or answer any questions about his campaign or his stands on issues. And so it was left to Graul to blather on about how approachable he is.
Is Mark Green trying to sell an image of himself that is simply not true?
"He's a very nice guy, no question about it. He's a very personable fellow," says state Rep. Spencer Black (D-Madison), who has served in the Assembly since 1984 and was minority leader in 2001. "Most people who know him like him. But his affability masks his right-wing agenda."
Who is Mark Green really? An approachable compassionate conservative, or a right-wing ideologue? Is he a Tommy Thompson Republican, one who favors bigger government and even some social programs; or a John Gard Republican, one who pushes a morality-based social agenda that includes government meddling in people's personal lives?
"As far as I can see, he has bought the Gard agenda," says Bill Kraus, co-chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin and the former campaign and communications director for Gov. Lee Dreyfus in the late 1970s. Kraus, a moderate Republican, sees the challenger's far-right leanings as a fatal flaw: "I don't think Green has a prayer."
Black, with whom Green served four terms in the state Assembly in the 1990s, agrees. "He has been extreme with the right wing just down the line," he says. "Tommy Thompson was a self-made pragmatic. If there's nothing wrong with Green, why would Tommy Thompson have spent so much time thinking about running against him?"
But Graul suggests that Gov. Green, like Thompson, would prove his moderate credentials once on the job.
"Remember at the beginning of his terms, Thompson was seen as a ‘Dr. No' nut-job," says Graul. "It was later, after his election, that Tommy Thompson became the vast moderate." He predicts the same thing will happen with his guy: "Green is one of the commonsense Wisconsin guys. He believes that government is going to do things to help people."
Despite Graul's protestations, and his insistence that Green is championing "issues that are good for people, and not partisan issues," the landscape in Wisconsin would be substantially different if Mark Green were to become governor. One way to highlight this difference is to imagine what would have gone differently had Green been governor of Wisconsin over the last four years. Among other things, it is probable that:
- Concealed weapons could be carried throughout the state, under permits available to pretty much any adult non-felon who asks.
- Voters would have to bring official photo identification to the polls, or else would be turned away.
- Municipalities would have their ability to spend local tax dollars subject to strict limits set by the state.
- Tax credits would be provided to help individuals set up health savings accounts, a benefit the wealthy are sure to use more than the poor.
- The rent-own-industry would no longer have to tell consumers how much they will end up paying for a given item.
- Enrollment limits would have been lifted for the voucher school program in Milwaukee, which allows private and religious schools to obtain tax dollars for low-income students.
- Felons could no longer be hired by school districts, no matter what their crime, creating a sub-class of citizens that didn't exist before.
- The state Legislature would have to approve Indian gaming contracts - something Republicans would have abhorred during the Thompson era but have sought under Doyle.
- Unregistered immigrants would be blocked from obtaining state services.
- Women seeking to terminate a pregnancy would have to be provided with what critics say is unscientific and possibly untrue information about fetal pain.
- Stem-cell research would be further impeded, with methods integral to groundbreaking research being done at the UW-Madison declared illegal.
All of these measures were passed by the Wisconsin state Legislature and vetoed by Doyle. All have received support from Green - who, according to Graul, also backs a state death penalty "for heinous crimes with DNA evidence."
But Graul insists his candidate's stands on these issues "by no means makes Green a right-wing firebrand. In fact, in the primary he was considered not right-wing enough, at least by the talk-radio bunch in Milwaukee."
Included in Green's "Common Sense Wisconsin" agenda is his support for a state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages and civil unions and possibly prevent public employees from receiving domestic partnership benefits. (In 1997, Green sponsored an Assembly bill to ban same-sex marriages.)
"Mark Green supports allowing individuals to form domestic partnerships, but not marry," says Graul. "He also believes that if a corporation wants to provide domestic partnership benefits to its employees, it should be allowed to do so." Asked about Green's affiliations with gays and whether they approve of his advocacy in this area, Graul assures, "Mark has gay friends. Mark has hired gay people. And they all support him for governor."
Green also favors the so-called Conscience Bill backed by Republicans in the state Legislature and vetoed by Doyle. This would allow pharmacists and other medical providers to refuse to provide contraceptives and family planning materials if this offends their personal beliefs.
Graul offers some clarification, however, saying Green breaks with Republicans who also would let pharmacists refuse to make referrals to other providers: "He just doesn't want to force people to do something against their beliefs."
Another issue where Green parses his conservative ideology concerns stem-cell research. Gov. Doyle fully supports all kinds of stem-cell research, while Rep. Green has voted against expanding federal support for research using embryonic stem cells from embryos that would otherwise be destroyed.
Green, who also voted to uphold President Bush's veto of this expansion (the only veto Bush has ever issued), is okay with letting scientists conduct stem-cell research on embryonic stem cells culled prior to 2001. That's when the Bush administration ordered an end to the use of federal dollars for this research. Again, Green's campaign tries to spin this as a measured step that respects individual moral preferences.
"Let's not use tax dollars to destroy what many say is a human life," says Graul. "Nothing prevents the private sector from doing it." (Scientists say, however, that existing stem-cell lines are becoming inadequate and that the need to avoid better lines in federally funded research is slowing progress.)
Recently, Green proposed a $25 million state investment in a new form of embryonic stem-cell research that does not destroy embryos. Critics say this method requires more work and time, and exploits the illusion that there is some bright future for unused frozen embryos, most of which will in fact be destroyed, whether or not they are used for research.
Green's opposition to most embryonic stem-cell research rides sidecar with his strong anti-abortion stance.
In Congress, Green supported a constitutional amendment that would have given explicit rights to the unborn - or "pre-born," as anti-abortion advocates like to say.
"He has a deeply held belief about the pre-born, one that many Wisconsinites share," offers Graul. "Walk into any Catholic church on a Sunday and you'll see many people who agree with that. But you won't see Mark Green pounding on that issue."
Perhaps the best indication of what sorts of issues might get a Gov. Mark Green pounding comes from his six years in the state Assembly, to which he was first elected in 1992.
The 46-year-old Green, who was born in Boston, graduated from UW-Eau Claire and got his law degree from UW-Madison, was elected to the Assembly representing the Green Bay area, where he still has a home today. He served as majority caucus chair from 1994 to '98, a position that put him at the head of the GOP leadership dais. As caucus head, it was his job to line up votes for the Republican agenda on a daily basis.
"He was very much part of the right-wing Republican approach that we find these days still in the Capitol," says Black. "He was Scott Jensen's lieutenant. He followed Scott Jensen's approach. He always did what Scott Jensen wanted."
As a member of the state Assembly, Green was the lead sponsor of bills that would have:
- Made English the state's official language.
- Banned so-called partial birth abortions.
- Severely restricted welfare payments to single mothers if they gave birth to additional children.
- Made it easier for the state to seize the cars of people who've been convicted of driving under the influence.
- Limited the amount of time that a person could take off from work under the Family Medical Leave Act and eliminated the ability to use the law to care for a parent.
- Barred students expelled from one school district from being accepted at another.
- Made it substantially more difficult to get negligence and punitive damages in medical malpractice cases.
All of these bills failed. Green did succeed in passing legislation that restricted medical malpractice damage awards to $250,000 (later struck down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court) and prevented municipalities from regulating the possession of firearms.
As a four-term member of Congress, Green has continued to serve as a "lieutenant" to others higher up the GOP food chain. The Doyle camp trumpets that Green has backed 93% of the bills supported by President Bush over the last six years. And in a list of 13 "key votes" in the last session of Congress compiled by The Washington Post, Green bucked his party's marching orders only once - when he supported a resolution to ban cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees suspected of terrorism. (The resolution passed 308-122.)
"His voting record is consistent with what Tom DeLay wanted," says Black, referring to the former House majority leader now indicted on corruption charges. DeLay is also linked to former lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff, whose agency also happened to give perks to then-Green congressional staffer Mark Graul and another Green office aide.
As a member of Congress, Green has shown a propensity to embrace issues that the far right holds dear. He has sponsored a bill to require that "God Bless America" be sung in public school classrooms and backed a proposed constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration. He was also the sole sponsor of a bill that would have given the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives substantially more power and money than any proposal by the president or other members of Congress.
An independent assessment of the Green ideology in Congress comes from the New York-based Web site GovTrack.us. The site, which compiles data on the activity of members of Congress, puts Green on the far right of the political spectrum, along with Wisconsin Congressmen James Sensenbrenner and Paul Ryan. In fact, Green ranks far to the right of either Tom DeLay or current House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
The site says Green has co-sponsored or sponsored 1,157 bills since 1999, which is considered "extremely many." He's been listed as the lead author of 106 bills, only three of which have been enacted.
During the last session, Green authored 27 legislative proposals. Many had a decidedly local flavor, such as naming public buildings or transferring public lands from the federal government to municipalities. He also introduced a resolution "recognizing the vital importance of hunting as a legitimate tool of wildlife resources management."
Other proposed Green legislation seems to mark him as a hard-core conservative. One bill would deport aliens convicted of a criminal offense. Another would require juvenile sex offenders to meet the same reporting requirements as adult offenders.
This summer, Green voted with his party in backing a bill that raised the minimum wage while at the same time making permanent tax cuts for the wealthy. He also voted to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage.
Green's loyalty to his party's leadership has been rewarded with considerable access to traditional right-wing sources of campaign contributions (see sidebar). Recently, the state Elections Board ordered him to return $467,844, since the donors were not registered to lobby in Wisconsin. Green blasted the decision, then appealed to his supporters to promptly make up this funding setback.
In ways large and small, Mark Green seems determined to remake his public image, from the staunch conservative he's been throughout his 14 years in public office, to the moderate and sensible politician he thinks Wisconsin voters will elect.
After the DeLay incidents, Green got religion on the issue of campaign finance reform. He recently joined Democrats in supporting a bill to restrict lobbyist perks and require more disclosure by members of Congress, saying the Republicans' version didn't go far enough.
Green, the fiscal conservative, has also told gatherings of state workers he would not commit to cutting state jobs; Doyle, in his first term, set out to trim 10,000 positions. But Green has also promised to not raise taxes. How can he hold the line on state spending without cutting jobs?
"We're not going to create some arbitrary number is what we're saying," asserts Graul, who faults Doyle for hiring private contractors to do the work of former public employees. "We can lower the tax burden and cut spending by 20% in four years. We just lower the spending increases through cutting waste and inefficiencies."
According to Graul, tax growth could prevent the need for much of the funding cuts.
One touchy area for Green/Graul is funding for road projects. According to Graul, "there are high-profile examples of very excessive spending by the Department of Transportation." But Green hasn't committed to cutting any project currently being planned and, in fact, has pledged to restore $30 million in planning funds, vetoed by Doyle, for Milwaukee's Zoo Interchange.
Graul touts Green the environmentalist by pointing to his support for bills that banned oil drilling in the Great Lakes (although Green does support off-shore drilling in the oceans) and provided money to fight the Asian carp invasion. And Green, as a member of the state Assembly, also voted for a state mining moratorium.
Does that mean Green is against mining still? Not necessarily. As governor, "if there's mining that can be done correctly, he'll be for it," says Graul.
Beyond that, Graul suggests that Green will, like Thompson before him, lie low on the conservative social issues that have henceforth been at the heart of his political career.
"Our Republican drift," Graul says, "is that Wisconsin can have a bright economic future and that Green doesn't want to stand there and hammer on social issues. He believes that people can disagree on those matters."