Whoever wins the election to fill Joe Parisi's seat in the state Assembly will be no friend of Scott Walker.
All seven candidates vying for the job in the special election -- the July 12 primary will whittle the candidates down to two, who will face off on Aug. 9 -- made it clear at a candidate forum Tuesday that, if elected, they'll fight the Republican establishment to the bitter end. The candidates are Fred Arnold, Dave de Felice, Andy Heidt, Katherine Kocs, Bethany Ordaz, Vicky Selkowe, and Chris Taylor.
"I've been standing up to bullies my whole life," declared Taylor, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, in her opening statement.
"We have to fight back and fighting back is what I'm about," said Ordaz, a labor activist who works for Rep. Jocasta Zamarippa (D-Milwaukee).
"I've always been a voice for the underprivileged and those who have no voice," said de Felice, a Dane County supervisor and chief of staff to Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee). "I'm for everything that Scott Walker is against."
Beyond these fighting words, there was an unusual level of cordiality among the candidates vying to lead this liberal east side district, replacing Parisi, who was elected in April as Dane County executive. They see themselves as being on the same team.
So there was very little disagreement and frequent nods to the other candidates' qualifications. Lines like "I'm sure all the other candidates would agree" were common.
And when de Felice grabbed a guitar for his closing statement and sang a few lines of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" (though he sounded more like Johnny Cash than Petty), Taylor prompted the crowd to clap along to the beat, and Heidt gave him a high-five afterwards.
On the issues raised -- tax increases (for the rich, yes), legalizing medical marijuana (yes, all around), protecting groundwater (yes), fighting global warming (of course) -- there was little disagreement and no mud slinging.
The candidates all sought to distinguish themselves without putting each other down. Selkowe, who works for Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine), touted her legislative experience. Kocs, a community developer and activist, pointed to her life experience as a hard-working mom.
There were a few jabs. Arnold, a former Madison alder and an economics professor, at one point jokingly accused Heidt of "pandering to the crowd." He then said the best way to help Democrats find unity is for the candidates to advocate their own positions strongly, which "helps us all articulate the issues."
Heidt, who seemed certain he would win the election, took probably the biggest swipe of the evening, when he accused some of his opponents of being part of a broken two-party system. When the Democrats had power, he said, they didn't do much with it.
"As wonderful as my colleagues are, they're part and parcel of the beast," he said, referring to their experience working in or with state government. "We need to change the system to make it our house again."