Clear: 'Nobody is really standing up for cities.' Subeck: The Legislature is a 'very logical place for me to be.'
When Clear, 50, was handcuffed and ticketed at the Capitol for singing at the noontime Solidarity Sing Along last August, it was Subeck who snapped a photo.
But when it comes to the race for the state's 78th Assembly seat, the two do clash on at least one matter: who is the more progressive candidate.
Says Clear: "I would put my liberal thoughts and values in front of anybody. I'm very strongly pro-choice, a very strong proponent of tax fairness, and I also believe fundamentally that government can be a force for good, as opposed to people who believe that government is the root of all problems, as [President Ronald] Reagan so infamously said."
Subeck, 43, agrees that the two share many values but argues that she has the stronger liberal credentials. "I'm the more progressive candidate in this race," she says. "While Mark and I agree on many issues, there are some fundamental areas where there are serious differences. My belief is we should not be subsidizing wealthy developers, wealthy corporations. Mark has tended to lead the charge in economic giveaways to developers in the name of economic development."
The progressive bragging rights matter because the 78th District is one of the state's most liberal and Democratic. It was held for 26 years by Spencer Black, who retired in 2010. Since then, the seat has been represented by Brett Hulsey, who is running for governor and not seeking reelection.
Because the district is solidly Democratic, the race will be decided in the Aug. 12 primary. With no Republican or independent candidates, the winner of the Democratic primary will run unopposed in the Nov. 4 general election.
The two will hold their first debate at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 17, at the Oakwood Village University Woods Center for Arts & Education, 6205 Mineral Point Rd. They'll spar again at 7 p.m. Monday, July 21, in Room 1325 of the UW Health Sciences Learning Center.
Originally from the Chicago area, Subeck moved here in 1989 to attend the UW-Madison. After graduating in 1993, she began work as a preschool teacher. But her career quickly evolved into advocacy work, on behalf of women, children and families. She worked for Head Start and Early Head Start programs and was the program coordinator at the YWCA Madison.
From 2009 to 2012, she was executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. She's currently executive director at United Wisconsin.
"I saw a lot of broken systems in those days," Subeck says. "I worked really hard to help families tap into opportunities that should be readily available to them; instead they had to jump through hoops. As I did that advocacy work, I found there was a way to make an even bigger difference, and that was to run for office."
Subeck ran for the Common Council in 2011. She was reelected in 2013.
While she says she feels she's made a difference on the council, many of the issues she deals with in her advocacy work can be better addressed in the Legislature.
"I look at the issues we deal with on the state level -- things like women's health, pay equity for women, supports for working families -- and those are the issues I've spent my entire career working on," she says. "To me, it's a very logical place to be."
Sticking up for cities
Clear came to politics by a different route, as a small businessman. A Madison native, Clear founded his first company, IMS, a web-content system, in 1995. That led to his involvement with the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce Small Business Advisory Council and Madison's Economic Development Committee, which opened his eyes to the realm of local politics.
Clear was first elected to the Common Council in 2007. He is currently the executive director of Accelerate Madison, a program operated by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce to promote the IT industry here.
Clear, who had been toying with running for mayor, says he was encouraged to run for the Assembly in order to advocate for city interests.
"This is something no one is really talking about in the Capitol, and nobody is really standing up for cities," Clear says. "I talked to my family, and they liked that idea much better than the idea of me running for mayor."
Clear says the changes brought about by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans have created a state he doesn't recognize.
"I want my two daughters to grow up in the same Wisconsin that I did, a place where we had proud progressive traditions and Wisconsin was at the forefront of innovative programs -- especially around rights of workers, things like unemployment workers' comp, public workers unions. Those things were invented here."
Fight of the progressives
It's easy to find issues where Clear and Subeck are in sync. Both support reproductive rights, voter access and public funding for education. Both opposed Act 10, Walker's signature legislation eliminating most collective bargaining rights for most public workers.
Ald. Mike Verveer, who has endorsed Subeck, says: "They're both card-carrying Democrats, and maybe only in Madison would you have an argument over who is the more progressive of the two."
Asked to point out an area where he's more liberal than Subeck, Clear says he supports legalizing marijuana, for both medical and recreational use.
"She wasn't ready to support recreational marijuana use," he says. "Prohibition is a complete failure and has a huge cost, in money, enforcement, incarceration. It doesn't mean that it shouldn't be regulated and that it isn't dangerous. Alcohol is hugely dangerous."
Subeck counters that the distinction on marijuana arose when both were asked whether they support state Rep. Melissa Sargent's proposal to legalize pot. Subeck says she doesn't know enough about the proposal.
While she believes the country will inevitably legalize the drug, she thinks Wisconsin should study Colorado and other states to find the best approach. "I believe marijuana legalization is the right way to go," she says. "Decriminalization is a good first step."
Subeck says Clear has proven himself to be too friendly with developers, championing city assistance for the Edgewater Hotel, Judge Doyle Square and other projects. She calls his economic development approach "trickle down."
"While I do believe government has a role in the economy, if we are to give funding to private interests, we should do it for very clear public benefit, and that has to be more than growing the tax base," she says. "We should be demanding well-paying jobs that folks can support a family on; we should be demanding the highest environmental standards; we should be demanding affordable housing if city money is going into these projects."
Clear calls her characterization of his relationship with developers "ridiculous." He says the city's use of tax incremental financing -- its primary tool for funding private projects -- has a strong track record. "TIF is an economic tool to support development that wouldn't otherwise happen," Clear says. "The city has been extremely successful with TIF. It works, and it provides jobs."
Subeck also criticizes Clear's role in the Overture restructuring, which made the arts center a private entity. "I believe in key protections, whether for workers or consumers, that Mark hasn't wanted to stand up for on city council," she says. "Mark championed the privatization of Overture, without regard to the effects it had on city employees."
Again, Clear disagrees. "We saved Overture exactly for that reason, for saving the jobs. And we made sure those jobs were union jobs," he says. "If we hadn't taken action in 2010, Overture would have gone away."
Working with Republicans
Although the winner of the Aug. 12 primary won't face a Republican challenger in the general election, he or she will face an even greater challenge, at least for a Madison liberal: how to work with the GOP majority.
Both insist that they can do so. Subeck says she's seen progress as a lobbyist, getting Republicans interested in a bill that would allow online voter registration because it would be secure and save the state money.
"I'm happy to fight for the core values of my constituents, and I'm not willing to give up on those core values," she says. "However, I do think there are opportunities where we find we have things in common."
Clear says the polarizing atmosphere can be alleviated by not participating in it. "I'm going to criticize policies I disagree with, but stop short of criticizing the person, or questioning their motives, portraying people as evil."