FORWARD, INTO THE PAST: With shady help, latest batch of camouflaged Republicans want Democrats to unwittingly vote for them

Submitted for your disapproval: On the left you can study a sample of a new anti-Democratic Party campaign ad that claims to be entirely non-partisan and merely informational. But it's another sign that, hard and snarky, the Republican Party of Wisconsin and its fellow travelers are working tomorrow's statewide primary elections. Once again, they've fired up their political smoke machines, creating a fog of political war.

The GOP brand has been shaken by tea party nonsense, so in recent elections including the state legislative recall races of 2012, the Wisconsin GOP introduced a new way to bamboozle voters: Run Republican-friendly candidates in Democratic primaries and urge party faithful to cross over to support them. An early beneficiary of the tactic was David Clarke, who has held the Milwaukee County sheriff's job through a couple of terms thanks entirely to his crass willingness to play make-believe, registering and running as a Democrat. It might be legal, but that doesn't make it right or honorable, except for the kind of honor that runs among thieves.

Many political observers refer to candidates like Clarke as "fake Democrats," but that's an insult to the wounded party. More accurately, we should call these candidates camouflage Republicans. They know they can't win if they run openly for what and who they are. So either they play down their radical positions on issues, as Scott Walker did, or they temporarily move in with the Democrats and hope no one notices.

Next to Arizona's crazy, right-wing Sheriff Arpaio, Sheriff Clarke is a real piece of work, figuratively a shoot-from-the-hip politician who outspends his budget consistently while complaining about big government. Clarke also spends much of his time attending out-of-state conservative shindigs, talking on right-wing radio shows and buying pro-gun radio ads -- at county taxpayer expense! -- telling us we should be armed to the teeth and not afraid to pull the trigger if strangers come a' knocking.

The camouflaged-Republican gambit is now so baked into GOP campaigning that Tommy Thompson, former Republican governor, lately has been busy urging GOP voters in the state to cross over and vote for Clarke in the primary election. Yes, that entails getting voters to cross over from the Republican side of the ballot to vote on the Democratic side of the ballot for Clarke, a Republican wolf in angry sheep's clothing. What a country.

So far Clarke has been the winning exception in this kind of subterfuge. Most of the Wisconsin GOP's fakery has not paid off -- thanks, no doubt, to the remaining pool of attentive citizens. But the Repubs keep trying. To pull off the scam, they need voters who aren't paying enough attention, news media that remain blithe, and endless campaign advertising that blurs or even obscures the political landscape.

In foisting their camouflaged candidates on the electorate, it also helps that with the assistance of the conservative U.S. Supreme Court, the GOP has been able to legally camouflage friendly political action groups, too, making them look like unaffiliated, non-partisan, tax-free, "educational" non-profits, which nevertheless continue to drop big bucks into elections in ways the court claims won't influence anybody to vote for a particular candidate. Money is speech, and you and I don't have nearly enough of it to matter.

Dan Adams seems to be this round's most notorious camouflaged Republican. He's running in the crowded Democratic primary for the 19th state Assembly seat representing much of the Milwaukee shoreline. Incumbent Democrat Jon Richards is leaving the seat to run for attorney general, and the majority of voters in the district are politically tinted blue. You basically can't win the district if you're a Republican -- so, pretend you're not! Although presenting himself as a Democrat, Adam's views are decidedly contrary.

How off the main sequence, in Democratic Party terms, is he? Well, for one thing, he's spent a lot of energy attacking public employee unions. That might seem like an admission that the guy is running in the wrong primary. However, here and there you can find a few actual Democrats who aren't fond of unions; on the other hand, those real Dems haven't worked night and day to outlaw them, either. In any case, as much as they've damaged their own name, Republicans have been fairly successful in branding unions as the newest evil empire. The vulture capitalists behind that branding campaign? Not even on the radar for many voters.

So, with sidelong help, Adams has gone after all three of the real Democrats campaigning in the run-off election: labor attorney Sara Geenen, Milwaukee County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic, and Jonathan Brostoff, a former Milwaukee County Board staffer. Dimitrijevic has had a running battle with Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, a wealthy politician (aren't more and more of them, these days?) who turned to Republican state legislators to gut the board's power, thereby just happening to vastly increase his own.

The vote-getting strategy is similar to Scott Walker's own divide-and-conquer method: Split the slate by talking down the rest of the field in a low turnout election, a turnout made still lower because Republicans scheduled it for August, when fewer voters are around. Together, that and the camouflage might enable a guy like Adams to slip through the primary and into winning position for November.

The "tell" here is that there isn't and won't be a self-admitted Republican on the primary or general ballots. The 19th District Democratic primary winner will face Joe Klein, who will be on the November ballot representing the (could this be the tea party in drag?) Pirate Party. I kid you not.

A nominal liberal, Abele gave a $500 contribution to Adams' campaign. It isn't the first Republican campaign he has helped. Like Scott Walker, who held the seat before him, Abele exhibits an intense dislike for organized labor, evidently because -- like the country board -- represented workers don't always agree with him.

Given friends like Adams and Abele, what rank-and-file worker in this state needs enemies? but if you crave unitarian, even authoritarian government that brooks no opposition, the Republicans and their enablers are your guys.

And the big question is: Who are those enablers? Fat-cat plutocrats, that's who.

One outfit squarely in the Adams camp is, by strong inference, Forward Milwaukee County, Inc. Based in Fox Point, the group's funding and activities are kept all but invisible; the group does not show up in the state Government Accountability Board's list of political campaign organizations. Nevertheless, Forward Milwaukee County has been very busy spending money and is working hard in the 19th District election, running supposedly non-partisan issue ads.

Forward is a perfect example of a group that is campaigning while claiming not to be a political action group. The shadowy organization materialized during the battle a year or so ago over who would run Milwaukee County government. Winning that fight for Abele were metro Milwaukee business interests -- many of them wealthy, suburban Republicans, an unknown number of whom are silent partners in Forward.

Foward's treasurer is Joseph Rice, former Milwaukee County supervisor whose seat in office was eliminated by the rest of the board when conservatives and Abele insisted the board make itself smaller so it would become "more effective." But getting rid of one of the board's more conservative members wasn't what the plutocrats had in mind. They wanted a whole lot more smaller -- meaning fewer supervisors with fewer resources will now each have to represent a lot more people. 

So, Abele's GOP pals pushed through a state law aimed expressly at buzzcutting the Milwaukee County Board. It gutted the board's size, salaries and research staff, also making it part time and thereby ensuring the political executive of the state's most populous county will run the show, for the most part. One-man rule is so much more efficient than all that policy analysis, ears close to the voters, legislating stuff -- wouldn't you agree?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that, last weekend, Forward Milwaukee County distributed thousands of fliers to voters in the district, picturing Dimitrijevic and Jonathan Brostoff as jokers. The paper reported that in a second round of fliers, "residents in the district received two more brochures, one calling Dimitrijevic — the presumed front-runner — a 'hypocrite' and another accusing Brostoff and Dimitrijevic of having a 'blind eye and deaf ear' on county reform proposals." Meanwhile, Adams himself was concentrating his own fire on Dimitrijevic and Geneen, perhaps a sly move. Wouldn't want election regulators to begin thinking you sound too much like you're coordinating with an "independent" group, now, would you?

As we've shown you at the top of this posting, the same Forward ads also have been popping up like mushrooms lately on political web sites including DailyKos.com and DemocraticUnderground.com. Those two particular sites are politically progressive; the Forward ads there probably appear when adbots spot Internet domain addresses indicating readers are from Milwaukee County. 

Nope, no campaigning going on there! At least not any that mentions that whatsoever mentions Dan Adams. But he's the only logical beneficiary of the Forward messaging that attacks everyone on the Democratic ticket except him. Luckily, a lot of voters can still do the math. Subtract three from four and you come up with the one candidate who's the beneficiary of Forward's "non-partisan" campaigning: Dan Adams.

[Special tip o' the hat to Capper at Cognitive Dissonance, who did his own take on all of this yesterday. See very readable link below.]

Published

August 11, 2014 - 6:57pm

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