When gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke enlisted Paula Zellner to oversee her grassroots outreach, it meant two things: she’s concerned support in the union wing of her base is anemic; and she’s willing pursue a more aggressive means to validate her progressivism.
As reported by Dan Bice of the Journal Sentinel on Wednesday, Paula Zellner held a staffing position for former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold and recently worked for the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Wisconsin (SEIU). She brings street cred to Burke’s candidacy, but Zellner’s in-your-face antics could also be a stumbling block for independent voters.
In January of 2012, Zellner was among seventeen protestors ticketed and fined for an unruly protest at a fundraiser on private property. According to the police report, Zellner was the primary agitator involved in intimidating conservative elderly donors.
Here is how officer Richard Toeller described the event in his 2012 police report:
“Ursula Lane approached me. She was a frail woman of 75 years and was trembling and near tears as a result of her treatment by the tormenters . . . As soon as she exited her vehicle, she was surrounded by a group. One of who kept trying to grab her and force her to have a photograph taken with the group; she said they were mocking her. Ralph [her husband] also told me that Ursula was trembling as a result of the confrontation.”
The protest was designed to disrupt a fundraiser for State Rep. Robin Vos and mock its attendees. Bice reports,
“The protesters -- many arriving in a stretch limousine -- were clad in top hats and dresses, pretending to be the wealthiest 1%.
Eventually, things got a little rowdy, and five police squad cars were called to the scene. A witness described Zellner as "abrasive" and the main instigator.”
That’s quite an impressive makeover. In just two years, Zellner went from a occupy protest extraordinaire to being Millionaire Mary’s hired gun.
Also listed on the police report was one Maria Morales. Anyone remember her? She was the grandma that Congressman Paul Ryan supposedly pushed off the cliff during the 2012 presidential election.
As MoveOn.org retold the story, Morales was a downtrodden Hispanic woman whose desperation as a constituent were roundly ignored and neglected by her Congressman.
According to MoveOn’s website:
“Maria Morales, a 67-year-old grandmother from Racine, simply wanted to speak with Paul Ryan about his vote to cut off her unemployment insurance. She waited more than a year and couldn't even get a phone call—and when she went to his office, Paul Ryan's staff called the police.”
MoveOn.org omitted the fact that Morales isn’t your ordinary elderly constituent. Groomed by liberal fringe group Voces de la Frontera, she bounced from cause to cause and protest to protest in the name of collective bargaining, unemployment benefits, immigration reform, and Occupy Wall Street. Morales is a professional, gaining her experience targeting Ryan’s office often resulting in fines and arrests.
Morales role as an agitator at the Vos fundraiser is not without its irony. The same grandma Ryan pushed off the cliff helped bully a 75-year-old Ursula Lane into tears.
Whether it is Morales or Zellner, it’s fascinating to watch extremists who despise the wealthy for having what they don’t be so willing to sell their ideology to the highest bidder.
Want an occupy protester to help the upper echelons win public office? No problem, just give Zellner a call. Want an ardent unionist to campaign for a wealthy exec who made millions off non-unionized labor? No problem, Zellner is just a phone call away. Need someone to scare grandma off a cliff, Zellner seems to be up for the challenge.
Wisconsin - Unionism
I want to start by congratulating my wife, Jessie Rodriguez, on her win in the 21st Assembly district. She ran her campaign with a lot of class and was unfazed by those who besmirched her name. Also worthy of note, Jessie's opponent, Elizabeth Coppola, ran a clean campaign and called Jess to congratulate her, which was the right thing to do. It's refreshing to know that in an era when politics has been reduced to a zero-sum game, people don't have to wallow in the mud.
I have a few thoughts about the race. I don't believe Jessie’s victory is reducible to any single reason or cause. The three biggest factors I saw at play are as follows:
First, local elections, as they say, are won by friends, family, and tennis shoes. Jessie knew this coming in and was relentless at the doors. Some residents in the 21st saw her three to four times in a 10-week span. That's a lot of ground to cover in an district with three cities.
Second, campaigns are not run on hopes and dreams. It takes money to run a campaign and money to move a message. It's probably the least enjoyable part of running for office, but Jessie took her campaign seriously and outraised her opponents handily.
Third, Jessie’s campaign team was nothing short of fantastic. They were competent, devoted, and willing to absorb the noise so the candidate could focus on being the candidate. They provided a constancy when things were moving fast; and above all, they believed in her.
So, what does the win signify?
I think it puts at least one myth to rest. Despite opinions to the contrary, the 21st Assembly District has no reservations about electing a Hispanic to the state legislature. Some on the left thought a district with less than 8% Hispanic population couldn't or wouldn't elect a Latina. They were wrong.
To be clear, she goes by Jessie – and has done so for the last 20 years – largely because too many people mispronounced her name. (In Spanish, the “Y” is often pronounced as a “J,” many of her high school teachers got this wrong).
Jessie’s win also signifies that Republicans have no problems supporting minority candidates and Democrats have no problems attacking them. When it comes to voting, people care more about core issues than they do skin color.
As noted by Right Wisconsin, a local immigrant rights group called Voces de la Frontera put out a hit mailer days before the election attacking Jessie as an extremist Republican bent on destroying our public schools. It’s ironic that an organization willing to face legal fines and imprisonment to raise the social status of immigrants would oppose the first Hispanic immigrant ever to run for the state legislature. To prevent future confusion, I suggest they qualify their mission statement to say they only support immigrants that are liberal.
What it boils down to is that the 21st Assembly District wanted a conservative. Jessie didn’t sugarcaot her views or hide from her conservatism. She made clear that she supported lower taxes, more jobs, and more choice in education.
At a fundraiser a few weeks ago, Senate Leader Chris Larson said the 21st assembly race would be prognosticative of taking back the Governor's mansion in the 2014. They believed that if Jessie had lost, it would be a public repudiation of Governor Walker’s statewide expansion of school choice.
Well Chris, I hope you were paying attention. The 21st Assembly District likes school choice and they like Governor Walker’s reforms. See you in 2014.
Wisconsin - Milwaukee County
After a very costly pension scandal in 2002 and contract negotiations with a decertified union last year against legal advice, it’s not too surprising that members of the County Board wouldn’t recognize a conflict of interest if it bit them in the buttocks.
On November 1, Supervisor Peggy Romo-West introduced a budget amendment to provide $5,000 to the Tavern League of Wisconsin for their SafeRide program. Innocent enough, right?
Ten days after earmarking money for the Tavern League, Romo-West went before the Milwaukee Licensing Committee and was granted approval to open her own “Romo’s Silver City Sports Bar” on 36th and Greenfield.
As Vice Chair of the County Board, Romo-West should be smart enough to avoid the very appearance of wrongdoing. After all, earlier this year, she was found guilty of violating ethics rules regarding her campaign for office; and just last week, Right Wisconsin (a go-to site for conservative news) ran a story about her using a personal email account to skirt open records laws (p.s. John Chisholm I’m still waiting for the John Doe on a Democrat).
Although Romo-West is probably best known for her struggles with U.S. geography, she has arguably met her match with County Board colleague, Supervisor Russell Stamper.
During a short discussion about Romo-West’s earmark to the Tavern League, Stamper – a member of the Board’s powerful Budget Committee – struggled to understand who or what the Tavern League was.
“What type of sport or what type of league is it,” Stamper asked about the Tavern League.
After Romo-West explained that the Tavern League is an association of bars, Stamper was lost.
“I just didn’t know how a tavern can get in a league,” Stamper demurred. “Because, you know, they got pool leagues and things like that, but it’s not like that, huh?”
You can hear the exchange here starting around the four-minute mark.
There is little doubt that next April’s county referendum to cut supervisor pay will pass, but stories like this help clear the way for the more conflicted Milwaukee County voters about shaking up the County Board. It must be good for Members of the Board to know that, after voters have their say, they will have a place to drown their sorrows.