By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — They tried to ignore him.
When they couldn’t do that, they shunned him.
Now, the Democratic Party establishment is hoping voters forget about state Rep. Brett Hulsey, a candidate for governor in Tuesday’s partisan primary elections.
But the Madison Democrat, as he has shown from the very beginning of his David v. Goliath campaign, has no intention of going quietly into that good night.
“I like my chances,” Hulsey told Wisconsin Reporter Monday during a cell phone call from Sheboygan. He was in the middle of a near-nonstop campaign blitz, logging a lot of miles on the 1998 Ford Escort that asks anyone who sees it to “Vote Brett Hulsey for Gov.” He planned to make eight campaign stops Monday, including in Appleton, Green Bay and Milwaukee.
“I talk to 200 people a day on average,” he said. “The last 100 days I’ve visited 125 key wards all over Wisconsin.
“I think I’m going to do a lot better than people expect me, to,” Hulsey said, declining to publicly put a percentage to a prediction.
Hulsey has an uphill battle.
There are a lot of voters in Wisconsin who don’t know that he’s on the ballot. The small business owner and assemblyman of four years is seen as little more than an irritant to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, and a controversial irritant at that.
The party establishment, led by DPW Chairman Mike Tate, early on in the campaign to topple Republican Gov. Scott Walker anointed Madison School Board member and former Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke the party’s candidate.
“Mary Burke is the obvious choice for Governor,” the party declared in a blog Friday titled, “Let’s Get Out The Vote!”
“The primaries are of utmost importance because they are the means by which Wisconsin voters can pick the strongest and most-competitive candidate to run against the Republican nominee,” the blog post notes.
A confident Burke planned a fundraiser Tuesday night as opposed to an election night party, looking ahead instead to the general election.
“It’s going to be a tough race over these next 85 days, but I look forward to it,” Burke told Fox 6 News.
Tate and crew denied Hulsey the opportunity to speak at the party’s convention in June, and the Dane County Democratic Party challenged hundreds of signatures on Hulsey’s petition to run for governor. That challenge failed before the state Government Accountability Board.
“A lot of people have come up to me and railed against Mike Tate and the Democrats and said, ‘You stood up against them so I’m voting for you,’” Hulsey said.
The candidate, however, is seen as an unsympathetic witness by many on the left — and the right.
He’s made a series of bizarre choices inside and outside the campaign, including his unfulfilled pledge to hand out white Ku Klux Klan-style hoods to Republicans at the state GOP convention in May.
Hulsey is no fan of the right, particularly Walker, and conservatives are no friend of the ultra liberal Hulsey.
The former union vice president’s campaign schtick is to hand phony checks of $2.1 billion to voters to push his plan to kill Walker’s collective-bargaining reforms, known as Act 10, and plug the money back into education, health care and job creation. Act 10, recently upheld by the state Supreme Court, has saved the state more than $2 billion since its implementation in 2011, according to some estimates, and is seen as the key victory of the Wisconsin Republican revolution of 2010.
But for a party that supposedly puts a premium on grassroots organization and support, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has defied that maxim in its early all-in approach to backing Burke, many Dems have complained.
Among the party’s sharpest critics is Hulsey’s campaign treasurer, Margie Zilic, of Madison. Perhaps Zilic is biased; she’s done Hulsey’s taxes and bookkeeping for his company for the past 10 years.
Still, the lifelong Democrat says the party did a disservice in rushing to anoint Burke.
“I don’t know why the party didn’t look further, why they couldn’t find anyone stronger,” she said.
The big reason for the strong show of early support, campaign watchers and insiders have said, was Burke’s wealth. The party believed the Madison millionaire, who served as state Commerce secretary in Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration, would greatly self-fund her campaign. She did dump in about $400,000 early on, but has since disabused party members of the notion that she would drop millions of dollars to fund her run for governor.
Zilic said the power of the people has been bypassed.
“Who knows that Brett is even running?” she said. “I’m not saying Brett is the answer for everybody, but there should have been other choices … Mary Burke is not a perfect solution.”
Sounding frustrated and downhearted, Hulsey’s campaign treasurer said, sadly, she believes Burke would probably win the primary election “because she has the party behind her.”
Of course, Hulsey isn’t the only gubernatorial candidate without money, wide name recognition or media attention.
Dennis Fehr of Eau Claire, a Peoples Party candidate; Robert Burke, no apparent relation to Mary Burke, of Hudson, is the Libertarian Party candidate; and Steve R. Evans, a Republican write-in candidate from Montreal, are all on the primary ballot, each virtually unknown by the vast majority of Wisconsin voters.