Mike McCabe is a very progressive candidate who is running in the Democratic Party and seeking through this election in 2018 to become Governor of Wisconsin. He was first interviewed by #WeThePeople on December 20th, 2017.
We start by watching Mike’s campaign ad, in which he lets us know that this is the farm where he grew up and learned about life, and that this is the place that made him who he is. Places like this - he says, are treated by those who run things at the State Capitol as if they don’t even exist. They have been forgotten and ignored – he tells us, and the people who live in places like this don’t have lobbyists working for them at the State Capitol. They don’t hold $1,000 a plate fundraising dinners, and in any case have the common sense to realize that there is no plate of food worth that. We’re close to 200 miles from the State Capitol, but it might as well be a million and that’s why I’m running – Mike says. We’ve got to have a government that works for all of us, no matter where you live in Wisconsin – he points out. Wisconsin is up to its eyeballs in problems, but those problems grow out of inequality, out of political economic inequality. Our society is being made more and more elitist all the time and we are being divided as a people into Royals and Commoners.
John opens by telling us that Mike is running against Scott Walker and what looks like half of Wisconsin (14 candidates have withdrawn. There are 7 other Democrats besides Mike remaining, 2 Republicans including the Incumbent Governor Scott Walker, 1 Libertarian, 1 Green Party candidate, 1 Independent and 1 from the Wisconsin Party … so 14 candidates are left in the race.).
You have been working in public service for a long time. Why did you choose to run against Scott Walker now – John asks? I have been in public service for a long time - Mike answers, but not as an elected official. I have worked as an independent watchdog. I’ve spent decades exposing and trying to break the grip of big money in politics here in Wisconsin. I helped start a group called the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - way back in 1995. Eventually I became that group’s Director and led it for 15 years before passing the baton to new leadership. Then I started another non-profit citizen(s) group called Blue Jean Nation which is aimed at organizing citizens at the local grassroots level to work to force the political establishment to change its ways and so make political change that way. That’s awesome – John says. Thank you for your service. I appreciate that. Explain a little more about Blue Jean Nation and what you do – John encourages him, and he tells Mike that he loves the concept.
Slide: “Blue Jean Nation is working to promote the transformation of democratic institutions that are failing America and (to) reinvigorate our republic through community outreach, civic education and engagement, grassroots organizing, public policy advocacy and social action.”
We have 3 big aims - Mike tells us. The first is to get people in communities to create opportunities for people who may not necessarily be birds of a feather to talk to each other and listen to each other and hash out their differences. The second is to get people to enter rather than flee political parties and work for change within those parties. Finally, we try to inspire people to run for office at whatever level … This last aim came back to bite me because an awful lot of people who were drawn into this movement said – Mike, we need you to run too … and for Governor! For quite a while my answer was - Hell no! That had not been what he had wanted to do, but - he says, they didn’t take no for an answer and that was at once interesting and inspiring. It gives me tremendous energy every day watching all the activity and the organizing of meetings and volunteer trainings. It is breathtaking, refreshing and inspiring, and we’re a long way from Election Day in 2018 (12/20/2017) – Mike tells us. One of your aims is to get people “to enter political parties” you say, so this is not something then that is limited to one party – John asks? It doesn’t have to be limited to any one party – says Mike and I’ve talked a lot about the need for a first-party movement in our country.
Slide: “A first-party movement works within the two-party system and focuses on making sure there is at least one that is truly dedicated to doing the will of the people.”
America has a very strong two-party system which discriminates against Independents and Third Parties. Wisconsin is no exception to that rule. It’s winner take all. Bernie Sanders - even though he’s an Independent and not a member of the Democratic Party, made a choice to run within the Democratic Primaries and Caucuses and I think given the system we have, he had the greatest impact doing it the way he did – Mike tells us. Now Mike himself has chosen to run as a Democrat - even though he has not been a member of any political party over the course of his whole adult life. As an independent watchdog I’ve called out Democrats and Republicans when I’ve seen wrong-doing or unethical behavior and I make no apologies for that or for the work I’ve done to expose the influence of big money in our political system – he says. I think by running now as a Democrat, it’s the way to give the people of Wisconsin the best chance to make the biggest difference. I love it – John answers. I’m going to guess you’re a Bernie Sanders fan? I am – replies Mike. I was very inspired by what Bernie did at a national level and I strongly want to replicate that at State level and all the way down to local office. It’s incredibly important to do that.
So far the response to his campaign has been good in Wisconsin. We’ve already traveled – he says, over 15,000 miles here; held close to 80 public events all over the State and (much) more besides, just in these first three months (12/20/2017). In engaging and talking to as many people as possible, I’m really trying to make this campaign a twenty-first century version of a Bill Proxmire campaign – Mike continues. Bill was a maverick Progressive who won elections here for 30 years. He never ran a campaign that cost more than 300$. This he did against big money opposition and he won his last campaign in a landslide. I know this is a different era and you can’t run the campaign exactly as he did. We are going to raise a lot more money, but we are doing it with very small donations. A lot of people are willing to give small amounts and then give of their time and their energy as well. This is going to be a very grassroots, crowdfunded, people-powered campaign. It has to be because we need to create a really vivid contrast between the billionaire tycoons that are behind Scott Walker and a campaign that is authentically of, by and for the People. You sound like a Berniecrat Mike and that’s a compliment (of course) – says John. Thank you for doing what Bernie did and reminding us of what it means to be a Representative. I love the “enter” positioning because the parties are just vehicles – John adds and Mike nods in agreement. Right now the Democratic Party is like a listless ghost ship that has resources and we just need to take it over and use it - John says.
Mike tells us that he wrote a book a few years back, called Blue Jeans in High Places and he subtitled it, the coming makeover of American politics. He quotes from it now: “We really have one party in America that is scary, and another that is scared.” Interestingly – he says, in all the times I’ve used that line I’ve never had anyone ask me which one is which. The extent to which the scared party - the party that has been timid and reluctant to be unashamed of its own governing philosophy, is scared, actually enables and helps the other party become increasingly scary. There is a symbiosis there. This is no time for being timid or standing on the sidelines. This is a moment – Mike says, that is a very dangerous and challenging moment in our country’s history. This is (a time to stand up and be counted). It seems to me that there is a giant rift in the Democratic Party between those who have moral standing and are trying to uphold values and those that to me are no different than the Republican Party in that they are taking money and their money interests are (shown) – John opines. Mike though sees this growing rift as a sign of hope, because that means that there is active tension within the Democratic Party between those who are seeking to shake it up, transform it and make it a real progressive force in the country (and those who aren’t). There is a sizable canyon between party establishment and party grassroots … and I increasingly see evidence of the grassroots asserting themselves and working to gain power within the party - Mike emphasizes. Those are remarkably healthy signs. John says that he agrees and adds that he has only been woke since Bernie Sanders, unlike Mike who has been working on this for a lot longer than that. John says that people like him are starting to see hope after two years of dismalness, and asks whether after decades working (to improve the world about him), things really do look promising to Mike right now in terms of an ability to shift some seats in 2018 and 2020? Mike smiles and says that sometimes it’s darkest before the dawn - John and Laura chuckle. One of the things that I remind people of in Wisconsin – he tells John, Laura and everyone, is that at the tail end of the McCarthy era there were all the Red Scare tactics and some really bleak reactionary politics which held sway in our State, and the Democrats were even more out of power than they are now. However within a few short years all that had changed and Gaylord Nelson became Governor of Wisconsin. He was the founder of Earth Day. We can draw inspiration and comfort from history because we’ve seen bleak conditions before - certainly in Wisconsin, and yet that has often led to waves of reform and a renaissance. I see indications that that is possible again in our State and I want to be a part of making it happen. Thank you – John says. I like that. I didn’t know about that history. That’s awesome.
Any questions from the audience Laura – he asks? Laura first gives a shout-out to all the Wisconsinites in YouTube chat, and Mike and John smile. I have one from Froz – she says. What can you do to support collective bargaining rights for Wisconsinites? Mike thinks it should be Wisconsin’s role to make union representation available and possible for far more people. Right now only 1 in 10 workers in America has union representation and that number is one in 15 if you consider only the private sector. There have of course been assaults on unionization and collective bargaining in particular here in Wisconsin – he says. We need to reverse course and make union representation a possibility for far more workers, and as we do that in the Wisconsin government, we must make sure to do it for all workers in every sector of the economy. We need to be not just pro-union, but pro-worker. Governor Walker has been very skillful at engaging in divide-and-conquer politics that pits one group of workers against another group of workers. We need to take actions to empower people who don’t and probably won’t have union representation in the foreseeable future. So I’m a big supporter of the goal of a living wage for every worker and increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour in our State. That fight is so incredibly important to put more money in the pockets of working people and empower workers in every sector of our economy - whether, union or non-union. You are really talking about protections for workers and taking care of our working class, something which hasn’t happened for quite some time across the United States - John comments.
Slide: This one is about a Scott Walker deal:
The $60 million Foxconn fund deposit deal is being sold as something that will be great for the economy. Does it do anything for Wisconsin - John asks? I think it’s a desperation move, a classic example of corporate welfare – Mike replies. It’s been unfortunately an approach that Wisconsin has relied on for quite some time. The money doesn’t filter down … we have to do a complete 180 and work at building that vibrant and sturdy economy from the bottom up by empowering 5.5 million people in Wisconsin to do more for themselves, each other, their families and for our State. You do that by creating an economy where if you work you won’t be poor. This means a living wage for every worker; healthcare for all; debt-free education for everyone and high-speed internet everywhere. Over half of rural Americans don’t have access to high speed internet. How can you fully participate in the 21st century economy, or even in modern American life without that basic 21st century tool? So many parts of our State don’t have it. We have to bring it to people. We have to commit ourselves to making Wisconsin a place committed to a clean-energy economy. Our goal should be to become the first State in the country fully powered by renewable energy. Those are the kinds of investments that can create an economic stimulus. We must deal with the unfortunate reality in Wisconsin that we are leading the nation in terms of how much the middle class has shrunk. We are dead last in the nation in new business start-ups for 3 straight years and we have levels of economic inequality in Wisconsin not seen here since the Great Depression. When we empower working people, and as working people spend the money that they will then have in their pockets, it stimulates the economy. There are going to have to be people selling what they want to buy. That will have ripple effects throughout our economy and that will enrich us all - Mike explains. I agree with that - says John, but have you seen what just came out today (12/20/2017)? A lot of corporations are saying that they are taking the big GOP tax money rebates and giving it back to their employees through various bonuses, rebates and stuff. They are trying to claim that this is trickle-down functioning. Do you think this will have an impact on the race? It may be a symbolic gesture but when you talk to people in Wisconsin, this tax plan is spectacularly unpopular in most parts of the State – Mike replies calmly. It is seen as more handouts to the rich, more giveaways to the wealthy, the well-connected and the privileged few. People don’t see much coming their way and as with this Foxconn deal they know they are on the hook for paying for their share of $3 billion worth of handouts to the group. These are classical trickle-down moves by the Republicans. It’s the kind of policy that has led to this slow but steady extermination of the middle class in our State, where it’s not just the Federal tax cut that is the problem. If you look at all the State and local taxes paid in Wisconsin, you will see that the wealthiest 1% pays the lowest overall tax rate. That’s got to change! We have to have a State and local tax system requiring all of us to pay our fair share, and that means increasing taxes on the rich - no question about it.
Laura has another question from Froz. What do you think about all the new manufacturing contracts that have come (into) Wisconsin (after Trump through Ryan) - military contracts in Oshkosh for example? Well - Mike says, if you look at the big picture in Wisconsin, we are actually losing manufacturing jobs, and have in recent years pushed through a manufacturing tax credit that was a classic example of a feed the rich sort of approach. In fact the big benefit went to just 11 (tax-filers). Wow - says John. The benefits went to multi-billionaires across our State – Mike continues. More companies are actually leaving Wisconsin or shrinking their workforces, than coming in. And this used to be an industrial powerhouse! Wisconsin used to have an incredibly strong manufacturing base. We won’t be able to change these levels of economic inequality if we don’t get to the root cause of this problem and that is the election campaigns that are being bankrolled by those multi-millionaires and billionaires who are benefiting from these government giveaways. And so we get back to election-finance reform. This has been my life’s work – Mike says. Wisconsin Democracy Campaign is an independent watchdog that not only tracks the money in politics and exposes the transactions between big donors and government officials, but seeks to reform that system and create a system of Voter-Owned elections, which blunts the influence of big money. Legally in Wisconsin a candidate for Governor can take a $20,000 donation from an individual or an $86,000 check from a Political Action Committee. I feel obligated to lead by example. Those checks have strings attached and expectations that accompany them. They amount to legal bribes. My campaign isn’t taking any donation over $200. Supporters will be allowed to give more than once, but no more than a total of $1,000 through a whole campaign. Bernie Sanders showed us it can be done – Mike tells us. Doing this program – John says, I’ve interviewed many, many people running for every race you can think of. What I hear a lot is the number. What does it cost on average to win that race? It costs so much for a Senator, so much for a Governor … and those are ridiculous sums of money for public servant jobs – he says. Mike had a street-corner conversation in La Crosse, Western Wisconsin recently, with a gentleman who told him that some other Democratic candidate in the race had said that it would take $30,000,000 to beat Scott Walker. My response was that money is not going to beat Scott Walker. He will have more than anybody. This needs to be a David versus Goliath contest. The Democrats spent $12 million, then $22 million and then $33 million in the last 3 elections trying to beat Scott Walker, yet he got the same percentage of the vote each time! A David versus Goliath grassroots campaign is the only way to get out of this trap that we are in. I 100% agree and love everything you said just there – says John. What you just described though is every Democratic race I can remember recently. There is an impulse among too many Democrats to say that any Democrat will do – Mike responds, but a corporate Democrat, a stand- for-nothing Democrat, a sold-out Democrat isn’t the answer. Many people in Wisconsin look at today’s Democratic Party and conclude that the Democrats are not on their side. I grew up in an area that once voted heavily Democratic and now votes overwhelmingly Republican - and I understand why. They feel they’ve been written off and forgotten. So they figure, keep the government as small as possible and taxes as low as possible because that’s the best they can hope for. So, what party is their default option during election time? We need to make them a much better offer. We have local towns that are digging up the pavements and putting down gravel because they can’t afford to keep filling their own potholes. Go down the gravel road that leads past our old farm and you’ll still see the evidence of rural electrification brought to his neighborhood by FDR and the Democrats, but you can’t get an internet connection and you can’t get a mobile phone signal. (John loves the analogy between the past and the present.) The people are angry about it and that plays into the Republicans’ hands and into the anti-government message. And any Democrat will not do, because for the people from where I’m from, they have a hard time thinking of any Democrat they could support. However when Bernie Sanders was running for President I was fascinated by the amount of Sanders signs I saw out in farm fields (and front lawns) in small rural towns across our State. And when Sanders didn’t get the nomination those signs came down and they weren’t replaced by Hilary Clinton signs, and Donald Trump signs littered the landscape. John laughs and sighs. I think what we are learning Mike – he says, is not only do we need to make an offer, but we need to become the party. We all need to run for something.
Our volunteer crew works hard on making these slides – John says. This one tells us more about Mike McCabe.
Slide: He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism in 1982. He was honored by same in 2005, with the distinguished Service Award. He also spent six years working as communications director and legislative liaison for the Madison Metropolitan School District. Before that, he ran a statewide civic education program for the non-profit Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. He worked as a newspaper reporter and as a legislative aid to 3 Republican members of the Wisconsin State Assembly. In addition he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the West African country of Mali.
John is delighted to be able to talk about journalism. Things have changed since FDR’s day – he starts, adding that he loves the shirt Mike wore in one of the photos - which had “Neither elephant nor ass” on it. John now shows another slide by way of an introduction to a discussion on the Telecommunication Act of 1996 - which was repealed, and the Fairness Doctrine - which was replaced. At this point he reminds the audience that the Fairness Doctrine forced news networks that were using the airwaves for free - because they belonged to us, to provide fair and balanced news. It was repealed by Reagan’s (administration) in 1987 with the blessings of the Democrats. This allowed news agencies to no longer provide equal information and to be biased. There is apparently a recent push by Congress to restore it. The Telecommunication Act of 1996 did some things that were okay, but mostly it allowed the consolidation of our media networks, and there are only 5 remaining today - John says, before continuing. Also, now that we’ve got net neutrality being destroyed, it does present an opportunity for us to create local ISPs. What do you think about all of this and the future of the narrative, Mike? The loss of the Fairness Doctrine – Mike responds, has changed journalism tremendously. To be honest with you, it was a major reason why I worked to start the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Journalism was changing and media organizations were no longer doing the kind of investigative reporting about ... the influence of money in politics in places like Wisconsin for example. So it was left to citizens to start non-profit organizations to fill that void, so what I essentially did in the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign was investigative journalism. As for net neutrality I personally would like to see Wisconsin become one of the States that is suing the FCC over this issue.
Slide: We see a cartoon fish with Competition written on its forehead which is about to be swallowed up by a mean looking shark which is labeled Media Giants.
To me net neutrality is the First Amendment of the Internet – Mike tells us. It is the heart and soul of internet freedom and I think that a fair and open internet is critically important to democracy, and it’s a tool that future generations of Americans can use to transform American politics - if it remains a free and open tool. It is critically important to 21st century journalism, and it wouldn’t have been possible for the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign to do what it did without internet freedom. Our organization created the first online searchable database of campaign contributors in Wisconsin. We gave people the ability to seek to follow the money and to see how money is influencing our politics, with one internet search. I feel very strongly – he says, about the need to fight for more media diversity and that’s why I applaud efforts like yours (John smiles) to bring voices to people not only in this country but around the world, that otherwise wouldn’t be heard because of the consolidation and homogenization of MSM in our country. I’m glad you mentioned MSM – John says, because we can talk a little about what is happening right now in the latest ruling where Sinclair Media is now basically allowed to own every local news station in America if they want. It’s frightening, and you know about the messages that they show all across their networks. Everyone is repeating that (same) narrative. In 2016 (in contrast to what you saw with the signs in Wisconsin) MSM controlled the information that Wisconsinites were hearing. That there – Mike answers, is the biggest single problem with media consolidation, with the concentration of media ownership in fewer and fewer hands. It homogenizes the news and information. There isn’t the diversity of information nor of opinion that there needs to be - both of which are critical to a healthy working democracy. Well said – says John, and I agree 200%. The news I grew up with which did have opinion and offered viewpoint became news for ratings purposes. How much of a circus can we make it? How many bells and whistles can we add to it? And then there is the pushing of the narrative … Thank you. I really appreciate your commentary on that, and I appreciate all the work you have done so far on helping to open up our government in terms of information – says John. Any questions Laura Livengood? No there aren’t – she replies.
Mike, thank you for being here! You’ve been awesome – John says. It’s been a pleasure - replies Mike. I really appreciate the opportunity and it’s been great talking with you. Laura is surprised at how fast the time went by. So Mike, you have Scott Walker to go up against – John says. I really don’t think the Republicans have that much of a chance this time, and you have a gaggle of Democrats also running and I’ve no idea which one the Establishment is going to drop their chunk of change on. You are running a People’s campaign, the way Bernie Sanders ran it. Tell everyone why they should vote for you.
We might end up with a Baskin-Robbins (ice cream) Primary here in Wisconsin – Mike says. There might be (…) flavors on the Democratic side by the time all is said and done. He expects that more candidates will still join the race. However Scott Walker – he says, can’t be taken lightly as he’s been elected Governor 3 times and is a very formidable and shrewd politician with all the money he needs behind him. The Democrats I see lining up are very accomplished people, but they all seem very comfortable operating within the political system as it currently functions and all seem at peace with the political culture in our State as it is – and I’m not. I think the political culture in Wisconsin has been poisoned and the political system is working really, really well for the rich and powerful, but failing the rest of our population who are without a voice or (any) opportunity to be authentically represented. We need to offer something that makes them feel really good about themselves for a change. “I’ll be damned if I’m gonna settle for being the lesser of evils.” I want to give people a vision of what Wisconsin has the potential to become and how we reach that potential, but particularly to give people an opportunity to see how they can get in the driver’s seat of our government and actually have the ability to be governed by people who will put their values into State policy. A grassroots campaign can be done but it requires that many of us – myself included, take a leap of faith so that we can break out of the poisoned environment that has plagued our politics here in Wisconsin and has tarnished our State’s reputation as a beacon of clean and open and honest government. I want to see Wisconsin deserve that reputation again.
That’s awesome – says John. I think Wisconsin was ready with Bernie Sanders and they didn’t get an opportunity and now they will definitely be ready with you. Tell everyone how they can help you… Mike invites everybody to visit his website and take a look at the long list of volunteer opportunities to choose from (12/20/2017), mentions crowd-funding (small donations) etc.
Mike’s chosen song is no surprise! It’s Neil Diamond’s Forever in Blue Jeans. I grew up wearing blue jeans and I’ll campaign, be inaugurated and govern in blue jeans – Mike tells us. And I’m not going to live in the Governor’s mansion once elected and I’m not going to take the full salary of the Governor. I will be paid $1 less than the average Wisconsin worker makes when I’m Governor. I love the blue jeans part – John says. Same reason I wear my (Carter) cardigan. I do say if you are going to take an average worker’s wage in Wisconsin though, you might want to think about the free housing even if you don’t want the mansion. They laugh. I’ll do just fine. I’ll make it – Mike smiles. I hope you win Mike McCabe – John states. Thank you so much for being on the program. We’d like to have you back, so shall we talk to you next year? It’s a deal! – Mike says with a smile.
The links are in the video description. Good luck Mike McCabe on August 14th, 2018!