GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN, May 16, 2012 – From May 11th through the 13th of 2012, the Wisconsin Republican Party held its state convention in the most famous small city in America, Green Bay. The goal is winning, and there is no place like Titletown, USA.
Only 100,000 people live in Green Bay, but the energy inside the Ki Center and Shopko Hall had the intensity of a Packers game. In fact, for those who attended it, the opening early reception was a VIP tour of legendary Lambeau field.
My travels have taken me all over America, but this was my very first trip to Wisconsin. The people are every bit as friendly and neighborly as advertised, and the trip from Milwaukee to Green Bay is a pleasant drive. Yet with the Packers and the NFL out of the spotlight, this Green Bay weekend was about Republican Party politics.
As most political junkies know, Wisconsin is political ground zero in America. In an attempt to subvert the rule of law and overturn a democratically held election, the left is trying to recall Governor Scott Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. Yet this time it is the right that is galvanized. Simply put, conservatives are tired of being bullied, and Governor Walker came out fighting.
At the Friday evening fish fry, Kleefisch and Walker posed for pictures and then spoke to an enthusiastic crowd. At least 2,000 people attended the convention, and it seemed like at least half of them were at the fish fry. Although the plan was to keep the line moving, everybody in line wanted more than a picture with Walker.
They wanted to offer him words of encouragement.
My state of California is finished, and if Walker stands back and wins this recall, Republicans around the country may actually develop a spine. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger folded and let the unions roll over him. He surrendered, and the left destroyed the state. Now Jerry Brown is putting the finishing touches on it. Scott Walker stands between Wisconsin succeeding and the state descending into a California-like hell.
In a surprise of the energy of the right, the recent Wisconsin primary saw Walker receive more votes than his potential recall challengers combined. This was unusual, given that he was uncontested in his primary.
In addition to the recall fight, Republicans were fired up over an incredibly exciting primary for an open U.S. Senate seat. In 2010, Ron Johnson knocked off Russ Feingold. Now longtime Senator Herb Kohl (who also owns the Milwaukee Bucks) is retiring, and the Democrats have Tammy Baldwin trying to succeed him. She is as far left as Alec Baldwin. The Republicans have four major candidates running and several others who did not register enough support to earn speaking time at the convention. All of the top four candidates are impressive in different ways.
The favorite going into the convention was expected to be Mark Neumann.
Neumann is a successful businessman who represented Wisconsin in Congress from 1995 to 1999. He was part of the Republican Revolution that swept the country in 1994. Neuman’s races have always been close. He ran for Congress twice and barely lost, then barely won twice, and then in a nailbiter lost an attempt to unseat Senator Feingold in a 1998 election season that was bad for Republicans. Despite losing the 2010 gubernatorial primary to Walker, Neumann stayed loyal to Walker and had plenty of backers at this convention. His youth team was very strong.
Eric Hovde is a self-made millionaire who turned a $5,000 investment into a successful banking career. He is now a successful real estate entrepreneur.
He is also the co-founder of the Hovde Foundation, which attempts to cure Multiple Sclerosis around the globe. Hovde is running as the outsider candidate, and is the only one of the candidates not to have spent a lengthy amount of time in politics. He also had plenty of enthusiastic supporters at the convention including tons of young people.
The one candidate who did not need an introduction was former three-term Governor Tommy Thompson.
Thompson also served as the Director of Health and Human Services afer his governorship ended. While Thompson’s 2008 run for the presidency never got off the ground, his tenure as governor of Wisconsin was widely viewed as successful. He is nationally recognized as the guy who took the lead on welfare reform that became the model other governors tried to emulate.
Thompson had support, but it was mostly older. He had fewer young volunteers. Thompson’s critics for the most part agreed he was a good Governor, but felt that it was time for new blood. He was the “establishment.” Yet his supporters pointed out that a track record of success and experience is a major positive.
Scott is staying as majority leader while Jeff is giving up a safe seat to run for the Senate. Jeff Fitzgerald first got elected in 2000, and has won reelection with 60 percent or better every time. A couple of times the Democrats did not even try to oppose him. Jeff Fitzgerald has been an ally of Governor Walker during the whole recall situation and helped implement the union reforms that have Wisconsin open for business again.
Of the four Senate candidates, Fitzgerald was the most lightly regarded in terms of support. He seemed to have the least amount of volunteers. That is what made the convention as fascinating as it was.
Friday morning began with Walker and Kleefisch again firing up the troops. Yet the real action was in the afternoon as the four Senate candidates tried to get the official state party endorsement. The rules were that 60 percent of the vote was required for a candidate to get an endorsement. Otherwise the party would stay out of it. There would be three ballots. After each of the first two ballots, the candidate with the lowest vote total would be eliminated.
As expected, Neumann was the favorite by a wide margin on the first ballot. He collected 42 percent of the vote, more than double his nearest challenger. The surprise was that Hovde came in last with 16 percent and was eliminated. Fiery speeches by Thompson and Speaker Fitzgerald kept them alive with about 20 percent each.
The second ballot again saw Neumann win comfortably with 46 percent of the vote. Yet the big surprise was that it was Speaker Fitzgerald with 35 percent in second place. A stunned crowd saw Thompson eliminated with around 20 percent. This seemed to be a rebellion against the establishment.
The biggest surprise was the third and final ballot. Supporters of the defeated candidates decided to humble Neumann and deny him the win. They flocked to Fitzgerald. The two men were about dead-even, with neither one anywhere near 60 percent.
So after several hours of debate and speeches, the Wisconsin GOP endorsed none of them. Yet they all had reason to smile because while the recall involving Walker takes place on June 5th, the Senate primary is not until August 14th. Bragging rights at this point went to whoever had the best appetizers in their hospitality suite. They were all successful as happy delegates and others partied until midnight. The image of WIsconsin as “lily-white” is false. Like anywhere else in America, blacks, whites, Jews, Christians, men, women, young, and the elderly all came together to bond as Republicans.
There were three major takeaways from this convention. The first thing noticeable was what was absent. There was not even a hint of presidential politics. One candidate had a booth, but this convention was not about the presidential election. All of the focus was on the Walker recall and the Senate race.
Another major observation was the overwhelming popularity of Walker and Kleefisch. Wisconsin 2012 is not a state where Republicans roll over and let Democrats shove them around. Everybody has stayed loyal to Walker, and all of the Senate candidates praised him throughout the weekend.
Yet the biggest source of pride as a Republican was seeing that “Wisconsin nice” was not just a slogan. All four of the Senate candidates were polite, respectful, and positive. They did not attack each other. They all vowed to fall in line behind whomever won the primary. As the race heats up, the attacks will come. However, this was definitely a harmonious convention where unity carried the day. Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment was definitely obeyed.
Politeness should never be mistaken for boredom. Every party needs a rock star, and the Friday night dinner featured one of the biggest political rock stars in America, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.
What makes him so amazing is that even people who know exactly what he is going to say still sit their spellbound listening to him say it. In his hospitality suite after dinner, he stood for hours taking pictures and conversing with people. He is funny, gracious, and every bit as sharp as he is made out to be. He can laugh one minute about the Packers and the next minute get very serious about the budget crisis American faces. He is demonized on the left because he is committing the cardinal sin of actually trying to do something to fix the problem with entitlements.
The left is scared to death of him because he is a policy wizard and a number-cruncher who can explain the problems in a friendly but sobering way. He may be the best spokesperson in the GOP today, which is why he is on Mitt Romney’s radar for Vice President.
Although she refuses to consider herself a rock star, Wisconsin native and former President of the National Federation of Republican Women was in attendance. Anybody who thinks President Obama runs this world has never been to an FRW meeting. The Wisconsin Federation of Republican Women (WFRW) were doing what Republican women around the country do: Working hard to make sure the GOP keeps its feet on the ground, head out of the clouds, and spine straight.
Wisconsin also is the home state of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. The state simply turns out good people who can get the job done.
In addition to all of the well known Wisconsin leaders, a promising up-and-comer made his debut. Chad Lee is running for Congress, and he impressed the people who met him in his hospitality suite.
This convention was wildly successful because Wisconsin Republicans seem determined to be united going into the critical 2012 elections. Supporters of the various candidates intermingled in a very friendly manner. The backstabbing at other conventions appeared to be absent here. Everybody understood that the entire nation was watching Wisconsin.
For this and other reasons, I quietly slipped out of the Friday night fish fry for an hour and traveled a few blocks to the only synagogue in Green Bay.
At the Chabad House, I prayed for the leadership and their families. Praying for them to win elections is not appropriate. Praying for them to be treated like decent human beings matters to me. Chabad of Milwaukee was a source of more prayers before and after the convention.
Additionally, the convention itself closed with a Sunday prayer breakfast.
Scott Walker and Rebecca Kleefisch have been demonized. Their children have been harassed. They have had to fight to win election to a job they already won. The rule of law is at stake, and prayers for peace and an end to the mob thugocracy that has harmed Wisconsin are highly appropriate. All Governor Walker is trying to do is prevent unions from bankrupting the state so all the people of Wisconsin can actually have a tomorrow, much less a better one. Wisconsin may have the best leadership in the entire nation. If that leadership continues, Wisconsin will remain a model of good governance.
For those in the other 49 states unsure what to do with their time and money reserved for politics, it should be sent to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. They are in separate recalls on June 5th, and they need everybody’s help. They have stood strong, and that strength must be returned. The most popular t-shirt sold at the convention read “I stand with Scott Walker.”
We all should. There is hard work ahead, and very few people are up to the challenge of actual governance. They are.
Wisconsin is a great state with great people. That certainly includes those at the top of the ticket.
Brooklyn born, Long Island raised, and now living in Los Angeles, Eric Golub is a politically conservative columnist, blogger, author, public speaker, satirist and comedian.
Eric is the author of the book trilogy “Ideological Bigotry, “Ideological Violence,” and “Ideological Idiocy.” Eric is 100% alcohol, tobacco, drug, and liberalism free. After years of dating liberals, he has finally seen the light and now only dates Republican Jewish women. His family is pleased over this. Republican, Jewish women, you may contact Eric above.
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Eric Golub is an independent writer for the Communities. Read more from Eric at his TYGRRRR EXPRESS blog.
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