Show me an angry progressive mayor and I’ll show you a loser
John Nichols of the Capital Times, the online conspiracy newsletter, thinks he has found the perfect model for Democratic candidates in Wisconsin.
In Michigan, a state that like Wisconsin has been ravaged by free trade policies, where it is hard to keep track of the factory closings and where the unemployment rate in a number of counties has strayed toward Depression-era levels, the idea that the Democrats might have run a centrist Democrat with better ties to the Chamber of Commerce than to organized labor proved to be too much for members of the United Auto Workers and other hard-pressed unions.
While party elites championed the candidacy of state House Speaker Andrew Dillon, an insider with a cautious approach and policies that seemed more like a moderate Republican of several decades ago than old-school Michigan Democrats like Govs. Frank Murphy and G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams, the UAW and its allies got behind Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. Dubbed “the angriest mayor in America” — after incendiary appearances on Fox and CNN, where he ripped into Wall Street speculators and big bankers while defending factory workers and their unions — Bernero entered the Democratic gubernatorial primary as an unabashed populist.
“Sure, I’m angry!” he declared. “Michigan’s angry!”
Bernero ridiculed Republicans who backed bailouts for Wall Street but objected to helping auto companies. But he also blistered Democrats for providing the votes that passed trade deals that encouraged U.S. companies to move production from Flint and Lansing to Mexico and China.
Washington politicians talked about tinkering around the edges of “too big to fail” banks and trying to free up credit. But Bernero went way further, proposing the establishment of a state-run bank — operated along the lines of the highly successful State Bank of North Dakota — to provide financing for job creation and community redevelopment. “They redlined our state,” Bernero said of the big bankers.
While Michiganders search for jobs and worry about losing their homes, he gripes, “Wall Street barons make out like bandits.”
That kind of talk scared the insiders.
They pumped money into Dillon’s campaign and pointed to polls that said he would win the primary without breaking a sweat.
But UAW President Bob King, whose determination to renew the union’s best militant tradition has been evident since he took over earlier this year, argued that Bernero would win “because you know what? People are angry. People want somebody who’s going to fight for the middle class, somebody’s who’s going to fight to keep jobs in America.”
King, whose union campaigned hard for Bernero, argued: “I think sometimes (political players) misunderstand what frustration and anger is out there. It’s about jobs, it’s about manufacturing, it’s about a decent standard of living. And (Bernero’s) somebody who will make jobs and manufacturing a huge priority. And the way to do that, I think, is to bring more manufacturing back in this country.”
Michigan Democratic primary voters agreed. They gave Bernero a landslide — 58 percent to 42 percent.
Nichols concludes the article:
Bernero’s boldness was forged in a primary fight that served his candidacy and Michigan well.
Tom Barrett and Wisconsin Democrats won’t be so well served. But they should still try to inject some serious progressive populism into a campaign where the winner will be the candidate most in touch with the frustration — and, yes, the anger — of voters who recognize that, while Wall Street may be recovering, Main Street is not.
Angryman Bernero is currently losing to Republican Rick Snyder by double-digits. By all means, Democrats in Wisconsin should do their best to emulate Bernero.