Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Some numbers and thoughts from Tuesday

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When I wrote yesterday’s column for the Waukesha Freeman (still just 50 cents, a bargain to see my picture every Thursday), I mentioned how the mayoral race was largely a matter of Republicans and Democrats in the supposedly non-partisan election.

The most important issue of the race was the rejection of Nelson’s Democratic Party affiliation. Four years ago, voters chose Nelson largely in disgust with the Republican Party. His opponent was a Republican state representative who was forced to defend her party’s failures in the Legislature.

Now Nelson is the victim of the change in sentiment toward his party. Hope and change have not worked out the way Democrats planned.

Nelson’s victory four years ago was a bellwether for Democratic victories in the fall. Republicans will probably look at Nelson’s loss the same way.

Water played far less of a role in the election than previously expected. If anything, the issue probably hurt Scrima.

The most obviously partisan race this Spring was the election for Circuit Court Judge in Waukesha. Richard Congdon was the former chairman of the Democratic party in Waukesha appointed by Doyle to be judge. State Representative Mark Gundrum is a conservative Republican legislator. Every newspaper story on the race highlighted the partisan difference, and I even wrote part of a newspaper column on the topic. Congdon was not a judge for very long, so partisan ID was really the only issue in the race. Gundrum won the race easily.

In the City of Waukesha, Gundrum received 6186 votes. That’s only 58 votes less than Jeff Scrima running in the higher profile mayoral race. Interestingly, if we took Gundrum’s percentage of the vote he received in the city (63.56%) and applied it to the higher total vote in the mayoral race, Gundrum would have had 6845 votes compared to Jeff Scrima’s 6244 votes. That would mean about 600 Republican voters crossed over to vote for Nelson (more if you consider the few environmentalists from Nelson’s base that crossed over because of the water issue).

It’s interesting to see how much Nelson performed better than Congdon, who hadn’t been a judge long enough to stir up controversy other than who appointed him. Nelson received 956 votes more than Congdon in the City of Waukesha. Congdon earned 78.72% of Nelson’s total in the city compared to Gundrum earning 99% of Scrima’s total in the city. Nelson received 41.71% of the vote in his race, while Congdon received 36.33% of the city vote in his race.

Again, Nelson was probably the beneficiary of some Republican cross-over, which I estimate at around 600 or more voters. Had Nelson worked on his appeal to Republicans better the last four years, the race could have been tighter. On the other hand, had Scrima not been so demonstrably inexperienced and even erratic during the campaign, he might have kept those lost Republican voters on his side.

Scrima won in a landslide, by any measure, demonstrating that even the City of Waukesha has moved to the right politically. But how much did the water issue affect the outcome?

Let’s look at the aldermanic races. Only one sitting alderman lost on Tuesday, Emmanuel Vitale. It’s fair to say Vitale was probably considered a skeptic of pursuing Lake Michigan water until his vote last night, given remarks at previous meetings about Cryptosporidium and the Chlorine taste of Milwaukee water. No other aldermen lost their election, and from what I could see water was not even an issue in Vitale’s loss.

Had water been a bigger issue in the race, given the number of contested elections for alderman, one would have expected more Common Council turnover. That the issue did not resonate with voters still could be seen in last night’s 14-1 vote in favor of continuing the application process for Lake Michigan water, and the 13-2 vote against delaying the vote until May. Also, only nine people spoke before the meeting on the topic, only four opposed continuing the application process.

Scrima himself made water less of an issue when he back-tracked from his earlier position. When the race began, Scrima was a believer in water autarky: “We can do this ourselves.” He even said that even if an agreement could be reached with Milwaukee without any extraneous conditions, Milwaukee would only seek to impose those conditions later when the pact came up for renegotiation.

By the end of the campaign, Scrima was saying that he had been in favor of keeping Milwaukee an option all along, even going so far to tell the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at his victory party that he was in favor of the Common Council continuing the application process.

While interesting to watch Scrima’s pivot on the issue, given how closely Scrima’s vote total tracks with Gundrum’s in the city, and given his underperformance if we consider vote percentage in the city, we have to conclude the winning issue for Scrima was Nelson’s partisan affiliation.

Waukesha Freeman photo of Governor Doyle and Mayor Nelson

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