In NW Wisconsin we have one party rule. Currently there are no candidates to run against the incumbent Republican in the 7th Congressional District. The voters have no choice. Democracy is dead.

Why is this? The primary answer is money. According to the Wausau Daily Herald, the sole democratic candidate for the 7th District dropped out because he needed $1.5 million to have a viable campaign.[1] He had raised only $144,589 to his opponent’s $926,000. But the whole electoral process also discourages good candidates. The length of the campaign, the attack ads, personal attacks and mud slinging, in addition to constant fund raising, turns off potential candidates.

Representative Nick Milroy (Wisconsin 73rd Assembly District) says that changes in redistricting, campaign finance law, and the power of incumbency are the major reasons we don’t have candidates. It is also why it is hard for challengers to win. Gerrymandering has created safe seats. Campaign finance laws favor incumbents. A high percentage of incumbents of both parties win re-election.

In addition to money, a big problem is lack of grassroots support. Rep. Milroy says a strong district-wide grassroots community organization is essential. Grassroots organizations need to help with fund raising and volunteers. One would think the local political party structure would provide this support. But they suffer from the same lack of citizen support. Unions historically provided campaign volunteers but many unions are struggling just to survive. They don’t have the members, volunteers, or the resources they had in the past. Volunteers are needed to overcome the name recognition and money that comes with incumbency.

Statistics on who gives to political campaigns tells the same story. Most citizens have never contributed anything to any candidate. A small percentage of voters make all the contributions and a tiny fraction of that number give the serious money (0.04% of the U.S. population). It should be no surprise that little known challengers have a hard time finding traction against well- funded incumbents.

Another reason for dysfunctional politics is citizen apathy and inaction. By refusing to participate we give power and control to a wealthy minority. It should not be surprising that public policy favors their interests and not the rest of us. As Pogo, the cartoon character from years ago said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Then there is the media. The Nation magazine recently reported that Donald Trump is getting 23 times the press coverage of Bernie Sanders. Ever hear of Martin O’Malley? He is running for the Democratic nomination for president but you have to be a real news junky to have seen anything about him. The primary news source for most people is television which again takes serious money. So challengers are caught in a “catch 22.”

The Wisconsin Democratic Party says they will be fielding a candidate for the 7th Congressional District. But they don’t have a candidate at this time. Nor did they comment on strategies they might have for recruiting candidates or developing a “farm team” of candidates for higher office. One would think candidate recruitment, training, and development would be a major political party activity and that the party would have a list of good candidates ready to advance up the career ladder. But when David Obey retired in 2011 after 42 years of service as the 7th Congressional district representative there was no good replacement. Since then the democrats have not been able to field a candidate with the name recognition or broad support needed to hold on to the 7th district.

Other political groups are trying to fill the gap. There are a number of progressive organizations attempting to recruit, train, and support grassroots candidates. Wisconsin Progress is one group dedicated to recruiting progressive candidates. They claim a win record of about 70% running candidates for county, municipal and school board offices. They hope to grow a “farm team” of progressives ready to move up to higher office.[2] But as with the political parties, these efforts need support from people to be successful. This long term approach is a good strategy, but short term the 7th Congressional District is without an opposition candidate.

Lack of candidates makes a mockery of democracy. It also makes for bad governance. Opposition candidates bring needed debate and new thinking on issues to the electorate. Good public policy comes from the interaction of many points of view not a single party group think.

We need to change the system. We need representatives that more closely resemble the public they represent. We need to make it easier, not harder, to run for office. A place to start is finding an opposition candidate to run in the 7th Congressional District.

  1. Duffy challenger drops out; now what?, Wausau Daily Herald, Robert Mentzer, October 30, 2015,
  2. How Progressives Rebuild, The Progressive, Ruth Conniff , November 26, 2014