Wisconsin will have a special election for the U.S. House of Representatives this spring. This election is important for many reasons. Democrats have an opportunity to take back the 7th Congressional District formerly held by Democratic Rep. Dave Obey for 40 years.


The good news for Democrats is their candidate will not be facing Republican Rep. Sean Duffy. Duffy resigned his seat creating the need for the special election. Duffy had dominated the district since 2010 defeating five Democratic challengers. The bad news is many of the factors that led to Duffy’s success (and are problems with our overall electoral process) are still in place.


One problem is the gerrymandering of electoral districts. Duffy benefited from the gerrymandering of the 7th Congressional District after he was first elected in 2010. With Republicans controlling both branches of the state legislature and the governor’s office, they rearranged voting boundaries after the 2010 census to lock in Republican advantages.


Most rural areas of Wisconsin are generally conservative and tend to vote Republican anyway. But Republicans still used the “politics of resentment” and culture war wedge issues against Democratic opponents. Sound bites and personal attack ads replaced civil debate on policy and issues. This ugliness turns people off and discourages voting.


Money in politics is another problem. Republicans have the deep, often out-of-state, pockets to fund the attack ads. Democratic challengers in the Northland struggle to get their message to voters. Democracy is for sale and it doesn’t take all that much (by big donor standards) for corporate interests to buy a compliant, reliable congress person in Northern Wisconsin.


Our electoral process is broken and needs reform. This goes way beyond gerrymandering and too much money in politics. Archaic 18th century practices like the Electoral College and Tuesday elections need changing. We should encourage voting with the polls being open multiple days or over a weekend. There should be secure mail or online options for voting. Election campaigns are too long. Political consultants and advertisers profit but voters are only turned off. Voter ID laws are intended to deny people the ability to vote. Arbitrarily purging names from voting registration lists, manipulating the locations of polling places, or the number of voting machines are all efforts to keep people from voting.


Another problem is the selection of candidates. Primaries were intended as a reform to back- room-deal selection of candidates. But the voting public is too easily duped and manipulated with slick advertising and misleading sound bites. We need candidates with real qualifications and experience. We need representatives that care about their constituents and not just getting re-elected. The constant begging for money and the ugly personal attacks discourage many people from volunteering for public service. Even the current elected politicians in the 7th District aren’t interested in taking a chance on the special election. There isn’t a fool proof way to get better candidates but fixing the broken electoral system would help.


The special election currently has six declared candidates – three from each party (as listed by Ballotpedia). Some of these may not have enough nomination signatures by the December 2nd deadline to qualify for the primary election. Here is the list.


Tricia Zunker is the likely Democratic candidate. She is an attorney and teaches law online. She is President of the Wausau School Board and Associate Justice of the Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court. She appears to be a centrist running as an outsider opposed to the politicians in Washington who put “party over people.” She will be “a voice for the people.” She is concerned about the costs of healthcare, plight of farmers, and protecting the environment. Her web site is https://triciaforwisconsin.com.


Tom Tiffany is currently a Republican state Senator and former member of the Assembly. He is the only candidate with any legislative experience. He has a voting record of being against healthcare reform, unions, and environmental regulations while supporting big business subsidies and tax breaks. Sen. Tiffany is the candidate most likely to get the deep pocket campaign donations. He already has $242,300 in the bank. Looking at his web site (https://tiffany4wisconsin.com/) it appears he is running on slick marketing and avoiding discussions of his positions on issues or voting record.


Michael Opela is a small business owner who appears to be running as a moderate Republican. His web site (https://trailblazer19.com/) lays out some conservative, but thoughtful, positions on Social Security and healthcare reform while maintaining the obligatory right-wing tropes about protecting 2nd amendment rights, supporting farmers, and balancing budgets. He says he is running to bring “new thinking” to Congress. He will “listen” to and “learn” from the people of the district.


Lawrence Dale is a small businessman and ran for the 7th district congressional seat in 2014 as a Green Party candidate. He got 1.3% of the vote. He also ran for Wisconsin Assembly District 34 in 2016 but lost in the Democratic primary. He supports Medicare for All and has views similar to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. He is running as a Democrat who is critical of the Democratic Party. His web site is www.dale2020.com.


Jason Church is a U.S. Army Veteran and former staffer for U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. He is a far-right Trump supporter who seems to be running on the fact he is a veteran of Afghanistan. His campaign web page is www.churchforwisconsin.com.


Spencer Zimmerman is a self-declared conservative who has run for Wisconsin Secretary of State and a Janesville state Assembly seat as a Republican. He has a grab bag of inconsistent ideas (see https://vote4zimmerman.wordpress.com) and appears to run for anything.


One of these people WILL become our representative! Who that person is will affect your life and your community. Like it or not politics is the way we run our society. Politics doesn’t work without informed, involved citizens.


The primary election is scheduled for February 18, 2020 and the general election will be May 12, 2020.