Seriously, why not? Although it is nice to a have an idealist or two in Congress, the task of restoring Wisconsin politics to basic standards of decency sounds more realistic than reforming Washington D.C. It is plausible for Whitewater to elect reasonable human beings to public office, whereas it is absolutely unimaginable for the state of Mississippi to do so.
The Cap Times editorial board penned a “Memo to would be governors,” scolding Gov. Jim Doyle for being an utterly unspectacular governor, while encouraging future candidates for governor to return Wisconsin to its “bold progressive” roots. The board put down three priorities, including “real campaign finance reform,” “real ethics reform” and, perhaps the most predictably unspecific, “real ideas.”
There is only one Wisconsin politician of “gubernatorial stature” who could represent such confidence in government.
There are only two members of the Wisconsin congressional delegation who turned over complete personal financial records to the press – Tammy Baldwin and Russ Feingold. There is only one I can think of who voluntarily submitted to spending limits during a campaign – Russ Feingold (although he unfortunately changed course the following election). Feingold is one of a select few members of Congress who favors prosecuting government officials who broke the law, and he is a member of an even smaller elite who criticized President Obama’s decision to forgo public financing during last year’s campaign.
Would Feingold be a good governor? Hard to say. Perhaps he was born to be a legislator – or maybe just a professor. However, there is likely no potential candidate for office who knows more about the state than him. He recently held his 1200th town hall meeting since taking office in 1993. He spends an enormous amount of time touring the state, and besides being the favorite of liberal intellectuals, he is a skilled advocate for Wisconsin interests in Washington.
One thing I will say for him is that he can win. He can definitely beat Scott Walker. Walker would have to be a formidable campaigner to prevail over the trust Feingold has earned throughout the state. Neumann, who barely lost to Feingold in 1998, would still have a decade’s worth of name recognition to regain.
The only political science course I’ve taken at UW, “State Government” with Prof. Dennis Dresang, began with the near-retirement age professor discussing the slow dissent of Wisconsin politics into the culture of corruption and partisanship that defines Washington D.C., as well as other state governments. “We used to be called Squeaky-Clean Wisconsin,” he said. A government scandal when he was a kid involved a lawmaker’s child making personal telephone calls from his dad’s office. This was back when a moderate Republican Party existed in Wisconsin – before the Reaganites took over and enforced the philosophy that a stupid man who can shout “small government” is a more worthy public servant than one who understands how government actually works, or one who is interested in making government work better. The backlash against the right wing extremism of the 1980’s put equally unsavory elements of the Democratic Party in power.
OK, so Russ Feingold’s not going to run. But just for the hell of it, why don’t a few people ask him to?