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An Open Letter to Russ Feingold: Why You Have to Run for Governor

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Dear Sen. Feingold:

As you know, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board Friday officially certified a recall election for far-right Governor Scott Walker. This was not a close call, as the board found 900,939 valid signatures, far more than the 540,208 minimum needed to force an election.

I know you've said you won't run against Walker, but I am writing to plead with you to change your mind. I would humbly suggest that if the values you stood for in 28 years representing the people of Wisconsin -- standing up for the middle class and seeking to prevent undue influence from corporations -- were honest and not a campaign ploy (and I fully believe you were genuine), than running for governor in this year's recall election would be vital to protect those values, which Walker has assaulted for the last year.

I admit I fully understand why you would not want to run.

First, after 10 years in the Wisconsin State Senate and 18 years in the U.S. Senate, you have earned the opportunity to explore alternative, less-stressful ways of promoting causes you believe in, especially through heading Progressives United, which is dedicated to "stand[ing] up to the exploding corporate influence in our political system by organizing and amplifying the voices of those who believe that corporations have too much power." You have served your state and your country with distinction. It's understandable that you would like to move on.

Second, I'm sure you feel angry and betrayed by the people of Wisconsin for voting you out of office in 2010. After all, you spent three terms in the U.S. Senate standing up for the values of Wisconsin while not operating as a close-minded partisan, comfortable working with Republicans when appropriate (like McCain-Feingold) and even bucking progressives by often voting to support gun rights because you knew that such a position was consistent with the beliefs of a large number of your constituents (even if progressives like me disagreed with your stance). And your reward was not only to be rejected as part of a "wave" election in 2010, but to have the electorate choose over you a truly unimpressive, far-right ideologue who, as I wrote in October 2010, "has called Social Security a 'Ponzi scheme,' blamed climate change on sunspots, called dismantling Social Security and Medicare a 'starting point,' and is 'open' to abolishing the Federal Reserve." I would be very angry if the people of my state chose a guy like that over me, and I'm sure you are, too.

Third, with the Koch brothers and others dumping millions of dollars into the state to defend Walker, you know that the Democratic nominee will find himself/herself in a tough spot of either making use of the same post-Citizens United issue-ad financing that you abhor or going into the election at a colossal financial disadvantage.

But here's the thing: Despite your valid reasons for staying out of the race, you need to change your mind and run for governor (and do so ASAP). I base this conclusion on two basic principles that should trump your valid concerns:

1. You (and maybe only you) can beat Walker. With Walker's buckets of corporate money and name recognition, along with the hesitancy some voters may have about the recall process (something I discussed in November), it is going to be a tough task to defeat him in the election. To do so will take an exceptional candidate, someone with statewide name recognition, a stellar record of service and the ability to appeal to moderate independents. And as the field is shaping up right now, you are the only person who would fit that description. Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are good executives, but Falk is unknown and has what some in Wisconsin see as the stigma of being from liberal Madison, and Barrett already lost to Walker (and Walker's team has already started blaming him for raising taxes in Milwaukee and presiding over a poor economy, a strategy that worked in 2010, even though Walker himself has been at the helm as Wisconsin has lost jobs and underperformed in the economic recovery compared to the rest of the country).

Recent polls support my take on your electability. In late February, Public Policy Polling had you ahead of Walker 52 percent to 45 percent. None of the eight other potential candidates PPP polled got 50 percent or more. Falk only edged Walker, 48 percent to 47 percent, while Barrett did only slightly better, 49 percent to 46 percent (both within the margin of error).

It seems clear that you would be, by far, the candidate most likely to beat Walker, and you may, in fact, be the only candidate that can beat Walker at all. You are certainly the only candidate that has a chance to win without making use of Super PAC money.

Which brings me to the second reason you have to run:

2. This recall election will determine whether Walker continues to damage the lower and middle classes in Wisconsin. As you know well, since Walker's so-called "budget repair bill" passed, gutting collective bargaining for state workers and slashing education budgets across the state (something that has had a devastating effect on Wisconsin school districts), all while cutting taxes for the wealthy, Wisconsin's economy has been in a free fall. Specifically, the state was one of only six to contract during this period, losing tens of thousands of private sector jobs, especially in manufacturing, as neighboring states have gained jobs (especially in manufacturing). The recovery seen in the rest of the country has bypassed Wisconsin.

The center of Walker's 2010 campaign was his promise to create 250,000 jobs, but, once in office, he sacrificed the economic well-being of the middle class to enact a far-right-wing wish list of initiatives that had nothing to do with creating jobs, including, in addition to union busting and gutting education spending, new laws to suppress low-income and elderly voters, no-bid privatization of energy interests, and an attack on women's right to choose and access to birth control.

Wisconsin's (non-wealthy) citizens are under siege by a governor uninterested in them. The only way to stop this attack is to vote Walker out of office.

It would certainly be a defendable assertion to argue that nobody has done more than you in the last three decades to protect the Wisconsin middle class and limit the influence of corporations. So if these causes are as important to you as you've always said they are (and I fully believe you do hold these causes dear), than you have to do what is necessary to try and stop Walker, which means running against him.

I think it's pretty clear that you can do more good right now in the Wisconsin governor's mansion than you can at Progressives United. You can drive from power a governor steadfastly pushing policies that damage most Wisconsinites.

As a result, I beg you to reconsider your decision and throw your hat into the ring for the Democratic nomination to oppose Walker in the recall election.

Submitted with nothing but respect and admiration for what you have done in three decades of public service,

Mitchell Bard
Madison, Wisconsin