There's still time | Steve Pearson
This letter is a paid endorsement
A letter to my fellow Democrats of all stripes ... sorry if I sound like a scold, but call me perplexed. I remember an evening back in February of 2017 when over 100 concerned citizens gathered at the Cafe Wren in Luck to try to chart a course forward in the wake of the 2016 election results. Maybe you were there. Though most of us were in the depths of despair that night, we found hope in our solidarity with each other, the good feeling that comes from knowing you’re not alone. Out of that night, something called Polk-Burnett Indivisible was born. And over the next year-plus, we turned out in large numbers at Rep. Sean Duffy’s town hall meetings, despite his infamous efforts to keep the time and place of those meetings a secret until the last minute.
I remember one such meeting in Spooner. Duffy was met with an avalanche of anger and frustration over his efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He was on the defensive for over an hour. For those who had grown tired of his double-speak and equivocation about this issue, it was a hugely satisfying moment. It seemed that the tide was turning, that we might finally be on the path to representation in the 7th Congressional District that truly reflected the needs of the people living here.
But the 2018 election swept all that positive momentum away as Duffy won re-election by the same 60/40 margin he’d enjoyed in each of the last three elections despite getting crushed in the only debate he and his opponent, Margaret Engebretson, had. Not lost on anyone was the fact that the 7th Congressional District in Wisconsin is gerrymandered to the max, and overcoming that disadvantage might be a Sisyphean task. But, still, the numbers showed that fewer than 50% of those self-identifying as Democrats had voted in that election. So one could argue that there was still hope, that the odds were not insurmountable, that if somehow, we could take all the energy present that evening back in 2017 and turn it into a massive get-out-the-vote effort, we could still win.
Then, in late August of 2019, Duffy told a Fox News audience that he would be retiring to spend more time with his family. Both parties scrambled to come up with a nominee for the special election that will be held on Tuesday, May 12, just three weeks from now. For the Republicans, state Sen. Tom Tiffany won the primary in February. On the Democratic side, Tricia Zunker easily defeated her challenger in the primary. Zunker, the president of the Wausau School Board and an associate justice on the Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court, has made access to affordable health care the centerpiece of her campaign in a district that has more ACA recipients than any other congressional district in Wisconsin. Tiffany, who recently said that private insurance could meet the health care needs of every citizen in the 7th if we’d just do away with government assistance, has been red-baiting his opponent as a “socialist” and has been the beneficiary of a ton of dark money from outside the district.
So there you have it, fellow Democrats. We have a highly qualified, personable candidate who has worked her tail off during these coronavirus times to get her message out, running against a Republican who has made a name for himself by taking away local control of environmental issues time and time again. And I have no doubt that most of us will take the time to vote absentee for Zunker, and some will even show up at the polls on the 12th to do the same. But where’s the fire we all felt in our bellies back on the cold February night in 2017? Why is it that the number of active, passionate, committed Democrats in the two-county area has dwindled to the usual suspects? And what does this say about Democrats’ chances in the fall when we have a chance to reclaim civility and decency in our government? Did we really mean all those things we said one long national nightmare ago?
This is my plea to each and every one of you to step outside your comfort zone – whatever that means for you – and do whatever you possibly can to elect Tricia Zunker and Joe Biden in these next critical months ahead. Do more than you’re doing now because you remember just how you felt back on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016, a feeling you swore you’d never forget. Start by getting in touch with your local Democratic Party and make it your own by your participation and your passion. Get involved and get creative. There’s still time, and the numbers are on our side if we act with the conviction we all once felt.
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