Dem Chair Martha Laning, fresh off her re-election, said party activists gave her another two years at the helm because they’re “seeing real change happening” with the ground game she’s building in Wisconsin.
The party suffered historic losses in 2016, losing the state’s electoral votes in a presidential race for the first time since 1984 and hitting their smallest minority in the Assembly since the 1950s.
Opponents tried to make the case Laning shared some blame for those losses. But she said delegates told her and state Rep. David Bowen, who was re-elected vice chair, that two years wasn’t enough to implement major changes.
“We’re building that grassroots energy and we’re seeing it all over the state of Wisconsin, the excitement and the resistance,” Laning said.
Laning took 52 percent of the vote in a four-way race with 722 votes, a party spokesman said. Bryan Kennedy, the Glendale mayor and former AFT-Wisconsin president, won 41 percent with 569 votes. Attorney Eric Finch was a distant third with 50 votes, while businessman Joe Donovan won 48 votes.
Laning said her goal is to have a candidate in all 99 Assembly seats next year to help Dems deliver their message across the state. She also downplayed concerns about a potentially wide open guv primary, saying Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda is not helping Wisconsin and “it’s time to move forward.”
Former state Rep. Mandela Barnes, who once considered running for chair, instead joined Kennedy’s ticket and was unopposed as he was elected 2nd vice-chair. While addressing delegates, he knocked the party for failing to win last year and not communicating effectively with voters.
He believes delegates re-elected Laning because she made an effective argument that she needed more time to implement her vision for the party after taking office 17 months before the November election.
Barnes pledged to work with Laning to advance the party’s cause.
“We’ve got one overall goal next year to win elections,” said Barnes, of Milwaukee. “I hope leadership learned from the mistakes that were made.”
The state GOP, meanwhile, knocked Dems for re-electing a chair who could not persuade Hillary Clinton to visit Wisconsin during last fall’s campaign. The Dem nominee lost Wisconsin by less than 23,000 votes.
“Wisconsin Democrats are doubling down on their disarray and track record of failure,” said GOP spokesman Alec Zimmerman. “Instead of changing direction, they’re banking on failed leadership heading into 2018.”