Winning an election all alone can’t be simple.
But with voter animosity toward state lawmakers reaching its boiling point, independent candidates might have better chances than ever this fall to give their partisan opponents the boot.
Now that the dust has settled from a lengthy 32nd Assembly recount, independents Dan Kilkenny of Delavan and Rick Pappas of Fontana know what they’re up against in November. Both believe it’s time for new leadership in Madison—one that doesn’t cave to special interests or strictly conform to party lines.
“You worry if I’m a member of one party, and I don’t vote for that party, am I going to have backing in the future,” Pappas said. “I think you lose flexibility when you belong to one party or another with changing rules and changing them back when control shifts. It doesn’t make a competitive environment.”
John Kozlowicz, professor emeritus at UW-Whitewater and former head of the political science department, said the 2010 election could favor independents more than ever before. Their ability to promote themselves as outsiders and opponents of the status quo gives them a political edge against those tied to the state’s projected $2.7 billion budget deficit.
Kozlowicz said the tea party’s success is a prime example of what independent candidates can accomplish.
“Though we associated them more with the Republican Party, it really is an anti-incumbent movement,” he said. “Typically it’s very hard, but if I have to bet money some year on an independent, this would be the year that I’d pick.”
Kozlowicz believes campaign funding is one of the major obstacles they face. Independents also don’t have access to the large volume of volunteer workers who help spread the word for party candidates.
Both Pappas and Kilkenny have received several letters from special interest groups offering endorsements or contributions in return for their support.
Pappas has refused to accept contributions from anyone during the course of his campaign. Kilkenny said the two-party system is broken as lobbyists are using an absurd amount of money to sway legislators.
“You draw the conclusion that either lobbyists are stupid or they are getting what they pay for,” Kilkenny said. “I think the whole process just polarizes the system and causes problems.”
Independent candidates might have a more difficult road ahead of them this fall, despite voter discontent with partisan candidates. Democrats and Republican receive more campaign contributions, and most voters know where they stand on issues such as the high-speed rail and tax increases.
Kilkenny, the only 32nd Assembly candidate who has held an elected position, is confident voters value experience. He’s the vice chairman of the Walworth County Board, chairman of the Darien Plan Commission and serves on the town board.
Pappas, a small business bookkeeper, describes himself as “a lot more conservative” than most independents.
He serves on various committees in Fontana, and he’s calling for a more transparent government. He said he would blog every day he’s in office to keep constituents informed on his decisions.
Much of the attention in the 32nd District race was on the closely contested Republican nomination. Kilkenny and Pappas were idly standing by before stepping up their campaign efforts.
They plan on taking a grassroots approach, knocking on doors and relying on word of mouth. The State Assembly has just one independent representative, but Kilkenny is counting on thousands of Walworth County voters that aren’t party-committed.
“It’s my understanding that there are only several hundred card-carrying members of the Republican and Democrat parties in Walworth County,” he said. “But there’s 30,000 voters that aren’t. Some people are concerned about a strong candidate, and I fully expect to prevail, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone into it.”
Kilkenny and Pappas face Republican Tyler August of Walworth and Democrat Doug Harrod of Genoa City.