They hope for a “blue wave” in November, but Democrats in deeply red Walworth County know they’re swimming upstream.
No Democratic candidate for president has won in Walworth County since at least 1960. It was one of three Wisconsin counties that swung for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964, and President Donald Trump swept Hillary Clinton by 20 percentage points in 2016.
It’s one of the reddest counties in Wisconsin, but Walworth County Democrats believe local support is spreading.
Membership has doubled in the last two years, the party says. It recently opened its second office in Whitewater, and volunteers are rolling out an aggressive door-knocking campaign they hope will lift turnout in a year when Democratic enthusiasm is growing nationally.
“We think knocking on doors, looking people in the eye as best you can, is how we’re going to win this election,” Anita Loch said. “You’ve got people saying, ‘You know, I’m tired of being in the closet. I’m putting my sign out this time. I’m getting out there to knock on doors because it’s that important.’”
Loch is the elections committee chairwoman for the Democratic Party of Walworth County. She said the local party has made thousands of phone calls in preparation for November and spread its ground operation to each municipality in the county, something it hasn’t done in previous elections.
She said the party is pushing its Assembly candidates in hopes of flipping the Republican-held 31st and 32nd Assembly districts that cover large swaths of Walworth County.
The strategy is part of coordinated campaign from the state party. Loch said volunteers go door-knocking weekly and carry literature for each local and state race. They pitch Democratic candidates—from U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin to state Rep. Don Vruwink, D-Milton—to independents, leaning Republicans and strong Democratic voters.
Scott Cashion, who lives in the town of Richmond, says the strategy is working. Cashion joined the county party after the 2016 elections and is now its vice chairman and one of its most active members. He said the party’s goal is to churn out votes for Democrats and bump turnout by at least 10 percent from 2016.
“I guess I’d compare it to an old-fashioned barn raising. You’re getting people together. Folks are meetin’ and greetin’,” Cashion said. “I think everybody’s aware that 2016 didn’t work. It affected everybody down ticket, and there’s a concerted effort to make sure what we do this year, the energy that we spend, is different than 2016.”
Make no mistake: Democrats face a steep climb in Walworth County.
But local party members and the state party see a silver lining this year, and they point to Senate District 10 and the election of Supreme Court Judge Rebecca Dallet.
Senate District 10, a district in northwestern Wisconsin, flipped to the Democrats for the first time since 1996 in a special election earlier this year. It’s a district Trump won with 55.3 percent of the vote in 2016, but Democrat Patty Schachtner snagged the same percent of the vote and beat the Republican in a Jan. 16 special election.
Democrats also celebrated Dallet’s election in April. Though she technically was a nonpartisan candidate, Democrats say she narrowed the gap in Walworth County when she finished 8 percentage points behind conservative Supreme Court candidate Michael Screnock. She even won the 31st Assembly District, a seat currently held by Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton.
Both results could signal energized Democratic support in Walworth County, members say. They also could have implications on the 1st Congressional District election. That race is targeted by Democrats nationally, and Loch called it a “high-priority” for the local party.
All of Walworth County lies in the 1st District except Whitewater, which is in the 5th Congressional District. House Speaker Paul Ryan has held the 1st District seat for nearly 20 years. Democrat Randy Bryce, an iron worker, and Republican attorney Bryan Steil are running to replace to him.
Barry Burden, a political scientist at UW-Madison, said the 1st District favors Republicans by 5 percentage points based on the last two presidential elections. That means Democrats need at least a five-point swing in each county in the district to have a chance at winning.
But a five-point Democratic swing in Walworth County might not mean much in the 1st District. Walworth County has a much smaller population and fewer Democrats than neighboring Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee counties, so Democratic turnout outside the county will matter more in the 1st District race, Burden said.
A close race in Walworth County isn’t unprecedented. The county almost tilted blue in the 2008 election when President Barack Obama won the 1st District. Obama finished less than 3 percentage points behind Republican nominee John McCain that year—about 11 percentage points higher than Clinton in 2016 and the closest Walworth County had come to voting for a Democrat in decades.
Whether or not Walworth County can make similar gains and narrow the gap this year is unknown. But local members are optimistic, and they have the support of the state party, which is targeting rural areas such as Walworth County.
“We’re seeing Democrats out-performing expectations even in the reddest parts of the state,” Courtney Beyer, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, wrote in an email to The Gazette. “We made an early off-year investment in our organizing program so that we’d have organizers on the ground talking to voters months before the election. It used to be that our organizing program shut down after the election.”
Democrats aren’t alone in ramping up for the November election in Walworth County. A recent push has come from the county’s Republican Party, which opened its second office in the county Saturday.
Like the Democrats, their new office is in Whitewater, the bluest pocket in the county.
“We’ve known that Whitewater has been a relatively blue area,” Chris Goebel said. “We’re going to do everything we can to win.”
Goebel, the Republican Party of Walworth County chairman, said he is “cautiously optimistic” this year, and he said the local party is not changing its operation because of a possible blue wave or surge of Democrats this November.
He said he is optimistic given the primary turnout in Walworth County in August. This year, the county’s overall turnout increased by 7,235 votes in the August primary. The Democrats secured about 4,287 more votes in the gubernatorial primary than they did in the 2014 primary, while the Republicans secured 3,226 more.
Even with energized Democrats, the primary turnout this year still shows a wide margin between the Walworth County parties—Republicans cast almost 2,600 more votes in the gubernatorial primary than Democrats. Goebel said that could mean the Republicans are trending to another victory in the county in November.
Goebel said local Republicans are enthusiastic given the swarm of candidates on the ballot. With Ryan’s retirement from Congress and contested U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races falling on the same year, he said Republicans are keenly aware of the candidates and are energized for the November election.
“I think we’re going to prevail,” he said. “We’re going to be doing what we’ve been doing. We have job to do.”
Still, Democrats say they sense a backlash to the decades-long Republican stronghold in the county.
During their door-knocking campaigns, Cashion said, canvassers talk up health care, low wages and the new Foxconn facility in Mount Pleasant. He said they point to education funding and poor road conditions to strike a chord with potential voters and sway them to Democratic candidates—and hopefully chip away at a nearly impossible deficit.
“There was a sense that it didn’t’ matter if you voted in Walworth County because it’s so red,” Cashion said. “But we’ve kind of gone forward saying we’re going to talk about Democratic policies. We’re going to go knock on doors. We’re not going to whisper, ‘I’m a Democrat’ anymore.
“It’s not even necessarily changing minds. It’s getting people to go vote and to make their vote count. And that’s why we’re all here.”
Patricia J. Clark
George Hugh Cox
Delores M. Hoff
Christine “Krys” Klaus
David Paul Oakley
Michael Francis Palan
Marion M. Schumacher
James “Sinky” Singkofer
Rick L. Stanton
Margaret H. Wedl
David A. Stockwell
Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in Saturday night as the 114th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, after a wrenching debate over sexual misconduct and judicial temperament that shattered the Senate, captivated the nation and ushered in an acrimonious new level of polarization—now encroaching on the court that the 53-year-old judge may well swing rightward for decades to come.
Even as Kavanaugh took his oath of office in a quiet private ceremony, not long after the narrowest Senate confirmation in nearly a century and a half, protesters chanted outside the court building across the street from the Capitol.
The climactic 50-48 roll call capped a fight that seized the national conversation after claims emerged that he had sexually assaulted women three decades ago—allegations he emphatically denied. Those accusations transformed the clash from a routine struggle over judicial ideology into an angry jumble of questions about victims’ rights, the presumption of innocence and personal attacks on nominees.
His confirmation provides a defining accomplishment for President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, which found a unifying force in the cause of putting a new conservative majority on the court. Before the sexual accusations grabbed the Senate’s and the nation’s attention, Democrats had argued that Kavanaugh’s rulings and writings as an appeals court judge had raised serious concerns about his views on abortion rights and a president’s right to bat away legal probes.
Trump, flying to Kansas for a political rally, flashed a thumbs-up gesture when the tally was announced and praised Kavanaugh for being “able to withstand this horrible, horrible attack by the Democrats.” He later telephoned his congratulations to the new justice, then at the rally returned to his own attack on the Democrats as “an angry left-wing mob.”
Like Trump, senators at the Capitol predicted voters would react strongly by defeating the other party’s candidates in next month’s congressional elections.
“It’s turned our base on fire,” declared Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. But Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York forecast gains for his party instead: “Change must come from where change in America always begins: the ballot box.”
The justices themselves made a quiet show of solidarity. Kavanaugh was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts and the man he’s replacing, retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, as fellow Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan looked on—two conservatives and two liberals.
Still, Kagan noted the night before that Kennedy has been “a person who found the center” and ‘it’s not so clear we’ll have that’” now.
Noisy to the end, the Senate battle featured a call of the roll that was interrupted several times by protesters shouting in the spectators’ gallery before Capitol Police removed them. Vice President Mike Pence presided, his potential tie-breaking vote unnecessary.
Trump has now put his stamp on the court with his second justice in as many years. Yet Kavanaugh is joining under a cloud. Accusations from several women remain under scrutiny, and House Democrats have pledged further investigation if they win the majority in November. Outside groups are culling an unusually long paper trail from his previous government and political work, with the National Archives and Records Administration expected to release a cache of millions of documents later this month.
Kavanaugh, a father of two, strenuously denied the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford, who says he sexually assaulted her when they were teens. An appellate court judge on the District of Columbia circuit for the past 12 years, he pushed for the Senate vote as hard as Republican leaders—not just to reach this capstone of his legal career, but in fighting to clear his name
After Ford’s allegations, Democrats and their allies became engaged as seldom before, though there were obvious echoes of Thomas’ combative confirmation over the sexual harassment accusations of Anita Hill, who worked for him at two federal agencies. Protesters began swarming Capitol Hill, creating a tense, confrontational atmosphere that put Capitol Police on edge.
As exhausted senators prepared for Saturday’s vote, some were flanked by security guards. Hangers and worse have been delivered to their offices, a Roe v. Wade reference.
Some 164 people were arrested, most for demonstrating on the Capitol steps, 14 for disrupting the Senate’s roll call vote.
McConnell told The Associated Press in an interview that the “mob” of opposition—confronting senators in the hallways and at their homes—united his narrowly divided GOP majority as Kavanaugh’s confirmation teetered and will give momentum to his party chances this fall.
Beyond the sexual misconduct allegations, Democrats raised questions about Kavanaugh’s temperament and impartiality after he delivered defiant, emotional, testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee where he denounced their party.
Schumer said Kavanaugh’s “partisan screed” showed not only a temperament unfitting for the high court but a lack of objectivity that should make him ineligible to serve. At one point in the hearing, Kavanaugh blamed a Clinton-revenge conspiracy for the accusations against him.
The fight ended up less about judicial views than the sexual assault accusations that riveted the nation and are certain to continue a national debate and #MeToo reckoning that is yet to be resolved.
Republicans argued that a supplemental FBI investigation instigated by wavering GOP senators and ordered by the White House turned up no corroborating witnesses to the claims and that Kavanaugh had sterling credentials for the court. Democrats dismissed the truncated report as insufficient.
In the end, all but one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, lined up behind the judge. She said on the Senate floor late Friday that Kavanaugh is “a good man” but his “appearance of impropriety has become unavoidable.”
In a twist, Murkowski voted “present” Saturday as a courtesy to Republican Kavanaugh supporter Steve Daines, who was to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding in Montana. That balanced out the absence without affecting the outcome, and gave Kavanaugh the same two-vote margin he’d have received had both lawmakers voted.
It was the closest roll call to confirm a justice since 1881, when Stanley Matthews was approved by 24-23, according to Senate records.
As the Senate tried to recover from its charged atmosphere, Murkowski’s move offered a moment of civility. “I do hope that it reminds us that we can take very small steps to be gracious with one another and maybe those small gracious steps can lead to more,” she said.
Republicans control the Senate by a meager 51-49 margin, and announcements of support Friday from Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine, along with Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, locked in the needed votes.
Manchin was the only Democrat to vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. He expressed empathy for sexual assault victims, but said that after factoring in the FBI report, “I have found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist who will follow the Constitution.”
A procedural vote Friday made Saturday’s confirmation a foregone conclusion. White House Counsel Don McGahn, who helped salvage Kavanaugh’s nomination as it teetered, sat in the front row of the visitors’ gallery for the vote with deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah.
Senators on both sides know they have work to do to put the chamber back together again after a ferocious debate that saw them arguing over the sordid details of high school drinking games, sexual allegations and cryptic yearbook entries.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said, “The Senate has been an embarrassment. We have a lot of work to do.”
At 1 p.m. Friday, zero street parking spots were available along the first block of South Main Street in downtown Janesville.
The 51-stall parking lot between South Main Street and South Parker Drive was sewn up, too, except for two vacant, two-hour spots.
Along East Milwaukee Street between Parker Drive and the river, there was one open spot.
Meanwhile, west of the Rock River, nary an on-street parking space was open along the first two blocks of West Milwaukee Street just west of the now closed and partially torn-out Milwaukee Street bridge. The same scene wrapped around the corner onto South Franklin Street, where parking was nearly full.
That’s a one-day snapshot by a Gazette reporter of the parking situation along the two main business arteries in the heart of downtown—an area where for weeks storefront operators have been contending with a barrage of construction tear-ups.
The main culprits:
Last week, contractors for the state Department of Transportation took more parking off the table. Crews sealed off the 41-spot Town Square East public lot behind Olde Towne Mall that’s used by customers and employees of dozens of businesses along South Main Street.
The lot is earmarked as a temporary construction “staging area” for the Milwaukee Street bridge replacement. The lot likely will remain closed for most or all of the project, which is slated to run through late June 2019.
The two closed lots, according to a city analysis, had daily occupancy rates of between 75 percent and 87 percent, which would rank them among the most popular parking areas in the core of downtown.
According to city parking inventories, closure of the two lots has cost the core of downtown 125 off-street parking spots in the last six months.
The street projects and hotel development could be a shot in the arm to the downtown’s economy along with needed upgrades to downtown infrastructure. But right now, some business operators say the construction and parking dislocation have them in a choke hold.
On the east side of the river, construction crews set to work last week cordoning off the Town Square East lot with orange plastic fencing.
A Milwaukee Street bridge replacement project map that the state Department of Transportation generated in April 2018 showed the lot was earmarked for closure as a staging area. Yet, some South Main Street business operators said and they were unaware of the state’s plans to close the Town Square East lot it until they got a city mailer detailing the state’s plan.
The mailer came just a few days before the bridge replacement was slated to start.
Britten Langfoss, who owns and operates The Venue, an event space at the corner of Main and Court streets, said her customers most often park at the Town Square East lot that’s now closed.
Langfoss said she’s had to tell wedding parties who’d already booked receptions at The Venue this fall that they now won’t be able to use the Town Square East lot. She said short notice businesses got from parties who planned the bridge project has trickled down. For her, it’s impacting people’s wedding days.
“I really don’t want to put a negative spin on things, but the thing that bothers me is that a bridge construction staging area was not discussed. It was news to me, basically. People got a letter last week asking us to inform all the tenants (of the lot closure),” Langfoss said. “It didn’t give any of us much time to get any notice out to tenants or customers.”
In recent weeks, a group of downtown business operators have formed an ad-hoc parking committee through private nonprofit Downtown Janesville, Inc. The 13-member group has begun hatching strategies and plans to present the Janesville City Council to counter short-term and long-term loss of parking in downtown’s core.
Some of the group’s ideas:
Emily Arthur, who is the director of Janesville’s downtown business improvement district and a member of the ad hoc parking group, said businesses are supportive of the city’s push this month to start cracking down on parking violations downtown. She said some downtown businesses like the idea of a voucher system that could give employees or people with longer appointments flexibility on parking in timed spots.
At a parking committee meeting last week, some hot topics were the Milwaukee Street bridge replacement and its impact on parking, including the project’s temporary knockout of the Town Square East lot.
It comes as the city continues to wrap up work on South River Street. The overlapping projects have made navigation along the downtown riverfront corridor a game of hopscotch through closed streets, barricaded dead ends, sealed-off parking lots and construction and utility vehicles parked all day along side streets.
That’s got some downtown business operators anxious over whether customers can find them and where they might be able to park when they get there.
As the Milwaukee Street bridge project started, overflow from displaced parking began to fill up nearly every storefront parking spot in the streets along the riverfront—sometimes for most of the day.
That seems to defy a city parking inventory taken just two months ago that showed street-side parking in some areas downtown has a daytime vacancy rate of 50 percent to 75 percent. Businesses have started placing parking map fliers on windshields, urging workers who park downtown daily to find all-day parking elsewhere to free up storefront parking.
The 125 spots knocked out in recent weeks via closure of lots on West Milwaukee Street and behind South Main Street account for more than 10 percent of all public off-street parking in the central downtown area between Centerway and Court streets, according to a 2017 city parking inventory.
For Jeni Lindstrom-Sauser, who operates Studio 107, a salon and day spa in an upstairs suite on West Milwaukee Street, every nearby parking spot is crucial. Sauser, a member of the ad-hoc business parking committee, said the salon serves a daily volume of walk-in and scheduled customers who already are navigating around construction and sudden shifts in available parking spaces.
“A lot of people don’t realize the kind of activity some of the businesses here see. Between the salon and our tenants, we’ve got at least 150 people, both customers and employees, coming and going every day,” she said.
The city’s latest downtown public parking inventory was collected between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. over three days in mid-August 2018. It shows an additional 184 on-street spots and an additional 353 off-street spots compared to a survey in 2017.
But the city's 2018 count was extended beyond the boundaries of the 2017 survey to include parking spots in areas several blocks south of the core of downtown.
For instance, the bulk of additional off-street parking identified in the 2018 inventory appears to be 241 spots at the Hedberg Public Library, the Janesville Performing Arts Center and two smaller lots along West Van Buren and West Wall streets. Those four lots were not counted in the city’s 2017 parking survey, and they’re between four and six blocks south of the area surveyed in 2017.
For on-street parking, an apples-to-apples comparison is more difficult because the city organized its counts in 2017 by quadrant, but the 2018 inventory counted spots street-by-street.
City Council Member Sue Conley has sat in on Downtown Janesville, Inc.'s parking committee meetings. She said she’s sympathetic to downtown businesses who have parking concerns.
She said some business operators for years have decried a lack of downtown parking, but she acknowledged that in the past city officials often have dismissed such complaints.
She said momentum is building downtown through revitalization and redevelopment. She believes it might be time to give parking concerns a closer look.
“The city still says we have enough parking stalls for people coming downtown—that maybe you can’t park right in front of the place you want to be, but that there’s enough stalls. I said in our (2019) strategic planning study session, ‘You know, that’s not good enough,’” Conley said.
“Just because you count stalls and you think there’s enough, if you have business owners that are saying parking where I’m at is a big issue and my business is going down because of it, you have to look at it more closely.”