So, what exactly is a populist?

The subtitle on a recent Mother Jones on-line article about Kathleen Falk described her as a “progressive populist”, right under the major headline that labeled her a “labor-backed liberal.”

Kathleen Falk is a former Dane County Executive running to be the Democratic candidate against Scott Walker in the upcoming recall election. She’s a good person, a strong candidate, and definitely a progressive. I would be happy to vote for her if she is the one to ultimately face off against Scott Walker, but populist?

When I think populist I think of someone a bit more removed from the power brokers. Kathleen Falk is seeking support from traditional Democratic sources, collecting endorsements from labor organizations, and working her contacts within the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Those strategies might be the most effective ones at this unique time in Wisconsin history, and they might win Falk the election, but they aren’t those of a populist.

Maybe I have an out-dated concept of what that word means. So what exactly is a populist? lists the following as the first modern definition for “populism”:

any of various, often antiestablishment or anti-intellectual political movements or philosophies that offer unorthodox solutions or policies and appeal to the common person rather than according with traditional party or partisan ideologies.

I’m not sure the phrase “any of various…” is an effective way to begin defining something, but the rest of the definition would seem to fit the way traditional media and political pundits labeled Ross Perot during his independent run for President in 1992. I remember the implication when “experts” called him a populist. They were being dismissive, suggesting that populism meant appealing only to the unsophisticated.

I’ve also seen the term used as a gentler way of saying panderer. When Newt Gingrich recently promised $2.50-per-gallon gasoline if he is elected President, he was pandering. Some media figures, however, have described his pandering behavior as “populist.” Huh? Robert M. La Follette was a populist. Russ Feingold is a populist. Newt Gingrich is a panderer. (I’ve heard “grifter” too, but I think that’s harsh.)

Here are the other definitions of small “p” populism on

“grass-roots democracy; working-class activism; egalitarianism.”

“representation or extolling of the common person, the working class, the underdog, etc.”

That’s getting closer, but there’s something missing in those definitions when I think of a figure like “Fighting Bob” La Follette. Here’s my definition:

A populist has the faith of the people, and has faith in the people. A populist is a leader who amplifies the message of the people until it cannot be ignored by those in power. A populist exposes fundamental flaws in the established social order in a way that boosts his or her popularity among those whose interests are being ignored or minimized. A populist uses that popularity as the main asset in political campaigns rather than relying primarily on money and connections. Finally, a populist offers solutions that go beyond altering policies by making fundamental changes in power structures.

Promising cheap gasoline is not populism. Populism is voicing the frustration of people who are just trying to get to work every day and are tired of being victims of oil companies, then calling for major changes like limits on oil speculation.

I haven’t seen anyone mentioned as a candidate for the Wisconsin gubernatorial race that I would call a populist…yet. While popularity alone doesn’t make one a populist, it’s a required element, and the most popular potential candidates have all said they will not run. We are seeing the maturing of a new populist movement in Wisconsin, though. Maybe one of the leaders who gained exposure from that movement can attain the title of Wisconsin’s next great populist. Maybe by running for governor and winning.

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Protesting Scott Walker
photo above by Dave Hoefler on Flickr

Pro-Falk Group Buying Ads in Wisconsin

Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that a newly-formed political group has purchased air time in 5 Wisconsin markets to run TV ads promoting Kathleen Falk. Falk is campaigning to become the Democratic nominee against Governor Scott Walker in an almost certain upcoming recall election.

The group calling itself “Wisconsin for Falk” registered as a Special Interest Committee with the Government Accountability Board (GAB) within the last week, but it’s not clear who serves on the committee or who is funding the TV ads. Here is an image of the their registration form at the GAB:

Michael Vaughn is the Treasurer. He lists a Minneapolis telephone number. The group itself lists a Madison telephone number. Bice reports that messages left have not been returned. The group’s first ad can be viewed here.

Their ad includes a disclaimer at the end saying the ad was not authorized by any candidate, candidate’s agent or committee.


The Scott Walker campaign was quick to speculate that the funding came from labor unions that have endorsed Falk. You probably know the tune…big union bosses, blah, blah, blah. Walker has been the beneficiary of advertising from similar political action groups, and he has spent the past few months traveling to out-of-state fundraisers at every opportunity picking up donations that total over 12 million dollars.

Mike McCabe of the non-partisan watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign gave a persuasive argument at last year’s Fighting Bob Fest that the legalized bribery now funding most campaigns has to be fixed before we attempt to fix anything else. I thought about McCabe’s speech when I was perusing the Wisconsin for Falk registration form, and when I read Scott Walker’s hypocritical response. The legendary Ed Garvy, the organizer of Fighting Bob Fest, has pointed out that the Democratic candidate in the recall election will not be able to compete with Walker on spending. Not even close. Garvey suggests that the eventual candidate should forget the outside funding and make Walker’s secret, out-of-state money the major issue.

I wish one of the candidates would pledge to do that. I really do.

One lawsuit against Wisconsin Act 10 down. Two more are alive.

[the case was just dismissed hours after I first heard this WPR story.. but it may be picked up by Falk and McConnell as a private case. Falk brought the case forward in her role as a County Executive, and  – in the words of  Judge Sumi’s decision

“Under longstanding Wisconsin law, an agency or arm of government lacks authority to challenge the constitutionality of state statues”

With regard to the case in which the Dane County District Attorney has brought a complaint against Wisconsin Act 10:

“The District Attorney has explicit statutory authority to enforce the open meetings law ; Dane County does not.”]

 The decision from Judge Maryann Sumi in full:

WPR’s description of their audio story: Continue reading

When Disinformation Attacks: Wisconsin Act 10 AKA the “Budget Repair Bill”


Is Wisconsin Act 10 A.K.A. “the budget repair bill” the law of the land?

Depends on who you ask. I did do a survey of those answers, but first keep in mind that since Friday March 25, 2011 dezinformatsiya or disinformation is turning reality into a collective hunch* here.

Disinformation is false or inaccurate information that is spread deliberately with intentions of turning genuine information useless.

When Scott Fitzgerald had the LRB print the bill and pronounce all work done, he propagated disinformation.

What a wonderful lever with which to launch a campaign of false-truth. And from there, implement it in clear violation of a court order.

Will this deflate people? Confuse them? Will people just throw in the towel?

They could. The judicial wheels can keep on grinding ahead and at the same time the Fitzwalkerstani powers control paychecks, positions, and jobs. If the Wisconsin Supreme Court may be stopped from touching the bill, and it stays in blue Dane County  the judge may be dismissed as “activist” and slandered in all ways known. The law could be locked in a progressive ghetto.

That’s what I see from my speculative soap box. But it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Time to see what real people are saying in response to “Is Wisconsin Act 10 A.K.A. “the budget repair bill” the law of the land?”

Kathleen Falk, County Executive in Dane County: HELL NO

“A bill doesn’t become law just because five Republicans say so….

The Republican Attorney General, Republican legislative leaders and Governor Walker seem to view Continue reading

Hold on: Republican Senators Broke the Law on Turf of Kathleen Falk

Thursday, March 10, 2011 — 12:25 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Dane County officials have directed county attorneys to take legal action over the state Senate’s passage of a bill taking away collective bargaining rights from public workers.

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk said Thursday that state officials don’t get to choose which laws they’ll follow and when.

She was referring to a committee meeting called Wednesday night before the Senate took action. City attorney Mike May says he believes the action violated the state open meetings law.

State law requires at least 24 hours’ notice of a meeting, or two hours’ notice in case of emergency. Wednesday’s 6 p.m. meeting was noticed at 4:10 p.m.

Senate Clerk Rob Marchant says under Senate rules, no notice was required other than posting it on the legislative bulletin board.

Kathleen Falk is a Democrat in the very strong Democratic territory of Dane County, which surrounds Madison, Wisconsin.