Thursday, September 14, 2006

J.B. Van Hollen's Makeover

I predicted yesterday that the Van Hollen camp would work to paint Kathleen Falk as nothing more than a far left "Madison liberal," and it didn't take them long to start in on the task.

Brian Fraley, a conservative blogger and Van Hollen aide, got the ball rolling yesterday with a post that tells us what Falk is not: a prosecutor.

So what is she?

A Van Hollen press conference later in the day filled us in: "an activist." And not just any activist, but "an environmental activist."

This calculated smear fits right in with Van Hollen's attempt to make the AG election into a binary of law enforcement (himself) vs. politics (Falk). It's a shift from his primary race against Bucher, where he chose instead to focus on getting as far to the right as possible on the issues.

Back in the primary race, he told Republican voters that terrorist training is taking place in the state, that he would do the most to stop illegal immigration, that abortion is comparable to homicide, and that he is the only candidate in the race who supports concealed carry and restricting public access to lists of people who carry concealed weapons.

In other words, he wanted everyone to know he was the purest conservative in the race.

Now, interestingly, he wants the general voters to think of him as simply an enforcer of the law, not an ideologue, because it's his opponent who supposedly has the political agenda.

It's quite a turn around, and it's ultimately one that will fall woefully short. Fifty days is hardly enough time to convince a smart Wisconsin public that 14 years as Assistant Attorney General doesn't make Falk qualified for the position of Attorney General.

To be sure, Falk is qualified for AG and beyond. As the moderate conservative Recess Supervisor recently surmised: "Kathy Falk is potentially the most formidable statewide candidate the Democrats have on the ballot this fall. If Republicans don't beat her now, she'll be moving into the Executive Residence sometime in the next four to eight years. Falk is pragmatic, does her homework, stands her ground, is tough without seeming bitchy. In other words, she's the kind of candidate that Wisconsin will lap up."

This is a big race for the GOP in more ways than one. And it's going to take a lot more than a thinly veiled makeover to win.

UPDATE: Cory Liebmann wonders which J.B. Van Hollen we'll see in the general election. Just a hint, he doesn't think it'll be the same one voters saw in the primary.

LATE UPDATE: It should be noted in all this talk of who's more experienced in the AG race that the AG's office actually does nothing on the front lines of crime-fighting. The criminal investigation unit in the state DOJ is aimed at supporting local law enforcement agencies, not replacing them.

As Marquette University Law Professor Scott Moss puts it: "The DA is Batman in the Batmobile. The attorney general is Alfred running the bat cave."

This very much undermines Van Hollen's charge that Falk is not a criminal prosecutor. While it may play as a cute soundbite with some people at first, the fact that Falk hasn't prosecuted anyone in a criminal case means very little for the role of AG.

And after serving as executive for the second-largest county in the state for nearly a decade, the reality is that Falk has significantly more management experience than Van Hollen, which is really the key ingredient for the AG post.

EVEN LATER UPDATE: WMC, the state's biggest lobby, has picked up on the "environmental activist" label for Falk. I haven't seen the corporate interests this excitable since TABOR died...for the second time.


Blogger krshorewood said...

The problem we have is in a primary every Republican tries to come off as an uber conservative to appeal to the activists who mainly show up to vote, then tack to the middle to sweep up the dis-engaged.

I hope Kathleen has enough ammo to run commercials -- and good ones -- where ever her weak spots are and that progressives swallow it and support her, though I still saw no reason why Peg should have lost her job.

September 14, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

I don't see any reason why a progressive couldn't easily support Falk.

And in terms of Lautenschlager, what Falk proved in the primary is that Peg was vulnerable. If Falk didn't oust her, Van Hollen would have. The GOP wanted to face Lautenschlager in November, not Falk.

September 14, 2006  
Blogger Ben Masel said...

I've gotten 2 myspace messages, 1 email, and one in person in the last couple days telling me they're writing me in for AG because of Falk's decision to ban electronic music at the facility formerly known as the Dane County Expo Center 6 years ago, buying into the Ecstacy/Rave scare. She should look for a way to undo that one. Those 16 year old ravers are now of voting age, and haven't forgotten.

September 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Falk is smart she will talk a lot about being an asst. AG and hope that the voters assume that means she has law enforcement cred.

She should surround herself by cops (if she can get any to support her) and talk a lot about gangs and drug dealers and increasing the sheriff and DA budget.

If she runs solely on the message that, as you say, the AG office does more than law enforcement, she could lose. The public wants a "top cop" protector. They don't care as much about clean air.

She shouldn't concede the law enforcement ground to JBVH, who has a weak record on that anyway.

She should also not let him define himself that way. She needs to define him as a partisan extremist sold out to special interests but she can't let him define her as "not the cop"

September 14, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...


Without knowing anything about the decision 6 years ago, I imagine Falk isn't too concerned about the rave vote. A broader point could be made from it, though, that Falk doesn't always side with the progressive viewpoint, if in fact you would say that the progressive viewpoint would be to just let the ravers rave. But, at the same time, I'm not sure Falk is too worried about being painted as too moderate -- such a characterization is in her favor politically, I think.


You're right that Falk shouldn't cede any ground on law enforcement to Van Hollen, nor should she try to make the case that the AG office is about more than law enforcement. I didn't mean to suggest that she should (although there are a lot of smart voters out there who will probably look into the issue on their own and figure it out) -- I was simply pointing out the reality of the position.

I think focusing on the fact that she did AG office work for 14 years, as you suggest, is indeed the best route for her to go.

September 14, 2006  
Blogger Interloper said...

I wonder what Van Hollen and Fraley have in common. For example, is Fraley a PromiseKeeper too?

September 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll vote for Falk if she'll come out and fight for the Dem platform planks -- all of them.

Which one is nobody talking about, but that differentiates her from Van Hollen in huge ways? And which one would put her on the side of the majority of women, who are the majority of Dem voters -- as well as many Dem men and even many Repub women? Above all, which Dem plank is the law of the land?

Any Dem candidate for the job of upholding the law but doesn't want to talk about it won't get my vote . . . and perhaps many others' votes, if they never find out about this huge difference between the candidates.

September 14, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

It's seems like you're talking about abortion, although correct me if I'm wrong.

In case you are, Falk is openly pro-choice. In fact, she has the endorsement of Women's Choice, a leading pro-choice group in the state.

September 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, that is the issue. Yes, she is taking money from pro-choice groups.

That's not what I'm talking about, though -- sorry, but you (and she) still don't get it.

I'm talking about the fact that she is not talking about it. It's not under her link on her site on where she stands. It's just to be whispered from woman to woman. . . .

I want to see a Dem candidate do ads that talk about Gard being against abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother, which is the law, even after the legislature of this state has earned us an F from NARAL.

A Dem candidate who doesn't do that, since it's the Dem platform as well as the law, doesn't get my money -- and, again, may have a hard time getting my vote, depending upon not her but others.

And I would expect the same of a male Dem candidate, btw. I wouldn't get it, but I'd expect it -- otherwise, it will be a reactive campaign, not a proactive campaign.

Take a page from the Clintons; speak truth to the base as well as to power. That's how they won -- they weren't afraid of the big bad neocons.

But she'll do what Doyle says. There 'tis.

September 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even with Lautenschlager gone, we still have a drunk driver in the race. It's not Falk or Van Hollen but Brian Fraley, Van Hollen's campaign manager. Look him up on CCAP. A race between Van Hollen and Lautenschlager would have been interesting because the moment Van Hollen brought up Peg's conviction, Fraley's propensities would have been brought front and center. Lautenschlager has been "clean" longer than Fraley, who is a real piece of work.

September 14, 2006  
Blogger Ben Masel said...

Seth: "I imagine Falk isn't too concerned about the rave vote."

How many constituencies can you tell to screw off before the Republicans win? I figure 100,000 of the Nader 2000 votes came from folks still pissed at Tipper over the music censorship crusades of the '80s.

Disissing them as "they don't vote anyway is clearly refuted by my 51,000 votes, but they won't show for candidates who duismiss their 1st Amendment Rights as cavalierly as Falk, and apparently you.

September 15, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ben - Go away. Your 15 minutes of fame were up decades ago, when you spit in Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson's face in 1976. You got 50,000 votes statewide because there are always people who want to vote against the incumbent. Very few have any idea who you are. You are a cipher. (Look it up, if you know how.)

September 15, 2006  
Blogger Ben Masel said...

So it won't hurt Falk if I run for AG as a write-in?

September 15, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Running on classic "Democratic planks" is not the best strategy for Falk to appeal to independents.

People DO think of the AG office as the "top cop" position. They understand that the social issues relate more to the governor's position.

If Falk runs a race centered on Democratic social positions, and ignores the fact that JBVH is trying to paint her as "not the cop", she could lose. As mentioned, she needs to keep talking about gangs and crime and get to Milwaukee a lot. Her HIDTA idea was a good one, stuff like that.

On the other hand she should paint JBVH as the extremist that he is. So far right on abortion that he opposes birth control. So far right on guns that he's an absolutist. She just shouldn't paint herself as equally partisan-extreme in the other direction. It's a mistake.

JBVH is now trying to wash himself of the partisan cloak. He wants everyone to think he's a non partisan cop. If she let's him get away with it, by looking partisan herself, without assuming law enforcement cred of her own, he wins.

She will never redefine the position in the public's mind as anything but the top cop. It's a critical error to try.

As I said before, people here Assistant AG and they think she has criminal prosecution experience even if she doesn't. She should get out there fast with ads, define herself as tough on crime before he defines her as not. If her first commercial out of the gate is about environmentalism, she loses.

September 15, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I mean "hear" not here. Typo

September 15, 2006  
Blogger Ben Masel said...

Those who want fascism will vote for the real fascist, no matter how Lawnorder you try to sound. Playing "not quite as Fascist will only lose you those who desire a freer society.

September 15, 2006  

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