Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Welcome to the Dystop-acratic Party! Part I

How poor judgement, monumental egos, a DINO candidate and a Liberal obsession with inclusivism blew apart the Manitowoc County Democratic Party.

"I don't belong to any organized party.  I'm a Democrat!" - Harry S. Truman.

"If I bend that far I will break!"  Tevye, Fiddler on the roof.

Part I:  The Candidate from Hell.

My core assumption about the Democratic Party has always been that I shared a set of common core values and that anyone with the audacity to call themselves a Democrat held with at least the
majority of its stated platform.  When I decided to get involved with the Manitowoc Democratic Party there had already been some considerable bumps in the relationship.  The campaign had been a tough one and my refusal to support the eventual nominee Jim Brey hadn't gone down well.  I thought that maybe there had been some mis-communication that made that situation worse so I, perhaps naively, asked to be placed on the executive committee as I was told some people were leaving and a slot or two were available.  Little did I know how that assumption would be tested in the year that followed.

I won't call it a mistake maybe education is a better word.  If you read the rhetoric its possible to delude yourself into believing that any political party is a monolithic bunch committed to the same set of core values and that (at least among educated Liberals) are committed to the interests of labor, economic justice and non-judgementalism in matters of race and sex.  Certainly the Republicans have made a big deal out of ejecting the so called RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) from their midst.  During the Republican assembly forum eventual winner Paul Tittl accused Jason Sladky of all people of "being from a Democrat house" as if that was some sort of slur.  But for them at least the coming together was much less of a leap.  Its hard to find a Republican that has any use for gays or government regulation.  Democrats seem to believe that rejecting anyone for any reason lessens their chances even when the candidate openly embraces Republican values more than Democratic ones.  But when you ask the inclusivists why the exclusive Republicans have been so successful with their RINO campaign all you hear are crickets.

The candidate from Hell

During the campaign it was clear that few in the party were really buying Jim Brey as a Democrat.  In his post primary interview with me HTR reporter Charley Matthews half asked half speculated that it was all name recognition to which I added that a couple of non-serious candidates to split the anti-Brey police and Chilton teacher vote.  Also, Brey got lucky in drawing top ballot spot which amazingly makes a difference great enough to cover his margin of victory.  With the recall in June the ensuing fall campaign was short, tough and though we did well, we fell just short of the goal of putting an end to Brey's ambitions.

Brey has an amazingly horrific record regardless of party
Democratic delegates are "diehards"
affiliation.  He has a history of attaching himself to what he sees as a successful politician like a tick, stroking them and doing their bidding fully expecting (without much justification) that their gratitude will be his ticket out of his low level city and county offices.  It has never worked.  He is a serial office seeker having run for Mayor multiple times, county clerk and now assembly.  I've lost track.  In his last mayoral primary he did not even win his own district.  Each time he expects that his excessive loyalty will be repaid with adulation and endorsements and each time they are left handed at best and as in the assembly race non existent from his old boss Bob Ziegelbauer, a slight that has stuck in his craw.

One would think that his involvement in a string of regressive disasters promulgated by Ziegelbauer would have taught him some lessons.  After all the theory always was that the glow of the Bob mystique would rub off on him if he just carried the load.  What ended up happening was that Jim got the dirty end of the shovel.  By ramming the exec's regressive agenda through the county board and protecting him from bad PR as in the PPP nepotism and payola scandals the crap landed in his lap.  In a related event that year he had the audacity to accuse Bob's opponent Carla Halvorson of violating HIPPA (medical privacy) laws by demanding a payroll audit of PPP corporate records after billing irregularities had come to light.  HIPPA only applies to medical records and NOT accounting data.  After that he shut down any discussion of the scandal as board chairman.  The employee at the center of the scandal, Jeff Beyer who's inlaws owned PPP (a concrete contractor in Green Bay) and who's children were hired by the company at premium pay was never held accountable and still works for the county and has even received raises.  The payroll audit would never be done but PPP did cancel its contract seeking to end its exposure.  But for Brey the damage had been done while Bob stayed in the shadows.

Brey supported first the building and then sale of the Manitowoc
15 million $ public investment sold for 6
Brey helped build it and then dump it
County Health Care Center (MCHCC) at an eventual nine-million dollar loss based on the executive's contrived assertion that it was racking up multi-million dollar annual losses.  My own private conversation with Jim revealed that he knew it was a load of crap but stuck to the talking points anyway. (the number had been packed with  money for unrelated projects)  As it turned out the claimed benefit of paying down debt was hindered by the bond's prepayment penalty so the remaining paltry 3.5 million was instead was spent on repairs on the county courthouse.

For all that he never received so much as an "Atta boy!" from the stoic executive.  Yet even when free from the direct oversight of his county boss he sought to emulate him as city alderman.

For years Brey sat on the city finance committee and in the last few years before Walker took office in 2010 was the finance chair.  At the same time that the national and state economy was in a shambles and the new governor was ripping millions from state revenue sharing.  The city finance director had resigned at the end of the previous administration.  Inexplicably Brey helped block the hiring of a replacement citing the salary savings (a Ziegelbauer practice) leaving the new young mayor to struggle with an accounting problem he should not have had to handle without professional help.  But, at the very moment that the city needed to dip into reserves it was revealed that 4 million was missing from the city's reserve fund.  TIF payments had been systematically diverted to cover up a long running deficit in underperforming TIF districts.  But, finance chair Brey claimed that he had no idea that a total of four million had disappeared into the general fund ballooning the accumulated debt.  His solution would leave everyone stunned.

He not only suggested but called a press conference with Green Bay  TV stations to demand the sale of Manitowoc Public Utilities, a privatization stunt he had learned, again... from his old boss Bob.  Only Jim was on running the show and better accounting.  That was pretty much all people had to hear.  Whether he realized it or not it would be remembered and not in a positive light.

The great irony of all this is that conservatives didnt give him a nickle's worth of credit for any of it.  No more than the primary was
It was in fact very shocking
over dark money dirt pieces started hitting my mail box citing all or most of the same things that had angered Liberals.  With slightly altered facts the TEA party let into him for what should have been positive conservative credentials like selling the MHCC.  But the skyrocketing city debt and resulting tax hikes in a down economy were common ground for pretty much everyone.

And so it came to be.  The disaster I had sought to avert electrified the campaign.

As progressives including myself saw it the only way to keep the party from getting smeared with that record was to put as much distance between the party and the pending landslide as could be had.  Unfortunately, the party leaders had other ideas.  State leadership was remarkably clueless as to the local politics at work surrounding Brey's record.  Local leaders were much less clueless but sadly more inclined to follow orders than consider the conflict of supporting both an ostensibly Liberal president and obviously Liberal LGBT female senatorial candidate at the same time as a self described un-Liberal political troglodyte who made a campaign issue of disparaging Progressive values.  He was never going to beat the affable TEA Party vacuum cleaner salesman Paul Tittl and you could argue, was pulling down the top of the ticket.

Early on I had made a deal to supply my office space for the OFA/Baldwin campaigns operations never dreaming that the state had already decreed that all campaigns would be merged.  Of course Brey's presence in my building on my dime was as
Phone bank never used
unthinkable to me and the other Progressives as it seemed unthinkable to the old liners that the party wouldn't close ranks around Brey.  
Local party leaders cited Democratic policies of inclusiveness as a justification for supporting the anti-choice, anti-gay, pro Act 10, anti-union, anti-voting rights, anti-recall Brey but the base was having none of it.  The party pulled out of my building abandoning the time and energy that had gone into setting it up.

What emerged was an unexpected show of non-support from the corners of the county.  I had expected that I would be the lone voice of dissent but a small avalanche of letters to the editor hit the Herald Times all from at least non-Republicans and all with long memories of the many sins of Jim Brey.  The following is a prime example written by a former MCHCC union nurse.
Brey showed disrespect to county employees
Oct 11, 2012
Herald Times Reporter Letters To The Editor
I’m writing because I’m in total [...]agreement with Robert Dobbs’ letter in the Wednesday “Your View.” I had the unfortunate opportunity of dealing with and observing for myself what an arrogant, egotistical and disrespectful person Jim Brey can be.
I was employed by Manitowoc County when Jim Brey was sitting on the County Board and judging others. The awful way he treated county employees at the meetings who were speaking to protect their jobs and the jobs of others was reprehensible, cutting them off halfway through their speeches, and belittling some of them to the point of tears.
Oh yes, the Manitowoc County citizens might be getting on in years, but the memories of meetings with Jim Brey are still very fresh, and that is probably why he did poorly and was eliminated in the race for mayor.
Kathleen Brennan

Obama and Baldwin won eight of ten districts in the city of Manitowoc.  Jim Brey, home town pol of two decades, only managed to win four and by slimmer margins.  None of them won any rural districts but Brey lost them in a bigger way.  It was just as I had feared and predicted, a disaster... and it cemented the notion in people's minds that Manitowoc County is now officially red and more importantly, that there is no real difference between the parties.

Little did I realize then that the damage would extend far into the future and has yet to be fully realized not just in the public's mind but within the party itself.

(to be continued)
See part II
See part III
See part IV

See previous articles on Brey:  The Biggest Loser 
                                                  Manitowoc County Math Quiz (re PPP scandal)
                                                                           Jim Brey's Fun House

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