Loudly heralded as "a force of nature" and "serving notice that she will take the fight to [Kathleen Falk], which is precisely what you have to do to unseat an incumbent", Nancy Mistele launched her campaign for Dane County Executive late last year (with assistance from the AM talk brigade as well as Jim Pugh and Rick Berg). In their online endorsement, Republican Party of Dane County (who always does so well in local elections *snicker*) hailed her as a "nightmare for Dane County liberals". Tough talk, indeed. But as we're a little more than eight weeks away from the April 7th election, with little public support, a serious lack of campaign funds and almost no public presence, one has to wonder if this challenge from Nancy Mistele is real.
From the start, the Pugh/Berg/Vicki McKenna/Mistele campaign strategy seemed to be very simple and consisted of two parts: 1) Exploit the Brittany Zimmerman murder and the mishap that happened at a 911 center that saves lives every day while doing everything short of planting the bloody knife that killed her in Kathleen Falk's hand, and 2) Pray fervently that Dane County voters have a short memory. Enough has been written about the first part. The second part requires voters to not remember things like saying that rich people work harder and, therefore, deserve a bigger tax cut (Capital Times, September 10, 1998) or that the candidate who claims "will be an active force for attracting employers to our area" opposed purchasing computers to train future employees in our schools - saying "What's wrong with pencils?"
Those who get their information from WIBA-AM, where they hear Mistele constantly talked up, may think she's gaining traction. But why has her campaign generated so little excitement elsewhere? The Wisconsin State Journal reports that Mistele raised a paltry $16,270 from only 66 donors by the end of December. 66 donors are what you expect to see for an aldermanic campaign. Compare that to $136,000 from 951 donors for the incumbent and you see anger, outrage and free publicity on AM radio only going so far here.
Let's talk endorsements: Mistele's site doesn't list a single endorsement from a leader in Dane County. I'm sure there must be several County Board Supervisors, alders, town and village board folk who are clamoring to make known their support for Nancy Mistele as the next County Executive. Anybody? Anybody?
She does list one "Key Endorsement" she "scored": The realtors association. Big shock. She also "scored" an endorsement from the Dane County Public Affairs Council. Uh, who? The DCPAC is a group a bit smaller than Progressive Dane, described by The Capital Times in a February 11 dog-bites-man story as a "mildly conservative group" which is a lot like describing me as "mildly white and male".
What do these groups have in common? The realtors association's governmental affairs director is one Phil Salkin, former County Board Supervisor and political activist (usually for losing campaigns). Salkin also sits on the board of directors of DCPAC and was involved in its endorsement process according to an email printed on Brenda Konkel's blog.
Why is this important? Back in 1997, when Phil Salkin was running for the then-open County Executive position, a local political leader wrote, "I support and co-chair Phil's campaign for many reasons. I am impressed by his experience." (Capital Times, February 10, 1997) That leader? Nancy Mistele. It warms the heart to see that the you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours ethic hasn't gone out of style in the local right wing.
Let's dwell on that thought for a second: We're asked to put our trust in the judgment of a woman on April 7 who thought, in 1997, that Phil Salkin would make a better Dane County Executive than Kathleen Falk, Dick Wagner, Mike Blaska (heh, heh), and Dave Wiganowsky. 'Nuff said.
Outside the radio booth and the usual Republican circles, there is no Mistele presence at all. Look at the Events section of her web site and the only event listed is one that happened weeks ago. Add it up with everything else and expect that after next week's primaries, when the advertising blitz begins, the Mistele campaign will fade from view.
Mike Basford is a community and political activist with nearly 20 years' experience working on local campaigns.