Yesterday, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson announced that he would seek a second six-year term when his first tour ends in 2016. The "citizen senator" apparently likes Washington a lot. Enough to announce his reelection bid 43 months in advance.
There is a rumor floating around that the man he defeated, our own beloved former Senator Russ Feingold, is thinking about coming back for a rematch. I hope he doesn't, and here's why.
First, going back to your old job is a hard thing to do. Tommy Thompson, who had a pretty good run as governor, ended up looking kind of silly as he hinted at running to retake the throne over and over again. And when he finally did try to re-enter politics by running for the Senate against Tammy Baldwin, it ended badly. Frankly, the guy probably deserved a better exit, but he has only himself to blame for not being able to recognize that the parade had passed.
Second, while Russ took some principled stands that I admire in an abstract way, Wisconsin needs someone who will work harder for the state itself. Because Feingold never sought to cultivate Washington insiders, and because he wouldn't try for special appropriations for the state, he wasn't any help in trying to get some of our federal tax dollars back here.
By contrast, Tammy Baldwin as our congresswoman, was extremely effective. Do you like the refurbished, smooth and much more attractive East Washington Avenue? Do you like the rebuilt State Street? Do you like some of the bike facilities we have around town? You can thank Tammy Baldwin for helping us get some of our own federal tax dollars back from Washington to help pay for those things.
Wisconsin gets only about ninety cents back for every dollar it sends to D.C. If helping local governments pay for needed improvements and taking a little pressure off the regressive property tax is pork, well than fry up another pan of bacon for me! Russ Feingold never wanted to get his fingers greasy.
And third, it's time for a new team. The longer this generation of pols clings to the stage, the harder it will be for the next generation to step up. It has been said that the Democrats have a very weak bench as we think about who might take on Johnson or Governor Scott Walker, and Feingold would certainly have a chance to knock off either of them.
But at some point, some new names have to surface. There's an old saying in politics that "you can't beat somebody with nobody." My party needs to be developing a group of twenty- and thirty- and forty-something somebodies. Russ' reentry into politics would stifle that movement.
Look, I know this is a hard message to hear. I know Russ is to liberals what Mother Teresa is to Catholics and what Martha Stewart is to those who appreciate high thread counts in their bed sheets. But he's also become a crutch to make up for the hard work of developing new liberal leaders. For the sake of the future he should stay seated and write another book.