Milwaukee Democrats Lurch To The Left With Primary Victories

By Collin Roth

While most of the state was focused on the GOP Senate primary, a slate of progressive Democrats swept legislative races in the City of Milwaukee, defeating two incumbent moderate Democratic legislators in the process. In five Assembly Districts, progressive Democratic candidates won handily with the biggest upsets being Mandela Barnes’ defeat of incumbent Rep. Jason Fields and Daniel Riemer’s defeat of incumbent Peggy Krusick.

Both incumbents were considered to be moderate Democrats. Fields supported the Milwaukee School Choice Program and Krusick was one of the last pro-life Democrats in the Assembly.

So who are the new progressive Milwaukee Democrats?

Some, like Rep. Sandy Pasch, aren’t so new. A current state representative from Shorewood, Pasch defeated three other Democratic candidates with 61% of the vote in Assembly District 10. Pasch ran unsuccessfully against State Sen. Alberta Darling in a 2011 recall election and has been a champion for big labor. The campaign in the 10th district turned ugly when allegations of racism were bantered around both by and against the Pasch campaign.

Another known commodity to win on Tuesday was Milwaukee County Supervisor Nikiya Harris, who defeated Rep. Elizabeth Coggs in Senate District 6. City Treasurer Spencer Coggs previously held the seat and it was a surprise to many to see a Coggs lose an election. Harris won with 48% of the vote.

But it was the newcomers who made the biggest waves. Mandela Barnes, 25-year old community organizer for the left-wing interfaith organization MICAH, defeated incumbent Rep. Jason Fields in Assembly District 11. Fields was an ardent defender of the Milwaukee choice program and Barnes made an issue of the pro-voucher group American Federation of Children spending money in the race. Barnes won handily with 68% of the vote.

Another surprise victory came from Daniel Riemer, a University of Wisconsin law student who defeated incumbent Rep. Peggy Krusick in Assembly District 7. Riemer ran heavily against Krusick’s pro-life stance. Riemer defeated the 29-year incumbent with 67% of the vote.

Two other newcomers won on Tuesday. La Tonya Johnson, and local AFSCME official won with 43% of the vote in Assembly District 17 and Evan Goyke, an adjunct law professor and assistant state public defender won with 37% in Assembly District 18.

The common denominator for this new (and old) slate of progressive Milwaukee Democrats is the support of a coalition of left-wing community organizing organizations, labor unions, and the endorsements of some prominent Democratic legislators. The group of Democrats who won on August 14, were trained and recruited by Wisconsin Progress, a left-wing organization based in Madison attempting to purge moderate Democrat incumbents like Fields and Krusick and replace them with progressive candidates. Left-wing community organizing groups like Citizen Action of Wisconsin and We Are Milwaukee endorsed and activated their networks on behalf of the candidates. And popular progressive incumbents like State Senator Chris Larson and Rep. Jocasta Zamrippa (who also defeated a challenger) campaigned prominently on their behalf.

The last two years has seen a shuffling of the deck in Wisconsin politics and Wisconsin Democrats are signaling their commitment to moving their party to the Left despite the overwhelming defeat in the recalls. It is safe to say that the Democratic tent is getting smaller and more radical.

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