This is not an easy post to write; I don't live in the 7th State Senate district (I'm happily represented by an unchallenged Tim Carpenter), and I have friends on both sides of the Jeff Plale-Donovan Riley primary. On the other hand, this is probably the one race that, according to One Who Should Know Brian Fraley, I and other local Dem bloggers might actually have some influence in. But since I don't live in the district, I feel more uneasy about commenting on this race than I do about other races that more directly involve me.
So I have studiously avoided talking about the primary in the 7th for months. While I have believed all along--and have said so privately to Plale and others--that this year is not a year to challenge incumbents here in Wisconsin, I haven't written out the long post that's been mostly in my head on this race. I have been clear about that regarding the Kathleen Falk challenge to Peg Lautenschlager, but I haven't gotten around to writing that post about the legislature.
My reasoning is simple: If we hold seats like the 7th, and pick up more seats like the 23rd, the 5th, and another, then we get control of the Senate, and, therefore, control of the agenda. So while a Senator like Plale might vote too conservatively on issues like school vouchers or abortion rights, a Dem-controlled Senate would keep those issues from the floor, never putting Plale in that situation.
One reason I was waiting to weigh in specifically on that primary was to see if the Republicans could put up a credible challenger. A strong moderate Republican could possibly have beaten a liberal Donovan Riley in the general--and that's not really helpful if the plan is to take control of the Senate. Fortunately, Dimity Grabowski doesn't seem to be a formidable challenger, and Riley, given his strong grassroots support and name recognition (and Grabowski's lack of those things) could win in November. That would have definitely moved the caucus in the direction I'd like to see it go. I was glad I hadn't jumped in before, figuring that either way the dice rolled, Democrats would come out winners.
Until this week, that is. By now you've surely heard about the apparently serious allegation that Riley double-voted in the 2000 presidential election. I'm the last guy to this party, so just browse through the blogroll if you haven't heard about it yet. Riley's made it worse by issuing a pretty weak explanation for it (essentially, "I don't think I did it") and skipping the debate with Plale that was set for Wednesday evening (a "scheduling conflict," his statement said). It doesn't look good. Word on the street is that he's also lost at least one staffer in the last day or so.
The way Riley and his campaign have handled this is just bad. Compared to the way Jim Sullivan has dealt with a similar (and quite stale) allegation against him, Riley looks both like an amateur and unnecessarily suspicious. As Sullivan did, Riley needed to be out in front of the issue, and if he is innocent (which I hope he is), he should be producing, as Sullivan did, the evidence to show it. Without either of those things, and with missing the debate, the story is getting legs--and the conservative media here in the Milwaukee area sure know how to use legs. As uninspiring (and unknown) as Grabowski may be, an hourly hammering of Donovan Riley from up and down the AM dial and all over the daily paper would severely damage Dems' chances of holding the seat and taking control of the State Senate.
If Riley were really about the Dem agenda, really about what's best for the state's liberals, he'd bow out now.
Update: The light of day reminds me of one thing that I forgot to add to this post. I am very displeased that the allegations of Riley's possible wrongdoing were first brought up by George Mitchell. I can't stand that guy--he dissembles and blurs fact and fiction to promote his extreme agenda to fund religious education with tax dollars. I do not want to be on the same side as that man on anything. I know Plale will never distance himself from the Mitchells, but, jeebus, this tears me up.