UPDATE, July 22: John Heckenlively survived a state Republican Party challenge to his nomination to run against Paul Ryan, but Independent candidate William Tucker did not. Both candidates had hearings before the Government Accountability Board in Madison Wednesday.
The board ruled that Tucker of New Berlin submitted only 977 valid signatures, whereas 1,000 were required. Heckenlively's nomination papers were ruled in order.
That means the 1st Congressional District race on Nov. 2 will have three candidates: Republican incumbent Paul Ryan of Janesville, Democrat John Heckenlively of Racine and Libertarian Joseph Kexel of Kenosha.
With just a few months to go before the election, John Heckenlively is still in limbo -- part Congressional candidate, part also-ran.
Fresh from a victory at the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board -- which, after first rejecting his nomination papers, reversed itself Monday morning and credited Heckenlively with 59 more nominating signatures than required -- the erstwhile Democratic candidate now faces a Republican Party challenge on Wednesday. This time, the question is whether some of those who signed Heckenlively's nominating petitions wrote in their correct community of residence -- is it Somers or Kenosha, Mt. Pleasant or Racine, for example. The GOP complaint is here; along with Heckenlively's response.
Heckenlively doesn't appear worried. "I've got a hurdle to cross on Wednesday," he said Monday night, "but I'm optimistic about it."
And why not? Getting on the ballot -- despite the difficulties he's already faced -- is unquestionably the easy part of winning a seat in Congress. Especially when one is challenging a six-term incumbent like Republican Paul Ryan, who already has more than $2 million in his campaign chest.
Actually, Heckenlively looks at some of Ryan's strengths -- his campaign stash, his growing national profile -- as points the all-but-unknown newcomer can capitalize on, much as a martial arts fighter uses his opponent's strength to bring him down (at least it works that way in the movies.)
Heckenlively rejects the idea that he's an unknown. "I'm slightly known," he concedes, "But one advantage I have is that Ryan has increased his national profile in the past few years. There are a lot of people who know who he is -- and I'm not like him. There may be people who say: 'Ryan, I've heard of that guy. What can I do to help you beat him?' First stop for Heckenlively will be organizations like Move On and Progressive Democrats of America. "Move On has shown it's capable of raising large sums of money in a short period of time." He pauses for a moment, then adds, "Whether that will materialize, who knows?"
Although campaign funds have been an insurmountable hurdle for Ryan's Democratic opponents in recent elections (Marge Krupp and Jeff Thomas ran on a shoestring), Heckenlively sees the silver lining: "When you say, 'I'm running against a guy with $2 million; can you help out?' then you've got a point people can relate to." They'd better; the 1st CD Democratic Party hasn't come up with much support in the past. "In the 1st CD, our budget's never been big; I'd be amazed if we ever came up with $5,000," he said. Still, "The second I'm on the ballot, I'm officially the Democratic candidate. Right away, I can jump in." (To some, he's already the candidate; Heckenlively was called yesterday afternoon by a reporter for the New York Times -- although she was writing yet another profile of Ryan.)
So why is Heckenlively taking on this Quixotic challenge? "I've been active in Democratic politics for a long time, and following Ryan's record. I've been complaining about the guy's record for years. Now it's time to step up and put my money where my mouth is."
"My biggest problem with Ryan is he has consistently sided with the wealthy, and with the biggest corporations. And I don't blame him," Heckenlively said. "That's where he's getting his money from. He votes for tax cuts for billionaires, and tax cuts for large corporations. On practically every major legislation that would help ordinary people but would cost corporations profits, Ryan has sided with the corporations."
Heckenlively doesn't hesitate when asked what the key challenges are: "Jobs, jobs, jobs," he says. "
"Wisconsin, southeast Wisconsin, has some of the highest unemployment in the country. Economic development and bringing jobs to Wisconsin are going to be the key, regardless who the next congressman is."
Next is education. "There are a lot of things we can do to reform education, and not all of them involve money. Yes, there are a lot of infrastructure issues in Racine and all across the country: roofs caving in, broken windows; you can fix them with money. But without money, we still can change school culture, stressing the value of education. It's probably more valuable if parents do it, but I think the President has stressed the value of education. Kids who stay in school do well; it doesn't require any money for that.. People who are high profile and in visible positions need to convince kids that education is important."
He's also concerned about the environment. "Wisconsin has had major air pollution issues for years."
Heckenlively, 46, grew up in the south side of Milwaukee County, and has a bachelor's degree from UW-Milwaukee in political science, and a master's in history. A former reporter for Racine's Labor Paper, he has a teaching certificate in social studies -- but has been unable to land a teaching job. "This is not the greatest market for teachers," he says ruefully. He's also the author of a book, "Bush must go," written before the 2004 election.