By M.D. Kittle |Wisconsin Reporter
The U.S. representative from La Crosse, first elected to the 3rd Congressional District seat in 1996, seemed an easy Top 5 candidate among big-name progressives like former Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, and Milwaukee Mayor and former congressman Tom Barrett.
Wisconsin Reporter at the time asked Kind if he was interested in jumping into the fray of a recall race.
He dodged the question, saying it was premature to talk about a recall run, although he said he did “disagree with the direction” the state was headed in after arguably the most contentious start to a biennial legislative session in state history.
“We have to wait and see how this develops,” Kind said of the then-fledgling movement to oust Walker. “I have made no secret in the past that I have considered running for governor of my home state.”
But Kind, like Feingold, decided to sit out of the bitter recall campaign. The Democrats gave their nomination to Barrett who went on to lose to Walker for the second time in less than two years.
It’s a long way to November 2014, but again Ron Kind is among the names being bandied about in a presumed showdown against Walker.
And again, Kind isn’t biting.
“I think it’s too early for that,” he recently said of the candidate shuffle talk. “Besides, my understanding is former Sen. Russ Feingold may take a look at it right now.”
Feingold is once again dominating the Democrats’ bench of talked-about candidates.
Kind said he and his fellow federal lawmakers have plenty on their plate right now, between debt reform battles and gun control, not to mention a long-overdue federal budget — if congressional members want to earn a pay check, in accordance with a no-budget-no-pay mandate in the debt-ceiling extension deal.
“Let me say this, people are so tired of endless campaigns. The last thing they want to hear about is another campaign starting,” Kind said.
But a recent news release blasting Walker for balking on Medicaid expansion sure had the feel of campaign staging.
Kind “encouraged” Walker to agree to the expansion provided under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — the law Walker and other conservatives derisively refer to as Obamacare — to follow the lead of fellow Republican governors from Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.
“Governor Walker has the opportunity expand BadgerCare in our state and ensure affordable coverage for low-income children, the disabled, and all Medicaid recipients and still save the state money over the next ten years. It’s time to rise above the politics, as other Republican governors have, and provide the people of Wisconsin access to quality health care,” Kind said in his news release.
In an interview with Wisconsin Reporter, Kind said if he were a sitting governor today, one of his top priorities would be working to change the insurance situation in Wisconsin.
“There is so much acrimony in Wisconsin, throughout the nation, with tight budgets, and it’s because of escalating health care costs,” he said.
Joe Heim, long-time political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, said Kind is well positioned for a run for governor or U.S. Senate. He’s relatively young, good looking, he knows how to raise money and has bucked his party on some issues over the years, Heim said.
Kind is no maverick Democrat, but he has earned a reputation as a moderate over the years, and despite the growing partisan extremes, Heim said he still believes it’s not a disadvantage to be a moderate in Wisconsin.
Kind’s more middle ground could hurt him in a primary run, however, where the liberal edges tend to run the vote, just as core conservatives turn out in force in Republican primaries.
Perhaps Kind’s biggest campaign hurdle is his location. Western Wisconsin tends to be drowned out in the Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay media markets. Heim recalled former western Wisconsin state Sen. Brian Rude telling him that a candidate can be the best politician in the state, but if the candidate doesn’t come from the major media market triangle, the long-shot label applies.
Another obstacle may be comfort, Heim said. Republican-led redistricting ironically made the 3rd District even safer for Democrats. Heim said Kind could keep his congressional seat for life, if he wanted.
“One wonders if that’s going to be an impediment” to a run for higher office, Heim said, adding that Kind lives about a mile from the La Crosse Municipal Airport, making it easy to jump on a plane to Washington, D.C.
Kind has his backers, including a small but dedicated army online. The Facebook page We Want Ron Kind for Governor boasts 133 likes. The supporters virtually begged the congressman to throw his hat into the ring during the recall campaign.
“… (W)e need a pragmatic progressive candidate who can carry the whole state of Wisconsin. None of the announced candidates could do that like you,” one post in early 2012 proclaimed.
Heim said Kind is as deliberative a campaigner as he is a lawmaker, carefully surveying the political lay of the land.
“I expect at some point he’s going to pull the trigger and jump into the race,” Heim said, “but the timing has to be right.”
Contact M.D. Kittle at [email protected]