This fall billboards popped up around Madison making a simple case. Shootings are up 78% and yet some members of the Madison Common Council want to defund the police.
Both assertions are essentially true. To be clear, shots fired incidents are up by almost 80%, not the number of people hit by gun fire. But it seems to me to be in bounds to call these “shootings”. The dictionary definition of shooting is, “the action or practice of shooting with a gun.”
And it’s also true that several Madison alders, most members of the local party Progressive Dane, support some form of “defunding” the police. The word “defund” has been interpreted to mean anything from literally shutting down police departments to spending more money on things like mental health treatment and community programs instead of increasing police budgets.
In my view, the call to “defund” the police in the wake of the killing of George Floyd last summer is political malpractice. Lots of voters would support more creative approaches to crime, but few would support slashing police budgets. Why use a term that drives voters away if what you actually want is something that would attract voters to your cause?
Nonetheless, some Madison alders saw political advantage in saying that they were for defunding. If they meant something other than the plain meaning of the word, well then, they should have said it.
So, while I don’t see any issue with the message, I do wish there was a local, transparent and ongoing political entity that was behind them. Instead, the billboards were funded by something called Save Madison. It turns out that Save Madison is funded by former Republican senate candidate and local developer Eric Hovde. Hovde was not being especially secretive about it. When Isthmus reporter Dylan Brogan tracked him down he talked freely. Still, it’s not clear if there’s anything more to Save Madison than Hovde himself.
There’s a second entity that has been trying to recruit candidates for the council, apparently in opposition to Progressive Dane. It’s called Community For Responsible Government, but there’s nothing on its website to indicate who or what entities are behind it.
Both these groups are trying to provide some balance in local politics between the far left, represented by Progressive Dane, and the left-center, which used to be represented by the Dane County Democratic Party. The Democrats used to have a feisty, and often testy, competition with PD, but that seems to have almost disappeared in recent years. My guess is that it’s because the Democrats have moved so far to the left, especially in college towns like ours, that there is virtually no difference between the policy stances of Progressive Dane and the Dane County Democratic Party.
This has created a vacuum that Hovde and whoever is behind Community For Responsible Government is trying to fill. I’m glad these folks have stepped up, but there’s no need to be so secretive. A large part of the Madison electorate agrees with them. A lot of us would like to have the option of voting for candidates who are not as ideological as those offered by PD.
Look, I don’t hate Progressive Dane. In fact, I was the first Madison mayor who was a PD member. And I’ve often expressed my admiration for their sincerity, their organizing prowess and their consistent agenda. Their views are just quite a bit to the left of where mine are these days. And I think their aggressive attacks on the Madison Police Department are unsupported by the department’s record and run the risk of harming recruitment and morale in what has been recognized as one of the most progressive departments in the country.
So, with the Democrats having abandoned the field, I’m eager to see some left-center organization take its place in local politics. In fact, if I had the chance, I’d be a charter member. But it needs to be an enduring organization just like PD; something that exists for the long-term, not just a loose coalition that pops up around election time. And it needs to have clearly stated principles and policy goals. Most importantly, it needs to be transparent about who is organizing it.
Far from being embarrassed to be a left-center moderate, I’m proud as hell about it. And I’ll bet that there’s more than a dozen people in this town who feel the same way. Where do we sign up?