Here’s Why Sen. Shilling Will Lose Her Next Election

By Mark L. Taylor
The Commoner Call (1/26/17)

First, let me make it clear the headline above is not my wish but a sad prediction.

Following just weeks after a disastrous Democratic Party national campaign grounded on negative advertising, complete lack of vision and a “lesser of two evils” strategy I received the following email press release from Democratic 32nd District State Sen. Jennifer Shilling’s office:



January 23, 2017

Statement on Gov. Walker’s proposed work restrictions

MADISON – After years of Republican policies that have cut family wages, shrunk the middle class and increased student loan debt, Gov. Walker is proposing more restrictions on working families in need of assistance. His latest proposal creates new rules and regulations for workers struggling to make ends meet while adding additional layers of state bureaucracy. In response, Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) released the following statement:

“Once again, Gov. Walker is creating one set of rules for working families and another set of rules for the wealthy and well-connected. Why should working families have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get help with rising childcare costs while 11 individuals making over $35 million a year are handed millions in tax breaks with no strings attached?

“For too many hardworking Wisconsin families, Gov. Walker’s race-to-the-bottom economy is not working for them. Republican tax breaks that favor millionaires and corporations are shifting a greater burden onto workers. Since Gov. Walker took office in 2011, Wisconsin has fallen below the national average for job creation for 20 consecutive quarters. If Gov. Walker really wants to help workers and grow our middle class, Democrats stand ready with a range of proposals to raise family wages, lower student loan debt, invest in infrastructure and expand child care tax credits. It’s time we reward hard work, not the wealthy and well-connected.”


Keep in mind Shilling defeated Republican opponent Dan Kapanke, a man she beat in a special recall election, by only 56 votes. That’s votes, not percent.

To say Shilling is vulnerable is to state the obvious in sky writing.

Anemic messaging

Democrats in general are terrible at political messaging. Republican, are generally brilliant at it. Exhibit A: Donald Trump. Voters overlooked, minimized or completely dismissed his gaffes, failures, misogyny, racial smears, conflicts of interest and just general over all teensy-handed creepy persona because he knew how to package his message – even if it was a barge full of lies and toxic waste. Didn’t matter – he appealed to emotional frames and references people could identify with. Like it or not. Agree with it or not, Trump pumped up the race with a reason “WHY” to vote for him.

(The Commoner Call & Lines of Resistance cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2017. Open source and free to use with link to www.thecommoner )


Bernie, to great success and on volunteer donations alone, did the same. In fact, he could only be stopped by the corporate-owned elites in the DNC.

Meanwhile, after the DNC kneecapped the Sanders campaign the best the Hillary camp could come up with was “I’m With Her”. Many said the “WHY” to vote for her was her gender. And then a majority of female voters broke for Trump


Now read through the Shilling press release. She lists some nice talking points and facts that are certainly true but “WHY” are they important? “WHY” are they relevant to or reflective of a greater cause or context? “WHY” would you support this dem? (And no, it is not self-evident, you have to state it.)

With just a little tweaking Shilling’s quote could have been made stronger and relevant to our lives in a way that there is no question “WHY” you would support her and Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) candidates. For example, here’s how some values could be easily added to her quote:

Fairness is a basic value of our society. All families should have a fair chance. Once again, Gov. Walker is creating one set of rules for working families and another set of rules for the wealthy and well-connected. We all do better when all citizens are treated fairly. Families are the core of our society. All families – and their children – deserve a fair and equal chance. Why should working families have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get help with rising childcare costs while 11 individuals making over $35 million a year are handed millions in tax breaks with no strings attached?”


Making it better yet

I ran the release by Scott Wittkopf, of Frame For The Future,  a progressive political messaging consultant the DPW largely dismisses.

“I would go even further in what she SHOULD do – beyond your suggestions.,” Wittkopf wrote.  “The core problem is that people don’t trust Democrats, as they don’t trust government. The two are cognitively connected through hundreds of metaphors – this is why in many areas of Wisconsin, people will simply not vote for a Democrat.
“For Senator Shilling and her colleagues, they need to substantively re-frame themselves and government. The first priority – the core idea they should talk about, and act on all the time is that of mutual care and responsibility for the freedom and well-being of others through our democracy and government. Basically, empathy. This idea is the foundational difference between conservative and progressive values – and is non-partisan in nature. It is also the core value that connects with all your other values – including why your  idea of fairness is so important.” (Emphasis in the original.)
Stop sounding like a Republican!

Additionally, Wittkopf observes, “And Democrats need to stop talking about ‘hard – working families’ all the time. I know it probably focus groups and polls well, but you’re just reinforcing the conservative values of self-discipline and the ‘family values’ metaphor. As in – ‘if the people in the family (especially the father) are disciplined and moral, they’ll be successful. If they are poor and struggling, it’s because they are not disciplined and deserve their poverty.’ Every time Democrats evoke the ‘hard-working families’ metaphor, they are reinforcing the conservative worldview – and helping Trump.

“In fact – there’s no reason to even mention Walker, or attack him. You can undermine his ideas and moral worldview by evoking our progressive values and worldview – and people will make the cognitive connection. For some reason, over the past 6+ years, we progressives haven’t learned that the more we attack Walker (or Trump, etc.) directly, the stronger they become. Especially when we aren’t presenting a better moral vision for people to believe in.”
Trying to have these conversations with Democratic officeholders is about as productive as sticking your tongue to a frozen fence post. Instead – just weeks after the Democratic Party 2016 Hindenberg-sized disaster – we find our democratic state senate leader burping up the same old tired bromides, republican imagery and desiccated messaging that you will find in the oh-so-successful Hillary 2016 Campaign Manual.
An email to the senator’s press flack Tony Palese went without any response.; not even a “Your opinion is important to us.” (That, BTW, is pretty standard for state dem legislators.)
While I have had a number of disappointments with Sen. Shilling’s record I do feel sad that barring some unforseen stroke of insight and change in messaging she is in her last term in office.