Conversation on Politics: Mordecai Lee and Charles Franklin

A UW-Milwaukee urban planning professor and the director of Marquette Law School Poll talk about politics.

Inside the Wave

Mordecai Lee, urban planning professor, UW-Milwaukee
Charles Franklin, director, Marquette Law School Poll

November’s midterm election brought about a regime change in Wisconsin, in the form of a new Democratic governor, Tony Evers, and a new Democratic attorney general, Josh Kaul. At the same time, it left much of the state’s underlying political infrastructure in place. Republicans still control the state Legislature, and they and Evers will have to find a way to work together if they want to pass budgets and accomplish major goals.

To strategize (unofficially) about all this and pick apart what the election means long-term, former Democratic Milwaukee state Sen. Mordecai Lee chatted with Marquette pollster Charles Franklin. (Their conversation took place just after the election but before the Legislature’s controversial lame-duck session in early December.) – Moderated by Matt Hrodey

Read more conversations in the January 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine’s cover story: Let’s Talk It Out.

Read an extended version of this conversation here:

Inside the Wave: Mordecai Lee and Charles Franklin

ML: The thing that will save Evers is he can change any number and any word [in the budget, using line-item vetoes] as long as it’s a whole sentence, and it’s a smaller number.

CF: Evers could dramatically change Republican initiatives if he wants to through that veto power, and the votes are not there for override. So that really is a power for him, but it only comes at the very end of the process.

ML: Did you see those billboards about potholes versus “Scott-holes”?

CF: Voters complain about the roads and hence the Scott-hole billboard, but when you ask them, “Are you willing to pay more for it?,” they’re not. In our last poll, for the people that rated roads the most important problem, only [about] 52 percent said they were willing to increase taxes.

ML: And that surprises me so much because every week when we fill up our gas tank, it’s a different price. Now let’s say the gas tax went up a bit. You wouldn’t even notice it.

CF: I used to think that the problem with property tax was that you got this one big statement at the end of the year, and you maybe had to write a big check.

ML: Apparently, it wasn’t as potent this year as it usually was. Scott Walker kept saying, “We’re in good times. Not only is the jobless rate down, not only is employment up, but your property tax is lower than it was X number of years ago.” It did nothing [for him]. I don’t understand it.

CF: In 2010, when he first came in, we were in a housing crisis during a financial recession, and people are a little bit better off now. And maybe that shoe doesn’t pinch as much as it used to. So folks are moving on to other issues, but it’s also the positive appeal of schools. By the 2015 budget, people were pushing back pretty hard that they thought schools needed better support.

ML: Why don’t we ever use the phrase “soccer mom” anymore? Because I think Waukesha County soccer moms have shifted away from Republicans, maybe not as strongly as in some other states, where it was a tidal wave. So if you’re that politician who wants to win back the Waukesha County soccer mom, being oppositional and obstructionist is not good politics.

CF: College [-educated] white women have been moving a bit in a Democratic direction. The non-college men even more in the Republican direction. So that’s been driving up the gender gap, but it also means a politician has to make a decision as to which of these two groups are going to be their bread and butter.

ML: Describe to me the voter that voted for [both] Tammy Baldwin and Scott Walker.

CF: In our data, about 6 percent of all voters voted for Walker and Baldwin. They were more independent than partisan. They were more moderate, rather than ideological, but they also tended to be younger.

ML: I think Tammy Baldwin is the new William Proxmire. In other words, she’s proven that she can succeed in any election, under any conditions, no matter what’s thrown at her, and people like her. It’s astonishing in this era. She’s probably a senator for life now.

CF: I’m not going to go quite that far! Her campaigns spent more than Bill Proxmire’s campaigns did.

ML: His last two, he spent real money. What’s the moral of [this election’s] story?

CF: No majority is ever really fixed, despite our sense that we’re so polarized that nobody can ever change their minds. Some of that is new voters. Walker still won big percentages of people who rated jobs most important. It just wasn’t the most important issue anymore.

ML: Those new voters probably skewed Democrat, but on the other hand, we want everybody to vote. If more people voted than ever before, if there’s a record-setting election, this is a good thing for democracy.

“Let’s Talk it Out” appears in the January 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Buy a copy at or find the January issue on newsstands, starting Dec. 31.

Be the first to get every new issue. Subscribe.