“Oh, I am sorry to hear that” – said a gentleman to me, jokingly, with a smile on his face. We had just met at a political event, and were getting to know each other. He made the comment when he found out that I am a Republican from Madison, Dane County.
Anyone living in Wisconsin knows that Madison has a predominantly left-leaning electorate. Here, the number of people who vote for liberal political candidates far outweigh the number of people who vote for conservatives. Madison, and surrounding areas in Dane County, are heavily Democrat-controlled. The gentleman’s comment suggested that he understands the challenges that Republicans in Dane County face when trying to promote conservative values in a territory where liberal ideas are followed. The opposition to conservative principles and policies was evident during the fight over the budget repair bill, when people’s way of life in Madison was disrupted by the protests against Act 10. As an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I saw how the mobilization of activists did not even spare the classroom. I recall the day I went to class only to find it almost empty. It was sad to sit and think that students were paying tuition to go to school and obtain education by paying out-of-pocket, through hard-earned scholarships, or by taking out loans, and then were missing valuable lecture. Governor Scott Walker, in his book “Unintimidated”, provides a detailed account of the events surrounding Act 10 – a law that has brought about tremendous success for Wisconsin’s economy. In spite of the statewide support for common-sense legislative and executive efforts to turn Wisconsin into an example of prosperity, and the success of our Republican leaders in steering our state away from the failed policies of the past, conservatives in Dane County continue to be perceived by many as a group that is constantly challenged in this very liberal part of the state. And hence, the “Oh, I am sorry to hear that [you are a Republican in Dane County]”
Yes, we face challenges, but we are not afraid. Our conservative values form our strength. As the Republican Party of Dane County (RPDC), we work tirelessly to promote the message of life, liberty, and opportunity. As a membership-driven organization that is governed by a strong executive committee, we perform a wide range of activities throughout the year to provide a platform for conservative voices, and provide support for our Republican leaders in local, statewide, and national races.
RPDC is led by Scott Grabins, Chairperson, and Nancy Bartlett, Vice Chairperson. Dane, being a big county with lots of people and containing or overlapping with several Assembly districts, needs active leaders at the grassroots level. That is why, we have a chairman for each Assembly District, a person responsible for outreach in the designated area. Assembly District chairmen serve as the point-of-contact for specific segments of the entire party membership, pay attention to and report about political operation in their areas, recruit potential candidates for office, and help with building up and expanding the party’s base. Assembly District chairmen, elected during the county caucus, strengthen RPDC with their knowledge, insight, and activism.
RPDC recognizes the importance of education and dialogue in civil society. Dissemination of information in a way that promotes exchange of ideas is essential for our county party. That is why we organize various forms of events that are open to non-members (or potential members as we like to call them) and members.
One such monthly program is Pints and Politics. Organized by our executive committee member Billie Johnson, the event brings together dozens of conservatives for exchange of ideas in a casual setting. Frequently held at Babes Bar and Grill or Kavanaugh’s Esquire Club, the event features guest speakers – elected officials, candidates for elected office, political appointees in government, nonprofit leaders, our own party leaders, and more. We have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to welcome, in just the last year or two, Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley, State Representative (at the time) Dave Heaton, State Senator Leah Vukmir, Insurance Commissioner Ted Nickel, Americans for Prosperity’s WI State Director Eric Bott, Sauk County Judge and candidate for Wisconsin Supreme Court Michael Screnock, and others. The event, normally held on the first Tuesday of the month at 5:30pm, allows people to relax after a day of work, enjoy good food and beverage while listening to speakers talk about various issues that pertain to our state and the country, followed by a question and answer session. In an effort to further faciliate the spread of knowledge and information, RPDC’s executive committee member Rolf Lindgren brings dozens of books and DVDs. Members and guests can choose history books, political biographies, scientific publications, documentaries, etc., to take home with them for free.
In addition to monthly events, RPDC’s annual Christmas party and picnic also bring together members and guests. These events also feature speakers, notably candidates for office who share with us the reason why they are running, their vision for our state and country, and anything else about their campaign. In addition to the joy of being in the company of conservative friends, these annual programs also include fun activities, such as raffle drawing, auction, chairlift rides (at Tyrol Basin in Mount Horeb), and more. One of the highlights from 2016 was the party’s movie night, when many of our members went to a theater to watch Dinesh D’Souza’s “Hillary’s America.” It was an informational film – a must-watch prior to the 2016 general election.
Perhaps the flagship event of the Republican Party of Dane County is the annual Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner (LRDD). The schedule includes cocktail social hour, dinner, and an elaborate program to celebrate the life of two America’s greatest presidents – Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. Hundreds of people (county party members, GOP congressional district leaders, supporters, and guests) attend the Dane County LRDD from all over the state. Members of Congress, state legislators, and other dignitaries have attended and addressed the audience at this annual event.
Furthermore, RPDC members have also helped organize and/or participated in issue-based meetings. One example is RPDC’s co-sponsorship of a recent public forum on “free speech” to discuss current affairs and the First Amendment. Speaking of constitutional rights, members of RPDC, led by Republican Women of Dane County (a chapter of the Wisconsin Federation of Republican Women) celebrate the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms by periodically engaging in shooting sports at a local range. Additionally, members of the Republican Party of Dane County showed support to law enforcement officials and honored our fallen heroes by attending a vigil at the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial at the Capitol Square, not too long ago.
Our efforts are guided by, as already stated above, the belief in life, liberty, and opportunity. To ensure that these are reflected in the policymaking process of our state and country, RPDC works hard to be vocal and visible in the community to promote conservative candidates for various offices. RPDC members participate in community parades, such as the Verona Hometown Days Parade and Sun Prairie Cornfest Parade. With banners and signs for President Donald Trump, Governor Scott Walker, Senator Ron Johnson, and other Republican leaders, our members draw a lot of attention, receiving cheers from supporters, and distributing chocolates and candies to children and adult spectators, while walking in the parade and holding the American flag. The warm reception for Republicans, in left-leaning Dane County, highlights people’s support for conservatives values, common-sense reforms, and support for freedom and limited government.
Republicans are not the majority in Dane County, but we still have tremendous number of supporters in this populated area and that makes our county a key player in any statewide election. In 2016, for the first time since 1984, Wisconsin chose a Republican presidential candidate instead of a Democrat. Out of the total Wisconsin votes for Donald Trump by county, Dane ranks third (with a little over 71,000 votes going toward the Republican nominee), after Milwaukee and Waukesha counties. The same rank holds true for the U.S. Senate race that resulted in the re-election of Senator Ron Johnson, with Dane County casting over 80,000 votes for the incumbent at the time. In short, Dane County matters in any statewide race, and as we saw in 2016, Dane County played an important role in Wisconsin to help Donald Trump get the state’s 10 electoral votes and create history in the national election.
“You guys have set the pace for the whole country” – these are Governor and vice presidential candidate (at the time) Mike Pence’s words when he visited the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s (RPW) regional field office in Dane County prior to the general election. He was given a warm welcome by supporters, including several members of RPDC. Mike Pence was correct in making that comment about conservatives in Wisconsin, as the election results later proved. RPDC works closely with RPW, helping with voter contacts, campaign material distribution, social media, etc. Members of RPDC also provide support to RPW in holding Super Saturday couple times a year. As the name explains, this day-long event takes place on a Saturday, with volunteers gathering at RPW’s field office to make phone calls to voters all over the state and completing surveys to gather information about people’s view on issues and their thoughts about candidates for office. Volunteers also make in-person, door-to-door contacts on this day. Our work here in Dane County boosts the statewide efforts to help secure election victories. We are fortunate that our hard work has resulted in our ability to now honor Mike Pence as our Vice President.
None of these are possible without strong leadership of the party. RPDC executive committee members meet monthly, and we talk in details about successful completion of tasks, room for improvement of efforts, new initiatives, roadblocks and how we can overcome them, and more. The energy in the county party and its active and well-informed delegates help ensure that RPDC has strong representation at the 2nd Congressional District caucus, as well as the Republican State Convention, every year.
The day I first became the 78th Assembly District Chairman, I told (with humor) the executive committee of RPDC – “In this blue (Democrat) district, I am ready to pick up my bucket of paint and start painting it red (for Republican).” I added, “It won’t be easy, but I’ll keep working on it.” My fellow conservatives appreciated my optimism. That reminds me, a man once told me, “It’s ok if Republicans can’t get a majority in Dane County, you still need to keep working hard so you can move the needle little by little.” That is correct. We have to keep working to continue to help people understand that Republicans are doing what is in the best interest of all Americans – protect constitutional rights, limit the size of government, help the economy grow and create more opportunities, and strengthen national security. Our goal is to help make our state and country be shining examples of prosperity. Our actions and policies guided by conservative values can make it happen.
Going back to the discussion of being a Republican in Dane County – yes, we have a steep hill to climb, but we have also proven that we are equipped with the tools necessary to perform the task, and that we possess the energy and enthusiasm to keep moving forward. RPDC works hard, overcomes challenges, and delivers results.
State Senator and candidate for U.S. Senate Leah Vukmir speaking at Republican Party of Dane County’s Pints and Politics
RPDC’s Pints and Politics brings conservatives together in a casual setting for discussion on important issues facing out state and the nation.
Republican Party of Dane County’s Vice Chairperson Nancy Bartlett addressing party members and guests during the 2016 annual picnic.
RPDC’s annual picnic is a event featuring great speakers, good food, and lots of fun-filled activities
Sauk County Judge and candidate for Wisconsin Supreme Court Michael Screnock speaking to conservatives at the 2017 annual picnic
Vice Chair Nancy Bartlett organizes “Ladies at the Range” event for Republican women, as well as men, to celebrate the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms
RPDC leadership, members, and supporters represent the organization at various events, including the Verona Hometown Days Parade to spread the message of life, liberty, and opportunity
RPDC members had a great time at Governor Scott Walker and First Lady Tonette Walker’s Independence Day part at the Executive Residence
RPDC’s 78th Assembly District Chairman Tawsif Anam (me) with Governor Scott Walker at the Executive Residence
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson speaking at RPDC’s 2017 Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner
RPDC Chairman Scott Grabins addressing the hundreds of guests at the 2017 Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner
RPDC Executive Committee member and Pints and Politics Coordinator Billie Johnson received an award for his remarkable volunteer work
RPDC’s Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner brings together people from all over Wisconsin, and not just Dane County
Dane County delegates are seen on the convention floor during the 2017 Republican Party of Wisconsin’s annual convention
Executive Committee member of RPDC are seen enjoying dinner at Governor Scott Walker and First Lady Tonette Walker’s Welcome Party for the 2017 State Convention of the Republican Party of Wisconsin
RPDC member and state delegate Hena Anam met with Indiana Governor and vice presidential candidate (at the time) Mike Pence during his 2016 visit to Republican Party of Wisconsin’s regional field office in Fitchburg, Dane County
RPDC’s 78th Assembly District Chairman Tawsif Anam (me) speaking at the annual county caucus