MADISON — Longtime Wisconsin political activist Mike McCabe joined the increasingly crowded Democratic field for governor on Tuesday, casting himself as an outsider from the left who will shake up the establishment.
McCabe, 56, said in an interview that as governor he would restore collective bargaining rights lost under Republican Gov. Scott Walker, push for a public option state-run health insurance program for all and advocate for as close to a $15 minimum wage as possible. McCabe said he’s also for high-speed internet access everywhere and increased job training.
McCabe was launching his campaign on the farm in Clark County, in between Wausau and Eau Claire in central Wisconsin, where he grew up. Other Democrats already in the race include state Rep. Dana Wachs, of Eau Claire, Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik and state Superintendent Tony Evers. Numerous other Democrats are considering running, including state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and former state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, of Madison.
The winner of the Aug. 14 Democratic primary will advance to take on Walker, who is expected to officially launch his re-election bid for a third term within weeks.
“There’s going to be a big field of candidates and they’re all very accomplished people,” McCabe said. “But they all have one thing in common: they all seem very comfortable operating in the political culture as it exists now.”
McCabe said he would sign a bill that repeals Walker’s signature Act 10 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public employees, but only if it’s part of a package that helps all workers.
“We’ve got to make union representation a possibility for far more workers,” McCabe said.
He also wants to make the state-run BadgerCare Plus health insurance program for low-income people an option for everyone.
“Make BadgerCare something that’s there for all Badgers,” McCabe said. “It should be a public option on the exchange.”
McCabe was the founding member of the political watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which he led from 2000 to 2015. McCabe left two years ago to create a new nonpartisan group, Blue Jean Nation, which promotes itself as “working to promote the transformation of democratic institutions that are failing America.”
McCabe said Tuesday that he would “shake up” and “transform” the current political system, calling his campaign committee Commoners for Mike McCabe. To start, McCabe said he would limit total individual contributions to his campaign to $1,000, rather than the $20,000 allowed under the law, saying donations that high amount to “legal bribes.”
Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Alec Zimmerman labeled McCabe as a “phony” for describing himself as a pro-reform activist, while the Democracy Campaign took money from the foundation run by billionaire Democratic donor George Soros.
“While Gov. Walker has fought for reforms that help hard-working Wisconsin families, McCabe would continue to mislead Wisconsinites and take our state backward,” Zimmerman said.
Jake Hajdu, the campaign manager for Wachs, said that as a “lifelong Democrat with a real track record of fighting for working families,” he’s the only candidate who can defeat Walker.
Evers’ campaign manager Nathan Henry had no comment. Gronik’s spokesman did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.