Verona moderates, independents regroup
It was “a perfect storm,” remembers former alderman Nancy Bartlett of the progressive takeover of Verona. It started with the furor over Walker’s Act 10 collective bargaining reforms in 2011. Helping mix that cauldron was one Erika Hotchkiss, a professionally trained political operative who turned her newly purchased coffeehouse into Verona’s Walker Recall Central. She would strike the first blow, upending an eight-year incumbent for County Board in 2012.
Four of the five progressives who would take over the City Council in 2013 had lived in town less than 12 months. Young though they were, all but one were seasoned political operatives. Turned out they just didn’t know anything about actual governing.
“Verona was running well, Verona didn’t have any major problems so they felt they could come in and make it more like Madison,” Bartlett told Right Wisconsin. “We’re one of the closer suburbs.”
Bartlett would become one of the organizers of the citizens group that helped take their city back from the progressive interlopers. The nonpartisan group called itself Together for Verona.
Bartlett and others in the community began talking right after the five-seat progressive sweep of the City Council last spring. By August, the group had attracted local businesspeople and leaders from the city, town, and school district. They put up a website and a Facebook page. “In an iota of a second, the liberals realized it,” Bartlett recalls.
“Our group just started to grow. We had a lot of current and former leaders in the city who had been on city or town board or school board — leaders who knew a lot of people.”
The group met every two weeks. There were no dues. “We could be more effective if we did not take in or give out any money,” Bartlett explained. “We did discuss issues and candidates and how we can organize to fight the progressives. Our candidates worked hard.”
But all the candidates had their own campaign organizations. In addition to flooding the mails with campaign lit, Mayor Jon Hochkammer says he knocked on 2,000 doors — almost every residence in town. “That’s what definitely put me over the top, talking to the people,” Hochkammer told me.
Verona Mayor Jon Hochkammer on the campaign trail
On election day, the candidate stationed himself at Main Street and Verona Avenue to wave to drivers returning home from work.
The progressives’ candidate, Chad Kemp, worked off the Walker recall petition list, numbering some 900 Verona residents. County Executive Joe Parisi did a fundraiser. (Parisi wore the orange T-shirt of protest as a Democratic state rep on the floor of the Assembly during the union intifada of 2011.) The unions were all in for Kemp.
But the independents were listening to the people. It helped that the progressives compiled a pitiful record in office. “As I talked to people in the community, the people were saying, ‘I can’t believe they’re doing this,’” Bartlett relates.
Many supporters were teachers who said, “I can’t put up a yard sign but I’m going to vote for you,” Bartlett says.
Tomorrow: Progressives play the race card
Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.