‘Blue jeans’ candidate visits Shawano

Author might enter governor’s race
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Leader Photo by Scott Williams Mike McCabe, who is considering running for governor, addresses a crowd Wednesday at the Shawano Civic Center at an event organized by the local Democratic Party.

In an unusual kind of political climate, Mike McCabe is an unusual kind of political figure.

He has been associated at times with both major political parties, but he now spends most of his time distancing himself from both.

He has never held elected office, and yet supporters are urging him to seek the highest office in Wisconsin.

He wears blue jeans — all the time — for a specific reason. More about that in a moment.

The 56-year-old former farm boy from Clark County visited Shawano County on Wednesday and introduced an enthusiastic crowd to what he calls his “new politics.”

Acknowledging several times that he might enter the 2018 race for governor, McCabe said he is driven both by memories of Wisconsin’s past achievements and by hopes for what he says could be its glorious future.

As for the present, he told the audience: “I see a state that is a shadow of its former self, and that rips at my gut.”

The political staffer-turned-activist-turned-author has told supporters in recent weeks that he would consider running for governor, although he is undecided whether he would seek a party’s nomination or run as an independent.

At Wednesday’s event, which was organized by the Democratic Party of Shawano County, people in the crowd said they found McCabe’s emerging persona compelling.

County Democratic Chairwoman Jan Koch compared him with former Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders in that he rails against the influence of corporate donations in politics, and he seeks to reawaken a grass-roots spirit in average working men and women.

“I definitely agree,” Koch said. “With that kind of thinking he has, there’s hope — hope for our country.”

Another audience member, Bob Koch, the party chairwoman’s brother-in-law, said he doubts that McCabe would get very far as an independent. Koch, however, said he would welcome the relative newcomer as a prospective Democratic nominee for governor.

“If he sticks with his philosophy, then I would agree with it,” Koch said.

McCabe, who now lives in Madison, worked early in his career for Republican state legislators. In 1998, he made his own unsuccessful bid for a state Assembly seat as a Democrat.

He then became a founding member of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending throughout the state. He served as the group’s director from 2000 to 2015.

Now he has authored a book, “Blue Jeans in High Places,” in which he examines how money has affected the political process in America. He also has created a nonprofit group, Blue Jean Nation, that promotes activism among those who disassociate themselves from both major parties.

McCabe wears blue jeans as a symbol of his common-man persona, and he told the Shawano crowd Wednesday that he would, if elected, not live in the governor’s mansion or accept the governor’s full salary.

Working men and women, he said, must mobilize themselves and get involved in the political process to challenge a status quo system in which big money elects candidates and then those elected leaders govern only in the interests of their campaign contributors.

On specific issues, he said, he wants to invest in infrastructure such as high-speed Internet, he wants to dismantle public-funded vouchers for private schools, and he wants the state to be powered 100-percent by renewable energy.

McCabe told the crowd that he would only run for governor if he could garner the support of average citizens and remain true to his commitment not to accept any large corporate donations.

“It’s going to have to be people-powered, and it’s going to have to be crowd-funded,” he said. “That’s the kind of new politics that we need.”