Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers

As Wisconsin Democrats gathered for their state convention in Middleton this past weekend, a number of activists discussed at length who should and will run for governor in 2018. The last few months have mostly centered around speculation – and confirmation – of who will not be running.

Jessie Opoien of The Capital Times covering the “shadow” primary in early May:

“The last few months have yielded more potential Democratic candidates declining to run than entering the race, leading Walker supporters to speculate that Democrats are afraid to challenge the governor, who has already won two gubernatorial elections and fought off a recall attempt.”

And following news that Madison Mayor Paul Soglin was considering a run, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Emily Mills penned a not so subtle rebuke of the idea for Tone Madison

“If Soglin truly wants to do his part to help get Wisconsin back onto a path toward economic and social revitalization, he should honestly consider that the best way to do that is to step aside and throw his vocal support behind a candidate who can help get that done.”

To borrow some of the old Ted Kennedy adage, we know who won’t/shouldn’t run, but tell us who should/could?

I have a not-so-novel idea – Tony Evers should run for governor. Yes, that Tony Evers, Superintendent of Wisconsin public schools and he of three consecutive victories with the mythical conservative spring electorate.

There are a lot of things to like about an Evers candidacy, perhaps the most crucial is his lengthy experience as a steward of state education, one of the most pressing issues in every community in the state, and an issue that has a broad base of support that can be mobilized around. Many districts are struggling with staffing shortages, aging infrastructure, and repeatedly forced to go to local electorates to get support for basic investments in education because of the burdensome edicts from the GOP-controlled state government.

Evers could mount a campaign on his track record as a steward for interests of students and parents, and for supporting schools and year-round instead of merely pivoting to them during election time; is there any wonder after years of cuts, that Gov. Walker has suddenly found education funding to be a priority heading into the 2018 election? Further, while larger cities have unique educational challenges, Evers would be able to also focus on a more equal and sustainable funding formula that steers support to small-town and upstate districts, who disproportionally find themselves lacking state support for a host of items, including transportation and economic development.

On the horserace end, it is worth considering that Evers has been able to build up not only name recognition over the course of his eight years in office, but also has increased his total vote in each successive election since first being elected in 2009. Along those lines, similar feats of building on successful tenures in lower profile state offices helped propel others into Governor’s mansions in other states such as California Gov. Jerry Brown and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, and Evers has the advantage of never having his political career left for dead as Brown and Dayton once did mid-way through theirs. Evers has the benefit of having everything the GOP could dig up thrown at him, and the best they could do were two guys attempting to trade the state school head position over beers. Is there a better contrast than a candidate who can’t be beat by the bought and sold Gov. Walker who has had questions raised over who he represents, his state or out-of-state interests?

For Democrats moving forward, a strong effort is being made to move beyond the 2016 primary and finding ways to integrate the various wings of the Democratic movement. Paul Kane of The Washington Post covered the effort to assemble a winning message for 2018

“Democrats received a strong reminder from Montana voters that it takes more than just liberal outrage against President Trump and the GOP agenda to win seats that lean toward Republicans.

It takes serious candidates and a policy agenda of their own.”

The importance of that last line can’t be overstated; it will take a serious candidate with an established record of governance and the ability to use that record to articulate a forward-facing message for Wisconsin. This alone should make Evers appealing to both the grassroots and the political class – for progressive populists becoming more active in the Democratic politics, Evers represent a genuine champion on a core issue, education, of the Democratic base; for politicos, Evers has the competence for engaging voters and doing the hard work on the campaign trail.

Most importantly? He plays Euchre! Is there anything more Wisconsin than that?