It is not often that a national political group finds it necessary to explain its crushing defeat in a series of state legislative elections. But the shadowy "American Federation for Children" -- which is well-identified by the watchdogs at PRWatch as "a pro-school privatization group" -- had to do just that after all of the candidates it backed in Tuesday's Democratic primaries were roundly rejected by the voters.
The defeat AFC took was so sweeping that the group had to issue a statement Wednesday in which it "reaffirmed its support for legislators and candidates across Wisconsin who favor expanded educational options for families, following disappointing primary results last night."
AFC, a group funded by billionaire right-wingers from Michigan (former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman Betsy DeVos and her husband, Amway heir Dick DeVos) and their wealthy allies across the country, poured more than $100,000 (perhaps a lot more) into "independent" campaigns on behalf of supporters of school "choice" and "voucher" schemes, which weaken public schools in Milwaukee and pave the way for privatization.
But the AFC candidates lost. Badly.
State Rep. Jason Fields, the Milwaukee Democrat whose re-election was the chief priority of AFC and its Wisconsin operative, former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, was defeated by community activist Mandela Barnes.
But Jason Fields was not the only AFC loser Tuesday. His brother Jarrett Fields lost another Milwaukee Assembly primary, as did AFC favorites Tracy Dent and Mildred Coby. And state Rep. Elizabeth Coggs, who ran with strong AFC support, lost the 6th District state Senate primary to Nikiya Harris, who ran with the strong support of unions and progressive groups.
While AFC poured money into the legislative races, a relatively new progressive, pro-public education group, Wisconsin Progress, countered by recruiting, training and backing able pro-public education candidates. The winners Tuesday -- in all the races where AFC lost -- were backed by Wisconsin Progress.
Of course, AFC had more money. But Wisconsin Progress and its candidates stood for something Wisconsinites value: strong public schools and a commitment by the state and its communities to use taxpayer dollars to back public education -- not schemes to move public money into the pockets of private-school operators.
That was enough for Wisconsin Progress.
The group's slogan has been "Don't Get Mad. Get Elected."
Because so many of Tuesday's key primaries were in overwhelmingly Democratic districts, meaning that the Wisconsin Progress-backed winners are all but certain to become legislators, the slogan is now becoming a reality.
Wisconsin Progress was making plans for the next clashes with AFC and the right-wing money machine, when the clashes this fall will be between Democrats who want great schools and Republicans who would dismantle Wisconsin's commitment to public education.
As for the "American Federation for Children," they were just making excuses.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org