Change Agents

Given that my business is Systems Change Consulting, it caught my attention when Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis) asserted that both he and Donald Trump were change agents during his recent debate with former Sen. Russ Feingold who is seeking his former seat back from Johnson. His claim reminded me of the time when someone from the Tea Party contacted me with an offer to improve my website. Needless to say, I did not accept his offer, but his offer gave me pause. What I realized then, and Johnson’s debate claim confirmed, is that those who desire systems change come from both sides of the political spectrum.

The mere fact that someone works to change the system does not mean that they want to make the system in question work better for the vast majority of people. Nor, does the fact that someone is a change agent equate to accomplishing change that will improve the lives of those who are most challenged by the status quo.

My firm, Systems Change Consulting, works on solving problems for those in greatest need so I focus

on making progressive systems change in the areas of civil rights, disability rights, general and special education, and combating abuse and neglect of vulnerable populations.


In Sen. Johnson’s case, apparently he believes that being a change agent includes:

  • causing dysfunction in the U.S. Supreme Court by failing to hold hearings and vote on President Obama’s nomination for the now 7 month old vacancy on the court;
  • prohibiting all federal funding for abortion services;
  • insisting on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution regardless of the economic consequences to our nation;
  • supporting prayer in our public schools;
  • refusing to believe the clear scientific evidence that humans contribute to global warming and voted to oppose the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses;
  • voting against protecting ocean and Great Lakes ecosystems;
  • voting against banning high capacity (10 or more bullets) gun magazines;
  • claiming that the Affordable Care Act is the single greatest assault on American freedom;
  • opposing granting amnesty for any undocumented immigrants; and
  • claiming that Social Security is a giant ponzi scheme.

Indeed, if Sen. Johnson prevailed in every instance, he could properly be called a change agent. However, it would not be the type of change which would help most people or the people who need the most help.

My view of systems change is quite different. While many public and private systems could use a healthy dose of change, that change should be focused on providing the greatest good for those in greatest need. This includes:

  • improving public education for children with disabilities and other populations groups experiencing significant disparities in achievement;
  • providing food, shelter and affordable housing for those without these basic life needs;
  • protecting the civil rights of people with disabilities, people of color, women and other disenfranchised populations so that they can enjoy equal access to housing, employment, and all that life has to offer;
  • removing those who abuse vulnerable people in schools, healthcare settings and in the criminal justice system and compensating those who suffer from such abuse; and
  • making sure that high quality healthcare is available to everyone.

Of course, the list goes on as there are an infinite number of ways in which systems, large and small, public and private, can be changed to improve the lives of those with the greatest need. People like Sen. Johnson and Donald Trump, who work to change the system to the advantage of a small minority of wealthy people who are already enjoying the advantages of their wealth, are not the types of change agents who will benefit our nation.


Is it Time for an Independent Run for US Senate in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin is now considered the most politically polarized state in the country.

Gov. Scott Walker’s approval rating from Republican voters was 92% in a Wisconsin survey last month by Public Policy Polling.

His approval rating from Democratic voters was 9%.

Invert those two numbers and you get something very close to President Barack Obama’s ratings in Wisconsin: 93% approval from Democrats, 4% approval from Republicans.

In both cases, the partisan divide is bigger than anything Public Policy Polling has recorded for governor and president in the 40-plus states where it has polled since 2011.

To date, there are no candidates who have announced a challenge to Gov. Scott Walker, who is up for re-election in November, 2014.  That is not terribly surprising given his convincing victory in last year’s recall election and the daunting task of raising enough money to run an effective campaign against him.

However, Senator Ron Johnson does not have the popularity that Gov. Walker enjoys.  The most recent Marquette Law School poll shows Senator Johnson with a mere 30% approval rating, leading the state’s largest newspaper to opine that he will have a tough re-election campaign in 2016.  There are many reasons for his low rating, but certainly one of them is that he is considered the second most conservative Senator in the US Senate.  Given that Wisconsin just elected the very liberal Tammy Baldwin to the US Senate, that certainly does not bode well for Senator Johnson.

Given Sen. Johnson’s lack of popularity in his own state, it is quite surprising that there have been no official announcements of any Democratic candidates who plan to run against him.  This could be a symptom of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s dysfunction given that it is poised to re-elect its party chair despite its failure to recall Gov. Walker and continuing losses in the state legislature giving Republicans majorities in both houses for two terms in a row (other than a brief lame duck period when the Democrats held a majority in the Senate due to  recalls, which they gave up in November, 2012).

The combined factors of Sen. Johnson’s extreme conservative views, lack of popularity in his home state, and a dysfunctional Democratic party in Wisconsin beg the question of whether an independent candidate could gain the next US Senate seat in Wisconsin.  Needless to say, given that the 2012 US Senate race in Wisconsin was the 7th most expensive race in the country with over $35 million spent in that race, raising sufficient funds without the benefit of party machinery in the era of Citizens United is certainly daunting.

But can it be done?

It has been done elsewhere, and in fact, the November 2012 election saw 2 US Senators win as Independents.  Bernie Sanders was re-elected as an Independent in Vermont, which isn’t terribly surprising given that he held the US House seat in Vermont since 1991.

Perhaps more important was the victory of Independent Angus King in Maine, who is now the first Independent Senator from Maine in a state where the previous Senator was Republican Olympia Snowe.

Ultimately, whether an Independent can win a US Senate seat in Wisconsin in 2016, depends on 3 critical factors:

  • The popularity of the eventual Democratic candidate;
  • The popularity of the Independent candidate; and
  • The ability of the Independent candidate to raise sufficient funds.

Since we are now living in an era where extremely wealthy people like Michael Bloomberg and George Soros can pour millions into such an Independent campaign, such a decision by influential wealthy donors could create a dynamic to make Wisconsin the state to seat a 3rd Independent candidate in the U.S. Senate in 2016.

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.