By now you might have heard that Arthur Kohl-Riggs is running in the Republican primary against Scott Walker. The 23 year old Madison native, heavily involved in documenting the Wisconsin uprising of the last year, is running as a “Lincoln-La Follette Republican,” calling attention to how far the GOP has strayed from its progressive roots.
There are very few twenty-three year olds who have the capabilities, interest and sheer determination to go up against the huge Super PAC funded conservative Republican political machine. Arthur Kohl-Riggs is that kind of guy.
He and his dedicated volunteers collected over 2,000 nomination signatures in about a week. He is campaigning daily and has requested a public debate with the incumbent. The campaign started with a petition drive a month ago, and less than a week remains before the primary election on May 8.
Kohl-Riggs makes it clear that he is less interested in winning the election than he is in providing a forum for a dialogue about the current political atmosphere, particularly in the context of the Wisconsin recall. He has been campaigning non-stop since having his name certified for the primary ballot.
Here I must disclose that I am friends with Arthur Kohl-Riggs and his family and he is a dynamic human being; compassionate, engaged, honorable. He is like the little brother that I never had, a determined winter soldier and one of the smartest people I know.
I met Arthur about a year ago, on an afternoon when he was heading up to the Assembly gallery to watch the proceedings. Since that day, we have both spent a good portion of our time documenting the struggle of Wisconsin under the control of the Scott Walker administration.
He strives to do the right thing everyday and in this case that includes calling attention to Walker’s extreme agenda, educating the public about Walker’s failed policies, and calling for “open and transparent government,” which he claims is nonexistent under the current leadership. He keeps the pressure on Scott Walker by actively campaigning against the embattled governor in the hopes that the constant attention will draw into the dialogue certain segments of the population that might have otherwise remained silent.
To say that Arthur Kohl-Riggs has risen to the occasion is an understatement.
Recently I talked with the candidate to get his comments about election integrity and voter ID legislation, two hot button issues in Wisconsin:
AKR-“Wisconsin, and the United States as a whole, has dismal voter turnout, when we have half of the population participating in elections and voting, then you have a really small percentage of Wisconsinites and Americans deciding who is going to be the leaders and the representatives in this country. I think one of the fundamental barriers between more honest, participatory, representative democracy is engaging people and encouraging and fostering participation in their democratic process.
“Recently the voter ID law was implemented, and I’m not alone in thinking that is a coordinated effort to keep certain people from having easy access to the polling booth. That flies in the face of what our democratic system and process is supposed to facilitate. So, overturning the voter ID law and the undue burdens that were implemented as a part of the voter ID law would be just the first step in restoring access to the ballot box to what it was before Walker took office. I think there are other opportunities to help create an environment of participation. Right now voting day falls on a Tuesday due to this archaic concept of people not being able to travel on the Sabbath, so moving election day to the weekend or making it a holiday, making it a day where there are events put on to encourage and promote participating in our democracy. If children grew up respecting the institution of voting day and going with their parents to the polls or going to public forums to debate the issues at hand to learn about the candidates on the ballot I think it could help people understand the process and the institution.
“Also regarding party politics, the two-party system is not inherent to American democracy …It has become institutionalized in our laws, and has become this force that is impossible to compete with as a third party. Getting money out the electoral process would be one way. It is the most necessary reform to bring honest representation to our electoral process. It is also the biggest challenge and the biggest hurdle facing our democracy. A smaller more attainable solution to help level the playing field would be removing the party identifiers from the ballot so that when people go in, they can still vote for the R or the D, but in this case they need to know who this is. A lot of times candidates win votes from people not based on the content of their platform or the campaign that they ran… but voting for a candidate with the R or the D next to their name. It creates an unfair situation for third party or independent candidates. A solution that I see is that you can still have party affiliation, but just removing the letter from the ballot, so people actually have to know in advance the name of the person that they want to vote for. It still involves an outreach from the campaign instead of just the party identification and that’s just one small step that I feel would help level the playing field.
“The bottom line is that these $100,000 donations to campaigns are really polluting our electoral process, and I think a viable feasible option is a publicly funded state wide campaign program. There’s no reason that campaigns have to cost many millions of dollars. The airwaves, the radio and TV airwaves, we OWN the airwaves. We lease them to these for profit companies, so that they can provide a service to us. If the service to us is for them to extort millions…. provide propaganda to misinform and lie to the citizenry, there is no reason that campaigns should cost as much as they do. With a publicly funded campaign, the state could facilitate an equal amount of time for campaigns to present their message, at no cost and set up several forums and provide a stipend for additional advertising on a reasonable and responsible level. What we have found now is Walker and other candidates spending dozens of millions of dollars to misinform and ultimately lie to the populace, which is a disservice to the people of Wisconsin.”
Are you in favor of hand counted paper ballots?
AKR-“We have seen the power of the computer and the power to manipulate the computer. There are real and serious vulnerabilities to electronic voting that we have not addressed and these pose real security risks to our electoral system. One way to safeguard against those risks and vulnerabilities is hand counted paper ballots.”
Finally, with just under a week before the primary, how are voters responding to your message?
AKR-“The outpouring of support that I have received for my campaign has been overwhelming. I have been getting emails and messages from Republicans and Democrats alike and they greatly appreciate the service that my campaign is providing, bringing to the conversation and opening up the dialogue about our two-party system and the current state of electoral politics in Wisconsin and the country as a whole which otherwise is being entirely ignored.
“We have 7 days left, this has been an expedited campaign in every sense, a compressed campaign overall, it’s really been crunch time since the very beginning. We have another week to help spread the message and get the word out about the Art for Gov campaign and we are trying to utilize that week as effectively and efficiently as possible. We are hitting the road this week, going to a bunch of different campuses and cities around the state to spread the message that there is a challenger to Scott Walker on the May 8th primary ballot.
“Just imagine, the month of May and Walker is out of the election! You won’t have to spend the entire month listening to his radio and TV ads pollute the airwaves. “
Kohl-Rigg’s campaign is gaining momentum with an impressive media presence which began with an op-ed by John Nichols of The Nation, a letter from the candidate in The Cap Times and a celebrity endorsement by Ian Murphy of The Beast. An updated fake David Koch prank call and an interview by Matt Rothschild of The Progressive along with numerous blog posts, video interviews and favorable endorsements and editorials continue to draw attention to the political newcomer. Friends have written personal notes and letters to the editor and volunteers are using social media to organize events to bring attention to Kohl-Riggs living platform, a document that allows for input from constituents. Recently a flurry of television interviews are introducing the entire state to the young Abe Lincoln look-alike who grants all requests for interviews. Even Fox News affiliates are paying attention to Kohl-Riggs. A petition has been started at change.org to gather signatures from citizens who support a debate between Kohl-Riggs and Scott Walker, since the governor has ignored all such requests. Find out more about Arthur Kohl-Riggs campaign to defeat Scott Walker May 8th at www.artforgov.org.