Douglas Mullenix, 32, of Menasha, has been crossing the District from Oconomowoc to Lodi, giving voters the option of a moderate vote for a historically purple state in the House of Representatives.
While gerrymandering of districts has often pushed candidate priorities to appealing to the more extreme elements of their party in order to secure a primary victory, leading to an all-but-guaranteed general election, Mullenix is betting the majority of constituents are looking for something in-between.
“Most primary races are run to the right or to the left of the person in office, for example, AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York] is the prime example of that. But you can’t get any further right than Glenn Grothman,” said Mullenix. “I think Glenn is a little too far, appealing to a small percentage of voters and not paying attention to all the constituents in the district.”
The spark of his campaign started in 2020 when the health care consultant (having previously worked in private equity finance) found many of his clients sidelined as non-essential in the midst of the COVID-19 quarantine. The ensuing concerns about mental health motivated him to political action.
“I came up with a couple really simple proposals,” said Mullenix. “Number one is making mental health care deemed medically necessary under law, and if you’re a vet and you have PTSD, you get 100% disability, you don’t have to go through all the red tape.”
He reached out to his representative to see what could be done to address these issues, but was repeatedly rebuffed. This led Mullenix to decide to try cutting out the middle-man: “You get ignored long enough and then you think, ‘I’ll run and take care of that myself.’”
Since hitting the road, some priorities have shifted from the original platform focusing on veterans affairs and mental health treatment.
Traveling around the district, Mullenix kept hearing concerns about conservation, and specifically the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937, which takes tax revenue from firearms and similar outdoor-related industries and, bypassing Congress, directs that funding toward local conservation.
Wisconsin Representatives Grothman and Tom Tiffany have both signed on to a proposal that would repeal the Pittman-Robertson Act.
“That was a particular concern to people in Columbia County,” said Mullenix. “’We love our conservation in Wisconsin, what happens if Glenn gets rid of it?’”
As well, Mullenix looks at that program and sees some potential for addressing mental health issues in the country. This overlaps with a motivating issue for many Democratic candidates in recent years: addressing gun violence.
Public safety and public health
“We’ve seen the horrible shootings over the past couple weeks, past couple months, culminating in that July 4th parade shooting,” said Mullenix.
The shooting, only a couple hours or less away from many of the district’s constituents, also brought to mind parades he had been in before and after, leading to the question of, “What can we do?”
Mullenix points out that he sees this as different from different from an approach of a “perfect world” scenario.
“Pretty much all of these shooters…you’re dealing with people with mental health issues,” said Mullenix. “Look no further than the guy in the July 4 shooting…this is where you have to tackle mental health and you have to start taking this seriously.”
Although background checks have a place, Mullenix explained, they are not fool-proof, and to be effective, they need to be consistently enforced.
“But this is a mental health issue that we have to start taking that seriously and that’s why I’m proposing that mental health needs to be treated under law the same as physical health,” said Mullenix.
While calls for national police policy reform and and the slogan “defund the police,” have been divisive among some groups and accused of doing more to push moderate voters to vocally pro-police candidates than spur policing reform, Mullenix sees at least one core issue that all sides would seemingly like to see addressed.
“The positive underlying message was that you are bringing in police officers into a situation that a mental health expert needs to handle,” said Mullenix. “If you want to fix the problems that ‘defund the police’ advocates were wanting addressed, the answer is actually funding the police and increasing those budgets.”
Increased funding could allow departments to invest in more resources aimed toward mental health crisis resolution, as opposed to continuing to ask officers without relevant expertise to handle all of those cases in addition to traditional law enforcement.
The details would be best handled more locally, according to Mullinex, wary of any attempts to homogenize departments nationally, whether Lodi, Madison, or Portland. However, he said he could see support in the model of the Pittman-Robertson Act, but directed toward mental health support as opposed to conservation. That model of program would also seemingly prevent the issues of a “big pot of money” used for any irrelevant purposes.
“You’re talking to a financial consultant, there’s nobody that can go through a budget better than I can, finding the wasteful dollars,” said Mullenix, pointing to a particular example of catching money intended for cataract surgery going toward a person’s cable bill.
Mullenix also sees wasted time and effort in hardline positions on “culture war” issues on which there is already overwhelming support from voters one way or the other, albeit with differences on details.
Many of these issues are liable to come before legislators in the near future as the U.S. Supreme Court, issued notable opinions of recent indicating that several areas previously decided by the court, should be covered by the legislature.
Mullenix cites Thomas Jefferson’s indication in founding documents that liberty is granted by one’s creator, and not federal or state government, which is a position he says has earned him a title of “persona non grata” as he would apply the reasoning to the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade.
A more recent landmark case, establishing gay marriage as a protected personal right, was the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges. This is an issue that came before Congress on Tuesday in the Respect for Marriage Act, which would codify protection of interracial and same-sex marriage.
“Glenn has traditionally rallied against what he feels is ‘judicial activism,’ which I would not always agree with, and uses that to sidestep the issue of gay marriage, and today he gets to vote on it,” said Mullenix. “I’ll be fascinated to see what happens today when he is given the opportunity to actually legislate.”
The bill passed in the House of Representatives by a bipartisan vote of 267 (including 47 Republicans) to 157 (Grothman voting against).
“I don’t care who I might offend, but gay marriage needs to be defended,” said Mullenix. “Love is love. I find it absurd that there is even the potential it could be overturned. It has been turned over to the legislature and I think it should be a unanimous vote. But I’m not sure my congressman is going to vote that way.”
Alternatively, Mullenix expects that he has not won support among teachers’ unions, given a prominent position of supporting “school choice” as he advocates on his website. Although he may be taking on Glenn Grothman, on his campaign website he also points to recently elected Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin as an example:
”We’ve seen the resiliency of the American family just this past year Virginia and Glenn Youngkin showed that parents will not sit idle while their children’s education is depleted, and we have seen similar movements here in Wisconsin pushing back against Governor Evers and his enablers.”
In Wisconsin, schools are limited in their fundraising options by state-mandated revenue limits. Among the alternatives are referendum funding and federal assistance.
“I’m very hesitant to bring federal influence on a school board per se,” said Mullenix. “However, I will say this, when you look at the federal government there is massive spending–about $6 trillion–education is one area that does pay off. It is one area that is worth investing towards.”
In terms of the choices available, Mullenix says that he recognizes that there may be potential concerns for families that are atheist or of a non-Christian faith, given the dominance of Christian-based schools in much of the state.
“I’m Jewish, so I fall into one of those minority groups and there aren’t many Jewish schools, and I understand this concern,” said Mullenix. “A lot of the schools around here tend to be Lutheran or Presbyterian–I view it this way: the parent is the taxpayer and what this is doing is basically giving the parent the taxpayer dollars to go send their child where they want.”
If a family finds a better school option with a religious affiliation that doesn’t line up with their own, that will be part of their consideration and may or may not be worth the compromise, according to Mullenix.
Mullenix’s schedule will be filled the next couple of weeks as he continues his tour of Southern Wisconsin, but so far he says that he has found many potential voters who are interested in workable solutions and compromise to deliver solutions to the myriad concerns in Wisconsin homes.
“I’ve been accused of some very conservative outlets saying I’m a Democrat, that I’m a wolf in sheep’s clothing–nothing could be further from the truth,” said Mullenix, “but some Democrat voters might cross over and vote in the Republican primary and I view that as us Republicans understanding that we need to expand our voter offerings. We can’t isolate ourselves.”