Madison in the Sixties – Elections
November 8, 1960. 55,600 voters, an astonishing 88% of Madison’s registered voters go to the polls, giving a narrow local majority to Democratic candidate Sen. John F. Kennedy, who also carries Dane County. First-term US Rep Bob Kastenmeier (D-Watertown) is easily elected to a second term, as is Gov. Gaylord Nelson, the first Democrat to win a second term as the state’s chief executive since 1892, and only the fourth Democrat to win re-election since 1848. County Clerk Otto Festge leads a sweep as the entire slate of eight Democratic incumbents in Dane County offices win by nearly two-to-one, as the county also set a record turnout of 91,944.
But it’s a split decision in the three Madison Assembly races –Norman Anderson and Fred Risser take the eastern and central districts for the Democrats, while Robert Uehling holds West Madison for the Republicans. Statewide voters prove themselves ticket-splitters – reelecting Democrats Nelson and Attorney General John Reynolds, while ousting the incumbent Democratic lieutenant governor and secretary of State, turning the State Assembly from Democratic to Republican, and giving Richard Nixon the state’s 12 electoral votes.
It’s another split decision in 1962. Nelson easily ends U.S. Senator Alexander Wiley’s bid for a fifth term, while Attorney General Reynolds ekes out a narrow victory to succeed him in the East Wing. But the rest of the Capitol is solidly Republican, as the GOP sweeps the four other constitutional offices and holds both houses of the legislature.
GOP efforts to stymie Reynolds pay off in 1964, as Republican Lieutenant Governor Warren Knowles beats him handily, even as Pres. Lyndon Johnson is cruising to victory statewide. It’s another record turnout – 60,758 of Madison’s 71,048 registered voters make it to the polls, the highest turnout ever, and at 85.5 percent, just down from the 1960 figure. And yet another split decision, as Madison realtor and former Democratic party chair Pat Lucey wins his race for Lieutenant Governor, Bronson La Follette becomes the first in his distinguished family to succeed as a Democrat by unseating Attorney General George Thompson, and the Democrats retake the Assembly.
President Johnson’s off-year campaign season is disastrous for Democrats, as Republicans notch big gains in 1966. Knowles is easily re-elected over Lucey, leading a near-sweep that leaves La Follette the only Democrat in statewide office and Republicans again holding both houses of the legislature. Republicans take 7 of the state’s ten seats in Congress, and even crack Democratic control of Dane County with Floyd McBurney’s upset victory over incumbent District Attorney Michael Torphy. One thing stays the same- Madison voters handily approve another school bond issue, agreeing to borrow 26 and a half million dollars by just about two to one. The bond issue will finance a five-year construction and remodeling program which includes 12 new elementary schools, four new junior high schools, a new High school on the far east side and six school additions.
But there is one new wrinkle – five antiwar protesters are arrested for campaigning too close to the polling place at the City County Building. Activists Lea Zeldin, who was one of the leading hecklers driving Sen. Edward Kennedy from the Stock Pavilion stage during a Lucey campaign event in late October, and Bourtai Scudder, among those arrested during a demonstration at the Truax Air Base in October 1965 are arrested along with three young men after they refused police orders to leave the Monona Avenue entrance to the building. Police also confiscate fifteen signs and nearly 2000 mimeographed leaflets urging a write-in vote for Mrs. Scudder as a “peace candidate” for Congress against incumbent Rep. Kastenmeier, himself one of Washington’s leading doves. The city off-year turnout dips to 45,178, or 65 % of registered voters, about 15 percent higher than the countywide total.
The decade’s last election reprises the first, as Republican Richard Nixon again takes the Badger State’s 12 electoral votes, this time with 47.89% of the tally. Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey finishes with 44.27% and independent candidate, segregationist Democratic governor of Alabama George Wallace takes 7.56%. Republican Gov. Knowles wins an easy re-election over Attorney General La Follette, even carrying Dane County as he leads the GOP to a sweep of all five statewide constitutional offices. Republicans also lock up the local law and order offices. James C. Boll, who had been appointed District Attorney after the death of Floyd McBurney, wins a full term and former Democrat Vernon “Jack” Leslie is elected Sheriff. Leslie changed parties in 1967, after the Dane County Democratic Party honored local Quaker Betty Boardman for bringing medical supplies to North Vietnam. The only Democratic bright spot is Nelson’s easy re-election to the US Senate.
Something new this year – a massive, coordinated effort by local Republicans to challenge the eligibility of younger voters in student wards, with at least one former university student being arrested when he tried to inform voters of the law about challenged ballots. An editor of the Daily Cardinal is also threatened with arrest by a Republican poll-watcher at a downtown polling place as she talked to voters. City attorney Edwin Conrad says Republicans were “very definitely” engaging is widespread challenges, but claims no student had been deprived of the right to vote – although several students leave their polling place rather than deal with the hassle. Eight ward alder and graduate student Paul Soglin says “the harassment the students went through at the polls today is one more justification of why young people turn to the politics of the street.” Radical attorney Melvin Greenberg calls the Republican effort “wholesale harassment and intimidation” of the students, and says the FBI has been asked to investigate whether Republicans violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the sixties. For your award-winning, early-voting, mask-wearing hand washing socially distant WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.
Edwin Stein photo of Sen. John F. Kennedy at the UW Field House, Oct. 23 1960 courtesy Capital Newspapers Archives.