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Democratic Party chairman called on to resign due to lobbying gig

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MADISON (AP) - Despite calls from within the Democratic Party that he resign as chairman due to his work as an AT&T lobbyist, Joe Wineke said Wednesday he has no intention of stepping aside or giving up his gig for the telecommunications giant.

The Eau Claire County Democrats passed a resolution last week calling on Wineke to resign as chairman because he is a registered lobbyist for AT&T on a contentious bill designed to ease the company's movement into the state's cable TV market.

A resolution passed last week by Wood County Democrats said Wineke needs to either serve as chairman or AT&T lobbyist, but not both. The chairman of the Wood County Democrats, Dave Wille, declined to comment pending a meeting he had scheduled with Wineke in Madison next week.

A similar resolution calling on Wineke to resign or stop lobbying failed by one vote in La Crosse County, said that county's party chairman Fabio Burgos. Instead, a letter will be sent to Wineke next week expressing county Democrats' displeasure with his decision to lobby, Burgos said.

Wineke's lobbying for the bill gives the impression that it has the party's support, even though some in the party oppose it, said Katy Phillips, chairwoman of the Eau Claire County Democratic Party. The party has not taken a position on the bill.

"It can be a conflict of interest. I feel he's tainting our party this way," Phillips said. "We just felt a paid lobbying position was wrong from our chair."

Wineke rejected that argument, saying he notified the party when he ran for chair in 2005 that he may lobby on bills while serving as chairman. He said it is clear that he is not speaking on behalf of the party when he lobbies for the cable bill.

Phillips said she and the party members who voted for the resolution oppose the cable bill. But it was the alleged conflict of interest, and not their position on the legislation, that prompted them to call for Wineke's resignation, she said.

"Really the big issue here is working as a paid lobbyist for any entity," she said. "All we're looking for is good, clean, honest government."

Since taking over as chairman two years ago, Wineke has declined to accept a salary from the party and earns his living as a consultant.

"If I'm not taking a salary, I do need to make a living," he said.

Those with concerns about Wineke's role feel like they are being ignored by party leadership, said Melanie Franklin, the incoming district chairwoman for the 19 counties in western Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District.

"In a way, I think it's dividing the party," she said.

A former lawmaker who served in the Assembly and the Senate between 1983 and 1999, Wineke operates a consulting business in Verona. He said he signed a contract with AT&T in January that pays him $2,000 a month, and he will continue working for the company even after the cable bill is resolved.

Wineke is not lobbying on any other bills now and said he does not know if he will before the session ends. He is one of 16 lobbyists hired by AT&T to work the cable bill.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, has passed the Assembly but the Senate version is stuck in the Joint Finance Committee.

The heavily lobbied measure would end the 30-year-old practice of letting local communities negotiate service agreements and instead have the state do it.

Supporters say it will provide competition where there is none and reduce the cost of delivering telecasts. But opponents argue it does not guarantee competition, or competitive pricing, and large telecommunications companies are unlikely to set up shop in more sparsely populated parts of the state.

Wineke's lobbying comes at the same time his two-year term as party chairman is up. He is seeking another two-year term, which will be voted on at the party convention next month. Wineke said he knows of no one who is challenging him.

Phillips said she wants the concerns over his lobbying discussed at the annual meeting.

Milwaukee County Democratic Party Chairwoman Martha Love defended Wineke's lobbying, saying it has not conflicted with his work leading the party.

"Joe most certainly is doing an outstanding job in terms of advancing the concerns of grass roots constituency throughout the state," Love said.

His work as a lobbyist was discussed by Milwaukee County Democrats, but deferred without any action taken, she said.

The Democratic Party has been successful under Wineke's tenure, winning majority control of the Senate in the 2006 election, keeping the governor's office in Democratic control, winning the 8th Congressional District seat previously held by a Republican, and reducing Republican control of the Assembly by eight seats.

"I'm very proud of my role as chairman of this party and the successes they've had," Wineke said. "I'm in this to win elections. I'm not in it as a popularity contest."

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