Wisconsin Wonder

In 1997, Tammy Baldwin had been campaigning hard for U.S. Congress when former Dane County Executive Rick Phelps jumped into the race.

At the time, Phelps was extremely popular — he’d won his last election in a landslide, with 74 percent of the vote. He had so much clout with Democrats that he was being promoted as a challenger to three-term incumbent Gov. Tommy Thompson.

“There was a lot of hubbub around that because he was a very well-known progressive,” says Kate Peyton, who worked as financial director for Baldwin’s congressional campaigns. “He was a very formidable candidate.”

Peyton remembers strategizing at Baldwin’s house on the near east side and saying: “Well Tammy, maybe you want to rethink what you’re doing because it’s going to be tough.

“Our soft-spoken friend looked me right in the eye and asked, ‘Kate. Do you think I should wait my turn?’” says Peyton.

What Baldwin said next has stuck with Peyton for two decades: “In a very steely way Tammy said, ‘I believe that women have to run especially when it’s hard and not wait our turn. We can’t wait until we get a tap on our shoulder or we’ll never get anywhere.’”

Baldwin won the race against Phelps in a four-way Democratic primary. That November, she defeated Republican Josephine Musser to become the very first woman elected to Congress in Wisconsin. It wouldn’t be the first or last time that Baldwin would make history.

Baldwin’s road to the U.S. Senate is littered with the shards of glass ceilings. She was the first openly gay member of the Wisconsin Legislature. The first openly gay member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The first woman to be elected a U.S. senator in Wisconsin. And the first openly gay senator in the nation’s history.

Read more at The Isthmus.