The Coming Elections: Make or Break Time for Wisconsin


    This coming November, Wisconsinites will make one of the more momentous and far-reaching decisions in the political history of our state.  That decision is whether to re-elect Scott Walker as Governor or replace him with his Democratic challenger Mary Burke. If Walker wins, one future, already fast-tracked by the Republican-dominated state legislature, will unfold; if Burke wins, a very different future is possible.
    I believe that the fate of democracy in our state hangs in the balance in this election.  If Walker prevails, government by, of and for the people will be further eroded toward corporate oligarchy, rule by the wealthy few.  On the other hand, if Burke becomes Governor, representative democracy still has a fighting chance in Wisconsin.  (A turnover of the state senate to Democratic control could achieve the same effect, though political observers consider such an upset statistically less likely.  Let us not forget the importance of turnout in mid-term elections.)
    The present diminishment of Wisconsin's democracy has resulted from multiple factors.  The financial meltdown of 2008 and accompanying recession virtually guaranteed that state governments would be blamed for a nation-wide debacle over which they had little or no actual influence.  The exclusive hand-over of Wisconsin's state government to the GOP in the 2010 elections might not have occurred under a healthier national economy.  Voters threw a collective temper tantrum, one consequence of which was the election of Scott Walker.  Other wreckage of that election included the eviction from office of champions of the people like Senator Russ Feingold in Wisconsin and the late Representative Jim Oberstar in Minnesota. 
    Walker's rise to power, combined with Republican control of both chambers of the state government, has given the right wing carte blanche to enact a radical agenda driven by the American Legislature Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch Brothers.  These forces have ruled virtually unchecked by an effective Democratic counter-force.  To compound the disaster, Republicans seized the ready opportunity to gerrymander state district lines so as to favor incumbents in ways that may not be mitigated until long after the next census in 2020.  In districts redrawn to favor incumbent parties, extremists double down, trying to outdo each other to prove their credentials to the party faithful who mainly determine the outcome of primary elections.  Thus winner-take-all politics have virtually driven moderation out of our state government, especially among Republicans.
    One could fill pages with the disheartening litany of the Walker administration's actions to reverse Wisconsin's progressive tradition:  curtailing collective bargaining rights for public employees; attacks on education, health care access, women's rights and local control by municipal governments; weakening of environmental regulations, diminishment or sale of publicly-held commons; voter suppression measures designed to discourage minorities, the elderly and students (Democratic-leaning constituencies) away from the polls; policies favoring the rich and unfairly disadvantaging the poor; hostility toward clean energy and rail development -- the Walker Dishonor Roll goes on and on.
    The Walker administration's environmental policies should be especially troubling to those who care what sort of world we leave our children and grandchildren.  Private investment in renewable energy, encouraged and supported by government in some of our neighboring states, has largely left Wisconsin under the environmentally regressive Walker regime.  A friend of mine working out of Minnesota to promote alternatives to fossil fuels in the Midwest tells me that Wisconsin is widely viewed as a "dark place" in which sustainable energy efforts are discouraged by political hostility to such initiatives.  In addition, environmental advocacy groups in Wisconsin have lost national philanthropic support because the Wisconsin policy climate is seen, in the words of my friend, as "stalled and unworkable."
    Then there's the troubling matter of criminality in the Walker administration.  At least a half dozen of Walker's employees or associates have already gone to jail for illegal activities undertaken, if without direct knowledge of, at least in close proximity to their boss.  A second "John Doe" criminal investigation, said to come much nearer to Walker himself, is tied up in the courts as of this writing.  No one knows what will happen, but this is a time bomb that may still blow up in Walker's -- and Wisconsin's -- face.
    As for Walker's character, even the governor's political ally Republican State Senate President Mike Ellis was secretly recorded in April saying that "Walker's working for Walker," not the people of Wisconsin.  Many Republican lawmakers no doubt privately express similar misgivings about our Governor and his presidential ambitions; unlike the outspoken Ellis, few have the political daring to say so openly, for fear of being "primaried" by more extreme right-wing "tea partiers."  And thus proceeds the unseemly spectacle of the GOP eating itself, as more moderate Republicans are systematically purged from office.
    One might mention also the shocking ease and swiftness with which the blogger Ian Murphy, posing as David Koch, got Governor Walker to reveal his true colors in 2011.  The infamous phone conversation, which can be heard in its revelatory entirety on Youtube, finds Walker cravenly toadying up to the faux-Koch and openly discussing underhanded and illegal methods of sabotaging the enormous daily protests occurring at that time around the State Capitol.  (Walker also confided to billionaire donor Diane Hendricks that he intended to break the public sector unions through a "divide and conquer" strategy, an incriminating admission captured on videotape.)  For web addresses, see Smoking Guns below.
    Three years later, democracy remains a dim flickering on the Wisconsin landscape.  This November is make or break time for Wisconsin:  we'll either allow that flickering subside further into darkness or encourage the flame to burn brighter again.  Our state was once an exemplar of clean, transparent government.  The question, "Can we restore good government to Wisconsin?" will be answered in the 2014 elections.  Mary Burke is a decent, level-headed moderate who will work to heal the tensions between family, friends, and neighbors Walker has cultivated with his "divide-and-conquer" tactics.  As Secretary of Commerce in the Doyle administration, Burke helped create jobs and promote fairness in an economy that worked reasonably well until the 2008 financial meltdown.  If we choose her and the Democrats, the destructive agenda of ALEC and the Koch brothers will be subject to a moderating force that may allow a return to the divided government that has traditionally meant health and balance to Wisconsin's public policy-making.  If on the other hand Walker is allowed to pursue his extreme agenda for another term, absent significant Democratic victories in the state legislature, we will likely have to watch Wisconsin's continuing painful decline play out in numerous ugly ways over the next few decades.  Mary Burke may be our last firewall against forfeiting the greatness of Wisconsin as a national leader in grassroots democracy, the state we have rightfully revered and called our home.


SMOKING GUNS:
Youtube Sources

Scott Walker's February 23, 2011 conversation with David Koch impersonator Ian Murphy at www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBnSv3a6Nh4

Walker's incriminating "divide and conquer" remarks of January 18, 2011 to billionaire donor Diane Hendricks can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEG7yGeUQUo

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