2012-06-07 13:00:28

What went wrong in Wisconsin

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Most people are surprised when I tell them that I was born and raised in Wisconsin until the inevitable regional language flap (I say “water bubbler,” you say “water fountain”). I’ve trained my tongue to conform to a more region-less lingo. But when asked, I’m clear about my origins.

I had admittedly been monitoring the recall for Governor Scott Walker peripherally for months. Dispatches from my little sister indicated that black Milwaukee votes were united against Scott Walker and by default, aligned with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Living in Brooklyn, my knowledge of Wisconsin politics has diminished to poor snatches of memory. I think I met Tom Barrett once, when he was my state senator, but hindsight is fuzzy. My memory lands on aluminum lawn signs in red enamel and white lettering that read Tom Barrett for [State Senate, Assembly, Congress].

Wisconsin is the dairy state. The state motto is Forward. Wisconsin is so American that it produced the labor movement and the Machievellian Joe McCarthy. Wisconsin makes cheese, Wisconsin breeds football dynasties. The Wisconsin labor movement failed in recalling Scott Walker from the governor’s seat, the Wisconsin labor movement may have succeeded in securing Democratic Party control over the State Senate:

Democrats appeared to have assumed control of the state Senate with results posted early  Wednesday showing former Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) defeating incumbent Van Wanggaard in a tight race.

Republicans held on to three other state Senate seats in Tuesday’s recall voting. Democratic challengers lost recalls bids against Sens. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls.)…

In a statement, Senate Democratic Leader Mark Miller said:

“Tonight, Wisconsinites across the 21st Senate District elected a new State Senator. By electing a Democratic Senate, the people of Wisconsin have opened the door to responsible dialogue and if needed provide a bulwark against continued political extremism, and restored checks and balances to the Wisconsin Legislature.”

Yeah, I’m the American who tries to find the silver lining here. I’m from Wisconsin; I’m trying to move forward. Regardless, this development is critical to me. Barrett by all accounts (family), had been a pretty weak candidate from the jump. The loss is no surprise, just a disappointment and a bellwether of the Democratic party’s weaknesses in future state electoral contests. As Lorrie Moore notes:

Widely considered “more electable” Milwaukee mayor, Tom Barrett, who defeated Falk in the primary, has been defeated by Walker before, in the 2010 gubernatorial election, so what constitutes electability for the Democrats is a little fuzzy. Barrett was said to have run a lackluster campaign in 2010, but luster is still not his strong suit: he remains stolid and mild and intelligent, perhaps temperamentally unsuited for campaign life, though he can do fieriness if absolutely necessary.

But that is all moot. The big takeaway is  the GOTV ground game on the left, which while successful, was completely drowned out by the huge influx of out-of-state cash. Six months of pro-Walker ads and exit polls report that Wisconites made up their minds a month ahead of the election or earlier.

Yet, the tenuously good news (until the November elections) for the hybrid left/progressive agenda is that a Democratically controlled State Senate is will prohibit Walker from advancing extreme conservative policies without  some pushback.  That tells me that some Wisconites prefer a balance of opposites, rather than majority rule from the Right. The 2010 election brought on pure Republican/right dominance over Wisconsin state politics, which led to the recall movement. There is a threadbare system of checks and balances at work now.

The other upshot ? Exit polling indicates that Obama still leads Romney in November.  There’s a small comfort that my home state’s 11 electoral votes will be put to good use.

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