In 2010, what I knew and cared about Wisconsin came to this – my kid brother’s in-laws lived there and Wisconsin’s big dairy farms made cheese the competed with my state’s little farms. I don’t follow football, so while I knew that the Green Bay Packers existed, I really didn’t care, though the cheese hats are cute.
Then Scott Walker was elected governor, and the state legislature was remade into a Republican juggernaut run by brothers Scott and Jeff Fitzgerald, and everyone in America had a chance to see the grand Republican agenda up close and in microcosm.
There is an old saying, “all politics is local.” Wisconsin has disproved that adage for all times. A Tea Party member on NBC News tonight said, “If Gov. Walker doesn’t get the support he needs, who’s going to make these big, bold, tough decisions.” The “big, bold, tough decisions” she is talking about are supposed to be eliminating government budget deficits, paying down government debts and imposing fiscal responsibility in government. That’s what the Tea Party has campaigned on for the past four years. But, it is how those things are achieved, and the “collateral damage” of making those “big, bold, tough decisions” that are at issue, in Wisconsin and across the country. At its core, it is about who benefits from those decisions and who is guiding public opinion that are at stake.
I have been told by Wisconsinites that Walker is a true patriot of strong moral character, has created jobs, has limped along in his recall campaign against the huge money being spent by national labor unions, saved the school systems a billion dollars allowing them to hire more teachers, and eliminated the state’s crushing deficits. Part of how he did this was by ending the teachers unions’ private health insurance system, a system that allegedly was costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars above what would be paid to other providers. But Wisconsin newspapers tell another story.
I could sit here and tick off all the ways Walker’s actual record does not match what those loyal Walker supporters have said, from the disconnection between his claim of jobs created and the unemployment numbers, to the way his “budget cutting” closed DMV offices in primarily Democratic districts with the state’s highest percentages of people who don’t have drivers licenses. It would take pages. And that is not the issue here, not really.
Why would almost half of Wisconsin’s voters believe Walker’s talking points and ignore the facts that have been presented to them by their local newspapers and television stations? Why is the same divide between what voters are believing and what their local journalists are telling them exist in Michigan, Ohio and Florida? Because this is not a local government functioning for the people of Wisconsin, but an agenda created, driven and propagandized by national interests.
Wisconsin matters because in Ohio, John Kasich didn’t spare the police and firefighters from his union busting, all because some hapless traffic cop got surly with Kasich once. When did our “first responder heroes” become “union thugs”?
Wisconsin matters because in Michigan, Rick Snyder’s version of “big, bold, tough decisions” is the dismantling of local governments and the appointment of “emergency managers” who report only to Snyder and are not accountable to the people of the seized communities. In the first such case, he appointed a man with a personal interest in selling the town’s public park to private developers for a golf resort.
Wisconsin matters because in Florida, Rick Scott tried to prove the conservative tenet that welfare queens are drug users, costing the state tens of thousands of dollars to reimburse the welfare recipients who passed the drug test. It turns out welfare recipients use drugs at half the rate of the general population. Scott has followed up the welfare drug debacle with an order to purge the voter rolls of non-citizens, because as everyone in the conservative wing knows, the only reason Barack Obama won Florida is because tens of thousands of illegal immigrants voted for him. His hit squad purged a decorated 91-year old WWII vet who first voted when FDR was President. In fact, of the thousands of purged voters, only 13 have been found to not be citizens and only four have actually voted, one in each election since 1996. Another thousand are still scrambling to acquire birth certificates or other documentation. And the state did all this during an election year, when it is illegal to pull this kind of purge.
Wisconsin matters because in several states, legislatures are standing on the brink of creating a state religion, passing laws that have no basis except to bring civil law into line with the ideology of a minority religion. The anti-abortion laws and anti-same sex marriage laws have been written by outside groups.
Wisconsin matters because a dozen states have passed photo ID laws for voting, even though you don’t need two people with their shoes off to count the number of proven cases of voter fraud (not registration fraud) since 2001. Walker used the excuse of budget cutting to close DMV offices in Democratic districts with high percentages of voters who don’t have drivers licenses, not uncommon among city dwellers. In Texas, the majority of those who don’t drive and don’t have photo ID live at least 10 miles from the nearest DMV office. These laws were prepared by ALEC, the right wing legislation-writing think tank.
Wisconsin matters because what is standing between the people of Wisconsin and facts about Scott Walker is the national right wing media.
Wisconsin newspapers have reported extensively on the so-called “John Doe” investigation. Several members of Walker’s staff from the Milwaukee County Executive’s office were appointed personally by him and worked only on his campaign for governor. They have been indicted and the investigation is focusing on Walker. They have questioned where Walker got the billion dollars to give to local governments after the recall petitions were filed, which allowed them to rehire teachers and municipal workers they had laid off. They want to know how Walker’s Department of Workforce Development came up with the figure 29,000 new jobs, when 16 months of job reports said the state was losing jobs every month since Walker took office. Take just one statistic from the DWD – people who were receiving unemployment benefit checks on February 5, 2012 – twenty weeks ago. There were 130,000 of them. Now, only 77,000 are receiving benefits. During those twenty weeks, claims for new benefits stayed level at around 100,000. That should mean 200,000 people were added to the unemployment rolls, but continuing claims are only 77,000. What the hell happened to almost a quarter of a million unemployed? If they all got jobs, why is Walker only claiming 29,000?
Take a good look in Scott Walker’s eyes. My first thought seeing him was “those are the dead eyes of a man without a soul.”
Scott Walker has received tens of millions of dollars in campaign donations from out-of-state. The Koch brothers of New York and Kansas pledged as much money as it would take to help him retain his governorship. The last available figure put this recall election at over $60 million dollars, the overwhelming majority of it for Walker. And the Kochs sent their Americans for Prosperity bus around the state this weekend to rally the troops for Walker. At least the AFP bus is a bit more honest than their last bus – the Tea Party Express. They funded that effort, on the QT, and paid the salaries of the Dick Armey and his supposedly grassroots crew.
And backing it all up is the right wing media, which has spent thirty years convincing people who practice low effort thinking that the rest of the media is corrupt and biased and communist-leaning. So those who are viewers and listeners of right wing media block out all other information and when they do encounter it, they call it lies.
This is the what the prize is in Wisconsin. Not the governorship, and not the three senate seats. The prize in Wisconsin is truth. The prize is the rights of free Americans to exercise their Constitutional rights. The prize is our power to determine the future of this country, and be liberated from those who seek the power to control it for their own ends – the billionaires with no consciences, the people who created this economic crisis, the politicians who want power at all costs, the media personalities who get off on the power of manipulating the “mindless masses.”
Consider this small fact. Paul Ryan is a Congressman from Wisconsin. He is one of Wisconsin’s native sons, and a member of the family which founded and runs Ryan Incorporated, a huge construction company that deals primarily in infrastructure work – roads, bridges, and earth moving. Almost every infrastructure contractor in America is hurting, the worst in those states that used the stimulus money to fill their budget holes instead of using it for infrastructure. They all have the some complaint – the states have no money for roads and bridges and the federal funds have been tied up by the Republicans – by Paul Ryan’s own party, by his own budget plan, by his dream of cutting off Federal funds for almost everything except the military and Congress itself. And for almost 14 years, Ryan’s little trust-funded butt has been squatting in his office to “save” himself the estimated $16,000 a year it would cost to rent an apartment with other members of Congress the way Congresswomen do. It is impossible to know what impact the Republican agenda has had on Ryan’s family business, but if the rest of the industry is any indication, it is not good.
But for Paul Ryan, the ideology of cutting taxes for his family’s business outweighs the lack of contracts for their business. That is the kind of mind we are fighting in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Kansas, across the South, in Arizona and Texas. The ideology of supply-side, trickle-down economics has taken us into the Great Depression and every recession since then. The deregulation of financial institutions collapsed the savings and loan industry and almost collapsed the biggest banks in the country. Economists are warning that if the Republicans continue on their current course we will enter the Second Great Depression in 2013.
Wisconsin matters because it is the first battleground, the first place that we can put an end to a course of action that will destroy this country, while those who are doing so keep repeating that they are “taking our country back.” They just never say to when or from whom.
They are trying to take it back from us, from the 99%, from working Americans who can’t find decent jobs, from our children and our children’s children who have no future.
It is up to the voters of Wisconsin now. It’s kind of frightening actually. There is more to Tuesday than just their local election. They can change the course of this nation, turn it from what history tells us is a suicidal course to economic destruction and the loss of the rights we have spent 236 years fighting and dying for. That’s an awful lot to put on the shoulders of 2,130,000 voters.