The first article is in the New Yorker from Benjamin Wallace-Wells, is titled “Will the Tea Party Era End Where It Started—In Wisconsin”, and notes how our state has been the prototype of GOP “governance” in the 2010s.
Wallace-Wells notes that this approach doesn’t try for bipartisan consensus to solve real problems, but instead uses tactics and demonization to score political points, and bends rules to grab and retain power by any means necessary. And that approach is something that has distressed many longtime Wisconsinites, including a certain former State Senator who was run out of office in 2014.
At the outset of the twenty-first century, Wisconsin was known for a certain social steadiness. Chilly and saturated with lakes and small towns, it mostly escaped the entropic pressures of exurban sprawl. Its self-identity was not as caught up in industrialization as that of some other Midwestern states, so it was spared some of the psychic pain when manufacturing jobs went overseas. But after the election of the Republican Governor Scott Walker, in 2010, the year of the Tea Party, Wisconsin’s politics grew far more vivid, and bitter. A few weeks into his administration, Walker moved to take away the rights of most public employees to bargain collectively—the notorious Act 10—provoking weeks of enormous rallies at the state capitol and a statewide recall election, which Walker survived. After that, the partisanship only escalated—Walker oversaw a redistricting effort so aggressively gerrymandered that it is now before the United States Supreme Court, a voter-identification law that is said to have disenfranchised two hundred thousand people, and a campaign-finance regime so lax that the current Republican primary for U.S. Senate is widely seen as a proxy war between two billionaire donors. Kenneth Mayer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, told me, “What Wisconsin gave the nation was the model where you could take a very tiny electoral margin and act as if you had won an overwhelming victory, and the other side had no say at all.” Dale Schultz, a Republican who was formerly a leader in the state senate, told me that the early days of the Walker administration “created a malaise that hangs in the state to this day.” …
Schultz retired from politics three years ago—when I reached him, he was in his home town of Richland Center, in southwestern Wisconsin, helping a friend paint a house for rent on Airbnb—and I called him because I was trying to understand the sped-up pace of elections in the state. Already, three months before the primaries and six before the general election, the airwaves in the state are full of partisan invective. “Elections in Wisconsin now are over in June,” Schultz said; it was a function, in his view, of the way campaign-finance laws and norms had changed in the Walker era. Schultz said that ordinary state-senate races now regularly receive the same level of campaign contributions as races for governor did at the beginning of his political career. “All that money comes in early, and it all goes to negative advertising about your opponent, and so by the end of June the election’s over.” Even in state-senate races, where only fifteen thousand total votes might be cast, Schultz said, it has become common for three-quarters of the spending to come from independent groups. The effect has been to turn a politician’s attention to the early competition for outside money and big donors’ favor. “Now you don’t go around your district until after Labor Day, and that’s for show,” Schultz said.
Schultz’s sense of abandonment was broad. He told me that, under Walker, the state’s Republican Party had (in its embrace of vote-suppressing voter-identification measures, in its comfort with deficits and third-party campaign spending, in its passage of budgets that eroded institutions in rural parts of the state, in its unembarrassed partisanship) lost any claim to being either Republican or conservative. “What you have is a bunch of nationalist know-nothing anarchists,” he said.
"We'll just divide and conquer. And you will give me big money."
Wells-Wallace notes that there are some signs that the GOP’s “Cheddar Revolution” of the 2010s is crumbling, as the fallout from having know-nothings and the puppets of oligarchs in charge of the government is becoming evident.
…In May, Paul Ryan, one of Walker’s chief political allies—who, as Speaker of the House, has done more than anyone to channel the spirit of 2010 into a more or less organized politics—announced he was retiring, at only forty-eight years old. When I called conservatives in Madison recently, I heard a general trepidation. “The energy on the Democratic side, especially among women, that’s real,” one senior adviser to a statewide Republican campaign told me. “There are Republicans who think that Walker will save them, that they can play the same tune again, but they don’t realize how jammed up they are.” Others have more existential concerns. “The Tea Party energy is more or less gone,” a longtime conservative insider in Madison told me. In January, a Democrat won a state senate election in a Trump district; in April, another Democrat won a statewide election for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court by twelve points. The conservative insider told me that Ryan’s retirement was a sign that the jig was up. “These political movements usually come and go in decade-long cycles,” he said.Wells-Wallace also talk to newly elected Dem Senator Patty Schachtner and Dem guv candidate Tony Evers, and both noted that the Fitzwalkerstanis’ underfunding of services such as health, schools and roads over the last 7 years are really hitting home for people in many parts of the state.
Dems are also fired up to vote these GOPs out, which means that it might be difficult for the GOPs in power to duplicate the combination of voter suppression and Dem apathy that lowered turnout in Dem-leaning cities, and allowed Donald Trump, Ron Johnson and other GOPs to pull off surprising wins in 2016.
As Michael Leon notes in In These Times, officials in many of those larger Wisconsin cities are now going around the GOP's roadblocks to help people find a way to cast their ballots, and it likely helped to improve turnout in this April's Supreme Court race.
Madison’s pioneering voter outreach effort began in 2012, after state Republicans passed the first of dozens of voter suppression laws. Designated “ambassadors” from the City Clerk’s office train voting rights workers for groups such as the Dane County Voter ID Coalition who reach out to seniors, students and civil rights groups….Face it, if Wisconsin Republicans really thought their agenda was something that most voters agreed with, they’d welcome the chance to expand voting access, so they’d have a legitimate mandate with buy-in from more Wisconsin voters.
Madison has seen high turnouts since 2016, when the One Wisconsin Institute v. Thomsen federal court decision swept away much of the Republican voter-obstruction legislation, including the mandate that cities have only one early voting site. The ruling applied statewide, but Madison has done the most to expand voter outreach, increasing early-voting sites to a state-record 15 stations.
“It appears that all of this proactivity paid off,” notes Barry Burden, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In November 2016, Madison saw high voter participation while overall state turnout declined. This April, Madison’s turnout roughly doubled that of the state at large, helping to propel progressive Rebecca Dallet to a landslide victory in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race.
Other Wisconsin municipalities contacted the Madison Clerk’s Office to use the city as a model. Kenosha, the state’s fourth-most populous city, adopted a similar voter ambassador project in 2017 and recorded a 26 percent turnout in April, almost doubling the April 2017 turnout.
Milwaukee is opening 20 voter registration kiosks at public libraries across the city, and will increase its early-voting sites from three to eight for the general election.
Instead, Wisconsin has become a notorious spot for voter suppression measures in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. That tells you the GOP puppetmasters know in their hearts that Wisconsinites really don’t approve of what they stand for, so they have to resort to tricks and “divide and conquer” deceptions.
Let’s finish up by returning to Wallace-Wells’ final paragraph, where he notes that what might do in Walker and other WisGOPs in 2018 are the same things that brought them to power in 2010 – that things don’t seem to be getting better with these guys in control. Combine that with general personal dislike for the people in charge (both in DC and in Madison), and you can see why these guys are in big trouble.
The resistance taking shape to Walker and to Trump has two modes, civic and partisan, which, though they often overlap, are nevertheless distinct. The main innovation of the Walker era has been in its partisan extremity, and yet this aspect of his administration looks to be on the ballot this year only indirectly. The final judgment on the Walker era may turn not on the ways in which it has changed the tenor of politics but on the more quotidian matter of the ways it has underfunded the gravel appropriation for Wisconsin’s rural roads. And yet the Democratic opportunity is obvious: this situation allows them to ask voters to judge the Walker years without demanding that they admit to having made a mistake. Driving back from the northwest, in between calls to donors, Evers mentioned some political road signs he’d seen near Wausau that attacked Walker for pothole-ridden roads. “They’re calling them Scott-holes,” the liberal said, with some evident pleasure. He was imagining the most basic of political arguments—that the other guys held power, and there was still so much that was wrong.If the articles from Mike Leon and Benjamin Wallace-Wells are any indication, it may be that the jig is up on the GOP’s grift in Wisconsin, resulting in blow back in the upcoming elections in this state for what they and other Republicans have done (and/or failed to do). Let’s make it so.