Malice in Dairyland
I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that out here in Wisconsin, which has endured nearly a decade of Koch-funded cockamamie under Scott Walker, we have a new governor. The bad news is that Walker will not be leaving the campsite cleaner than he found it.
In a special-lame duck session, his tin pots in the state legislature have frantically rewritten rules and stripped powers from the governor’s office. Republicans have likewise passed legislation to prevent our new attorney general from dropping the right-wing initiated lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act—an essential promise of his winning campaign. In something of a holiday miracle, a related scheme to move the date of Wisconsin’s presidential primary in order to manipulate a supreme court race to Republican advantage was deemed too naked, even for the most pliant of lackeys. GOP operatives burn with the adolescent rage of the sore loser.
And so the weary partisans of reason and social justice in Wisconsin have found ourselves again in the December dark, assembled on the State Capitol steps, protesting another of Scott Walker’s endless affronts to Wisconsin citizens and to basic principles of fairness in government. One of the most bitter among many bitter legacies of the Walker era is the assault on labor—and the diminishment of Wisconsin’s tradition of enlightened regard for workers’ rights, education, the environment, the common good. At the Respect Our Vote protest rally, many strong young voices addressed the crowd. Assembly members Melissa Sargent and Shelia Stubbs are true advocates for the people, and wrapped in scarves against the cold, spoke of old school solidarity and the mandate to protect the powers of the duly elected Democratic governor, state schools’ chief Tony Evers. One hundred years ago the great Robert La Follette made our name. Walker’s pasty apparatchiks looked down on us from their warm capitol offices.
These are the tantrums of red-assed Republicans who finally met an election they couldn’t rig. Wisconsin’s gerrymandering efficiency is state-of-the-art. A pending case (Gill v. Whitford), punted back to district court by Supreme Court justices this summer, demonstrates that Wisconsin elections have exhibited an “efficiency gap” between the parties of 10 to 13 percent—meaning the incumbent GOP fixers have built at least ten-point advantage into elections for state legislative positions and U.S. congressional seats. The GOP has cracked and packed its way to large majorities even in years like this one, when the party received less than a majority of total votes statewide. (Indeed, the Republicans held on to the legislature, even though Democratic candidates outpolled them by a commanding 53 percent majority—a landslide in any functional democracy, but still evidently well shy of the threshold required to undo the damage wrought by a decade’s worth of gerrymandering and voter-suppression initiatives.)
GOP operatives burn with the adolescent rage of the sore loser.
This electoral untouchability engenders an unbecoming swagger on the part of the Senate and Assembly leaders who bully and troll us, hold sham hearings and hide from constituents, and pass bills in the middle of the night. The governor’s race is determined by sheer vote totals, though, and can’t be jerry-rigged. Walker got his phony ass handed to him, and his party can’t get over it.
We’ve got a new face at the top, but the baked-in power differential remains in place. By all signs, the bullet-proof rightwing majority will further constrain the power of the state’s executive branch, while briskly advancing the agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has been producing cookie-cutter rightwing legislation for state lawmakers to enact throughout the country for more than four decades now. Wisconsin is not alone as a gerrymandered dystopia. Corporate lobbyists warp representation and snicker at democratic institutions as state after state block anything resembling a people’s agenda while routinely selling off public assets and otherwise ignoring the interests of their constituents. Our electoral system is broken here, as it is everywhere else in America, and it’s shocking that we won.
But “winning” here is clearly an equivocal thing, if you’re not a mobbed-up corporate plutocrat. This week’s lame-duck putsch from the right has left Wisconsin voters in the position of courtiers rather than the bosses of their elected government. We now are hoping against hope that our new governor can save some shreds of democratic prerogative from the henchmen in the legislature who are now hacking away at the other branches of government.
But for all of this ugly plutocratic squalor, let us ponder the bigger picture here, and rejoice. Scott Walker is gone. Let’s contemplate a future without Scott Walker’s “bold” reforms, his servitude to the Koch brothers, his obsequious embrace of Donald Trump, his rubber-faced prevarications, his fucking brown paper bag lunches. No longer will we have to endure the painful spectacle of Scotty in Green Bay Packer drag or pretending to bond with the hoi polloi at Harley-Davidson dealerships. (Though I will miss the comedy of Walker’s social media brand—when Walker posts this homespun crap to his Twitter account, the abuse is hilariously energetic.)
He is gone, but not forgotten. Indeed, it will be impossible to forget his bold, job-creating, revenue-enhancing, epic private/public partnership: the $4.8 billion handout to Foxconn, the shady Taiwanese maker of flat screens, iPhones, and other electronics. Foxconn’s smooth operators covet Lake Michigan’s sea of fresh water for their toxic, water-intensive manufacturing process. Legend has it that Wisconsin will break even on the armada of tax breaks it’s offered to Foxconn by the year 2043—though it’s hard to see how the consumer electronics industry will keep its profit margins constant, or even that flat-screen technology won’t be fatally disrupted by the next tech innovation over the next quarter century. And amazingly enough, the whole bullshit stunt failed its only real purpose: to get Walker re-elected.
Walker’s vanity quest was the telltale lurch into hubris that began his downhill slide.
And as we say good riddance to Walker, who as I write this is in Washington mourning the killer George H. W. Bush, let’s take a fond look back at the moment his death grip on America’s Dairyland finally loosened: his preposterous flameout in the 2016 presidential primary. He led the field early, boasting of his courage in standing up to the teachers and union members who flooded the capital four years previously in protest of Act 10, his union-busting hit job on Democrats and the working class. In his autobiography, modestly titled Unintimidated, he bragged that his bravery demonstrated that he had what it takes to stand up to terrorists. That’s right—Walker and his Hair Club for Men regard the organized public-sector working class as a threat to their underlying values roughly cognate with al-Qaeda, which probably tells you all you need to know about this week’s putsch in the legislature.
In truth, of course, Walker was the picture of public intimidation. He moved about Madison in underground tunnels and under the escort of goons. He managed to make hay in the early scrum for the Iowa caucuses, only to be smashed like a European corn borer by Trump in the GOP debates. The Donald’s takedown of Walker was a thing of beauty to area dissidents. (Little did we suspect, of course, that Trump would devour the Republican field and haunt us today.) In his pitiful withdrawal speech, Walker explained that God had told him to end his campaign to clear the field for Anyone But Trump. His vanity quest was the telltale lurch into hubris that began his downhill slide.
Walker remained true to his inner putz to the very end, skipping his pallid victory party election night. He didn’t concede the race until the next afternoon, when he again referenced God’s awesomeness. In a lovely irony, the election was finally settled early Wednesday morning when, in what has become a Wisconsin tradition, a late-breaking, eleventh hour stash of votes was found, this time, mercifully, from blue Milwaukee, putting Evers over the top. (In a past election, over 14,000 additional votes appeared from Scott’s home turf of Waukesha to provide the winning margin for Republicans in a state Supreme Court race.) In losing, Scott ventured that God had plans for him, and posted a series of gnomic inspirational Scripture quotations on his hollow Twitter feed. God responded that he would keep his resumé on file.
In one of the great karmic pleasures of the election, Walker couldn’t even ask for a do-over because of a law he himself had written in a fit of pique over Jill Stein’s call for a recount in Wisconsin’s 2016 presidential balloting. Walker’s pet legislation required that an election be closer than 1 percentage point or less to trigger a recount. Walker lost by 1.1 percent. There was similar, sweet Schadenfreude in the flailing re-election campaign of Attorney General Brad Schimel, known to many Netflix viewers as one of the arch villains in Making a Murderer. Schimel’s race was close enough to allow for a recount but his campaign coffers lacked the upwards of $3 million it would have taken to fund it.
We have suffered the loathsome exploits of Walker for eight years and right now, however disheartening the realities of our fully cooked kleptocracy may be, however malicious the maneuverings of Walker’s pale and dwindling white-power constituency, we shall celebrate this surprising victory. It may have been an advanced case of PTSD, but few embattled lower-case democrats thought we could ever rid ourselves of Walker, who was running for a fourth term.
So, in spite of the abusive antics of Walker’s chafed partisans in the legislature, we have hope that recapturing the governor’s seat will restore some integrity to state politics. With the invaluable weapon of a governor’s veto and a spirited young opposition, we can build for 2020, we can bring some fairness to redistricting, and we can strive for clean government again. We’ll hose down the house of La Follette and hope for the best.
Again: that’s the good news.