Can Progressivism Survive in Wisconsin?

For the first time since Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale in Wisconsin in the 1984 Presidential election, the state went red.

How could that happen?  It’s simple arithmetic: lack of voter turnout.

Hillary Clinton could have easily won the Badger State if those voters who could be expected to favor her had turned out.  She lost by only 27,000 votes out of the 2.94 million cast, less than a percentage point.

Now here is the shocking story:  Voter participation in Wisconsin was down by almost 124,000 in the state, compared with 2012.  Turnout was 66.2%, the lowest since 1996.

election-photoHillary Clinton suffered severely from the low turnout.  She received 239,000 fewer votes than President Obama did in 2012, while Trump garnered only 1,500 more than Mitt Romney did.  (There were 150,000 votes for third party candidates; likely most of those voters went for President Obama four years ago.)  Read more.

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Why did potential Hillary voters not show up at the polls?  Here are some theories:

Restrictive voter laws.  The Republican-passed voter ID laws were specifically designed to discourage low-income voters, mainly minorities.  The voter suppression strategy may have worked; there were 62,000 fewer voters in minority-rich Milwaukee County, with Hillary’s totals about 40,000 short of Obama’s in 2012.

Over-confidence toward a Hillary win.  Polls leading up to the election showed her winning Wisconsin by four to six percentage points; thus voters who faced inconvenient work schedules, child care issues or other conflicts may not have taken time to vote.  The cutback of early voting hours – by GOP-supported state laws – may have added to the problem.

Lack of enthusiasm for Secretary Clinton.  No doubt the thirty years of constant attacks on Clinton’s trustfulness, whether warranted or not, helped to build voter doubts.  Trump repeatedly called her “liar” and encouraged his crowds to yell “lock her up;” that helped to reinforce in many voters’ minds a most repulsive (though grossly  wrong) image of her.

The Bernie effect.  Bernie Sanders trounced Hillary Clinton in the April Wisconsin primary.  Most of his supporters, we’re sure, heeded Sanders’ call to support Hillary in the general election, but enough found their bright illusions so dimmed that when Bernie failed to get the nomination they either stayed away from voting, cast a third party ballot or failed to get involved.

Secretary Clinton failed to campaign in Wisconsin.  Though several Clinton surrogates showed up, especially Chelsea and VP Candidate Tim Kaine, they could never garner the attention that the candidate herself could have.  A reprise of the Clinton campaign strategy tells us that Bill Clinton strongly urged greater concentration on the white working class voter, but was overruled by Hillary’s campaign bosses.

A weakened Democratic Party effort.  There’s no question that Wisconsin Democrats have become impoverished since 2010.  With the redistricting forced upon the state by the Republican-controlled legislature, most legislative districts have become gerrymandered so severely that Democratic candidates stand no chance; thus the party withers in those sixty or so largely rural counties and never seek to get Democrats on the ballot.  Lack of down-ballot candidates, even in GOP-trending areas, will cut into Democratic votes at the top of the ticket.

A smaller labor movement.  The impact of the 2011 passage of Act 10 ending collective bargaining rights for public employee unions and the 2015 enactment of so-called right-to-work laws was truly felt in this election.  The labor movement (traditional Democratic party allies) has lost so much membership that the state’s level of unionization has fallen below that of Alabama’s.  The result: there were fewer members to encourage to vote for progressive candidates and fewer numbers available to make phone calls, talk it up at the workplace and do door-to-door canvassing.

The impact of these seven factors, plus others not listed here, combined to make a perfect storm to bring about Secretary Clinton’s defeat.  Some of them also affected Russ Feingold’s effort to unseat Republican Senator Ron Johnson.

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No one is quite certain just what President-elect Trump will do, or how much he will be able to accomplish.  To progressives everywhere, the prospects are scary.

In Wisconsin, however, it is certain what will happen; it can only be worse for working people, the poor and minorities.  There will be attempts to weaken labor even more, there will be no increase in the minimum wage, there will be cutbacks in life-supporting assistance such as food share and Title 19, and weakening of the health care system.  All that was promised on the day after the election by Republican leaders of the state.  Read more

The 2016 election is behind us and the question is: what do we do now?

First, what we don’t do is to sit on the sidelines in despair, fretting as we watch the Packers blunder through another season, perhaps awaiting a Aaron Rodgers “Hail Mary” to miraculously bring joy to us cheeseheads.

Secondly, what we must do is to stay alert to every action being planned by the legislature, continuing to question issues with whatever strategy that seems to work, whether it is to storm the Capitol with masses of protesters, to write letters to the editor (or to tweet) or to plan for next election.

Thirdly, we must figure out how to rebuild a progressive movement in Wisconsin.  The possibilities include revitalizing the Democratic Party, working through such groups as Citizen Action, Move On, and Wisconsin Now or by building a whole new movement.

To regain Wisconsin, progressives have to figure out how to win in the rural counties; it means reaching out to a heavily white population, while not losing touch with the minorities that are part of the heart and soul of the progressive movement.  Trump won 59 of the 71 counties, and that ratio needs to be reduced somehow.  The state built its now-fading progressive nature on the old La Follette coalition of organized labor, big-city Socialists and rural Progressive Republicans.

This won’t be easy, but it’s necessary to save the state from being destroyed by a single party dictatorship that threatens to make its citizens among the poorest in the nation.  Ken Germanson, Nov. 10, 2016

The Big Picture! Where is it in this 2016 election year?

This election campaign focused tightly on one candidate’s apparent sexual adventures and the other candidate’s emails.  How important are both of these issues to the future welfare of our nation, and for that matter, the world?

Think about it.  Donald Trump’s apparently boorish, sexist behavior certainly makes him a distasteful person, but would it make him a bad president?  Other presidents have displayed such deplorable antics in the past.  Hillary Clinton’s opponents describe her as manipulative and devious; whether that’s accurate is hardly the point.  Read the history of earlier presidents and many of the truly great ones had those traits and yet accomplished tremendous good for the nation.

This is one of the most critical periods in history and to make the right decision we need to consider which the candidates offers the best hope for developing positive outcomes on the truly important issues of our year — issues that have not been fully discussed.

Consider the growing gap in incomes between the privileged few and the rest of us.  Donald Trump claims he’s the truest friend of struggling American workers, but his only answer to accomplish that seems totally wrong-headed.  He would cut taxes across the board in such a way that the wealthiest would get the biggest benefit; his tax cuts further would seriously increase the national debt.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, offers a steady approach to improve the economy and narrow the wage gap; her policies generally follow those of the Democratic Party over recent decades.  That includes increasing the minimum wage, developing a stimulus package aimed at strengthening our infrastructure and giving constant attention to wage equality in the workplace.  Yes, it would be an expensive effort, and it would be paid for by increasing rates for those at the top of the income bracket from 36% to 39%, certainly not so high as to scare these billionaires out of the country.  Her plan, according to independent economists, would raise the national debt far less than Mr. Trump’s.

Never even mentioned in the current campaign is the state of the nation’s labor unions which history has shown have often fueled the greatest impact on increasing worker wages.  Trump would certainly support the traditional Republican goals to weaken unions.  Clinton would veto antiunion legislation that might be passed by a Republican Congress and appoint pro labor members to the National Labor Relations Board.

What about our national security? Certainly bringing peace to the Middle East is critical to our nations’ security. President Obama and most students of the conflict have come to the conclusion that it is to be a long-standing fight, requiring difficult decisions to resolve a complicated situation.  Meanwhile, the president will have to be aware of challenges, such as the role of China, chaos in many African nations, and continuing conflicts between India and Pakistan and between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Donald Trump promises that he will take care of the Islamic State as his first order of business should he become president; yet it is unclear as to how that would be accomplished. In Nov.2015, he told CNN he would “bomb the s— out of ’em,” and then employ troops to protect the oil fields that would be liberated. The fact is we do not know what he would do and more than one person fears that his actions might include pushing the nuclear button in a moment of personal frustration.  How he would handle the troubles elsewhere in the world is unknown.

Hillary Clinton’s approach seems to continue policies similar to those of President Obama to work with our coalition partners with a continued emphasis on diplomacy.  Some of us are not totally comfortable with Secretary Clinton’s apparent solution to expand the no-fly zone and her generally more hawkish positions. Yet it appears that she would be more cautious and that any overt action she takes will be well-considered based on listening to military and diplomatic experts.

Climate change has been largely forgotten.  It was never mentioned in the three presidential debates. Donald Trump, of course, seems to be echoing the climate denial position of many of the most reactionary Republicans. Secretary Clinton is expected at the least to follow the lead of President Obama to complete the emissions controls regulations promulgated from the Obama Administration and to support alternative forms of energy.

There are many other remaining issues not the least of which is reducing the levels of gun violence in this nation, support of LGBT rights, reducing college debt, fixing the Affordable Care Act, providing for choice in the woman’s right to control her body and many other critical issues.

Hillary Clinton was not our first choice. Our vote went to Bernie Sanders in the Wisconsin primary as the more consistent progressive.

Bernie didn’t make it.  Nonetheless we’re fine with Hillary Clinton.  In these critical times, we need an experienced and pragmatic person to guide our nation.  To me the choice is easy.  When we look at the Big Picture, that person can only be Hillary Clinton.   Ken Germanson, Oct. 29, 2016.

Myths and fears from a victorious Walker

Governor Scott Walker’s “Victory Speech” Tuesday night was appalling.  First, he claimed wrongly that his opponent was the puppet of “special interests” and, secondly, he made the scary pledge to weaken the safety net that is needed by many citizens for their basic needs.

Repeatedly he claimed Mary Burke’s campaign was directed from Washington while his own campaign was an old-fashioned political campaign run solely and paid for by the good people of Wisconsin.  Yes, Burke’s campaign was helped out by contributions from outside groups, many of which were labor or social justice groups; yet, Walker’s own massive menu of advertisements and campaign costs were paid for by money-baggers from out of state, including groups like the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, backed by folks like the Koch brothers.  What gall for the governor to give the appearance he was unfettered by “special interests!”

There’s a ton of difference between special interests of organized labor and Emily’s list that supported Burke, and the big-money interests that paid for Walker’s campaign.  Furthermore, when the final tally of contributions – including those of the secretive outside funders – is made, we’ll bet the Walker totals may far exceed Burke’s.

More important, however, Scott Walker’s speech on Nov. 4 was a frightening hint of what’s to come.  It was an all-out attack on food stamps, unemployment insurance, health care assistance, public education and other programs that help needy citizens, both rural and urban.  In an uncharacteristically fiery speech, he told us he wanted to “get the government out of our lives” and to offer more tax cuts to encourage investment (read, more tax breaks for the wealthy).  And how his partisan audience roared!

His spirited address wowed many of the talking heads who commentated on the victory speech, chortling that his big win propels him into the 2016 Presidential races as a possible front-runner.  They seemed to overlook the chilling words about his mean-spirited program that can only hurt working families and the poor.

With a heavily Republican State Legislature ready to do his bidding, Wisconsinites face new assaults on public education with an expansion of vouchers, more strict limits on public assistance programs of all types, a loosening of environmental regulations and a continued stifling of wages.

Beware folks.  There are frightening times ahead.  Mary Burke offered good advice in her concession speech:  Don’t give up the fight. – Ken Germanson, Nov. 5, 2014

Mary Burke will bring balance back to state

There’s one simple reason to vote for Mary Burke: she’s the best hope for restoring some semblance of balance to our state.

Governor Walker in a 2012 visit to Janesville (as recorded in the documentary, “As Goes Janesville”) promised a wealthy donor to “divide and conquer.” By and large, he has succeeded in that promise. The state has indeed become more and more divided and much of his regressive agenda has been accomplished.

It is apparent from her campaign and background that Mary Burke will not be pursuing a hard-left agenda. And that is precisely the reason I believe that in this election Mary Burke is just exactly what Wisconsin needs now. On the key issues, Mary Burke is offering a more moderate, middle way.

Governor Walker and Mary Burke both pledge more jobs, a tough promise for either to fulfill. There, too, Mary Burke offers a combination of plans (even some of Republican origin) to meet that difficult job goal. The fact is Wisconsin is a 50-50 state and any governor should lead with the understanding that he or she represents ALL of the state’s citizens. To improve our job picture, we need both sides working together.

Mary Burke is the candidate best suited to bring Wisconsin back to the historic political balance that created good schools, great universities, a solid safety net, adequate infrastructure and preserved our beautiful natural environment.  Ken Germanson, Nov. 1, 2014

After thoughts on post-election morning

My sleep-deprived brain is just racing with thoughts on this cloudy November morning in Milwaukee.

Most Promising Moment for the Future:  The rights of women were advanced, as they now will hold nearly 20 seats in the 100-seat U.S. Senate.  Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin became the first female U. S. Senator from our state and Claire McGaskill came from behind to win.

Two Republicans who originally had large margins in their campaigns were up-ended mainly because of insensitive remarks they made about rape during their campaign:  Todd Akin in Missouri and Mourdock in Indiana.

Notice to politicians:  Remember women make up 52% of the voting population.  Women didn’t win the right to vote until 1920, but now they’re  making their voices heard.

Funniest Moment on TV News Casts Tuesday night: Karl Rove, GOP premier strategist and the wunderkind of the George W. Bush, era tried to regain credibility as he continued to say Mitt Romney was going to not only win Ohio, but the election, even as all the Networks, including his own at Fox News, were projecting President Obama the winner in Ohio, thus putting the President over the magical 270 vote total and reassuring his election.

While the Fox News anchors stoically announced the result, Rove continued to theorize how Romney’s vote still would climb due to missing precincts in the rural areas of Ohio.  To convince him, Fox News put on an elaborate charade with the camera’s following Megyn Kelly, the anchor, announcer down several hallways to the Fox decision room where dozens of analysts were pouring over computers.  There the lead analysts plainly said they stood comfortably behind their projection of an Obama victory in Ohio and the nation.  View the video clip.

The decision room people were clearly pros at their work, something all decision-makers need.  Rove, however, continued to be clouded by his own dreamy reality and in spite of their reassurance plodded onward for a while with his cockamamie theorizing.  For complete report on this incident, click here.

Most Sobering Realization:  The Republicans maintained control of the House of Representatives and the Democrats still don’t have enough votes in the Senate to overturn GOP filibustering, an art their party leaders have mastered over the last four years.  President Obama may have won a convincing victory – and the GOP lost several Senate races they once considered to be theirs – but their leaders remained adamant in Congress.

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell flat out said the President must show bi-partisanship by accepting the Republican positions on key items like taxes, cuts to entitlements and defense spending.  The GOP continues to peddle the fiction that they have been open to compromise, while the record of the past four years documents that President Obama made plenty of overtures across the aisle, even adopting many Republican ideas – like the mandates in Obamacare which come out of an earlier playbook of the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation and from Romney’s own Massachusetts health care plan.   President Obama will have a difficult four years ahead.

Most Joyful Development:  The election of the first openly gay U.S. Senator (Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin) and the passage of four statewide referenda supporting gay marriages in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.  How far the nation has come in accepting gay rights in some 20 years is astounding.  Remember the heat President Clinton got when “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” went into effect, and that measure was totally flawed!

Sadly, the country is split on this issue, with the four states passing it all being in the North.  But gay rights have moved forward in this nation.

Most Disappointing Result:  Republicans regained control of the Wisconsin State Senate, giving them carte blanche to do what ever they want.  If they maintain the strict party discipline they exhibited in Gov. Walker’s first two years, they will be unstoppable.  In early morning interviews, Republican leaders seemed bound and determined to pass legislation assisting business in doing away with regulations that protect the public and employees, trimming business taxes even further and cutting back on state aid to municipalities.  In addition, Republicans are set to pass mining legislation that would begin the denuding of the forestlands and vacation spots in the North.  The 18-15 GOP margin in the Senate would mean Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center would need to find at least one other GOPer to join with him in seeking balanced mining legislation.

The Republicans legislated their way to victory by redistricting seats for the Legislature in such a way that makes it difficult for Democrats to seize control in the immediate future.  Dark times may be ahead for Wisconsin’s working people if they succeed in their pro-business, anti-consumer and anti-worker agenda.

Most Welcome Realization: No more robo calls.

By Ken Germanson, Milwaukee, Nov. 7, 2012

The Crime of Voter Suppression

You know what’s a crime?  It’s when one group seeks to block other citizens from voting.

Yet, that has been the goal of the Republican Party in the current election.  They’ve made no bones about setting up barrier after barrier to make it difficult for people to vote, particularly low-income persons and minorities.

The most recent evidence of that shows up on 85 billboards in the Milwaukee area, many of them in low-income neighborhoods, proclaiming:  “Voter Fraud is a Felony,” followed by the word, “3 ½ yrs & $1,000 fine.”  Now, on Oct. 22, just two weeks before the election and following several weeks when the signs were clearly visible, Clear Channel — the company responsible — has decided to take them down.  They bowed to citizen criticism, but the harm may have already been done in throwing fear into the hearts of many people confused about election procedures.

Like many other efforts by Republicans, it was nothing but a blatant attempt to scare low-income voters from casting ballots, knowing full well that the vast majority are likely to vote for Democratic candidates.  It’s bad enough that voter registration rules are becoming more complicated, causing problems for low-income persons who

These billboard, originally placed in Wisconsin and Ohio, are to be taken down, based on decision of Clear Channel after complaints by citizen groups.

find it difficult to find the time (away from work) or the transportation needed to get to a place to register.

All of these rules, the Republicans claim, were made to assure an honest election; but common sense tells us otherwise.  Convictions for voter fraud are rare in Wisconsin, averaging between 12 and 20 a year, according to the Government Accountability Board.  Since fraud is not widespread, why else spend thousands of dollars, except to scare off potential Democratic voters?

According to Clear Channel, the billboards are paid for by a “Private Family Foundation,” but the company refuses to say more, keeping the source of the considerable cost of the billboard secret.  Thus the saga of the dirty billboards has ended, another example of the lengths to which Republicans have gone to stack the 2012 election outcomes.

Those who seek to curb the right of other citizens to vote are downright un-American.  And is that not even a bigger crime?  Ken Germanson, Oct. 23, 2012.