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

Secret GOP Right-to-Work love potion

Maybe it was the drag of the long debate, but Republicans supporting the right-to-work law used some weird arguments.

“It’s for your own good,” they said over and over again to the union members and the Democratic legislators who opposed the bill as the debate continued in the Wisconsin Assembly overnight into Friday morning. (March 5 – 6)

Once you weed out the freeloaders, your unions will be stronger because the members who will be left will be dedicated “true believers,” argued another Republican. As that occurs, he said, unions will become more effective and as a result workers will rush to join. And, he added, employers will be eager to sign contracts with the strong unions because they will provide a skilled and dedicated workforce.

You continued to hear Republicans say that unions are “good” and they wanted them to thrive; for a while, it sounded as if they were speaking at a labor union convention.

One Republican let the cat out of the bag, however, when he admitted to seeing how effective his union had been in representing him back in his younger days. Yet, he felt he shouldn’t have been “forced” to join and pay membership fees to cover the costs of providing such help. The ultimate “freeloader!”

So there, unionists, you can close down your rallies around the State Capitol and stand outside to applaud how friendly the Republican legislators can be to you. Just drink down their potion of goodwill and enjoy the results.

If unionists accept such logic, will it not be much like the innocent college freshman girl who was offered a drink made especially for her by a fraternity boy at her first party on campus? The last thing she heard that night was, “Here, drink it, you’ll like it.”

And you know what happened to her!

Ken Germanson, March 6, 2015

What God does Gov. Walker answer to?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said that God is guiding him. I’m wondering whose God he is listening to. Here’s what Walker told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt in answering a question about when he’d reveal his decision to run for President (as quoted in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 8, 2015):

“I think with what I’ve had to go through in the last four years, both politically, but also in terms of the policies, certainly I feel that there’s a reason God put me in a spot to do things that we’ve done and take on the kind of challenges we’ve done.”

What chutzpah! Is there really a God out there who guides him to refuse to expand Medicaid and to participate in the Affordable Care Act, thus denying thousands of low income Wisconsinites access to health care? Does his God tell him to cut on education aids, to weaken unions and thus deprive workers of a means to a better life, to turn down the light rail plan taking away more jobs and to do other mean-spirited actions?

To claim that any God would support actions that line the pockets of the wealthy at the expense of ordinary citizens is beyond comprehension. Besides, what’s our governor doing spending all this time with nutty talk show guys anyway?

‘Bosses’ tag wrongly used

The phrase “union bosses” has been popping up in the pages of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Such a tired old phrase it is, too! For most of the previous century, the words were used by managements to discredit union organizing drives, to undercut strikes and to break union ranks.

For the Journal Sentinel to regress to use the terms as it did in an Oct. 26 “No Quarter” column by Daniel Bice is not only distressing but it’s dishonest and terribly biased. The words appeared in a headline: “Union bosses, wealthy donors spend big for Mary Burke, Scott Walker”

Bice and the headline writer took the words directly from the Republican chieftan here, Joe Fadness. How sad it is to follow the Journal Sentinel during this election campaign as its pages seem to take every campaign utterance of the Republicans and play it for all it’s worth. Two examples are noteworthy: the charge of plagiarism on the copying incident and the acceptance of two ex-Trek executives questioning Mary Burke’s record at Trek. Both were campaign sleeze, pure and simple, and the Journal Sentinel should have treated them for what they were, instead of blowing them all out of proportion.

Now, in the Bice headline, the use of the word “bosses” is certainly pejorative, connoting cigar-smoking, fat, corrupt and disgusting humans. On the other hand, the Journal Sentinel declared the Republicans had “donors,” a far more benign term.

Union leaders throughout history – as well as those of today – have been responsible to creating a movement that most economists would say made it possible for Americans to have a relatively thriving standard of living; that of course has been threatened by the weakening of our unions since the 1980s.

Admittedly, there were some corrupt leaders, but even most of them – as they fattened their wallets – provided a better life for their members.

Most union leaders came up from the ranks of the workers they now represent; most lead lives struggling to pay the mortgage, to get their kids through college and to keep their lawns mowed during work weeks that kept them on the job for 60, 70 or 80 hours. They care about the future of this country, about an education system that is being ravaged in the name of privatization, about a planet that faces environmental devastation, about continued racism, among other issues.

Union leadership work was always controversial when they seek to bring about change; their work should be examined and criticized when warranted, but it should be faced upon facts.

A newspaper that has paraded around as a paragon of virtue for the community at least owes union leaders the right to far treatment. If union leaders are “bosses,” why are their wealthy opponents “donors?”  Ken Germanson, Nov. 2, 2014

Our words may have changed, but racism lingers on — particularly in Wisconsin

It’s hard to forget certain dates.  Today, April 4, is one of them.  It is exactly 46 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I remember exactly where I was when I learned of his death in Memphis, where he was gunned down on the balcony of the Loraine Motel while participating in a rally in support of striking sanitation workers.  The headline of his death greeted me on the following morning as I entered the coffee shop in a downtown hotel in Decatur, Illinois, where I was working on a labor union project.

An older union representative whom we called “Red” saw the headline about the same time I did and uttered something like “it’s about time someone got that b—–d.”   I forget his exact words, but that’s what he meant.

In 1968, Red’s attitude was fairly typical among whites who considered Dr. King a radical, a communist, a troublemaker and a danger (the nouns usually accompanied by expletives).  We’ve come a long way since then, and I’m certain there’s a rare union man or woman who would share Red’s feelings, much less speak out loud so hatefully.  Much of the nation has adopted Dr. King as a symbol of peace and we celebrate his life with a national holiday, full of honor and praise.

Yet, how far have we “really” come as a nation in rooting out racial hatred and in providing persons of color with true equality and opportunity?

Some of us in the North might think most of the barriers have been broken through.  In many ways, it is true: particularly in urban areas there is a cheek-by-jowl existence with persons of varied racial backgrounds that forces us to live and work together in a semblance of harmony.  We joke and share stories with persons of other ethnic backgrounds almost every day; yet, when we socialize or meet for lunch, we too often go our separate ways.

In Wisconsin, we should be particularly ashamed.  Just a few days before April 4, the Annie E. Casey Foundation published a report ranking the Badger State the “worst” among the 50 states for black children in an index measuring 12 key indicators at various stages of life, including home situation, educational skills and income.

The report is a true indictment of our state’s failure to deal effectively with this economic and social inequity.  It only confirms what most of us have known for years.

Sadly, the policies being expressed among our leaders in Madison will do nothing but exacerbate the situation.  Governor Scott Walker and Republican-controlled Legislature have cut several avenues to better health care by refusing to expand Medicaid while cutting back on BadgerCare.  It has further sliced such benefits as FoodShare that assist poor families; it has taken steps that have weakened the Milwaukee Public School system.  None of the actions of the current Administration will do anything but to make the inequities facing African-Americans grow worse.

You may hear occasional platitudes from Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan (the Wisconsin Republican who heads the House Budget Committee) honoring Dr. King, but don’t accept such hypocrisy.  Perhaps, if they were being honest with us, they’d sound more like Red in that hotel coffee shop in 1968.  Ken Germanson, April 4, 2014

The myths of R-T-W laws

Myths continue to dominate discussions of the so-called right-to-work laws, as witnessed by letters to the editor and comments from columnists who should seem to know better.

The principal myth is in the name, “Right-to-work,” since the law confers no right to a job for anyone!  It’s an ancient bit of clever marketing by pro-business lobbyists to misname something so as to give advantage in a debate.

Myth No. 2 involves the view that leaders of unions – sitting in far-away seats of luxury – make decisions for the union’s members.  Nothing could be further from the truth: by and large unions are one of the most democratic institutions in our society, where decisions are made through voting, where strikes require extraordinary support and where officers are elected.  (To be fair, there have been situations where unions have acted undemocratically, but such occurrences have been widely overplayed and are now largely in the past.)

Myth No. 3 covers the principle of the union shop, which is often mislabeled a “closed shop” that has been outlawed since 1947.  The union shop merely requires all workers to pay for the right of representation, based on the principle that all workers who benefit from the wages and benefits bargained by the union should pay the costs of such representation.  In addition in “open shops,” where not all workers are members, the union is required by law to represent every worker – union or not – in grievances without discrimination.  Thus, the union must defend a non-member worker who is fired just as vigorously as a member worker.

Myth No. 4 is that unions cause a company to close, as referenced recently in the Hostess Bakery closing in Kansas City.  Recognize that a decision to close up shop is made by management, not the union; in fact, unions have many times worked hard to cooperate with companies to take actions to save firms in financial troubled.  In most cases, mismanagement or failure to keep up with technology is behind company closures.

Myth No. 5 is that if workers don’t like the wages or benefits or the treatment they receive at a company, they’re free to quit and go elsewhere.  That’s like saying, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”  Can the workers have NO say in these matters?  Today, finding a job is not as easy as the letter writer may think.

Myth No. 6 is that somehow companies will flock to Michigan now that it has this slave labor law in place.  Check out the reasons why companies move; far down the ladder are the labor laws.  Far higher up is the ability to attract skilled workers, something that better-paid union workers usually provide.

There have been many myths perpetrated in the labor law discussions, and they should not color the thinking of policy makers in Wisconsin. — Ken Germanson, Jan. 1, 2013

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