A summer of discontent

With Wisconsin recall elections for nine state senators happening over the coming weeks, it’s easy get a case of tunnel vision and forget what else is going on in politics around the country and there is an awful lot happening.

Minnesota government was essentially closed down last week, as Republican legislators refused to concede on tax increases to the top two percent of income earners to help close the state’s yawning budget gap. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is standing fast and insisting that these huge beneficiaries of our economic system participate in balancing a budget that was not only left in trouble from the recession, but by the policies his predecessor, Republican Tim Pawlenty – a fellow who is now running for President. Pawlenty left a structural deficit that is larger than Wisconsin’s and he is now airing heroic-looking ads trying to look like some kind of fiscal tough guy for doing the same thing that his GOP legislative buddies are doing back in the Gopher State right now: refusing to face reality. Light rail stations in the Twin Cities are slated to close this weekend.

Meanwhile, opponents of Ohio’s new collective bargaining law last week delivered nearly 1.3 million signatures aimed at getting a repeal question on November’s ballot. The “We Are Ohio” campaign delivered the petitions to the secretary of last Wednesday. They say they have more than twice the number of signatures required to be validated in each of Ohio’s 88 counties. Gov. John Kasich – even less popular than Scott Walker — signed the law in March to ban public employees from striking and restrict collective bargaining rights for more than 350,000 public workers.

Over the weekend in the Upper Peninsula, we ran into volunteers collecting signatures for the recall of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Gathering around 800,000 valid signatures that are required will be a tall order. Michigan law allows for recall of elected officials after only six months in office with a 90-day window to collect signatures. (We noted with interest that there is a “Rick makes me sick” stencil floating around for graffiti painters.)

One of my favorite Republicans to quote is former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, who co-chaired the bipartisan fiscal reform commission dealing with tax and spending issues at the federal level.

“We’re at 15 percent revenue, and historically it’s been closer to 20 percent.” Simpson points out. “We’ve never had a war without a tax, and now we’ve got two. … Absolute bullshit.” Simpson isn’t exactly a bleeding heart liberal.

While Simpson is talking about the federal budget, it is the across-the-board insistence that budget gaps can be balanced entirely by pay, benefit and program cuts that is making Republicans around the country look like caricatures emphasizing what many people see as some of their worst attributes.

“You know who he reminds me of?” New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney said of Gov. Chris Christie recently, after the guv reportedly reneged on a budget deal that Garden State Democrats now know they should have never made with him. “Mr. Potter from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ the mean old bastard who screws everybody.”

That could make a neat morph ad.

Time will tell whether Republicans have tarnished their brand enough to open the door for Democratic victories going forward. But Dems would do well to polish their own image instead of relying on what appears to be the significant asset of being able to compare themselves to the devils people know.

JR

Conservative columnist David Brooks on why the Republicans may no longer be a “normal” party (or fit to govern):

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/opinion/05brooks.html?_r=2&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

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