Filling Walker’s shoes will mean not following in his footsteps
After the election in November 2010, I was trying to console some of the staffers in the Capitol, where I was working, at the time. “Hey, how crazy can they really get?” I reasoned. “The system is resilient and designed to be slow-moving. Change will be incremental and it will involve compromise because it would be political suicide to try to enact some of the far right’s fondest dreams into policy and law.”
And that was about as wrong as I’ve ever been about anything in 30 years of hanging around politics (although I’ve been wrong about plenty of other things, too.) Governor Walker, the Fitzgerald boys and fellows like Jerry Petrowski exceeded anything that I could have ever imagined in my worst nightmares. They assaulted and demoralized public employees at every level of government. They took the money that they slashed from education, counties, communities and public services across the state to hand it over to corporations and millionaires. They damaged the state’s economy, putting Wisconsin dead last in job creation in the U.S. They gerrymandered the state and passed a voter suppression law that is currently not in force, thanks to a court order. Walker aids are being arrested or being granted immunity in a widening John Doe probe for which the governor has has had to establish and funnel tens of thousands of dollars into his own legal defense fund. The list goes on.
Against this backdrop, Gov. Walker is running in a recall election with a fat campaign fund that is mostly funded by out-of-state money and for which most of the individual contributors don’t live here, either. Laughably, he is running commercials talking about JOBS! Yes, friends, the governor with the absolute worst jobs record in the country – the fellow whose ‘special sessions on jobs’ instead dealt with things like concealed carry and pushing abstinence-only sex education and corporatist wish lists — is trying to make you believe that his last place finish just ain’t so. Well, it is. And if you let him fool you twice, then shame on you.
The truth is that nobody is going to unring some of the bells that Walker and the GOP rang in the past 16 months any time soon. Until and unless the Democrats gain majorities in both houses of the legislature, along with the governor’s office, that possibility doesn’t even exist. So forget the scare ads about Barrett and the Democrats raising taxes and giving public employees everything that they want back and more. It isn’t happening.
Tom Barrett and Democratic legislators will work to protect workers, women and the environment. They’ll stop giving away the store to corporate interests. That will be a great improvement over Walker and the GOP, but it’s only about restoring some checks and balances to policy-making in Madison. It’s not about turning back the clock.
It’s time for Wisconsin to start rebuilding its trust in government and stop being a national poster child for acrimony, abusive political bullying and scapegoating being paid for people like the Koch Brothers and others for whom nothing will ever be enough. Wisconsin lived through Joe McCarthy and we’ll live through this. And as much as I would love to tell you that the people of this great state finally came to their senses about McCarthy and showed him the door, the fact is that they never did. The man who defeated Robert LaFollette, Jr. in Wisconsin’s 1946 Republican primary for U.S. Senate died still holding the honored office that he so thoroughly disgraced with his ideological witch hunting during his tenure. But that Bill Proxmire fellow Wisconsin elected to fill McCarthy’s vacancy was really different for the next three decades. Likewise, it will be easy enough to fill Walker’s shoes, but I don’t think you’ll see Wisconsin’s next governor following in Walker’s footsteps.