I haven’t been very good at updating this blog. It’s not as if nothing has been happening, but I often find that I have other things to do.
Up until the middle of last year, we were living in a house on a street with a lawn to mow, leaves to rake, snow to remove, county meetings to attend and a short drive to and back from work. Since then, we sold the house, got rid of half our stuff, left the government meetings behind and moved to a new city into an apartment where we could both walk to work. People ask me what that’s like. I tell them it’s like being on vacation, except that I have to go to work.
So how does that work?
Well, it’s like being on vacation because you go to a different place where you don’t know anyone and make discoveries. (Of course, you also meet people and eventually, it just becomes a new lifestyle to replace your old one.) But living in downtown La Crosse is very different. There are lots of restaurants and watering holes; tons of foot traffic and interesting characters. There are miles of bicycle trails and the Mississippi River. It’s a college town. We found there was no reason to have two cars anymore, so we got rid of one. We don’t cook much.
When I put together my job search strategy, I will tell you that while we were willing to relocate, we were not looking to do that. It would have been much easier to stay put. The fact of the matter was that I found almost no good fits in Wausau. I got a lot of interviews, but they were mostly in the Twin Cities and Madison. When the opportunity came up in La Crosse and we could eliminate the need for higher living costs and soul-sucking commutes on multi-lane highways in a larger community, it was a very attractive option.
But there was something else about La Crosse that was attractive, too. I was unwilling to send resumes to politically deep red areas of Wisconsin like the counties ringing the Milwaukee metro area or other areas of the state where Republicans hold a chokehold on elective offices. Unfortunately, that is something that has characterized Marathon County in recent cycles, too — and it makes it a lot less attractive place today than it was in past years for people like me. Congressman Sean Duffy was able to spend months promoting the candidacy of Donald Trump with impunity and no fear of political fallout. That would seem counterintuitive in a district that sent his predecessor, Democratic firebrand Dave Obey, to the U.S. House for four decades. But it turns out that he read his district exactly right. In the end, a former right wing toxic talk jock was chosen as the Republican Assembly representative for Wausau. Trump carried Marathon County with 56 percent of the vote. He only carried Waukesha County – one of the places where I refused to send resumes — with 60 percent.
I loved my county board district and neighborhood on Wausau’s southeast side. If the rest of the county thought a little bit more like most of my former constituents do, then I would have had a much more difficult time leaving. Ron Johnson and Scott Walker have never won in that district. Neither did Donald Trump. Sean Duffy finally took it for the first time in four tries, but only by a dozen votes against a weak opponent – and he still lost in the ward that we lived in. I don’t think that neighborhood is likely to give in to nationalism and a heavy undertone of bigotry anytime soon, which is a very good thing. (I’m not saying that a person had to be a bigot or a white nationalist to vote for Trump, but it was definitely something that had to be looked past.)
Here in La Crosse County, Trump lost by double digits and our Democratic Assembly representative ran unopposed, thanks to the long odds for anyone carrying the GOP banner. If I have to live in a place where the politics are one-dimensional, I want to be in a place where I can support the outcome.
To some people – and I guess that is most who live there now – it’s just fine that Marathon County is all red. Well, it’s not fine with me and it makes it whole lot easier to be living somewhere else. I can see Minnesota from my house.
But it may not be such a great thing for Wisconsin. The state’s workforce has a smaller share of people with a bachelor’s or advanced degree than any of its neighbors and Wisconsin’s in-migration of such adults is among the lowest in the nation. Net in-migration to Wisconsin overall last year was negative and Marathon County’s in-migration was proportionately lower than the state’s. Call me biased – and I certainly am – but I don’t think being an all-red region in what has become a red state is a very attractive selling point. Allowing Wisconsin roads to become some of the worst in the nation, diminishing the quality of education at all levels, running the Department of Natural Resources into the ground, defunding state parks and advancing a reactionary social agenda isn’t a winning strategy, in my view. I’m pleased that a federal court has found that Wisconsin’s redistricting map is unconstitutional. I’m also pleased that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is stepping in to enforce environmental laws that the state won’t. But I don’t hold out a lot of hope for things improving much while most Wisconsin voters are going to the polls to ratify and support the people who did the deed (and signed secrecy agreements in the process.)
On the other hand, while there were only 13 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties that Trump didn’t win, the overall statewide margin for him was only one percent – pretty thin, as these things go. There is arguably still some hope that turning Wisconsin around may not be as insurmountable of a task as it sometimes seems to appear. But it also looks like it has become an even taller order for certain areas of the state to help lead the change and Marathon County is now just another one of those places. Of course, there are also plenty of people that I like and respect who don’t necessarily see things my way and there are a lot of people in Central Wisconsin still fighting the good fight from their disadvantaged position, which is important to do.
Wisconsin has had stunningly wrong-headed leadership before. We gave the nation Joe McCarthy, a man who was so reprehensible in his conduct of public office that his name became a pejorative term that is still in use today. Sadly, he was never voted out. He died in office. It can take a while for the pendulum to swing. In the meantime, it’s just as well to be in a place where more people see things differently.