A contemplative article by Dan Kaufman in The New York Times Magazine, “How Did Wisconsin Become the Most Politically Divisive Place in America?” tries to make sense of what’s happened there since Scott Walker was elected governor of the state in late 2010:
This past March, standing outside a Shell station in Mellen, Wis., in the state’s far north, Mike Wiggins Jr. told me about a series of dark and premonitory dreams he had two years earlier. “One of them was a very vivid trip around the North Woods and seeing forests bleeding and sludge from a creek emptying into the Bad River,” Wiggins said. “I ended up at a dilapidated northern log home with rotten snowshoes falling off the wall. I stepped out of the lodge, walked through some pine, and I was in a pipeline. There was a big pipe coming in and out of the ground as far as I could see.
“I had no idea what the hell that was all about,” Wiggins continued. But he said the dream became clearer when a stranger named Matt Fifield came into his office several months later and handed him his card. Wiggins is the chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and Fifield, the managing director of Gogebic Taconite (GTac), a division of the Cline Group, a mining company based in Florida. He had come to Wiggins’s office to discuss GTac’s desire to build a $1.5 billion open-pit iron-ore mine in the Penokee Hills, about seven miles south of the Bad River reservation. The proposed mine would be several hundred feet deep, roughly four miles long and a half-mile wide; the company estimated it would bring 700 long-term jobs to the area. Fearing contamination of the local groundwater and pristine rivers, Wiggins told Fifield he planned to oppose the mine. He didn’t know at the time that the company’s lawyers would be working hand in hand with Republican legislators to draft a bill that would weaken Wisconsin environmental law and expedite the permitting process.
What followed was a drawn-out fight that resembled other statewide battles over labor, education and voter-registration laws — all of which have been introduced since the election of the Republican governor Scott Walker in 2010. The most bitter of these fights began in early February last year, when Walker proposed eliminating virtually all collective-bargaining rights for a vast majority of the state’s public-employee unions. Around the time that Walker announced the measure, similar laws were introduced in Michigan, Ohio and Florida, and a nationwide demonization of public employees caught fire. Within two months, the National Conference of State Legislators had tracked more than 100 bills, initiated across the country, attacking public-sector unions.
From the beginning, Walker, who declined to comment for this article, seemed cognizant that his move to end collective bargaining placed him at the forefront of a national conservative strategy. His attack on public-employee unions was lauded by Mitt Romney, John Boehner and Karl Rove, and he has received significant financial support from the billionaire conservative donors Charles and David Koch. In a widely publicized prank phone call with Ian Murphy, a blogger impersonating David Koch, Walker described a dinner he held for his cabinet at his Executive Residence on Feb. 10, the night before he announced the collective-bargaining measure. “It was kind of the last hurrah, before we dropped the bomb,” he said to the faux-Koch. At the dinner, Walker held up a photograph of Ronald Reagan and told his cabinet that what they were about to do recalled Reagan’s breaking of the air-traffic-controllers’ union strike in 1981. “This is our time to change the course of history,” Walker said.
The June 5 recall election against Walker and four Republican state senators will be a decisive and momentous day in American history—no matter which side of the political divide you are on—and not just for residents of Wisconsin. If the reichwing and the Koch brothers get beaten back, it’ll send a definitive message to Republicans—and draw an iron line in the sand—letting them know how far is TOO FAR and what NOT to do if they don’t want to end up like Scott Walker. If Democrats take back control of the statehouse, I get the sense that things would largely calm down in Wisconsin, after two years that have seen friendships ended, family arguments and nasty, nasty local politics, vandalism, etc. Clearly in this way, Scott Walker has been a disaster for life in his state. How many people who live there, no matter what their political affiliation is, would argue that the mood in Wisconsin has improved under Walker?
However, if the Democrats and the unions lose, and it appears that they will lose, it’ll be a sad day indeed and will be seen as a demoralizing lesson in just how DEAD democracy really is when billionaires and out of state interests can come in and defeat the determined solidarity of tens of thousands of Wisconsin’s most politically engaged progressive citizens. If Walker wins, it will be a significant blow to the labor unions and progressive morale in general.
With repetitive TV and radio ads blanketing Wisconsin’s airways (Walker is spending over 20x what his challenger Tom Barrett can afford) the Koch brothers and the GOP have brainwashed people into supporting policies that would beggar their neighbors, friends and relatives and destroy the hard fought gains of the unions in the state where the labor movement was arguably born merely so that the rich can get richer. It’s not like everyone in Wisconsin doesn’t already know what’s going on and I doubt that many people are still undecided if they’ll be voting for Walker or Barrett with just two weeks to go. The polls are TIGHT, and incredibly—when you consider how his governorship has torn the state apart and Walker’s SHITTY record on jobs—favor the governor. It’s going to be all about the ground game and the side who can get out the most voters (something the Republicans excel at ).
You can kick in a few bucks to kick Walker’s ass at ActBlue. Fingers crossed and GO WISCONSIN.