Wisconsin – Madison = ?

The Associated Press (via USA Today) reports that two Illinois legislators would like to excise Chicago from Illinois — really:

The metropolis to the north may be Illinois’ cash cow, but it dominates the political scene and has for most of the state’s 193 years, producing the current leaders of both legislative houses and the governor, who doesn’t venture into the hinterlands much but does so more often than his prison-bound predecessor, Rod Blagojevich— also a Chicago guy.

While most downstaters — here a name bestowed on towns even north of the city — are resigned to shaking a collective fist at the Windy City, two central Illinois lawmakers are pitching a unique, if outlandish, solution to eliminating the state’s cultural divide: make the Chicago area the 51st state.

“Downstate families are tired of Chicago dictating its views to the rest of us,” said state Rep. Bill Mitchell as he and fellow Republican state Rep. Adam Brown announced their proposal with straight faces at a news conference. “The old adage is true: Just outside Chicago there’s a place called Illinois.”

If you think about it, that last paragraph could be revised by replacing “downstate” with “outstate” (a term coined by Madison’s alternative weekly newspaper, Isthmus, to described the great unwashed outside the Dane County line), “Chicago” with “Madison,” and “Illinois” with “Wisconsin.” (“Milwaukee” could replace “Chicago” too, but write your own column.) Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus, who was born in Milwaukee but worked at UW–Stevens Point before he was elected governor, famously described Madison as “30 square miles surrounded by reality,” and the only thing that’s changed between then and now is that Madison is more than twice that size.

It took my leaving Madison in 1988 (never to return as a resident, I guarantee you) to see not only that there is much, much more to Wisconsin than Madison, but also the institutionalized sense of superiority and arrogance found within Dane County (and the closer you get to Madison the worse it is). The only people who thought that a freeway-speed train between Madison and Milwaukee for more than $800 million (editor’s note: The original $800 billion number was wrong, and I thank Sly for bringing it to my attention) was a good idea was people in Madison and people in Milwaukee. The only people who seem to believe that hiring more government employees is the way to improve the economy are in Madison. And only a former Madison mayor-turned-pundit, Dave Cieslewicz, would write something like this:

I’ve long argued that when it comes to cities bigger is better. As mayor, I advocated for infill development, greater density and taller buildings. The very things that my fellow progressives say they want (racial, ethnic and economic diversity, cultural vibrancy, an exciting culinary, arts and music scene) can’t be accomplished without higher populations and greater density. …

It’s the bigger, denser places that are the stronger economic and cultural engines. Not only that, but big cities increase the chances that people from diverse backgrounds will find one another, mix it up, and create new, products, services and art.

So, Madison should reach for density and growth. It’s a question of aspirations and orientation. We should strive to be a small New York, not a big Richland Center.

(The irony about Cieslewicz’s dense musings is that Cieslewicz isn’t the mayor of Madison anymore. It may have had something to do with Cieslewicz’s failure to deal with certain aspects of growing Madison, such as increasing crime. And, by the way, ex-Mayor Dave, as someone whose Madison background is longer than yours, I can attest that Madison was better when it was smaller than now.)

Cieslewicz’s comments about diversity and vibrancy are sort of amusing, given that there is a kind of diversity that is totally absent in Madison — political and ideological diversity. Madison’s city council for years felt the need to express itself on such subjects as the Vietnam War and Central America, when non-politically interested Madisonians were more interested in how their tax dollars were being spent and how the streets were being plowed in the winter. (In my neighborhood’s case, the answer was “not.”) The type of liberal who elsewhere in the state  would be seen as wacky-lefty is pretty much mainstream in the People’s Republic of Madison. Madison has a socialist (really) congresswomon, Tammy Baldwin, who if Wisconsinites are not careful will be their next U.S. senator.

Isthmus, which now carries Cieslewicz’s column, axed the column and blog of former Dane County Sup. David Blaska over “economic pressures” (read: people threatening advertisers because they don’t like reading anything other than liberal BS) and their decision to rejigger their editorial content to “inform rather than persuade.” That would seem more believable had they not decided to retain Cieslewicz, who from what I’ve read is more interested in persuading than informing. Blaska and another non-liberal blogger, Ann Althouse, generate these sorts of comments among those who oppose their point of view (misspelled words are his):

We will picket on public property as close to your house as we can every day. We will harrass the ever loving shit out of you all the time. Campus is OCCUPIED. State street is OCCUPIED. The Square is OCCUPIED. Vilas, Schenk’s Corners, Atwood, Willy Street – Occupied, Occupied, Occupied, Occupied. Did you really think it was all about the Capitol? Fuck the Capitol, we are the CITY… We have the numbers and we don’t back down from anyone. We all know each other. We all know each other. We know each other from Service Industry Night at the Orpheum, because we’re regulars at the same coffee shops, restaurants and bars, we know each other from the co-ops, we know each other because we’ve had a million jobs each (and we all worked at CapTel at least once), because we live in every shitty townie house in ever-changing groups of 2 – 7 people, because we are young and horny and screw each other incessantly, because we’re all on facebook, and because we aren’t anti-social, life-denying, world-sterilizing pieces of human garbage like the two of you. WE WILL FUCK YOU UP. We will throw our baseballs in your lawn, you cranky old pieces of shit, and then we will come get them back. What are you gonna do? Shoot us? Get Wausau Tea Patriots to form an ad hoc militia on your front lawn? That would be fucking HILAROUS to us. You could get to know the assholes on your side in real fucking life instead of sponging off the civil society we provide for you every single day you draw breath.

The writer of these deep thoughts added this when interviewed by Big Government:

Finally, as regards Ann Althouse, [he] said he believes in what he called the “law of privilege.” As best as I could interpret it, it meant that if the majority of Madison residents were progressive and didn’t want an Ann Althouse in their midst, then they are somehow entitled to make it unpleasant enough for her to live there, so that she’ll leave.

I have to assume that the average Madisonian must be OK with all this, because the writer of the aforementioned foul-mouthed screed was neither arrested for making terroristic threats nor locked up in the Mendota Mental Health Institution nor even publicly shunned. The protests du jour in Madison generated thousands of dollars in damage to the state Capitol and millions of dollars in police overtime, and the general attitude seems to be isn’t it wonderful how people are getting involved and expressing themselves. (Unless you’re a conservative, then shut the hell up.) I don’t know any of the parents of the people with whom I grew up who would have thought this is acceptable, but as has been made clear numerous times on one of my favorite Facebook pages, the Madison I grew up in doesn’t exist anymore.

One reason Wisconsin politics is so dominated by Madison is a U.S. Supreme Court decision that requires that all states’ legislative districts be based on population and not anything else. Only Congress gets to have one house based on state lines; neither Wisconsin nor any other state can draw legislative boundaries based on, for instance, county lines. A state Senate with one senator per county would make considerably different law than what we have now. So would a state Legislature without Madison-legislator participation.

Madison is not going to be booted out of Wisconsin, of course, any more than Chicago is going to be booted out of Illinois. (And truth be told, suggesting secession now is badly timed given what the UW football and basketball teams are doing these years, mostly without taxpayer resources.) Unfortunately Wisconsin is stuck with both a city that generates dumb ideas with real implications for non-Madisonians as often as people breathe (for instance, land-use regulations based on their own inability to appropriately plan their own growth), and another city that sucks up an inordinate amount of resources to deal with its various big-city social pathologies. Come to think of it, a Madison-to-Milwaukee train might be appropriate after all to connect the two parts of the state that, in different ways, are dragging down the rest of us Wisconsinites.


16 thoughts on “Wisconsin – Madison = ?

  1. …If you think about it, the last paragraph could be revised by replacing “downstate” with “non-white flight suburbs” (a perfectly reasonable descriptor), “Chicago” with “Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington Counties,” and “Illinois” with “Wisconsin.”

    …Given that there is a kind of diversity that is totally absent in Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington Counties — political and ideological diversity, in counties that routinely return huge margins for Republican candidates.

    See what I did there?

  2. I said nothing about the racial attitudes of the current residents of these counties. If you doubt, however, that the historical phenomenon known as “white flight” fueled the spectacular post-WW2 growth of urban suburbs like Waukesha, simply consult the second graph on this blog post: http://themassesareangry.blogspot.com/2011/05/demographic-study-of-white-flight-from.html

    (And, no, I don’t agree with everything the author writes in that post, but the numbers graphically demonstrate the trends that shaped the recent history of Milwaukee and its suburbs.)

    But, that is neither here nor there. Your response ignored the point I was making: Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington counties are the mirror images of Dane County. While Dane county routinely votes 60-70% for Democratic candidates; Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington counties routinely vote 60-70% for Republican candidates.

    For state-wide races, even the blowouts tend to be something like 54%-46% one way or the other, which means Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee Counties are just as out of touch with the rest of the state as Madison and Milwaukee are.

    Conservative commentators who insist that Madison is “not really” Wisconsin, conveniently ignore the fact that Waukesha is just as “not really” Wisconsin. If Madison is xx-miles surrounded by reality, so is Waukesha.

    I readily recognize that Dane County is more liberal than much of the rest of the state. I also readily recognize that Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee counties are more conservative than the rest of the state. It would be nice if smart conservative commentators stopped pretending that Madison was the only ideological outlier in the state of Wisconsin.

  3. …the only thing wrong with Madison is Scott Walker and right wing radio.

    I am sure that most of the music you feature on your goofy DJ thing is written and performed by artists that would fundamentally disagree with you. I would suggest that you have an all Ted Nugent tribute section.

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