When candidates challenge an incumbent, they only have one option: To convince voters to change course. In doing so, they often have to fabricate a new reality from which they then vow to save a state’s citizens.
When a group of eight Democrats gathered for a gubernatorial debate in Milwaukee last week, they attempted to posit a Wisconsin that needed saving from Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
But after hearing their priorities, voters have to wonder: What state are they living in?
When asked whether they would cancel the state’s contract with Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn to build a $10 billion facility in southeastern Wisconsin, every candidate except for State Superintendent of Education Tony Evers raised their hand. (Firefighter Mahlon Mitchell initially raised his hand, but then put it down as the moderators began naming those with their hands up.) Attorney Matt Flynn called the state’s contract with Foxconn a “crooked deal” and vowed a lawsuit that would “go in and shut them down.”
Yet as Evers pointed out, Foxconn is already in the henhouse. The $4 billion subsidy the state has granted the company in exchange for creating tens of thousands of jobs is ensconced in the state law books, and no single governor has a unilateral eraser. Shovels are in the ground and the plant is being built — by the time any of these candidates will have taken office, tens of millions of dollars will have been spent on construction of the sprawling campus.
Thus, even if the wildest progressive fantasy took place and the deal was axed in January of 2019, millions, if not billions, of dollars would be sacrificed to fulfill a campaign talking point. Yes, the subsidy to Foxconn is steep — but much of that state support only materializes if the electronics company makes good on its promises. Put simply, the Foxconn deal is here to stay, and candidates who tell you otherwise aren’t telling you the truth.
During the debate, Democratic candidates coupled their imaginary cut to Foxconn with another imaginary cut to the state’s prison population. Every candidate on stage indicated they would support an early release program for prisoners. Former state Rep. Kelda Roys defended her program to cut the state’s prison population in half. After a plea to legalize marijuana, candidate Mike McCabe said Wisconsin should “stop locking up people who don’t commit a violent act or damage property.”
The idea of the baby-faced nonviolent criminal in the state prison system is common in Democratic primaries. “Wisconsin is literally spending more locking people up than we spend unlocking the potential of our population,” said McCabe, in a particularly groan-inducing answer.
It’s all nonsense. According to the state Department of Corrections, the six most serious offenses (sexual offenses, murder/homicide, robbery, assault, burglary, battery) made up 80% of male state prison inmates in 2016. Only 1.6% of prison inmates were there for simple possession of illegal drugs — and you can bet very few of them were in for marijuana. Instead of citing a fictional pothead behind bars, Democrats should have to explain how many of the 80% of more serious offenders they would release.
One group of people we know Roys would keep out of prison are hypothetical women seeking an abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case. Roys said she would pardon anyone convicted of abortion-related crimes if Roe were reversed, citing Wisconsin’s currently unenforceable law she says “criminalizes women and doctors.”
Again, Roys is fabricating an alternate Wisconsin. For one, President Donald Trump just made his pick to replace moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, and we are far away from Roe being overturned.
But if Wisconsin’s law were to take force once again, it would not “criminalize women,” it would simply prohibit doctors and others from performing the abortion procedure. In fact, the statute on the books specifically excludes the mother from criminal penalty for seeking or receiving an abortion.
Of course, candidates rarely catapult themselves into office by promising “a more robust status quo.” But manufacturing a fictional Wisconsin that, coincidentally, only they have the brains and wherewithal to fix rings hollow. In fact, as a whole, the real Wisconsin is running along just fine. The Democrats should visit it sometime.