Wisconsin’s Axis of Evil vs. the rest of us

With her last name Emily Badger should be writing for a Wisconsin newspaper, but instead writes for the New York Times about what I have been calling Wisconsin’s “Axis of Evil” for a decade, when Democrats controlled all of state government and proved that their values are not values worth preserving.)

In much of Wisconsin, “Madison and Milwaukee” are code words (to some, dog whistles) for the parts of the state that are nonwhite, elite, different: The cities are where people don’t have to work hard with their hands, because they’re collecting welfare or public-sector paychecks.

That stereotype updates a very old idea in American politics, one pervading Wisconsin’s bitter Statehouse fights today and increasingly those in other states: Urban voters are an exception. If you discount them, you get a truer picture of the politics — and the will of voters — in a state.

Thomas Jefferson believed as much — “the mobs of great cities add just so much to support of pure government,” he wrote, “as sores do to the strength of the human body.”

Wisconsin Republicans amplified that idea this week, arguing that the legislature is the more representative branch of government, and then voting to limit the power of the incoming Democratic governor. The legislature speaks for the people in all corners of the state, they seemed to be saying, and statewide offices like governor merely reflect the will of those urban mobs.

“State legislators are the closest to those we represent,” Scott Fitzgerald, the majority leader in the Wisconsin Senate, said in a statement after Republicans voted on the changes before dawn on Wednesday. They’re the ones who hold town hall meetings, who listen directly to constituents across the state. Legislators should stand, he said, “on equal footing with an incoming administration that is based almost solely in Madison.”

That argument is particularly debatable in Wisconsin, where the legislature has been heavily gerrymandered. But Mr. Fitzgerald’s jab at Madison was notable, too.

Mr. Fitzgerald was essentially recasting the new Democratic governor, Tony Evers, not as the winner of a statewide mandate but as a creature of the capital city, put there by people in the cities. (Never mind that the outgoing Republican governor, Scott Walker, and the state legislature are based in Madison, too.)

Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin Statehouse, drew this distinction even more explicitly after the midterm election.

“If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority,” he said. “We would have all five constitutional officers and we would probably have many more seats in the Legislature.”

This is most likely true, depending on how you define Madison and Milwaukee. But it’s an odd point to make, given that Madison and Milwaukee can’t be removed from Wisconsin. Nor Detroit from Michigan, nor Pittsburgh and Philadelphia from Pennsylvania, nor Raleigh and Charlotte from North Carolina.

“It just is incredibly frustrating and really nonsensical to think about representation in those terms, especially when you’re talking about statewide results,” said David Canon, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin.

He pointed as well to comments by Mr. Walker arguing that his loss in the governor’s race wasn’t a rejection by voters so much as a reflection of unusually high turnout among people who weren’t part of the voting population in his previous victories. Mr. Walker lost the race by 29,000 votes statewide. In Dane County, home to Madison, about 42,000 more people voted in the governor’s race this year than did in 2014.

“How can that not be a repudiation by the voters?” Mr. Canon said. “It only isn’t if you don’t care about the voters in the parts of the state that are Democratic.”

Republican gerrymandering in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina have pushed the limits of how much the urban voter can be devalued.

In Wisconsin, Democratic candidates for the State Assembly won 54 percent of the vote statewide. But they will hold only 36 of 99 seats. They picked up just one more seat than in the current Assembly, a result of a gerrymander drawn so well that it protected nearly every Republican seat in a Democratic wave election.

In North Carolina, Democrats won 51 percent of the popular vote for the lower chamber in the statehouse but just 45 percent of the seats. In Michigan, where a lame-duck session fight similar to Wisconsin’s is playing out, Democrats won 53 percent of the vote but just 47 percent of those seats. (In states like Illinois and Maryland, where Democrats drew the gerrymanders, they won a disproportionate share of seats.)

For Republicans now, the argument that urban voters distort statewide races may justify policies urban voters do not want. But that comes at a political cost, too.

“When you clarify for people that it’s ‘Madison and Milwaukee’ versus the rest of the state, well, the people in Madison and Milwaukee hear that, too,” said Kathy Cramer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin who has written about the state’s urban-rural divide. “And it’s just as mobilizing for them.”

Cramer wrote The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, which might be worth a reexamination given last month’s (wrong) election results. There are many, many small towns in this state where the highest-paid people in town are government employees.

For their own selfish political reasons, Republicans are now the defenders of rural Wisconsin and its values, because the values of a majority of rural Wisconsinites are not the same as a majority of residents of the City of Milwaukee and Dane County.

All you have to do is pick one issue — gun control — to show the divide between the right side and the wrong side. Why, one wonders, are there so many shootings in Milwaukee and Madison, and hardly any elsewhere in the state? The gun laws are the same in all 72 counties, and yet in 70 of those counties guns do not load, aim and fire themselves. In fact, even if you include Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s 2016 gun death rate was lower than the national average, and this state’s homicide rate was substantially lower than the national average. Take Milwaukee (site of 142 homicides in 2016, more than 20 states) out of the state (256 total), and this state’s homicide rate (including but not limited to by gun) would be far less than half what it was in 2016.

But there is other evidence based on what Evers has done so far. First, from RightWisconsin:

The top official of the top abortion provider in the state of Wisconsin will continue to advise Governor-elect Tony Evers on “health care” despite a demands for her removal from a health care committee.

On Tuesday last week, Evers appointed Tanya Atkinson, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin, to his Health Care Advisory Council. The committee, according to parries release from Evers, “will help our transition team put together a comprehensive health care plan that takes steps to increase access to health care coverage, like taking the Medicaid expansion dollars, while bringing down costs.”

Recall that Evers compared abortion to tonsillectomies, a statement that should be abhorrent to even those who view abortion rights as a necessary evil. And of course Evers thinks your tax dollars should pay for abortions.

Then, also from RightWisconsin:

If Wisconsinites are wondering how different an administration under Governor-elect Tony Evers will be, one of his first transition team appointments may provide a clue. On Tuesday, Evers announced Dane County Supervisor Jamie Kuhn will be one of his policy advisors.

Kuhn is in her second stint as a county supervisor, after she caused a stir her first time as an office holder when she refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at county board meetings. Kuhn and another supervisor, Echnaton Vedder, were heavily criticized at the time for their decision to not to recite the pledge, causing Kuhn to write an op-ed in 1999 defending her decision.

“In a country that must deal with homelessness, violence, HIV, children shooting children, it seems to me ‘patriotism’ should be defined by what one does to help our country eliminate these ills rather than worrying about whether or not someone, who is standing respectfully before the flag, does not mouth the words of the Pledge of Allegiance,” Kuhn wrote in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Shortly after the controversy erupted, Kuhn left her position with the office of former state Rep. Sarah Waukau (D-Antigo). She would later join the staff of state Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) before leaving to become a lobbyist in 2012. She did not run for re-election in 2000.

As recently as 2017, Kuhn defended her behavior by telling the Capital Times that she was trying to challenge the traditional ways the county board operated.

“When I joined the board not only as a younger member but also who at the time was interested in lifting up other voices, I think there was some butting of heads and some challenges with that for certain,” Kuhn said.

So Evers has consciously decided by his hiring decisions to spit at traditional conservative values.

Republicans get criticized for, in the opinion of non-“establishment” Republicans, knuckling under to Democrats. They cannot be accused of knuckling under with the so-called “lame duck” session, but Democrats of course now believe that they should have unlimited power because a few thousand misguided voters voted for Democrats instead of Republicans. Most people’s definition of “bipartisan,” of course, is “your party does what my party wants your party to do,” which is surrender, not compromise.

What are the right values, you ask? Hard work and not relying on government, either for employment or welfare would be two of them. Constitutional rights, for another. Realizing the proper role of politics in your life, for another.

If I had drawing skills I’d create a logo of the state with Dane County and Milwaukee cut out. Yes, there are Democrats who live outside of Madison and Milwaukee. Madison has about six Republicans within its city limits, and there are maybe 12 in the Milwaukee city limits. Simple math says that if Madison and Milwaukee were not in Wisconsin, this state would be overwhelmingly Republican.


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