Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Vote Wisconsin values, not corporatist beliefs

Originally posted at

One shouldn’t ordinarily encourage people to cast votes against candidates. If you’re going to vote for someone, it should be for a proactive reason, not one that stands against a particular viewpoint but rather FOR something of substance, FOR a set of values that a candidate espouses that you yourself share.

Wisconsin this year is set to have a series of important elections. One of them is the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democratic candidate Russ Feingold and the presumed Republican candidate Ron Johnson.

Recent polling has suggested that Johnson is tightening the race in what should be an easy win for Feingold – incumbents traditionally win more often than not, and Feingold has faced tough competition in years past. Though this polling was done by a noted conservative organization, it is still cause for concern. When you take a look at the candidates themselves, however, it’s clear who Wisconsin should choose and whom the voters should reject.

Wisconsinites should be familiar with the values Russ Feingold holds; he’s been the Junior Senator from Wisconsin for nearly two decades. In 2001, he was the sole vote against the USA PATRIOT Act, a law that severely undermined the civil liberties of private citizens. He set the trend for conducting listening sessions, going to all 72 counties within Wisconsin yearly. He’s been an ardent supporter of responsible budgeting, fighting for progressive spending policies but being a staunch opponent of wasteful pet projects that do no good for the country (Feingold himself has never requested an earmark during his time in the U.S. Senate, and has rejected all pay raises as a senator). Feingold is also a champion of campaign finance reform, having coauthored the largest overhaul to campaigning rules in decades in a bipartisan manner with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Contrast that to Ron Johnson, the Republican nominee to replace Feingold in the U.S. Senate. Johnson, a successful businessman from Oshkosh, has very little political expertise – an attribute that Republicans say is beneficial, especially in this election cycle where an anti-incumbent attitude has taken hold.

Whatever Johnson offers as a fresh face, however, he lacks significantly as a candidate. His values are directly at odds with those of average Wisconsinites. And while Feingold gets recognition for his being a true “maverick” in the Senate (not always touting the party line and working in the interests of the people whom he represents), Johnson’s positions mirror those of the GOP playbook to a “T.”

His reasoning for pursuing office in the first place raises many an eyebrow. When asked about why he was seeking office, Johnson told several sources in several different venues that he was inspired to run by a not-so-conventional source: FOX News’ Dick Morris. Most people by tradition answer the call to public service for something greater, to help the people or the economic landscape, not because a commentator suggests that a person with great wealth should run against an established politician.

We can push that aside, however, because it’s not necessarily why Johnson is running that we should concern ourselves with but rather what he would do if he were to win the seat. Using that criterion as our barometer of whether we should support him or not, though, should render even more concern for the average Wisconsin voter.

Take, for example, his stance on oil drilling. During a time when one might prescribe a more cautious approach to offshore oil exploration and eventual drilling, Johnson takes the opposite approach and defends BP’s actions. In fact, Johnson has suggested we need to expand our drilling – to the Great Lakes, if necessary.

“I think we have to be realistic and...get the oil where it is,” Johnson told WisPolitics recently when asked about whether we should drill in the largest freshwater reserves the world has to offer. Several other GOP lawmakers around the Great Lakes region have also expressed support for doing so as well.

Picture the devastation that is affecting the people in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida right now. Do we really want to gamble with our natural resources here in the Midwest? Ron Johnson doesn’t seem to mind.

Environmentally, Johnson is on the wrong page, especially given Wisconsin’s rich history of conservation. But it isn’t the sole issue that the GOP is out-of-touch on.

By his own admission, Ron Johnson claims to desire a health care system where children especially receive the necessary treatment they need. It’s an issue that touches him personally – Johnson’s daughter had heart surgery herself eight months before she was born. Today, she’s a neonatal nurse, a noble profession to be sure.

We can commend his daughter for the work she has done, and we can empathize with Johnson after such a tale. But what doesn’t make any sense, then, is his stance on the issue of health care reform: Johnson opposes the bill passed this year, going on record saying he would support a repeal of the law if elected.

If the law were repealed, then children like Johnson’s, who may face lingering health problems as a result of such surgery, could face the additional stresses of being denied coverage in the future. You see, the health reform bill that passed had a provision that would abolish the practice of denying a person coverage simply because someone had a pre-existing condition, starting in 2014 – but for children it begins immediately, meaning no insurance company can deny a child coverage based on previous health concerns.

There’s no doubt that many children of non-millionaires the nation over have been denied coverage for important medical conditions that they have. Because of their “pre-existing” conditions, it is their parents’ own fault if they can’t afford to be treated, at least in the eyes of the free market that candidates like Johnson put their faith in. Ron Johnson would rather have us revert to that old system, to the health insurance companies dictating who lives and dies through the private sector’s own “death panels.”

By now, the list of problems associated with Ron Johnson is enough to make anyone question whether he should even be a viable candidate for city dog catcher, much less an office as dignified as the U.S. Senate seat he is seeking. But there are far worse positions one can take that would ruin a person’s political ambitions. Sadly, Johnson goes down that road in his pursuit to appease an extreme right conservative base.

In January of this year, the state legislature considered a measure called the Child Victim’s Act. Though it eventually never made it out of committee, the bill would have allowed victims of sexual abuse the right to seek a claim against their abusers without a time limitation of any kind.

There are many reasons why one might wait years, even decades, to make a claim as serious as sexual abuse. Confronting an abuser is never an easy thing, and allowing those who had been abused to be able to right a wrong over an indefinite time period would have been a step in the right direction for Wisconsin.

Ron Johnson opposed this measure. He opposed it not only in private, but through public statement, speaking directly to the committee considering the measure during the public forum that takes place before any bill is passed through legislative committee.

His reasoning? It wasn’t to protect the rights of those accused. It wasn’t because he felt a statute of limitations should be in place. No, Ron Johnson was concerned about the image of businesses and organizations that employed those who were accused of perpetrating sexual abuse.

“I believe it’s a valid question to ask whether the employer of a perpetrator should also be severely damaged, or possibly destroyed, in our legitimate desire for justice,” he told the committee.

In other words, Ron Johnson was more concerned with the reputation of employers of abusers than the rights of those who were abused to seek justice. It is a concern that a businessman like Johnson may have, of course, but it is secondary in the minds of many when it comes to helping victims of sexual abuse.

Pro-drilling and anti-environment; anti-health care reform and pro-market control of your health decisions; and perhaps most troubling, concern for the business community over the well-being of those affected by sexual assault. Are these the values we want from a senator representing our state?

Certainly there will be some in Wisconsin who will agree with Johnson’s positions – this long-winded diatribe isn’t addressed to them. Those who are on the fence, however, heed these words: Ron Johnson is not looking out for the people of this state. He’s a businessman who is working to make Wisconsin more corporate-friendly, at the expense of the people who reside here.

Yes, Russ Feingold may be a “career politician,” but he has always looked out for the people of this state first and foremost, working with them directly through listening sessions and other modes of communication. Who will Ron Johnson listen to? Pro-corporate business lobbyists like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce?

There are plenty of reasons to support Feingold for Senate; he has been one of the few politicians in Washington that have consistently voted for the interests of the people whom he represents. But if you are one of those who are unsure that he deserves another term in office, and you’re considering another candidate, please consider instead the catastrophic tenure that would be six years of Ron Johnson as the Junior Senator from Wisconsin. It’s a scenario that, frankly, Wisconsin can’t afford to risk taking.

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