Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wisconsin Spring Election Post-election analysis

New progressive movement leads to new Supreme Court justice; Walker blames Madison for change

Tuesday’s Spring Election results provide us a glimpse of what to expect in the near future for Wisconsin politics. It’s clear that the electorate is upset with the current state of things -- if the protests in Madison weren’t proof enough of the disdain for the Walker administration, the results of several races throughout the state surely give us reason to consider a surge in progressive ideals throughout the Badgerland.

The results of the Madison mayoral election could be interpreted as a sign of area progressive voters’ intent to send Walker a message: we’re going to fight, and we’re not going to back down easy. Soglin was seen by many Madisonians as the candidate more likely to challenge Walker directly, though Mayor Dave Csieslewich was also a formidable candidate in regards to his willingness to stand up to the governor.

In losing his bid for re-election, Mayor Dave’s service to this community should be commended. Over the years he’s served Madison, we’ve seen many improvements that have continued to make this city one that is recognized as a great place to live among the many options across the country. So in gaining Paul Soglin as a mayor (again), who I believe will serve the post well, we must also recognize that another great mayor is leaving the office also.

The County Executive race was a relatively no brainer -- everyone was predicting that Joe Parisi would defeat Eileen Bruskewitz when the polls closed. He didn’t just defeat her, however -- Parisi won handily, with more than seven out of ten voters going in his favor.

One of the big wins last night was that of Gov. Walker’s former office, Milwaukee County Executive. Democratic-aligned (though hardly a hard-lined progressive) candidate Chris Abele won the county, defeating Republican Jeff Stone. In a devastating blow to Walker, Abele won the county by more than 60 percent of the vote, a sign that the disdain of the governor extended even to the county he once ran. Walker never once won Milwaukee County by 60 percent or more.

In fact, 19 counties that voted for Walker in 2010 flipped from Republican-aligned to Democratic-aligned on Tuesday night, a significant change in just under six months' time.

The big win of the evening, of course, didn’t happen until today. It took until earlier this afternoon to know for sure that JoAnne Kloppenburg defeated sitting Justice David Prosser, tilting the composition of the State Supreme Court in favor of the liberal bloc. Kloppenburg won by just over one-tenth of one percentage point, which means a recount is imminent.

Yet the win for Kloppenburg -- no matter how close it was or how long the legal process of the recount may take -- is still a win for the progressive movement in Wisconsin. As a sitting incumbent, Prosser was set to win re-election earlier this year without any problem. Instead, he ended up losing.

Something within the last few months must have changed in the state to have warranted this momentum shift. Most of us agree that the attack on workers’ rights and the middle class is likely that “something.” When hundreds of thousands of people come to the state Capitol to protest a governor’s policies, and then said-governor’s choice for Supreme Court justice fails to win re-election, there’s reason to believe more than a bit of a correlation between the two events exists.

But Scott Walker isn’t running scared yet. In analyzing the election results, Walker claims that there are two parts to what drives Wisconsin: that which is in Madison and that which is everywhere else. The results of the State Supreme Court election aren’t a sign, in his mind, of an electorate upset with his policy initiatives, isn’t indicative of the state changing its attitude towards the governor himself.

Yet the assumption that it’s the rest of the state against Madison, however simple an assumption it is to make, is complete hogwash. Scott Walker knows that it takes more than Madison, more than Dane and Milwaukee Counties even, to win a statewide election. In fact, more than 30 counties statewide voted in favor of Kloppenburg, signaling that it wasn’t just Madison that drove the election but a movement of citizens across Wisconsin against the re-election of Prosser, against a pro-Walker candidate, and in favor of a progressive choice.

Places like Eau Claire, Racine, La Crosse, and Superior went in favor of Kloppenburg; so did Portage, Juneau County, Cross Plains, and Monroe. A myriad of cities, towns, and villages voted in favor of her, voted to give JoAnne Kloppenburg a chance versus giving Justice Prosser, who described himself as a member of the Court’s conservative coalition, another ten years to serve.

But to dismiss the election results as “just” the voices of Madison or Milwaukee is to ignore another point: the people of these cities are also citizens of Wisconsin. Their opinions matter just as much as the opinions of those in Appleton, Green Bay, Manitowoc, Cambridge, or any other area of the state. When it’s one-person, one-vote, the governor foolishly pits his own state’s cities against one another rather than accepting the fact that a statewide effort against his policies is gaining traction.

To ignore this fact, to push aside this clear rejection of the Walker philosophy of governance, is a shameful display of arrogance on the part of our governor. On the other hand, it’s not surprising either: in ignoring the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin citizens coming to Madison to protest his stripping of workers’ rights, Walker has already demonstrated just how arrogant he can be. A simple thing like the election of a justice wouldn’t change his mind.

It might take a few recalls, including his own, to do that.

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