Despite national success, Wisconsin progressives still have much to fear at the state level
After two years of watching Tea Party-backed sleaze such as Scott Walker, Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan become the face of politics in our state, Wisconsin progressives finally found some vindication last Tuesday night.
Despite the presence of one of our statesmen on the Republican ticket, Barack Obama won Wisconsin so handedly that the state was projected in blue on election maps just minutes after polls had closed. Tammy Baldwin will also be representing Wisconsin as America’s first openly gay Senator and Baldwin’s former seat in the House of Representatives will be held by Mark Pocan, who is also gay. He even kissed his partner – whom he legally married in Canada – on the victory podium.
In short, Wisconsin’s representation in the legislature has gotten incredibly gay… and that is awesome.
In fact, much has been said and written in the media about the election being influenced by “demographic shifts,” “minority voting power” and other polite ways of saying “old white bigots and their influence are dying.” It has become clear that, despite a good half-century of preying on the fears and anxieties of suburban and rural America, the national GOP can no longer consider Obama’s 2008 victory a fluke and must find ways of reaching out to the very same demographical groups it has been alienating this entire time.
Frankly, I’ll be surprised if that happens. While I have no doubt the Republicans will scour their ranks for black and brown faces – perhaps even nominating a Condoleeza Rice or Marco Rubio for President in 2016 (but again, I’m not holding my breath) – I believe the party as a whole is far too entrenched in prejudice and Evangelical dogma to reach out with any significant level of sincerity. At most, they will simply find someone other than an old white man to trot out the same antiquated, myopic, old white male-favoring ideals.
But back on the home front – thanks in no small part to the Walker administration-approved gerrymandering of redrawn district lines – the Republicans have taken back the Wisconsin State Senate and now control both houses and the Governor’s office, just as they did immediately after Scott Walker took office.
In much contrast with the national demographic trends, Wisconsin is over 90 percent white outside of Milwaukee and lacks a job market extensive enough to facilitate the large number of graduates coming from the UW system. As such, many educated, young voters leave the state, skewing the remaining population even older. But most contradictory of all, the state that just struck such historic gains for LGBT rights passed a law banning same-sex marriage in Wisconsin only six years ago.
Granted, I’ve never been one to think simply “working within the system” by itself is enough, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the least bit frustrated that we keep sending our best politicians –our Tammy Baldwins, our Gwen Moores and our Russ Feingolds – to Washington, while putting things back home in the hands of people like Tom Barrett and Jim Doyle… people who tragically prove that while painfully out of touch, old, white guys are MOSTLY a Republican problem, it’s not exclusively theirs.
As of now, I can’t claim to have any direct solutions or ideas on how this can change, but until it does, anyone who doesn’t tow the Republican line can expect our voices to be drowned out by Belling-bots in the suburbs and gun-crazed xenophobes upstate, no matter how much progress is made nationally.