In The News
Recalls, redistricting help expose GOP playbook
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted July 11, 2011
The grossest fabrication of the Wisconsin political season belongs to the Republicans and Gov. Walker. They could not acknowledge a genuine outrage and concern among Wisconsin residents, both union and non, over state cuts of hundreds of dollars per student in education --- little of it doing with the union power of teachers – and similar devastation to local governments. So they still go on talk shows and encourage third party ads painting the citizens on the streets of Madison and around the state as outside agitators.
Not just news stories and videos exposed the canard. So do routine conversations – even in so-called Republican suburban neighborhoods -- about how people down the block were going to Madison or organizing local school rallies. You could hear the concern at the supermarket, the Y, the ball park. It simply meant, agree or not, Wisconsinites knew exactly who was angry and also knew darn well it wasn’t busloads of imported strangers.
(That, amusingly, turned out to be the Tea Party game as they started dragging in busloads, signature gatherers and money from the outside to oppose the recalls of six Republican senators.)
Other behavior around the recalls and redistricting exposes the basic strategy. At first embracing the presence of fake Dems in the July 12 elections, then disavowing involvement, then trying to explain to the media their efforts on official letterhead to get Republicans to cross over July 12 and pretend to be Democrats, the GOP party and its county affiliates entered the Tuesday votes looking quite foolish – and also costing the taxpayers nearly half a million dollars by creating meaningless primaries and delaying the real day of judgment to Aug. 9.
Look past that Tuesday vote and ask the GOP operatives, frankly, how they really feel about their chances Aug. 9. Ask them to put aside self-delusion, feints and attack. Well, of course they can’t. On the record you get defiant spin. Off the record they don’t sound optimistic despite the knee-jerk rhetoric of the paid operatives on TV talk shows.
You can smell the fear in the Republican haste to speed through both congressional and state redistricting. Yes, it’s politics as usual to enjoy the spoils of victory. But normally politicians cover their tracks by appearing judicious and concerned about voters as they maneuver to protect their own in redrawing the state electoral map. Leisure and double-checks typically rule given the normal two years in power before voters can change things.
Not this summer. Hence the unseemly scramble to redistrict for 2012 before the recall elections August 9.
It is actually an acknowledgement that the Democrats will take control of the state propelling a Walker recall in early 2012 and by November of 2012 taking back the Assembly from the pack of know-nothing Tea Party lemmings who took the state over the cliff in June.
The haste is doubly remarkable because in past practice, the legislature waited until after municipal and county boundaries were redrawn to reflect population shifts. Now they’re not waiting. In fact, they are threatening to introduce separate legislation to undo any local redrawing – a transparent effort to wrest control from the voters before the voters wrest control from them.
Looking just at Senate District 8, where GOP Alberta Darling is likely to be recalled Aug. 9, the redistricting intends to give her a better environment to come back in November of 2012 by removing Milwaukee, Glendale and Shorewood – typically Democratic areas – from the district and adding conservative areas of Washington County.
It may not have the intended effect, even if the ploys work despite public protests and federal lawsuits. The redistricting race to the bottom even removes Democrat stalwart and noted fund raiser Rep. Fred Kessler from his own district and seeks to protect Wauwatosa Sen. Leah Vukmir by eliminating moderate segments. The GOP clearly intends to force the Democrats into more difficult environments next year, but they are blindly counting on having the same landscape and willing stooges they had in 2010. Similarly they are this summer counting on recall voters being the sort of dummies who think if it’s not raining now it never will again.
July 11 I spoke to both Kessler and state Sen. Chris Larson about the public protests called for by Milwaukee leaders and the lawsuits – “all good things,” said Larson, “but only the Republicans’ own conscience will deter them from doing this, and given their track record I wouldn’t count on it.”
The GOP strategy is indeed to keep pretending everything is rosy, to insist that Wisconsin should keep them in power because the sky isn’t falling right now from Walker’s budget changes. But most people understand the full weight doesn’t land for more than a year. By November of 2012 that could be full blast when even regions once regarded as knee-jerk Republican may well have soured on the Walker team they put into office.
Yet relentlessly the GOP strategy remains painting every opponent not as a worried citizen concerned about a government that doesn’t listen but as an un-American alien somewhere to the left of Sacco and Vanzetti.
That became clear when Walker in July went on television to accuse unions of creating his low ratings by exaggerating the cost of his health care demands. Even conservative media jumped all over his deliberate fib -- because unions have been very clear that Walker increased to 12% the health care premiums paid by public workers, not 12% of their total income.
The unions emphasized accurately that loss of total income was directly affected by a combination effect – the 5.8% required in pension contributions came directly out of salary while the health premiums doubled or tripled what most public workers were already paying. Together those impositions will cost many workers 12% of total income, to be sure, a devastating hit on families that were only bringing home $30,000 or $40,000 a year to support four people. But unions were also clear, as Walker wasn’t, how to evaluate the individual and family cost -- and they didn’t, though they could have, count in the cost to all the state’s working families of other aspects of his budget.
Such accuracy forced Walker to spin because he’s married to the pretense that only outsiders dislike his policies, denying that state residents are genuinely wounded. Reality is creeping in on all voters, even on the Republicans who went along with Walker out of a love of power -- though they apparently thought all along he was excessive, according to stories the media is now full of.
Those mea culpas are worth examining – assurances by Republicans now facing recalls who swear they are moderates at heart and wish they had resisted swallowing the whole Walker enchilada but went along out of party loyalty. (They don’t say out of desire for power and control, which is probably more apt.)
A feisty Democrat, retired US Rep. David Obey, told a recent Milwaukee convention how to respond to that sudden apology after the damage was done. “If they voted with him,” said Obey, “they are no moderates – no matter how they pretend. They’re cowards. And for that alone they should be bounced.”
Revealed to readers of JS were the two or even three faces of a newspaper that supported Walker for governor and doesn’t quite know how to play honest in the current chaos. One news story, without any polling – and perhaps without strolling the streets of GOP territory in Mequon and Thiensville as this reporter recently did – called Darling “safe” in the recall.
A JS editorial took the weird stance that no recall based on policy votes was good while virtually every political story used to sell the newspaper reveals how many different fronts those GOP “policy votes” attacked.
Meanwhile, expert political reporter Craig Gilbert provided a thorough cogent analysis with maps of who the GOP is seeking to protect through redistricting.