Sunday, May 6, 2012

Issue #61 May 6, 2012- Recall Primary Update and Reason to Recall #1- Political Extremism

What This Is…
Issue #61- May 6, 2012
In this issue: Primary Election Updates, Voting Information, Reasons To Recall- Political Extremism

Get Involved…
With only a few days until the recall primary elections, and then a short 4 weeks to the recall elections, now is the time for all citizens who are concerned about the future of Wisconsin to be active participants in democracy.  The upcoming elections are our opportunity to derail the conservative agenda before more damage can be done.  We need all hands on deck to make sure that our movement is represented at the polls and that we can counter the GOP propaganda machine.

The reason we need citizens to participate in the democratic process should be obvious, but some facts can spell it out more clearly.  Scott Walker was elected by a minority of eligible Wisconsin voters.  GOP strategists have relied on the lack of participation by voters to guide their campaigns and 2010 was a great example of this.  Republicans ran campaigns that focused on the struggling economy and social issues.  These messages garnered support for their candidates from conservatives and many who were facing economic challenges. 

The dissatisfaction with the economy and the non-presidential year election resulted in 812,082 fewer ballots being cast in 2010 than in 2008.  Dane County, which votes heavily Democrat, saw a decrease in 61,494 votes.  Walker beat Barrett by a mere 124,638 votes.  The numbers show that if more voters had participated in the election we would probably have a different situation here in Wisconsin.    

These elections are important for the future of Wisconsin and will set the tone for the national debate that will culminate in November's elections.  We have a responsibility to ourselves and our fellow citizens to make every possible effort to successfully recall Governor Walker and the other GOP elected officials.  As we see just how far to the right the GOP in Wisconsin is willing to go, and how easy it is for them to bend or ignore rules, laws and established policies it becomes crystal clear that now is the time to stop their agenda. 

There are many ways to participate in the movement to restore Wisconsin to the citizens who live here.  Some of them may seem difficult to do.  It's not easy for many of us to make phone calls, knock on doors or have conversations about politics with those close to us.  However, not doing these things will hand the election to the GOP and allow them to continue their harmful and vindictive policies that will decimate our state in so many ways. 

Vote- Every eligible voter needs to show up and vote in the primaries on May 8th and the recall election on June 5th.  The greater the participation the more valid the results.  There is no reason that anyone who supports public education or who opposes any of the policies that Governor Walker has advanced in the past year should sit this election out.  Take advantage of absentee balloting, early voting, or show up at the polls on election day, but VOTE!! 

Relational Voter Program- This is a relatively new, to me anyway, idea of connecting engaged voters with others who may not be as likely to get out and vote.  Basically the program asks that each person talk to 5-10 people that they know and encourage them to cast a ballot.  What is nice about this concept is that it doesn't require talking to a stranger or getting involved in a political debate.  Simply think of some people in your life who believe in similar things and talk to them about the issues.  Then follow up with a reminder to vote and help them if necessary by providing transportation or assistance in getting the required paperwork/documents so that they can vote.  If every person could do this with a handful of reluctant voters it would make a huge difference.              

Phone Banking/Canvassing- These are probably the most intimidating to a majority of people.  I know, I felt the same way a few months ago.  However, current technology allows for organizations to sort out voters so that volunteers spend their time talking to potential voters who are "friendly".  The contacts that are made help answer questions about voting and campaign issues while encouraging like minded citizens to vote.  Get a few friends together and go to a phone bank, or enjoy a walk in a local neighborhood talking to fellow citizens.  You'll be glad you did.  A couple of ways to get involved in the Madison area…

Saturdays & Sundays until the Recall is over!
Shifts are 9AM, 12 PM and 3 PM
Downtown Office
210 North Bassett Street

Weekday Canvasses until the Recall is over!
Mondays – Thursdays
Shifts from 4PM – 7PM
Downtown Office
210 North Bassett Street

Phone Banking:

This program is happening every weeknight from 5-8 PM at the Labor Temple. 

Organizations- There are many organizations working to try and support the recall efforts and/or keep Wisconsin's elections open and honest.  By connecting with an organization you get valuable information, organized activities and friendly faces to work with.  Here are links to a couple of them.

Primary Elections- Tuesday May 8th…

Voting Information
Of "primary" importance for most voters is the concern of actually being able to cast a ballot.  While the GOP has not been able to push their strict voter ID bill into full effect, the confusion and intimidating atmosphere they have created has the potential to suppress some voting.  This is especially true for new voters and college students, but can affect others as well.  Confusion about voter eligibility, new polling locations and redistricting make some voters hesitant to participate. 

While a majority of the voting rules from past elections still hold for the recalls there are a few differences that people should be aware of.  In addition the potential for sudden changes in voting policies and procedures exists, we can't ignore the potential for this given the current administration's track record.  I would recommend that anyone with questions about voting should check the GAB's website, contact a county clerk or municipal official to verify specific information.  It also doesn't hurt to vote early if you are able to.  This eliminates any hassle on election day and makes sure your ballot is cast.       

Going hand in hand with the concerns about casting ballots is the very real worry that votes will be accurately counted.  It's painful to think that we are at a point in our state's history where citizens have legitimate concerns about the validity of their elections.  Hopefully our outrage has helped clear up at least one source of electoral uncertainty, but we can't take anything for granted.  

Another significant issue surrounding the recall elections has been the Republican's use of "protest candidates".  They will say that this was only done to create a level playing field for their candidates by forcing primary elections which changed the dates of the final elections to be "fair".  However, it has also driven up the costs of the recalls for local governments and Democratic candidates.  The GAB has decided that these "protest" candidates are not technically illegal.  I would argue that it is certainly unethical and that no one should be able to, with a clear conscience, cast a ballot for one of the fake Democrats.  


The centerpiece of the recall effort is the race for governor.  All the other races are important, but we have seen the impact that one radical leading the Executive Branch can do.  This race is drawing well deserved national attention and is historical in many ways.  Governor and Lt. Governor are also the only two primary elections that pit "real" candidates against each other.  The senate primaries all feature Democrats running against imposters put forward by the GOP and shouldn't even be primaries at all.

While there has been significant debate and much angst over who will represent the Democratic Party in the June election the debate and interest generated has, in my opinion, generally been positive.  Some would argue that having a primary race detracts from our effort to recall Walker.  While there is the potential for the race to degenerate into a debacle similar to the GOP's presidential selection process, we've shown our progressive Wisconsin colors and avoided that scenario.  There is a fine line between differentiating a candidates stances on issues and attacking your opponent and for the most part our candidates and managed to stay positive. 

The main reason I believe a primary election is good for our movement is the fact that it allows for all citizens to voice their opinion about who is the best candidate to represent their interests and to unseat Walker.  The controversy over WEAC and AFCME's decisions to endorse Falk are a good example of what can happen if debate and discussion are not opened up to all interested individuals.  While in the end most members of these organizations support their union's decision, the process of endorsement detracted from the actual endorsement for a short time. 

Because we have 4 candidates who each have their strengths and represent different perspectives on the issues it is important that each citizen look at the candidates and decide for themselves.  That is why I support my union's decision to wait until after the primary to fully support one candidate.  There are many factors to consider when deciding who to vote for and lots of information available.  Do your homework and look at the candidates stances on issues of importance to you.  Don't rely on polls, endorsements or political strategists exclusively.  While it is important that we have a candidate who can beat Walker, it's equally true that we need a candidate that people will work for and who generates enthusiastic support.    

I'm including links to some articles about the different candidates, but encourage you to do your own research and make a sound decision.  Each candidate has their own set of strengths and weaknesses.  The two that are the front runners at this time are Falk and Barrett and it doesn’t look like that will change much before Tuesday.  However, the poll numbers shouldn’t discourage supporters of the other Democrats from voting on Tuesday. 

No matter who emerges from the primary election we will need to be united in our support of that candidate and work hard for 4 weeks to get them elected.  Vote for the Democrat of your choice, but VOTE!! 

Tom Barrett

Kathleen Falk

Doug LaFollette

Kathleen Vinehout

The entry of a candidate to run against Walker in a GOP primary race surprised many observers.  That the candidate presents himself as a throwback to old-school Republican traditions makes this an interesting race to watch.  While it would be shocking if Arthur Kohl-Riggs gets any significant percentage of the vote at least his candidacy may force some Republican voters to cast their ballot for Walker and not use their vote to influence the Democrat’s selection.

Some have painted Kohl-Riggs candidacy as a joke or a protest, but it seems like he is truly trying to represent a moderate Republican view.  One that is missing from the current GOP, but that formed the backbone of the Republican party for many years.  The real shame seems to be that the media has not given this race much attention at all and not allowed Mr. Kohl-Riggs a platform to be heard.  He clearly can’t compete with Walker for advertising time and Walker had no interest in debating him.

Lt. Governor
This race is the other one that pits some “real” candidates against each other.  The Democrats have two candidates running with Mahlon Mitchell the leader in the current polls.  Mitchell has the name recognition, charisma and a strong platform and would make an excellent candidate for Lt. Governor.

Democrats can’t ignore the importance of this race and need to control both of the executive offices that are up for a vote. 

Mahlon Mitchell

Ira Robbins

Senate Races
While these primaries shouldn’t be happening and the “protest” candidates shouldn’t receive any votes if they truly were nominated just to force primaries it is important that voters in each of these districts vote to insure the integrity of our elections.  Some GOP candidates, most notably Scott Fitzgerald, are putting significant energy into promoting the Republican candidate in the Democratic primary.  We need to make sure that the real Democrats advance to the June elections.    

Senate District 13
Lori Compas (Real) vs. Gary Ellerman

This race features the grassroots effort of Lori Compas against the entrenched power of Scott Fitzgerald.  Lori Compas has lead the fight to unseat Fitzgerald even as Democrat leadership avoided even attempting to recall him.   

Senate District 21
John Lehman (Real) vs. Tamra Varebrook

The latest polls for the June election show this district as the one that Democrats have the strongest chance for a successful recall in.

SD 21: John Lehman 51, Van Wanggard 47

Senate District 23
Kristen Dexter (Real) vs. James Engel

Kristen Dexter is running very close to her Republican opponent in polls for the June election. 

SD 23: Kristen Dexter 47, Terry Moulton 49

Senate District 29
Donna Seidel (Real) vs. Jim Buckley 

Polls for the June election show Donna Seidel in striking distance of the Republican candidate. 

SD 29: Donna Seidel 45, Jerry Petrowski 51

Issues and Why We Need A Recall
If you listen to conservative media, or to any GOP official's statements you will continue to hear them advance the idea that the recalls are a "waste of time and money", "sour grapes" and an effort by "the national big money, big labor…to disenfranchise the voters of Wisconsin…."  These efforts to discredit the recall rely on an emotional response from voters and not an intellectual one.  Considering that there were over 900,000 signatures to force a recall of Governor Walker and that less than 1/3 of those signing were public sector union members the idea that the unions control the recall is obviously false.

I think that most Wisconsinites would agree that we don't want to see recalls become a frequently used "tool" in our political system.  Recalls should be a last resort of an electorate that is trying to remove an elected official who is either incompetent or unethical (in a very significant way that goes beyond acceptable boundaries).  As we explore the issues that drove the recall here it becomes clear that Wisconsin's recalls of 2011 and 2012 have merit and represent a positive response to the radical actions of Republican leaders.

Instead of the single issue, non-Wisconsin driven recall movement that the GOP would like us to see, it is important that citizens realize the facts that drove so many of us to sign a recall petition.  Over the next few weeks I will look at several of these issues and give my perspective on why a recall was a valid response to the actions of Republicans in Wisconsin.  The main topics I will investigate are:  Political extremism, the war on women, cuts to safety nets, Wisconsin's economy and jobs, education, worker's rights, the undermining of our political system, and corruption/unethical behavior.      

Political Extremism
I'll start my exploration of the reasons our recall efforts are merited with one that might not be high on the list of most interesting to many of us.  The economy, collective bargaining rights and cuts to important programs may generate more emotional responses, but recent trends towards political extremism are an important underlying reason Wisconsin's recalls are important to all Americans.

What has been most shocking to many Wisconsinites hasn’t necessarily been the policies that Walker has pushed for.  There has always been support for policies that call for cuts to government and reductions in aid to citizens.  What caused the strong reactions to Walker’s agenda was the extreme nature of the policies and the way that they were forced through the process with little regard for legality and past practices. 

This was new to Wisconsin politics, but part of a national trend towards governing by force and not by compromise.  This aggressive approach to policy making goes beyond simple party differences.  Even within the GOP there is little room for dissenting opinions.  Elected officials who don’t follow the party line are ostracized and forced out of the party ranks.  Notice that Sen. Schultz is facing a potential recall effort from his own party members because of his votes on some key legislation. 

When the “brute force” political strategy is combined with a radically conservative agenda the results are just what one would expect, controversial and divisive.  Then when you throw in the propaganda and message of fear and anger that the GOP employs, a volatile mix is created.  The GOP turns its powerful media machine against specific groups and works to try and control the electorate.  In the modern environment of relatively apathetic voters this allowed extremely conservative Republicans to rise to leadership positions within their party.  As Geoffrey Kabaservice says in his book Rule and Ruin, "The right wing was able to dominate low-turnout primaries and open caucuses through its organizational muscle and the ideological zeal of its followers.  It such elections, 80% of success is showing up, to paraphrase Woody Allen…"

The results have been catastrophic for our political, social and economic well- being.  George Washington, among other American leaders, voiced a belief that our nation needs to follow a “middle course” and that extremism would be harmful to our national stability.  We are truly a nation of great diversity and extremism threatens our ability to function as a united nation.  Our political system is built on compromise and not allowing any one ideology to completely dominate.  While this has made for slow and not always steady progress in our efforts to address important issues, it also has allowed us to remain functional as a nation state.  The New York Times editorialized in the early 1970’s,  "Heterogeneous national parties are confusing and untidy but they lend stability to a diverse society which always needs a stabilizing influence."

Wisconsin is no different from the rest of our nation.  We have relied on our political process to balance out our differing views.  Collective bargaining provides an example of how this process can work.  Faced with ongoing conflict that naturally occurs between labor and management a system of conflict resolution has developed over time.  Suddenly a radically conservative leader uses a shaky “mandate” and undoes 100+ years of compromise in a drastic act.  The result is political, social and economic upheaval.

Another consequence of the radical movement in the GOP has been the rise of candidates and party officials who are not overly qualified for their positions.  These individuals rise to prominence because they are willing to toe the party line and have connections that enable them to achieve powerful positions.  They frequently don’t understand the traditions and often voice disdain for the way that things have been done in the past.  Because they are unwilling to compromise they cause friction in whatever governing body they occupy and create gridlock and factionalism. 

The positions that these conservatives take are, more often than not, on the extreme far right of the political spectrum.  In fact they are farther right than most citizens are comfortable with.  This means that conservatives must find a way to unify their voting base and they frequently use fear and build anger towards specific groups.  In Wisconsin this has lead to a campaign against public workers, recipients of public support and other specific groups. Republicans also target specific social issues and try to marginalize their opposition.
However, the news isn’t all bad.  Whenever an extreme position is advanced there is a backlash from the rest of society.  This resistance can take on many forms.  Here in Wisconsin we have seen a coalition of groups and individuals unite to defend our state against this radical agenda.  This resistance forms around a variety of issues and is not monolithic, rather it is a collection of different views united in an effort to restore moderation to our state.  We don’t claim to have all the perfect answers, but we recognize that we don’t want to be governed by a group that thinks they do.  To quote from Kabaservice’s book again, "…the division of the parties by ideology increasingly threatens to divide Americans by geography, race, ethnicity, religion and class as well.  Political movements based on dogmatic, unthinking certitude may be fatal to treasured American values.  As Judge Learned Hand famously observed, the spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right."

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