CAP TIMES: Gov. Scott Walker continues to deceive while advancing his extremist agenda

December 5, 2011
By: 
Paul Fanlund

This year, Scott Walker spun a master narrative that most Wisconsin problems -- from too few jobs to too many taxes -- could somehow be linked to coddled public employees.

Now, faced with a likely recall election next year, our Republican governor, his corporate masters and tea party followers pretend all he did was confront state problems using GOP principles, just politics as usual.

The second narrative is just as untrue as the first.

The recall is not about public employees nor is it about politics as usual. It is about Walker's toxic brand of political fundamentalism -- heartless and historically unprecedented -- that should repel fair-minded, mainstream voters everywhere.

Think back a year. It was exactly 52 weeks ago that Walker, post-election, pre-inauguration, first started to reveal his intent to take away public worker bargaining rights. Sure, there were partisan divides up to that point, but nothing resembling today's. Walker shredded the political culture of Wisconsin as a collaboratively inclined state of good-hearted, moderate citizens. Was it really necessary to tear us apart?

"Wisconsinites generally are sort of a peace-loving people," says Rep. Peter Barca of Kenosha, leader of the Democratic minority in the state Assembly. "We weren't polarized last year at this time. You didn't have families not talking with one another and people being uncivil with one another.

"I think they know he (Walker) is responsible for this."

The anti-Walker case begins on this foundation:

* Walker argued that his hard-line governing was necessary to create 250,000 private sector jobs, yet the early evidence is that he has so divided and distracted us that we are faring more poorly than other states

* Walker chopped state spending on kindergarten through 12th-grade education in the state by more than $830 million, a move that was both draconian and unwarranted by the fiscal situation he inherited. Its effects will be felt by children and families for years.

* And Walker deceived voters by not campaigning on his scheme to decimate public-employee bargaining rights. His claimed goal was to rein in costs, but it clearly was a political gambit to emasculate organized labor's campaign influence and boost his corporate sponsors in future elections.

Perhaps what is most mind-boggling is the breadth and depth of right-wing extremism at the Capitol this year. Actions that individually would have set off alarms in normal times were drowned out in the avalanche of awfulness.

Until this year, when one party controlled the governor's office and both houses of the Legislature, the party in power generally restrained itself. Maybe some reasoned that the minority's constituents actually deserved a voice, or, less altruistically, they knew the electoral pendulum would eventually swing back.

Walker and his GOP cronies went for broke, passing the most extreme version of anything they touched and excluding anyone slightly toward the political center from any role in governance. If any GOP legislator had a momentary moderate lapse, he or she was quickly reminded that new political maps were being drawn and, well, loyalty would be rewarded. Then too, there are some tea party freshman legislators whose value systems are really that far to the right.

Do you think a majority of Wisconsin voters supports this list of approved or attempted GOP ideas?

Take a deep breath: legalizing concealed weapons with no set training requirement; a Mississippi-like "personhood" proposal that could hurt stem-cell research; cutting comprehensive, medically accurate sex education in schools; pursuing harsh, Arizona-like immigration laws; repealing "earned" release of prisoners and the collection of evidence of racial profiling data; delaying lake cleanup and phosphorus rules; exempting the pharmaceutical industry from most consumer lawsuits; punching holes in payday loan and auto title loan regulations; protecting landlords from tenant discrimination lawsuits.

Then there was exempting Brown County wetlands from environmental requirements to placate a donor; diminishing legal protections for nursing home residents; killing 2,300 jobs in turning away federal high-speed rail money; further politicizing state government by converting nearly 40 high-level jobs to patronage positions; pushing 64,000 people off government-subsidized health care; raising taxes on seniors and low-income workers; de-funding women's health centers; giving taxpayer dollars to unaccountable voucher schools; relaxing state laws on puppy mills; repealing municipal water safety programs; and cutting funding for clean drinking water.

"They take the most extreme version of every single bill," says Barca. "It's so breathtaking in terms of the volume that I would argue it desecrates our heritage.

"People know something is amiss," Barca contends. "They know their interests are captive to special interests in Madison. People just feel in their bones that something is desperately wrong."

Barca says average residents may not be able to rattle off the litany of GOP actions, but know there has been an "enormous right turn" nonetheless. "We haven't taken like three steps to the right, we have catapulted ourselves to the right," Barca says. "It's like we are destroying democracy in Wisconsin" by ignoring the views of so many.

Yet this message may or may not resonate with some, observes Kathy Cramer Walsh, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist who has done extensive research on public attitudes in the state. 

"The average person may not be aware of the socially conservative policies" this year, says Walsh. From her polling work, she says Wisconsin is a moderate state on social issues. She points to opposition to same-sex marriage, how that contrasts with support for stem-cell research, while Wisconsin is closely divided on the death penalty.

"Wisconsin is a swing state and that is very much how we are on social issues," she adds.

Walsh, widely respected for her work exploring views of ordinary Wisconsin citizens, says she is impressed by the rapid start to the recall petition effort, but also sees support for Walker among those focused primarily on economic issues and who believe public workers heretofore did not pay their share.

So, as 2012 looms, let's keep it simple.

In 2011, Walker cynically demonized public employees as a front for what one former legislator calls a right wing coup d'état, and now Walker disingenuously claims that the huge blowback is just politics as usual.

For 2012, let's try this: Walker is failing in his pledge to create jobs. His only "success" is at employing bare-knuckled tactics to achieve a tsunami of extremist legislation that, if fully understood, would disgust all but the most ardent social conservatives and corporate fat cats.

In that frame, the intensity around the recall should come as no surprise.