Thursday, November 14, 2019


By Dominique Paul Noth

Portion of John Hart's photo in Wisconsin State Journal
 of majority leader Scott Fitzgerald skulking in the
background while Gov. Evers (left) attends
the session rejecting his ag appointment.
The longing to be Virginia – the state, that is -- is particularly strong in Wisconsin, which on paper has a similar state political setup but little chance of duplicating that Nov. 5 election outcome.

Like Virginia it has a Democratic governor, all new Democratic statewide offices (elected in 2018) and a Republican dominated legislature controlled largely, as was once true in Virginia, by decade-old Republican gerrymandering. 

The national media has paid more attention to the Democratic victory in Kentucky, which Trump had carried by 30% in 2016, but state admiration is larger for Virginia. The wins there may prove more important.

Wisconsin, longing aside, is hardly poised to clone Virginia where both statehouses turned comfortably blue after lingering in the other camp. In Wisconsin, after years of choosing a Democratic presidential candidate, Trump squeaked by in 2016 – and Trump people still have hopes there is enough rural and evangelical resistance to Democrats to offset the growing Trump dislike in urban communities.

In Virginia unlike Wisconsin, Nov. 5 signaled an end to the GOP blockade of good state bills on health care, gun control, education and taxes. In Wisconsin the good bills remain horribly bottled up. 

Virginia Democrats were aided just a tad by 2018 federal court rulings (affecting 11 of more than 100 legislative districts).  That and close margins in both chambers was just enough to galvanize voter turnout. No such judicial help awaits Wisconsin, where the state senate is close but not the Assembly. 

The Wisconsin gerrymander was even more extreme in legislative districts.  Earlier this year, the US high court both admitted the Wisconsin districts are warped and washed its hands about doing anything about it.  In its tragic Rucho vs. Common Cause decision it determined that political partisanship was too toxic for SCOTUS to dirty itself with interfering – a remarkably dense decision. 

Meanwhile the state’s high court is the opposite of a helpmate.  Blatantly conservative it does the will of the GOP legislature and is expected to continue down that road unless the slaves rebel against the masters who paid for their election.

The right-wing enslavement has continued to confound Democratic Gov. Tony Evers who keeps trying, inching forward when his sensible proposals supported by voters should leap ahead.  The legislature is even inspecting one by one his cabinet appointments and just flatly rejected the farmers’ friend (and proven administrator, Brad Pfaff) picked to lead the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.  Evers actually attended the legislative session in Madison rejecting Pfaff in the hope that his presence might embarrass the GOP. It didn’t. He called the result “absolute bullshit.”

He further commented he would be darned if he would withdraw his cabinet choices despite the gauntlet they were being subjected to. "If I was a total cynic I'd say, 'Keep your damn mouth shut,' but I'm not,” Evers told the assembled media. “I want them to be forthcoming. That's why we hired them." The circumstances forced him to elevate  the agriculture deputy

(And on Nov. 11 Evers hired Pfaff with more responsibility and a higher salary in the Department of Administration as director of business and rural development.) 

The pettiness has grown. The governor’s call for a special legislative session on gun control left GOP leaders vowing to gavel the session in and out without doing anything. And Nov. 8 that’s what they did, spitting in the face of both Evers and a majority of state voters.

The Wisconsin GOP continues to feel its oats in the legislative proposals it advances, defying the governor with an ugly trail of their own bills, sneaking some high-minded sounding proposals in among their poison pills.

In October, for example, the GOP passed a bill making it a felony to have sex with animals – who could say no to that? But in November it turned down a bipartisan proposal to spend $4 million to fight homelessness, leading the head of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness, Joseph Volk, to comment sarcastically that they acted with speed to protect cows and goats but “I guess homeless children will just have to wait.”

The Wisconsin GOP is now determined to weaken the strongest veto pen in the nation that allows Evers to adjust budget language, as he did recently to return $65 million to public schools that the legislature had eliminated.

Their idea requires two legislative sessions, the second in 2021, along with court authority. But the Republicans are clearly confident they will win legislative re-election in 2020 no matter who wins the presidential race.  They are confident they will also still control the state  high court in 2021, so they are speeding ahead comforted in their gerrymandered strength and that Democrats can’t muster enough votes to oust them in local races.

So Wisconsin in November 2020 will come down to the Democrats needing enormously heavy voter turnout –abnormally focused, as the state electorate doesn’t usually do, not on the presidential race but on local legislative races.

Most observers predict such changes are way out of reach.  Of course, they said the same about Virginia, where the Democrats have confounded their opponents.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs.. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  A member of the American Theatre Critics Association at its inception, he also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.

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