A press release from the Dane County Republican party ridiculing Judge Maryann Sumi caught my eye this morning because of how, well...I'm searching for the right adjective here...snotty? clever? whiny? edgy? sarcastic? childish? it was.
Written as a tongue-in-cheek apology to Judge Sumi for an earlier attack from the party that blasted her for holding up the publication of Governor Scott Walker's controversial "budget-repair" bill, today's missive pretends to sympathize with Sumi for how hard it must be for her to live in Madison and do her job right.
"Judge Sumi is a leftist living in Dane County," the press release says. "Her friends are leftists living in Dane County. Her son is a left wing activist in Dane County. She goes to cocktail parties held by leftists in Dane County. She shops at organic gourmet foods shops run by leftists living in Dane County. If she were to enforce the law of Wisconsin and to do what was in the best interest of the people of the state of Wisconsin, she'd be exiled from her lifestyle. She'd lose her friends!"
I called Jeff Waksman, the guy who wrote this press release and a party spokesman, to see what he was up to. I work for a paper considered to be a "lefty" publication, so I was afraid he might not talk to me. Or he might ask me if I eat organic strawberries. (I do, but I eat strawberries with pesticides on them, too.) But he didn't. I think he was maybe even happy to get my call, because that's what he was after when he wrote the press release, he tells me---attention. Most press releases are unbelievably boring and he wanted this one to stand out, which it sure did. "It's on the Rachel Maddow website right now," he says, proudly.
Cool. So it hit big time. But how about the message? I ask. (He's so friendly, I have to remember to ask him the tough questions.) I mean, this isn't just a game. Our state is being torn apart right now. So is his press release a cyncial effort to exploit resentment of liberal Madison and sow division, or a temper-tantrum-by-press-release, or does he really believe Sumi's judicial judgement is tainted by life on the isthmus?
Waksman gets more intense. "The press release is supposed to be humorous and its written in a way to draw people's attention to it, but the underpinning point is very real," he says. "Madison is a very intimidating and stifling intellectual environment."
He explains that as a libertarian (with a little "l", he says, since he belongs to the Republican Party and not the Libertarian Party) he is sick and tired of people in town making him feel "uncomfortable." Waksman, 27, moved to Madison six years ago from the New York city area. Madison is not tolerant of other perspectives, he says. For example, the chair of the county GOP had his car scratched and the mirror knocked off, he says, and now he and other Republicans worry the same thing could happen to them. (Ah, this explains the part in the press release about local Republicans getting their cars "keyed" and having other bad stuff happen to them.) "You walk down State Street, and every store has a sign that if you support the bill you hate teachers or children," he says. "So people can't even walk into the stores without being afraid and wondering, is this person going to even give me good service?"
He works for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he has learned not to talk politics there, either. "If I express a view, I'm called a homophobe or racist or told that I hate the poor," he says. "I'm a big boy, I can deal with it," he says. But others are intimidated.
In truth, he is a thoughtful guy; he graduated from Columbia University not long ago and he has two graduate degrees, from Madison, I think. People just assume that if he's a Republican he believes certain things, which isn't true, he says; the party is a lot more "heterogenous" than the papers make it out to be. He, for example, believes in the right of gays to have civil unions, he says. Around 40 percent of people in Dane County voted for Walker, he says, but you wouldn't know it, because they are afraid to speak up. (Actually, 31 percent of people in Dane County voted for Walker, but Waksman is right that this is a much bigger number than is readily apparent.) They are even afraid to put signs in their yards, he says, because they keep getting knocked down.
This intolerance, he says, is why he figured all along Sumi would punt the case to the state Supreme Court. If she did anything else, people in Madison would stop inviting her to cocktail parties. Plus, as the press release says, she would lose all her friends.