Welcome to 2016. This promises to be an exciting — if not scary — political year.
Nationally, we'll be electing Barack Obama's successor and 34 of the seats in the U.S. Senate are up — 10 Dems and 24 Republicans, one of them being Wisconsin's own Ron Johnson. And, of course, at stake are all the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, many of the districts so gerrymandered by partisan state politicians that there's little chance current occupants will face meaningful races.
Same is true of the state Assembly here in Wisconsin. The questionable redistricting following the 2010 census carved out safe districts for most incumbents and chances of changing the current 63-36 Republican majority are slim at best. The Senate, however, could be a different story; 16 of the 33 seats are up for election, with the incumbents evenly divided between the two parties.
What makes 2016 particularly interesting, though, are a couple of variables. Presidential elections in Wisconsin, at least, bring out a significantly higher percentage of Democratic voters than the typical off-year election. That could spell trouble for a far-right Republican like Ron Johnson and could perhaps be a deciding factor in some of the state Senate races.
The other variable is how the state's voters view what Wisconsin Republicans and their governor, Scott Walker, have done to the state the past six years. There are indications — the recent Marquette Law School poll a prime example — that Walker has alienated independent voters, first with his embarrassing run for the GOP presidential nomination, and then with his complicity in dismantling state government watchdog agencies, opening the doors even wider to big campaign donors, and giving politicians special protections against investigations into their activities.
Many voters believe, rightfully so, that many of this Legislature's actions have been aimed at putting elected state officials in a special class by themselves.
There are even more signs that the Republican majorities in the two legislative houses may have overplayed their hands on reducing funding for public education, attacking open records, and curtailing the powers of local governments to make their own decisions on key issues that affect their communities.
The key question is whether the state's dysfunctional Democratic Party can get its act together in 2016 to get the message out to the voters on what's been going on the past several years.
If they can, the Dems could retake the state Senate, where they would have a fighting chance to slow down or even stop the attacks on Wisconsin's long history of providing businesses and working people an even playing field, of a thriving middle class, of environmental protections for its water and air, and of a public education system second to none.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel
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