I’ve spent most of my adult life on the West Coast, living in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz. Before retiring in 2017, I spent 13 years at Apple launching and managing digital media services — podcasting, e-books and news — that operated globally. And yet, as the 2020 election approaches, much of my political energy is focused on Wisconsin.
Let’s start with the simple fact that when I vote Democratic in California next year, it won’t matter in the presidential election; the state’s electoral votes will go to whichever candidate runs against Donald Trump. But why Wisconsin? The easy answer is that Wisconsin is one of a handful of key states where Trump narrowly beat Hillary Clinton in 2016. But it’s more than that, and also more than my personal connections to the Badger State: My older daughter is a student at Beloit College, my in-laws were born in Pepin County, and my wife and I have family and friends living in western Wisconsin.
Until recently, I wasn’t paying much attention to Wisconsin at all. After nearly three years of being outraged and then exhausted by Trump attacking our institutions from within and debasing America’s standing abroad, I was on the verge of hopelessness. Then I read Dan Kaufman’s 2018 book, "The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics." I decided that the best way for me to have the biggest impact on the 2020 election would be go smaller-scale — to help Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes go blue again. I already knew that Clinton lost this state by fewer than 23,000 voters in 2016, but I now prefer to think of this as a margin of only six votes in each of the state’s 3,676 precincts. Flipping Wisconsin is not only important, but achievable, meaning that anyone who participates can play a meaningful role.
The more I learn about Wisconsin’s liberal past and current landscape, the more passionate I am about reversing its recent slide into a state now dominated by a Republican Party committed to anti-democratic rule — partisan gerrymandering, voter suppression, the ruthless and mean-spirited abuse of power — that mirrors what’s happening nationally and in states such as North Carolina and Georgia.
I find common cause with progressives living in Madison. I believe in universal access to affordable health care, that climate change is real and that sensible laws are needed to address the scourge of gun violence — and can be enacted without violating Second Amendment rights. I believe that good public schools and well-maintained roads benefit all of us, even if we don’t have kids in school or drive. I accept that taxes are the price we pay to live in communities instead of self-obsessed bubbles.
I also sympathize with struggling Wisconsin farmers, hammered by Donald Trump’s unnecessary trade war and insulted by Sonny Perdue’s assertion that only the largest agribusinesses deserve to survive. I grew up in a Montana farm community, surrounded by Republicans. Although we frequently disagreed on policy, I respected their commitment to personal responsibility, fiscal restraint and stoic independence. We all agreed that when the federal government steps in, it should solve problems, not create them. To repair some of the wreckage caused by tariffs, the Trump administration has already spent $28 billion on farm subsidies — more than twice what the Obama administration spent to rescue the auto industry, a crisis he inherited on his first day in office.
As a parent and someone who’s lived in the suburbs, I understand the revulsion of swing voters in Waukesha County, appalled by Trump’s childish tantrums as he whipsaws between vicious bully and whiny victim. I wouldn’t allow my children to play with such a brat, much less want him to have control over the Justice Department, U.S. foreign aid and nuclear codes. And, even though I now live in a small town on the central coast of California, I lived in Oakland in the ‘80s as it began gentrifying, so I’ve witnessed both the multicultural mosaic and urban violence of a city such as Milwaukee.
And so for the next year, I will follow political developments in Wisconsin as closely as those in my own state, contributing time and money to help defeat Trump in November. In its trailblazing history as a champion of social justice, voter rights, environmentalism and well-funded public education. Wisconsin has been a leader on the way up and, more recently, on its way down. A year out from the 2020 election, I’m pledging my support to help swing momentum back again, not only for my newly adopted state but the country as a whole.
Keith Moerer is a former journalist and retired tech executive now living in northern California.
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