Imagine yourself in a place where hot-blooded political activism is not a parlor game, where disgust over gerrymandering and voter suppression is largely absent, and where searing first-hand memories of Act 10 protests are few.
In other words, some place far removed from Madison’s bubble of liberal activists.
This place would be dominated by apolitical middle-class voters who may or may not be big admirers of our state government, but who do expect it to function in their interests and to help their children pursue their dreams.
This column, a final argument for Tony Evers as our next governor and for Tammy Baldwin’s re-election to the U.S. Senate, is intended for such voters who live well outside Madison.
My core assertion is that — whatever the avalanche of silly negative ads by Americans for Prosperity or other euphemistically named conservative groups — there is nothing sinister about either Evers or Baldwin.
No, they are humble, authentic, common-sense public servants whose core goal is to make government work on behalf of everyone in Wisconsin regardless of net worth or ZIP code.
It’s tempting to focus on their Republican foes.
Evers’ opponent, Gov. Scott Walker, has pushed an unabashedly extreme far-right agenda to benefit his career for eight years. Baldwin’s opponent, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, is apparently just another grievance-based GOP cultural warrior whose dream is to be another rubber stamp for President Trump.
Walker and Vukmir, it seems clear, are banking on aggressive divisiveness, throwing one charge at Evers and Baldwin after another, relenting only when internal polling suggests their latest smear isn’t sticking.
But let’s instead turn to what Evers and Baldwin represent to the politically agnostic Wisconsin voter. Let’s start with beliefs articulated by both Evers and Baldwin that government can and should play a positive role in public life.
In the gubernatorial race, it seems clear that — after eight years of Walker — people are not getting what they want and need from state government.
While Walker has pledged gigantic subsidies for Foxconn Technology Group of Taiwan and showered tax breaks and relaxed regulations on Wisconsin’s most successful capitalists, there have been only peanuts for workers.
Meanwhile, Walker has continued the cultural fights — urban versus rural, white versus non-white, rich versus poor, union versus nonunion, and on and on. He always reverts to his “divide and conquer” tactic, how he famously characterized his anti-union efforts.
What is missing under Walker? Dependable and affordable health care, adequate funding for public education at all levels and crucial investment in our roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
“Scott Walker has managed to make these debates about unions or about cultural issues or about taxes for his entire time on the statewide stage,” charged a Democratic operative I talked with.
By contrast, Evers, the state superintendent of public instruction and a lifelong educator, exudes humility and earnestness. At 66 and as a survivor of a life-threatening esophageal cancer, he has no political ambition beyond making state government function again.
In his Cap Times op-ed recently, Evers repeatedly promised to work with Republicans. As superintendent, he said he was “working with both parties to do right by our kids.” He wrote of “reaching across the aisle” on access to health care and called for a “permanent and bipartisan solution to solve our state’s transportation crisis.”
On his website, he wrote that as governor he would not pick fights and would “stop pitting Wisconsinites against one another.” In other words, the polar opposite of Walker.
A similar dynamic is playing out in the Baldwin race. Yes, she holds progressive views, but what is paramount is that she is devoted to making government work. She may come from Madison, but she has tirelessly visited and vigorously represented every corner of Wisconsin.
Hardly a political podcast goes by these days without the critical importance of “authenticity” being emphasized. This year’s poster child for that quality is Beto O’Rourke, who has raised massive amounts of money through small contributions in his improbable challenge to incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
But Baldwin is also undeniably authentic, a lesson the GOP learned to its dismay when this liberal congresswoman from Madison defeated conservative legend Tommy Thompson in her first senate race in 2012 at the age of 50.
In stump speeches about protecting people with pre-existing medical conditions, Baldwin talks about her experience being hospitalized with a serious illness for three months at age nine and how it was a struggle thereafter to obtain health insurance.
Baldwin displays that rare combination of Midwestern niceness with a seemingly imperturbable resolve that makes her formidable. If one or both houses of Congress change hands this fall, bipartisan government might actually return to Washington, D.C., and Baldwin would be an ever more important legislative force in the Wisconsin tradition of Gaylord Nelson, or, heck, even Robert M. La Follette.
Evers also exudes Midwestern niceness and is, like Baldwin, even-tempered.
Yes, Evers would need modest revenue increases to fully fund education and repair our sorely neglected roads, but his tax proposals would tax those best able to pay.
Walker has spent eight years doing the opposite. On education, in fact, the GOP gimmick has been to slash state support and, across the state, force public school costs onto the local property tax through referendums.
The truth is that good schools cost money, and Evers sees education as the foundation for everything else needed for Wisconsin’s future.
One final point: Even after starving education and roads for funding, Walker pledged huge state subsidies for Foxconn — a desperate and massive gamble with taxpayer money — for pre-election headlines.
If Evers had been governor in recent years, the state would have been adequately investing in education and roads and the things people actually care about, improvements that would have made our state more attractive to prospective employers and employees. In that way, the economy could have grown organically and huge subsidies to foreign companies wouldn’t even rate a discussion.
That’s the kind of “radical” thinking Evers and Baldwin, if elected, would actually bring.
Something to ponder on Nov. 6.