Wisconsin Recall: Hope Remains While the Company Is True

A few weeks ago I went with a friend to Miller Park a couple of hours before the start of a Brewers game to gather signatures to help Kathleen Vinehout get her name on the ballot for the May 8 recall primary. Being a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I had never done anything like this before. It was like a brief, intense peek into a microcosm of Wisconsin. Unsurprisingly, most were drinking beer, eating brats and cheese, and generally in quite the festive, boisterous mood.

It was heartening to hear many ask specifically about Vinehout’s support for teachers. They perceived Walker’s attack on teachers as a serious affront and were only interested in helping candidates who would strongly support public education and teachers. Of course, there were a couple who had to yell “Support Walker” at the top of their lungs, but mostly people were quite pleasant.

I approached one young woman who said, “I’m a Walker supporter.”
Me: “No problem. Thanks anyway.”
She (seeming surprised): “Thanks for being so polite about it.”
Me (smiling): “Thanks for thanking me.”
Then we both giggled, almost conspiratorially, like we were doing something slightly subversive by being so painfully, explicitly polite. I can’t help but think that had we more time we could have had a good conversation about what was happening to our state. As it was, it was like catching a brief glimpse of an actual human being, beating heart and all, on the other side of a vast chasm.

This past week we were given a different kind of glimpse, this one into the chasm of Walker’s dark heart, not unlike his revealing and excruciatingly embarrassing tape-recorded phone call with blogger Ian Murphy posing as billionaire radical-right-winger David Koch, in which he talked about dropping the bomb on Wisconsin. On Thursday, another telling recorded conversation surfaced, this one from January 2011 with an actual billionaire donor, Diane Hendricks, who, it transpires, is Walker’s most generous backer to date (having donated $510,000 to Walker’s campaign so far) and owns the ABC Supply Company in Beloit, which paid not a dime in state corporate income tax from 2005 to 2008. This time Walker spoke of using a “divide and conquer” tactic. Alas, that “divide and conquer” thingy has been tried before, to disastrous effect.

A 1947 “Don’t Be a Sucker” film put out by the U.S. War Department warns against falling for the divide-and-conquer tactic: “In this country we have no ‘other people.’ We are American people. … Remember that when you hear this kind of talk. Somebody’s going to get something out of it, and it isn’t going to be you.

Very prescient. Clearly Walker’s billionaire backers get something out of all this bombing and dividing and conquering. And what are the people of Wisconsin getting? The worst job performance of any state in the nation. Slashed education funding. Drastically cut healthcare. And a severely divided state.

Not long after his conversation with Hendricks, Walker dropped his bomb on the state, blithely claiming that it was all to balance the budget. Check out the clear disconnect between what he told Hendricks and what he told us:

Walker has divided Wisconsin all right. To say he’s a “polarizing personality” is understatement. According to Jessica Van Egeren of the Cap Times,

His popularity among voters has hovered around 50 percent for months, suggesting his supporters will view the admission caught on the video without consternation while his detractors will see it as confirmation of everything they already oppose about him. Thus, it seems the video, while described as ‘shocking’ by Barrett’s campaign, will do little to sway most voters.

The Marquette poll [released last week] found only a small percentage of state voters, around 4 percent, remain undecided in the June election.

Phil Walzak, a Barrett spokesman, believes it’s those voters who the Walker video could potentially impact. And for them, he says, it won’t be because the video touches on Walker’s views on collective bargaining but rather because it provides a glimpse into Walker’s style.

“Even if this small percentage of voters isn’t moved by collective bargaining issues, they are moved by issues of trust,” Walzak says. “Walker tells us one thing, and billionaire donors another. I think that is a turnoff to voters who are undecided and in the middle right now. Something like this could be really big for them.” (emphasis added)

We are indeed severely divided. And by all accounts it’s going to be a perilously close race. Who knows who those 4 percent are and where they are? They could be anyone, anywhere. Now is not the time to politely avoid talk of politics. Now is the time to ask friends and neighbors and coworkers where they stand in the great divide. When the answer you hear sounds like it comes from one of the 4 percent, listen carefully. Have a real conversation. Those are the moments that could make or break this election.

I’m reminded of Galadriel’s words to the fellowship in The Lord of the Rings: “The Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains, while the company is true.”

Photos courtesy of the Overpass Light Brigade, Raj Shukla, and John Pope. Video courtesy of Arthur Kohl-Riggs. Many thanks to all of you!

Occupy the GOP: Art for Gov May 8

Endorsements for candidates in posts here do not represent the opinions of all regular contributers, blue cheddar, or the blog’s many guest writers.

As I wrote earlier, of the four Democratic candidates vying to face Walker in the June 5 Wisconsin Recall election, my pick is Kathleen Vinehout, who has said this on more than one occasion: “If you don’t like big money in politics, vote for the candidate with the least money. If you don’t like politics as usual, vote for the unusual candidate.”

So I’m following her advice, and on May 8 I’m voting for Arthur Kohl-Riggs, who is running as a Lincoln/La Follette progressive Republican. I love the idea of a progressive running as a Republican. This is taking the fight right to Walker himself, to his territory, his own party. This is taking the offensive position. It is nothing less than an occupation of the Republican party.

The Republican party began right here in Wisconsin, in the city of Ripon in 1854, as an abolitionist force opposed to the expansion of slavery into the western territories. The first Republican president was none other than Abraham Lincoln himself, to whom Art bears more than a passing resemblance. Obviously the party has strayed far—very far—from its noble beginnings.

Arthur is serious in his determination to defeat Walker. By running against him as a Republican, he’s showing himself to be a clever, resourceful young man capable of thinking outside the box. And he is young—23 years young. In our struggle against the corporate takeover of our state, most of us thought we had no choice but to rely on the often disappointing Democratic party, but very often Democratic candidates are beholden to the same corporate forces we are fighting against and are only slightly less repugnant than their GOP counterparts.

In a way, Art’s running as a Republican brings us around full circle, creates a simultaneously new and old, authentic and innovative space in which to carry on our fight. Voting as a Democrat in the primary means choosing among four candidates—all of them good, none of them perfect, none of them eliciting the fervor of the day-after-day winter protests of February and March 2011 nor the dogged determination of the campaign to collect recall signatures.

To my mind, right now, voting against Walker is paramount. And Arthur is giving us a chance to do just that, quite emphatically, on May 8 as well as on June 5. And given that my positive feelings about the four Democratic contenders aren’t anywhere near as strong as my negative feelings toward Walker, what I really, really want is to vote vehemently, adamantly against Walker.

Arthur has developed what he calls a living platform—living, because it will grow and take shape as he responds to the concerns of the people. The one thing that has incensed me most about Walker has been his refusal to listen to the people of Wisconsin. He and his cronies in the legislature have treated us with utter contempt. The people of Wisconsin need a governor who will listen to us and identify with us, who will bear in mind and heart the present and future well-being of the people of Wisconsin.

John Nichols writes:

Arthur Kohl-Riggs runs in the Wisconsin Republican tradition, a radical tradition that embraces labor rights, human rights and democracy. That’s what Wisconsin Republicans believed in for far longer than they have embraced the boilerplate language of contemporary conservatism—as espoused by Scott Walker.

“I am a Lincoln-La Follette Republican, a real Wisconsin Republican,” says Kohl-Riggs. “Scott Walker is the fake Republican.”

Arthur wrote a great piece for the Cap Times this week in which he says, “I love Wisconsin for what our state has historically valued and for how tirelessly we will fight against those who do not have the people’s best interests at heart.”

You can see Art’s interview with Wisconsin Eye here and his interview with Channel 3 News here.

Arthur’s campaign is fun. Think of it—fun! The tag line at the top of Art’s web page says “Art for Gov: Not currently the subject of an ongoing John Doe investigation!” A couple of the homegrown, grassroots campaign posters I’ve seen show Arthur dressed in top hat and bow tie, clearly evoking a young Abe Lincoln, literally running, with a tag line that says “Arthur Kohl-Riggs ‘Running’ For Gov.” It’s not that he’s not serious. He is in earnest. But the wise know it’s best in a sustained fight against evil to nurture a healthy sense of humor, which requires perspective and humility, guards against discouragement, and keeps enthusiasm and optimism fresh and vigorous.

I’m delighted that Arthur has stepped up to challenge Walker directly on his own political turf. At worst, he may help us to keep Republicans from “messing around” with the Democratic primary. At best, we give Walker the boot a month early.

For my part, I’m completely fed up with the corporate takeover of our state. I’ve had enough of big money in politics, and politics as usual makes me utterly ill. The thought of voting in the Democratic primary on May 8 smells a lot like politics as usual to me. Whereas every time I think about voting for Art on May 8, I smile.

Wisconsin Recall: Vinehout’s the Real Deal

Endorsements for candidates in posts here do not represent the opinions of all regular contributers, blue cheddar, or the blog’s many guest writers.

I spent most of Wednesday afternoon reading up on Kathleen Vinehout, in part because she’s the Democratic gubernatorial challenger I find most compelling, in part because a blogger I very much respect has come out solidly in her favor, and in part because that evening I would have the opportunity to ask her any questions that arose in the course of my reading.

I find Vinehout compelling because I believe she’s the candidate who has demonstrated the most support for the Wisconsin movement and has most strongly stood up to the Fitzwalkers. And she has a lot of respect and enthusiasm for what she calls the renaissance of democracy that is transforming the political landscape of the state. She has broad appeal because of her strong connections with rural and small-town Wisconsin. No one can call her a Madison or a Milwaukee Democrat.

Vinehout’s credibility is enhanced by her having been one of the Fighting Fourteen who left the state last year to slow Walker’s railroading of the Wisconsin people. If the senators hadn’t responded so quickly, the Wisconsin movement might not have been able to gain the momentum that it did. Their leaving was pivotal in galvanizing the people to stand up and make themselves heard. The senators’ bold action bolstered us, because we knew we had strong advocates in the legislature.

Vinehout, Fighting Bob Fest 2009
Vinehout spoke at the Fighting Bob Fest in Baraboo in 2009, and I remember that she was stirring and articulate and really got my progressive blood pumping. So I went to hear her speak at Wednesday night’s Drinking Liberally meeting at the Brink Lounge in Madison knowing I was going to hear a dynamic and persuasive speaker, and she did not disappoint. She exuded energy and optimism and was friendly and approachable.

She began with the story of how the fourteen senators were able to leave the state. Senate minority leader Mark Miller called the senate clerk at 11pm on Feb. 16 to verify the number of votes needed for a quorum on a budget bill. After confirming that twenty senators were needed, the clerk told Miller that on the following day a state trooper would be assigned to each one of the Democratic state senators, presumably to make sure they didn’t attempt to leave the building before the vote. Talk about heavy handed! Miller called Vinehout and the other senators first thing the next morning, thus enabling them to get away before Papa Fitzgerald’s state troopers had them hemmed in.

Vinehout affirmed her support for public education and public school teachers, her determination to see collective bargaining reinstated for public employees, and her belief in the critical importance of affordable health care for all. When asked why we should support her candidacy, she cited the breadth of her experience as a public health nurse, college professor, and organic dairy farmer as well as her six years as a state senator.

She emphasized that “we must be the change we want to see in the world,” that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” and that it’s up to us to fix this horrible mess we’re in. She said that if you don’t like politics as usual, vote for the unusual candidate. And if you don’t like money in politics, vote for the candidate with the least money.

Questions have been raised about Vinehout’s bona fides in relation to safeguarding women’s reproductive freedom, and my reading suggested that perhaps those questions will be the ones that will dog her most during this short, intense primary season.

One woman asked Vinehout Wednesday night why she is against abortion. Vinehout confirmed, though, that she believes abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” and that her legislative record confirms that belief. When asked later what she meant by “rare,” she said that providing good health care for all women, access to birth control, and good sex education would have the effect of making abortion rare. I asked about her amendment to a 2008 bill (that didn’t pass) that would have permitted a pharmacist, on the basis of conscience, to refuse to fill a prescription for contraceptives “if the pharmacist ensures that the patient will have access to the contraceptive elsewhere.” I asked why a pharmacist’s conscience should trump my ability to procure my contraceptives without costing extra money (for transportation), delay, and inconvenience.

She responded that the Wisconsin constitution has a stronger conscience clause than the U.S. Constitution has, and she wanted to ensure that the bill did not violate the state constitution, which as a senator she is sworn to uphold. She also said that a year later a bill was passed that requires pharmacies to dispense contraceptives without delay, while allowing an individual pharmacist to decline to dispense contraceptives for reasons of conscience provided that another pharmacist at that location can fill the prescription immediately.

Video – Senator Vinehout clarifies her position on access to contraception in Wisconsin:

A few minutes after she was done with the question-and-answer portion of her presentation, Vinehout came over to our table to talk to me and another woman. I asked her then, “but what about that amendment?” Even though it ultimately didn’t become law, the wording still concerned me. She conceded that the amendment was problematic and that in fact she had borrowed the language from Illinois legislation that had been supported by Planned Parenthood of Illinois. (I haven’t verified this.) She added that she was involved in writing the legislation that did pass the following year and that she prefers its language. So the 2008 amendment was probably not her finest legislative moment, but I was satisfied that it didn’t indicate a desire to restrict women’s reproductive freedom or a lack of support for women’s right to control their own reproductive choices.

So I was—and am—satisfied with Vinehout’s answers to my questions. I believe that as governor she will be a strong advocate for women’s reproductive health and freedom and, most important, will be responsive to the will of the people. I arrived Wednesday night leaning in Vinehout’s favor, and I left feeling real enthusiasm for her candidacy. She’s not riding in on a white horse to save us, which is a good thing. She’d be the first to assert that it’s we the people who will save our state. But I think she can help us do that, and I believe she’s the real deal.

Wisconsin Recall: Shooting the Moon

In his desperation to stay in office, Governor Scott Walker is throwing huge sums of bad money after more bad money. In fact, the only thing he has going for him is moola, most of it from out of state. Well, that, and a “quirk in state law” that enables a politician being targeted with recall to raise unlimited funds while the signatures are being collected and counted.

Walker raised more than $1 million per week from mid-December to mid-January. According to Mike McCabe, director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, “The governor has raised more than any candidate for any state office in Wisconsin history.” And he can continue to raise unlimited funds for another couple of months while the recall signatures are being counted.

Not having any quirks in their favor, Walker’s opponents are just not going to be able to compete with him in the fundraising department. But there’s a crucial arena in which Walker can’t hope to compete with his opponents: people. One million signatures that can be translated to 1 million votes against Scott Walker. Ed Garvey, creator of the Fighting Bob Fest, crows that “that would be like a football team starting on the 30 yard line of the opponent.”

Even more important than those 1 million signers are the 30,000 Wisconsinites who worked tirelessly for two months to collect a total of 1.9 million signatures, including more than enough signatures to recall Walker, Lt. Gov. Kleefisch, and four state senators. It’s highly unlikely that those 30,000 will retreat to their living room couches for the remainder of the recall fight.

But there’s still the very real concern of how to answer the deluge of big money pouring into Walker’s campaign. Ruth Conniff at the Progressive describes Ed Garvey’s wild idea of how to address that concern:

Instead of trying to compete and raise tens of millions of dollars, whichever candidate emerges to take on Walker should try to “shoot the moon,” Garvey says. That means rejecting money from PACs, super PACs, corporations, unions, and, especially, out of state donors.

Instead of turning over the energized, grassroots recall effort to the professionals to wage a TV ad war costing millions of dollars, Garvey wants to see a recall election that looks a lot like the campaign to gather the signatures to recall the governor in the first place.

This idea … will draw a lot of skepticism, to say the least. After all, what kind of a winning strategy calls for unilateral disarmament? Letting Walker rule the airwaves might be the dumbest thing a candidate could do. Political suicide.

Or, it just might be a stroke of brilliance.

Ed Garvey
Ed Garvey at the 2011 Fighting Bob Fest

I submit that Garvey’s idea would be a really gutsy stroke of brilliance.

Contrary to what Xoff at Uppity Wisconsin suggests, the idea is not that Walker’s opponents shouldn’t raise any money at all. It’s that they should be very particular about where the money they accept comes from. And Garvey does not suggest that Walker’s opponents should be passive, as Xoff decries. Far from it! In fact, to be successful, a squeaky-clean people-powered campaign would require more hard work from candidates and volunteers alike than the usual money-driven negative-ad extravaganza.

Xoff cites the recent Florida GOP primary as evidence of the efficacy of negative television ads. But that election is a very different kettle of fish than the Wisconsin recall. That election presented a choice between candidates that voters show a distinct lack of enthusiasm for. It’s not as if any of the GOP contestants are drumming up much in the way of people power.

In other words, the Florida GOP primary is a quintessential case of politics as usual, whereas the Wisconsin recall is anything but. In Wisconsin we have more grassroots momentum than the United States has seen since the civil rights movement. It’s worth remembering that since the Wisconsin uprising started nearly a year ago, we have also seen the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement all across the country and indeed around the world. The sleeping giant has awoken. We the people are fired up.

We’re incensed about big money calling all the shots in our government. We’re fed up with cronyism and backroom pay-to-play dealing. We’re infuriated by elected “representatives” who listen only to money and never to constituents. We’re sick of having to vote for a “lesser of evils.”

This is a singular moment in which the people are as engaged as they’re ever likely to be. And that means we have the opportunity to do more than just kick Walker out. This is nothing less than our chance to directly address the corruption of big-money-driven “legalized bribery” that is our current political system.

If not now, when? If not us, who?

As Garvey argues, “The real question in the recall is not which heavily financed politician will run enough ads to win. It’s whether our democracy has finally completely collapsed. This battle in Wisconsin is, finally, a battle over who will rule—millionaires and billionaires who want to buy our state government for their own nefarious purposes, or the people of the state.”

Roll up your sleeves, Wisconsin. This is our moment to shoot the moon.

Cart Ahead of Horse in Wisconsin Recall Poll

Did you see this headline in the Washington Post last week?

Scott Walker Leads in Wisconsin Recall Poll

I bet I wasn’t the only one who felt slightly sick upon reading that. The article mentions in passing that “the Democratic race has yet to really heat up.” Ya think? The signatures are still being counted! There isn’t an actual race yet, but this poll pits the one known candidate, our illustrious guv, against who? Hypothetical candidates. An actual candidate against four hypotheticals:

  1. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a “likely” candidate
  2. Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, the only declared Democratic candidate
  3. Former Rep. David Obey, who has said that he doesn’t “really want to run”
  4. State Sen. Tim Cullen, who in the infamous telephone conversation with Pseudo-Koch (Ian Murphy) was described by Walker as “the only reasonable one” among the Democrats in the state legislature. Not much of a recommendation if you ask me.

Only one of the four have declared that they intend to run. If they have started putting together an organization and fund-raising, they’ve only just barely begun. Whereas Scooter, because of a “quirk in the state election law” that allows donors to contribute unlimited funds to a recall target, has been able to raise $4.5 million dollars in just five weeks. And, owing to the same “quirk,” Scooter has to spend that money in a big ol’ hurry. “In the same five weeks, the governor spent $4.9 million, a large chunk of it on TV and radio ads and direct mail solicitations. The unlimited funds must be spent before the recall is official.”

So it’s not just one actual candidate against four hypotheticals. It’s one stinkin’ rich actual candidate against four hypotheticals. To his credit, Charles Franklin, the director of the poll, did admit that “the old line ‘you don’t beat somebody with nobody’ is true.” But hey, why not go ahead and poll anyway? Just for jollies. Nobody’s going to really take this thing seriously, are they?

The early-to-the-party poll involved a whopping 701 registered Wisconsin voters. Jud Lounsbury at Uppity Wisconsin rightly pointed out that the poll is “grossly misweighted.” But far worse than that is the timing. There’s nobody—nobody—actually running against the stinkin’ rich ad-happy Scooter. A better headline for the Washington Post would have been

Cart Ahead of Horse in Utterly Meaningless Wisconsin Recall Poll

I figure the only polls Scooter and his handful of uber-rich supporters are going to feel good about for the foreseeable future are the ones like this one: completely make-believe. They’re clinging to this fiction to avoid having to think about the stark reality of this number: 1,000,000. One million signatures to recall Scott Walker. That represents a total of 46 percent of the turnout in the 2010 race for governor and is very nearly the number of votes Walker got in that election.

Croquet Walker

Here’s another meaningful number: 30,000—as in that awesome “army of more than 30,000 Wisconsin born-and-bred recall volunteers” that United Wisconsin is so rightly proud of, as are we all. The army of 30,000 isn’t done yet. Whoever Walker’s challenger is will have that same highly motivated army ready to roll up their sleeves and put the “movement” into “grassroots.” I keep telling you—we’re only just getting going. Trust me on this. The really good stuff is yet to come.