New Orleans The days when Wisconsin was famous for dairy are long gone. In recent years it has been the home of partisan and ideological divide, voter suppression, anti-unionism, and just about every other rightwing fad of the moment. The state is also perhaps the key battleground contest in the coming presidential election. It was decisive in Trump’s election in 2016, and continues to be seen as tossup that could determine the outcome in November 2020.
Funny thing though, the voters continue to shock the politicians and pushback the conservatives with real force. Scott Walker, for those of you with short memories, was the fair-haired hope of the right for a while. Elected as governor, he upended public employee unionization in the state where it began, and governed on a polarizing axis for two terms before flaming out spectacularly in the Republican primaries for president to Trump and others.
The war zone in the state has continued as a grudge match. The voters roared back and elected a Democrat as governor, but the legislature is strongly Republican along with the enabling state supreme court, all of which set the stage for the current election drama around the primary.
No small issue was the conservative cause celebre: a voter purge. The rightwing has been desperate to purge 200,000 voters. The problem is that the Wisconsin election commission, a bipartisan body, voted unanimously to delay the purge until 2021 because they believed the list was so flawed. A conservative law firm funded by the notorious Bradley Foundation sued to force the purge based on a legislative act mandating it, in their view. The lower court agreed and even tried to impose a daily fine on the election commission for not doing the purge. They appealed to the state supreme court making the election of one of the justices a make or break to determine whether Republicans or Democrats have the 4-3 majority for decisions.
This down-ballot race suddenly became more important than the Democratic presidential primary, now a forgone conclusion for Joe Biden, but thought to be a harbinger of bad news for the Republicans if turnout increased because the supreme court election was on the ballot at the same time. The pandemic pushed itself into the equation as well. Tony Evers, the Democratic governor argued for mail ballots or a delay of the primary. The legislature, backed by the court, ordered the vote to go ahead with only a slight modification in giving more time to absentee voting and counting. President Trump amazingly made an endorsement in the supreme court race, underscoring how important these voter suppression purges are to him and the party. Adding insult to injury, in heavily Democratic Milwaukee, the number of voting places in the entire count were reduced from over 100 to only 5 for in-person voting, forcing long lines and challenging social distancing, risking the health of prospective voters.
The votes have now been counted and the results announced. The voters administered a butt kicking to all of these dirty tricks and attempts at suppression. They didn’t just vote a liberal Democrat into the seat, she’s the swing vote on the purge decision, because one justice had recused, but the conservatives still are 4-3 overall . . . they did so by an unbelievable margin of 120,000 votes against the Republican incumbent. The number of absentee ballots cast was more than the usual total vote for a court race. The primary vote for Biden was not the reason for the massive turnout, because that race was all over but for the last shout. A coalition of the young and working-class voters along with others punched Trump in the nose for not minding his own business and trying to thwart the real electoral process in their state.
Here’s a clear case of what happens when autocratic overreach is forced to reckon with people and their ability to express their will. If anybody out there is paying attention in class, the voters of Wisconsin just taught a master class.