As most regular readers here know, I have long and old connections to the state of Wisconsin, having gone to high school, undergraduate and graduate school, as well as having family members there since then, with me visiting on a regular basis. When I first moved there back in 1963, the state had the reputation not only as a Progressive stronghold, the home of “Fighting Bob” LaFollette as well as the location of Ripon, where in 1854 the Republican Party was founded in its days as the anti-slavery party of Abraham Lincoln (that first meeting had a non-trivial number of refugees from the failed German Revolution of 1848). On top of that, and at least as important, it had a reputation for clean government, super clean government. William Proxmire was a senator from there who refused to take campaign contributions and made his name exposing wasteful government programs with his “golden fleece” awards (actually that came after I arrived). I was a conservative/libertarian in those days, making me less proud of the progressive heritage, but I was proud of its clean government rep.
OTOH, there was also a dark side, which even my conservative father disliked, the fact that Proxmire was the successor to none other than Joe McCarthy, one of the worsst senators in US history. That was also part of the state’s heritage, although many who voted for him thought that they were doing so as part of an effort to clean up corruption by an Eastern Establishment elite, just as many voting for Progressive “Fighting Bob” thought they were doing (and I am certain that there were people in the state who voted for both, with some of them probably also later voting for George McGovern, who was popular in Wisconsin, also out of an anti-Eastern Establishment motivation). In any case, Wisconsin has long had a deep political polarization, with this long being mostly within the Republican Party, with different parts of the state adhering to different traditions, with the reactionary McCarthy’s base in the northeastern part of the state still the base for that dark side, even if awful outgoing Governor Scott Walker coming from the Milwaukee suburbs.
Which brings us to the current situation following Walker’s defeat by Tony Evers for the governorship after two terms, in which along with GOP control of both houses of the legislature as well as the state Supreme Court he undid substantial portions of the progressive heritage of the state on many fronts, with Walker openly denouncing that heritage and proud of his handiwork. Of course for some time he had dreams of taking all this to Wasington as president, but somebody named Donald Trump pushed him aside to get the job. And now Walker is on the way out.
But now the state legislature is imitating what the GOP-dominated one in North Carolina attempted after a Dem replaced a GOP as governor, only to be mostly blocked by courts, to pass laws limiting the power of the incoming governor, with the also GOP-led Michigan legislature following along as well, if not with quite as extreme moves. In Wisconsin, although they did not move up the date for the election of a Supreme Court justice, they have passed legislation preventing Evers from making lots of appointments, allowing legislators to hire private attorneys to counter moves by the also Dem incoming Attorney General, such as to remove Wisconsin from the ongoing court case to upend the ACA, to restrict early voting, and to maintain control over the apparently corrupt state Economic Development council (so much for that clean government tradition).
How bad things in Wisconsin are is that this legislature is massively gerrymandered and may be hard to get out of power. The sign of it is that while Dems won 53% of the legislative vote, the Dems won only 36% of the seats. These guys are clearly desperate and scrambling to hang onto power as long as they can in the face of the electorate turning against them. Two further points.
One is that while Scott Walker apparently signaled his support for all this legislation, now six days since it was passed, he has not signed any of it. He has four more days to do so, and it is now clear he may be listening at least somewhat to those urging him to veto all or at least some of this mess. Why might he? He is clearly totally self-centered, so I think he is looking at his political future. Given that even some Republicans in the state are critiizing this legislative initiative, he may be trying to keep his options open for possible future office in the state. After all, he lost by a narrow maring in this just completed election. Signing this might well kill that. OTOH, he may be looking at going to Wasington, with it basically certain given the high rate of turnover going on in the Trump administration that something desirable might open up, although it also may become unpleasant if he cannot avoid annoying the prez. As it is, it is not obvious to me whether signing or vetoing or going partway between the two will help or hurt such prospects for him more. But I suspect that this concern is part of his consideration and delay in acting on this initiative. That what he does is as of now unclear, is why I put the ? in the title of this post.
The final item is an annoying development in the media, with over the weekend Chuck Todd of NBC engaging in a two-sideism on this matter of GOP-controlled state legislatures trying to take away power from incoming Dem governors. He claimed that the Dems have also done this in the past. But, in fact, this is simply not true. This sort of thing has never happened in US history prior to the moves last year in North Carolina. Todd has simply flopped on this, although I am unaware of him admitting it yet
Anyway, we wait now with baited breath to see which on way Wisconsin will go with all this.