What is Wrong in Wisconsin?
What fired me up this morning? I retrieved a post sitting in the trash. A News clipping posted by Fred Dobbs considered to be dangerous by the Angry Bear system. I retrieved it and it sits at the end of my commentary on Wisconsin. The clipping is a nice history lesson on Wisconsin. Mine is editorial.
I (we) lived in Wisconsin for almost a decade in the city built on an Isthmus. When I would fly home from some consulting manufacturing/supply chain consulting assignment, we would fly over the 3rd largest dome construction called the Wisconsin capitol.
The green of the surrounding woods and the lakes (Mendota, Monona, Wingra, surrounding it and Lake Waubesa below Monona). This was coming home to sanctuary as my neighbor described it. We were home as we descended into Madison’s small airport.
That is not to say, it was low cost. For our home sitting on a quarter acre, we were paying ~$5,000 a year. Kind of high back then. Much of it went to pay for schools, services, and yes aid to those who were less fortunate or the scofflaws as some would call them. It was safe, a place one could raise a family, and a mixture of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and races. As a family, we thrived and learned . . .
Things have changed in Wisconsin since the eighties when we were there. Maybe the state was already changing while we were there and we just did not notice? Then too, we were living in Madison, which former Governor Lee Dreyfus described as “Madison is 30 square miles surrounded by reality.” Then Madison’s liberal Mayor Paul Soglin answered back about Madison growing since then. Paul Soglin suggested the city motto should be “77 miles surrounded by reality.” In 2009, Madison chose the plastic pink flamingo as its official bird.
Today’s Republican controlled state legislature will not expand Medicaid even though 90% of it would be paid for by the Feds. The reasoning being, the Feds could take back the funding. Yup, that is true. It could happen. The nation could elect a Republican President and the Republicans could take over the House and the Senate. We could end up with the former president trump again or DeSantis who will attempt to out-do trump in craziness. Republicans are afraid of their own.
They could pass it and hope for the best. A few years of expanded healthcare would have an impact. Ninety to 120,000 people covered and Wisconsin saves $1 billion a year. Just by expanding coverage to 138% FPL.
Maybe we can describe the Wisconsin legislature by it actions. As Forest Gump’s Mama said,
“Stupid is as stupid does.”
Wisconsin’s proud progressive history is just that — history, The Cap Times, Dave Zweifel, January 11
The once proud state of Wisconsin begins yet another year looking up at most of the rest of the country.
The state was once hailed as a laboratory of democracy because of its willingness to try new ideas and forge policies aimed at leveling the playing field between the haves and have nots. It passed laws that sought to benefit all.
Now the state is a mediocre player on the national scene.
As recently as 2020, the Harvard Political Review observed that in the early 20th century, no state better embodied this “laboratory of democracy” label than Wisconsin, which experimented with new and progressive state policies. No person was more responsible for those policies and their legacy than Robert La Follette. The Review noted:
“A member of the Republican Party and icon of the Progressive movement, La Follette led the charge to pass policies in Wisconsin that protected workers’ rights, instituted direct primaries, protected the state’s forests, and broke up large corporations,”
Wisconsin passed the nation’s first workers’ compensation law in 1911. That same year, it was the first to enact banking and railroad regulations to protect consumers. In 1919 it became the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. In 1932 it was the first state to enact unemployment compensation benefits. And in 1959 the Wisconsin Legislature was the first to recognize collective bargaining rights for public employees. In later years it became a leader in conservation and environmental policies, some of which served as national models.
Much of that energy was mimicked by other states and the federal government itself. Social Security, for example, was a Wisconsin idea Franklin D. Roosevelt adopted to protect the well-being of the nation’s senior citizens.
Other states picked up the mantle and, unfortunately, have left Wisconsin in the dust.
In the overall scheme of things, it may seem like small potatoes, but there is no better example of how we’ve become a laggard than the state’s failure to increase its minimum wage for 15 years.
Twenty-three states increased their minimum wage on Jan. 1, with another three on track to do so during the year. It’s estimated that 8 million Americans will realize pay increases as a result.
The state poised to provide the highest minimum pay rate is Washington, at $15.74 per hour. California’s is $15.50. The District of Columbia, whose minimum is linked to the cost of living index, will rise to $16.10.
All told, 30 of the 50 states, plus D.C., now have minimum wages above the federal wage of $7.25, which hasn’t been changed since 2008.
Wisconsin is in company with the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wyoming in refusing to admit that $7.25 an hour is pauper’s pay.
Of our neighboring states, only Iowa is at $7.25. Illinois requires a $13 minimum, Michigan $10.10 and Minnesota $10.59.
There have been several attempts to increase Wisconsin’s wage floor, but the Republican-controlled state Legislature has refused to even consider it. Former Gov. Scott Walker infamously declared that he didn’t believe in a minimum wage, and that the “free market” would take care of it.
Tell that to the millions the free market leaves out and then add to that Wisconsin’s refusal to expand Medicaid to cover health insurance for tens of thousands of low-income state citizens — paid for, no less, with federal money.
Plus, there’s the old canard that if you make businesses pay more to their lowest paid workers they will simply lay off some of them to compensate. Besides, opponents of raising the minimum wage claim, most of those getting the base wage are teenagers working part-time jobs.
Yes, some are high school kids working at a fast-food restaurant. But studies have shown that the average age of people earning the minimum wage is 35, and 88% of them are at least 20 years old. Half are older than 30. They’re split fairly evenly between full-timers and part-timers, and many of those minimum wage earners have kids. Many of them are custodians, cleaning crews, supply clerks in hospitals and clinics, among the vast number of jobs that have historically been underpaid.
The worker shortage that has been a phenomenon in the post-pandemic era has indeed resulted in higher pay for some jobs, and that alone has shown that paying workers equitably isn’t the disaster GOP legislators and their allies like Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce constantly predict.
The minimum wage issue is a microcosm of why Wisconsin has been backsliding in recent years.
A Legislature that spends its time devising ways to thwart gubernatorial appointees, inventing ways to prevent debate on issues like gun safety, Medicaid expansion or giving Wisconsin citizens the right to propose referendums doesn’t have time to actually practice the art of governing.
That it’s more concerned about tax cuts for high wage earners, lukewarm to renewable energy initiatives and spends an inordinate amount of time attempting to make it more difficult to vote explains it all.
SCOTUS Decides Texas Lawsuit regarding Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, Angry Bear
So I have 63 years of history living in Wisconsin and would suggest that you not make too much of the Progressive Movement as it was pretty nativistic and was followed by the era which elected Tailgunner Joe— who is a bit of a predecessor to the former guy including Roy Cohen as the ultimate “ fixer”. I think Wisconsin leadership was as much influenced by the sewer socialists in Milwaukee and the environmental activism of Gaylord Nelson— which at the time was welcomed by sportsmen on a bipartisan basis but only later became a whipping boy for the GOP. Add to that a liberal Wisconsin Supreme Court which was at the forefront of consumer justice in the 60’s and 70’s and the anti war protests in Madison— or what was also referred to as The People’s Republic of Madison, and Wisconsin had a well deserved reputation in line with the state motto of a forward thinking state. Of course, the industrialists or more accurately the children and grand children of the industrialists were seething and waging unrelenting war against the unions and were the first to move their manufacturing operations first to the south and then overseas with the result that labor played a much smaller role in state politics and many factory workers lost their jobs as the factories closed. The civil rights struggles of the 60’s lead to massive white flight from Milwaukee and set up the GOP counties around Milwaukee county which continues to be the GOP’s strongest base in the state. When all else fails racism is tried and true winner in Wisconsin just as it was during the Progressive era. Things really came to a head with the election of Scott Walker. He took on the teachers union and won with the aid of a heavily gerrymandered legislature and found a lot of support from non college educated parents who made less money than teachers despite working 12 months a year. Of course since the passage of Act 10 Wisconsin now has a teacher shortage. I usually do not try and make too much of gerrymandering because a lot of it is self imposed. People do not want to live in pluralistic communities— they want to live with like minded people— but depending on a special Senate election the GOP will have super majorities in both the Assembly and Senate although Democrats got as many— actually I believe a bit more—votes for those offices as Republicans. The Democrats have not had a lot of effective leaders in the last 20 years and Barnes losing to Johnson because Milwaukee turnout dropped by 10 % reflects that. I do think the Supreme Court race on April 4 will say a lot about the direction of the state
This is pretty accurate. A combination of deindustrialization in the small cities & towns, consolidation of farms, decline of labor unions, particularly the UAW, & racial backlash of white ethnics to large Black migration to Milwaukee in the 1960s & 70s, which was amplified and resentment & prejudice cultivated by Right Wing radio commentators like Charlie Sykes from end of the Fairness Doctrine to the present. The rise of the RW billionaire families like the Menards, Hendricks, & Uihleins in Wisconsin was also pretty decisive.
The Progressive (GOP) movement was all but over as of about 1925.
The ‘dangerous’ link I posted was this one:
Wisconsin’s proud progressive history is just ‘history’
Jan 11, 2023 — Once a beacon of progressive legislation, the state has become a backwater of regressive policies and backstabbing politics. …
Links inside the linked-to article, which I also attempted to post (some of), may be what caused that post to be rejected. This happens fairly often.
As a WI native and ex-res, my experience is that the decisive shift was deindustrialization and the retreat of unions. I grew up in Racine, then a solid union town with a weekly labor newspaper. The UAW (AMC was down in Kenosha) was a big player politically. Milwaukee had all those machine tool shops. Then came the hammer of the 70s-80s, and the labor base of progressive politics simply collapsed. Racine elected Paul Ryan. Milwaukee became the town of “Evicted”. And so on.
This is similar to the story at the national level, but more intense. Alas, the Democratic Party, for the most part, was unwilling to confront industry and finance over measures to revive productive working class employment and cast its fate with the socially liberal middle class. So here we are.
The strange thing is that Wisconsin has as much manufacturing as it ever had but that manufacturing employs less people and most of those people do not belong to unions. Your example is Racine, mine is Two Rivers once a factory town which no longer has any factories. Then there is the Fox Valley which would vacillate between Dems and the GOP because of labor but is now very solid GOP although still a manufacturing center.
My perspective based upon observations in various environments (this may help in describing what I am seeing).
I was consulting at the time. And the prime owner of the firm decided to get out of Ingersoll Engineers in Rockford. He sold out and the company slowly disbanded. Ended up at Ohio Medical which was sold and again I was looking fora job. I ended up at Oscar Mayer in Purchasing in charge of purchasing packaging and labels. Kicked off Lunchables and was able to switch their packaging over to recycled material with similar whiteness as SBS board. About a $millon cos save on $7 million in business at the time. Four plus years and Kraft bought them. Purchasing migrated to Chicago. Managed to stay there gaffing up trees, chipping wood, and cutting grass.
The key to manufacturing is costs related to Labor, Overhead, and Materials. Companies waste a lot of cost on inventory and throughput. Automotive carrying large inventories of finished autos is wasteful.
Walked into a plant in Piqua, Ohio which manufactured tubing for various needs. Six mandrels drawing flat stock and welding it. If you walked through the factory you could see the various functions. Got back to the warehouse and you would see rolls of coiled flat stock. Reminded me of the science fiction movie “Aliens” when they saw all the eggs. Too much inventory and one bottle neck at the tubing bender station.
It was not Labor that was the problem, even in the eighties. Efficient throughput and inventory were bigger issues. This is considering you have a good business. I worked in Racine for a couple of years at Racine Fluid Power which was owned by Bosch. Same issues. Germans bought a lot of inventory which I could not get rid of in a short period.
Far easier to blame Labor.
It seems that Wisconsin will be the linchpin for Trump returning to office.
If Georgia and Arizona can be maneuvered back into the Trump column, then it will be up to Wisconsin to provide the electoral votes that will bring about a tie and send the presidential selection to the House.
Ideally, the GOP would hope to pick up a few more electoral votes, but that may be unlikely.
Thw way the Wisconsin GOP is behaving, they fully understand this.
So, it’s important for Dems (& Dem-supporting independents) to realize this & do something about it.
Dobbs et al.
thank you for informative post and comments.
i don’t know much, so take this for what it’s worth (which might be something nonetheless):
you need to study why the R’s are winning and why the D’s are losing.
my guess is too much reliance on “liberal” issues like gun control and minority grievance. not that these are not important, but they don’t sell well at the polls the way they are being handled. [whatever “woke” is, it is something real that i have encoutered myself]. the people selling it are not quite honest with themselves, they respond to anti-woke with scorn and dismissal which looks to me like self delusion and easy fodder for the R’s who may or may not be racists themselves, but know how to play on racism which is endemic in all humans but can be controlled by real leadership…MLK and LBJ come to mind.
the R’s are very bad people (not the peple but the politicians) but you…we…are our own worst enemy. try to concentrate on the real needs of working people. don’t threaten their basic beliefs and fears…and prejudice. win an election first and then work on solving those “irrational” problems quietly while giving people real help with jobs, predatory businesses, environment they can see…etc. FDR and Truman did this. But current D policies, rhetoric, and failure to deliver, are suicide.
even Trump said some perfectly reasonable things while president and got jumped on by the Left only because “he” said them and they thought they could turn them into “racist” statements that would turn on their voters. maybe they did, but they lost others…not necessarily the racist voters, but those people who have gotten pretty sick of dishonest politics from a party that never delivers what they want (good jobs) and attacks everything that gives them hope.