Wisconsin protest shows state's evolving political history
Protesters filled Wisconsin's state capital for a week, demonstrating against Gov. Scott Walker's plan to cut union bargaining rights. How has the state's political mood shifted from left to right?
With nearly 70,000 people storming the Capitol steps of Madison, Wis., last week and more expected to fill the city’s streets in the days ahead, the growing clash between union rights protesters and state legislators bent on fixing enormous budget holes looks likely to get messier before it is resolved.Skip to next paragraph
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But why Wisconsin and, more important, why now?
Besides the Green Bay Packers and dairy farms, the state is largely, and quite unfairly, seen outside the Midwest as a beatific backwater. The truth is, Wisconsin’s middle-of-the-road voting pool and history of maverick political leadership continue to make it a bellwether for national voting trends.
The urgency of his agenda just months after he election shows he is eager to take on not just Democrats, but also his own party, much in the tradition of former Gov. Tommy Thompson, whose battles for welfare reform and school choice in his state led the way for national policy changes.
Governor Walker served in the state Assembly during the Thompson years. At that time, between 1993 and 2002, he flexed his conservative muscles by supporting welfare reform and a cap on state spending.
In his campaign for the governor’s office, he ran on a platform critical of state spending and in favor of rolling back state tax increases for small businesses and top earners.
Walker's boldest move
Last week, Walker made the boldest move yet in his political career by introducing a bill that strips away collective bargaining for everything other than wages and removes other union rights from non-law-enforcement state workers – all with the stated intent of plugging the state’s $3.6 billion forecasted budget gap over the next two years.
Critics say Walker is engaged in nothing but union-busting to get a leg up in his party and earn bragging rights with his fellow Republicans following the November midterm elections, which flipped control of most state legislatures to their party.
“The perception is that Walker wants to prove he belongs in the same conversation as [New Jersey] Gov. Chris Christie and that he is someone who can be seen nationally as an innovator in cutting government and who deserves national attention,” says JR Ross, editor of Wisconsin Politics, an online media outlet that covers state news.