To progressives: Make 2015 the year of no regrets

Scot Ross, Special to WiG

With November’s elections failing to achieve a change in leadership, the year 2014 was disappointing for progressives. 

The year did have bright spots, however. Despite Gov. Scott Walker’s and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s efforts to stop marriage equality in Wisconsin, it is now the law. And, in a surprising development, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to keep Republicans and a far-right judge from imposing a photo ID requirement mere weeks before the elections.

Looking to 2015 we are, in many ways, eerily, right back where we started four years ago — with Walker as governor and GOP legislative majorities.

The state faces a significant budget deficit, possibly in excess of $4 billion. 

Our economy remains slow in creating jobs and state wages are stagnant. 

There is a brewing attack on the middle class with rumblings of quick action to pass “right-to-work” legislation before opponents have the chance to show how these measures are wrong for Wisconsin.

And in Congress, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson continues to earn the moniker of “our dumb senator” on an alarmingly frequent basis.

So what should we expect for 2015? What challenges do progressives face? And what do we need to do to start taking our state back? 

Walker is running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He has shown his eyes are always on the next election and higher office, and he will do and say anything to win. No doubt he’ll use the 2015 state budget as a $70-billion campaign ad for himself. In fact, it has been reported that his campaign began conducting a poll right after the election to decide what to put in his budget plan.

It is wrong to be making decisions about how our tax dollars are spent based on what is best for Walker’s political future. And it will be our job to let everyone know about it. 

Assembly Speaker Robin “Boss” Vos gave us a preview of how he’ll operate in 2015. When asked about the possibility of state assistance for the construction of a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, Boss Vos raised concerns that one of the owners had the temerity to meet the president of the United States when he visited Milwaukee and has made political donations to Democrats in other states.

It is wrong, not to mention illegal, for legislators to engage in pay-to-play. It will be our job to expose it when laws are decided on loyalty tests and campaign contributions rather than their merits.

The state Senate may have lost Glenn Grothman — serial basher of women, minorities and the LGBT community — but don’t expect a kinder, gentler upper house of the Wisconsin Legislature. If anything, the gang set to take the reins of power is the farthest right seen in generations.

There’s no outcry from the mainstream in Wisconsin for radical privatization of our public schools, rolling back workplace safety and benefits like sick time and overtime protection, or making women second-class citizens when it comes to their health care. But those are agendas that the GOP leadership is poised to push, and it will be our job to fight back.

In Washington, D.C., Johnson is now in the majority in the U.S. Senate. This guy has a truly stunning portfolio of off-the wall-statements — from asserting that sunspots are causing global climate change to asserting that more for-profit colleges would solve the student debt crisis.

It’s going to be our job as progressives to present the alternative to such ideas — an alternative that’s commonly referred to as reality. It’s a full-time job pointing out how Walker and Republican leaders at the state and local levels are selling us out, but as progressives we have ample opportunity to do so. 

Consider just one example of an opportunity to lead — the debt crisis of student loans. There are common-sense solutions that have and will be offered by progressives, like letting graduates refinance their student loans just as people can refinance their mortgages.

We can show that we’re on the side of the middle class and not the big banks and special interests. That we believe that if you work hard and take the personal responsibility to get an education you’ve earned a fair shot at the middle class and your share of the American dream.

And we can engage Generation X and Millennials on economic issues of primary concern to them that have a massive impact on our entire economy.

This 2014 didn’t turn out how many of us hoped, but that is the past. The future is before us and we have a choice: wallow in sorrow or spend our time and energy holding the right wing accountable and leading the fight for justice and equality.

Let’s fight back and have a 2015 with no regrets.

Scot Ross is the executive director of One Wisconsin Now, a statewide progressive advocacy organization with more than 80,000 online supporters.