In 2015, Wisconsin completed a 180-degree turn away from the state’s lauded history as a model of good government. The year saw the fruition of a process set into motion in 2011, when conservative Republicans gerrymandered the state so they couldn’t lose. They stopped even pretending that we live in a democracy in which opposing viewpoints have the right to be heard. Instead they proved the axiom that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Their changes to the fundamental character of Wisconsin have occurred so fast and furiously the media and progressive groups haven’t been able to keep up with them. Stories that would have grabbed headlines in prior years were buried in the avalanche of game-changing laws tumbling out of the Capitol.
For every legislative travesty that’s been publicized in time to stop it through public outcry — such as the measure to abolish the state’s open records law, which was slipped quietly into the budget on a Friday afternoon — there have been dozens of other reckless laws enacted. Wisconsin citizens are likely to discover many transgressive laws on the books in the coming year that no one except Scott Walker, the Legislature’s Republican leadership and a few of their corporate backers are even aware of.
There’s not enough room in this editorial to enumerate all of the new measures that go against the grain of Wisconsin’s history. But we can say with certainty that few of them have spurred our economy, which is what our current leaders vowed to do when they were voted into office.
Walker did not create anywhere near the 250,000 jobs he promised. The state has hovered near the bottom of job producers for most of his time in office. Wisconsin has the fastest shrinking middle class is the nation; median household income here has fallen at the nation’s highest rate since Walker took office.
Walker has doled out $279 million of taxpayer money in the form of tax credits — many more millions than are allowable under the law — to businesses that failed to create jobs, partly because they weren’t even required to do so in exchange for their corporate welfare. Some of that money has disappeared into thin air, leaving no trace of where it went. This is money that, along with Walker‘s tax cuts to the wealthy, was supposed to create jobs. Instead it left Wisconsin with a budget shortfall and without any way to restore Walker’s draconian cuts to education, the worst in the nation. It left the state with no way to repair its crumbling infrastructure or maintain its natural splendor. It left no money to accomplish the myriad of things required for the state to really grow its economy and maintain its quality of life.
In truth, Walker and the Republicans have paid scant attention to the economy. The majority of their efforts have gone toward appeasing corporate and right-wing special interests in order to keep themselves in power. And they’ve abused that power by getting rid of a panoply of laws passed to ferret out and prosecute political corruption. It’s impossible to believe politicians who prioritize eliminating government watchdog groups and related prosecutorial officers have their sights set on good deeds.
Instead of jobs, Walker and his GOP colleagues have focused on issues such as expanding gun ownership, fighting same-sex marriage and women’s reproductive freedom, eliminating environmental protections, telling people getting food stamps what they can buy, packing state government with inexperienced cronies, repealing laws involving fair wages, such as the equal pay law for women … the list feels endless and hopeless.
Scott Walker promised last year during his re-election campaign that he would not seek the presidency in 2016. But he was the first to throw his hat in the ring. He went on to neglect his responsibilities here and the lunacy of his public behavior and remarks made a laughingstock of Wisconsin.
He seemed to return to his lesser job angry and dejected — more determined than ever to reshape the state according to his impenetrable and conflicted ideals.
How well he’s succeeded.
The only hope for the future is that Democratic and Republican voters alike get out next year and vote for candidates they can trust to focus on the issues that are important to our collective future — and not to candidates who are intent only on furthering their personal interests and those of their patrons.