I apologize to my readers not fortunate enough to live in Packer country, but this is going to be a pretty Wisconsin-centric post. Still, you should probably watch for the warning signs in your own states as well. Last Thursday we added yet another exciting episode to the truly bizarre bit of performance art that is the Scott Walker Governorship. And in his increasingly desperate quest for reelection, I think it’s safe to say that this episode is the most nakedly brazen plea for attention we’ve seen so far.
For those of you who don’t know, Governor Walker signed two important pieces of legislation on Thursday. The first bill, supported entirely by the state Republican party, severely cuts early voting in the state, eliminating weekend voting entirely and restricting night time voting to no later than 7pm. Now the one-in-five Wisconsin citizens who take advantage of early voting to participate in our democracy, including the thousands who work during business hours, will face shrinking windows and growing lines in which to speak their minds.
The reason given by the bill’s supporters in the state house was to standardize voting hours throughout the state, so that cities like Madison and Milwaukee didn’t have an unfair advantage over the rural areas. But then why, exactly, would the answer to this imaginary “problem” be to reduce hours in the cities instead of expanding hours in the countryside? How curious.
The second bill to feel the sweet caress of Walker’s pen expanded the window during which lobbyists could make campaign contributions by seven weeks, advancing it from June 1st to April 15th, because in the view of the Republican Party, one of the most pressing issues facing our great state is how crippling restrictions hurts the ability of out-of-state special-interest money to influence our elections. Thank goodness they nipped that travesty of justice and equality in the bud.
Either of these laws are fairly odious taken by themselves, but when you stop to realize that they were part of the same stack, signed at the same time, and in private does the true scope of this crap taco really come into focus.
There are really two ways to win a reelection campaign. The first and more traditional method that most of us are familiar with from civics class is to, you know, govern effectively. However, in today’s GOP, this is an outdated concept, as their entire platform is built on the assertion that government is always the problem. They get elected on the promise that the government is incapable of doing anything positive for the economy or their constituents, and then spend their entire term doing everything they can to prove the point. It really is a brilliant strategy, provided you can keep fifty-one percent of voters scared and ignorant enough to fall for it.
Which brings us to the second way to win reelection, the modern Republican strategy enthusiastically embraced by Governor Walker. That of voter-suppression. Immediately after taking office in 2011, Walker and his newly-minted GOP majority in Madison set to work making it more difficult for their own citizens to vote.
Thursday’s early voting bill was actually the second time the state GOP has cut back on early voting, the first being in 2011 when they shrank the window from three weeks to two and only one weekend. Further, they, along with many other GOP controlled state houses throughout the country also introduced Voter ID laws, throwing up an additional roadblock to participation in our democracy in the name of defending against “widespread voter fraud”, another largely imaginary problem whose solution just so happens to disproportionately affect demographic groups that tend to lean towards the other side of the isle. Wisconsin’s own Voter ID law has been halted by the courts, because of the small matter of being unconstitutional. But what does this have to do with early voting? The simple matter is voting in large, densely-populated urban areas such as Madison and Milwaukee is, logistically, a much larger problem than it is in the country. I’ve lived in both, and I’ve never stood in line to vote in Marquette County, regardless of the time of day or night. The same is not true in Milwaukee County. Guess which one is more likely to vote against Walker in the coming election?
Further, Walker learned well from 2012’s recall campaign. Even then, he couldn’t run on his record as one of the most divisive Governors in the country with an abysmal economic performance. If everyone who had signed his recall petition had come out to vote in the recall, we would be living under Governor Barrett right now. But they didn’t. Restricting early voting was part of why they didn’t, but the rest of the reason was an absolutely unprecedented flood of money from donors outside of our state who were absolutely terrified they might see Governor Walker’s anti-union platform repudiated on the national stage.
As a result, more than thirty million dollars flooded into Walker’s coffers against Mayor Barrett’s three million. The only reason this was allowed to happen was a loophole in a 1987 law that exempts any politician targeted in a recall from limits on campaign contributions, usually capped at ten thousand dollars per donor. The much-maligned Koch brothers alone contributed eight million dollars to the effort.
Now you know why Governor Walker signed one bill that made it harder for city-dwellers like myself to vote, at the same time he made it easier for outside money to flood into state elections. He knows it works. Old Scotty can hardly run on his economic record after cutting nearly a billion dollars from public education, only to fall hilariously short of his campaign promise to create a quarter-million jobs by the end of his first term. At last tally, Wisconsin ranks thirty-seventh in job creation in the country, behind every Midwestern state but Illinois. So incompetent has Walker’s economic stewardship been, that if he’d done nothing but hide in the basement of the Governor’s Mansion bingeing on Big Bang Theory and Battlestar Galactica, our state would be in a better position than it is today.
That is why Governor Walker supports early voting for out-of-state, big-money donors instead of his own citizens. He knows he can count on their votes, but not on those of the people he was actually elected to govern.