Wisconsin is in the national spotlight, given the April primary, the July Democratic National Convention and the November election. Dig deep into the political culture of the Badger State and some of the major figures in Wisconsin political history through this WisPolitics.com selection of books.
The following excerpts are copyright @2019 The Almanac of American Politics. This feature was provided by and is included in The Almanac of American Politics 2020 edition, released August 2019. To learn more about this publication or purchase a copy, visit www.almanacofamericanpolitics.com.
Heading into the 2016 presidential election, some considered Wisconsin one of the Democrats’ “blue wall” states – a supposed bulwark against Republicans in the Electoral College. But they ignored that the state had turned to the right after the 2010 gubernatorial election of Scott Walker, who proceeded to enact a wish list of conservative policies. Donald Trump ended up winning the state, albeit by less than 23,000 votes, or about eight-tenths of a percentage point. Two years later, the state snapped back, again narrowly, as the Democrats ousted Walker, setting up perhaps the most pivotal battleground contest for Trump’s reelection bid in 2020.
Wisconsin has long been one of America’s premier “laboratories of reform,” in Justice Louis Brandeis’ phrase — a state developing new public policies, debating them vigorously and even tumultuously, observing whether they worked, and serving as an example for other states. North of the dominant westward paths of migration, the state was sparsely settled, first by New England Yankees and then by waves of immigrants from Germany and Scandinavia. The German language is seldom heard now, but German place names and surnames are common and, like the once plainly German beer and brat brands, now seem quintessentially American. But from the 1840s into the 20th century, Germans were among the nation’s most distinctive immigrants. On the rolling dairy land of Wisconsin and the orderly streets of Milwaukee, they built their own churches, kept their own language, and maintained old customs, from country weddings to Christmas trees to beer gardens — a source of friction in temperance-minded America. Wisconsin still has an orderliness and steadiness that owes something to its Germanic heritage, evident in its excellence in precision manufacturing, respect for higher learning, and its hold on its people. About half of Wisconsin residents, more than in any other state, reported in the 2010 census that they are of German descent.
Wisconsin’s economy has been an outgrowth of its immigrant and manufacturing heritage. Its high-skill, precision production at companies like Johnson Controls and Rockwell Automation jumped into gear in the late 1980s and helped lead the nation’s export boom of the 1990s. Wisconsin exceeded 100,000 tech jobs for the first time in 2016 and the state was poised to host an advanced Foxconn manufacturing plant near Racine (though both the billions of dollars in subsidies and doubts about the number of jobs to be created have made the project controversial). Wisconsin ranks either first or second in the nation in most categories of milk and cheese production. But due to improved productivity and competition from foreign countries — and from California’s giant agribusiness enterprises — the number of milk-cow herds fell by 50 percent from 2003 to 2019, when the total was fewer than 8,000; that rate has accelerated in recent years. Wisconsin, of course, is also a prime source of beer and sausage. Pabst, which began in Milwaukee in 1844, closed its operations there in 1996, but reopened a brewery, taproom and restaurant in a former German Methodist church in 2017. Over time, Wisconsin’s economy has ranked right around where the country is. “Wisconsin has suffered from the decline of manufacturing, but it isn’t a Rust Belt sob story like Michigan or Ohio. It hasn’t been among the places hardest hit by the opiate epidemic,” wrote Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith.
Wisconsin’s reputation for innovative public policy was established during the Progressive Era that began around 1900 and which owes its development to an extraordinary governor, Robert La Follette Sr., and the state’s German heritage. This is one of the two states that gave birth to the Republican Party in 1854 (the other is Michigan), and Germans, then arriving in America in vast numbers, heavily favored the GOP. They opposed slavery and welcomed the free lands Republicans delivered in the Homestead Act, the educational opportunities provided by land grant colleges, and the transportation routes constructed by subsidized railroad builders. This was the seedbed from which sprouted the Progressive movement founded and symbolized by La Follette. At a time when Germany was the world’s leader in graduate education and the application of science to government, La Follette had professors at the University of Wisconsin help develop the state workmen’s compensation system and income tax. The Progressive movement favored the use of government to improve the lot of ordinary citizens, an idea borrowed partly from German liberals and adopted by the New Dealers a generation later. La Follette became a national figure and after he died in 1925, his sons, and then liberal Democrats such as Sens. William Proxmire and Gaylord Nelson and Gov. Patrick Lucey, carried on his tradition — progressive at home and isolationist abroad.
Wisconsin also has a long history of labor activism. Before the violence of the 1892 Homestead steel strike in Pittsburgh and Colorado’s Ludlow Massacre in 1914, Milwaukee saw bloodshed on May 5, 1886, when 1,500 tradesmen and Polish immigrants demanding an eight-hour workday marched on the Rolling Mills iron plant in the city’s Bay View neighborhood. Gov. Jeremiah Rusk, who had served as a U.S. Army general in the Civil War, was in Milwaukee commanding 700 Wisconsin National Guard troops and gave the order to fire on the workers if they approached the iron works. Seven people, including a young boy, were killed. After the incident, Rusk famously said, “I seen my duty, and I done it.” South of downtown Milwaukee, a memorial stands in the Bay View area not far from where the blood was spilled. Wisconsin became the first state to grant collective- bargaining rights to public employees, in 1959.
Starting in the 1990s, Wisconsin became a laboratory for conservative reforms driven by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, who beat a liberal Democrat in 1986 and was reelected three times. He cut taxes, sponsored a school choice program, and passed a series of welfare reforms — the nation’s most sweeping — that cut caseloads by equipping recipients to work. The 1996 overhaul of federal welfare policy may not have passed without Wisconsin’s example to give its backers confidence. When Thompson left to become George W. Bush’s Health and Human Services secretary in 2001, Wisconsin moved back toward the Democrats. From 1992 to 2006, it elected only Democratic senators, although sometimes by narrow margins, and Democrat Jim Doyle was elected governor in 2002 and 2006. The 2010 election produced another experiment in conservative reform when Republican Scott Walker, a former Milwaukee County executive, took office and proceeded to set off a firestorm with a proposal to limit the power of unions. The effort was successful, and Walker turned back an energetic, labor-driven effort to recall him in 2012 before winning reelection in 2014. By 2017, shorn of the coercive power of closed shops, union membership in the state had fallen substantially. Walker joined two other national Republican figures from Wisconsin – Rep. Paul Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee and later House Speaker, and Reince Priebus, the former Wisconsin GOP state chair who became chairman of the Republican National Committee and then-White House chief of staff under Trump. Two years later, all three had left public life.
Wisconsin’s population has grown, but at a modest rate – up only 2.2 percent since the 2010 census. The city of Milwaukee grew 1.6 percent, and its suburban counties – unlike many suburbs in other states – grew between 2 and 3 percent. The state’s fastest growth has occurred in Dane County (Madison), which is home to a growing tech sector driven by the presence of the University of Wisconsin; the county has expanded by 9.4 percent since 2010, pushing growth to rural areas to the south and northeast. Another growth area has been Outagamie County (Appleton), expanding 5 percent since the last census. The state remains primarily white, with a small, if rising, foreign-born population. Overall, Wisconsin is 6 percent black, 7 percent Hispanic and 3 percent Asian.
Politically, the three large “WOW” counties in the Milwaukee suburbs — Washington, Ozaukee and Waukesha — have traditionally been Republican, sometimes enough to cancel out Milwaukee County and its lopsided Democratic margins. Eastern Wisconsin — the counties along Lake Michigan and two or three counties inland, with small industrial cities in the Fox River Valley like Kenosha, Sheboygan, Appleton and Green Bay — is historically Republican turf. Western Wisconsin — areas along the Mississippi River, the small inland cities such as Wausau and Eau Claire and the counties along Lake Superior — have tended to be more Democratic. These patterns stem from ethnic differences: Eastern Wisconsin is more German, and western Wisconsin more Scandinavian.
The most Democratic region by far is around Madison. Indeed, “what’s going on in Dane County is gradually altering the electoral math in Wisconsin,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Craig Gilbert has written in one of his fine-grained analyses of Wisconsin election results. “Dane has been growing about four points more Democratic with each presidential contest since 1980, while adding thousands more voters every year.” La Crosse and Eau Claire host University of Wisconsin campuses, as does Rock County (Janesville), which is also home to Beloit College. The arc with this university belt has leaned Democratic. With statewide races in Wisconsin often won narrowly, a significant number of Wisconsinites are swing voters. A seven-county portion of southwest Wisconsin known as the Driftless Area (for its geology) “boasts the nation’s greatest concentration of Obama-Trump counties — places that voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016,” Gilbert has written. Wisconsin has elected and re-elected both conservative Republican Ron Johnson and liberal Democrat Tammy Baldwin to the Senate.
The 2016 presidential election in Wisconsin was dramatic from start to finish. The state had not voted Republican for president since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide, and for much of the contest, Trump seemed to test Republican voters’ patience. Ted Cruz easily beat him in the primary, even though his Texas stylings were not an obvious fit for Wisconsin. After it became clear that Trump was going to be the GOP nominee, he and Ryan, by then the House Speaker, engaged in an on-again, off-again, awkward dance. The full extent of Clinton’s struggles in the state were hard to spot and were largely ignored by her campaign team. Her key weakness was in the rural areas and small towns common in Wisconsin where Democrats had historically been competitive. On Election Day, a state Barack Obama had won by seven points in 2012 ended up voting for Trump by less than a point.
Wisconsin reasserted its swinginess in 2018. Walker lost a tough battle for a third term to Democrat Tony Evers. Walker improved his performance in 16 of Wisconsin’s 20 least densely populated counties, but he lost ground in the state’s 35 densest counties, a trade that wasn’t enough to save his governorship. Then, just to stir the pot again, Wisconsin voters swung back to the right in an April 2019 judicial election. In the nominally nonpartisan judicial contest, the Republican base turned out just a little more, handing the conservative candidate a narrow win. Next up: The high- stakes 2020 presidential campaign, with both parties on tenterhooks.
Wisconsin’s Tony Evers achieved one of the biggest Democratic victories of the 2018 midterm elections, ousting two-term Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The low-key career educator and administrator defeated Walker by just over one percentage point. But that was enough to lead a Democratic sweep of statewide offices and vindicate the Democratic argument that Wisconsin was experiencing fatigue from Walker’s polarizing tenure. At the same time, the narrowness of Evers’ victory reinforced the notion that Wisconsin would be a pivotal state in the 2020 presidential election.
Evers (it rhymes with “weavers”) was born in Plymouth and met his wife Kathy there in kindergarten. His father practiced medicine at Rocky Knoll, a state tuberculosis sanitarium that also treated patients with silicosis, a disease often contracted by inhaling factory dust. His father would often testify on his patients’ behalf. “It was about social justice,” Evers told the New Yorker. “He could have gone into private practice, but he didn’t. He decided to be a county employee and work with people who struggled.” Evers earned a bachelor’s, a master’s and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and began his career in education as a science teacher in Baraboo, later becoming a principal in Tomah and running school districts in Oakfield and Verona. Eventually, Evers became deputy state superintendent of public instruction; during that time, he fought and beat esophageal cancer. In 2009 Evers was elected state superintendent, a nominally nonpartisan post, and was easily reelected in 2013 and 2017. After he won his third term, Evers began considering a run for governor. “I realized that if I really wanted to make a difference for these kids in the state, I couldn’t rely on this position to do it,” he told the New Yorker. “The governor is the one who sets the tone.”
The governor in Evers’ mind was Walker, who had spent much of his time implementing a muscular conservative agenda. Not long after winning office, Walker called for curtailing collective bargaining rights for many of the state’s public employees. Walker became an instant political celebrity – and a target. But Walker’s collective bargaining changes survived court challenges and became law. He also signed laws tightening restrictions on abortion, enacted tough voter ID rules and eased restrictions on gun rights. Neither state Senate recall elections nor a recall attempt against Walker could vault Democrats into power; the incumbent notched a 53%-46% victory in the 2012 recall, becoming the first governor anywhere to survive such a vote. Walker won a second term in 2014, then flopped as a presidential candidate two years later, pushed aside by Donald Trump, who remade the party to be more rural and less suburban – a shift that hurt Walker’s reelection bid two years later. As Walker’s approval numbers sagged, his quest for a third term became a titanic battle in a politically energized and narrowly divided state.
As he prepared for his reelection bid, Walker touted the state’s economic gains on his watch. He knew that Democrats were energized and sought to delay special elections in order to give GOP candidates a better shot. After Democrats won a hard-fought judicial race in April 2018, Walker tweeted, “Tonight’s results show we are at risk of a #BlueWave in WI. The Far Left is driven by anger & hatred — we must counter it with optimism & organization. Let’s share our positive story with voters & win in November.”
The Democratic primary field was larger than any in state history, and it was not predestined that Evers would prevail. His rivals included Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters Association of Wisconsin; former legislator Kelda Roys; state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout; former state Democratic chair Matt Flynn; Madison Mayor Paul Soglin; and activists Mike McCabe and Josh Pade. (Businessman Andy Gronik and state Rep. Dana Wachs quit the race before Election Day.) Mahlon and Roys received support from progressive groups (Roys aired an ad in which she breast- fed her baby) while Evers portrayed himself as a steady pragmatist. In the end, Evers ran away with it, winning 42 percent, ahead of Mitchell (16 percent) and Roys (13 percent). Evers leveraged his decisive primary victory into fundraising gold: In the first nine days after the primary, he raised $1 million, about twice what he had collected in the previous six months.
Education became a major campaign issue. For years, Evers and Walker had tussled over education budgets, higher education politics and legal issues. Walker’s sought to portray himself as the “education governor,” touting his advocacy for school choice, but his record on school funding was one of consistent cuts for most of his tenure. Evers painted his record on school funding as a negative. Marquette Law School pollster Charles Franklin told The Washington Post that while Wisconsin voters had previously been evenly split between those supporting higher education spending and those backing lower property taxes, voters in 2018 were running at about 60 percent in favor of more education spending and about 35 percent in favor of lower taxes – a promising sign for Evers.
A major issue in the race was a deal Walker had negotiated in 2017 (with President Donald Trump’s backing) to subsidize the building of a new, 13,000-employee factory complex in Mt. Pleasant for Foxconn Technology Group, the Taiwanese-based manufacturing partner for such tech giants as Apple, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. Trump joined Walker in Wisconsin to break ground, but as time went on – and as more details of the financing became known – voters in the state became less enthusiastic about the project and its cost. Walker and the legislature had approved some $4.5 billion in tax incentives to support the project – reportedly the nation’s largest-ever subsidy for a foreign company. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau projected that a return on that investment might come as late as 2042.
Both candidates were charismatically challenged – Madison’s newspaper, the Capital Times called the race “bland vs. bland” – but they differed sharply on policy. Evers backed driver’s licenses and in-state tuition for undocumented residents, while Walker attacked Democratic-backed proposals for reforming the criminal justice system, saying in front of photographs of violent criminals, “I want to keep them in for their full terms.” Evers, meanwhile, took Walker to task for supporting repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Several ex-Walker aides endorsed Evers, and national political figures flocked to campaign in the state – Trump, former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and a bevy of potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.
The result was in doubt until late absentee returns from Milwaukee County sealed the contest for Evers, 49.5%-48.4% — a margin of just over 29,000 votes. Walker got 35,000 more votes than he had in 2014, but the Democratic nominee amassed more than 200,000 more votes than his predecessor. Evers improved the Democratic showing in two key strongholds — Milwaukee County, with 31,000 extra votes, and Dane County (Madison), with 44,115 additional votes. Walker bled support in the Republican bastions of suburban Milwaukee. In Waukesha County, his 45-point margin in 2014 shrank to 33 points in 2018; in Ozaukee County, his winning margin shrunk from 41 points to 27; and in Washington County, it shrunk from 53 points to 45. “Exit polls showed Walker lost ground with at least two key groups of voters compared with his 2014 re-election victory,” the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Craig Gilbert wrote. “One was independents. Walker had won independents in each of his three statewide victories, including the recall, by margins ranging from 9 to 14 points. But in the 2018 exit poll, he was trailing among independents by 7 points. A second group was college graduates. Walker won voters with college degrees by 1 point in 2014, according to the exit poll that year. He was losing them by 13 points this year.”
The skirmishing didn’t end on Election Day. To the outrage of the victorious Democrats, Republicans in a lame-duck session sought to tie Evers’ hands as much as possible. Walker signed legislation that, among other things, hampered Evers’ ability to modify the Walker-created Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.; made it harder for Evers and the newly elected Democratic attorney general, Josh Kaul, to withdraw from the anti-Affordable Care Act lawsuit; and placed tighter limits on early voting. The new legislation was challenged in court, and those battles played out for months; and Evers sought to expand Medicaid under the health care law despite Republican opposition. Meanwhile, in April 2019, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau brought unwelcome budget news with an estimate that the state could face a shortfall of almost $2 billion in the 2021-23 fiscal years.
Excerpt published with permission from Island Press.
For more on “Great Lakes Water Wars,” go here: https://islandpress.org/books/great-lakes-water-wars.
Also, read coverage of a WisPolitics.com/WisBusiness.com event focusing on the Great Lakes featuring Annin and others: https://www.wispolitics.com/2019/foxconn-diversion-proposal-the-latest-great-lakes-water-controversy/
Chapter 17: Who Will Win the War?
Great Lakes Water Wars, 2nd Edition by Peter Annin
Thanks in part to the invasive-species issue, Chicago will likely continue to be the most complicated and controversial diversion of this century, just as it was during the last. But southeastern Wisconsin is coming on strong, with more contemporary water-diversion hotspots than all other Great Lakes states and provinces combined: Pleasant Prairie, New Berlin, Waukesha, and to a lesser extent, Menomonee Falls and Kenosha. Following that trend is Mount Pleasant, the most recent southeastern Wisconsin community to consider a Great Lakes water diversion under the Compact’s straddling-community exception clause. Mount Pleasant is a uniquely shaped village of 26,000 people that wraps around Racine’s west and south sides. The village stretches from the shore of Lake Michigan westward, past the Great Lakes Basin line, ending at Interstate 94. Mount Pleasant’s interest in Great Lakes water was triggered by the proposal by Foxconn Technology Group to build an enormous, $10-billion liquid-crystal-display (LCD) manufacturing facility that promises to eventually employ 13,000 people. The Taiwan-based company came to Wisconsin for the water, as well as $3 billion in state incentives that helped lure the company away from Michigan and Ohio, which were also in the running. The stakes over Foxconn are high: a study by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce estimated that the facility could add more than $51 billion to Wisconsin’s gross domestic product over fifteen years.1
Foxconn scoured southeastern Wisconsin for a place to site its massive campus, which eventually is expected to cover 20 million square feet, roughly the size of three Pentagons. The company wanted to be close to ground transportation corridors, major airports, potential employees from either side of the Illinois border…and the abundant waters of Lake Michigan. Ideally, from a water standpoint, Foxconn would have landed completely inside the Great Lakes Basin (which would have been much easier in Michigan, of course), but due in part to the narrow width of the Basin in southeastern Wisconsin, Foxconn landed in a straddling community instead, prompting Mount Pleasant to pursue a water-diversion application to support the facility.
Foxconn brings a whole new twist to the straddling-community conversation. In an irony of ironies, its corporate campus will straddle the basin line—a characteristic that it is hard to imagine the drafters of the Compact ever envisioning. As one Wisconsin official describes it, the flat screens may end up starting the assembly process in the Mississippi River watershed, with the finished product exiting the other end of the sprawling campus in the Great Lakes Basin. The facility’s geographic position raises intriguing questions for the Great Lakes Compact. “I don’t think anybody envisioned something like this happening,” says one Wisconsin official. “So I think we’re in kind of uncharted territory here.”
So the straddling corporate campus is part of a straddling-community application. Mount Pleasant doesn’t have its own public water-supply system. The vast majority of the village is already in the Great Lakes Basin and municipal customers get Lake Michigan water from Racine. It’s just the far southwest corner of Mount Pleasant that happens to slightly jut out across the Basin line, and that’s where Foxconn has decided to build its multifaceted facility. Because the Compact says that a water diversion can only be used for public water supply purposes, and since Mount Pleasant does not have its own public water-supply utility, Racine submitted the water-diversion application on behalf of Mount Pleasant, which in turn applied on behalf of Foxconn. The application requested 7 million gallons of water per day (mgd)—5.8 mgd for the Foxconn facility—roughly 40 percent of which (2.7 mgd) will be lost to consumptive use. The rest will be returned to Lake Michigan, as required under the Compact. By comparison, the highly controversial Waukesha water diversion will pull 8.2 mgd from Lake Michigan and return 100 percent of the water. As usual, the amount of water isn’t really the issue—it is a pittance compared to the 1.2 quadrillion gallons of water in Lake Michigan. What matters is whether the Foxconn diversion meets the letter of the law under the Compact, and if it is setting any unintended precedent that the region might regret later.
A key question in the Foxconn debate is whether the Compact’s water-diversion exception clauses were designed to encourage corporations like Foxconn to develop large industrial facilities at the edge of the Great Lakes Basin. Or were the exception clauses designed to help water-strapped communities in need? Or both? Local officials say that Mount Pleasant was not having any water issues until the Foxconn facility was proposed. “The question was never really fully answered in the negotiations with the Compact about when exactly did we think these exemptions were okay for straddling communities,” one Wisconsin official says. “Is industrial use okay, or not okay? Is it something we want to be encouraging or discouraging as much as possible?…I think what we are seeing with the Waukesha case, and then with this case, is some of those things are going to begin to get defined just by practice and precedents that get set.” Certainly, a key driving force behind the Compact was to bring jobs to the water, rather than send water to jobs someplace else. That’s the “blue economy” that the Great Lakes governors and other boosters have been talking about for years. Foxconn is a global corporate force of nature, lured to Wisconsin personally by Governor Scott Walker. Hon Hai / Foxconn Technology Group is one of the largest multinational corporations in the world, ranking high on Fortune magazine’s “Global500” list, and it has more employees (worldwide) than Milwaukee has people. But the overriding philosophy behind the Great Lakes Compact’s approach was that, ideally, any blue-economy jobs would land completely inside the Great Lakes Basin. Foxconn came close.
But, deep in the bowels of the Compact’s fine print, there may be a hurdle for the company, and it has to do with the Compact clause that limits new diversions to “public water supply purposes.” As the document puts it: “Public Water Supply Purposes means water distributed to the public through a physically connected system of treatment, storage, and distribution facilities serving a group of largely residential customers that may also serve industrial, commercial, and other institutional operators” (emphasis added). Mount Pleasant is a community of 26,000 people, most of whom live in the Basin and don’t need a diversion. The diversion is for the small section of town that lies outside the Basin, which is expected to host 13,000 new workers. Does that mean the diversion will be serving “a group of largely residential customers”? That’s the multibillion-dollar question in Madison and Taipei. “It will be interesting if this brings up a private right-of-action, or if another state sues,” says one Wisconsin official. “That would certainly put a wrench in the whole project.”
At a packed public hearing in March of 2018, speakers zeroed in on the “largely residential customer” issue. “Here’s the rub,” said Jodi Habush Sinykin of Midwest Environmental Advocates. “A ‘group of largely residential customers’ will not be the ones served by the 7 million gallons….Rather, the complete opposite is true. Racine will use the majority, if not the entirety, of the diverted Great Lakes water to serve the industrial needs of a single, private, foreign, industrial entity, Foxconn.”
Remember that under a straddling-community application like Racine’s, the local state alone decides whether a water-diversion application can be approved. There is no requirement for regional review, and no threat of a veto from other Great Lakes states.2 (Think of New Berlin, not Waukesha.) But the other Great Lakes jurisdictions could make their views known in other ways. “Even though it may be a decision exclusively of Wisconsin under the straddling-community clause,” said Jon Allan, director of Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes, “it’s still incumbent upon every state and province to understand the nuances and the specifics of that arrangement so we can make sure that it fully and adequately conforms to the Compact, because protection of the Compact is paramount.”
As the Racine water-diversion application moved through the approval process, the threat of environmental litigation hovered in the background. Large-scale, long-term capital investment tends to shy away from uncertainty, and Foxconn may not attain a final position of certainty in its multibillion-dollar investment until after the water diversion’s potential legal issues are resolved. “It is going to be an issue,” admits one Wisconsin official in reference to Foxconn’s straddling circumstance. “Look, this Foxconn thing was competitive in the region, and if you’re another state who lost out to Wisconsin, as Michigan and Ohio did, wouldn’t you say, ‘Hey, here’s an opportunity for me to raise all kinds of trouble?’ ” Experts agree that the Foxconn proposal could be interpreted as pushing the limits of what was intended by the Compact’s authors. “It’s definitely not what was anticipated for the limited purpose of the straddling community and straddling county,” says Noah Hall, the Wayne State Compact expert. “I’m not so sure it will be a deal-breaker….We were concerned about limiting the exceptions to public water supplies,” he says. “But that’s not to say that we will have done a good job….The thread of money in water is real.”
The Foxconn debate has prompted a legal discussion behind the scenes about the “intent” of those who authored the Compact and International Agreement. Does the Foxconn deal sound like the kind of diversion that the straddling-community exception clause envisioned? “No—it was much more aimed at residential,” says one senior Canadian official who spent years in the discussions. “It wasn’t meant that you were going to have a Tesla factory farm…put one toe into the Basin and that will allow them to get a pipe that would then provide them with the water that they needed….For some of the environmentalists, this would be exactly the horror story.” It’s called the “straddling community” exception clause for a reason, these officials say, not the “straddling factory” exception clause. But Todd Ambs, who negotiated the Compact under Wisconsin’s Democratic governor Jim Doyle, disagrees. He says the language referring to predominantly residential customers does not refer to the community that wants the water, but rather the community supplying the water. Under that line of thought, as long as Racine has plenty of water to share, and most of its customers are residential, it can supply water to Foxconn and the company can use it for whatever it wants. Mr. Ambs doesn’t see a problem with a Foxconn straddling-community application “as long as they’re getting the water through a public utility that still has room under their cap,” which Racine definitely does.3
Wisconsin officials certainly realize that they have the final say on Foxconn, but also that a controversial decision could stress the Com-pact in new and unique ways. “I do think we have a credible argument that this is copacetic under the Compact,” says one Wisconsin official. “But I am curious about how much of an issue it’s going to be….Is somebody going to sue?” Business leaders dread the thought of one state suing another over water. “I would like to believe that the region will act more regionally,” said Kathryn Buckner, president of the Council of Great Lakes Industries. “This is a program designed to be protective of the region as a whole, and hopefully we aren’t as short sighted as to see that one facility can break that down and create a fracture in that regional program. “Three states submitted official comments raising questions about the Racine diversion: Illinois, Michigan, and New York. “It is unclear that the proposed diversion is largely for residential customers,” the New York letter said. “The water is intended to facilitate the construction and operation of the future industrial site of the Foxconn facility.” Regional mayors raised questions about the application, too. The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative complained that “the City of Racine is not the straddling community requesting the water; Mount Pleasant is. And in fact, Mount Pleasant isn’t the entity with the water need; Foxconn, a private business, is.”
Despite these complaints, on April 25, 2018, as expected, Wisconsin approved Racine’s 7 mgd water-diversion application. The decision allowed the city “to extend public water service to the 8 percent of [Mount Pleasant] that is in the Mississippi River Basin, partially including the Foxconn facility site,” a DNR press release said. The agency added that the annual consumptive use from the diversion would lower Lake Michigan’s water level by 0.0025 inches, or the thickness of a “light-weight” sheet of paper. “We received approximately 800 comments on the Racine application, which shows the public’s strong interest in this topic,” said Adam Freihoefer, from the DNR’s Bureau of Drinking Water and Groundwater. “We appreciate the public’s involvement and I thank those who took the time to comment.” The key quote from the agency’s Findings of Fact also focused on the language about residential use, saying Racine delivered water to more than 5,500 homes in Mount Pleasant already. “The proposed additional industrial and commercial customers within the diversion area will not significantly change the fact that the [Racine water] utility’s distribution of water to the public in the Village of Mount Pleasant will serve a group of largely residential customers.”
Environmentalists were disappointed by the Foxconn proposal, almost from the start—primarily because Wisconsin waived key non-Compact-related environmental requirements in order to fast-track construction of the giant LCD factory. Approval of the water diversion only made things worse. Environmentalists challenged the Racine/Foxconn diversion on May 25, 2018—the first litigation ever filed under the Great Lakes Compact. Midwest Environmental Advocates, which filed the petition, said diversions can only serve “a group of largely residential customers,” yet 83 percent of the 7 mgd requested by Racine “will be used to supply Lake Michigan water to one single private industrial customer, Foxconn,” and the rest of the water would be used by “industrial and commercial facilities surrounding the Fox-conn facilities.” The legal challenge remained unresolved as this book went to press.
Foxconn declined an interview request for this book, and because the company’s situation could remain dynamic for some time, few experts were willing to speak on the record about it. But all were fascinated by the geographic uniqueness of the company’s situation, and the challenges that it could pose to the next phase of Great Lakes water discussions, disputes, and debates. As one senior Wisconsin official put it, “This particular site is just fascinating from the [Great Lakes] divide standpoint….I just can’t get over it.” However things end up, the Racine / Mount Pleasant / Foxconn water diversion has landed in a familiar neighborhood for Great Lakes water disputes. It is just up the road from Pleasant Prairie, and just down the road from Waukesha and New Berlin. Southeastern Wisconsin is becoming water-diversion row.
–Annin is Director of the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at
Northland College in Ashland, Wis.
- Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, “State Gross Domestic Product Leveraged by Tax Credit Investment at Various Jobs/Capital Expenditure Performance Levels,” March 22, 2018, http://www.mmac.org/uploads/1/1/3/5/113552797 /mmac_foxconn_roi_release_and_tables.pdf, accessed March 24, 2018.
- If a straddling-community diversion consumes 5 mgd or more—averaged over any 90-day period—the application is subject to regional review by other Great Lakes states and provinces. Even so, the other jurisdictions do not have the authority to veto a straddling-community application.
- Racine’s water permit allows the city to withdraw more than 60 million gallons of water from Lake Michigan per day. In 2017, the year before Racine’s application was approved, it withdrew an average of approximately 17 million gallons per day, giving the city more than 40 million gallons of buffer to accommodate the 7 mgd requested in the Racine / Mount Pleasant / Foxconn diversion application.
Excerpt from “With Honor: Melvin Laird in War, Peace, and Politics” by Dale Van Atta. Published by the University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. ©Copyright, Marshfield Clinic/Laird Center for Medical Research, 2008, All Rights Reserved.
On the night of October 12, 1973, Jerry and Betty Ford were home watching the television news about 10 p.m. when the phone rang. It was Laird. He made small talk for a few minutes, a habit that Ford recognized in his old friend as a prelude to something big. Then Laird got to the point: “Jerry, if you were asked, would you accept the vice presidential nomination?”
This was a very serious matter. “I knew Mel well enough to realize that his question hadn’t come just like that,” Ford said. “Someone had told him to call.” So Ford asked for some time to talk with his wife before he would call Laird back with an answer.
Jerry had already promised Betty that he would be finished with politics in January 1977. Since there was little chance as a Republican that he might achieve his ambition to become Speaker of the House, he would not run for congressional reelection in 1976. They debated the pluses and minuses of the vice presidency as opposed to continuing his Republican leadership in the House. In the end, both saw it as a “splendid cap” to Ford’s political career. Ford called Laird back before midnight and said: “We’ve talked about it and agreed that, if I were asked, I’d accept. But I won’t do anything to stimulate a campaign. I’m not promoting myself.”
“I understand,” Laird responded. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just wanted to check. But if the president does call, don’t hedge! Just say, ‘Yes.'” Ford agreed.
Laird called Nixon to relay Ford’s willingness but shrewdly emphasized that “Jerry has promised Betty he will get out of politics in January 1977.” The point was not lost on Nixon, who now knew he had a vice presidential option who would leave the 1976 Republican field open for Connally. (8)
As Thursday, October 11, dawned, Nixon had sent surveys to about four hundred Republican Party leaders from all over the nation and in Congress asking them for their top picks for vice president. Representative Barber Conable, who was policy chair of the House Republican Research and Policy Committee (and later president of the World Bank), thought Ford was being overlooked in the polling and in the press. “I was concerned that Nixon liked Connally so much,” Conable said. So he called Ford’s best friend at the White House, Mel Laird. Unaware of Laird’s aggressive campaign, Conable said he wanted to sponsor a congressional resolution backing Ford as the best choice and was sure he could get it passed in the House. Laird was aghast. “Barber, I’d appreciate if you didn’t do that,” Laird quickly responded. “It would be the worst thing we could do during this difficult period over here at the White House because that kind of resolution will get Nixon’s back up. He might harden on a Connally choice instead of Ford.”
Conable dropped the idea immediately and asked what he could do instead. Laird told him it might be helpful if he got some Democrats in Congress to write Nixon a letter suggesting Ford—but not too many, or the president would get suspicious. Also, make sure Republicans filling out the president’s survey rank Ford as their first choice. “Consider it done,” Conable said. (9)
In one of Laird’s meetings with the president on October 12, Nixon asked if he would be interested in the job himself. “Absolutely not.” By the end of the day Wednesday, Nixon had hundreds of surveys to consider, and he took them to Camp David. As he tallied the results, according to his memoirs, Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan were the top choices, but he reckoned either of those two political polar opposites would split the Republican Party.(10) Ford was near the bottom of the list. Nixon returned to the White House by helicopter at 8:30 Friday morning. He told Haig he had decided on Ford and asked him to contact both Ford and Sen. Hugh Scott (a possible candidate because he was Senate minority leader) for a meeting. Laird slipped in to see Nixon in the Oval Office before leaving for a West Virginia engagement because he wanted to make sure Nixon was still leaning to Ford; the president confirmed that Ford was indeed his first choice. Then Nixon summoned Ford to the White House and confirmed that he wanted him for vice president. Nixon asked for assurances that Ford didn’t have any political ambitions beyond that because Nixon wanted to leave the field open for Connally in 1976. “That’s no problem for me,” Ford replied, and the deal was sealed. (11)
The official announcement, broadcast live across the nation, was made by Nixon at 9 p.m. in the White House before an East Room audience of cabinet members, congressional, and other federal leaders. Laird himself was in West Virginia at the Homestead resort speaking at a Business Council dinner at the request of David Packard. But he was pleased at a distance with the conclusion of his production. “That was a really successful operation,” he said to himself.
In various interviews Laird usually hedged claims of credit for other achievements with extensive qualifiers or a list of others who deserved credit. But, with the single exception of gratitude for Harlow’s support as a White House ally, Laird was unequivocal about his historic role in this particular gambit: “I know—as much as I can know anything in politics—that if I had not been in the White House, Jerry Ford would never have been president, because he would never have become vice president first. If I hadn’t been at the White House, John Connally would have been selected. I know that; he [Ford] knows that.” Over the years, a curious Ford listened to every account from every witness he could find in the Nixon White House about how he was selected. He wound up concluding that Laird’s claim was true: Laird had been the most responsible. In a 1997 interview he said, “I’m sure Mel was the one who convinced Nixon that I should be the nominee; he was the coalescent who saw all the realities and convinced Nixon.” (12)
8. Gerald Ford, interviews 8/28 and 9/12/97; Ford, Time to Heal, 103–4; Hartmann, Palace Politics, 17–18; Cannon, Time and Chance, 205–7.
9. Barber Conable, interview, 4/5/01.
10. Laird had an uphill battle. While Ford was the first choice among his fellow Republican House members, he fell far behind in the Senate and Republican National Committee totals. From the members of the committee, the chairman, George H. W. Bush tallied the following results: Rockefeller (30), Connally (27), Goldwater (22), Reagan (17), Bush (15), and Ford (4). Ford wasn’t even among the top four recommended by Republican senators—Rockefeller (6), Goldwater (5), Connally (4), and Reagan (4). Cannon, Time and Chance, 207–10.
11. In his memoir, Nixon maintained that during his morning meeting with Ford, “I revealed nothing of my decision about the vice presidency.” Ford’s memoir says that Nixon revealed everything. Ford’s chief aide, Bob Hartmann, reported that his boss returned to the office unusually exuberant after the meeting, which was a tip-off to Hartmann that the nomination was Ford’s. Nixon’s memory may have been confused by the fact that he explained to Ford and others at the time that his final choice would get a call at 7:30 p.m. that evening. Ford took that to mean he would be called in the evening with a confirmation of the offer Nixon had already extended him at the morning meeting. In reality, Nixon could have changed his mind any time before the public announcement that night. Nixon, Memoirs, 926; Ford, Time to Heal, 105–6; Hartmann, Palace Politics, 21–23.
12. Ford, interview, 8/28/97.
The following is an excerpt from “It Happened in Wisconsin,” a book on Wisconsin history authored by Michael Bie. The book tackles everything from the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald to the Peshtigo wildfire that claimed more than 2,000 lives. The chapter excerpted below deals with the early years of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
Chapter Seventeen: Smiling Joe
Boxing was introduced at Marquette University in the fall of 1930. Among the five thousand students attending the Milwaukee university, one freshman pugilist began receiving special attention. The Marquette Tribune called him a “husky, hard-hitting middleweight who promises an evening’s work for any foe.”
According to his sparring partner, the freshman was slow and a wild puncher, but the kid loved to brawl, and he was absolutely fearless. In turn, he struck fear in his opponents, tearing into his rivals with a flurry of punches, never bothering with a strategy or a defense. If an opponent landed a punch, it was returned twice as hard. In one match, a crowd of nine hundred watched “Smiling Joe,” as the student newspaper called him, send a bigger man to the canvas three times in the first round.
By the spring of 1931, Smiling Joe was aiming higher, challenging a heavyweight named Stan Balcerzak. Joe lost in a decision before 3,500 spectators. Undaunted, he requested a rematch; the second time around he sent Balcerzak to the canvas for a nine-count and ended up winning in a decision.
Toward the end of his second year of boxing at Marquette, Smiling Joe stopped by the local Eagles Club, where he occasionally sparred with the locals. He told the boxing instructor he was going to turn professional.
“Stay in college,” he was told flatly. The instructor, a man named Fred Saddy, said he would trade the heavyweight title itself for a university diploma.
The young man took Saddy’s advice to heart, turning his attention to the next most bruising profession he could imagine after boxing-law. From the very start, “Smiling Joe” McCarthy, the fearless middleweight from Appleton, had a taste for the jugular.
In his third year at Marquette, McCarthy joined a legal fraternity, Delta Theta Phi, and the Franklin Debating Club, where he thrived on the verbal jousting matches. Not that he was any good. His speeches were thrown together at the last minute, and they typically contained exaggerations to cover his lack of preparation. Instead of logic and reasoning, McCarthy attacked his opponents with verbal abuse on a par with his boxing style.
“Then, very quickly,” wrote one biographer, “he would forget the entire encounter and commence buying Cokes, slapping people on the back, and swapping jokes. Nobody could stay angry at Joe McCarthy. He wouldn’t let you.”
More than seventy-five years since his college days and fifty since his death, Joe McCarthy’s name remains familiar to America. Few other “isms” in western history come close to the one attached to his name, and the controversies he inflamed burn to this very day.
He was Wisconsin’s United States senator, twice elected, and he defeated Bob La Follette, Jr., son of Wisconsin’s greatest politician. His reelection came not long before he was disgraced as a modern-day witch hunter. How in the world did a state known for its progressive political heritage send to the United States Senate a frustrated amateur boxer who became the very definition of demagogue?
With the benefit of hindsight, McCarthy’s Marquette years tell us all we need to know. Underlying the familiar personality traits that would contribute to the rise and fall of Joe McCarthy-recklessness, verbal abusiveness, and exaggerations-he also had about him a personable charm. He was “a lovable sort of guy,” as one of his teachers explained.
“His face would beam when you met him,” said one of his fraternity brothers. “I don’t think he had an enemy in the class.”
“The hilarity seemed to intensify as soon as he walked through the door,” wrote biographer Thomas C. Reeves. “He drank beer (a few glasses were his limit), told stories, played tricks, kidded everyone in sight, and gambled recklessly.”
Throughout his life, those who knew or met McCarthy could not deny his affability. “Almost all of the scores of people who labored for the election of Joe McCarthy,” wrote Reeves, “were primarily attracted to his personality . . . the flow of energy, friendliness and self-confidence that radiated from the youthful campaigner.”
His reserves of energy and outgoing personality were political alchemy. The hyperactive young McCarthy didn’t just campaign in communities across Wisconsin, he stormed them, and when he had finished working his way through a dozen towns in a typical eighteen-hour campaign day, everybody knew “Joe.”
Some of his closest supporters came from his Marquette days. In the fall of 1933, the father of one of McCarthy’s classmates died unexpectedly. McCarthy rushed to the student’s rooming house and quickly made train arrangements for the grieving young man. Then he borrowed a Model T Ford and made the arduous round-trip drive between Milwaukee and Mauston to attend the services. Twenty years later, when McCarthy was under siege, the classmate would tell a reporter, “He cut classes, left his job, and borrowed money to get there. He did that for me, and he’ll always be my friend.”
Everybody had a story like that. Joe milking cows for farmers, Joe washing dishes for the housewives, Joe handing out lollipops to the girls.
McCarthy had picked up another preoccupation while at Marquette: he loved poker. Not that he was any good. Sometimes he would make bets before looking at the hand. To compensate, he became a master at bluffing, playing up the country boy bit then upping the ante to force his opponents out of the game. “He bluffed so much that his opponents could never tell whether he had a good hand or a bad one,” according to one contemporary. It was an act he played time and again throughout his life, both in high-stakes poker games and high-stakes politics. When in doubt, bluff. Fake it.
Near the end of his first term, McCarthy needed an issue that could generate some headlines and help get him reelected. The notion of playing on the nation’s anti-Communist anxiety seemed like a good idea. In 1950, he made a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, claiming that he was holding in his hand a list of state department employees who were known members of the Communist Party. But the response following his 1950 speech alleging Communism in the federal government surprised even McCarthy.
It all caught up with him of course-the reckless political attacks, the incessant verbal abuse of Senate witnesses, bluffing time and again to cover his own exaggerations. Two years after being reelected in 1952, the Senate censured McCarthy for smearing committee witnesses as Communists (he had precious little or no evidence), only the fourth Senator in United States history to be so reprimanded.
Even more than gambling, another vice, drinking (which had contributed to his boorish behavior during the famous Senate hearings), took hold. Bitter, alcoholic, and paranoid, when the senator died in May 1957, little remained of the original “Smiling Joe” who had won over so many Wisconsin voters with his infectious energy and common touch. His greatest attribute, the legendary McCarthy charm, was gone. Nevertheless, at his funeral in Appleton, more than thirty thousand people filed through the church to pay their respects.
His papers were given to his alma mater. Among the many speeches contained in the Joseph R. McCarthy Papers at Marquette University is a 1950 address he delivered in Milwaukee. The occasion was a tribute dinner for Fred Saddy, the former Eagles Club boxing trainer who had become head of the National Boxing Association. With a warm smile McCarthy spoke fondly of Saddy and the Marquette days. He recounted the story, as he had done many times over the years, about how his life would have taken a different course if not for the sound advice of the boxing instructor.
Our world, too, would have taken a different course had Joe McCarthy chosen boxing over politics.
Read a chapter from “The Man from Clear Lake,” a biography of Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day and a former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. The excerpt is from a chapter titled “Immune to Presidential Fever,” about George McGovern’s struggles to find a running mate.
The book was written by Bill Christofferson, Milwaukee-based campaign consultant and a former journalist who has worked in local and state government.
The following is an excerpt from former Janesville Democratic Sen. Tim Cullen’s book, “A Ringside Seat.” The excerpt covers the morning when Democratic senators left the state to prevent the Senate from voting on the bill that later became Act 10.
Cullen explains his reasons for writing: “This book is about not just the Act 10 episode, but about my upbringing, how I came into public service, the two eras I served in the State Senate (1975-1987 and 2011-2015), the changes that occurred between those two time periods, and the observations I made from my ringside seat over 45 years of Wisconsin history.”
The phone call that I answered in Janesville on the morning of February 17, 2011 — when I was back in the Senate, newly elected, after a quarter of a century away — was from Bill [Bablitch]’s younger brother, Steve Bablitch, calling to tell me that Bill had died the night before at his winter home in Hawaii. It was sad news, but not unexpected. Bill, who served with distinction two 10-year terms on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, had been battling cancer. The family, knowing the end was near, had been in touch, asking if I would serve as family spokesperson in Wisconsin once Bill passed away. Of course I said yes. I had been sent an advance obituary, a statement from Bill’s wife, Ann, and names of those the family hoped might speak about Bill to the press. Upon his death, I would go to the Capitol, distribute the obituary, and help steer the press to those individuals.
I was preparing to drive to Madison and do just that, at about 8:30, when I received the second phone call of the morning. This one was from Mark Miller, who had called the previous evening to tell me about the early morning Democratic caucus. Now Mark was telling me that they had indeed caucused, and a decision had been made for all the Senate Democrats to leave immediately for the state of Illinois.
I was stunned. Miller had not broached that plan as even a possibility in his call the night before.
“We’re going to do what?”
Now, I was as upset as anyone with what Governor Walker was trying to do. I had spent much of the past week attempting to figure out exactly what that was. In hindsight, I now believe he was beginning his run for president. At the time, it was only clear that Walker was using the budget and the “repair bill” as a tool to try to destroy the public employee unions in Wisconsin. And with Republicans in the majority in both the Assembly and Senate, he was trying to do it quickly, before — we Democrats felt — the public at large even understood what was really happening. The speed with which it was unfolding also hindered our mounting a strategy to try to stop him. I remembered a few weeks earlier, one of my Senate colleagues, Chris Larson, who had been on the Milwaukee County Board when Walker was county executive, saying we should watch out. Walker, Chris said, was more radical than he was letting on in the first January days of his administration. Within weeks of Larson’s warning, Walker set off his Act 10 bomb.
The strategy my colleagues decided upon in my absence that Thursday morning was to leave the state. On the telephone from Madison, Mark Miller explained that if all the Senate Democrats left Wisconsin, there was no way the Senate could vote on the bill. They would lack a quorum — a majority of the senators. Because the bill would have a significant fiscal impact, the state constitution called for more than a simple majority: 20 out of the 33 senators needed to be present. Well, the math was easy: if the 14 Democrats weren’t there, that left 19, insufficient for a quorum. They needed at least one Democrat.
The math may have been easy, but my situation wasn’t. I explained to Miller that Bill Bablitch had died overnight, and I had a responsibility to his family to come to Madison, and the Capitol, to carry out their wishes with the obituary.
“You better be careful,” Miller said. He pointed out that I could get caught there, and forced to vote.
Miller was still worried when we hung up.
At that point, I called my friend Mike Ellis, a Republican senator of long standing, who had been in the Legislature in the 1980s, during my first service. Mike had also been a friend of Bill Bablitch. I told him that I was coming to the Capitol on a mission for Bill’s family. Over the next couple of hours, Ellis showed real class in assisting me once I arrived at the Capitol. He knew, by then, of the Democrats’ plan to leave the state, but he also knew that my presence that morning superseded politics. When I met with several members of the press outside the Senate Chamber, and shared the news about Bablitch, Ellis came out of his nearby office to say hello. There was going to be a call of the house — a motion compelling members of the Senate to attend a voting session — at 11 a.m.
Mike said, “Will you be out by 10:45?”
I told him I would. It wasn’t even 10:30. But then I looked around, and the inside of the Capitol was like I had never seen it before. The building was packed. People knew the bill was going to be voted on that day, and protesters and police and the merely curious were shoulder to shoulder in the rotunda and the stairways. There wasn’t an extra inch of space. It was difficult to move. I was more or less stuck on the second floor of the south wing, and beginning to wonder if I could get out by 11. Then a Senate Democratic staffer, who was by my side, started yelling: “There’s a Democratic senator here who has to get out of the building!” It turned out word had spread about the quorum. It was partly why the place was buzzing. The crowd parted and I walked down the stairs and out the door with people cheering and calling encouragement. It was amazing.
When I got in the car to head for Illinois, my cell phone rang. It was Mike Ellis.
“Did you make it out?”
I told him I had. I appreciated that call very much. It was an honorable act. Later, Mike would be criticized by some Republicans who would say he instead should have tried to find some way to keep me in the building. But how Mike handled it was in keeping with the way the Senate had operated in the past, a show of mutual respect that had long defined relationships in the Capitol but now appeared to be quickly slipping away.
The following is an excerpt from “Disassembled: A Native Son on Janesville and General Motors – a Story of Grit, Race, Gender and Wishful Thinking and What it Means for America,” written by former Janesville Democratic Sen. Tim Cullen and edited by Doug Moe.
The book can be purchased here.
Excerpted from “Wisconsin Votes: An Electoral History,” by Robert Booth Fowler, published by the University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. ©Copyright, All Rights Reserved.
The Presidential Elections of 2000 and 2004
That voting in Wisconsin can be as close as any state in the Union in this era was underlined in the virtually identical presidential elections of 2000 and 2004.[i] In both cases the Democratic presidential candidate won by the narrowest of margins, Al Gore defeating George W. Bush in 2000 by just over 6,000 votes out of almost 2.6 million cast. Gore’s percent was 47.8, Bush’s 47.6, Ralph Nader’s 3.6, and minor candidates the rest. In 2004, John Kerry edged Bush out by 11,000 votes, far less than 1 percent out of almost 3 million votes case. Moreover, the pattern of the vote in the two presidential elections was similar. The vote for Gore and Kerry correlated very closely, as did the vote for Bush in 2000 and 2004.[ii]
Nader’s vote faded to well less than 1 percent in 2004 in the face of a tremendous Democratic Party effort to get Nader voters to oppose Bush by voting for Kerry. His support in 2000 at 3.6 percent was substantial but not outstanding for a third-party candidate given the Wisconsin tradition. It was largely a protest vote, fueled in a few instances by poor northern rural counties but especially and predictably by Madison voters who gave Nader 7.6 percent of their votes, twice his state average.[iii]
In the broadest outline, as table 1 suggests, the areas of each party’s strength were quite clear in the 2000 and 2004 presidential contests. The most Democratic areas were Milwaukee and Madison (and its suburbs), but most larger cities were also Democratic, though often narrowly. The Milwaukee suburbs were Republican, especially the more distant from Milwaukee, with the exception of the north shore suburbs. African American, Hispanic, American Indian, Polish- and Norwegian-ancestry areas in Wisconsin were Democratic, while German-, Dutch-, and Belgian-ancestry areas were Republican. This is the picture that has characterized all really contested and close races statewide so far in the twenty-first century.
The surprise, if there was any, between the two presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 was that Kerry did not pull away a bit more from Bush in 2004 given the considerable Nader 2000 vote that went overwhelmingly for Kerry in 2004. The mystery of Kerry’s relative weakness in victory deepens a little as one examines some categories of Wisconsin voters in the two elections, observing both similarities and some variations between the two elections. In most instances the similarities are predictable. Thus among Wisconsin cities little variation occurred between the two elections and indeed between size categories, with Kerry generally winning overall by size category a little more than 50 percent. Similarly, there was little variation among towns and villages in Wisconsin, with Kerry gaining just a bit in towns and Bush in the villages compared with the presidential vote in 2000.
It is no surprise that Bush was the winner overall in Wisconsin towns, 53.1 percent, and villages, 50.3 percent. But the variation over 2000 was small. The picture was the same with many villages and towns with heavy ethnic components from the past. Norwegian areas went 57.5 percent for Kerry and Polish areas 59.4 percent, while Dutch Protestant areas followed their tradition and voted over 80 percent for Bush. Slight variations did occur among others, for example, among Belgian areas, going for Bush at 56 percent, a 4.6 percent gain. Yet such shifts reflect very small numbers of voters and thus were of scant significance to the overall picture. More interesting was the solid 5 percent movement in the areas of southwestern Wisconsin.
There were no significant changes in the pattern of African American voting, with African American precincts in Milwaukee showing 95.6 percent for Kerry and in Racine 92.7 percent. The Menominee County, largely American Indian, results were typically one-sided also, more than 83 percent for Kerry. There was no sign in Wisconsin of any major shift to the Republican Bush among Hispanics, at least in the City of Milwaukee, where Kerry obtained close to 80 percent of their (small) vote.
Unlike the suburbs surrounding many big cities in the East, Republicans are doing very well in most Wisconsin suburbs, especially in hugely important suburban Milwaukee, where Republican margins now frequently cancel the Democratic margin in the City of Milwaukee. This was true, for example, in 2004. Exceptions occur in some suburbs in the state, especially around Madison, but the Republican suburban success was significant in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004.
Yet Kerry should have done better in Wisconsin given that he made major gains in both Milwaukee and Madison over Gore, gains that matter tremendously in terms of the total vote in the state. Thus Kerry ran 5.4 percent better than Gore in Milwaukee and 9.2 percent better in Madison, two areas of the state that, taken together, represent about 20 percent of the total state vote. This showing reflected an absorption of the Nader vote in 2000 and even more gains to the Democratic nominee.
Thus the question remains: Why didn’t Kerry do better? There had to be someplace where Kerry ran behind Gore, perhaps a sector of the state or its electorate that was already strongly Republican and not influenced by the messages pouring out from Madison and Milwaukee. And there was. Once again, the answer lies in the fact that, according to the 2000 census, 42.6 percent of Wisconsinites claimed German ancestry. To be sure, a great many of the citizens of German ancestry live in cities and suburbs, large and small, and there is no evidence that any of them recall their increasingly remote German ancestry when voting. Yet of the 25 percent of Wisconsin residents who still live in small towns and villages, the majority is of German heritage. In such settings there is a stability rooted in tradition, a voting tradition among others, and that tradition is overwhelmingly Republican today, as it has been since 1940. Along with suburbia, these worlds are the major parts of Wisconsin Republicanism.
It was here, in German American towns and villages, that Kerry did worse than usual for a Democrat, and definitely worse than Gore. It did not matter whether these areas were primarily Catholic or Protestant or of mixed Christian background. This was not the relevant variable. Rather, if they were areas inhabited by citizens of German ancestry, the vote was sharply Republican as usual and more so in 2004 than in 2000, between 2 percent and 4 percent more, a crucial difference that slowly but surely ate away at Kerry’s margin elsewhere.
This was not exclusively a phenomenon of the countryside. Political scientist David Canon proposed exploring to see if the same connection between percentage of German ancestry and Republican voting existed in the cities of Wisconsin in 2004. The results are enlightening. In most cities with populations of more than 10,000 there was very little or no correlation, but in fourth-class cities, the small cities that dot the Wisconsin countryside, there was an association between the percentage of German-ancestry residents and the Republican vote. It was not dramatically high, but it was there and predictable, since such cities take on the color of the environment around them.[iv]
It is appropriate to wonder why this particular, already-very-Republican sector of the Wisconsin electorate voted even more Republican in 2004. These are not areas, to say the least, known historically for their enthusiasm for wars, nor are they centers of enthusiasm for free-spending Republicans such as George W. Bush. Yet they are centers of cultural conservatism, places where marriage, religion, and similar values reign strong and where urban, socially liberal values are often viewed with suspicion. This showed in the presidential election of 2004, as it did with many Midwest voters in 2004, as John Green and Mark Silk have recently argued in their parsing of poll results.[v] And it is interesting to note that the same places voted for the 2006 marriage amendment on average by an overwhelming 75 percent.
Exploring whether there was a class dimension to 2004 or 2000 voting for president in Wisconsin is important. Median household income is our best means, given the available data.[vi] Analysis of this data suggests that there was only very modest association between income and voting in Wisconsin places in either 2000 or 2004. In 2000 and 2004 there was a quite soft positive association with ascending median household income and the Bush Republican vote. The figures were about the same for the Democratic presidential candidates, except that the Democratic correlations were with declining income.[vii]
The weak correlations should not be unexpected. Consider that, on the one hand, almost all the affluent suburbs of Madison voted Democratic while numerous poor northern towns voted Republican, while, on the other hand, poor areas of Milwaukee voted Democratic and affluent German American farming towns cast Republican votes. In short, the real-world picture is quite mixed. Interestingly, in 2000 Nader’s vote did not correlate with high household income, despite what some of his critics, who view him as a darling of “limousine liberals,” have suspected. On the contrary, his vote was not associated with household income in any significant direction.[viii] Study of his vote shows why. For example, while he did well in the affluent Madison area, he did poorly in the well-to-do Milwaukee suburbs. Moreover, he ran quite well in many poor, rural areas of northern Wisconsin where he was viewed as a protest candidate but got almost no votes in the poor inner-city areas of Milwaukee.
Another hypothesis for why Kerry did not do better in Wisconsin focuses on turnout. Perhaps Kerry constituencies just did not turn out in quite as large numbers as did Bush areas or constituencies and that made the difference.[ix] One can measure the difference between the number of voters in selected categories between 2000 and 2004, though this is far from foolproof as a measure of turnout since increases and decreases in voting numbers can reflect population shifts more than anything else. Nonetheless, if we do compare turnout in 2004 with turnout in 2000, we learn little. About 15 percent more voters appeared at the polls in Wisconsin in 2004 than did four years earlier. There was, however, no distinct increase in turnout in areas more favorable to Bush or Kerry. It looks like both parties were quite successful in generating new voters. It is true enough that in German American towns and villages the turnout was above the statewide average of 15 percent by a few percentage points. It is also true that in Milwaukee it was below the state average by a few points, though the explanation is principally declining city population. However, the turnout in populous Dane County and in Madison was well above the state average, while in the suburban units elsewhere in my sample it fell below by some distance (11.4 percent), despite the presence of a number of growth areas. In short, the picture is not clear, and it is not obvious that turnout benefited one party over another.
It is perhaps of some value to consider the media consortium’s exit poll for Wisconsin in 2004 to see if that held any clues regarding the results. True, the 2004 exit poll and all exit polling is under a cloud due to questions about the accuracy of the 2004 poll. But when we look at the 2004 exit poll for Wisconsin there are few surprises. It reports what we know, that there was little evidence of sharp class division in the voting. Only at income extremes, 15 percent of the voter population, does it indicate class division. The clearest came in the 3 percent of the voters who claimed to make $200,000 or more. They were for Bush with 70 percent of the vote, reflecting both the findings regarding wealthy Milwaukee suburbs factored by liberal well-to-do Madison suburbs. On the lowest end, the 10 percent of the voters making the least, the outcome was reversed between the candidates.
Among the rest of the population’s voting there was only modest, if any, connection between income and voting behavior. Exactly the same pattern repeated itself with education as a class measure, though here the differences were even softer. The well-known postgraduate (14 percent in Wisconsin’s case) bulge for the Democrats partly reflected the fact that highly unionized teachers, many of whom have master’s degrees, were and are tightly connected with the Democratic Party.
While the Wisconsin exit poll mildly exaggerates the support for the Republicans (at 14 percent) among African American voters (a figure that my detailed analysis shows is in error), it is particularly suspect in its claim that 47 percent of the Hispanic vote in Wisconsin (2 percent of the total) went for Bush. There is no other sign of that, certainly not in precinct analysis in Milwaukee. Otherwise, there is little to report from the exit poll, except the obvious: people against the Iraq War favored Kerry while people concerned about “morality” tended to favor Bush; people concerned about the economy were more likely to vote Kerry while people who worried about security to vote Bush.[x]
Table 1. Change in Presidential Two-Party Voting in Wisconsin from 2000 to 2004
Percent Vote in 2004
2d-class cities (40,000–150,000)
3d-class cities (10,000–39,999)
4th-class cities (<10,000)
North Shore and northwest
New Deal suburbs
Rest of Milwaukee Co.
4 highly affluent suburbs
American Indian: Menominee Co.
[i] For the national picture see Paul R. Abramson, John H. Aldrich, and David W. Rohde, Change and Continuity in the 2004 Elections; Michael Nelson, The Elections of 2004.
[ii] Gore and Kerry correlated at .813 and Bush with himself at .815.
[iii] Based on my analysis and data; see also Sifry, Spoiling for a Fight.
[iv] At .424 in my sample of fourth-class cities, significant at .05 level; see Appendix B for a discussion of my cities samples.
[v] John C. Green and Mark Silk, “Why Moral Values Did Count.”
[vi] See Appendix B’s discussion of economic measures.
[vii] Republican 2000 vote for president and median household income places in my representative sample: .252; for same in 2004: .251, both in a positive direction. Equivalent Democratic correlations were .245 and .250, both in a negative direction.
[viii] Nader’s vote did not reach a correlation of significance (.05) with either rising or falling median household income; see Appendix B.
[ix] David Canon suggested this as a possibility. Canon was helpful in my thinking about the Wisconsin results.
[x] See “Consortium Exit Polls for the 2004 Presidential Election: Comparing Wisconsin and the U.S.” www.CNN.com/election/2004.
The following is an excerpt from Proxmire: Bulldog of the Senate, by Jonathan Kasparek, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. The book is available through libraries and book retailers statewide and online at www.wisconsinhistory.org/store. The book is also available as an e-book.
Excerpted from Chapter 9: “Building a Legacy” Proxmire: Bulldog of the Senate
From 1950 to 1989, William Proxmire was a major figure in Wisconsin politics, serving one term in the legislature before running for governor. Denied the governorship three times in six years, he shocked everyone by winning a special election in 1957 to replace the late U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy, and he went on to win reelection six times. Known for championing consumer protection legislation and farming interests, Senator Proxmire also fought continuously against wasteful government spending, highlighting the most egregious examples with his monthly “Golden Fleece Awards.”
Proxmire began the Golden Fleece Awards—which would become his most popular and longest-lasting attack on federal spending—in 1975. His success in exposing the cost overruns of the C-5A and other Pentagon waste demonstrated the necessity of good publicity to expose government waste, so Proxmire decided to create “a monthly award for the most absurd example of waste accomplished by one federal agency or another during the preceding thirty days.” After considering several names (such as Rip-Off of the Month, Spending Crime of the Month), Proxmire and his staff settled on “fleece” to suggest “a smooth, legalized theft from the taxpayers.” Tom van der Voort, who had an interest in Greek mythology, suggested “Golden Fleece” 1
On March 11, Proxmire issued a press release awarding a Golden Fleece to the National Science Foundation for spending $84,000 on a University of Minnesota study on why people fall in love. It set the tone for ridicule that would characterize the award for the next thirteen years:
I object to this because no one—not even the National Science Foundation—can argue that falling in love is a science. Even if they spend $84 million or $84 billion, they wouldn’t get an answer that anyone would believe. And I’m against it because I don’t want the answer. I believe that 200 million other Americans want to leave some things in life a mystery, and right at the top of this list of things we don’t want to know is why a man falls in love with a woman and vice versa.2
Professor Ellen Berscheid, the lead researcher, quickly defended the study as part of a larger project studying psychological dependence and interpersonal attraction begun in 1972 that would benefit psychologists and therapists and therefore have practical application. When Proxmire followed up by criticizing a similar $224,000 grant to the University of Wisconsin, Professor Elaine Walster responded that her study was part of a larger field of study that she called “equity theory,” which she had been working on for the past fifteen years and was widely respected among social scientists. She accused Proxmire of not trying to understand a complex and relevant field of research and instead going after a cheap laugh and political points. The UW Faculty Senate condemned Proxmire’s criticism as a threat to basic university research in a statement that concluded, “To the extent that in his personal opinion some funded basic research projects are wasteful, Senator Proxmire’s criticisms must be directed at improving the Foundation’s policies and review criteria. To instead make attacks on individual scientists’ projects, through the mass media and on insufficient knowledge, is a threat to the freedom of scientific inquiry which the Faculty Senate can only view with deep dismay.” Proxmire conceded that the UW faculty had a fair point and did indeed work with the NSF to improve its procedures for approving and reporting grants.3
Proxmire awarded the second Golden Fleece to the NSF, NASA, and the Office of Naval Research for spending more than $500,000 over seven years to fund a study by Dr. Roland Hutchinson of Kalamazoo State Hospital on why rats, monkeys, and humans clench their jaws. His press release for the second “fleece” was even more sarcastic than the first, mocking the “transparent worthlessness” of Hutchinson’s research and declaring it was “time for the federal government to get out of this ‘monkey business.’ ”
Proxmire repeated this story in his constituent newsletter and on the Mike Douglas television show.4 This time, Proxmire got more than an angry rebuke from Midwestern faculty: a year later, Hutchinson filed a lawsuit against Proxmire and legislative assistant Morton Schwartz, who had done most of the research, for libel, claiming that the award had “held him up to public ridicule and damaged his professional reputation,” rendering him unable to obtain future grants. Ironically, Schwarz, a former economics professor himself, had indeed done his homework, contacting each of the granting institutions and obtaining documents that supported the grants.
Before making the announcement, Schwarz contacted Hutchinson and read him the press release. Hutchinson insisted that the press release was not a fair evaluation of his work and that he would prepare a rebuttal, which turned out to be a $6 million lawsuit.5
Despite its origin in government-funded “monkey business,” the Hutchinson lawsuit dragged on for nearly four years and actually involved some serious constitutional issues. Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution granted members of Congress legal immunity for statements made on the floor in order to guarantee free debate and prevent reprisal for controversial statements. But did that immunity extend to statements repeated in print or on television? Because this question was of great importance to every member of Congress, the Senate funded Proxmire’s defense, though
Senator Barry Goldwater pointed out the hypocrisy of Proxmire himself receiving federal funds to defend himself for attacking others for receiving federal funds. A federal court dismissed the suit based on the doctrine of congressional immunity (which covered Proxmire’s statements on the floor of the Senate) and the freedom of speech clause of the First Amendment (which covered his newsletter and television appearance), but Hutchinson appealed the decision. In July 1978, the US Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling, stating that by accepting public funding for his work, Hutchinson had become a public figure. As a public figure, therefore, Hutchinson had to prove that Proxmire had acted with malice in his statements. Without evidence of malice, Proxmires statements were protected free speech. Hutchinson refused to give up and appealed the verdict to the US Supreme Court, which agreed to take the case in January 1979. In June, the court ruled in an 8–1 decision that Hutchinson was not a public figure and had to prove only injury, not malice, and that the congressional immunity clause did not apply to statements made outside of Senate debate, meaning that Proxmire could be sued for libel. The court remanded the case back to a lower court, but in March 1980, Proxmire agreed to a settlement. Hutchinson accepted $10,000 plus $5,131.92 in court costs—paid out of Proxmire’s own pocket—and a public clarification that Proxmire had not intended to disparage Hutchinson’s research, a not-quite apology. Proxmire’s defense costs were nearly $125,000, which
Proxmire gradually repaid, beginning with royalties he earned from a book about the Golden Fleece Awards.6
The lawsuit was an expensive ordeal, but Proxmire continued to make his monthly award during the suit and for the remainder of his time in the Senate. Every month, his legislative assistants spent hours meticulously researching some instance of wasteful government spending, often tipped off by someone working for some federal agency, and the office would decide on a winner. Proxmire would revise the award’s language, injecting his own humorous style to make them appealing as press releases. Administrative assistant Howard Shuman was responsible for editing and releasing them. Some government agencies were targeted more frequently, like NASA and the Armed Forces, and the amounts were sometimes tiny compared to other federal spending, but the press releases were always written to outrage the American taxpayer. Proxmire issued one of his favorite Golden Fleece Awards in July 1981 to the Department of the Army for spending $6,000 to produce a seventeen-page set of instructions for the purchase of Worcestershire sauce. The Senate itself received occasional awards, including a March 1978 award for spending $122 million on a new office building. Sometimes Proxmire issued special merit awards to those individuals or agencies that saved money, such as the Smithsonian Institution, which completed the Air and Space Museum ahead of schedule and under budget. Although the Golden Fleece Award remained quite popular with Wisconsin voters and certainly generated good press, not everyone was entirely comfortable with a prominent US Senator ridiculing research. NASA received several awards—spending $140,000 to pay an author to write a six-thousand-word history of the Viking Project, for example, or requesting $28 million for a building addition to store moon rocks. He bestowed an award on the Smithsonian Institution for producing a Tzotzil dictionary, a language spoken by a few thousand inhabitants of southern Mexico. Some journalists, though they admired the research put into them by Proxmire’s staff, thought a few of the Golden Fleece Awards were little more than cheap shots. Even some of his staff were uncomfortable with them, seeing some as petty. Such criticism may have had an impact. Over the years, Proxmire and his staff tended to focus on government agencies funding sometimes embarrassingly inappropriate expenses rather than getting pulled into the merits of research, and later awards avoided naming names. Legislative director Ken Dameron, who had a law degree, took on the responsibility of reading the awards to make sure there would be no further legal issues. Even after Proxmire had been out of office for years, the Golden Fleece Awards remained probably his best-known work.
“Where’s William Proxmire when you need him?” wondered one columnist in a 2002 column bemoaning a $3.2 million study on identifying individuals by smell.7
- According to his March 29, 2009 interview with Anita Hecht in Proxmire, The Fleecing of America (Proxmire Oral History Project, Wisconsin Historical Society Archives)
- Wisconsin State Journal, March 12, 1975 (William Proxmire Papers, Archives Division, State Historical Society of Wisconsin)
- Wisconsin State Journal, March 13, 1975 (William Proxmire Papers, Archives Division, State Historical Society of Wisconsin)
- From an April 18, 1975 press release (William Proxmire Papers, Archives Division, State Historical Society of Wisconsin)
- According to Irvin Kresiman in his April 16, 1976, Capital Times article “Fleece Award Winner Sues Prox for Libel” (Wisconsin Historical Society Archives)
- According to Spencer Rich in his May 10, 1976 Capital Times article, “Proxmire Seeks Funds from Senate.” (Wisconsin Historical Society Archives)
- According to Carl Eifert in his July 6, 2009, interview with Anita Hecht, Proxmire Oral History Project, Wisconsin Historical Archives.
Excerpts from “A Mind of Her Own: Helen Connor Laird and Family, 1888-1982” by Helen Laird. Copyright 2006. A Terrace book. Reprinted by permission of The University of Wisconsin Press.
Excerpt from “More than They Bargained For: Scott Walker, Unions & the Fight for Wisconsin” By Patrick Marley and Jason Stein, University of Wisconsin Press.
By the evening of March 11, 2011—the day that Governor Scott Walker signed his legislation repealing most collective bargaining for most public employees—the website of the group United Wisconsin had 142,200 signatures of people who said they would sign petitions to recall Walker and his lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch. The wild success of the website was creating an immense amount of work, and stress, for its outsider founder, Michael Brown. He was just a young web developer and marketer with a sometimes contrarian political outlook; now he had the responsibility of representing the views of a group nearly twice as large as the population of his home city of Appleton. As a single father, he also disliked the time he had to spend away from his son, and he needed help. To get it he put out an invitation to a meeting on March 15 at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center on Madison’s liberal east side. He got hundreds of responses, so many that he ended up limiting attendance. Scores of people packed the meeting room as Brown explained that he wanted a field presence for what had been an online-only organization. To recall the governor, opponents would have sixty days to gather 540,208 valid signatures—one-quarter of the number of voters in the 2010 governor’s race. To guarantee that there were enough legal signatures, Brown was seeking to gather more than 700,000 because inevitably some signatures would be found invalid.
“We want to be aggressive with this, we want to be on the ground,” Brown told the group.
Brown was approached after the meeting by a reporter from The Capital Times and found himself a little panicked by the idea of getting broader exposure. “Now it’s starting,” he thought to himself. “We’re not ready for this yet.” Brown increasingly found himself in the public eye, sometimes uncomfortably so. Twice, strangers showed up at his duplex to harass him about starting the recall and ask him why he had done it, prompting him to threaten to call the police.
At the meeting, Brown met four others who would become board members of United Wisconsin by the end of the month. One of them, Kevin Straka, soon became the chairman. Brown served as a simple board member, scaled back his involvement, and within seven months left the group. By April 1 the group had 176,700 pledges, but the real work was just beginning. In the coming weeks the board and organization had to branch out, drawing in volunteers and eventually paid staff who could send mass e-mails, field media questions, and organize the public. Board members began to establish a delicate relationship with the Democratic Party as Brown, Straka, and other political independents in the group learned to work with the partisan operatives and union activists who were crucial to reaching their shared goal.
United Wisconsin clearly had its own profile. By the time the recall signatures were filed early the next year, the group had 44,200 “likes” from Facebook users—more than half again as many as the state Democratic Party’s page had. When Brown talked by phone for the first time with Mike Tate, the state Democratic Party chairman, Tate started the conversation with a question. “How did you do this?” he asked. Tate said later “it was pretty goddamn incredible” that Brown had developed his database in such a short time without any significant spending or advertising. But the movement also seemed inevitable.
“If United Wisconsin hadn’t hit that moment in time, . . . it would have been somebody else,” Tate said.
Brown, too, knew it hadn’t been him, though he had the technical know-how and the stubborn belief that the cause was right and the time was ripe. It was the reckless enthusiasm of Walker’s opponents—captured in a historic moment—that made it happen.
Not everyone saw right away that the recall would occur or be successful. In early April, Tate and others from the Democratic Party met with United Wisconsin and indicated to the group that the national unions were not on board with recalling Walker. United Wisconsin’s leaders made clear that they couldn’t be swayed.
“We said, ‘We’re going to do this whether you like it or not,’” Lynn Freeman, a United Wisconsin board member, remembered. “We said, ‘We are doing this. United Wisconsin will make this happen. Are you in or are you out?’”
While committed to the cause, United Wisconsin faced challenges that political professionals would not have. The group early on sent a mass e-mail to people who had pledged to sign recall petitions, but its database of supporters needed to be cleaned up and so far no one had done it. United Wisconsin’s e-mail vendor quickly dropped the group because too many copies of the message were recorded as spam. The inability to communicate with its members constrained United Wisconsin’s fund-raising, and in that period the group sometimes scraped by.
That spring, Tate convened a working group separate from United Wisconsin that consisted of about a half dozen political professionals to consider the issues. The group included Tate; Maggie Brickerman, executive director of the state party; Doug Burnett, a political organizer and lobbyist for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; and Paul Maslin, a Madison pollster who had worked for California Governor Gray Davis when he was recalled. State law restricts coordination between groups that run independent ads in campaigns and political parties, but Burnett was able to talk with the others about a Walker recall because at that stage the recall was theoretical. When the discussion drifted to the recalls then ongoing against Wisconsin senators, Burnett had to leave the room because AFSCME was active in them. The group met several times to consider “any number of questions, virtually none of which we had any ability to control,” Tate said. The group discussed Walker’s fund-raising ability, potential Democratic opponents, when to begin the recalls, and other issues.
As the date approached when opponents could legally launch a recall against Walker, Tate’s group and United Wisconsin had to decide when to start the stopwatch on the sixty days allowed under state law for gathering signatures. By law, they could start circulating paperwork on November 4, 2011, but some wanted to wait until the summer so they could time Walker’s recall with the November 2012 election, when President Barack Obama would be on the ballot and the Democratic turnout would be at its highest. There were arguments against this because there was no way to guarantee when the recall election would be held—no one knew how much time the Accountability Board would need to count signatures, and the Republicans could easily manipulate the election schedule with legal challenges. Others feared that the opposition to Walker would wane over time. United Wisconsin agonized over the issue, having long debates as a board and in conference calls with its one hundred county coordinators. In August 2011 the group finally decided it would aim to have the recall election along with the 2012 presidential election.
That same month, United Wisconsin started having monthly meetings with representatives from labor and the Democratic Party so they could coordinate their efforts. Soon, members of that larger group revisited the question of timing and concluded an earlier recall might be more effective. Tate initially supported holding the recall in November 2012 but knew that the governor’s opponents couldn’t be held back. He worried that an individual or poorly organized group would launch a recall attempt that would fail to get the necessary signatures. The real recall effort would still be free to start up later, but in the meantime Walker would have gotten months of unlimited fund-raising. Moving up the recall was a bitter draught for United Wisconsin’s board members because doing so would take away months of their preparation time and would also mean they would have to tell their county coordinators they were reversing course just a couple of weeks after their earlier decision on a November 2012 recall. When the idea of an earlier start to the recall first came up, Straka felt nauseated—the chairman of United Wisconsin thought he might throw up or pass out. The Democrats and labor leaders were coalescing around the idea of seizing on the momentum of the moment and launching the recall immediately, but they told United Wisconsin they would abide by whatever decision its board members made. In September, United Wisconsin’s board considered its options and voted three to two to start the petition drive right away.
They settled on November 15—a week and a half after the first possible day. They would have to gather signatures over Thanksgiving, hunting season, Christmas, and the New Year’s holiday, but they were confident they could get more than the necessary amount. In October 2011, United Wisconsin hired an executive director and finance director and announced the start of signature gathering. Those actions improved its fund-raising tremendously—it raised more than $350,000 in the last half of 2011, the vast majority of it in the final three months of the year. Tate and others conveyed to national officials the importance of assisting the recall—even if they felt it was poor strategy—and stressed that it would happen no matter what. “This is a stampeding bull and if we don’t figure this out it’s going to run right over us,” he told his colleagues. In the end, Walker’s opponents would get their signatures, evading one horn of the bull. But escaping the second horn and actually winning the election would prove far more difficult.
Barbara J. Miner is a Milwaukee-based journalist who has covered education for more than 20 years. She is author of “Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City” (New York: New Press).
This article is adapted from her book, and expanded from a piece originally appearing in Guernica, a magazine of art and politics.
When Gwen Moore walked into Milwaukee’s North Division High School in September 1965, she was terrified.
“North was seen as this jungle,” she explains more than 40 years later. “All black, segregated, inferior.”
Moore had wanted to attend West Division high School, a “white” school closer to home. When she tried to register at West, school officials told her she had to go to North Division. (It would be another decade before the federal courts would order the desegregation of Milwaukee’s schools.)
“My mom was in Texas at a Baptist convention, and I talked to her and said, ‘Mom, they wouldn’t let me go to West,” Moore tells the story.
“Gerrymandering,” her mom muttered.
“Gerry who?” Moore asked.
“Never mind. Go on to North and when I get back we’ll straighten this out,” her mom answered.
Moore laughs at the story’s irony. By the time her mother returned, Moore had fallen in love with North Division. “I begged my mom to let me stay,” she recalls.
In 2004, Moore became the first African American from Wisconsin elected to the U.S. Congress. Over the years, she has spoken forcefully about the need to defend public education.
Moore cannot say enough good things about her time at North Division. She uses her experience to underscore that no school should ever be judged— let alone dismissed as beyond redemption — merely because of test scores or its reputation in the media.
Moore found both acceptance and courage while a student at North. When she spoke up, students listened. She discovered she had both leadership skills and a passion for politics.
“North ended up being one of the best experiences I ever had,” Moore says. “In terms of social development and leadership skills, North was the most significant part of my life.”
Using the standards of today’s corporate-oriented school reformers, the North Division of 1965 would have been dismissed as a “failing school.”
Interestingly, before the 1990s, the term “failing schools” was all but nonexistent. It certainly was not applied to Jim Crow black schools in the South that could not even afford desks.
In recent decades, the “failing schools” label reached new heights, applied to schools and districts alike. It became part of the established educational lexicon, used not only to deride urban public schools, but also to demand that parents be given “choice.”
THE RHETORIC OF CHOICE
A concept as American as apple pie, individual choice has long been considered a component of liberty. In education, used appropriately, it can ensure that public schools are sensitive to the varying needs and preferences of this country’s 50 million public school students.
But that is not how the term “school choice” is used today.
Just as the term “state’s rights” was code in the 1960s for opposing federal civil rights legislation, today “choice” has become code. It is code for initiatives that funnel public tax dollars into private voucher schools or privately run charters. It is code for reforms based on markets and individual decisions by consumers. It is code for programs that undermine public education, an institution so fundamental to our vision of democracy that the right to a free and public education is protected by every state constitution in the country.
Wisconsin is a cautionary tale showing the link between “choice” and school vouchers, under which public tax dollars pay the tuition at private schools.
In 1990, under the rationale of “choice,” Milwaukee became the first city in the country to provide taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools. When it began, the program involved roughly 340 low-income students at seven community schools.
Over the years, restrictions have been lifted. Today, almost 25,000 students in Milwaukee are receiving publicly funded vouchers to attend 112 private schools, with 85% attending religious schools. In size, vouchers are almost equal to the state’s second largest school district. In 2013, the Republican-dominated legislature approved a statewide expansion of private school vouchers, in a move widely understood as a conscious abandonment of public schools in favor of private schools.
The statewide program was billed as a limited expansion. But the history of the Milwaukee voucher program has shown that, once vouchers have a foot in the door, the voucher movement continually pushes toward its goal of a universal voucher system.
In 1990, when vouchers first began in Milwaukee, the program was limited to families at 175 percent the poverty level. By 2010, the threshold was 300 percent the poverty level. Gov. Walker and voucher supporters have admitted they would like all families, even those with million-dollar incomes, eligible.
In 1990, religious schools were not allowed. In 1995, that was dropped.
In 1990, voucher schools were required to have more than half their students privately paying tuition, in order to ensure they were viable private schools. Over the years, the requirement was dropped. Today, in one-fifth of the voucher schools, all the students receive a publicly funded voucher. In half the voucher schools, 95 percent or more of the students receive a voucher.
Yet the schools are still defined as private.
As a result, a voucher school can ignore basic constitutional protections such as due process and freedom of speech. It does not have to provide the same level of special education services. It can expel students at will. It can ignore the state’s open meetings and records requirements. It can discriminate against students on the grounds of sexual orientation. The list could go on.
For more than 20 years, voucher schools have been a conservative ideologue’s dream: no teacher unions, no governmental bureaucracy, no curricular restrictions. But, despite the rhetoric propelling the voucher movement, these private schools do not out-perform public schools.
In 2010, when Milwaukee’s voucher schools were required to administer the state’s achievement tests and publicly release the results, there was a collective gasp of surprise. The voucher schools did no better in reading than their public school counterparts — and were significantly worse in math.
Yet using the rhetoric of choice and failing public schools, voucher proponents have pushed for an expansion of vouchers.
ORIGINS OF SCHOOL VOUCHERS
The voucher movement’s strategic goal was first outlined by free-market economist Milton Friedman in 1955. Funding of public schools would be replaced by vouchers for any approved school, public or private, religious or secular. Oversight would be minimal, on par with health inspection at restaurants.
In Friedman’s view, everyone would get vouchers, but the vouchers would be mere subsidies. More affluent parents could add to that voucher and pay the tuition at expensive private schools.
Interestingly, the first contemporary use of vouchers was by whites hoping to escape desegregation. From 1959 until 1964, when federal courts intervened, officials closed all the public schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia, rather than comply with orders to desegregate. White parents took advantage of vouchers to a private, whites-only academy.
Such an association between vouchers and white supremacy was not useful to today’s voucher and marketplace advocates. So vouchers were repackaged as “choice.”
After more than 20 years, one of the clearest lessons from Milwaukee is that vouchers, above all, are a way to funnel public tax dollars out of public schools and into private schools. Vouchers, at their core, are an abandonment of public education.
Yes, the rhetoric of “choice” is seductive. As even Gwen Moore well knows.
When a state legislator, Moore voted in support of Wisconsin’s groundbreaking legislation. At the time, she didn’t see any problems.
“The program was small, it was totally secular, it was an experiment, and it was for kids who the Milwaukee Public Schools couldn’t serve for a variety of reasons,” she recalls.
“Of course this is a vote I deeply regret,” she continues, “because I allowed vouchers and then I saw what it came to be. I never was the kind of voucher person who wanted to destroy public education.”
DROPPING THE FAÇADE
In the early years of the voucher program, supporters touted the support of African Americans, and portrayed vouchers as a way to help low-income Black children. But, as Moore’s statements have shown, it is increasingly difficult to continue such a façade.
And it’s not just Moore.
Polly Williams, a Democrat and an African-American state legislator who helped craft the original voucher legislation in 1990 and whom some have dubbed “The Mother of School Choice,” has long criticized the program’s expansion toward universal vouchers. In 2013, she criticized the Republican agenda and said of Gov. Walker and his voucher supporters, “They have hijacked the program.”
By 2013, however, voucher supporters didn’t need Polly and didn’t care what she said.
A long-time voucher supporter dismissed the criticism and said publicly what many had long suspected — that Polly Williams had been used.
“Polly was useful to the school choice movement because of her race and her party affiliation,” voucher supporter George Mitchell wrote in a blog comment in May.
When the Republicans in control of the Wisconsin legislature, bipartisan support and the involvement of African Americans was no longer necessary for the voucher movement.
In the early morning hours of June 5, 2013, at roughly 3 a.m., the state’s powerful Joint Finance Committee pushed through an expansion of school vouchers throughout Wisconsin as part of the state budget.
The vote was 12-4, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed. When Gov. Scott Walker signed the budget bill, vouchers were on the way to becoming a reality throughout Wisconsin.
“This vote has created a separate, unaccountable statewide system of religious and private voucher schools funded with public dollars,” Tony Evers, the state superintendent, said of the committee’s action. “This pre-dawn action has not had one second of public testimony, there have been no public hearings, and no public fiscal analysis has been done.
Before Miller Park opened, the Milwaukee Brewers went to the post-season playoffs twice.
After playing in Miller Park since it opened in 2001, the Brewers have been in the post-season four times, including this year.
That was one of the benefits then-club President Bud Selig pitched in trying to convince state lawmakers and taxpayers that a new stadium was needed.
In the following excerpt from his memoir, “For the Good of the Game,” the ex-MLB commissioner recounts the political struggles to get financial help to build a new Brewers ballpark in the mid-1990s.
The Legislature in 1995 approved a .01 percent sales tax in southeast Wisconsin to help pay for the stadium. This led to a successful recall of Sen. George Petak, R-Racine, who voted to approve the deal despite earlier telling constituents he’d vote against it.
The Miller Park sales tax is on pace to expire in March, roughly 25 years since its inception.
The following excerpt is provided by William Morrow publishers. “For the Good of the Game,” by Bud Selig, can be purchased where books are sold and at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Good-Game-Surprising-Dramatic-Transformation/dp/0062905953
Wendy, my daughter, was in charge of the Brewers while I tackled baseball’s biggest challenges, but I had a deeply personal investment in the stadium situation. I knew replacing County Stadium was necessary for the survival of the franchise that had given Milwaukee a second chance at being a baseball town. Because we were the smallest market in the major leagues, we needed to maximize revenues if the Brewers were going to be competitive enough to reward fans for the passion they invested in the team.
We didn’t just reach that conclusion in the 1990s, when so many other teams were opening stadiums. I had seen this coming for a long time. I loved County Stadium more than anyone in Milwaukee, but for me the need for a new stadium was like a toothache that starts long before you find yourself at the dentist. I could feel it for years before I allowed the issue to become a public matter. I knew I couldn’t let an antiquated stadium become the reason that the Brewers failed, not after the heartache I experienced when the Braves moved to Atlanta. I knew I couldn’t allow that to happen again. It was unthinkable.
At my urging, the Greater Milwaukee Committee—the same organization that was responsible for County Stadium forty years earlier—appointed a task force to study the issue in 1987. That was the start of an agonizingly painful process that often crawled or seemed stalled until Miller Park became a reality in 1995 and finally was ready for baseball in 2001.
I remember being in Toronto when the SkyDome opened. It had a roof to keep fans warm and dry, a hotel in left field, and the Hard Rock Cafe in right field. McDonald’s ran the concessions. As much as I marveled about what the Blue Jays had accomplished with the help of financing from Toronto and the province of Ontario, I must admit I was feeling a little bit heartsick about our franchise. How could we compete with this?
It was clear we needed not only a new stadium but one with a roof, which would increase the cost of the project significantly. The journey to get our new ballpark built would be torturous and require patience over many years. The plus for me was that I was traveling it with my daughter, as Wendy was by my side every step of the way. She would step out on her own in these negotiations because I was preoccupied with the bigger issues in baseball.
When I look back on it, I still shake my head over how painful the process became. It really didn’t have to be so contentious. We experienced some political defeats along the way that were crushing, especially when I compared them to the vision of the civic leaders who had built County Stadium before Milwaukee even had a team to play there. Those guys had the vision and the will to see how a stadium could draw a team in to make the whole city better. What had happened to that spirit?
We were desperately trying to stay here, to make baseball work in Milwaukee for decades to come. There was no other agenda. That’s what made the opposition we faced so stunning to me. The way we were treated along the way made this the most disap pointing time of my career.
We had a lot of really strong people on our side, including Mike Grebe, an influential lawyer and civic leader who was close to Tommy Thompson, who was then the Wisconsin governor. We had Thompson’s support, and I thought we would be able to count on it throughout the process, in part because of the connection with Grebe. But somewhere along the way we lost Thompson. I believe others had convinced him that supporting the stadium measure wasn’t a popular position for him to take.
He made a political judgment, and he was wrong. That’s what I never understood. We weren’t threatening to move. I never listened to overtures from other cities. Charlotte was interested, but I never talked to them.
As the person primarily responsible for bringing baseball to Milwaukee all those years earlier, it was hard not to take all this personally. Considering the unlikely way I had landed the Brewers in 1970, and again the pain I’d experienced when the Braves packed up and left Milwaukee, I simply couldn’t consider abandoning my hometown. It just wasn’t in my DNA, and I knew it. Everyone knew it, I think. I couldn’t let the legacy of all my efforts be that the team’s financial situation prevented it from staying where it belonged. Nothing over the previous three decades would have been possible if we hadn’t fought so hard to make Milwaukee a baseball town. But suddenly we were faced with the prospect that it could end. If the Brewers couldn’t upgrade their stadium situation, at some point the team would have to leave. What was in these rejections for Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin? They were never going to get another team.
I’ll never forget the drive home from Madison after one setback. It felt like a nail in our coffin, and the mood on the way back to Milwaukee was gloomy. This was probably the lowest point for me. Wendy and the other people in the car asked what we were going to do. I said we would keep trying. I think they thought I was crazy. They certainly couldn’t believe I was going to go on.
What else was I going to do? Of course I was going to go on. We were going to get this done. I would have liked to have told those people to go take a hike, believe me. I’d like to have done that, but that wouldn’t help me get a new stadium. We couldn’t survive without the stadium and I wasn’t going to let Milwaukee lose its baseball team, the team I’d worked so hard to bring to the city all those years ago. Not on my watch.
We regrouped and, in the end, we won. That’s we as in all of us in Milwaukee and Wisconsin. I am so proud of how Wendy problem-solved and persevered through some angry and ugly confrontations with politicians and produced a state-of-the-art ballpark that has allowed the franchise to draw more than three million fans in three different seasons.
The Brewers have played there for eighteen seasons now, with the annual average attendance about 2.7 million. Milwaukee is the smallest market in the majors but finished tenth in attendance in 2018 and is likely to do even better in ’19. That’s pretty spectacular, if you ask me. Thank goodness Wendy persevered.
She had a lot of help along the way. From the start, Wendy put together a group of community leaders who were dedicated to the cause. We were so thankful for the work of Jim Keyes of Johnson Controls; Jack McDonough, the chairman and CEO of Miller Brewing; Jack McKeithan, a former chairman of Schlitz Brewing; Jim Ericson of Northwestern Mutual; Bob Kahlor, chairman and CEO of Journal Communications; Roger Fitzsimonds of First Wisconsin; Frank Busalacchi of the Teamsters; and Tim Sheehy of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. State assemblyman David Prosser and Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament were helpful from the start.
Wendy was a warrior in the fights at city hall and at the statehouse. She was involved not only in the grueling political aspects but also in the design and construction that have made Miller Park a prototype for other new ballparks, especially those with retractable roofs.
I witnessed some of the worst, most Machiavellian behavior you can imagine. I had politicians—including our governor at the time, Thompson, and our mayor, John Norquist—routinely say one thing to my face and do the opposite behind my back.
We eventually got it done with a public-private partnership, with dozens of people working tirelessly behind the scenes—even Henry Aaron stepped up to help—and with committed people who believed that, in the end, Miller Park would be good for the city. They believed, correctly, that it would not only be good from a financial standpoint—studies show it adds $330 million a year to the Wisconsin economy—but have a sociological benefit.
I’ll never forget the sacrifice made by George Petak, a state legislator from Racine. He helped us get across the finish line because he knew it was good for his home state even if public funding was a divisive issue. George was convinced Milwaukee would lose the Brewers without a new stadium. He was subsequently voted out of office by residents of his county but went out as one of my heroes for how he helped make Miller Park a reality. He was like me. He understood the impact baseball can have on
When the project was in trouble, we received a huge late lift from Michael Joyce, president of the Bradley Foundation, one of the biggest and most respected foundations in the country. His support, along with Tim Sheehy’s, rallied other local business leaders who were supportive of the stadium effort.
We got Miller Park built because, truly, our fans wanted it, and ultimately, our fans demanded it. I knew what we needed was a midwestern version of SkyDome, but that didn’t exactly fit in the Brewers’ budget. The challenge was how to build a partnership with local governments to help finance it. We had many tough days, many painful days, many days when there just didn’t seem to be a way out. Yet we pressed on. That’s the way I had achieved every victory in my career—with perseverance in the face of skepticism.
Miller Park opened on April 6, 2001, with the Reds back in town. Wendy and her husband, Laurel Prieb, had added so many wonderful touches to the ballpark, from an innovative kids’ zone to décor that only people who really loved the game could have imagined. But Bernie Brewer still had his slide.
My friend George W. Bush came through for me. He told me he’d be honored to throw out a ceremonial first pitch for our first game, and I was honored to have him in town. I was going to throw out a first pitch, too. Yount warmed me up in our new batting cages beforehand. President Bush warmed up, too, but not quite enough, as it turned out. He bounced a ball to the plate, perhaps because he was wearing a bulletproof vest underneath his shirt.
I thought of a million different things that night, including Wendy’s tenacity and the sacrifice of George Petak. I thought a lot about three construction workers who were killed in a horrible crane accident during construction and the thousands of other workers who could point with pride to the bricks they laid, the grass they planted, the signs they hung. I was so very grateful to so many people.
Without new ballparks, along with changes in baseball’s anti quated economic systems, a lot of teams would have been out of business. Maybe ten teams, maybe twelve teams. All the small markets. I know critics dismiss this reality, but that’s how truly desperate these times were.
Bringing stadiums into the modern era was a huge step forward for baseball.
This is an excerpt from a book published by the University of Wisconsin Press: “Tommy: My Journey of a Lifetime,” by Tommy G. Thompson and Doug Moe. It’s the life story of Wisconsin’s longest-serving governor, first elected in 1986, and his time in Madison and Washington, D.C., where he served as national health secretary in the aftermath of the 9-11 tragedy.
Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. ©2018 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.
Buy the book: https://uwpress.wisc.edu/
Around that time—December 1985—Kenyon Kies, who was managing director of the Wisconsin Utilities Association, had a holiday party at his office in downtown Madison, and across the room I spotted Jim Klauser, who had encouraged me to forgo a run for governor in 1982 and position myself for 1986. At that moment there was probably no one in Wisconsin whose political abilities I respected more.
I waited until I saw Jim walk into the kitchen to refresh his drink. I followed him.
“I’m running for governor, and I need your help.”
“Tommy,” Jim said. “You don’t want to run.”
What Jim was really saying was that he didn’t want to get involved in another political campaign. His lobbying business was becoming very successful. He had just helped push through an important bill for Exxon, and new clients were knocking on his door. Jim was tired, looking at even more work, and felt the last thing he needed was to sign on to my run for governor.
I knew all that, but I also knew I needed him. We had received a report the first week of December from Brian Sweeney, a Republican campaign consultant, essentially an analysis of what my campaign for governor needed to be successful, and his top recommendation was that it needed to be run more professionally.
That evening in Kies’s office, I said, “Yes, Jim, I am running.” I said again I needed his help.
Klauser began to list the reasons why he couldn’t help, and I stopped him. “Think about it over Christmas. I know I can win, but I can’t win without you.”
In early January, Klauser came to see me in my assembly office. “I’ve made my decision,” he said. “I am going to support you. I think you can win. What do you want me to do?”
I said, “I want you to run my campaign.”
“I am not going to run the campaign, Tommy. I don’t have time.”
Instead of pushing him, I figured it would be better to just get him onboard in some capacity. If that happened, knowing Klauser, he might end up running things anyway.
I said, “You know what I would really like you to do? Make damn sure I don’t go into debt.”
I knew that would resonate with Jim. He had talked to me about Jack Steinhilber, who ran in the primary for Bill Steiger’s congressional seat—the one Petri won and I finished second—and Jack had been caught up in the race and found himself something like $35,000 in debt when it was over.
I told Klauser, “I don’t have any money. Very few assets. I’m putting it all on the line with this race. I won’t have the assembly seat anymore. I won’t have much of a law practice, after spending a year campaigning. If I’m in debt, I don’t know how I will ever pay it off. I’ve got three kids. They’re my first responsibility. I can’t go into debt.”
Klauser nodded. “OK, that’s my job.”
Jim was onboard.
He and his wife, Shirley, were in my assembly office the morning I made the official announcement of my candidacy. Jim has said since that I was nervous, but I think it was more that I was excited. It was April 6, 1986. I was practicing the speech in my office. Marlene Cummings, who later became my secretary of regulation and licensing, introduced me on the assembly floor at the capitol. I gave my speech and then I was off on a whirlwind two-day tour of the state.
That first day, after the announcement, we hit Mauston, La Crosse, and Milwaukee and wound up at Cliff and Ceil’s, a restaurant and ballroom in Green Bay that has since closed. A group of builders—builders were among my earliest supporters—was meeting there that night. The next day I was in Rhinelander, Wausau, Superior, Eau Claire, and finally back in Madison, for a rally of my supporters at the Badger Bowl.
It was a great two days. I enjoyed it and fed off the energy of the people who came to see me. I was an official candidate for governor. We had crisscrossed the state in those two days, and that would continue. Occasionally a private plane would be made available for the campaign, but more often we drove, and therein lies a tale.
Back in December, I had received a letter that meant a lot to me at the time and later had a greater impact on the campaign than anyone could have then known.
It was written by John Tries, president of the Milwaukee Police Supervisors Organization. He was writing to tell me his organization was supporting me.
“Our organization has never given its endorsement to any candidate in the past,” Tries wrote. “We are extremely impressed with your past accomplishments and your plans for the future.”
I was grateful, and Tries was to become an important part of that first run for governor. John was a big, tough guy, a Milwaukee police sergeant who was a native of Austria. He had recently injured his back to the extent that he went on disability from his police job. As I remember it, he was tossing his riot gear in the trunk of his car, moved the wrong way, and ripped some vertebrae in his back. In any case, he wasn’t working, and he said, “I’ve really got nothing else to do. I will be your driver.”
I said, “You’re kidding me.”
“No,” John said. “I want to help you win.”
He helped, all right. I had a 1984 Buick with maybe twenty-five thousand miles on it when we started the campaign. It was the only asset I had that was paid for. By the end of the campaign it had over two hundred thousand miles on it. John put most of those miles on that Buick, and I read or slept in the seat next to him. He was a warrior.
He was also fun to travel with. John liked Jimmy Buffett songs, and there is a Buffett lyric that describes “good days, bad days and going half mad days.” That’s what a campaign is like. I recall we arrived late one night at a motel in Sheboygan—we always slept in one room with two beds to save money—and John was checking us in, using my credit card. I came shuffling in as they were finishing up.
“Who are you?” the desk clerk asked.
“I’m Tommy Thompson.”
The desk clerk looked at John, pointed at me, and said to John, “Do you know his name is on your credit card?”
Another time, in Racine, the campaign had booked us into a terrible hotel that was located above a tavern. A band was playing and we couldn’t sleep. There was no question of going somewhere else—there wasn’t money for that. So we got through the night, and in the morning, when John was taking a shower, the bathroom ceiling collapsed. Everything, including John, was covered with plaster.
I think John’s favorite moment in the whole campaign came in a motel room in Waupun when he noticed a little laminated card next to the phone that said, “Please do not pick up this receiver unless it rings.” I don’t know what it meant unless they didn’t allow outgoing calls. John thought it was the funniest thing he had ever seen. Don’t pick up the phone unless it rings! John took the card with him when we left and kept it with him in his wallet until the day he died, which came too early, in 2006. John was just sixty and had battled some health problems. I liked and respected John Tries enough that once I was elected governor I appointed him secretary of the Department of Employment Relations. You log the kind of miles together in a campaign together that we did, and you feel a kinship. John’s memorial was at Turner Hall in Milwaukee. They served Beck’s, his favorite beer, and played Jimmy Buffett songs.
While John and I were bouncing around the state, we also managed to get a small campaign office open in Madison. Jerry Mullins was a businessman who owned quite a bit of property in downtown Madison, including the Park Motor Inn, later the Inn on the Park. He didn’t want to contribute to my campaign, but he liked the idea of a Republican governor. He said there was a basement office in a building adjacent to the hotel that we could use if we cleaned it up. It took some cleaning. We didn’t have any kind of storefront presence—you entered from a side door—but the place had its advantages. Ave Bie and Diane Harmelink could walk across the street from the capitol on their lunch hours or after work, and it was also close to Jim Klauser’s law office. At first Klauser stopped by once a week or so to check the books, but then, as I had hoped might happen, he got more involved despite himself.
One spring day—it was probably late April—we were both in the campaign office one noon when Jim suggested we go next door to the Park Hotel coffee shop for a hamburger. After we ordered, Jim said he thought the campaign needed to bite the bullet and do some heavy spending on advertising leading up to the state Republican convention in Milwaukee in early June. He said we had around $100,000 on hand.
“How much do you want to spend?” I said.
“All of it,” Jim said.
I’m sure I gave him a look. Klauser explained that he felt we needed to win the straw poll at the convention. Despite my statewide grassroots efforts over the past several years, some of the big-money Republicans, the country club Republicans, were either backing Jonathan Barry outright or taking a wait-and-see position. Jim felt a big win for us at the convention would pop Barry’s balloon. And if we won—even though the straw poll was not a formal endorsement—money would not be an issue. We’d be able to raise money. If we lost, well, at least we had given it our best shot.
We didn’t lose. We spent all but a few hundred bucks on a radio and TV blitz, and even though some party regulars tried to sabotage me—they moved the straw poll to Sunday, because some of my rural supporters had to leave Saturday night—we won big. I got 62 percent in the straw poll. Barry got 20. Many of our people stayed an extra day. There was a backlash against the effort to stack the vote against me.
The radio and TV campaign helped, too, but Klauser was not happy with the advertising firm we were using. I found that out a short time later, after giving a speech at the La Crosse Club. I remember a couple of things about that night. Jerome Gundersen and Charles Gelatt, two of the leading citizens in La Crosse, were in attendance. Gelatt approached me after the speech, shook my hand, and said, “I really like you. How much can I contribute to your campaign?”
“Well,” I said, “you can contribute $10,000. That’s the individual limit.”
He was shocked. “I’m not giving you that much!” he said. He shook his head. I don’t know why he even asked me. In the end, I think he wrote me a check for $1,000.
At some point I looked across the room, and there was Jim Klauser. That was unusual. Klauser didn’t get out of Madison much. He said he needed to talk to me. I was going to catch a plane to Superior to give a speech the next morning, and Jim said he would walk me to my car, which he did.
“Good speech, Tommy,” he said. “I wanted to let you know that we released most of the campaign staff today.”
I stopped walking and looked at him. I was shocked.
“You campaign, and I’ll take care of it,” he said. As it turned out, it wasn’t everybody. But a couple of things were going on. Jim was unhappy with the quality of our television spots in the run-up to the convention and went so far as to change the imagery in the last six or seven seconds. They had me looking funereal, Jim said. He found something brighter and spliced it in at the last minute, before the spots aired. Klauser was also unhappy with our campaign manager. They had tussled over the organization of the field staff. Klauser wanted it more hands-on, and the guy said, “I talk to them on the phone. It works.” Jim told me he was intending to fire him, but never got the chance. It turned out the campaign manager was in a romantic relationship with the head of our campaign ad agency. When Klauser said he was changing agencies after the convention, the campaign manager said, “Then I quit.”
Klauser was running things anyway by then, and he was tough. Around this time, one of our fundraisers made the mistake of telling Jim she was wasn’t going to turn over the money she had raised until she was paid. “That money is not yours,” Jim said. “If it is not in the Madison office by noon tomorrow I will get an arrest warrant from the district attorney.” She brought it in. Klauser paid her, and fired her.
We could get by without any particular fundraiser, but we needed a campaign manager. Klauser had talked to Gerald Whitburn, who was involved with Kasten’s Senate reelection campaign, and Whitburn had suggested we get in touch with a guy named Robert “Buzz” Buzinski, a Wisconsin native who had worked as a field representative for the Republican National Committee in states across the country. Klauser flew to Washington to meet with Buzinski. It was almost like destiny. They were having lunch in a D.C. restaurant when a camera crew from a local TV station showed up and said they were trying to do a piece on the “entertainment deduction” on tax returns, which had become controversial. The three-martini lunch was on the way out. The TV crew offered to buy Klauser and Buzinski martinis if they could take some shots of them sipping from the glasses. They didn’t have to ask twice. Jim and Buzz, as it happened, both enjoyed martinis. Buzz signed on to the campaign.
We still didn’t have much staff, or money either, but we gained momentum as the summer went on. Our campaign circulated a three-page memo that pointed out how liberal Jonathan Barry had been during his many years as a Democrat. The ultraliberal Capital Times had given Barry its third highest score out of ninety-nine members of the assembly in assessing his votes on select key issues. The memo was pretty devastating—true, but devastating—and Barry was outraged. It was while he was addressing it in an interview with the Milwaukee Sentinel editorial board that Barry called me “a two-bit hack from Elroy.” I think he knew he was in trouble.
By the day of the primary—September 9—I was feeling confident we would win. Sue Ann and I had dinner that night at the University Club in Milwaukee with Jim and Shirley Klauser and John and Peggy MacIver and afterward went to the Astor Hotel, where the victory celebration was being held. The early numbers were very positive and Klauser was telling me I needed to talk to the television reporters even though my opponents hadn’t conceded yet. I wasn’t sure, but Jim insisted. It worked out well because at one point during the interview, Tony Earl came on and we were together via a split screen. Tony congratulated me and said he was looking forward to the campaign. It was a classy thing to do but a bad move from the standpoint of political strategy: it served to put me on equal footing with the governor. I held my own in the conversation. I think maybe Tony and his people were relieved that Jonathan Barry didn’t win the Republican nomination. They had become obsessed with him, and I was an afterthought. It was probably why their campaign didn’t advertise for several weeks after the primary, another terrible move in hindsight. They still weren’t taking me seriously.
That night at the Astor, after Jonathan and the others had called to officially concede, I addressed my supporters and pointed out that there was still much work to do. “We’ve won the pennant,” I said. “We are now moving on to the World Series.”
They liked that.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I said, “we are going to sweep the Series.”
Excerpt from former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s book, “Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge.” Copyright 2013, 2014 by Scott Walker.
On the morning of March 9 (2011), I met with the Republican caucuses in the Senate and the Assembly. We laid out an orderly plan to end the standoff and pass the bill. Republican leaders would announce that they had scheduled a hearing of the conference committee for the following day. The committee would meet, split the bill, and send it to the full Senate for a vote. The Senate would act and then send it to the Assembly for final passage. While this was going on, I would fly across the state to rally support for our plan. The whole process would take 48 hours.
I left the meetings and headed to the airport. I was both relieved that we were finally ending this impasse and energized that we would finally be enacting our reforms.
The Capitol was quiet as I departed that morning. Since no one was expecting the Senate to act until the following day, and the costs of security were soaring into the millions, at around 3:30 p.m. my secretary of administration, Mike Huebsch, sent home the two hundred or so reserve police officers in the basement of the Capitol.
At 4:10 p.m. Mike got an urgent call from Eric Schutt.
“The Senate’s going in at six p.m.,” Eric told him.
“What the [EXPLETIVE] are you talking about?” Mike asked.
“They’re going to pass the bill,” Eric explained.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald had decided to throw our orderly plan out the window and vote on Act 10 that night. He was presiding over a skittish caucus, and did not know how long he would have the votes. He decided not to wait.
Mike’s face blanched.
“Oh God, I just let the police officers go.”
There was no way to call them back.
Fitzgerald posted a notice on the bulletin board outside the Senate publicly announcing that the Joint Finance Committee would meet at 6:00 p.m. At the appointed time, the committee met for four minutes, split the bill and voted it out. (Senate President Mike Ellis could be heard whispering under his breath as Assembly Democrats protested, “Call the roll … call the roll … call the [EXPLETIVE]-ing roll.”)
The Senate then met, passed the bill, and adjourned. The whole process, from public notice to final passage, took about four hours.
As word about what the Senate was doing spread, social media exploded. The unions and their supporters flooded Twitter and Facebook with urgent calls for protesters to rush the Capitol.
Standing on the Capitol steps at dusk, Mike Huebsch watched as an army of thousands formed on State Street and began marching toward him. Soon they had descended on the building, banging on the doors and windows, chanting, “Let us in! Let us in!”
The small contingent of Capitol police was quickly overwhelmed. Protesters ripped the hinges off an antique oak door at the State Street entrance and streamed inside. Mike watched in disbelief as the window to Democratic Representative Cory Mason’s office opened right in front of him and protesters began crawling into the building. Once inside, they began unlocking doors and bathroom windows until a sea of thousands had flooded the Capitol.
From Ed Garvey Unvarnished: Lessons from a Visionary Progressive by Rob Zaleski. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. © 2019 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.
Available for purchase here.
Zaleski: When did you start leaning left politically?
Garvey: When I joined student government at the University of Wisconsin, really, and the NSA, primarily. Everybody who was involved with the NSA was liberal—well, not everybody, but almost everybody. And it was right around that time that William F. Buckley started the conservative Young Americans for Freedom, which would attack us as communists and so forth.
I remember we had the NSA Congress in Madison in 1961, and Buckley came here to urge students to withdraw from the NSA because he said we were so far to the left we were essentially pinkos. It was also the period in history when the sit-ins were beginning in the South and you had the Freedom Ride, and there was this ferment on the campuses that civil rights was moving to the front of all other issues.
So here was William Buckley telling students to get away from the NSA because we were too far to the left, and so forth—caring not one whit about what was going on with black students either in the North or the South.
In my junior year I was elected student body president, and the sit-ins had just begun in Greensboro, North Carolina. So the student senate at the UW invited students from Fisk University, a black college in Tennessee, to take buses that we chartered to Madison to speak to our student senate about what was going on down there.
So they came here and we all sang “We Shall Overcome,” and then we all marched to the Capitol and picketed Woolworth’s, which was across the street on the Capitol Square, because the Woolworth’s down South all had segregated lunch counters.
Zaleski: Your first taste of real activism?
Garvey: Right. And when we got to the store, the people there were saying, “Why are you picketing here—why don’t you go down South and picket?” And we said, “Well, because you’re all part of the same chain and your company ought to stop discriminating.”
And just doing that and talking to these kids my age, who were participating in nonviolent protests, sitting in and being beaten up, thrown in jail, having cigarettes snuffed out on their backs, whatever, it was a life-changing event for me. Because I saw that this took enormous courage on the part of these young people who were risking their lives, really, for the right to do things that white people could do automatically.
Zaleski: Another life-changing event was going to Jackson, Mississippi, just as the civil rights movement was heating up in 1961. How did that come about?
Garvey: When I ran for president at that NSA Congress right after we graduated, civil rights was a major focus. I was elected SNC [Student Nonviolent Committee] president in August 1961, and the first SNC event I ever attended was in Jackson, Mississippi, in September 1961.
I got on the plane—alone—and flew to Jackson. And I remember the cab driver saying, “Where to?” and I gave him the address and he said, “You mean you want to go down there with those niggers?” And I said, “No, I want to go down there and meet with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.” And he said, “Yeah, the niggers.” And I thought, what do you do at this point? So I said, “Just take me.” So he drove me there, and I gave him a nickel for a tip.
Zaleski: A precursor of sorts?
Garvey: Yeah. And it was interesting because we all stayed with black families. It was just a totally different experience for me as a young twenty-one-year-old white kid going to Jackson, Mississippi. And on the second day of the SNC meetings, the police came to the door and told us that the restaurant across the street—which was owned by blacks—was no longer integrated, and that any whites who went there would be arrested.
So we discussed what we should do and again sang “We Shall Overcome,” and decided that we should go across the street, past the police dogs, and into the restaurant. I can’t remember exactly, but there must have been fifteen or twenty of us.
Zaleski: Police dogs—meaning German shepherds. Obviously a terrifying moment.
Garvey: Whoa! I’ve never been so scared in my life! I mean, we’re walking out singing, “We are not afraid,” and here are these German shepherds, teeth bared, and all these cops in riot gear, and I thought, oh my God, this is not going to be a good time. I mean, I was sure I was going to end up in jail, and I was just hoping they weren’t going to release the dogs. [Smiles.]
I’ve never liked German shepherds since—Oh Jesus, no thanks. But they didn’t release the dogs, and they didn’t arrest us. And as we sat around and talked about it later, we decided the reason was that the cops were confused and couldn’t comprehend why a white person would want to eat in a black restaurant. Because the whole point of segregation was to keep the blacks out of the white restaurants.
So we decided it was either too embarrassing for them or they weren’t organized and weren’t prepared for that. But keep in mind this was 1961—so it was still quite a long time before the stuff you saw in Mississippi Burning.
But it was a tough time, and people in the restaurant—middle-aged blacks in particular—said to us, “You know, you really shouldn’t be down here stirring things up, because we haven’t had a lynching in several months.” So their attitude was, are you sure you want to be down here? Because the white people down here are going to get pretty ticked off if you hassle them. And you had to sort of ask yourself, were we doing good or bad by being there? What was the deal?
And right after that I went to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which had been shut down because of civil rights activity, and the white leaders in the community said nobody should be allowed on the Louisiana State campus. Looking back now, I was just incredibly lucky. But those kinds of experience shape your life.
While America Sleeps: A Wake-up Call for the Post-9/11 Era – Russ Feingold
The Making of Milwaukee – John Gurda
Environmental Politics and the Creation of a Dream: Establishing the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore – Harold “Bud” Jordahl and Annie Booth
Let the people decide – William M. Kraus
The Survival Handbook: A Strategy for Saving Planet Earth – Doug La Follette
Adventure in politics: the memoirs of Philip LaFollette – Philip Fox La Follette
La Follette’s Autobiography: A Personal Narrative of Political Experiences – Robert M. La Follette and Allan Nevins
Cold War University: Madison and the New Left in the Sixties – Matthew Levin
The Art of Legislative Politics – Tom Loftus
Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work Paperback – Curt D. Meine
Madison: A History of the Formative Years – David V. Mollenhoff
The Wealth Of Cities: Revitalizing The Centers Of American Life – John Norquist
Your Joy Ride to Health Hardcover – Bill Proxmire
Democracy in Print: The Best of The Progressive Magazine, 1909-2009 – Matthew Rothschild
Forward! A History of Dane: The Capital County – Allen Ruff and Tracy Will
Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders – Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy
Edwin E. Witte: Cautious Reformer Hardcover – Theron F. Schlabach
Power to the People: An American State at Work – Tommy G. Thompson
The Company That Solved Health Care – John Torinus
The La Follettes of Wisconsin: Love and Politics in Progressive America – Bernard A. Weisberger
Pryme Knumber – Matt Flynn
The Alliance – Scott Klug
Former Senate leader, cabinet secretary and health insurance official Tim Cullen has written another book, with the help of Doug Moe. Due out this fall, it’s titled: “Disassembled: A Native Son on Janesville and General Motors — a Story of Grit, Race, Gender, and Wishful Thinking and What It Means for America.”
And a long-awaited book on Dem Gov. Pay Lucey, titled “Patrick J. Lucey: A Lasting Legacy,” is due out in May 2020 from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. UW-Madison political scientist Dennis Dresang completed a biography on the man from southwestern Wisconsin who counseled John F. Kennedy, served two terms as governor in the 1970s, left to become ambassador to Mexico and ran for vice president with independent John Anderson in 1980.