Hello, America. Remember me? Yes, I still have something to say.
When I call Wisconsin bruise-colored, I exaggerate a little bit. After the last couple of years, it certainly feels like Wisconsin has been bruised electorally: I have lost count of the number of times we have just voted, let alone how many other major events–protests, court challenges, crushing post-season games–have battered the state. But I don’t think there’s any way you can actually call Wisconsin anything but blue, anything but Democratic.
Which is a tricky thing to say, seeing as how last night Democrats lost control of any last vestige of power at the state level, with the Assembly remaining in GOP hands and the Senate flipping solidly back to the dark side, too. There is one word to explain that, and it’s redistricting. I am eating my words from 2008 on this (though I was dead-on accurate about what the WISGOP would do if they had the chance). But it is only through sharply partisan redistricting that the GOP is able to legally govern a state that is so clearly Democratic.
Redistricting aside, this state’s tendency to be liberal remains intact, particularly when an election, as it was in 2008 and last night, is nationalized. When the future of the country is on the line, Wisconsin hasn’t voted with the Republicans since 1984. Almost 30 years, more than a generation, has passed since Wisconsin has looked at the state of America and said, let’s make it more conservative.
When it comes to purely state matters, things are, of course, different. Yet and still, 2012 taught us clearly that the Wisconsin electorate doesn’t want things to be too different. When the state GOP overstepped its narrow mandate in 2011 to try to make us Alabama North, we revolted. Nearly every high profile GOP initiative over the last two years, from voter ID to screwing public workers to venerating the “jawb craters,” is a shambles. As we wake up on this day after the election, the status quo in Wisconsin looks a lot more like 2010 than like 2011. Aside from concealed carry, it’s hard to name one WISGOP priority that is in force as they wanted in 2011–Act 10, the collective bargaining law is on hold; school-funding referenda did pretty well last night (including in ultraconservative West Bend), showing Wisconsinites believe in re-funding our schools; Scott Walker’s vaunted WEDC is a laughingstock; Wisconsin is dead last in job growth despite going Galt; and the GOP got spanked by (conservative) judges for their voter-ID attempts and redistricting shenanigans.
And more than a million people mobilized in 2012 to tell Scott Walker to knock it off. This was not enough to remove him, but if anyone believes that such an unprecedented Democratic success with recalls (though Democrats couldn’t yank Walker, they did flip a legislative house, something never done before anywhere in America, and something that even the threat of put real brakes on extreme GOP policymaking for a time) was a license for Walker and his ilk to drag this state’s governance further right, they are mistaken. Nothing proved that quite like last night, when Wisconsin painted itself a bright, bright blue again–with no doubt many Walker voters happily connecting the line for Tammy Baldwin, the most liberal person we’ve ever sent to Washington.
What will be interesting to watch is the next legislative session: Republicans can’t (shouldn’t; “can’t” perhaps gives them too much credit) keep trying to treat this state like Wississippi when we’re not–by more than 200,000 votes we are plainly not (and about 130,000 more Wisconsinites voted Democratic for Congress than Republican). Republicans have the legal authority to inflict upon us whatever fresh ALEC-flavored hell they choose; whether they decide to do so, against the clear and overwhelming sentiment of this state’s voters, will tell us more about their misguided fantasies than it will about the actual color of this clearly blue state.