Tammy Baldwin’s Milwaukee Senate Campaign Office officially opened its doors Monday evening, and I’m glad I went, and not just because of the photo ops and the Brownie Bites. Hanging out with Democratic greats like Congresswoman Baldwin and Senator Herb Kohl (among many others) was nirvana for a political nerd like myself. But the best part of my evening was listening to Ethan Erickson, a college Republican-turned-Democrat, make his case for Tammy Baldwin for Senate.
I struck up a conversation with Ethan following Representative Baldwin’s press conference, as we were packed into the hallway. I asked him what compelled him to attend the event, and he laid out his rationale, along with the political history that shaped it. As a Roman Catholic who grew up in a Republican household mere minutes from Governor Scott Walker’s home in Wauwatosa, Ethan probably wouldn’t have been caught dead at a Democratic event prior to his political conversion. In fact, not that long ago he was so conservative that he was the “token” Republican in his Government class
at Cornell University in high school.
But Ethan’s worldviews started to change, in part, after he began to study Industrial Labor Relations in college. The more he learned, the more he realized that he could “no longer defend” Republican principles and policies, as he said they contributed to inequality and poverty in this country.
Ethan did not take his decision to switch parties lightly. Being Roman Catholic “carries with it interesting political connotations” and while he “doesn’t have a problem” with gay marriage, the issue of abortion is “complicated” for him, which is why he espoused Republican values until he found himself supporting Barack Obama at a mock political convention a few years back.
That’s around the time Ethan realized that “there is a whole other side of Catholicism” that includes “the importance of standing up for the poor” and “worker’s rights.” Said Ethan, “It’s a terrible indictment of this country how we’re treating the least amongst us.”
Ethan is concerned that, unlike in the 1930’s, when “the reaction to having global and financial crisis was that we actually made reforms that…solved the crisis,” nowadays “it seems that whatever attempts have been made to solve the crisis have been under attack, making it worse and worse.” Ethan said he supports Tammy Baldwin for Senate because, instead of “blaming everyone else,” she “represents the best chance of standing up for the New Deal Roosevelt values,” and that “if we connected with that FDR sensibility” it would “go a long way” toward helping Wisconsin workers hurt by the recession. “If she were in the Senate, she’d be…standing up for the…kind of values that Ted Kennedy and Wellstone really championed.”
Ethan also appreciates Tammy Baldwin’s views on the importance of unions. He told me that unions provide an “immediate way of bringing people out of poverty” by “making sure they have a living wage, health care, pension, and dignity at work.”
Ethan, himself, plans to look for a job as a union organizer upon graduation, and says he’ll run for public office at some point, so that he, too, can help shape public policy. So much of public policy, he said, affects opportunities, and government policy can provide opportunities to those who have not been “blessed” with them, as he was. When asked to respond to the Republican assertion that people should be able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, he replied, “You can’t pull yourself up by your own bootstraps if you don’t have any boots in the first place.”