One can’t ever recall, in a fairly long lifetime, being actually warned not to talk politics to specified family members at a gathering of the clan. Knowing not to bring up anything political at work or leisure activities in Georgia unless certain one is among “our own kind” (meaning party rigidity or independent open-mindedness) has become a long-established way of life in this state and falls under common sense. But being warned not to mention politics, in a representative democracy?
Pretty scary stuff, especially in a state that, as one national newspaper put it, had long been notable for its political civility and open discourse regarding ideas considered “fringe” elsewhere. Not long ago, Wisconsin was routinely electing socialists to run the people’s affairs alongside Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Commie-hunting fame.
They actually ran polls up there showing that a third of Walker’s supporters, and a third of the backers of his opponent Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, had not only stopped talking to friends and relatives supporting the other guy but had basically banished them from their sight forever.
This is, of course, reflective of exactly what causes Congress to be totally gridlocked. Almost nobody talks to anyone with a different opinion any longer. At best, they just yell at each other and make obscene gestures.
THE ELECTION outcome (Walker won) is unlikely to change that. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath Twitter was full of messages saying that this meant it was time to kill the governor. Of course, pretty much everyone around here has heard somebody say the same thing about the sitting president. Apparently rhetoric like this is now par for the course as Walker supporters sported signs regarding getting rid of “union thugs.” Unions haven’t used “thugs” for as long as factory owners haven’t used armed “goons” to end strikes.
Wisconsin citizens were so rigidly aligned before going to the polls that the result probably was mostly evidence that both sides — and particularly Republicans — had a good “ground game” for getting out the vote. The turnout was just short of presidential levels. Walker had won with 52.3 percent of the vote in 2010 and with 53 percent this time with about 350,000 more voters showing up.
However, despite all the punditry, this may mean little regarding November. Exit polls show 17 percent of Walker voters planned to support President Obama, although his overall margin in that state appears to have fallen to about 7-8 percent (he won it by 14 percent in 2010).
This election may have been more about a recall being overkill in this situation. Some 60 percent of Walker voters said a recall was warranted only in cases of corruption, not simply disliking the way an incumbent was doing his job.
IF ANYTHING, this vote may have thus been premature. Walker is currently under both federal and grand jury investigations for possible illegal practices when he was the elected chief executive of Milwaukee County prior to becoming governor. That includes missing funds that he raised to supposedly help veterans and their families. It’s serious enough that 11 of his aides have been granted immunity from prosecution in return for their testimony, and Walker has set up a legal defense fund while not yet charged with anything. Of course, in next-door Illinois two deposed governors are now serving prison sentences so that’s a different world. In Georgia we only send former Atlanta mayors and education secretaries to jail.
It’s somewhat amazing to visit another state and have Georgia appear almost clean and tidy politically in comparison, even with lobbyists showering our legislators with gifts and their rejiggering election districts and voting laws to favor their continuation in office.
Watching all this unfold in Wisconsin without having a say in the outcome was an illuminating spectator sport.
Walker “raised” more than $40 million to defend himself — about 10 times what it takes to wage a winning gubernatorial campaign in Georgia. He outspent his opponent 8 to 1 with most of the funds coming from outside Wisconsin — some $279,000 from Georgians, most of it from five rich guys who should have been investing in creating more jobs at home.
IT WAS impossible to watch television — any channel — without seeing Walker ads. Or to drive down a street or highway without encountering signage, particularly in the suburban/rural areas that are the governor’s strongholds. All the 50,000-plus cities voted for Barrett; so did women. So did union members although Barrett was not actually, as the ads alleged, “their candidate.” The unions had actually supported the candidate that Barrett defeated in a primary and were left with no other place to go.
Very, very little was heard about the investigations into Walker except during a head-to-head debate where the governor, unlike his slick, professional TV ads, performed miserably. Barrett, an old pro politician and actually a moderate Democrat, massacred him. It was scary how bad Walker is when not in a structured, rehearsed environment, particularly given that after this win he’s being talked up as a possible GOP vice presidential candidate to shore up Mitt Romney’s right-wing credentials.
Of course, another tea party “favorite,” U.S. Rep. Tom Graves of Gordon County who will shortly inherit, due to redistricting, representing Floyd Countians even though almost none of them has ever met or seen him or knows what he looks like, is similarly being talked up for that role at the moment.
STILL, TO IMAGINE Walker on a national stage when all he can do is repeat memorized boilerplate while looking shifty-eyed by avoiding the gaze of cameras was alarming. Most of our county and city commissioners are better at this than he is.
Which brings up an interesting point, for which Greater Romans should be grateful. Perhaps on state and national political issues we’re just as rigid and close-minded as many in Wisconsin have become. However, when it comes to community affairs and issues, nobody among the citizenry is scared to talk/discuss their opinions on any matter.
We’ve never really understood why some local elected offices remain theoretically partisan (quite a few are nonpartisan) when party for some years hasn’t had a thing to do with homefront governing approaches.
But it sure is nice to know, after visiting Wisconsin, that in Greater Rome we can invite a neighbor or family member over for some barbecue, or to have lunch out, and not come to blows about how to revitalize Broad Street, whether to build a shopping center atop Burwell Creek, or how to keep from raising taxes even if it means some shared pain, or even raising taxes in order that some among us don’t bear any more hurt.