The New Wisconsin Idea: Heal Thyself

English: Great Seal of the state of Wisconsin
English: Great Seal of the state of Wisconsin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When asked what the federal government should do to resolve the current government shutdown, Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker suggested that the feds should act more like Wisconsin and other states:

“I think not just in Wisconsin but in states across the country there’s a lot of  governors and lawmakers in both parties who wish the folks in Washington in both  parties would act more like the states and less like our nation’s capital.”

But Wisconsin, along with 25 other states, has chosen not to take federal funds to expand Medicaid. And as the NY Times reports, this has created a coverage gap that even with the implementation of the ACA will leave some 8 million Americans without any access to health care coverage. Despite Gov. Walker’s bipartisan spin, it is, of course, a group of Republicans in the House of Representatives, along with House Speaker John Boehner, who are seeking to undo or delay implementation of a law that would at least make our health care system a bit more humane and more affordable.  Wisconsin is now governed by a totally Republican regime which makes cooperation and the passing of bills quite easy.

Ironically, the “tea party” faction in the House is actually attempting to follow Wisconsin’s lead, acting as if it were in control in order to save the nation, they claim, from what was originally a conservative health care plan.  That the ACA is already law and is already up and running seems not to concern them.

Gov. Walker, remember, is the fellow who deleted Milwaukee’s voter-approved paid-sick-leave ordinance by creating a “state preemption” law in 2011, a law that became, according to PR Watch, the ALEC-approved blueprint for similar state laws blocking local governments from awarding paid sick leave. The idea of paying some of our lowest paid people to stay home when they are ill or care for sick children was just too generous a notion for certain lobbyists and politicians to stomach. The proposed federal Healthy Families Act, which would provide for up to seven days of paid sick leave for all employed Americans has not as yet passed, but at least some in Congress prefer not to use Wisconsin as a model of humane governance.

We can compare the undoing of heath care (and other liberal notions) of Gov. Walker and the Republican Legislature to what the Progressive Gov. Francis McGovern accomplished, along with the state Legislature, in Wisconsin back in 1911. As the Wisconsin Historical Society succinctly puts it:

“The 1911 legislature created a model workers’ compensation law to protect people injured on the job. It passed laws to regulate factory safety, encouraged the formation of cooperatives, established a state income tax, formed a state life insurance fund, limited working hours for women and children, and passed forest and waterpower conservation acts.”

Wisconsin’s Progressive Era was clearly a moment of protecting the health and welfare of both people and nature. A hundred years later we now find ourselves governed by an anti-democratic, ultra-capitalistic, every man (but especially every woman and child) for himself ideology. Do we now have a healthier, happier state? If we look closely at our inner-city and rural communities, their general decline and pockets of real poverty, I think we can see that Wisconsin could use a lot more government investment in the places that need it most. And what is Wisconsin leading the nation towards? An austerity that protects the wealthy and the fortunate while reducing services and programs for everyone else, a state that invests in open-pit mining while doing all it can to limit clean energy and conservation. So while we are all doing the best we can to heal ourselves and our communities, we ought not to neglect how our current state government is working to undermine the public and the public trust.

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