Women of Wisconsin: the progressive way forward

No doubt the overwhelmingly male punditry and mostly male state politicians in Wisconsin (only 25% of the Wisconsin Legislature is female) will continue to dominate public discussion and public attention, at least in the near future. But the tide has begun to go out on the political fortunes of my fellow-men and not a moment too soon.

Not that there are not many good and thoughtful politically minded men in Wisconsin. Nor are all Wisconsin’s elected women wise and wonderful. But women voters are the majority party these days, and a majority of them did not vote Republican in Wisconsin and the nation in the 2012 election. Women, apparently more than men, are concerned about improving health care, employment, public education and the natural world. And more of them  vote for Democrats.

Recall it was largely Wisconsin’s women who sent Tammy Baldwin to the Senate and helped send President Obama back to the White House.

But does the current voting “gender gap” in Wisconsin bode well for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, who today was endorsed by EMILY’s List, a prominent, well-funded pro-choice and progressive supporter of women running for office? Well, Steven Walters writing for Urban Milwaukee has taken a look at this issue, and the numbers, according to a Marquette University poll taken last July, say that 52% of women disapprove of Gov. Walker’s job performance while 43% approve. Men backed Walker by a 54% to 39% margin. Charles Franklin, Marquette’s “polling pro” as Walters calls him, dismisses talk of a gender gap in the Democrats favor, given how many more men prefer Walker than do women. Much, of course, can change by Nov. 2014; it’s possible, I like to think, for men to wise-up over time.

English: Tammy Baldwin speaks during the secon...
English: Tammy Baldwin speaks during the second day of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. (Photo credit: Qqqqqq, CC, some rights reserved via Wikipedia. Click photo for copyright information.)

And yet– how did Tammy Baldwin, calling herself progressive,  defeat a very popular former governor, Tommy Thompson? It certainly helped that Baldwin was on the ballot for the presidential election and likely benefitted from the heavy minority turnout and voting in Obama’s favor. But it was the women of the state, many of them officially Independent or Republican, who made the difference.

It may well also be women who save the Democratic Party in the state, pushing it and Wisconsin back toward a more gutsy, boldly progressive program simply by demanding a more humane, responsive government. The failure of state Democrats to go against the conventional wisdom of choosing Tom Barrett, rather than Kathleen Falk, to run in the recall election against Walker now seems a significant mistake. Precisely how bold and progressive Mary Burke’s campaign will be remains to be seen, and some progressives may hold her personal wealth against her. But Burke has picked up some major support so far, and it is difficult to see (given our sad lack of public financing for elections and the vast sum necessary to run for governor) anyone else as a realistic alternative.

But this is certain: Wisconsin’s next progressive era will be brought about largely due to the wrath and work of women.

Update (10/25): Over at The Progressive, Elizabeth DiNovella writes about a new conservative PAC aimed at helping women to run on economic issues alone. But, as DiNovella puts it, “The state GOP, like the national GOP, has a woman problem.”

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