Backward Wisconsin

Child labour cartoon Hine no 2871
(“Cartoon from the records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.). During the Progressive Era many organizations were formed to outlaw the child labor that was a feature of Gilded Age industrial revolution, which included teenage girls working long hours in mills. The cartoon shows a child laborer supporting the world with her labor, including an uncaring robber baron industrialist.” By Unknown. The picture of the anonymous cartoon preserved at LC is attributed to Lewis Hine (1874-1940) based on provenance. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

So much reactionary backwardness is emanating out of the Capitol in Madison these days it is becoming difficult for journalists and consumers of journalism to keep up. Even some of our representatives in the Capitol seem overwhelmed by it all. State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) reportedly said, “I feel like I’m in 1906, fighting the fights that people who came long before me had to fight.”

Taylor is likely referring to American life before Wisconsin’s Progressive era which helped guide the nation toward a more ideal and egalitarian democracy.  Voting rights, women’s rights, civil rights, regulation of special interests, local control, education reform, public education, fair redistricting, a fair minimum wage– they are all so . . . 20th century, or so Wisconsin Republicans seem to believe.  Onward, Wisconsin!–to the late 19th century when “robber barons” and unchecked corporate greed dominated the economy.  We have forgotten that the Gilded Age spawned the rise of agrarian populism (The People’s Party) and later Wisconsin Progressivism and the national Progressive Party led by Theodore Roosevelt. It is as if a full century of U.S. and Wisconsin history had not happened; it is, basically, a great failure of education, including most journalism.

Speaking specifically of the WI Senate’s passing of a bill that restricts early voting hours to weekdays only– a bill clearly aimed at cities with large minority voting populations–Taylor addressed senate Republicans:  “I would argue it screams of backward-thinking mentality, all the way back to Jim Crow, and you should be ashamed.” Republicans claim they are seeking parity with rural districts which don’t offer early voting weekend hours, which is like comparing, like, two totally different things. Not to mention the more democratic alternative to cutting city hours would be increasing rural hours by providing enough state funds to hire rural people to staff polls on weekends. Some rural people could no doubt use the money and the extra time to vote.

So far Senate and  Assembly Republicans, and Gov. Scott Walker, have voiced no shame regarding their legislative agenda: retrograde robber baron-ism tinged with, shall we say, regressive anti-urbanism. Anti-urbanists seem to prefer to live in some earlier time, a time before liberal notions of democracy and civil rights held sway but with all the modern conveniences, like coal power plants, huge strip mines, no global warming and factory farms. Yes, anti-urbanists also tend to be anti-ruralists, in practice if not in theory, which makes one wonder why so many rural Wisconsinites–who have to live with what happens in Madison–keep voting for them.

It would be uncharitable, however, to suggest that our legislative Republicans are pro-cancer/anti-science just because some of them have more sympathy with the health insurance industry and manufacturers of asbestos-laden products than they do with people suffering from lethal diseases. Thanks to good reporting from the Journal Sentinel, we know that Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald blocked a vote on one of the few good, progressive bills to be written in Madison since the 2010 elections. The bill mandates that patient charges for oral chemotherapy drugs be the same as other chemotherapy drugs, a just and reasonable bill that even some Republicans support. The bill is also supported by the American Cancer Society and the Medical College of Wisconsin and other health organizations. The bill is opposed by health insurers, those beleaguered beneficiaries of the ACA, who will somehow have to come up with all the money to pay for these expensive, possibly life-saving drugs for some if the bill passes. From where shall they collect this money, dear reader? From their own swollen back accounts? From the bank accounts of very-profitable drug-making corporations? From the federal government? From all the money the state is giving back to the rich and corporations? Or from the relatively modest accounts of very sick people? In the new Backward Wisconsin, the choice is obvious.

Hypocritically, ironically, insipidly, a PAC called Right Direction Wisconsin has created a website called which is devoted to proving that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke “would take Wisconsin backward” into “mismanagement” and “debt.” Burke, unlike Republicans and Gov. Walker, supports raising the state’s minimum wage to reflect the current state of the economy. $10.10 an hour would do far more for the indebted poor in the state over time than the small, token tax cuts they will receive under the Walker/Republican idea of budget management. And a new poll taken by the Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is further evidence that a majority of the state agrees with Burke and the Democrats in Madison. Even a majority of state Republicans (52%) and business owners (61%) appear to support raising the wage, though the margin of error is reportedly wide at 10 points up or down. Conservatives say that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs, which is probably what they’ve said every time the wage was raised since it was first mandated back in 1938. In 1938, the minimum wage was set at $.25 per hour, though the paid wage was actually closer to $4.00 an hour.

So if here in Wisconsin we lower the wage to, say, $4.00 an hour, we should, under the Republican backward plan, create a lot more jobs. Then we could party like it was 1938. Meanwhile, according to the UW-Milwaukee poll, 56.8 % of Wisconsin feels that, economically speaking, the state is headed in the right direction. The margin of error is 56.8%.

Postscript: The editors of the newspaper covering the state’s largest city are calling on Gov. Walker to veto the Republicans’ no-early-weekend-voting-in-Democratic-places bill. From the editorial:

“And if Republicans really cared about staffing in smaller communities, they would allow them to set their own days of operation. If those communities wanted to accommodate busy voters on the weekend, they could decide to close one day during the week. Why not allow communities to decide for themselves what makes sense?”

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