Well here we are, August 16 and the final round of senatorial recall elections are finally here, though it may feel like a bit of an anti-climax after last week's nail-biter. There are two Democratic senators defending their seats this time -- testing whether or not the gains made by their party last Tuesday will hold.
Sen. Bob Wirch of the 22nd District faces political newcomer Jonathan Steitz, an attorney, in a race largely seen as a shoo-in for the long-serving Democrat. Sen. Jim Holperin faces somewhat more of a challenge in the redder 12th District, squaring off against Northwoods Patriot founder and tea party crusader Kim Simac.
Recent polling suggests that both Wirch and Holperin currently enjoy double-digit leads over their opponents -- though most political observers are still calling Holperin's race a toss-up.
I may not be as worried about Wirch but I certainly hope folks still come out to vote for him, and more so when it comes to Holperin. The last thing we need right now is an almost literal two steps forward, one step back. Plus, the Republican candidates are just more of the same. I almost don't need to spell out any of their bona fides -- this stuff has pretty much become cliché by now:
- Jonathan Steitz, a lawyer with offices in Chicago and London but currently residing in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, with no previous political experience, wants to ease regulations and lower taxes in order to create jobs. Because that's worked so well over the past few decades already.
- Kim Simac, tea party enthusiast and horse trainer, talks a big game about fiscal responsibility and family values, but has a rather spotty history of not bothering to pay her taxes and an interesting love life.
Supporters of the Republican challengers often cite the Democratic Senators flight to Illinois back in February as a prime reason for recalling them. As I've said before, I can actually understand the frustration felt by some at that particular move -- but it's not nearly reason enough to vote them out.
You know what is a good reason to recall elected officials? Violating the constitution and the rule of law, as Gov. Walker and so many members of his administration and rubber stamp legislators did when they spat on 50 years of established labor law in this state, trampled on the Open Meetings Law, restricted access to the Capitol building even against court orders, and generally cow-towed to their wealthy, private sector masters and their front groups.
Honestly, after everything that's happened this year, I'm beginning to seriously wonder if a general strike wouldn't have been a more effective means of stopping the still-steamrolling right-wing agenda in Wisconsin.
I've been flipping through the pages of an excellent compilation book put together by Erica Sagrans documenting the writing and tweeting that came out of the initial protests -- it's pretty comprehensive, and put together in such a way as to give me serious flashbacks -- and remembering just how energized everyone was in those first weeks. (You can support and pre-order the book, We Are Wisconsin.)
I can't help but wonder how that energy might have been yet more constructively harnessed. I still believe strongly in the recalls and believe a campaign to kick Walker out of office will be viable. It may be instructive, however, to examine other methods of resistance that might have -- and might still be -- more effective in terms of keeping up momentum, making sure no one group takes over the movement and that everyone's voices are heard, and getting the point across. Maybe that's a general strike, maybe not... I'd simply like to advocate for the serious discussion.
It's going to take a long time to undo the damage inflicted on Wisconsin under FitzWalkerstan -- longer still to move from emergency damage control to long-term betterment.
The health of the people is the health of the state
Speaking of long-term betterment, can we take a look at how Wisconsin treats some of its most vulnerable citizens? Dennis Smith, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, recently decided not to pursue a nearly $9 million federal grant to upgrade the state's WIC program that helps support low-income women who are pregnant or have children.
The money would have gone toward helping convert the now cumbersome paper process to an electronic swipe card, something required of all states by 2020 according to recent federal mandate. The new system, already in place in several other states, is less stigmatizing and, if we're talking bottom line, less vulnerable to fraud.
This is the same Dennis Smith who, as a member of the conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation, has been a vocal critic of things like Medicaid and health care reform in general.
According to Bill Lueders over at WisconsinWatch.org:
This is not the only federal grant that Smith, a former senior fellowsenior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, has declined to pursue. He also initially refused to support applications by agencies including the Milwaukee Health Department and University Health Services for about $30 million in federal grants over five years to promote healthier lifestyles and prevent disease.
After Smith's decision was widely criticized, the department changed its stance and sent letters in support of several agencies seeking these grants.
Meanwhile, a decision to privatize the state's non-emergency medical transportation system is leaving many medically vulnerable adults out in the cold. This particular move can't be entirely blamed on any one administration, since it was Doyle who gave the contract exclusively to Atlanta-based LogistiCare, but rather is another terrible symptom of the overall neo-con urge to privatize everything.
The program had been state-run and actually got people to their crucial doctor's appointments on time. Now, according to a report in the Waupaca County Post, most people are lucky just to get a phone call back explaining why their ride to dialysis treatment never showed up.
Our priorities in this state are becoming more and more out of whack the longer Walker and his allies are in power. Unfortunately for some that's quickly becoming a matter of life and death.