Walking back the outright death threats against Wisconsin rail
I'm certainly not the only one thinking about this, but Governor-elect Scott Walker's recent statements regarding high-speed rail in the state definitely smell a bit like an attempt at backing away from his campaign promise to kill the project outright.
His earlier insistence that the $810 million in federal money won by Wisconsin for the Madison-to-Milwaukee train route be re-allocated for road and bridge work has taken a considerable beating. Turns out, after being told time and again that the money can't be put toward his pet projects and after great hue and cry from the public, Walker's finally getting the message:
Walker said using the money for highways is still his preference, but that he and his staff also had "looked at options relative to rail." He specifically mentioned Amtrak's existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line and the long-distance Empire Builder, which runs from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest by way of Milwaukee, the Twin Cities and several Wisconsin communities.
I wouldn't be surprised if this is Walker setting it up so that if and when he capitulates to keeping the rail project, blame can be conveniently placed on the Democrats who still control the White House and Senate -- instead of on his own, bought-and-paid for by the road builders shoulders.
Frankly, I don't care. As long as Wisconsin ends up taking the federal money and using it for that high speed rail line, it'll be a win for all of us. I've gone over the reasons why the line is necessary (financially, economically, environmentally, etc.). I'm not alone in my support, either. Just yesterday some 200 people rallied at the Talgo train factory in Milwaukee to publicly back the rail project and chastise Walker's grandstanding.
That's the factory we risk losing entirely if Walker kills the high-speed line, taking jobs from a community that desperately needs them. Not only that, it's estimated that cancellation now would also lose Wisconsin as many as 9,570 permanent jobs, as well as 4,732 construction jobs.
We need to keep up the pressure on Walker's incoming administration, though. As far as I can tell, he's never attacked the existing Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago so the fact that he's willing to use some of the federal money for improvements to it isn't exactly big news. However, that Walker is backing off from his initial intention to refuse all federal funds regardless is a step in the right direction. We need to show him why, despite his loathing for the capitol city -- of which he will soon be a citizen -- it's important to connect Madison not just with Milwaukee, but Chicago as well.
That connection could eventually be expanded to the Twin Cities, creating a Midwest rail corridor that would have the potential to significantly increase commerce between the cities and towns along the way.
Or Walker could refuse, and become the hero of Illinois when the money and jobs go to those states where the politicians (and the people) actually have their eyes and minds open enough to see the incredible benefits of such projects.
Gosh, I'm so excited to be represented by Sen. Johnson I could just die
An interesting profile of then-candidate Ron Johnson on the campaign trail by WPRI's Christian Schneider: In it, Johnson's own campaign manager, Juston Johnson (no relation), makes some pretty telling -- and remarkably unflattering -- observations about the man for whom he works.
None of it is terribly surprising if you were paying any attention during the run-up to the elections, but it's something special when your personal observations receive confirmation from those closer to the situation.
Here are some of the gems to be found in the article:
- "Ron is prone to mistakes," said one staffer, explaining why they were keeping him away from the media for the time being.
- "He's said 'every day I wake up, my goal is not to say something that will completely sink my campaign,'" recounts Juston... "But he's also very impatient and sensitive to his own vulnerabilities. He can't stand just saying 'I don't know,' when asked a tough question."
- At times, Johnson's obduracy ground the meetings to a halt. He didn't think he'd be asked many of the questions his staff posed him. They often had to go back over issues several times.
- ...staff told him three separate times not to say he's a better candidate than Dave Westlake because he has more money. Then, at a candidate forum in Brookfield, Johnson answered a question about why he'd be a better candidate by essentially saying he had more money.
I don't know about you, but I can't wait to have another inexperienced, flat-earth millionaire in the Senate -- especially one representing me! (Hat tip to Uppity Wisconsin.)
Time to step up, folks
All of this is to say that the good people of Wisconsin have a lot of work to do in the next several years if they don't want to see their state completely sunk by the incoming Republican majority's shenanigans.
Not only is the GOP looking to cut taxes for the wealthiest citizens -- thereby increasing the deficit they otherwise rail so hard against -- but they'd like to eliminate the domestic partnership registry (removing what few protections we now give to same-sex partners), destroy Wisconsin's leadership in stem cell research, further erode our public school system, etc.
Republicans think they have a "mandate" to do whatever they want, but as far as I can tell they're mostly in office thanks to deceptive rhetoric and a tide of fear and discontent with the status quo that had more to do with the toxic environment they helped put into place well before Democrats got their whopping two years of being in charge.
It's time we all got to know our representatives a lot better. Look up yours, drop them a friendly, informed line, and let them know exactly how you feel about all of these issues and more. Let's keep Wisconsin a progressive, welcoming place for everyone -- not just the GOP's big donors.