Franklin: 'I'm not endorsing the American voter. They're pretty damn stupid.'
Pressed on the point by one of the journalists in attendance, UW political science professor Charles Franklin admitted that emotions sometimes play a larger role in political elections than facts and logic.
"I'm not endorsing the American voter," said Franklin. "They're pretty damn stupid."
Speaking at a meeting Monday night of the local Society of Professional Journalists chapter, Franklin and Wispolitics.com founder Jeff Mayers gave their impressions on the current and future political climate. About 20 people were in attendance, sipping beers and mostly staring at plates of nachos ordered in moments of weakness.
Franklin said emotions ran visibly high in the November midterm elections, where anger against Democratic incumbents in general resulted in a Republican sweep of several offices both statewide and nationwide.
One casualty of the conservative wave was longtime Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost his seat to Republican newcomer Ron Johnson. Franklin said despite Feingold's independent voting record in the Senate, he remains quite liberal as compared to Johnson's fiscally conservative platform.
"If he acts the way he did on the campaign trail, Johnson is going to be far more willing to vote for cuts in federal spending than Feingold," Franklin said. "You can argue about whether they're smart or really stupid cuts, but there are going to be cuts."
In terms of the state Legislature, Mayers said he did not anticipate the Republicans would gain control of both houses by decisive margins. And with Governor-elect Scott Walker, the Republicans will now have full run of the state government and the policy agenda.
This power domination, however, comes with a risk that arguably led to Democrats losing big in this election.
"For the Democrats, the good news was that they had total control, but the bad news was that they had total control," Mayers said, adding the controlling parties tend to be blamed when the state or nation is facing hard times.
Franklin agreed with Mayers, saying it will be interesting to see how the Legislature will use its new-found power. In particular, Franklin said he will watch the dynamic between Walker and Republican legislators during Walker's proposed special session in January.
This session, he said, will be indicative of whether or not Republican legislators will support Walker's promised tax breaks and spending cuts, particularly in regards to funding for their local municipalities.
As to the future of the Democrats after their midterm beating, Mayers said there were some incumbents who managed to cling to their seats and could become rallying points for the party.
"[U.S. Rep.] Ron Kind was a survivor even with Republican forces working against him," Mayers said. "He knew there was a storm coming and he prepared himself."
Franklin said this dramatic shuffle of the party is actually an opportunity for Democrats, as new talent will be able to rise quickly and refresh the party. Despite the strong swing for Republicans in the current political climate, he expects their backing to ebb slightly by 2012.
"There are questions of whether Wisconsin is solidly blue or red," Franklin said. "I think this is not that we have switched to a solid colored state but that we're really a purple state."