Embarrassment

I’m embarrassed to be from Wisconsin.

I was once proud of my home state. Wisconsin, admitted to the union in 1848, abolished the death penalty in 1853. Milwaukee was run by the “Sewer Socialists” virtually from 1910 to 1960, and was one of the most well-run cities in the US as a result. Infrastructure was built and the city was maintained. The Progressive Party rose to prominence under the leadership of Robert M “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, who founded The Progressive magazine in 1910. That magazine is still published in Madison to this day. Superior WI was, arguably, the center of the Consumer Co-operative movement in the 1920s and we have long been a center for farming cooperatives and banking cooperatives (credit unions), housing the world headquarters of the credit union movement; AFSCME (The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) was founded here in 1932.

Senator Gaylord Nelson was the driving force behind Earth Day in 1970. Russ Feingold was the only US Senator with the sense and the courage to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act, recognizing its dangerous attack on civil liberties. (Among other things, it required libraries to turn over the borrowing records of patrons, and then lie if asked if they did so. As a result, our mayor ordered our library system to destroy all records as soon as books were returned, so if the FBI came looking, there would be no records to turn over.)

But we are now the laughingstock of the nation, if not the world. In 2010 we elected one of the least-qualified governors ever to serve. In 2011, he pushed through Wisconsin Act 10, which effectively ended collective bargaining for most public employees (and explicitly ended it for employees of the state’s largest hospital). Had the Democratic State Senators not left the state, the law would have been passed less than a week after its introduction, before anyone knew what it contained, and with no debate.

He survived a recall election and established the blueprint for the least-qualified president the US has ever seen, a man who similarly survived impeachment. I will simply call them “They Who Must Not Be Named”.

And now we have become the only state stupid enough to hold an election at the height of this pandemic; the only state to hold an April election. A special session of the state legislature to consider delaying the election was gaveled in and out of session within seconds. While we are under a “safer at home” order, in which all but the most essential activities are actively discouraged, we held an election.

Granted, one can (and should) consider an election an essential activity, though time was not of the essence in the way that it is while securing food. An attempt to change the election to all-absentee was quickly shot down. The US Supreme Court intervened to prevent an extension of the deadline to mail in ballots. Mind you, many who requested ballots before the deadline did not receive them by Election Day and were therefore disenfranchised unless they chose to risk infection by going to the polls after requesting absentee ballots (the requesting of which was strongly encouraged by local governments). Absentee ballots require a witness’ signature. An Executive Order waived that requirement, as the governor recognized that a person living alone and sheltering in place can’t get a witness. After ballots were submitted, the Sate Supreme Court struck down that ruling, nullifying those ballots – but since the ballots had been cast, it was illegal for those voters to vote again in person, even if they were willing to risk going out.

The city of Milwaukee was so short of poll workers that they opened 5 of 180 polling places. Lines extended for blocks. A chart was published by NPR noting the anticipated peak of COVID-19 deaths in each state. At the time, Wisconsin’s peak was expected to be April 15. Will we now have to plan for a second surge from the community spread resulting from the election? We won’t know for a week if we set a record for low turnout

Voter suppression is well-known to help Republicans. Donald Trump has even warned that Democrats want so many people to vote that, if they prevail, we’ll never elect a Republican again. Think about that. He says his party’s only hope to stay in power is voter suppression. Democracy is to be avoided at all costs. We knew that, based on the ALEC-written voter suppression legislation passed in state after state, but he said it out loud.

Regardless of the outcome, there are bound to be lawsuits. One of the statewide measures was the election of a Supreme Court justice. The incumbent was appointed by He Who Must Not Be Named. His judicial philosophy could be summed up in his opinion that slavery and affirmative action are morally the same. If the conservative justice is elected and the election contested, will the Supreme Court step in to uphold the result to save its own? Will he recuse himself, or vote to uphold his own election? There are no recusal rules nor written code of ethics to guide the State Supreme Court. There is such a code for all other judges in Wisconsin, but the Supreme Court justices are allowed to decide for themselves. They are above all that, apparently.

So now you see why my pride has changed to embarrassment.

Here’s what the cool kids are wearing these days; at least those who work in hospitals. Shopping for groceries after work today was a lot like work – gloves and mask, just no face shield. Awareness of where your hands have been is paramount. Driving to work (so I could use the car to shop) I found myself reacting emotionally to the various COVID-19 stories on the news. Preparing for “the surge” is stressful, but others are actually facing death. It took another shot of John Prine to make me realize…

I don’t have it so bad.