Americans… or at least 30% of eligible voters, will be hitting the polls today to vote in the Midterm Elections. This set of elections fall midway between presidential elections and have historically low turn out. Yet, they are often vital for the political structure of state and federal legislatures: the entire House of Representatives is up for reelection, important Senate seats are voted on this day, and many states have gubernatorial elections. This is no mediocre election period. And this Midterm is particularly vital. The state of Wisconsin is voting on whether to reelect the controversial and contentious incumbent Scott Walker or newly elect the former Trek Bicycle executive and business friendly liberal Mary Burke. I disdain Walker, but I’m not enamored with Burke either. I am praying that Burke wins.
This gubernatorial election in Wisconsin stands above every other vote in the country right now, because it is essentially a referendum on the Republican Party’s ultra-conservative orthodoxy that put a strangle hold on political action in recent years. If Burke wins, fingers crossed she does, it will be a strong message to the Republican Party that they can no longer challenge the rights of workers to collectively bargain, they cannot try to destroy unions, they need to listen to the people, foster healthy communities by holding strong on investments in education, innovative jobs, and sustainable infrastructure, and essentially that the platform they have adopted in the last few years was a reactionary blip to the election of Barack Obama that no longer has broad popular support and the error of their ways became quickly apparent.
Although I will be voting in Illinois today, my eyes will be on Wisconsin. The state has a special place in my heart: I spent three years in Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There I learned about Wisconsin politics and what makes the state tick. I developed a greater appreciation for the Midwest as a whole and most importantly began thinking about the importance of intergovernmental cooperation and partnership across the Midwest for mutual benefit. Walker dropped a bomb on a state I was eager to get to know. The Wisconsin state motto “Forward” made me think I was entering a progressive utopia where despite political and social differences people ultimately worked to move incrementally forward even if just at a crawl. In the years I spent in Wisconsin, that sense of consistent progression died at the hands of virulent partisanship. The idea of “hotdish politics”, as my friends call it, was long gone and the state has struggled since.
Burke is the candidate who, even if not exciting, will bring steadiness back to Wisconsin. She will be able to use years of business, political, municipal, and charitable expertise to improve the state’s finances, economy, and education. She has worked to expand Trek Bicycle nationally and internationally and will better understand the importance of cooperation for growth. Her track record is impressive and is significantly more comforting than what Walker had to show when he was first elected in 2010. This will be a change from the competition Walker encourages, a man who lauds jobs coming to Wisconsin at the expense of other neighbor states rather than look at ways to connect these economies. He is notorious for turning down free investment dollars to expand rail from Chicago to Madison via Milwaukee and on to the Twin Cities. This was a key to creating a Midwest high-speed rail network and would be the first regularly scheduled passenger rail service to Wisconsin’s capital in 30 years.
A Burke win represents steadiness and a return to Wisconsin’s progressive spirit. A Walker loss is a strong message to the GOP and ultra-conservative interests in the entire country. Burke needs to win in Wisconsin and get state and Midwestern growth back on track and bring the region out of an overly competitive state that benefits no one. Walker’s loss is important in setting a new tone in American politics that favors cooperation of competition, the people over business, and sustainable growth over laissez-faire policies.
I couldn’t hit the polls in Madison today so I can only cross my fingers that Burke wins.