Not Our Wisconsin, by Mary Meiser
When I was young, my dad took me with him on business trips to Madison. The state capitol building was a grand, mysterious place, and I still recall feeling very small as I looked up in the rotunda or sat in a chair in the Supreme Court chamber . At the time, I never wondered why my dad took me out of school just to sit in a big building. I just felt lucky to have a trip. Looking back, I know why. It wasn’t just a trip out of school; it was a lesson in heritage, a lesson in respect, a lesson in law. You see, my dad was a country lawyer, an Atticus Finch type who believed that everyone deserved a fair shake, a helping hand, and the unvarnished truth. He believed in Wisconsin as a place where those principles were practiced. And it mostly was – until now.
Now, ordinary people are given neither a fair shake nor a helping hand. And the truth? Not only “varnished” but multi-layered to conceal facts that would set a different course of action if fully known or believed. We are relentlessly battered by false ads, false portraits, and false reports about Wisconsin. Why? Because we have a governor and a handful of legislators who benefit from them.
It started in January 2011. Wisconsin’s broke, the governor said. But it wasn’t. Reputable economists told us to look at the facts and ignore the rhetoric. They also warned that the governor’s insistence that it’s broke would surely discourage outside investors and delay expansion from within. Others started to wonder how a state that’s broke could immediately provide multimillion dollar tax breaks to out-of-state corporations. And how could the governor replace state workers with higher paid political appointees, some of whom were clearly unqualified? Was this “pay your pals” time?
Then, the governor declared a budget shortfall that could only be fixed by making public employees pay their share. But they already were. Pension and health care benefits were part of their salary package; they earned them. Why was the governor trying to convince us that public sector workers like teachers, firefighters, and police officers were responsible for the state’s woes and a poor economy? Wasn’t the economy in trouble everywhere—arising from irresponsible banks, mortgage companies, investment firms?
Next the governor said that despite a billion dollar cut, our schools would have “the tools” to do just fine. But why are over 80% of those schools reporting fiscal trouble? Why are K-12 administrators setting up referenda to keep the doors open and buses running? State businesses just reported that they need a better educated work force. Isn’t that what our universities and technical colleges do? Educate people for 21st century jobs? Will they do it better now that their budgets have been cut not once but twice?
The governor also said we could do just fine with half a billion dollars less in health care and social services. Fifty thousand people woke up to find Badgercare had evaporated. Two hundred thousand others learned their already minimal level of health care had become more minimal. Does this mean we all pay more for ER services because people lack preventative care insurance? Or that our neighbors in need simply fend for themselves?
Then the governor said we had voter fraud. We need the most restrictive Voter ID law in the entire nation to stamp out this problem. We can’t trust people in Wisconsin any more to say who they are and be who they are. Is a 0.0002% voter error among 2 million+ votes really that bad? Wouldn’t it be easier and far less expensive just to replace that Waukesha County clerk, the one with the faulty computer on election night?
This isn’t my dad’s Wisconsin, and it isn’t mine either. In our Wisconsin, governors didn’t run roughshod over the truth, prop up power with a chest of money from outside interests who care nothing about us, and turn our state’s reputation for honesty, fair play, and transparency on its head. In our Wisconsin, governors were who they said they were.