Where the hell were Democratic leaders and the progressive movement in Wisconsin?
I’m angry. I’m really, really angry. And I’ll tell you exactly why.
Progressives lost an exceptionally important election in Wisconsin that took place a week ago by a bitterly narrow margin—just 6,000 votes. Yet in all likelihood, most folks never even heard about it in the first place.
This race was a battle for a seat on the seven-member state Supreme Court held by a retiring liberal icon, Justice Shirley Abrahamson. Hold the seat, and progressives would keep the conservative majority to a slim four-to-three, with an excellent chance at flipping the court next year.
Lose, and the chance would disappear for years. And now, that’s exactly what’s happened.
The timing is everything. State supreme courts are important for a thousand and one reasons, but winning in Wisconsin was a burning priority at this precise moment. In 2020, the next census will get underway. Once it’s completed, a new round of redistricting will begin, affecting both Congress and state legislatures everywhere.
And in Wisconsin, as I’ll bet you know, Republicans have gerrymandered the lines to within an inch of death. Here’s one way to look at it: Democrats won every single statewide race in 2018, yet the GOP won almost two-thirds of the seats in the state Assembly. In no universe is that reasonable.
Yet Republicans have gotten away with this brazen, years-long plot to stymie the will of the majority of voters precisely because they know the judiciary won’t check them. John Roberts doesn’t give a good goddamn about gerrymandering. Neither do the state courts, packed as they are with Republican appointees and conservative ideologues.
But we had a chance to change all that: Elect fair-minded jurist Lisa Neubauer this year, unseat Scott Walker appointee Dan Kelly next year—on the same day as the Democratic presidential primary, no less—and suddenly we’re looking at a four-to-three liberal majority on the state’s highest court. That’s the kind of court that wouldstop to scrutinize unfair district lines—and impose proper ones as needed.
Forget it, though. That future won’t happen. And why?
Because Democratic Party leaders went AWOL, and large swaths of the progressive movement just weren’t paying attention.
So yeah, you bet I’m angry.
About that presidential primary: When it suits them, our extremely large field of hopefuls is quite capable of lending a considerable hand to other candidates. They did it last month in Iowa. They did it again just the other week in South Carolina.
But they didn’t bother in Wisconsin. Why? Because, unlike Iowa and South Carolina, it’s not an early-primary state. No one thought it was worth going to any real lengths to curry favor with a state that won’t hold its primary until April. Not Beto O’Rourke, not Bernie Sanders, not Kamala Harris, not Elizabeth Warren, not any of them.
That’s shameful. We all have a duty to fix this broken mess of a country, our leaders especially so. But even as a matter of pure self-interest, there was plenty of reason to get involved. For one, Barack Obama effectively locked up the nomination in 2008 after winning—you guessed it—the Wisconsin primary.
What’s more, Democrats should have been grateful for the opportunity to show that they care about a critical swing state that we lost by just 23,000 shocking votes 2 1/2 years ago. A single rally in Milwaukee could have turned out thousands of voters, banked goodwill, and paid dividends down the line. But meh, they said.
I’m tired of hollering at people who know better to do better. They should have figured it out by now.
But they’re not the only ones on the hook. Where was the broader progressive movement?
Some folks did show up. Labor unions in Wisconsin and a handful of other progressive groups, including the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, made their presence felt. So did the Daily Kos community—you donated to Neubauer’s campaign over 1,800 times.
But this should have been an all-hands-on-deck effort, and it wasn’t. When Republicans poured in $1 million to save their nutjob candidate at the very last possible moment, we had no answer.
Democrats are going to select a presidential nominee next year. We won’t like everything about that person because that’s not possible, but they’ll still be pretty good and eminently capable of beating Trump. Yet it seems like almost everyone is focused on that race to the exclusion of just about every other one.
We desperately need to reawaken the spirit of 2018, when Democrats won resoundingly from coast to coast at every level of the ballot because progressives invested themselves everywhere. We need to take back the Senate, protect the House, flip and defend state legislatures, and, yes, win a bunch of state Supreme Court races.
But more than that, we have to root out the disease of Trumpism—the corruption, the rot, the violence, the disregard for the rule of law, the abject cruelty, all of it. Donald Trump himself is a symptom and an accelerant, but he’s not the cause. If we defeat him but leave the rest of the apparatus that props him up in place, we’ll again find ourselves in the same situation before long, only worse.
That’s why I’m so angry about Wisconsin. It was a golden chance to strike a deep and lasting blow against the forces that strive to tear us apart, one that would have resounded in the corridors of power for years. Now that chance is gone.
I hope you’re angry too. And I hope you decide to do something about it.
If you do want to do something right now, there’s a special election coming up for a House seat in North Carolina that Republicans literally tried to steal last year. Donate here to help Democrat Dan McCready right this wrong.