John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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On Wisconsin: Epicenter of Political Intrigue

Posted on June 5, 2012


It really shouldn’t surprise me that the Badger State has become so politically charged.

In many ways, I first learned about politics when I went to school in Wisconsin.   My friends and I would sit (or stand as the case might be) in the Avalanche Bar at Marquette University and argue about Richard Nixon and Watergate, Ronald Reagan and his bombing of Libya, and all of the news of the day.

I met my first “progressive” activist at Marquette, a guy who was working on the Russ Feingold Campaign whose main goal seemed to be to end PAC contributions.

Wisconsin is a great place to talk politics because the Badger State has had so many huge political figures.  Fighting Bob LaFollette led the coup against conservatives that helped to herald in the beginning of the Progressive Era at the turn of the century.  His son helped secure the dominance of the Progressive Republican Party in Wisconsin in the 1930’s and 40’s.  LaFollette’s successor, Tailgunner Joe McCarthy, electrified and polarized American politics with his somewhat successful search for Communists in 1950’s.   William Proxmire focused attention on wasteful spending with his Golden Fleece awards.  David Obey was one of the leading liberals and helped push through reforms when he was joined by the class of 1974.

So, it should come as no surprise that Wisconsin would become the epicenter of political intrigue and strife today, although many Wisconsin voters probably are none too happy about it.

Scott Walker came to Marquette after I left, so I wasn’t there when he campaigned to be the student body President.  The idea of running to lead a student union that seemed so powerless and such a waste of money never really crossed my mind.  But then I learned that you got a free scholarship out of it, which would have been nice.

But I digress.  Walker was controversial at Marquette, so it is probably no surprise that he would be controversial in Madison.  And he has turned out to be a lighting rod.

That is not to say that he hasn’t been effective, because he has been.  Wisconsin was the first state to allow government employees to form unions, and ever since that time government employee unions have run amok in the state.  Walker put an end to that, and all of sudden, Wisconsin is now a decent place to do business.

Wisconsin’s rising tide may or may not help Obama in the fall.  The state is close to 90% white, and the President’s approval numbers among white voters is sinking like a stone.

Many have said that this vote is harbinger of things to come this fall.  Maybe.  Walker is far more unpopular than Romney would be there, while Tom Barrett is more popular than Obama.  But the very idea of recall has turned off a big percentage of voters.  Many of those folks simply won’t vote, but more than few will vote with Walker just on the general principle of the thing.

So, it could be a wash.  This election today and the election in November are two separate events, and while they might seem to be related, they aren’t.  Walker could win today and Obama could win tomorrow.  Or vice versa.