But Wisconsin's reputation for progressive politics preceded my tenure by many decades, as noted in an article from last week's New York Times Magazine, "How Did Wisconsin Become the Most Politically Divisive Place in America?" It's the home of "Fighting Bob LaFollette," who, first as governor and then as U.S. senator around the turn of the last century, supported progressive legislation, including (from Wikipedia) "the first workers' compensation system, railroad rate reform, direct legislation, municipal home rule, open government, the minimum wage, non-partisan elections, the open primary system, direct election of U.S. senators, women's suffrage, and progressive taxation. He created an atmosphere of close cooperation between the state government and the University of Wisconsin in the development of progressive policy, which became known as the Wisconsin Idea. The goals of his policy included the recall, referendum, direct primary, and initiative."
And let's not forget progressive former Sen. Russ Feingold, of campaign finance reform fame, and the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act.
In 1959 Wisconsin became the first state to allow public sector workers to bargain collectively -- the very issue over which Wisconsinites are trying to recall Gov. Scott Walker, after he pushed through legislation overturning that right.
But the Times article failed to mention another tendency in Wisconsin -- McCarthyism, as in Joe, not Gene. Republican U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy pursued an anti-Communist witchhunt for almost a decade, ruining the lives of thousands of Americans but ultimately helping to usher in the New Left. It always amazed me that I was leafletting and marching on campus against the war in Vietnam barely a decade after McCarthy's fall from grace. So Walker's election was hardly the first time anti-progressive forces have been in ascendancy in the state.
Minnesota exhibits the same tendencies -- the Progressive Farmer Labor Party up against the likes of Michele Bachman and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. What is it with these Scandinavians?! (Of which I am proudly one.)
Polls show a statistical tie between Walker and the man he beat two years ago, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat. (Milwaukee, by the way, was led by socialist mayors for much of the 20th century.) Walker outspent Barrett 7 to 1, but the Democrats claim, "We have the people." In a few days we'll see which tendency Wisconsinites will favor.