Wisconsin was the Tipping Point state in 2020, and will be pivotal to keeping the Senate in 2022.
- What does this mean? If Trump had won all of the states he won in 2016 but Pennsylvania and Michigan, which strongly lean blue, he would only have gained 259 electoral votes. If Joe Biden won those two plus Hillary’s states, he would have reached 269. It takes 270 votes to win. Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes decided the race.
- Nate Cohn, New York Times, “Wisconsin was the tipping point state in 2016 and it seems to hold that distinction now…”
- The April 2020 victory by progressives in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election “should worry Republicans everywhere.”
Wisconsin has a long progressive heritage since its birth in 1848
- Was the birthplace of the anti-slavery Republican Party (Ripon 1854)
- Was the first state to have a kindergarten. Wisconsin’s constitution has included a commitment to free, voluntary education for 4 year olds since its founding (1848).
- It gave birth to the Progressive movement of the early 20th Century and was the original “laboratory of democracy” (Justice Brandeis).
- Wisconsin formed:
- the first Legislative Reference Bureau to make the laws public and transparent (1901)
- the first Civil Service Reform to take patronage out of government (1905)
- the first independent Railroad Commission to regulate powerful corporations (1905).
- It was the first state to pass corporate and individual income taxes (1905-1911)
- To protect workers, it passed the first unemployment compensation law (1934) and the first collective bargaining rights for public employees (1962).
- University of Wisconsin professors wrote the Social Security Act (1935) and the Medicare and Medicaid Acts (1962-65).
Because of its history, Wisconsin was targeted by the ultra-right
- The Koch brothers, the Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation, and others targeted Wisconsin, believing if their ultra-rightwing policies could be implemented there they could spread throughout the U.S. (Both the Koch and Bradley families were founding supporters of the John Birch Society).
- With the election of Governor Scott Walker during the Tea Party wave of 2010 with Koch support, the laboratory of democracy became a laboratory of oligarchy.
- Despite never mentioning it during his campaign, Walker and the Republican legislature, pushed through Act 10, which abolished the collective bargaining rights for public employees first won in 1962. They vilified teachers, the UW system, and government employees.
- In destroying the public unions they essentially changed the rules of the game and set up a one-party state.
Voter suppression and worst gerrymandering in the nation
- To maintain their control, despite unpopular positions on collective bargaining, school cuts and infrastructure cuts, tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, and environmental deregulation, Republicans moved to cement minority rule.
- They passed among the most extreme gerrymanders in U.S. history. The Associated Press found that there was a mere 1-in-60,0000 likelihood of Wisconsin’s 2011 map happening randomly.
- In the 2012 election for the Wisconsin Assembly, Republicans won 48.6 percent of the votes but 61 percent of the 99 seats.
- They passed voter identification laws that overwhelming disadvantaged the poor, students, and minorities. As severe voter id was struck down by federal courts, new barriers were erected.
- Wisconsin moved from a national leader in voting integrity and government ethics to the bottom five in less than a decade.
- A conservative, Bradley-funded law firm won a state court decision in December of 2019 forcing 234,00 voters off the rolls, overwhelmingly Democratic.
- Donald Trump won election in 2016 by 22,000 votes, one-tenth of that number.
But Wisconsin is shifting back
- Starting in 2015, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin under Chair Martha Laning was rebuilt from the bottom up, relying on grassroots activism to knock on doors in every corner of the state, from the small rural counties to the large cities of the east.
- The Neighbor-to-Neighbor strategy was born in 2017, and by 2018 was strong enough to sweep out Republican in every state-level office, including governor and attorney general.
- Democrats gained new votes in rural and suburban counties, powered by a strong turnout in the cities. But it still remains a closely contested purple state.
2020: Pivot to a digital strategy
- Party Chair Ben Wikler, elected in 2019, planned to use the April Democratic primary and Wisconsin Supreme Court election to mobilize Neighbor-to-Neighbor and canvas the entire state as a trial run for November.
- But as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Wikler and party leaders recognized early on (February) that the entire strategy for the election would have to shift. It would almost certainly be by mail, and the Neighbor-to-Neighbor strategy had to adapt.
- The DPW pivoted rapidly to mobilize to get every possible Democratic and independent voter absentee ballots, and to make sure they were mailed in.
- The Republican legislature sued to block Dem. Gov. Evers attempt to postpone the election amid the pandemic. A conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court back them up. Wisconsin voters were forced to risk their lives to vote.
- Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands turned out. African-American voters in Milwaukee faced the greatest risk, as a normal 182 polling places in the city had been reduced to five.
- The progressive supreme court candidate Jill Karofsky won a smashing, surprise victory by more than 160,000 plus votes, an 11 percent margin, in a spring election, despite the pandemic and the Democratic presidential primary having already been decided.
- Now many other Democratic parties in the nation are looking to Wisconsin to learn how to win in November 2022 and beyond.