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Recalls aside, give GOP puppet masters an A+

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« on: August 01, 2011, 04:54:39 pm »

Madison360: Recalls aside, give GOP puppet masters an A+
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Madison360: Recalls aside, give GOP puppet masters an A+
PAUL FANLUND | The Capital Times | pfanlund@madison.com madison.com | (34) Comments | Posted: Monday, August 1, 2011 9:00 am
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One way or another, this month's recall elections will give us metrics on the unwavering hard right politics of Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republicans in the Legislature.
But for another group, the unseen puppet masters who authored this year's grand governing strategy, the mark already must be an A+. That's because even if Democrats retake the state Senate in recall elections, the damage done will take years to unwind.
I'm really not sure whom to compliment: the hard liners at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the millionaires who fuel the Wisconsin Club for Growth or the billionaire Koch brothers. Or, more likely, it's a cabal that includes them all plus more shadowy figures. For that matter, we do not know whether this was a 2010 invention, or, as some suggest, it had roots years ago when the GOP elite decided to purchase control of the state Supreme Court.
What we do know is that these forces are all about concentrating ever more wealth and power in the hands of the few through lower taxes for corporations and wealthy individuals, business-dictated regulation, fewer consumer protections and an emasculated labor movement.
This whole year has been a landslide victory for the haves over the have-nots. Looking back, one has to credit the GOP cabal for many things, starting with the element of surprise.
Rep. Peter Barca of Kenosha, minority leader of Assembly Democrats, recalls a conversation last fall amid a series of campaign appearances before Realtor groups. Rep. Robin Vos, the Rochester Republican who now co-chairs the Joint Finance Committee, foreshadowed 2011.
"I can remember after one of those sessions, he said to me, 'Peter, it's looking good for us and bad for you. If we get the control, we're going for broke,' " he recalls Vos saying. 'We are going to push the envelope.'" Barca adds: "I remember going to my car and thinking, what does that mean exactly?"
Now he knows: "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine they were talking about this far on every single issue," he tells me in a conversation in my office.
Or consider Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrat who lost to Walker, saying it was a full month after his defeat, at a press club luncheon, when Walker first talked about decertifying public employee unions. "Wow, that didn't get mentioned" during the race, Barrett told me he was thinking.
So, the groundwork was laid by the 2010 elections in which the GOP won the governorship and control of both houses, just as Democrats had in 2008. The GOP brain trust then proceeded, per its plan, to totally ignore the nearly half of the electorate that voted for the other side. They pushed a radical right agenda as far and as fast as they could, damn the consequences. After all, this was about fundamental realignment, not about the political fate of Walker, whose poll numbers are now dropping.
A strategic pillar was selling a phony rationale — Wisconsin is "broke" — to justify unprecedented action. (A search of our digital library had 72 stories so far in 2011 that includes Walker's name with the words "state" and "broke.")
Another piece of the plan, the most well-known, was targeting public sector employees and especially their labor unions. The GOP elite's war on the middle class could not succeed absent a villain. In a fundraising appeal last week, Walker was still talking about those evil "public employee union bosses" pouring millions into efforts to recall Republican senators.
Wages and job prospects have been eroding for private workers for years while the wealth gap between them and the affluent has widened dramatically. So let's turn people against teachers and police officers and, from now on, refer to the rich as "job creators" whether accurate or not.
So, armed with a trumped-up crisis and a villain, the Republicans have approved what Democrats cite in Legislative Fiscal Bureau numbers as $2.3 billion in corporate special interest "giveaways" over the next decade, all while cutting back on tax credits for the working class and seniors.
As Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, a Madison Democrat, puts it to me, "Republicans in Wisconsin ... are basically a single-issue party for tax breaks for the wealthy, whether it is for corporations or individuals."
They then reduce public school funding and revenue authority by $1.6 billion while increasing taxpayer money for private schools. So what if your child's class cannot afford basic supplies and class sizes jump, Walker and allies have stuck it to those "union bosses."
Meanwhile, GOP voices frame things for reporters and editorial boards as "common sense" responses to crisis and insist that it is Democrats who refuse to compromise. This "Alice in Wonderland" approach has worked to confound Democrats. "You have so many in the media who have been willing to swallow hook, line and sinker this very disingenuous argument that we are broke," says Barca.
The next step, and I suspect this matters little to the GOP cabal, is to move aside as right-wing legislators push pro-gun and anti-choice actions to satiate tea party types. It doesn't put more money or power into their hands, but hey, it may help solidify their control.
Then they help pass unwarranted voter identification legislation that will suppress turnout on the other side and draw legislative boundaries that are the most blatantly partisan in state history. These actions may be inside baseball to the general public, but could be crucial in withstanding an eventual backlash caused by ignoring half the electorate.
And what about swing voters? Democrat Roys says Republicans have "paid so much attention to their special interests, they know they will have unlimited funds and can change minds and convince the small number of swing voters they need" with a tsunami of unregulated campaign ads.
Finally, if Republicans do retain a majority in the Senate, which is quite plausible given the conservative tilt of the battleground districts, they can declare themselves vindicated.
Damn effective, I have to say.
We will see this month if Democrats are able to make the case that Republicans' real goal is not reinventing Wisconsin's collapsing manufacturing economy, but instead to further concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the few, to make Wisconsin a sort of Mississippi of the north, unfettered by organized labor influences that, while imperfect, lift wages, benefits and working conditions for all.
"I don't think, overall, we have won that argument," says Barca.
The GOP cabal's over-arching strategy is greedy, cynical, and — to date at least — seems to be working.
Copyright 2011 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
 
Posted in Madison_360, Blogs on Monday, August 1, 2011 9:00 am Updated: 10:30 am. Prison, Paul Fanlund, Koch Brothers, Scott Walker, Republican Party, Politics, Recall Election, Peter Barca, Robin Vos, Wisconsin Club For Growth, Tom Barrett, Kelda Helen Roys,


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