I've traveled America the Beautiful for over 40 years now, doing shows everywhere from the most gigantic of festivals to the most down home of county fairs. I've loved every minute of criss-crossing our country, getting to know its regions and their people. I way prefer live shows to TV, the medium that made me semi-famous, because of the immediacy of live shows and the direct contact with the audience. When I was a kid of modest means growing up in Brooklyn and Queens in the 50's and 60's, I thought it was an interesting treat to visit my relatives in (gulp) Newark. Now, I can barely find an obscure corner of the U.S. I haven't experienced at least once, if not a dozen times.
In recent years, I've become more and more concerned about the vitriolic nature of our political dialogue, and about a mean-spirited outlook that's overtaken even the most grounded parts of our country, the regions with the most authentic people. It's coincided, in my opinion, with the most incontrovertible fact in our economic times -- that by every statistical measure known to man, in the last thirty years or so the rich have gotten richer while the other 99% have struggled. The public policy theory that has caused this debacle, "trickle-down economics," is a pile of Wisconsin cowflop.
I cite Wisconsin because I spent 3 ½ weeks there over the summer on the Wisconsin recalls, a tremendous grass roots movement designed to counter that state's new Republican governor and legislature's assault on public workers, who are being blamed for the tough economy as if they were part of the 1%, not the 99. Too many of us (gotta exempt myself -- I worked on five congressional races, and we lost four of them) -- slept through the midterm elections. As a result, the country is struggling with a Congress whose main stated goal is to unseat a brilliant sitting president, not to do what's right for the American people (would Bob Dole have ever made that statement when he was doing the same job as Mitch McConnell?). And the country is struggling with a bunch of state governments whose primary objective seems to be ensuring that workers have little say in their wages or conditions, so that wealthy campaign donors and cash-rich corporations can run amok some more and further increase the disparity between themselves and the average citizen.
The first wave of Wisconsin recalls was little understood. It went great! I know that because I was there, and the view from the ground is the only view you can trust. I've discovered that my modest degree of celebrity can make a difference in elections, particularly state or Congressional ones. In Wisconsin, I visited all nine districts where recall elections were fought over the summer. I sang my Doo-Wop style "Bom-ba-ba-bom-ba bom-ba-bom-bom- Vote for Jen Shilling" and "Vote for Jessica King" and "Vote for Bob Wirch" and "Vote for Nancy Nusbaum" and "Vote for Jim Holperin" and each time I ended with my best low note and often we ended up on the local news and I felt like I was helping. We won two seats and, sure, we would have loved to have won three and flipped the Senate blue, but we always knew that was a long shot. Here's why.
Wisconsin state law allows the recall by petition only of elected officials who have served over a year. That's why smarmy Governor Scott Walker, who couldn't even figure out it wasn't a real Koch brother whose butt he was kissing on the phone, wasn't recalled. Or any of the truly vulnerable freshman Tea Partiers who rode a wave of public confusion and apathy in 2010 to power positions where they could attack teachers and nurses. The Republican senators who were recalled were mostly long-term, relatively moderate incumbents in very red districts. For several of them, the worst thing they'd ever done in their long legislative careers was sign on to the Walker agenda, and we all know they did it so as not to get primaried from their right. One of these Republicans was so historically moderate he actually got the endorsement of two significant Wisconsin environmental groups during his recall! Another recently got an award from the Wisconsin Library Association! Odd for someone who suddenly signed on to an agenda that seemed hell bent on destroying public education in Wisconsin.
So these were tough-to-beat, long-term incumbents in very red districts, and we did well to unseat two of six, the two furthest out there in their right-wing public policy. We also rather easily defended our three senators that the Republicans recalled. My favorite race of all was in the beautiful Northwoods, where Jim Holperin held his Senate seat. Jim's race was the only one against a real Tea Partier, Kim Simac, who writes "children's books." Her latest was called With My Rifle By My Side (funny, since Holperin actually got the NRA endorsement in this rural district.) Simac's next book is apparently an attempt to brainwash kids on right-to-life issues. The irony is that, with Simac trying to join Governor Walker's assault on public education, she doesn't seem to have figured out that if she succeeds, not one kid in Wisconsin will be able to read her "children's books!" Anyway, tough district, supposedly scary election, and Democrat Jim Holperin breezed to an 8-point win over the Tea Partier.
This is a harbinger of great things to come. Wisconsin was always going to be a two-step process, and the second step is under way. The good and grounded people of Wisconsin have also taken heart from the good and grounded people of Ohio, where I also spent a week last month on the effort to overturn Senate Bill 5 by voting No on Issue 2 (musical translation: Bom-ba-ba-bom-ba-bom-ba-bom-bom No on Issue Two!)
Ohio was a lot easier than Wisconsin for a procedural reason -- the means by which state law provides the public with recourse against a regime it doesn't like. The Ohio referendum was a Citizen's Veto aimed directly at the Ohio anti-worker law itself. The Wisconsin process, as we've noted, instead requires linking the legislators to the offending law(s) in the minds of the public and recalling them one by one after they've been in office for a year or more. Our 62-38% win in Ohio was a pretty convincing statement. My Wisconsin friend John Nichols of The Nation is fond of saying "Everyone in Wisconsin is three generations from a farm, and everyone in Ohio is three generations from a factory," but otherwise these Midwesterners are pretty similar. My contribution to this body of overgeneralization is that the people of Wisconsin and the people of Ohio are some of the nicest people in America -- until someone gets them angry! Governors Walker and Kasich have done just that! Watch out!!!
So the time has arrived when petitions are being circulated to recall the actual low-hanging fruit in Wisconsin -- the Republican freshmen senators who were elected in Democratic districts with strong labor populations in the wave of irrational anger that targeted incumbents in 2010, along with that top perp himself, Governor Walker. 2010 was some cycle, wasn't it? "We're angry because the economy tanked in 2008 and unemployment is still too high, so let's bring back people with the very philosophy that tanked the economy and caused the unemployment in the first place!" Hmmmmmm... perhaps low information voters should spend a little more time in those Wisconsin libraries.
This second wave of Wisconsin recalls will be fought on our turf, not theirs. The statewide recall of the Governor will resemble the statewide effort in Ohio, and the Senate elections will take place in fairly blue districts that swung in the 2010 wave. I'll be traveling to Wisconsin again whenever the elections are scheduled, and I've kept my very favorite bumper sticker -- the one with a picture of Scott Walker that says "Does This Ass Make My Car Look Big?"
And, yes, I'll be reviving another of my personal Oldies But Goodies. With the inspiration provided recently by the great people of Ohio, I feel pretty confident that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin freshmen will soon have to: "Yip-Yip-Yip-Yip-Boom-
Jon Bauman, better known as "Bowzer" formerly of Sha Na Na and currently Bowzer's Rock 'n' Roll Party," is also an activist in both electoral politics and public policy. Between shows he has worked as a high-powered volunteer on the Obama and Kerry campaigns in Florida, the Mark Critz, Kathy Hochul and, most recently, David Weprin special elections for Congress, the Wisconsin recalls and 5 Congressional races in 2010. He has successfully gotten the "Truth in Music" law, to eliminate impostor musical groups, passed in 34 states.