While Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan prepares to shut down the federal government to prove that government is bad, analysts say the radical agenda of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker suffered a major set back today as his good friend incumbent Justice David Prosser was defeated for Wisconsin Supreme Court. The AP unofficial vote count with 100% of precincts reporting puts challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg ahead by slightly more than 200 votes. A recount is doubtless on the way.
In a state that has never unseated a conservative Supreme Court Justice, people power fueled a concentrated effort to deny the Imperial Walker one branch of government. Walker's opponents hope a Kloppenburg victory will swing the Supreme Court in a more independent direction and set the stage for the court to strike down Walker's controversial collective bargaining bill. While the fate of the bill is uncertain, Kloppenburg's three-week sprint from dead-in-the-water to victor may give Walker, Ryan and other Wisconsin politicians pause as they rush to radically reshape government to benefit the privatizers and profiteers.
Sleepy Court Race Electrifies the State
While it may seem odd to many Americans, Wisconsinites like to elect their judges. Although an elected judiciary has its problems (namely, unseemly high-dollar elections), the ballot box sometimes hands citizens a rare opportunity to un-elect judges -- and that is what many Wisconsinites decided to do today. Prosser, a former Republican Assembly Speaker, stumbled when his campaign embraced Walker's election.
The Kloppenburg victory is stunning. Six weeks ago, sitting Judge David Prosser was a shoo-in 30 points ahead coming out of the primary and the challenge by Assistant Attorney General Kloppenburg was a snooze fest. But something happened on the way to the high court. A governor, who was elected to create jobs, took office and quickly moved to disenfranchise voters and kneecap unions so they could no longer be a viable force in state elections. The raw power grab sparked a spontaneous uprising, the likes of which this state has never seen, and the Supreme Court race was the next vehicle for people to have their voices heard.
Proxy Fight Over Worker Rights
The whole country took notice when firefighters, teachers and cops stood with working families across Wisconsin to say "no" to Walker's radical plans to bust unions, cut $1 billion from schools and privatize the university system.
When his "budget repair bill" was passed March 9th, many national observers thought the fight was over. With large margins in both houses, Walker's stranglehold on government seemed invincible.
But irate Wisconsinites fought back on multiple fronts, filing lawsuits over the way in which Senate leaders rammed the bill through with less than the requisite notice required under the state open meetings law, blocking the bill's implementation. They filed recall petitions against eight Wisconsin senators and this week delivered the requisite signatures for two of those recalls well ahead of schedule. They turned their attention to the heretofore unnoticed race for Wisconsin Supreme Court. Within days, handmade signs for Joanne Kloppenburg popped up across the state. Many voters understood that to win any of the battles ahead over worker rights, over the recalls, over redistricting and more, a more balanced judiciary was needed.
Kloppenburg went from being a long-shot to victory in a three-week sprint marked by huge independent expenditures on both sides. The anticipated recount will keep the juices flowing and will fuel the remaining recall fights.
Shock Doctrine at Work
While some voters believe the court will act as a check and balance on the madness at the state level, they are concerned that Paul Ryan continues to run amok at the federal level -- threatening a complete government shut down. At the same time that Walker was working to obliterate unions and privatize public schools, Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, decided to go after Grandma with the complete privatization of Medicare. His radical budget bill, unveiled this week, slashes trillions of dollars from America's social safety net and throws the elderly into the private insurance market with a "voucher" in their pocket.
Less interested in balancing the budget than redistributing wealth, his budget plan would funnel billions into the pockets of big insurance firms while also giving a 10 percent tax break to corporations and the very richest Americans.
What is really going on here? Naomi Klein warned in her groundbreaking book Shock Doctrine that the right-wing excels at creating crises, real and imagined, to viciously advance their pro-corporate, anti-government agenda. She credits economist Milton Friedman who observed:
Only a crisis -- actual or perceived -- produces real changes. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.
UW Professor Joel Rogers wrote recently: "As explained by Grover Norquist and Karl Rove, this project aims at national repeal of most of democratic achievements of the 20th century, a return to business domination of public life not seen since the Gilded Age and McKinley."
The Wall Street financial crisis caused by years of deregulation and lack of government oversight cost Americans eight million jobs, tanking federal and state tax receipts and creating budget shortfalls. Ryan and Walker are moving to take advantage of this real jobs crisis to cook up a fake deficit crisis to advance a radical agenda that is hostile to the very idea of government -- the idea that sometimes services are best provided and things are best accomplished collectively, for the public good, and not for corporate profit.
Today, many voters believe that this agenda was checked in Wisconsin. While another recount battle looms, the people of Wisconsin are pledging that they will not allow this victory to be stolen.