I was reminded of the enmity of our politics in a peculiar way the other day. As one of but a handful of Midwestern transplants to the South, I normally take note when I recognize someone from my home region. Such was the case when I noticed a girl donning a Milwaukee Brewers baseball cap.
"Oh, so you're from Wisconsin?" I asked her, eager to engage on a hearty banter about cheese, beer, brats, and the like.
"No, but my dad is. We're celebrating the results of the Wisconsin governor's election."
A strange way to make a political statement indeed. After all, of all the things a Brewers cap could symbolize (they did just come one game short of the World Series after all) she had chosen politicization.
But the best part? As she had said, she wasn't from Wisconsin. She was from North Carolina.
Such are the attitudes that Gov. Scott Walker has managed to engender in his eight years in office. A polarizing figure that had already run the race three times before, becoming the first governor in American history to survive a recall attempt in 2012, Walker has garnered a special place in the heart of conservatives for standing up to unions, and a special contempt from Democrats for doing much the same.
But Walker's defeat in the most recent gubernatorial election is an indicator of a lot more than merely his actions. After all, Walker's signature piece of legislation that dismantled union power, Act 10, was signed into law his first year in office, 2011. Wisconsinites had attempted to punish him for doing so in the recall in 2012 and again during the general election in 2014. Both times they failed to do so.
No, Walker's defeat in the here and now is much more about the nationalization (or the newfound parliamentary nature of American politics as I recently saw a pundit point out) of his race and his state than any action taken by Walker himself. After all, Walker just recently inked a deal with the Taiwanese Foxconn to build a massive production plant in the southeastern Wisconsin area. Unemployment has been at record lows and the budget hasn't been a concern in virtually all of the Walker era.
No, Walker's defeat is, as much of American politics is, about Trump.
My colleague from North Carolina makes it apparent: there remains a deep displeasure with Walker in Wisconsin politics. And while this may have served his opponent, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, with a magnificent starting point, it was hardly the sole reasoning of his downfall. Perhaps it was an unwillingness of Walker to stand up passionately to Trump (a fault of many modern Republicans), but independents turned on Walker this election cycle like they never had before.
And it wasn't just Wisconsin. Republican gubernatorial candidates in Michigan and Illinois, states where Republicans had held those seats, lost their bids too. Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa almost joined them. Walker's loss might be heralded by many a Milwaukee or Madison liberal as just comeuppance, but it's much bigger than that. It's all much bigger than that.
I'll make no equivocations. I was a supporter of Gov. Walker. In my eyes, he dismantled a politicized machine that served the Democratic Party more than it served Wisconsin workers. His right-to-work legislation, allowing workers to decide if they want to be in unions and not the other way around, was a huge win for individual liberty. The castle doctrine allows similar freedoms in giving citizens the ability of self-defense in their own homes. And now Foxconn will soon begin operations, a massive contributor to employment in Wisconsin.
Granted, none of these measures come without controversy, but I think it is difficult to say that Wisconsin is not better in terms of personal and economic freedom now then it was prior to Walker's administration.
But so, things ebb and flow. There was every possibility that Walker would lose, just as there is every possibility that Governor-elect Evers will lose in 2022. Such is the nature of the democratic process. But for now, with a still Republican-controlled legislature, the people of Wisconsin have chosen a house divided.
Let's hope we can keep moving forward.