President Bill Clinton was in Wisconsin on Friday, June 1, stumping for Milwaukee Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett. Barrett is running against Governor Scott Walker in the upcoming recall election on June 5th and the race is a tight one.
Walker, who rode into office with a six point victory over Barrett in the 2010 mid-term elections, immediately focused upon dismantling the public employee collective bargaining laws in the state, reducing the number of individuals eligible for BadgerCare, the state’s health insurance safety net, lowering taxes on the wealthiest, and slashing the budget for education.
What ensued politically was a very long winter of discontent, Wisconsin style. Democratic state legislators went MIA; thousands of protesting teachers and police, firefighters and union supporters filled the streets and capitol building for weeks on end. Labor activists and Democrats turned in one million signatures to recall Walker this past January.
Wisconsin has become a symbol of the bitter partisan fight over the civic soul of the country, and the election results there may well indicate in what direction our democracy is headed. E. J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post writes “Walker is being challenged not because he pursued conservative policies but because Wisconsin has become the most glaring example of a new and genuinely alarming approach to politics on the right. It seeks to use incumbency to alter the rules and tilt the legal and electoral playing field decisively toward the interests of those in power.”
Walker has a prodigious war chest of $31 million versus $4.2 million raised for Barrett. The majority of Walker’s support has come from out of state donors. The Koch brothers backed group Americans for Prosperity is on a multi-city Wisconsin bus tour touting Wisconsin’s successes, but not “electioneering” for Scott Walker because that would be illegal.
The Left has been howling, not surprisingly, that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has not provided support to Barrett’s abysmally out funded campaign. Enter Bill Clinton at the 11th hour to boost the enthusiasm and voter turnout with a rousing speech.
Clinton soundly rejected the divide and conquer strategy that a recently leaked Walker video expressed. He used Chicago, Jacksonville and San Diego as examples of cities in which good governance is achieved despite divergent political views.
When Clinton spoke about San Diego (4:34min), he alluded to it as a city with a Republican mayor and the most Nobel Prize winning scientists in the country. He then specifically called out “prominent Democrat” Irwin Jacobs, and Qualcomm the communications company he co-founded as an example of how creative cooperation works.
For those of us who actually live in San Diego, Clinton’s comments are not without irony. Mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio has referred to San Diego on numerous occasions as the Wisconsin of the West. If anyone “seeks to use incumbency to alter the rules and tilt the legal and electoral playing field decisively toward the interests of those in power,” DeMaio or his Republican challenger Bonnie Dumanis, or recently declared Independent challenger Nathan Fletcher would certainly fill that particular bill.
Irwin Jacobs, Democrat, threw his support to Bonnie Dumanis back in February. While our local elections are non-partisan, it is naive to believe that candidates are not influenced or driven by ideology—look no further than Carl DeMaio, San Diego’s own ideologically driven Captain Ahab, obsessed with the slaughter of the pension whale.
Jacobs, who stresses the need for a business friendly environment supported by educational and cultural opportunities, will support whoever best butters his bottom line. That trumps any Democratic core values on the same topics that he purports to hold. Jim Miller writes about this phenomenon at greater length in his article Cory Booker Nation.
Bonnie Dumanis is currently in a distant fourth place in the mayoral election. It will be instructive to see who Irwin Jacobs supports in the runoff. I suspect that he does not give much thought to San Diego as the Wisconsin of the West. I can imagine him at some future Democratic function at which President Clinton will also be in attendance and I feel pretty sure that they will discuss economic virtues and spend little time on the subject of our civic soul.