Dark Days for Wisconsin Democracy

The willingness of thousands of Wisconsinites to vote in person on April 7, at a moment when the outbreak of the virus is said to be moving toward a peak, revealed a degree of courage in the face of the most extreme conditions. The outcome of the election will not be revealed until April 13, but the likelihood is that, as usual, the effect of voter suppression would not be inconsiderable. 

John Nichols, of the Nation and the Capital Times, wrote that the manipulation by “legislative charlatans” had endangered the lives of thousands. Milwaukee Health Commissioner, Dr. Jeannette Kowalik, had lamented that “unfortunately, it’s not safe” at the polls and that Republican leaders were likely to be “killing people by the decisions that they’re making.” No matter, apparently.

Other issues and, obviously, an array of candidates found their way to the ballot. As it would turn out, this would be the last full day of the Bernie Sanders campaign, in a real sense the last day of a campaign that began in the summer of 2015, when an appearance by Sanders in Madison brought a massive turnout, stirring the national press to take notice, and has continued ever since.

But Wisconsin voters most likely had their eyes turned to the judicial race for the state supreme court. In a nominally non-partisan race, an especially untalented and conservative appointee of then Governor Scott Walker faced a reputable, widely admired Democrat, Jill Karofsky. A low turnout meant likely victory for Daniel Kelly, the much-desired result for Republicans seeking to lock in conservative domination of the court for years to come. For the same reasons, referendum issues on school funding and prisoners’ rights were naturally at risk of a lower voter turnout.

A local union activist of note, Eleni Schirmer, writing in the Boston Review, compared the drama of the struggle to the hard but hopeful days of the Wisconsin Uprising of 2011-12, when Walker, a newly elected  Republican governor moved to strip public unions of their right. The analogy may have been most apt for those willing to risk all in order to vote.

What lies ahead? Not likely the much-anticipated convention in Milwaukee. And a very rough and highly unpredictable election season beyond. Much beloved representative Mark Pocan, an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders, may be expected to lead the struggle down the ticket.