I live in the City of Schofield, a small community that is part of the larger Wausau metro area in Marathon County, and right in the middle of the purple battleground state of Wisconsin. We had a gorgeous, lingering fall with dry days, mild temperatures and sadly for me, loads of political midterm tension. The election went much better than expected but now, just when we thought we could relax, election-wise, we are pivoting to an extremely consequential April 4 state supreme court election that will determine the balance of the state supreme court and in turn, the future of our elections for years to come. But I digress. Back to those midterms.
The Election was a Relief, but We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet
The election that matters the most in Wisconsin is coming up on April 4
I cannot remember a time when my general level of anxiety was higher than it was this past election season. Like the rest of the country, so much was at stake in our heavily gerrymandered state, and things were looking bleak. I was not able to knock on many doors this election, so to alleviate my rising dread I donated to several state and national campaigns, only to be bombarded by desperate calls, texts, and emails requesting more money. As a result, my stress level worsened. (Note to self, do not read the doomsday contribution messaging. Just click on the amount and hit send.)
On election day I was up early with my Gen Z son to get to the polls at 7 a.m. (his request) before he went to work.
Election day was quiet. Not eerily quiet, just calm. There were small changes to our local poll place up the street; an extra ID check, new booths, a different traffic flow. Compared to past elections, the number of yard signs in our area seemed to be fewer, although Republicans always seem to invest heavily in larger, showier signage. On a busy avenue near my home, a row of big, Republican signs were placed in front of a derelict trailer park owned by an absentee company out of Wyoming. I thought that was telling.
I went to bed without staying up to watch the returns, a first for me. Words cannot express the relief I felt reading the headlines the next morning. It was overwhelming. Our Democratic governor was reelected by a remarkable 3.4%, our Democratic attorney general and secretary of state were re-elected, and our power-hungry Republican legislature did not get the veto-proof supermajority it wanted. In a midterm election in our 50-50 state, these results were astonishing. Governor Evers can still wield his veto pen and will undoubtedly continue to add to the 126 vetoed bills he already has under his belt. Republican Senator Ron Johnson remaining in office is a huge disappointment, but Mandela Barnes came within one percentage point of winning which was the closest Wisconsin Senate race in over a century.
So, despite the giant signs and the wave of Republican fearmongering that had washed over our state for weeks, once again we stayed purple.
Marathon County has a ways to go. In 2008, we voted for Barack Obama over John McCain, 54 to 45. Last week, county voters chose Senator Ron Johnson over Mandela Barnes, 61 to 39.
One local concern that could impact voters’ choices in the next election is the discovery of PFAS in our water supply—testing in several nearby communities shows an unacceptable level of plastics. This is an issue the Republican-controlled Department of Natural Resources Board refuses to address because doing so requires new environmental regulations that would hurt the bottom line of greedy corporations. (A Republican board member of the DNR is refusing to step down and allow Governor Evers to appoint a replacement, but that’s another story.)
The conservative Wausau School Board proposed banning the teaching of contraception in sex education classes, which thankfully met with a backlash from parents. And now there is some noise in our community about book banning. In short, the issues here are a reflection of the push by social conservatives nationally, so there is plenty to be concerned about.
Wisconsin is a tipping point state. We can claim both Fighting Bob LaFollette and Joseph McCarthy in our history, and Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson today. Political yin and yang. On we go.
Now, we need to focus on April 4, 2023 and the State Supreme Court election. Wisconsin’s legislative maps are currently the most extremely gerrymandered in the country, making it virtually impossible for Democrats in Wisconsin to win control of either the State Assembly or Senate. With conservative Justice Patience Roggensack stepping down and her seat up for grabs, we have a chance to flip the court, which could open the door to a favorable Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling on the maps. Flipping the court could also allow Wisconsinites to vote on abortion rights which we support by a large margin, and to avoid erosion of any voting rights or election shenanigans in 2024.
We are not out of the woods yet. There is a lot of work to do, information to share, and doors to knock on, and Ralph Warnock fundraising texts to deal with. The Wisconsin Governor’s race was the most expensive in the country and the most expensive in state history, and in the Senate race, Ron Johnson’s Super PAC was supported by his billionaire cronies who benefited nicely from Johnson’s contribution to the 2017 tax cuts.
This record-breaking election spending is nothing to be proud of. I am sickened by the obscene amount of money these elections currently require (thank you Citizens United and Chief Justice John Roberts), and the pressure average citizens feel to contribute as much as they can to try and compete. It is just wrong.
But I am heartened by the common sense of Wisconsin’s independent voters who looked past it all and broke for Democrats and the enthusiasm of young people getting politically involved in their future.
And that Gen Z son of mine who eagerly wanted to vote at 7 a.m.? He did it so he could wear his “I Voted” sticker to work that day. That simple gesture made me enormously proud, and fills me with hope.
Elizabeth Schlick lives in Schofield, Wis., part of the larger Wausau metro area. She is retired and spends far too much time reading the news.
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