View from reddest county in very purple state

Rep. Glenn Grothman

Rep. Glenn Grothman

Judging by its 52.5-point margin in favor of reelecting Gov. Scott Walker, Washington County, my home turf, has become the reddest of the 72 counties in a very purple state. It is almost a one-party Republican county.

None of its county offices had a Democratic challenger, and Republican Bob Gannon ran unchallenged in the non-race for the Assembly seat being vacated by House Majority Leader Pat Strachota.

U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner carried the county by a huge margin against a virtually invisible Democratic opponent. He won the district race by 40 points. Sensenbrenner will be serving his 19th term and apparently has the seat for life. He will be carried out.

Our departing state senator, Glenn Grothman, jumped the county line and won the 6th District Congressional seat to the north by 16 points.

There are a number of Republicans who could jump into the special election to fill his vacant senate, but you have to wonder if the Democratic Party will even field a candidate. The results in Washington County have become so lop-sided that a run must seem futile to the Democrats.

The second most Republican county is the elections last week was Waukesha with a 45.7 point spread for Walker, followed by Ozaukee at 40.7. The most blue counties – most Democratic – were Menominee at 54.5 for challenger Mary Burke and Dane at 40.5 – both recipient counties that receive a net inflow of state tax dollars and therefore are partial to larger government.

There are many reasons for the swing to the right in Washington County and elsewhere across the state and nation, and there will be many consequences.

The biggest consequence of one-sided results is that the victors have little ballot-box reason to compromise on issues. They are in safe seats, and that means they don’t need to pull votes from the center or left. They can vote to the far right on economic and social issues with little risk in the next election.

Walker, Gannon, Sensenbrenner and Grothman do have an obligation to represent all of the voters, and they know that they have to play fair to keep their party in good standing for the long run. Voters expect them to pass legislation that meets with some degree of consensus.

Majority control or not, it would be hard to govern if all their new laws were as controversial as Act 10, the notorious 2010 legislation that emasculated public unions and deeply divided the state. In no other state is the divisveness so pronounced.

The federal fiscal picture is still a quagmire of deficit and debt, stemming from under-managed entitlement programs, so expect Grothman to weigh in heavily on those challenges in a GOP-dominated House. He will be an uber-hawk among the fiscal hawks in the party, right there with Sen. Ron Johnson.
Will he be a supporter of GOP Speaker John Boehner as he tries to fashion legislation to set the party up for 2016, or will Grothman side with the Tea Party wing of the party to give Boehner grief and make compromise on budget and debt issues almost impossible? We’ll see. Boehner does have a bigger margin to work with
As a freshman, Grothman’s idiosyncratic views on social issues will be less impactful.

Grothman should have pretty clear sailing going forward. Incumbents have drawn the state’s congressional districts on both sides of the aisle to give incumbents the home field advantage. His predecessor, Tom Petri, was elected 18 times in a row.

The Republicans have long held the upper hand in this county, but in the 1970s and 1980s Democratic candidates at the state and national level occasionally carried the county. Dale McKenna, a Democrat, represented Washington County in the early 1970s.

The county was much more manufacturing intense back then, so there were thousands of unionized workers who tended to vote for Democrats. Today, less than 10% of Wisconsin’s employees in the private sector are unionized, and the same lower union profile applies locally.

The county is now as much white collar as blue collar. Its biggest employer in the private sector is an insurance company, not a manufacturer.

To be sure, last week’s local elections were caught in the national wave that carried the country away from President Obama’s top-down approach to governing and toward smaller government conservatives like Walker. The wave widened the pro-red margins here.

There was one major denominator in the 2014 elections, and that was the consensus among all candidates, red or blue, that job creation is the state’s overriding issue. The citizenry has come to understand that neither party has been able to jolt the state’s economic performance out of a 40-year slide relative to other states.

The winning Republicans, who control the governor’s chair and both houses of the legislature by stronger margins, had better address that issue with great energy in Walker’s second term.

Forget the peripheral issues. Get to the 250,000 new jobs goal Walker set out in his first campaign, even if it’s a few years late and 140,000 short at the turn.

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  • Mark Sevelis

    John, don’t ask why Washington Cty is so Republican/conservative. Ask why Dane Cty is so Democrat/liberal/progressive.
    In Wisconsin’s capital, Madistan, are there even any Republicans at all? Other than the legislators who represent Wisconsin? The answer is NO-O-O!
    Mark Sevelis
    Germantown, Wisconsin

    • JohnTorinus

      Good point. Washington County generates tax dollars on a net basis; Dane County spend them, on a net basis, big time.

      • Steve Dunn

        John-insightful comments. However, I tend to side with Marc Eisen’s point of view that we are healthier with a vibrant 2 party system where debate creates better action as opposed to the uber separation where you are with us or against us. Reality is that the state is still very divided and most are unfortunately checking out of the political process as a result. We can debate semantics on whether or not Walker has a mandate to take ultra conservative, out of state funded directions. But on a local level, I would like your thoughts on West Bend- has having an one sided electorate result in a healthy economy? Is all politics still local?

        • JohnTorinus

          Though I tend to be a conservative on fiscal matters, I find it very unhealthy to not have a robust local debate on state and county issues.
          The government can only set the tone for job cration. The private sector, mainly the entrepreneurs, do the heavy lifitng/ Moset pols just don’t get that — from either party.

  • Mark maley

    Glen will no longer be a local embarrassment, now he gets to go national .

    Regarding the 250,00 jobs goal- in business, 40% performers get fired. In politics, you say you had a great
    Last month and you get re-elected .

  • Marc Eisen

    Hey, John: Way back in the early ‘70s when I worked for you at the West Bend News, Washington County had a very active Democratic Party led by Hope Cross. They always seemed to fill out the ballot and, if memory serves me, won an occasional courthouse office. I think the political system was better for it. One way or another, there was a debate going on. And those Dems deserved some credit for carrying out their civic duty even if it involved getting walloped at the polls.

    For that matter, Dane County wasn’t always the crazy liberal sanctuary that Republicans imagine. They forget that Scott Klug, the quintessential moderate Republican, represented the 2nd Congressional District for ten years, and that Madison’s man in the House had an R after his name.

    These days I’m not sure that party identification really means anything. Our politics are dominated by interest groups and entrepreneurial candidates. The parties, which are pretty much empty husks, are run by people who in the old days would be considered “coat holders.” As in, “Hold the senator’s coat, sonny, while he addresses the Rotary,” as an old reporter-friend puts it.

    • JohnTorinus

      You have a good memory, Marc. Hope Cross is as feisty as ever. No one has really filled her shoes.
      Your thesis holds up if you look at our two U.S. senators, Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, two very different profiles that they carved out for themselves, one a Tea Party conservative and the other an uber-liberal on social issues.

  • Bill Kraus

    The IT revolution is as big and disruptive now as the industrial revolution was then. The industrial revolution created a blue collar middle class. The electoral restiveness is traceable to the fact that nobody knows what the IT revolution is going to create. A service society? The rascals will keep getting thrown out until someone answers this question.

    • JohnTorinus

      No question that the middle of the polity and economy is eroding.