It was exactly at 1:11 PM on the afternoon of April 5, 2002 that State Senator Rod Moen wrote his own political obituary. On the floor of the Senate, Moen had offered an amendment to the 2002 budget adjustment bill that would have allowed a company in his district, Ashley Furniture, to fill in 13 acres of adjacent wetlands in order to expand their plant. Despite Moen’s own party controlling the Senate, his amendment failed, capping off what some considered a half-hearted effort on his part to keep jobs in his district. (A bill granting the wetlands exemption had passed the full Assembly nearly six months earlier, and Moen was never able to get it to the floor of the Senate.)
Fed up with state environmental regulation, Ashley announced on June 29th that it would be expanding in Ecru, Mississippi – costing Western Wisconsin 500 jobs. On July 3rd, the budget adjustment bill passed, with Moen’s provision included. But it was too little, too late. Moen’s provision was irrelevant, as the decision to move had already been made.
Behind the scenes, Republican staffers were joyous. This was, after all, a seat that was winnable for the GOP in November of 2002. Moen hadn’t had a serious challenge in a long time, and with the Ashley Furniture issue in their holster, Republicans dropped the issue on his head like a Steinway piano. Moen, a 20-year incumbent, lost the November election, helping Republicans gain control of the Wisconsin Senate.
Moen fouling up the Ashley furniture issue turned out to be gift for the GOP. But lost in the ebullience of the Republicans at the time was a sobering fact – 500 people had to lose their jobs for the GOP to pick up that seat. Basically, one party had to root for things to get really bad for Wisconsin in order to improve their chances of winning the next election. Such is the state of modern politics today.
It is now 2009, and Republicans have lost control of everything in state government, save for the Attorney General’s office. A recession is upon us, and Democratic Governor Jim Doyle has befouled the state’s fiscal standing. Doyle has done for the state’s finances what Vanilla Ice did for race relations in the United States.
Doyle’s Titanic-like captainship of the state budget, coupled with the current bad economy, has Republicans optimistic about winning the governorship in 2010. Unfortunately, for the GOP to have a good chance of winning, one thing has to happen.
Things have to stay bad. And if they get worse, even better.
Last week, I was talking to some Republican staffers about Governor Doyle’s proposed budget, which raises taxes by $3 billion, leaves enormous structural deficits, and is riddled with special interest giveaways. They all agreed they hoped it passed exactly as is – thinking there are enough politically damaging provisions with which to hang Democrats in the next election. Unable to actually change the budget in any meaningful way, the GOP political minds are actually rooting for liberals to overextend themselves. It’s like hoping your favorite football team loses the rest of its games so it gets a better draft pick.
Of course, this morose phenomenon isn’t exclusively a Republican one. It was in Democrats’ best interest for the War in Iraq to go as badly as possible (and it did, until it didn’t anymore.) The more the casualties piled up in 2006, the better chance Democrats had of taking over both houses of Congress – which they did.
In September of 2008, the John McCain presidential campaign was buoyed by a strong convention, briefly taking the lead in the polls over Barack Obama. Soon, however, the housing bubble burst, and McCain’s election chances went down the tubes along with the national economy. Claiming that the economy collapsing wasn’t politically advantageous for Democrats is like claiming horse tranquilizers aren’t advantageous to Paula Abdul.
As a result, the terrible economy that swept Democrats into power in 2006 and 2008 may also hinder their chances of keeping it in 2010. Basically, the GOP has to secretly root for unemployment to stay high for another year, in hopes of regaining control and making fundamental systematic changes that help unemployed workers in the long run. It appears that endless fruitless bailouts have fatigued voters, which may form a good platform on which the GOP to rebound.
The GOP is hoping short term pain brings long term gain. Let’s hope it doesn’t bloody Wisconsin’s nose irreprably in the next twelve months.
-May 4, 2009