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Could Wisconsin Become a Democracy Again?

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Image: Yuri Keegstra

One of the real dilemmas in contemporary politics is that liberals believe in democracy and Republicans loathe democracy because they can’t deal with losing, even for a short time. So when Republicans take power, they seek to rig the future. When Democrats take power, they assume everything is working, even though the next time Republicans take power, we are back to that problem still. Still, at least in some states, Republicans can go too far and that is increasingly clear to be true in Wisconsin, which has dealt with almost 15 years of this and which has thus created such an overwhelming backlash that maybe, just maybe, democracy might return to the state.

Liberals have their first majority on the state Supreme Court in 15 years. New maps will almost certainly eat into Republicans’ long-standing majorities in the state Legislature, and more favorable congressional lines could follow. The party has a strong incumbent in the U.S. Senate who still doesnt have a top-tier Republican challenger heading into her re-election campaign this year and an incumbent governor with consistently solid approval ratings.

As Democratic Gov. Tony Evers put it during his recent State of the State address, “Wisconsin, it’s been one heck of a year.”

At the outset of the election year, Democrats in the critical swing state see a golden opportunity to claw back power from the GOP, which until recently enjoyed an ironclad grip on nearly all levers of state government.

Despite a long history of Midwestern progressivism, Wisconsin emerged as one of the epicenters of the tea party movement in 2010 when Republicans won the governorship and both chambers of the Legislature.

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Since Trump’s surprise win in Wisconsin in the 2016 presidential contest, Democrats (and candidates backed by Democrats) have won 15 of the last 18 statewide races.

The latest victory is likely also the most meaningful. Following the April 2023 win by Janet Protasiewicz, liberals on the technically nonpartisan Supreme Court quickly put their fresh majority to work.

Almost immediately, they took up a challenge to the state’s GOP-friendly legislative maps and only weeks later ruled them unconstitutional, ordering lawmakers to draw new ones ahead of the 2024 elections.

If more politically competitive maps are implemented, as expected, a more evenly divided Legislature could have the opportunity to pick away at years of conservative laws — and to further reshape policy in the state on issues such as Medicaid expansion, marijuana legalization and paid family leave that Republicans have blocked from advancing.

New maps will also likely shift Republicans further away from a supermajority — the party currently has one in the state Senate and is only two seats short of having one in the state Assembly — and with it, the ability to overturn Evers’ vetoes.

“While we’ve squeaked out some really amazing victories, with narrow margins in many cases, you would think OK, 50% of Wisconsinites vote Democrat and 50% of Wisconsinites vote Republican. How is it that we have a state Legislature that is two-thirds Republican in a state that’s really 50-50?” Baldwin said. “It’s gerrymandering.”

Yeah, tell me about it. Democrats win 15 of 18 statewide races and Republicans still have supermajorities in the legislature. Well, that might well be changing. The Republican tears will be tasty.

Of course, once Democrats again restore democracy in the state, a sizable number of voters will probably think everything is OK, stop showing up, and Republicans will win power again, thus starting the cycle over. But what can you do about that? No one seems to know.

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