I can’t remember exactly when I decided I couldn’t vote for Republican candidates anymore, but it wasn’t long after Scott Walker was elected governor. Up until then, I voted for the person and gave no consideration for the party they represented.
But the changes in policies and laws that Gov. Walker and the Republicans made forced me to start paying attention. Never before had I even considered reading bills proposed by lawmakers or tracking how they voted on important issues.
I realized that most of my life I’d been too lazy and complacent to do the work needed to make intelligent choices when I voted. Like most people, I was too busy to think much about politics. Farming full-time, raising kids, and then after we quit farming, working a full-time job while still raising children and keeping up with housework took almost all my time. Who wants to spend the small amount of free time they have reading long, complicated legislation? I sure didn’t, until I realized how important it was.
It was Gov. Walker’s and the Republicans’ historic cuts to public education that finally woke me up. Whenever I’ve been able to afford it, I’ve worked in the schools with children who have special needs. I’d seen how schools had to scrape by on so little, even before the massive cuts Walker made. I’d seen how teachers spent a lot of their own money on classroom supplies and furnishings. I’d worked in many different companies and never saw employees buy their own office supplies. But teachers do it all the time. Under Walker, teachers suddenly lost an average of $500 a month of take-home pay and no longer had a voice. The drop in morale was palpable and many excellent, experienced teachers left the profession.
On top of that, Republicans also expanded the voucher program, which gives taxpayer money meant for public schools to religious and private-for-profit schools, as well as huge tax breaks to parents who send their children to those schools.
Speaking of tax breaks, they made their biggest donors very happy by eliminating almost all state taxes for manufacturers and profitable farms. If that resulted in higher wages for the people who work in those businesses, I’ve yet to hear about it.
Then, Walker eliminated the Department of Commerce, which helped to start new businesses, and replaced it with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation with his cronies in charge. They then gave low-interest loans or grants to favored companies and neglected to even track if the loans were being repaid or if any jobs were created because of the financial incentives.
Then there was the mining bill, most of which was written by Gogebic Taconite, the company that also made big donations to Republican candidates. That bill offers no protections or compensation to property owners whose wells would go dry or are contaminated as a result of mining operations. It forces local communities to pay for constant road maintenance needed when hundreds of trucks carrying iron ore haul it away. It also offered little protection to the streams and rivers which that have been contaminated with sulfuric acid and other toxic chemicals by mining runoff. The only reason the mine wasn’t built is because Iron County insisted on some environmental protections, which the company was unwilling to provide. However, the law, under the Republican majority, never has been repealed.
Once I started paying attention, it wasn’t hard to tell that Gov. Walker and his cronies didn’t care about the quality of our air and water. Cathy Stepp, Walker’s appointee to head the Department of Natural Resources, had no experience or education in the conservation of natural resources. She had been a builder and developer and was all for filling in wetlands that help with flood prevention and are protection and habitat for animals and aquatic life. She supported loosening regulations that protect the air, streams and lakes, and letting big business profit from pollution.
She’s not there anymore. She’s now in charge of a much bigger area under a federal appointment. That’s not at all comforting.
As for Republican tax cuts, I saved $6 a year. But I actually lost money because my property taxes went up after we passed a school referendum that was needed after the cuts Walker made to education.
I know it takes time, but people need to find out how their lawmakers vote and what’s in the bills they propose and pass. If they just rely on what the candidates say, or political ads that often include lies and misinformation — like the one about Tony Evers — or listen to only one side, they can’t make smart choices when they vote. And if you stop and think about it, voting intelligently is the most important thing we have to do.