Dispatch from the Reddest State

The Progressive Magazine--now brought to you from the reddest state in the union.

That's right. Wisconsin, where the Progressive Magazine has been published for the last 101 years, just earned the dubious distinction of being Ground Zero for the Republican Revolution of 2010.

With the governorship and both houses of the state legislature flipping from Democrat to Republican, and with Know Nothing candidate Ron Johnson beating progressive Senator Russ Feingold, we are officially on the cutting edge of the new political era.

Unlike the federal government, which remains divided despite Republicans' historic gains in the House, state governments such as Wisconsin's are now entirely controlled by the Republicans (a total of 11 states went from blue or split to red last week.) We will serve as a Petri dish for Republican ideas about deficit-reduction, deregulation and privatization, and, of course, rolling back women's reproductive rights.

Buckle your seatbelt.

Ron Johnson's first priority as he takes Russ Feingold's seat will be to try to roll back health care reform (never mind that most of the health care plan hasn't even taken effect yet--so its rollback will do nothing to help the angry voters who went to the polls to protest their pain and anxiety in the bad economy). And Republican AGs across the land are filing suit against the new health care reform bill.

Stimulus and health care are big targets because they are the most visible accomplishments of the Obama Administration. In Wisconsin that means the immediate cancellation of infrastructure projects supported by federal stimulus money, especially the big project state Republicans love to hate: the train.

For some reason, despite their love affair with business, and despite the fact that the main beneficiaries of a high-speed rail corridor linking Midwestern cities would be businesspeople who would like to use their cell phones and laptops as they commute, the Republicans are committed to a highway-only transportation network.

With that in mind, Wisconsin's newly elected Republican governor, Scott Walker, immediately put the kibosh on a federally funded train that would have created 500-1,000 good manufacturing jobs in Milwaukee, and thousands more over time.

Walker is also a major opponent of abortion. That's too bad, since one really decent thing about the out-going, middle-of-the-road Democratic governor Jim Doyle, for all his faults, was that he stood in the way of some truly nutty Republican bills. Among them: a proposal to allow concealed carry in Planned Parenthood clinics, and a measure that would let pharmacists decide whether or not to fill women's prescriptions for birth control pills based on their own, personal beliefs--that one was sponsored in the state assembly by none other than Scott Walker.

No wonder Operation Rescue leader Troy Newman told The New York Times "I feel like a little boy on Christmas morning--which package do I open first?" after the elections.

Scott Walker also opposes abortion in cases of rape and incest, as do many of his former colleagues in the legislature, who are backed by Wisconsin Right to Life and other nationally affiliated pro-life groups.

But the extreme anti-abortion agenda is not just a women's issue. It's also a jobs issue.

The University of Wisconsin is home to cutting-edge stem cell research, which has made the state a magnet for the biotech industry. Thousands of jobs will be lost as the Republican legislature and governor put an end to this whole sector.

Ever since the days of Bob LaFollette, there has been a constant tension between progressives, often associated with the University of Wisconsin, and reactionary legislators who have periodically proposed eliminating the entire UW system and driving out the liberal "eggheads." This is the state, after all, that produced both Bob LaFollette and Joe McCarthy.

The model university system based on the LaFollette-era "Wisconsin Idea" links a great research institution to public policy makers and to citizens throughout the state through UW extensions.

Now, along with stem-cell research, funding for the university is on the chopping block.

The same goes for the public schools. Walker has promised teacher lay-offs and pay cuts as a primary part of his plan to reduce the deficit.

He has also pledged to make public employees suffer, declaring: "Public employees can't be haves while private sector employees are have-nots,"

If one thing is clear from the massive turn-about of the last elections, it is that voters are anxious for a solution to their economic problems.

The Republican agenda--pie-in-the-sky promises of simultaneous tax cuts and deficit reduction, of job creation based on trickle-down tax cuts for business, and the promised roll-back of public investment in everything from infrastructure to education, and a renewed war on women's reproductive rights--will not fill the bill.

As much of a sea-change as their was in 2010, and as rough as the next two years will likely be, voters who are paying the price for the new generation of leadership at the state level are not likely to stay loyal come 2012. Either the Republicans will have to break some of their promises, or we are looking at a grim economic picture made much worse by Republican "rising stars" like Scott Walker.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Lessons of the Election."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter