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Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012

Heroes of the Week - Grand Avenue Club Members and Staff

Plus: Looking Back on Wisconsin Politics 2012

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Grand Avenue Club (GAC) opened its doors in December 1991 as a public-private sponsored nonprofit to give motivated, eager-to-work people who happen to be suffering from mental illnesses a community-oriented place to make connections, achieve life goals and increase their sense of self-worth. These 18-and-older voluntary members can participate with GAC as they please and are able to choose what interests them—whether it’s obtaining a job, furthering their education or simply becoming part of a community. Private donors and Milwaukee County sponsorship help keep education and employment programs well-funded, supported and easily accessible. Members work side by side with the staff in tasks such as planning meals, cooking, data entry, grant-writing and working on the daily or monthly newspapers.

“Those who come to us with employment, education and developmental goals can be certain that opportunities will be readily available to get them where they want to be,” said Rachel Forman, executive director of GAC. “We could not run Grand Avenue Club without our members. They are involved in all our activities and every aspect of the club that keeps our nearly 500-person community running smoothly.”

GAC (210 E. Michigan St.) is looking for people to work alongside members in their resale shop, those skilled in video production and especially tutors in all subject areas. Student internships are available for those focusing on social work, psychology or related fields. For more information about volunteering or donating, please visit grandavenueclub.com, email admin@grandavenueclub.org or call 414-276-6474.

GAC is open seven days a week year-round and is available to any and all adults affected by mental illness, unless the person’s presence would pose a threat to the general safety of the clubhouse community. If you have questions or concerns about the GAC, contact Forman at 414-704-6233.



Publisher’s Note
: Looking Back on Wisconsin Politics 2012

Wisconsin’s politics in 2012 were even more intense and more interesting than in 2011, when we were making international news with mass demonstrations at the state Capitol.  

Both sides had victories and explanations for their losses. For example, Democrats explained that Gov. Scott Walker won his recall election because many people did not approve of holding a recall, even though they didn’t necessarily approve of Walker’s policies. Exit polls showed that 16% of those who supported Walker in June said that they planned to vote for President Obama five months later, which apparently many did. On the other hand, Republicans explained former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s loss to U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin for the U.S. Senate as being caused by Thompson’s bruising primary election, which was driven by the far right wing, which didn’t match his more moderate history. So Thompson had to move to the far right to win the Republican primary in August, and then lacked enough time to regain a center-right position by November.

After another year of intense politics, people are asking a lot of questions, such as, Are Wisconsin politics and policies really that different today than they were decades ago? Is Wisconsin a red or a blue state? Where will the state be politically five years from now? 

As someone who has been very politically involved in Wisconsin for more than 30 years and even served as a state representative for several terms, unfortunately, I believe Wisconsin politics have changed in significant ways.

 

How It Used to Work

Historically, Wisconsin would swing between the center-left and center-right with gradual changes, which often had some level of bipartisan support. Some good friendships transcended party lines. When I served in the Legislature, I must admit that initially it was very frustrating to have to alter and compromise my own legislation in order to move it forward. But I quickly learned that if I didn’t make some compromises, my bills wouldn’t have a chance of passing.

Lawmakers in recent decades correctly understood that if you try to make radical changes on important matters and just force your policies through the process without significant support, there would be strong blowback. When Gov. Tony Earl was in office and the Democrats had total control of the Legislature, they didn’t try to ban all guns. When the Republicans had total control during a part of the Thompson years, they didn’t try to gut unions. There were no mass demonstrations, legislators didn’t need armed guards to get them out of the Capitol after they cast certain votes, and the state Capitol did not have to be in lockdown mode. Wisconsinites didn’t have intense reactions to new laws because changes were made within a level of reasonableness.

Today, it is often very different. If a bill is extreme and does not have broad support, the Republican majority just muscles it through the process with lockstep party discipline. If a Republican legislator dares to cross the party bosses, there is hell to pay. Gone is the respect for the institutions of government and for the legislative process, as well as the idea of good friendships across the political aisle. I recently spoke with a former Republican legislator with whom I served. He’s now a lobbyist and spends a lot of time at the Capitol. He told me, “It’s very nasty up here. The Republicans and the Democrats really do despise one another.”

 

The Big Wave

The unspoken rules of the game were changed in 2010, when the tea party wave election and the low voter turnout among disappointed Obama supporters gave extreme right-wing Republicans control of both the executive and legislative arms of state government in Wisconsin and a half-dozen other states. This new group of extreme rightists moved quickly to pass laws outside of the political mainstream. For example, Ohio’s new governor, Republican John Kasich, reached so far to the right that voters there were able to overturn one of his most extreme laws through popular referendum, a procedure not in the Wisconsin constitution. 

In a normal election year, the tea party legislators’ extreme policy changes of 2011 would have been corrected in the next election cycle, November 2012. In a presidential election year in many parts of the state, voter turnout will be more than 50% greater than voter turnout in a gubernatorial year, so the electorate is very different and more diverse. But 2012’s election used a map, drawn by Republican legislators and some very well-paid lawyers from Michael Best & Friedrich, with new district boundaries for the state Assembly, the state Senate and U.S. Congress. Republicans drew the new legislative lines in such a manner that it will be extraordinarily difficult for the Democrats to win control of either legislative chamber for the next 10 years, when a new map can be drawn based on updated U.S. Census figures. Even if Democratic candidates as a whole win more votes across the state, Republicans will probably end up in the majority in the Legislature for the next decade. It’s already happened. In November, Democratic legislative candidates received almost 200,000 more votes than their Republican counterparts but Republicans still won 60% of the seats in the Assembly.

The only hope for changing these Republican-friendly districts is to elect a Democratic governor in 2018. Since the legislative map used in 2020 will be the same one used today, Republicans will likely keep control of both houses of the Legislature. So when the legislative map must be redrawn for the 2022 election, Republican legislators will have to negotiate with a Democratic governor. They will either develop legislative maps that are built on compromise or the process will end up in the courts and a panel of judges will draw the legislative lines. Either way, the voters will have the ability to have fair elections again.

 

What Does a Progressive Do?

So where do the events of 2012 leave a progressive, engaged citizen who believes in social justice and sincerely wants to make their community a better place? Unfortunately, not much progressive change will come from state government for the next 10 years, even if the Democrats can elect a governor in 2014.

But this is not a message of despair. Real, long-term change only occurs in a majority-rule kind of way. Even though our current Wisconsin Legislature is doing the bidding of the wealthy special-interest groups at the expense of everyone else, its overreaching eventually will be turned back if a significant majority of people disagree. Sometimes change takes a bit longer than some of us would like, but it definitely will happen if the majority wants it.

For the next several years, forward-looking people understand that their role is to take a slightly blue state like ours and make it a solid blue state. To do that they will continue to organize, educate and talk, not to people they already agree with, but the people who call themselves “independents” and who are willing to engage in a serious and honest discussion, not a lecture.

Most people are honest and want fairness. I learned that lesson very well when I knocked on thousands of doors in my Assembly district, and I found that many of the people who I did not agree with still wanted fairness but just saw the concept of fairness differently. Fairness is the starting point for discussion.

Furthermore, many people are very engaged with their families and their jobs and don’t have the time to carefully sift through all of the misinformation to try to understand what is really happening. And as we all know, there is a lot of misinformation out there—from talk radio and certain cable TV stations to corrupt “studies” paid for by special-interest groups that continue to argue that, for example, global warming doesn’t exist. The greedy special interests need to keep people frightened, angry and very misinformed so they can continue to make huge profits. The best and perhaps the only defense against this extremism is a smart and well-informed citizenry. Our job is to move the ball in that direction.

—Louis Fortis

Editor and Publisher, Shepherd Express

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