The photo above is stolen from my friend of long-standing, Bill Kiefer, with whom I had the pleasure of working in the Fox Valley’s biggest radio newsroom three decades ago. Bill is now a senior news executive at Channel 11 in Green Bay. This photo, taken on Oak Street in Green Bay, which Bill posted on his Facebook page last week, pretty well sums up the state of the state.
Wisconsin is truly a house divided.
This past weekend, I made a quick trip up to Appleton, and returned home shaking my head about the state of poisoned politics in Wisconsin. Here in Dane County, Governor Walker has far fewer friends than he does in the Fox Valley. His budget measures have hit a lot of people who live in Dane County very hard and very personally. Political yard-signs supporting Walker are few and far between around here.
As you travel north from Madison on Highway 151, you know you’re getting closer to Walker country when you begin to see more and more Walker yard signs. When you turn off Highway 151 to take Highway 26, the “short-cut” to Highway 41, you begin to see a smattering of Walker yard signs. In Rosendale, the state’s best-known speed trap, there’s a spectrum of political yard signs: some for Walker; some for Falk; even a few for Barrett. A few miles north of Rosendale, there’s a big yard sign – about six feet long and four feet high – that says “Walker for Governor”. But the person who put up the sign spray-painted a black X over the word “Governor” and added the word “President” under it.
Now you know you’re not in the state’s bluest county.
When you hit Highway 41 just south of Oshkosh and begin the trek up what I call “The Main Street of the Fox Valley”, Walker signs proliferate. Every quarter-mile or so, there’s a Walker sign or billboard of some sort. But just north of Oshkosh, I saw a humongous billboard – probably twice the size of a normal roadside billboard – and my jaw literally dropped when I read what it said:
GOVERNOR WALKER – WORKING FOR ALL OF WISCONSIN, NOT JUST THE SPOILED FEW
The spoiled few. Who are they? Teachers? The women who work in school kitchens, preparing the meals for our children? The men who plow our roads in the winter? The man or woman who checks our stores to make sure the cash registers are not cheating us on prices, and our gas pumps to make sure that when it says it’s delivered a gallon, it’s really delivered a gallon? The people who work in nursing homes taking care of our elderly? The ones who pick up our trash when we set it on the curb? Are these the spoiled few? Was it 950,000 spoiled people who signed recall petitions? It sure wasn’t “out of state union thugs” who signed those documents.
All the way through Neenah and Menasha, Walker billboards are predominant; and just before I exited Highway 41 at Wisconsin Avenue in Appleton, there was a big sign that said “I Stand With Governor Walker”. As I made my way east on Wisconsin Ave and then turned north on Richmond Street, into a more residential neighborhood, there was an intriguing mix of signs, some supporting Walker, some encouraging his impeachment. It looked not too dissimilar from the photo above.
When I got to my friend Greg’s house, on Grant Street, he had the American Flag flying proudly from his home, and a yard sign that said “I Stand With Governor Walker”. Across the street, his neighbor’s yard sign said “Impeach Walker”.
My friend and I didn’t talk politics; we talked music, our common bond as old-time tuba players a few years apart at Hortonville High. We did our business – I bought one of Greg’s reconditioned bass horns – and then talked music for another half-hour, glad to have renewed our acquaintance and solidified our bond as “back row boys”.
As I headed back down to Madison, I spent a lot of time thinking about how our state has become so deeply divided. It’s not just Scott Walker. The Tommy Thompson of 2012 is not the Tommy Thompson I knew in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s two parties that can’t talk to each other about anything, can’t put out a news release without sniping at the other party. And I kept thinking regardless of the outcome of the recall election, it’s not likely the hyperpartisanship will change.
We will remain, I think, a house divided.