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Not so nice

The headline in the New York Times this past week grabbed us by the throat.

“Not as Wisconsin Nice as We Used to Be: The Divisions in Dairyland,” it read, fronting a story about Republican legislators forcing people, including the medically frail, to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also about a squabble between these same legislators and Gov. Tony Evers over the official name of the Christmas tree hauled into the State Capitol, special sessions called by the governor gaveled out of order in mere seconds by Republicans and how a fight over mental health funding for suicidal dairy farmers ended up with the state Senate firing the governor’s chosen Secretary of Agriculture Brad Pfaff.

We might be offended by the national newspaper’s condescending critique of Badgerland. After all, aren’t we the home of comfort food swimming in cream of mushroom soup, a land of a thousand benefits assisting families who are burdened by medical bills, where the International Snowmobiling Capital actually is, a place knee-deep in cookies and bars served at school and church gatherings, a Mecca for Green Bay Packer football fans and ground zero for the whitetail deer hunting brotherhood (and sisterhood)?

But, frankly, we can’t get mad at the New York Times. That’s because the paper’s story is right on. We aren’t as nice as we once were. We are battling with one another. And it’s all about politics.

If Wisconsin were either dominated by Democrats or Republicans, we’d be plenty nice. We’d clink our brewski bottles and be friends. But this is not the case. The balance of power in Wisconsin is like a teeter-totter. This month, the Republicans show a strong hand. The next month the Democrats engineer a comeback. With power up for grabs, the factions make for ugly, disastrous civil war.

The vote on April 7 demonstrates just how fleeting political power can be in Wisconsin. In the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown, Gov. Evers sought an all-mail-in ballot election. The statehouse Republicans blocked the governor. A conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court supported the Republicans. So did the conservative- backed Wisconsin Supreme Court.

But, on Tuesday, the voters did their own thing. They elected Jill Karofsky, a liberal Dane County judge, to the state high court, tossing out conservative Daniel Kelly. This rare ouster of an incumbent state supreme court justice was made possible by the Democrats extending their support in counties running north of La Crosse up the Mississippi River and into the Brown and Door County region. Kelly won the Milwaukee suburbs, but with significantly eroded Republican support.

Karofsky’s election shows that Wisconsin is no longer the all-red state it was under Gov. Scott Walker. Wisconsin can elect a centrist Democrat governor, other Democrat state office holders and, with the right turnout, a Supreme Court justice or two. The state’s recent bluish tint will complicate President Trump’s re-election plans. Wisconsin is one of six battleground states that will determine whether the controversial president gets a second term.

So, yes, we are not the nice state we maybe used to be.

The United States is divided and that division runs straight through Wisconsin. The state is at war with itself. And that war is a kind of hell.

Our only request is that the New York Times return to Wisconsin a couple months after the November election.

Let a reporter enjoy an authentic Wisconsin tuna casserole made with cream of mushroom soup, swirly fudge bars and a micro-brewery beer.

Maybe things by then will have settled down.

Editorial by Peter Weinschenk, The Record-Review