Revisiting Wisconsin's Race to the Bottom: Why we Must Recall Scott Walker | WisCommunity

Revisiting Wisconsin's Race to the Bottom: Why we Must Recall Scott Walker

 I have shared these comments this summer before the Senate recall elections.  Everything I said at that time has been magnified by the actions of the Governor and Republicans in the State Senate and Assembly.  Therefore I am reposting it to encourage Wisconsites to support the recall of Governor Scott Walker and at least three of the Republican Senators.

When I arrived in Southern China in the Fall of 2010 to work as a Fulbright Senior Specialist at the Shenzhen Tourism College of Jinan University , I expected to have an opportunity to learn more about an authoritarian regime in transition.  I did not anticipate that the regime in question would in my home state - Wisconsin.    

I had visited China eight other times, but this was the first time I was completely immersed in the Chinese culture with no “Western” colleagues. While my primary role was as a consultant to the University Administration, I also gave regular lectures and held discussion groups with to students.  

For the most part, both China’s young generation as well as the faculty and administrators were optimistic about their future.  I was asked frequently to explain what many saw as anti intellectualism and corporate greed in the United States.  I found that examples from Wisconsin’s democratic history were among the most effective illustrations of what worked in the United States.  Wisconsin, with it many lakes and parks and public forests, well funded universities, technical colleges and public schools, thousands of miles of back roads that were paved rather than gravel, represented what a democracy that listened to and cared about the people could become.  As a native of Wisconsin, I have carried that pride with me throughout Asia and the Pacific as I have worked internationally over the years. 

I returned in January to a Wisconsin that I did not recognize.  The positive, progressive things about Wisconsin that I shared with my Chinese colleagues were under attack. 

Governor Walker’s rejection of $800 million for the Milwaukee to Madison rail project symbolizes the current backward momentum of the State.  Disregard for the history of public sector collective bargaining has demonstrated an authoritarian leadership model similar to those I have seen in dictatorships.   The general feeling of helplessness among the victims of union-busting legislation combined with the villainization of teachers and other public employees has created a political atmosphere in Wisconsin that most closely resembles what I observed in Fiji immediately after the last military coup. 

While there is no doubt that China has its problems, their willingness to do what is necessary to move their society and their economy ahead is impressive.  Chinese officials were quick to boast about the investment that China was making in their universities and in their supportive infrastructure.  The new Guangzhou to Wuhan train had just completed its 600 mile trip non-stop in three hours.  Provincial leaders touted success stories like these as evidence that their province had the infrastructure necessary to compete in the twenty-first century.  Locals generally feel as though the government is moving in a positive trajectory, improving infrastructure and education, and strengthening innovation.  As China moves from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy, they want to become more like us, and they will.

When working in Vietnam and China, my colleagues and I would chuckle when government representatives boasted that they  could get things done faster than you could in the United States because they have a “one party system.”   Privately, my Chinese friends would admit that, they can get things done faster, but it is “quite often the wrong thing.”   The curse of the one party system has hit Wisconsin in a way that would shock even my Communist friends.   

In just a few months, this progressive State has done everything it could to become like Guangdong Province of the 1970s - before Deng Xiaoping's "reform and opening up".  In the meantime, Guangdong Province is losing manufacturing jobs to places like Vietnam because the rural Chinese will no longer move to the cities for the low wages.  China, as a result, is investing in education and infrastructure to race to the top.  Meanwhile, Walker is mounting a "Cultural Revolution" of his own - making short-sighted decisions like stealing jobs temporally from Illinois.  But just as China has its Vietnam,  Wisconsin can only steal jobs from other states until another, even more ambitious, Republican governor from a nearby state lures businesses from Wisconsin with even more drastic ALEC written, “business friendly” legislation.  Wisconsin, of course, will have to retaliate with even more incentives to keep business from leaving, and the race to the bottom will continue. 

This is an important time in Wisconsin's history, it is a time for citizens to step back and look at our state within the context of the world in general.  We are not simply headed in the wrong direction, we are going their with the speed of a bullet train.  Regardless of your political affiliation, Republican, Democrat, or Independent, it is time to recall the Republican State Senators and the Current Governor to stop this madness.  For the two party system to return to Wisconsin, we must deliver a message to the new senators that Wisconsin needs politicians who can compromise and work together and represent us, the citizens, rather than special interests.  This is not a zero sum game.  Good legislation can be good for business, good for unions, good for the economy, good for the environment, and good for the citizens. This can only be done when all stake holders are at the table. 


October 19, 2011 - 11:31pm