hearts and minds

November 19, 2010

Why Feingold is out in Wisconsin – and so what?

Filed under: Halo of hubris,Politics & elections — Hearts & Minds @ 12:46 pm

Russ Feingold’s re-election effort was defeated in November. Citizens of America and of Wisconsin who want clean, uncorrupted government that exists to serve the people, rather than to serve the profits of corporations and the super-rich, did not need that to happen. The loss of his representation, and of the long independent maverick tradition he established since he first became our Senator in D.C., and of the “Listening Sessions” he held in each and every county of the state, every year, will be missed and felt more than most people even can begin to realize. Russ Feingold, along with Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont and the late Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, was the strongest (and among the very, very few) committed enemies of corruption of elections and government by well-heeled special interests that yet remained in the U.S. Senate. That was a tragic loss of one of the only U.S. Senators (perhaps the only one) who, like most of us, is not a millionaire, and who made a point of standing for (not just paying lip service to) the Constitution, and for the everyday people, our rights, our freedoms, and our general welfare.

As in the rest of the country, the majority in certain regions and communities of Wisconsin support one candidate, while the majority in other regions and communities support another candidate. But three counties (out of 72 total in Wisconsin) this November (and as has been the case in the past) take “first prize” by providing the most lop-sided votes of all, overwhelmingly favoring one party and that party’s candidates.

A simple survey of the unofficial county election results from the Government Accountability Board shows that the margins given to Feingold’s Republican opponent, Ronald Johnson, in the three notorious contiguous counties of Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee (immediately north and west of Milwaukee) provided Johnson with MORE than the total margin that put Johnson over the top in the entire state. In simple terms, if voters in Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee counties had split 50-50 in this last election, Russ Feingold would have been re-elected by the rest of Wisconsin.

That is also exactly true of the 2010 election for Governor. If Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee counties alone had been hotly contested in the election, rather than lop-sided, one-party-rule counties, Democrat Tom Barrett instead of Republican Scott Walker would have been elected Governor.

On a recent historical note relevant to this analysis, remember when Justice Louis Butler was running for re-election to the Supreme Court against mediocre partisan hack Mike Gableman? (Gableman was publicly endorsed by Republican County Sheriff Maury Straub and Republican Caucus Chair Glenn Grothman, in an ugly campaign that exploited unreasoning fear and racism, funded by massive amounts of anonymous corporate “donations” for attack ads.) Again, if it weren’t for the lop-sided vote against Justice Butler from Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee counties, Louis Butler would have been easily re-elected to his seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court by the majority of voters in the rest of the state.

Apparently, only 31 percent of Ozaukee voters, 28 percent of Waukesha voters and a startling 25 percent of Washington County voters chose Feingold. (Hell, I got 20 percent running there 2 years ago as a completely unknown Independent with no funding, no campaign committee, no ads, no straight party-line votes, nothing but a four month solo door-to-door campaign with 30,000 handmade leaflets about four issues, against previously uncontested Republican Party leader Glenn Grothman. And Russ Feingold only got 25 percent?! That’s almost beyond belief.)

The population of those three counties, combined, is now just under 11 percent of the population of Wisconsin.
Yet those three counties, alone, effectively countermanded the majority vote of the people in the entire rest of the state for Governor and for U.S. Senator and for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice.
The number of people who voted statewide in November 2010 was only 38% of the 2009 estimated state population.
But the number of votes cast in Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee counties totaled 48% of the estimated 2009 population of those three counties.
If the number of votes cast in the other 69 counties had represented the same percentage of the population there as the percentage of votes cast in the three named counties, there would have been about 567,000 more votes cast in the other 69 counties than were cast in November. That would have provided more than five times as many votes as the 105 thousand vote margin that gave Johnson the election over Feingold – a margin which was, in effect, provided entirely by the remarkably lopsided tallies of just Washington, Waukesha, and Ozaukee counties.

It should be obvious to all in Wisconsin, by now, that the political process and the political consciousness of the people within Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee counties has an important relevance to all of the people, and to the political process, in the entire state of Wisconsin.
That relevance can only continue to be ignored to our mutual detriment.

P.S. A Personal Note:

There are an awful lot of American citizens who disdain voting simply because an individual’s vote in a democracy (whether the political process is corrupted to the core or not) is not a magic bullet and because voting does not make the voter feel as though he or she individually actually controls the process or the outcome. People often feel that there is no point in “getting involved” or even voting, that their vote and their opinion doesn’t matter, that government is inherently incapable of doing right, and that voting only encourages “them”.

Why are people not comfortable with the fact that in a true democracy, no one person is supposed to decide what happens? In a municipality of ten thousand people (let alone in a country of 350 million people!) you or I can vote in every election, all our lives, and never personally, appear to directly affect the outcome of a single election. That is absolutely not a valid argument against voting. Voting is a collective, community activity, not an exercise of an individual’s power. (Go to the gym and climb in the ring, or get out the chess set, or deal the cards for that.) People who are frustrated by that simple reality and by the genius represented by the concept of “one person, one vote” – no more and no less – can only find satisfaction for their frustration in a dictatorship in which they are the dictator, or in an infantile philosophy of withdrawal which holds that, “Since I can’t control this game myself, and I don’t think I can win today, I won’t play at all”.

You think that thinking clearly about the political process, and then voting doesn’t matter?
That’s why Russ Feingold lost, and that’s going to directly harm you, our country, and those you care about.

At any time and in any place, every good citizen should always vote (regardless of corruption and injustice and disappointment) – unless he or she is committed to, and engaged in, substantive, active revolution.


  1. There are a lot of reasons that Russ lost in November… Probably the most important were:
    1. It was an off-year election. Proportionally, more conservative “seniors” will vote than hip 20 & 30 somethings. (Hip people don’t live in Waukesha, Ozaukee & Washington counties. Frugal conservative people do).
    2. The biggest issues facing the nation are finance related: There has been no effective prosecution for the Wall Street mortgage security frauds. Obama appointed Summers & Geitner to run his administration’s economic policies (the same fools that aided and abetted lax regulation of the banking and financial industry). The Obama administration pushed fiscal stimulus to more than $1 Trillion/year in 2009 & 2010 with little conversation about the debt crisis and the erosion of confidence.
    3. Feingold made political contribution solicitation the most important message on his website and in his outreach prior to the election.
    4. The new health bill passed out of Congress was not publicized properly after the fact. Democratic leadership in America allowed reactionary Republicans to dominate the civic conversation. Perhaps that’s the real issue… Russ did not spend enough time and effort in civic outreach to support his own candidacy and to support the only significant legislation that has came out of the Obama presidency.

    Comment by MarkS — November 19, 2010 @ 3:03 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks Clyde, nice job.

    Yeah, the Democratic party combined campaign pulled out of Washington County during the last weeks — to canvass more aggressively in Waukesha… but we exported people from here in 2008 and managed to get 35% for Obama.

    And so it goes.


    Comment by Mpeterson — November 19, 2010 @ 3:21 pm | Reply

  3. Interesting that you suppose that people voting for Johnson and Walker were not thinking clearly or that they don’t realize what the consequences of the vote will be.

    Perhaps you should consider that contrary to your opinion that Feingold’s listening sessions will be sorely missed is the possibility that the people resent that Russ did not really listen to them. Perhaps, people are clever enough to realize that on every vote that was close enough to matter, Russ was a mindless loyalist. Nobody can name a single vote where Russ decided the issue. Who cares if he voted “no” when 99 others voted “yes.”

    Perhaps, people admire men who can build a business and make themselves rich in the process. Only envious and stupid people hate millionaires for their success. And had there been any scandal in the creation or growth of Johnson’s company, we would surely have heard. Maybe the average worker suspects that if his boss is making money these days, he is more likely to keep his job.

    Hubris, here, is to assume that the voters didn’t know exactly what they were doing.

    Comment by Patrick — November 19, 2010 @ 6:48 pm | Reply

  4. The point of my article was much less encompassing, and the purpose much less ambitious than the title suggests. Besides my clearly stated, brief, subjective assessment that the people of Wisconsin and the future of democracy was better served by Feingold than by his opponent in the election, mostly all I said was that had it not been for the lopsided votes in the three contiguous counties of Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee, against Feingold for U.S. Senate, Barrett for Governor, and Butler for Supreme Court Justice, those three individuals would have been elected to office by a majority of the voters in the entire rest of the state.

    It is also significant and important to point out that the percentage of the population in the southeast region of Wisconsin that lives in Milwaukee decreased from 70% to 50% between the 1950 and 2000 census. During that same period, the percentage of the population that lives in Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee counties increased from 11% to 28%. Obviously, a political strategy that, since long before most of us were born, has written off, ignored, and conceded the entire population of those three counties, and kept all its organizing and educational effort and resources in the big city, has become a losing strategy. By default, therefore, everyday people and working families in those three counties have been subjected, for generations, to absolutely unchallenged right-wing ideology, corporate propaganda, and reactionary organizing, that has been especially rife and nurtured here for as long as Wisconsin has been a state in the Union.

    Now, with regards to the issues underlying the 2010 election and the political process, and which are truly important to the American people, including all Wisconsin citizens, I cannot encourage you strongly enough (simply click on the link I provide here) to read an important article about perhaps the hottest topic of this moment, and maybe the biggest issue looming over the last thirty years affecting the fortunes and material well-being of American families and future generations.

    Alright, maybe it’s not the very most important issue. But if not, then it’s certainly the second hottest issue affecting our future, and it’s directly related to whatever is number one, that’s for sure. Don’t pass it by – it’s pretty important to us all.

    See http://www.commondreams.org/print/62434

    Comment by clydewinter — November 20, 2010 @ 5:36 am | Reply

  5. For Patrick: One time Feingold had the key vote and refused to vote with his party was on financial reform. The Democrats then had to water the bill down to secure the vote of Republican Scott Brown in order to pass it.
    On another matter, just before the election a letter writer to the MJS said that since Feingold was not a millionaire considering his salary of $170,000 plus, perhaps since he couldn’t manage his own money he shouldn’t be managing ours. The letter writer was apparently unaware that Feingold has not accepted a pay raise since he became a senator and probably knows how to manage money since every year he turns money back that he hasn’t needed to run his office.

    Comment by JoAnn P — November 20, 2010 @ 5:19 pm | Reply

  6. 1) I was out in Boston for Thanksgiving and was surprised to see almost a full page article on Scott Walker and Wisconsin throwing out the Republicans in a couple years. I brought the article home with me. As for Feingold losing the election, its a wake up call for Wisconsin. A huge loss in many ways and I appreciate you dissecting the votes and pointing out what counties actually tipped the scale.

    2) On another note – I think a monthly scorecard should be published just like the truth-o-meter is on page 2 of the Milwaukee Journal of how many businesses/jobs were gained and lost because of the Republican agenda.

    3) As for “Only envious and stupid people hate millionaires for their success.” Maybe its because in the last 10+ years only the upper wage earners (over $100,000) have seen success. I am not a socialist but there needs to be some fairness so people can earn a living wage to support their family. We have enabled the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer by unfair wages and tax breaks.

    Comment by Pat — November 30, 2010 @ 5:51 pm | Reply

  7. Great Points –
    At least Feingold visited Waukesha numerous times, frequently stopping, unannounced at campaign HQ.
    Barrett did not make one stop in Waukesha as we worked our asses off for him.

    Comment by prog1advocate — January 25, 2011 @ 5:59 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: