WEST BEND, Wis. – A specter is haunting Wisconsin … the specter of unions. All the right-wing powers from around the state have entered into a political alliance to exorcise this specter: Republican politicians and corporate donors, tea party activists and right-wing radio show hosts, conservative political columnists and bloggers.
Not long after the Republicans muscled through the bill to remove most collective bargaining rights from union workers, I signed several pledges online agreeing that I would sign any petition that came my way to recall the eight eligible Republican state senators who voted for the bill. Among the eight up for recall petitions is my very own state senator, Glenn Grothman.
When I was a young boy, about age 12, I met Senator Grothman at a party attended by my parents. Neither of my parents were (or are now) supporters of Grothman, but as kindness comes they greeted him and shook his hand. I was also one of those who shook his hand, though by the end of the evening I doubt he remembered my name, much less my parent’s generosity. My negative impression was reinforced recently, one night before the budget “repair” bill’s passage, when I was given a surprise front row seat to my state senator on the MSNBC news program Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. From the beginning, I could tell Senator Grothman knew and cared little about the people he represented.
While I was listening to Glenn stammering on about how the budget “repair” bill would actually strengthen unions by giving them “more collective bargaining rights than any federal employee” and insulting the protesters by calling them “slobs” and accusing them of “stinking up the place” (go figure Glenn, as most of them probably hadn’t had a shower as they had no access to such facilities), I couldn’t believe that this man was entrusted to make important decisions for my district. This “Glenn Grothman talk” further compelled me to take action.
On March 12, I called several friends of mine who I knew would be more than happy to sign away Glenn’s position as state senator. As friendships go, mine are pretty much on or with the left on political issues.
The next day, March 13, the time of the petition signing had come. As nervous as I was, I knew in my mind that I was doing something very positive. In the end, my friend Matt was the only one available to come with me that day, but it was nice to know that my other friends would eventually sign the petition as their time permitted. My father, a former Vietnam War protester turned history professor for over 35 years, also attended our little get-together. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” my 70-year-old dad said.
Indeed my dad’s words were accurate: Senator Grothman has been in political office for a very long time. It was in 1993, just a few years after my birth in 1989, that Grothman assumed the position of state assemblyman for Wisconsin’s 58th Assembly District. Finally in 2005 he handed over the reins to fellow Republican Pat Strachota. Grothman landed the position of state senator that year and has stayed in his seat, virtually unopposed in every election, ever since. For a man who has spoken at tea party rallies – the same people who yelled “No incumbents!” during the 2010 midterm elections – Grothman seems to be doing pretty well as a politician who has been in office for so long.
When we arrived at the office to sign the recall petition, we were greeted by an older, kindly man wearing a T-shirt and sporting a terrific white beard. He was Waring Fincke, a local political activist and columnist for my local newspaper. In addition to being the spitting image of my favorite philosopher, Karl Marx, he was respectable, committed and equipped with a voice unmatched by most. All of us signed our names and addresses on the proper forms. Even my dad’s arthritis in his hand was overcome thanks to the help of a volunteer.
I knew at that moment that this was what real democracy was all about, the people’s ability to make choices, like selecting and even recalling a politician. I left the recall office with a sense of pride, something I hadn’t felt in a long time. As the fight continues in Wisconsin, I can only say that the power of the political machine is matched only by the power of the people. I’m proud to say that I helped send a message to not only State Senator Grothman, but the Republican establishment in Wisconsin too.
Photo: During the protests in Madison, Wis., the drive to recall Republican state senators gets under way. (People’s World)