Tom Foley revealed a lot about himself and what he plans to do as Governor when he said he sought “a Wisconsin moment” for Connecticut.
“I keep talking about ‘when is the Wisconsin moment going to come to Connecticut?’‘’ Foley told the Hartford Courant in an interview, referring to the Republicans’ seizure of that state’s political machinery in 2010 and the resulting transformation of its political culture.
Foley may have revealed more than he intended in making that comparison. It raises two critical points. First, Connecticut is not likely to have a Wisconsin moment. Second, and even more important, Connecticut might not want to have a Wisconsin moment.
Let’s start with the first proposition.
Connecticut is a much more Democratic state than Wisconsin. This has not always been true but it certainly is over the last four Presidential election cycles, as Democratic presidential candidates have won the state of Wisconsin in four consecutive elections by varying degrees. (See chart).
This makes Connecticut, on average, about 11 percent more Democratic than Wisconsin. That truth has two primary effects. First, it makes it harder to win as a Republican. Foley may have gotten very close in 2010, yet it was the core Democratic tilt of the state that saved Dannel Malloy.
Second, part of what made the Wisconsin moment in 2010 is that the legislature went Republican at the same time that Scott Walker won the governorship. That is not likely to happen in Connecticut in 2014. The makeup of the districts in Connecticut, combined with the quality of the Democratic incumbents and the number of safe seats, makes a Republican takeover of the legislature nearly impossible. Wisconsin did not wake up and find Democrats swept out of safe Democratic seats, it just had nearly all the swing seats fall to the right.
This means it would be very hard to implement a Wisconsin moment here. Still, in assessing Foley as a gubernatorial candidate, it’s important to remember what Wisconsin actually means.
Since Walker became governor in Wisconsin, he has refused federal funds for Medicaid expansions that will keep many people from receiving healthcare, denied public workers the right to collectively bargain, cut funds to public education, repealed equal pay for equal work provisions, and massively increased spending on private school vouchers. The state passed an abortion bill that included a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, created trap provisions to close clinics, and forces women to get an unnecessary ultra sound before receiving an abortion. During Walker’s term, Wisconsin has lagged the nation in job creation.
In addition to all of this, Walker has created an incredibly divisive political culture that led to his recall, though not his defeat. Walker even pulled the appointment of a student to serve on the University of Wisconsin board when it was discovered that the student had signed the recall petition. The state has become a constant political battle, which almost never ends.
Is that something we want?
Foley may not want to embrace this entire legacy, but his rhetoric suggests that he bears watching. In his “Wisconsin moment” interview, Foley is quoted saying Malloy is “trying to out-Vermont Vermont. Taking care of the unions, feeding all the people who are benefiting from public spending and sending the bill to the taxpayers.’’ This sounds like Foley plans to follow the Walker playbook.
Foley may want to claim he’s just arguing for greater balance in Connecticut politics, yet the dismissive way in which he refers to unions implies he means more. His comment indicates he doesn’t realize that by “unions” he means state workers who work hard and protect us, care for children without homes, and help keep our air, water, and food safe. This doesn’t mean there is no need for reform of state government, but his approach is to attack workers rather than work collaboratively.
When he talks about “feeding all the people who are benefiting from public spending,” it seems as if he might very well cut Medicaid funding. Certainly state Republicans don’t have a solution to our problems -– something other than crippling cuts -– or they would have been willing to propose a budget in the legislature.
Foley seems to want to walk the entire Walker way. And governors can make a huge difference. In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, decided the Medicaid deal was simply too good to pass up. She worked tirelessly to do what was right for her state in the face of opposition within her own party. It would have been right for Wisconsin, too, but Walker wouldn’t let it happen. On this and so many other things, do we want to be Wisconsin?
Jason Paul of West Hartford is a partner in a campaign consulting company called What’s Next. He is also a student at the University of Connecticut Law School.