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Red vs. blue: The great Midwestern backlash

New GOP governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan are suddenly unpopular. The economy gives, and it takes away

Salon- By Andrew Leonard

Friday, Mar 18, 2011 08:30 ET

In 2008, Barack Obama carried Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, three crucial Midwestern states in which he had campaigned unceasingly. Two years later, the midterm tidal wave handed monolithic control of the state legislature and governor’s mansion in each state over to Republicans. The new governors, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich and Michigan’s Rick Snyder, immediately and forcefully moved to exploit their power in pursuit of bold Republican agendas.

We’re not just talking good old-fashioned budget-balancing mandated cuts in public services. The grandiose ambitions of Wisconsin’s Walker have been well chronicled. But Michigan’s Rick Snyder has been equally aggressive. Snyder is proposing to cut corporate taxes in Michigan by 60 percent while simultaneously hiking the percentage of state revenues raised from individual income taxes from 31 percent to 41 percent. He just signed a “financial emergency law” giving him the right to appoint emergency managers — with the legal power to arbitrarily cancel union contracts — to replace locally elected government authorities. In Ohio, Kasich plans to gut public education spending, end collective bargaining by public sector workers, sell prisons to the private sector and push through a voucher plan for charter schools.

So now comes the backlash. Polls in each state show support for the trio of Republican governors plummeting. In Wisconsin, Democrats are counting the days until Walker is eligible for a recall, and in the meantime, pushing hard to retake control of the state Senate. On Wednesday, 5,000 protesters marched through the Michigan state Capitol — the largest protest yet in that state — and Gov. Snyder was booed by workers at a Ford Focus plant. Grass-roots resistance to Ohio’s Kasich doesn’t yet appear to have reached quite the same fever pitch, but if he ran for reelection today against his 2010 opponent, he’d get clobbered.

As quickly as the politics of the Midwest reversed themselves, once, they are doing so again, and political observers can be excused for suffering a severe case of whiplash. We’re used to seeing the pendulum swing in the United States, but the action over the last two years — from Obama’s breakthrough to the Tea Party rebellion to Cairo-in-Wisconsin — is more reminiscent of a strobe light’s jitteriness. How to explain it?

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