Turkeys Voting For Thanksgiving

by Phil Anderson


“Working people voting for Republicans is like turkeys voting for Thanksgiving.”
Bumper sticker.

People often vote against their own best interests. This is a well established fact of our crazy political landscape. The voters in Northwest Wisconsin are no exception. If historical patterns hold Wisconsin turkeys will be voting to get stuffed and roasted.
The Wisconsin primary election is August 14. Margaret Engebretson and Brian Ewert are on the Democratic primary ballot for the U.S House of Representatives. Both offer a clear choice between progressive policies that support local people and and the Republican agenda that supports billionaires and large corporations. One of them will run against the incumbent Republican Sean Duffy.

We think of Wisconsin as a progressive state. Wisconsin was the home of Robert La Follette and the progressive movement of the early 1900s. Wisconsin once led the nation in establishing workers compensation, minimum wages, women’s suffrage, primary elections, and open, “clean” government. But much of Wisconsin is deeply conservative, especially in the rural and small town areas.

The 7th congressional district covers 20 counties across a large part of northern Wisconsin.  The district is 96% white and almost 60% rural. The median income is over $15,000 below the state average. The largest industry is agriculture. Many of the paper mill, mining, manufacturing, and railroad jobs have downsized or disappeared. This has been fertile ground for exploiting an “us” vs “them” mentality that pits public employees, teachers, unions, educated “elites”, immigrants, liberals, and government against “real” Americans. Republicans like Scot Walker, Sean Duffy, and Donald Trump have manipulated these resentments to gain power and push an extreme anti-government agenda.

Democrat Dave Obey represented Wisconsin’s 7th district for 40 years. But apparently this was an aberration. His long tenure may reflect the power of incumbency more than the views of the voting public. Prior to Obey the district was represented by a Republican. When Obey retired in 2010, Republican Sean Duffy was elected. Since then, Duffy has repeatedly defeated all Democratic challengers by large percentages. In 2016, the 7th district voted for Trump by a margin of 58-37%. Defeating Sean Duffy is going to be a challenge.

Margaret Engebretson is a unique candidate in many ways. She has quite a varied work and educational background. She joined the Navy after high school, served 3 years active duty, and 21 years in the reserves. She worked for a railroad as a union locomotive electrician and dispatcher. She has worked as a deputy sheriff for corrections in a county jail. She has a law degree and currently works doing Guardian ad Litem cases. Engebretson’s positions on issues are progressive but practical. Healthcare for everyone is a priority issue along with creating an economy that works for everyone. This requires support for local communities and local public infrastructure. She believes we can “meet economic needs while protecting the environment.”  It seems to me this varied blue collar background fits well with the people of northern Wisconsin. No one can say she is “elitist” or afraid to work!  

Brian Ewert is another solidly practical progressive candidate. He has been a medical doctor for 25 years and was the president of Marshfield Clinic. Naturally healthcare is a big issue for him. He believes healthcare is a right, we need a universal national program, and our “sick” fragmented healthcare system is draining our economy. He believes “a robust economy is built on the foundation of universal healthcare, affordable higher education, and roads, bridges, and broadband.” He supports protecting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the environment. He says we “must work towards bipartisan solutions. We live in communities, not political parties.”

Representative Duffy’s voting record clearly shows his priorities on issues. He supports big business interests. He voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He has supported budget cuts for domestic programs like education, veterans benefits, environmental protection, job training, and health. He supported tax breaks for business and the very wealthy. Duffy seems to have no concern for the real needs of people in northern Wisconsin.

Government activities, programs, and services are essential for people, communities, and the economy. Without the intervention of government to provide (or subsidize) essential infrastructure like schools, roads, electricity, or telecommunications rural life would be very different. In addition government is the financial foundation of most rural communities. Without the county, state, and federal jobs many communities in rural areas would be backwaters of poverty. Middle class, family supporting jobs with the forests service, DNR, school districts, and county agencies are the backbone of local economies.

So when the people of rural, small town areas like Northern Wisconsin vote to “get government off our backs” they are cutting their own throats. Just think of the absurdity of farmers – who depend on federal farm subsidies, milk price supports, crop insurance, water projects or grazing on public lands – voting to cut “big government.” When they vote for politicians who cut education, job training, healthcare, Social Security, Medicare, and other social services they only hurt themselves and their local communities.

Either Margaret Engebretson or Brian Ewert will have an uphill battle to get elected in November. But there is hope. In Wisconsin, and across the country, liberal Democrats are winning in solidly Republican districts. A “blue wave” backlash against the outrageous behavior and policies of Donald Trump is happening. Even conservative Republicans are realizing we are going the wrong direction.

For this to happen many people have to get over their dislike of politics. Politics is how we make decisions that effect everyone’s life. It will happen to you whether you like it or not. You have to PARTICIPATE. You need to VOTE!  Some people have to get over their ideological purity. No candidate is perfect. No party has all the answers. All of us need to get beyond the partisan sound bites and look at what is really important for people and our local communities.

Working people need to vote for candidates who support working people.