by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director
November 19, 2015
Here’s an urgently important book about Wisconsin politics.
It’s called “Ringside Seat: The 1970s to Scott Walker,” by former State Senator and Democratic Majority Leader Tim Cullen. (Full disclosure: I helped Sen. Cullen a little bit with his manuscript.)
It provides a fascinating, first-hand account of what happened in the Senate Democratic Caucus during Scott Walker’s assault on public sector workers in 2011. And it sheds light on how dependent Scott Walker and the current Republican leadership have become on the money from rightwing special-interest groups.
Here’s a telling quote from the book:
“Republicans have a big problem, only worse now because they are in the majority. Their interest groups know they have the votes to deliver whatever the interest group wants. Republican leaders can’t walk away from WMC, the Koch brothers, mining companies, the NRA, school vouchers supporters, on any issue those groups want. It’s interesting that the legislative leaders have centralized the power in themselves in regard to running campaigns and fundraising, but then have lost control of the process to those that have all the money. Their power over their colleagues then comes by appeasing those who give the big money to the campaign. Here’s the irony. Those who wanted to centralize power wound up losing it. Power now is in the hands of a relatively small number of groups with huge chunks of money. The legislative leaders took the power from their members but then lost it to the money!”
Cullen also points out that the contamination of politics by big money is not just a Wisconsin problem; it’s not just a Republican problem; it’s a bipartisan national problem. And it’s a crisis for our democracy:
“The vast amount of unregulated, undisclosed campaign money is changing us toward a plutocracy. Governor Walker joined a number of Republican presidential hopefuls who seemed more than willing to travel anywhere that a billionaire resides to beg for their support. Of course it didn’t work out for Walker. He dropped out of the presidential race early. But money remains key to campaigns. It does not take too many billionaires to finance an entire race. The $100 giver, the $1,000 giver, for that matter the $10,000 giver is appreciated but not like they were before. Today, the coveted action is with the billionaires who can spend hundreds of millions of dollars during campaigns. My concern is not partisan. Supporters of Hillary Clinton hope to raise $2.5 billion for her campaign, and billionaire Democrats will spend lavishly, just as the Koch Brothers do.”
Cullen’s book is valuable, too, for pointing out how out of step Walker’s drop-the-bomb style of governing is from the style of the twelve most recent governors who preceded him. And the author offers some hope that Wisconsinites will eventually repudiate Walker and his malicious style.
Not least, the book is fun to read. It’s an old-fashioned political memoir by someone who literally has seen it all, and who offers the reader lots of valuable insights along the way.
It’d make a perfect holiday present for you, and for the member of your family who is most into Wisconsin politics.
Plus, it’s published by a local Wisconsin outfit, Little Creek Press, and edited by the great Madison writer Doug Moe. To order the book, go to littlecreekpress.com.