Is Wisconsin a failing state where government no longer functions?

    Art from the ceiling in the governor's rooms reads
    Art from the ceiling in the governor's rooms reads "The will of the people is the law of the land." (Photo: Melanie Conklin)

    Distance can offer a perspective that synthesizes familiar, intractable problems into a blunt gut punch.

    An opinion column Tuesday in The Guardian — a highly regarded outlet based in Britain but with a United States bureau —  took a look at Wisconsin politics from a 30,000 foot level. And the author, Nathan Robinson, put forward this conclusion summed up in the title: Wisconsin is starting to resemble a failed state. 

    A failed state, he asserts, “can no longer claim legitimacy or perform a government’s core function of protecting the people’s basic security.” He rejects the perspective promoted by Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, many Republican state legislators and others that letting a deadly virus spread unchecked equals freedom.

    The evidence Robinson puts forward focuses on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, starting with the April 7 election —  because ensuring citizens can vote without risking their lives is the government’s job.

    “Because voting in person is clearly risky during a pandemic, several states delayed their primaries to make sure everyone was able to mail in a ballot instead of having to go to a polling place.

    “Not so Wisconsin. The state’s Democratic governor signed an executive order for an all mail-in election but was thwarted by the Republican legislature. Then the governor issued an order postponing the election. Republicans challenged it, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court sided with them. The primary went forward, but was a disaster…”

    He labels the Court tossing out the Safer at Home order as even worse. Noting that the court, in this and other situations, has taken a stance decidedly counter to public opinion. Which is not always wrong, but in this case and the undemocratic Electoral College and gerrymandering, he opines, is not only wrong, it’s destructive to state institutions and governance.

    The result he decries: “Wisconsin’s Republicans have succeeded in capturing power in the state even without having to capture popular approval … In a supposedly democratic country, this should be an outrage. How can a government claim legitimacy if it does not require the people’s support?”

    Robinson answers his own question in conclusion: “What respect do people owe a government that cannot protect them and cannot claim democratic legitimacy? Very little. The more that Wisconsin Republicans act to impose their will unilaterally without regard to the safety or will of the people, the less we should treat Wisconsin as a functional government.”

    Melanie Conklin
    Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.