All roads to the White House in 2020 likely run through Wisconsin. Democrats are desperate to reconstitute their “blue wall” and win back the presidency. They even selected Milwaukee as the site of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. Unlike the Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign, Democrats won’t be skipping the Badger State.
But the Democratic Party is moving as far left as possible in what is perhaps the most critical swing state. If they succeed in 2020, the grip that the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“AOC”) and socialist wing has on the party will be strengthened.
A new Emerson College poll of the 2020 Democratic primary shows self-described socialist Senator Bernie Sanders leading his rivals in Wisconsin with 39 percent. Sanders, who won the 2016 primary in the Badger State, is bolstered by the support of 61 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds. Senator Elizabeth Warren is in third place with 14 percent, highlighting the overall strength of the far left of the party.
Disturbingly, the poll also shows a majority of Wisconsin Democrats actually want policies that move the Democratic Party even further to the left. There’s no question that Wisconsin’s progressives are motivated and emboldened.
This enthusiasm from the Sanders and AOC wing of the party may be pushing newly-elected Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, to the fringe. Evers, who ousted incumbent Republican Scott Walker by less than 30,000 votes in 2018, ran a bland campaign focused on generic issues like K-12 education, health care, and fixing the roads. He declared, “I’m planning on raising no taxes” and opposed the idea of “pitting Wisconsinites against each other.”
But things changed once he took office. Seeking a confrontation with President Trump, Mr. Evers promptly withdrew the Wisconsin National Guard from a mission at the Arizona border. He joined other governors in wanting to implement the Paris climate accord.
Evers’ biggest priority is to put more Wisconsinites on government-run health care by expanding Medicaid. Yet Wisconsin, due to innovative reforms by Mr. Walker, already has an uninsured rate of 5.8 percent, ranking ninth nationally, and does not have a coverage gap.
Consequently, a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison economics professor Noah Williams and Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty research director Dr. Will Flanders shows how expanding Medicaid could result in the crowding-out of private insurers and the sky-rocketing of private-sector health care costs to nearly $600 million per year, even after the savings to the state.
In his budget proposal, rather than looking for compromises with the Republican-controlled legislature, Evers wants to increase government spending by nearly 10 percent. This includes a massive $1.4 billion increase in spending on K-12 schools, even though research continues to show that more spending on Wisconsin’s traditional public schools has, if any, a very weak link to higher student achievement.
To pay for the spending increases, Evers’ budget hikes taxes by more than $1 billion, which would threaten Wisconsin’s low unemployment rate of 3.0 percent. Evers wants to tax gasoline, vaping, capital gains, and not-yet-legal marijuana, and increase fees on heavy trucks and other vehicles.
Evers bows to the unions by rolling back right-to-work – an essential economic tool and fundamental liberty – and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which could result in tens of thousands of job losses.
He goes after businesses, putting the Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit, used by more than 10,000 Wisconsin businesses, on the chopping block. This could raise taxes on Wisconsin’s largest employment sectors by hundreds of millions of dollars. Kurt Bauer, president of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business association, labeled it an “irresponsible budget that will be destructive to our state’s economy.”
In a sop to the teachers’ unions, Evers wants to implement a complete freeze on independent public charter schools and vouchers for low-income children to attend private schools. This move will shut the doors of schools that have better academics and are safer.
As explained by Zachary Verriden, executive director of HOPE Christian Schools, a private school network with 100 percent low-income students and which boasts seven straight years of 100 percent college acceptance of its high school seniors, “There is no question that the freeze on school vouchers would prevent us from providing a high-quality education and limit our abilities to grow.”
Republican leadership in the Wisconsin state legislature immediately denounced Evers’ tax-and-spend budget. But the lessons are clear. Even in the polite Midwest, the energy among Democrats is not for moderation, compromise or solving problems – the very things Evers promised. It’s for expanding and empowering government, enacting job-killing tax increases, and hurting the private sector.
These are the stakes for President Trump and Republicans in 2020.