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During the 20th century, Wisconsin was the embodiment of what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called a “laboratory of democracy” — an experiment in social and economic innovation, and a prospective blueprint for other states.
A bastion of progressive values, Wisconsin created the first workers’ compensation program, a progressive state income tax, stricter child labor laws, and the first unemployment insurance program. Much of FDR’s New Deal was even authored by Wisconsin natives.
But in recent years, the state has undergone a major political shift. Republicans secured the local government in 2010, and in the 2016 presidential election, the state went Republican for the first time in three decades.
How did Wisconsin go from electing Barack Obama in 2012 to Donald Trump in 2016? Dan Kaufman, author of “The Fall of Wisconsin,” assesses the state’s changing tides:
Wisconsin has gone from being a widely admired “laboratory of democracy” to a testing ground for national conservatives bent on remaking American politics. Its century-old progressive legacy has been dismantled in virtually every area: labor rights, environmental protection, voting rights, government transparency.
As Gov. Scott Walker campaigns for a third term, a new poll shows that Wisconsin residents are largely split on their support of these changes. Fifty-three percent says Wisconsin is headed in the right direction while 42 percent says it is off on the wrong track.
We’ll discuss how the changing political landscape has impacted life in Wisconsin — and vice versa — and what’s next for the once-progressive state.
- Dan Kaufman Author, "The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics"; journalist; @dankaufman70
- Matthew Rothschild Executive director, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign; longtime former editor, "The Progressive"; @mattrothschild
- Steve Prestegard Wisconsin political blogger, steveprestegard.com; @StevePrestegard
Read an excerpt from The Fall of Wisconsin by Dan Kaufman
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