Steven Greenhut | Could Wisconsin Happen in California?

Steven Greenhut | Could Wisconsin Happen in California?

If a real battle over union reform can take place in Wisconsin and spread to other liberal rust-belt, union-dominated states, then it could perhaps happen in California – although it might take some time, given the political dynamic here and the “marches to its own drummer” ethic of the Golden State.

Wisconsin, and the capital, Madison, in particular, is a surprisingly liberal place, with a Progressive tradition that echoes California’s past. As the Wisconsin Historical Society explains, “The Wisconsin Idea, as it came to be called, was that efficient government required control of institutions by the voters rather than special interests, and that the involvement of specialists in law, economics, and social and natural sciences would produce the most effective government.”

Progressivism is bunk – based on the idea that expert elites should run things, but the similarities between the states’ political history are striking. Indeed, California’s Progressive history led to this state’s wide use of the initiative, recall and referendum – forms of direct democracy designed to counter the power of special interests. Unlike Wisconsin’s voters, Californians aren’t about to put conservative Republicans in power anytime soon, but our state’s voters have a strong conservative tilt when it comes to deciding initiatives.


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