I cast my vote in Tuesday's primary in Wisconsin this morning. It only took a minute. I was passing by the Village Hall, accompanied by my three-year-old on her tricycle, when I saw so many of my better dressed and older neighbors converging there, I remembered: today is the big Republican primary day! (There is virtually no action in the Democratic and third-party primary races this year).
We've been receiving robocalls from some of the most egregious rightwing pols in our state, including Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, for weeks, flogging the party's favorite Republican candidate for Governor, Scott Walker. Walker is the county executive of Milwaukee, and a charming, attractive extremist who wields a big budget axe.
His opponent, Mark Neumann, is something of a wild card, even in a party that has been experiencing some heavy turbulence lately.
Both men have received the endorsement of Wisconsin prolife groups so extreme they want to outlaw the pill and IUD as forms of abortion.
The main difference is cosmetic, not ideological. Walker, who comes across as a reasonable guy, has a much better chance of winning against Milwaukee mayor and former Congressman Tom Barrett, who was a pretty progressive member of Congress before he was redistricted out of that job and ran for mayor. As governor, Barrett is likely to be a much stronger leader on job creation and education than the current governor, Democrat Jim Doyle. And he is just as strongly pro-choice.
So, I thought to myself, as my three-year-old pedaled along slowly, commenting on every blade of grass, stalling on her way to starting her day at preschool: heck, I'm a citizen, it's an open primary . . .
I went in and voted. For Neumann.
Some will see this as cheating. Others will think it's just plain wrong.
But Wisconsin has an open primary. If the parties want to close the process, they can change the rules.
Furthermore, I'm willing to wager I'm one of only a handful of people voting today who actually read Mark Neumann's book, Wisconsin Taxpayers First.
In it, I read about Neumann's theory that federal stimulus spending is unconstitutional, and his plan for massive budget cuts across our recession-strapped state. I read the part that Scott Walker has been making fun of, about a property tax holiday for 2011, that really just means paying your taxes in installments throughout the next year.
But I also read about Neumann's time in Congress. I remember it because I was in Washington at the time, and covered his race against Senator Russ Feingold, as well as the whole wave of Newt Gingrich freshmen radicals, including Neumann--who was as radical as the rest of them.
Neumann, like a lot of that class of take-no-prisoners Republican Congressmen, wanted to balance the budget by basically eliminating every department from Education to Interior. He is a rightwing Christian with a zealous demeanor that some find offputting. In fact, he was relieved of his committee assignment on Appropriations by his own leadership as punishment for voting against the entire military budget because it didn't include his war-powers amendment. His point was that the President did not have the right to go to war in Bosnia without Congressional approval.
It infuriated the Republican leadership, but I kinda liked it.
Walker is more in the mainstream of rightwing politicians. He has been running ads comparing Neumann to Nancy Pelosi. He peddles trickle-down economics, including a tax cut for the top 1% of taxpayers, and deep cuts to public services that should make anyone who can't afford to buy their own police protection, transportation, and schools recoil. He also recently applauded the idea of criminally prosecuting teachers who teach comprehensive sex ed.
I admit to voting for the weaker general election candidate. As I said, it's not against the rules. Well, maybe the Golden Rule: if Republicans came out in droves to support a losing candidate in a Democratic primary, it would irritate me.
But Wisconsinites are famous for voting split tickets and changing political affiliation.
Voting different ways in the primary and general election is not like recruiting homeless people to run and split the Democratic/Green vote in Arizona, as one Republican operative is doing. That is both cynical and exploitative.
I am only mildly cynical. In a year when Citizens United has opened the floodgates to shadow groups pouring ad money into races to try to buy seats in Congress, with no accountability, exercising your right to vote as you please in an open primary isn't even spitting in a bucket.
The only thing that will really make a difference is if the progressive candidates--including Tom Barrett--and voters start to bring the same energy the Tea Partiers are bringing to this year's elections.
It's dreary to contemplate the ground we haven't gained with Democrats dominating the Federal government and statehouses, including the one in Wisconsin.
People like me who may give a rightwing candidate a bump at the polls in liberal Madison would really like to give those Democrats a big kick in the pants to make good on the promise of the last election season.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Back to School During Budget Cuts."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter