Capitol Punishments: Let’s shoot some fish

It’s been an abundant week of absurdity, even for Wisconsin politics.
Illustration: Ghosts and ghouls are shown swarming about the Wisconsin Capitol. Illustration by Maggie Denman.
Illustration: Ghosts and ghouls are shown swarming about the Wisconsin Capitol. Illustration by Maggie Denman.

It’s been an abundant week of absurdity, even for Wisconsin politics.

Each week in Wisconsin politics brings an abundance of bad policies, bad takes, and bad actors. In our recurring feature, Capitol Punishments, we bring you the week’s highlights (or low-lights) from the state Legislature and beyond.

The biggest challenge with this week’s column was choosing which barrel of fish was worth shooting into. 

First, there’s the latest batch of nuttiness out of my old stomping ground, Racine County, where local conspiracy theorist Harry Wait decided to prove that a crime could be theoretically committed—by committing that crime himself. Then Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, who has been barnstorming about non-existent election fraud problems, decided he didn’t need to enforce election law in this case. 


The kicker is, Wait didn’t actually prove anything. You can request an absentee ballot on someone’s behalf, but you need to have their personal information, know that they do not plan on voting, and that they do not get notifications from MyVote. I’ve gotten emails confirming when my ballot has been processed and my voting record updated, which would send up a red flag real quick if I didn’t vote. And the idea that someone could pull this off on a scale large enough to alter the 2020 election results is laughable.

More broadly, the fact that people can rob banks doesn’t mean we need to eradicate the whole banking system. There are checks and balances in place and people have been caught trying to commit voter fraud, but that number is vanishingly small. Certainly not enough to change the outcome in 2020. 

In another barrel is a Washington Post article playing into the framing that Mandela Barnes has to be careful or else Wisconsinites will think he’s “too liberal.” The piece ran mere days after all of the other major contenders in the Democratic Senate primary resigned and shifted to support Barnes. 

What does Barnes have to backpedal from? Meeting up with Rep. Ilhan Omar at a recycling facility? Supporting abolishing ICE, an agency that is less than two decades old and allowed a doctor to perform hysterectomies on women without their consent for years? Throwing out the idea that, since being “tough on crime” created more problems than it solved, we could get a better return investing in communities than our oversized and continually growing police budgets? Saying the Native American genocide and slavery were bad?

And even if you’re uncomfortable with some of those ideas, how could that possibly compare to Sen. Ron Johnson? Johnson’s single legislative accomplishment this last term was giving himself and his wealthiest donors a tax cut and he still wants to raise taxes on the rest of us. Other than that, he’s been busy spreading COVID-19 conspiracy theories, and trying to pass along a slate of fraudulent electors to Vice President Mike Pence, overturning the will of Wisconsin voters. 

One of the smartest things the right has done is create and perpetuate the “liberal media” trope, which has prompted legitimate journalists and publications to bend over backwards, trying to appease an audience that is never going to listen anyway. 

It has also stifled real conversations about any and all proposals by Democrats, even when they are grounded in universal values of fiscal responsibility, equal opportunity, and the desire for thriving communities of all sizes. I refuse to believe that those values are held only in Madison and Milwaukee.

And finally, in barrel number three, this laughable thread from Will Conway, one of the organizers of the “Forward Party.” Conway insists it’s no big deal that the Forward Party has no policy platform, and argues that criticizing that is “like criticizing Spotify for not releasing their own music.” 

When another user pointed out that that’s the whole point of a political party, Conway’s response was, “These days, is the primary difference between [R]epublicans and [D]emocrats policies? Do you despise [T]rump because of his policy positions? Or is something else going on there?” 

So, they’re catering to people whose only issue with Trump was his tweets and inflammatory statements, who in 2022 somehow cannot tell the difference between the two parties. Sounds like people who are financially insulated from the rise and fall of the economy and not at risk of losing their rights. Must be nice.

An ode to the best and worst of Madison summers.

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