Daily Bread for 4.18.23: A Survey on Wisconsin’s Civic and Political Life (3 of 3)

Good morning.

Tuesday in Whitewater will be sunny with a high of 53. Sunrise is 6:07 AM and sunset 7:40 PM for 13h 33m 54s of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 3.8% of its visible disk illuminated.

The Whitewater Common Council meets at 6:30 PM.

On this day in 1775, the British advancement by sea against America begins; Paul Revere and other riders warn the countryside of the troop movements.

Monday’s post embedded UW-Madison’s 2022 Civic Fracture & Renewal Survey. Tuesday’s post highlighted the principal findings of the survey. For today, those findings in light of local conditions. 

There are aspects of Whitewater’s local scene through which broad political categories must be understood: (1) there are differences between politics in the city and in the other towns of the school district, (2) a significant portion of Whitewater’s recent politics concerns management of the school district rather than left-right ideology, and (3) in any event the Whitewater area has socio-economic challenges that are not susceptible of quick ideological or governmental remedies.  

City & Towns. Whitewater proper is a city of 14,889 and is part of the larger Whitewater Unified School District of 20,444. A key change over the last twenty years is that the city and the remaining small towns of the district increasingly share a different politics. 

A moderate-conservative candidate could once do as well in the city as in the other towns of the school district. (The late Jim Stewart comes to mind as a candidate like that.) Over time, this kind of conservative has been supplanted (nationally and locally) with a more assertive, populist type. See The Kinds of Conservatives in Whitewater

This difference is now so pronounced that opponents of school district referendum spending accept the premise that the towns of the district share their concerns but a majority of city voters do not (“what will you do to address the rural community’s discontent with board spending habits”). Emphasis added. There were once fewer political and ideological differences between city and towns. Those differences are now, correctly, assumed. 

But that divide is much more than over school funding. It’s probable that some of the concerns that the 2022 Civic Fracture & Renewal Survey identifies as civic fractures (e.g., “60% of Republicans who strongly approve of Donald Trump agree “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it,” versus 28% among Republicans who don’t approve”) are more prevalent in the towns than the district. The smaller number of conservative populists in the city are aligned more closely with residents of nearby towns than of the city in which they live. 

Protasiewicz carried the city handily (and held her own in the rest of the district). See Wisconsin & Whitewater Election ResultsIn this respect, there is a local electoral limit to the populists’ cultural concerns (including concerns that might lead some of them to believe that they might need to use force). Nationally, populists are majorities in other communities, but not here. Listening to talk radio and watching cable might inspire them, but their inspiration runs up against an electoral wall they cannot climb. Simply parroting what they see on populist websites isn’t a recipe for success. The populists may well keep trying, as Conservative Populism Moves in One Direction Only and Populism Doesn’t Apologize, but in Whitewater Extreme Populism Presents as Trolling.

A Particular Concern. Whitewater didn’t have a large school board candidate roster in the spring because of populist agitation over an LGBTQ+ movie night at the city library, or any other populist cultural concerns. She had a large candidate field for her school board because of concerns about the performance and management of her school district:

Again, and again, even if during the campaign spoken sotto voce or in euphemisms, candidates and residents expressed concern about the management of the district. Why it so hard to say plainly? After all, I just did.

There were unpersuasive attempts to tie local problems to diversity, equity, and inclusion, but that’s not Whitewater’s problem. Districts across the state and country, of whatever ideology, are outperforming Whitewater. A hundred PowerPoint slides won’t do the trick; complaints about DEI won’t either. 

The Extent of Injury. Whitewater’s problems are socio-economic, and there’s no easy fix for those problems. Once they have progressed that far, an effective remedy requires more than one election, one candidate, one local public institution. There are necessary government actions, but government actions alone are insufficient. This libertarian has always felt that there would never be a time when government could address all Whitewater’s concerns, but anyone, of any ideology, would be delusional to believe a government-alone solution would work now. See The Limits of Local Politics and What Ails, What Heals.

Whitewater can — and I believe will — overcome her challenges. The 2022 Civic Fracture & Renewal Survey points to problems many communities face, but our circumstances are similar to other communities only in part. Solutions for us will require particular plans, suited for this community. 

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