The chapter on Wisconsin in the new book, Democratic Renewal: A Call to Action from America's Heartland, begins with this: "Wisconsin was once known for clean, open and progressive government. Those days are gone. This is something state residents know in their hearts."
Wisconsin has been robbed of its unique political culture and any claim of being worthy of the state's proud tradition of honorable government. As cultural change goes, it happened breathtakingly fast, over the course of a single generation. How it happened is chronicled in Democratic Renewal in painstaking detail. Political ills that we used to associate only with states like Illinois or Louisiana or New Jersey are now on prominent display here in Wisconsin.
The introduction of these pathologies has had the effect of homogenizing politics at the state level. Had a book like Democratic Renewal been written 20 or 25 years ago, the chapters on Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin would have been vastly different. Read this book today and you find that Wisconsin's story is virtually indistinguishable from the others.
Wisconsin was once known for clean, open and progressive government. Those days are gone.
Whether or not they can be brought back is up to all of us. Renewing democracy will not be easy and it certainly can't be done quickly. Understanding that up front can sustain us when frustration sets in. So can what Thomas Paine famously said: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again."