Terry Musser is the latest Republican moderate to leave the Legislature. He told reporters he's going back to the farm. "Cows, I have learned, are a lot more reasonable than many people in this building," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Having been born and raised on a dairy farm, I can attest to the truth in what Musser is saying. Every barn I've ever been in is more peaceful – not to mention a damn sight cleaner – than the State Capitol. But there's more to Musser's departure than that. He also acknowledged that the beating he took from his fellow Republicans for his support of a bill requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims was "the straw that broke the camel's back."
Musser's decision to hang it up is the latest phase of the cleansing of moderate elements from the state Republican Party. It started in earnest back in 1994, when middle-of-the-roader Barb Lorman was taken out by self-proclaimed "hard-line conservative" Scott Fitzgerald in a GOP Senate primary. Other moderate Republican women suffered a similar fate in more recent years. Peggy Rosenzweig was defeated in a primary by the way-right Tom Reynolds. Mary Panzer moved steadily to the right during her long tenure in the Legislature, but it still didn't spare her the indignity of being challenged from the right – and beaten – by Glenn Grothman. Joanne Huelsman stepped aside rather than taking on the much more conservative Ted Kanavas after redistricting put them in the same Senate district in 2002.
A lengthy list of other Republican moderates – from Brian Rude and Joan Wade Spillner to DuWayne Johnsrud and Mickey Lehman – decided they had had their fill and retired. Still others – like Steve Freese, Ron Brown and Gabe Loeffelholz – were knocked off by Democratic challengers.
Regardless of why or how they came to be ex-legislators, their departures add up to one thing: the extermination of moderate Republicans in Wisconsin politics. I wrote last October about how Bill Kraus lost his party. He can only take comfort in knowing he's not alone. His kind is going the way of the polar bear.