Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wisconsin's parties

I'm kind of kicking myself that I haven't been devoting my sabbatical time to researching partisanship in the Wisconsin statehouse. As it happens, this is on my research agenda, just not for this year. I've been interested in the state for some time since -- like California, Colorado, Nebraska, and others -- Wisconsin is a state where Progressive anti-party traditions run strong yet the parties have developed ways of adapting to rules designed to weaken them. Wisconsin was home to the first open primaries and campaign finance restrictions, yet it has one of the most polarized legislatures in the country.

I don't have a full grasp on the sources of legislative partisanship in Wisconsin yet. I conducted some interviews with legislators and lobbyists there a few years ago, but I really have a lot to follow up on. The stories I was hearing from respondents suggested that the source of partisanship could primarily found within the chamber. There is a great deal of party discipline actually enforced by party leaders within the legislature. Now, that perspective could be an artifact of the location of my interviews -- Madison. But it's being backed up today. Bringing an entire party legislative caucus out of the state and keeping them there away from their families requires party discipline. Voting for a dramatic change in labor policy when public opinion screams not to requires party discipline.

In the next year or so, I hope to investigate this further. If, say, a Democratic Wisconsin senator were having second thoughts about continuing to hide in Illinois, what's keeping him there? Is it the fear of disappointing his colleagues? The fear of a recall by disappointed Democrats in his district? The fear of labor unions who would never back his campaign again? (Similarly, what fate will befall Sen. Dale Schultz, the one Republican who opposed the effort to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights?) I'm sure all of these things play a role, but I'm just kind of curious why party discipline is so much greater there than in almost any other state.

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