In 2010, Wisconsin voters put the governorship, a Senate seat and both chambers of the state legislature into Republican hands, earning distinction as the “high-water mark,” as the Wall Street Journal called it, of electoral discontent with President Obama and the Democratic Congress. But newly elected Governor Scott Walker’s move to strip public workers of their collective bargaining rights provoked a massive backlash—state legislators fled the state to prevent a vote on the bill, while tens of thousands of protesters descended on the state Capitol—and then a recall campaign. In 2012, the tide may be turning, or at least so hopes Representative Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay person to be elected to Congress, who is now running to be a senator from Wisconsin. She recently stopped by The Nation’s offices to talk about healthcare reform, Citizens United and Wisconsin’s resurgent progressivism.
The Nation: Congresswoman Baldwin, you’ve said that you’re not running away from your—very liberal—record. You think that Wisconsin is in the midst of a resurgence of progressivism—just two years after turning so many state and federal offices over to Republicans.
Tammy Baldwin: In Wisconsin we relate to progressivism. You see it elsewhere, but it means something different in Wisconsin, because Republican Bob La Follet Sr. was from Wisconsin. And, in fact, he occupied the Senate seat that I’m running for.
His was a time strikingly similar to ours right now. Back then, it was the monopolies—the rail monopolies, the utilities, etc.—were basically controlling government, and to their own ends. And people didn’t have a voice.
And so he left the Republican Party and formed the Progressive party. Because it happened in Wisconsin, we use that word a lot more often to describe what we believe in. Kids who’ve gone through the school system in Wisconsin know what that means, what that movement was about.