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Wednesday, March 4, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 11.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Daily
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Brat or not? Or, How Johnsonville's links to politics make Bratfest questionable
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There are other lines to be drawn when it comes to justifying political boycott.
There are other lines to be drawn when it comes to justifying political boycott.

Undoubtedly, Ian's Pizza emerged from the first month of the Wisconsin labor solidarity protests as the official food of the Capitol occupation. My own crew of close friends and fellow demonstrators adopted the late King and Mane's PBR-battered tilapia taco (requiescat in pisces). Restaurants and food have played a big role in sustaining the protests' momentum since Day 1.

But perhaps my strongest food memory of the protests so far is of the first night MSNBC host Ed Schultz set up a stage in the intersection of Pinckney and East Washington. People were there, in the crowd, handing out free brats. And they were good. We stood there, on national television, cheering and shouting, many of us brat-in-hand.

It's only fair, then, that brats take center stage on Memorial Day weekend, as Bratfest -- the traditional Goliath known as World's Largest -- is beset on three sides by little Davids trying to make the case that a Johnsonville brat is as good as a couple bucks in Governor Walker's pocket: the People's Bratfest, Wurst Times, and Alt Bratfest.

I've been tepid on the subject of business boycotts in the wake of the protests. There's plenty of room in the political process for valid disagreement, and if a candidate runs for office on "jobs, jobs, jobs," then a business whose interests are in line with that emphasis has every justification to support that candidate. Disagreement shouldn't mean banishment.

Though it should be known, I most certainly disagree with Johnsonville's political preference. Johnsonville's founder, Ralph Stayer, has personally given at least $14,000 to Scott Walker's campaigns since 2005 -- and more to other Republicans in Wisconsin and beyond.

But there are other lines to be drawn when it comes to justifying political boycott. The Koch brothers embody one; they are the inside men. Like Roger Ailes in the 1980s, Charles and David Koch are political string-pullers, puppeteers who likely know in advance which candidates are going to stick to "jobs, jobs, jobs," and which are going to start union-busting, gay rights-eliminating, and school-privatizing. It's relatively easy to refuse to give money to the concerns owned by the Kochs and their subsidiaries.

Active antagonism and ridicule is another; those who insult their opponents (or their intelligence) can be assured that they'll lose some business from the true believer set. And here we return to Johnsonville and CEO Ralph Stayer, who should have known by early March that his company would face some finger-pointing from Wisconsin liberals. Stayer, who -- despite that public criticism -- chose to give a crisp $15,000 to the recall defense of Fond du Lac Republican senator and known adulterer Randy Hopper.

There's a darkly humorous coincidence to a sausage company giving money to a man who can't keep his in his pants, but at the end of the joke there's still a sad punchline. Randy Hopper is absolutely the last Republican worthy of defense in these recalls, and Johnsonville's CEO decided to become Hopper's largest single recall defense campaign donor.

The three protest-fests are kind of the three wise monkeys of Memorial Day weekend. Alt Bratfest covers its mouth, refusing to eat evil and instead offering up the tastiest protest. Wurst Times won't hear evil, instead cranking tunes on three stages at the High Noon Saloon and Brink Lounge building. And the People's Bratfest -- well, this is probably the least visible of the three, and there's your third monkey.

I'll be skipping the Johnsonville-sponsored fest this year, but not because they supported Walker. Plenty of companies supported both Walker and Barrett in 2010; using dollars as a justification for boycott gets pretty messy. No, I'll pass on Bratfest because it seems to me that Johnsonville and its CEO clearly think we're stupid or, at the very least, not paying attention; that Stayer deems political and moral train wreck Randy Hopper as worthy of financial support is the pinnacle of offensive obliviousness.

That's all I need to know to make my choice, and I'll support local charities as best I can without having to swallow Johnsonville's line of bull.

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