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Friday, February 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 3.0° F  Fair
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Wisconsin Senate recall results show the need for bipartisanship
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Walker doesn't seem interested in the opinions and needs of those on the other side of the debate.
Walker doesn't seem interested in the opinions and needs of those on the other side of the debate.

Another round of recall elections has come and gone, and the results are a mixed bag for people on either side of the big political debate in Wisconsin. All three Democrats who faced the challenge held onto their seats with comfortable margins, and two Republicans found themselves without a job, narrowing that party's majority in the state Senate to a razor-thin 17 to 16.

Support for Democrats increased in a number of traditionally right-leaning areas. Seats that were thought safe for the GOP this time required hard-fought campaigns to hold onto.

Yet the Democrats were unable to achieve one of their main goals -- flipping the Senate -- and I can only imagine that partisan rancor at the Capitol will continue in the coming months, if not increase. Maybe that has to happen, but I think there's another, more constructive way: Legislators on both sides of the aisle could actually come together to work on passing bills that are truly in the best interests of everyone in the state.

That, more than anything, should be the message our politicians take away from the recall results.

Even Gov. Scott Walker seems to have caught a whiff of the electorate's mood, despite his deep, partisan insulation. In an interview with WISC-TV after last week's election results Walker said, "I think what I heard, not just in the results but in the last couple months going around the state... they want us to work harder at working together."

The governor, however, doesn't seem to fully grasp the reality of that message. He went on to suggest that he doesn't "think it's about bipartisanship, but just working together."

That statement alone illustrates the cognitive dissonance among too many of our elected officials. Bipartisanship literally means working together. Merriam-Webster defines it as "cooperation, agreement and compromise between two major political parties." By contrast, Walker and the Republican legislators have pushed through, on strict party lines, almost every bill they've brought up this year. They've voted down any amendments offered by Democrats, violated the Open Meetings Law, and snuck in final votes with little or no notice for Democrats. I don't think any of them are really interested in "working together."

Unless, of course, their definition of the phrase differs from everybody else's, and what Walker really means is that Democrats should start voting for his legislation without question.

If that's the case, then the disconnect between Walker, his GOP allies and the rest of the state is even more jarring than it seems at first blush. And more dangerous.

There is no one Wisconsin. We are a diverse and independent-minded people. Despite Walker's ever-sinking approval ratings and the loss of two Republican seats in the Senate, there are still folks who support the Republican governor and his agenda. Their opinions and needs count.

The problem is that Walker and the GOP don't seem interested in the opinions and needs of everyone else, too. After all, elected officials should be working to represent all of their constituents, not just the ones who voted for them or put big bucks into their campaign coffers.

That may be the biggest issue facing politics in the state (and, indeed, the country) right now: this stubborn insistence on protecting your own and no one else. "I got mine." Whatever happened to fighting for the common good? That's what "working together" is really about. We could all do a much better job of actually listening to the ideas of our fellow citizens, no matter what our perceived differences are.

That's why so many Wisconsinites turned up at the Capitol this winter to protest the many problems with Walker's "budget repair bill" and the budget itself. There were hundreds of thousands of them, some who'd never been politically active before and weren't union members. They may have had nothing in common with the person standing next to them in the cold and the snow except for the fact that they both knew, in their bones, that standing in solidarity to support the rights of their fellow citizens was the right thing to do.

It wasn't about party affiliation. There were plenty of Republicans in the crowds, too, and many, like myself, who don't belong to any party at all. It was about making common cause with other human beings in this state.

We need representatives who truly understand that, too. That's just one of the many reasons why a recall effort against Walker is still so important, and why, after the major political shift of the last several months, it's more likely than ever to succeed.

Walker's recall need not be framed as a Republican vs. Democrat smackdown. Ultimately, it's not. It's about working together toward a better future for everyone. And when our elected officials clearly demonstrate that they're either unwilling or unable to contribute to that effort, it's well past time for them to go.

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