Despite the reelection of President Obama and the historic election of Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate, the most important election in recent Wisconsin history wasn't this year, but in 2010.
Two years ago, when the Republicans flipped all of state government from Democratic to GOP control -- they already owned the state Supreme Court -- the party set in motion a process that locked in their dominance for a long time to come.
That election was always going to be the most crucial in a decade anyway, because it meant that the party elected to control the legislature would get to control redistricting after the 2010 census. Had the Dems managed to hold on to just one house or the governor's office, they could have forced a more balanced approach.
But with the Republicans holding all the cards, they played them to fullest advantage. They spent a lot of taxpayer money to hire a GOP-leaning law firm to draw the new lines in secret. They totally froze out any Democratic input.
The result was a set of new districts that all but guaranteed them majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate. So, this year, despite President Obama and Baldwin winning easily and with Democratic Assembly candidates in the aggregate receiving 193,000 more votes than Republicans, the GOP maintained their 60-39 dominance in the Assembly and picked up not one but two seats in the Senate, taking back that house and sidelining moderates like Dale Schultz.
It turns out that this isn't unusual. In the nation as a whole, split government at the state level is the rarest it has been since 1952.
What's likely to happen now is that we will get two very different visions of America. In blue states like California, Oregon, and Minnesota, we will get policies that look to the future: slightly higher taxes on the rich to fund investments in things like education, infrastructure, and renewable energy. We'll also likely see progressive social moves like legalization of same sex marriage. All of these things will mark the deep blue states as places where bright, young entrepreneurs and international companies will want to invest. They will take off.
And what happens in the red states? Just the opposite. More tax cuts for the rich, more disinvestment in public education at all levels. More decaying infrastructure and heavier reliance on fossil fuels, which just export cash through a pipeline and by the train load. And more Dark Ages social policy that turns off the very same creative, high tech types who will take their ideas and their jobs somewhere that doesn't look like Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.
Since Wisconsin is not Alabama, and since we have a proud progressive, liberal tradition, this seems more unfair than it is to states that are truly and deeply red. We don't deserve this fate. We are better than this.
What's the answer? Find a way to elect a Democratic governor in two years. I think it's possible.