While I was growing up, I got to know the neighborhoods in my hometown of Racine, Wisconsin, by talking to my neighbors about former President Barack Obama and the many other candidates who ran for state and local office. I knocked on the doors of people of all political persuasions, no matter the color of the sign in their front yard. I knew that Wisconsin was a purple state and our elections were always close, and that just a few votes could determine our state’s — and even our nation’s — future course. At the time, we disagreed on the ideas, but both parties more or less played by the same rules.
In the years to come, however, I watched as Wisconsin became the national testing ground for conservative politics and policy. The Koch brothers flooded Wisconsin with their money and bad ideas in order to gain power and maximize profits, helping Republicans restrict access to the ballot box and implement one of the most aggressive gerrymanders in the country. This new coalition used any means necessary to change the rules they did not like.
And it worked. Together with former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Republicans ran the state for almost a decade. They ensured very few legislative districts remained competitive, diluting the voting power of people across the state. In statewide elections for governor that were decided by a couple of percentage points, the GOP still managed to win almost two-thirds of the seats for Republicans in both chambers of the Legislature. In 2022, despite Gov. Tony Evers (D) winning re-election by nearly three points — a landslide in Wisconsin — Democrats in the state Assembly just managed to hold off the supermajority that legislative Republicans drew for themselves.
Republicans used their manufactured majority to pass bills stripping power from working people. They slashed social services and let infrastructure decay while handing out massive tax breaks to their wealthy donors. They helped deliver Wisconsin for former President Donald Trump in 2016, propelling the most anti-democratic president in our history to the White House, and then tried to steal the election for him when he lost our state in 2020.
I was elected as state representative only a year after Trump took office. After several years of organizing in the national youth climate movement, I found upon returning home that everything I had learned as an organizer about building public support and putting pressure on government officials no longer worked in Wisconsin. The Republicans’ legislative gerrymander was so effective that they were almost entirely insulated from public opinion. Wisconsin was becoming a democracy in name only.
In a lame duck session held the year I was sworn in, Republicans stripped powers from newly elected Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul (D) while shamelessly expanding their own power for purely political reasons.
Two years later, this craven exercise seemed to repeat itself after Trump’s defeat in Wisconsin by President Joe Biden. Fifteen Republican legislators signed onto a letter in the days before Jan. 6, 2021, urging then-Vice President Mike Pence not to certify the results, despite no evidence that the election was illegitimate. Republicans came up just one vote short on the state Supreme Court in a lawsuit to throw out more than 200,000 votes in our state’s most Democratic counties. This failed power grab serves as a harrowing reminder of just how fragile our republic is, and suggests that Republicans may try it again.
In the last legislative session, Republicans denied hearings for 98% of the bills proposed by Democrats, while over 75% of Republican bills received a hearing. GOP lawmakers took no action when Wisconsin’s criminal abortion ban — a law left on the books from 1849 — went back into effect after the fall of Roe. Despite public opinion overwhelmingly supporting the right to choose and despite thousands showing up to oppose their actions, Republicans in the state Assembly and Senate have stayed the course.
But this spring, Wisconsinites finally have an opportunity to hold Republicans in the Legislature accountable.
The upcoming state Supreme Court election will decide the balance of the court and determine whether we have a majority of justices who are committed to democracy and the rule of law or a majority who put the interests of a political party above all else. It is an opportunity to restore fairness to our highest court and our political process.
I have seen democracy falter from the inside, and I know that the future of our republic is not guaranteed. Wisconsin Republicans will do everything they can to maintain and expand their power. But we will not let them. Not this time. We will never let them come so close to tearing down our nation and the ideals on which it is built.
The people of Wisconsin have had enough — enough of Republicans rigging the system in favor of their wealthy benefactors and corporate donors while middle class families across our state struggle to make it to the end of the month; enough of Republicans refusing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to expand access to healthcare to score cheap political points; enough of threatening to end Social Security and Medicare as we know it; enough of starving our schools and local governments to try and prove that the government doesn’t work.
Despite all of the obstacles that have been put in voters’ way, from voter ID laws to lawsuits threatening to jail mayors for expanding early voting to banning ballot drop boxes, the people have made their voices heard. Over the last several years, in most of our statewide elections, Wisconsinites have voted for candidates who prioritize our democracy and our rights. And we’re ready to do it again.
It is time to knock on doors, talk to our neighbors, get to the polls and restore the will of the people as the law of the land in Wisconsin.
Greta Neubauer is the State Representative for the 66th Assembly District of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin State Assembly minority leader.