Lake Geneva, Wisconsin Used To Be Al Capone's Town... Now It's Paul Ryan's
|The Ryan Avenue exit on the I-94... you built that|
A couple of months ago a wealthy Republican from the beautiful Lake Geneva area of Walworth County, smack in the middle of Paul Ryan's Wisconsin district, approached Blue America with a plan. Never heard of Lake Geneva? It's "the Hamptons of the Midwest," a vacation destination for rich people in Chicago and Milwaukee, from Al Capone and baby Face Nelson to Axl Rose and Gary Gygax, and is always on magazines' "Best Small Towns in America" lists. Our wealthy Republican friend is embarrassed what sociopaths like Paul Ryan have done to his political party. And, like us, he thinks it's crucial to not just defeat the Romney-Ryan presidential ticket, but to replace Ryan as the congressman for Lake Geneva with Rob Zerban. There are 7,651 people living in Lake Geneva, 102,228 in Walworth County and 7,305 in Elkhorn, the county seat. The largest city in the county, Whitewater, has 13,437 people. In June DWT took a closer look at Walworth County and saw that Rob Zerban could beat Ryan there and help swing the election. Obama lost the county to McCain, 48-51% but this year something different seems to be brewing in Walworth's small towns.
Ironically, over the weekend, the L.A. Times ran a story, Small-Town Wisconsin Feeling Like Romney Doesn't Care explaining how "in rural areas where Mitt Romney is counting on overwhelming support, voters identify him as an elite who isn't concerned about the problems of the working class." Their report focuses on Black River Falls in Jackson County which is considerably northwest of Ryan's district, but very similar to how people are thinking down in Walworth County.
[S]ome residents in this town of 3,600, located in a swing county that voted for Obama in 2008 but supported Republicans for both governor and U.S. Senate in 2010, say their concern that Romney doesn't really understand people like them has grown in recent weeks.
"I think he's a little out of touch. He has grown up as kind of an elite," said Darren Durman, who runs the Merchant General Store, a candy and toy shop in a 1912 building where Durman's great-grandfather once worked selling shoes.
Romney's recent comments about the 47% of America that doesn't pay taxes only solidified Durman's decision to support Obama, who visits the state Saturday.
"Basically, he was saying anyone that was going to vote for Obama was a deadbeat, but most of us are hardworking people," said Durman, an independent who voted for George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004 and Obama in 2008.
Durman's views illustrate the problem Romney is confronting in rural areas where he is counting on overwhelming support: Voters identify him as an elite who isn't concerned about the problems of people who work for a living, the same issue that confronted Democratic nominee John F. Kerry in 2004.
...The American Future Fund, a conservative political action committee, has tried to draw attention to the state's poor economy with an ad that criticizes Obama for letting a GM plant in Janesville close. (The closure was actually announced before he was elected.)
In many small towns, "the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight," the ad says. That line is spoken by Ryan, not Romney, who is not appearing in any campaign ads in the state.
But it would take more than that to sway people such as Vicki Patterson and E. Jason Billyard, independent voters who own an art and glass shop in Black River Falls. Both say they "vote for the best guy for the job," rather than for one party. Sitting in their quiet shop on a recent weekday, as a bat flew in to create the morning's excitement, both said they planned to vote for Obama.
"Romney represents the Republican upper class, and he hasn't said anything to show me differently," Patterson said.
Yesterday, Alternet was also sniffing around Wisconsin, asking their readers to Take a Look at What Paul Ryan Did to His Own Congressional District, and Be Very Scared for Your Country. They go beyond the closing of the Janesville GM plant and the lies Ryan, the GOP’s resident economic genius and “leading intellectual," has told about it. "Child abuse and suicide," they point out, "is skyrocketing, the number of battered women has tripled, foreclosures have tripled, wages plummeting, and more." Although savvy bloggers and Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman have been onto the Wall Street-manufactured farce that is Paul Ryan for several years, American political and media elites have given him a free pass. The same banksters who have financed Ryan's political career have made sure the recipients of their largesse at the DCCC-- Rahm Emanuel, Chris Van Hollen and Steve Israel-- have left Ryan alone. That's why, until now, he has never had a serious challenge. And even now, Steve Israel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are working overtime to sabotage Rob Zerban and smooth a path to reelection for Ryan. Roger Bybee at Alternet explains that the carefully crafted, bought-and-paid for image created for Ryan flies in the face of reality in his own district.
Even while Beltway media-- and even President Obama-- heaped kudos on Ryan for his bold economic proposals and “intellectual audacity,” the productive base and social health of his constituents have been severely deteriorating under the impact of the very policies he has aggressively championed.
Ryan trumpeted the $1.2 trillion in Bush tax cuts showered largely on the richest 1%, pushed for the deregulation of Wall Street financial manipulations, opposed 2007 efforts to rein in the financial industry’s increasingly risky practices but then voted for a virtually unconditional bailout of the big banks after the meltdown in 2008 in order to “save the free enterprise system.” Ryan also voted for the auto bailout without any provisions to prioritize US jobs including those in his district. Further, Ryan has been a consistent supporter of the “free trade” deals with low-wage, repressive regimes that have fueled the offshoring of jobs.
In recent years, Ryan’s home district has lost thousands of family-sustaining jobs. Its economic foundations have been dangerously hollowed out: Delco in Oak Creek shut down at a cost of 3,800 jobs, mostly going to Mexico; Chrysler in Kenosha had 850 jobs sent to Mexico with the help of auto industry “bailout” funds; and General Motors in his hometown of Janesville eliminated 2,800 jobs directly with its pre-Christmas 2008 plant closing, while GM kept open a low-wage plant with parallel capacities in Silao, Mexico. The GM shutdown in Janesville wiped out another 3,000 jobs in nearby supplier plants.
The results of Ryan’s policies and the resulting economic wreckage have been grimly predictable. The persistently high unemployment has been accompanied by rising signs of social disintegration and distress throughout most of the district.
• Foreclosures in Rock County-- home to Janesville and Beloit-- have quadrupled since 2000. They have nearly tripled throughout the entire district.
• In Janesville, the GM shutdown created such a surplus of workers begging for jobs that the average wage fell from $23.27 in 2007 to $18.82 in 2010.
• Within three months of the GM closing just before Christmas in 2008, the number of battered women seeking shelter at the YWCA’s Janesville family violence center nearly tripled.
• Janesville has been afflicted by a major increase in child abuse and neglect.
• Janesville’s rate of child poverty has nearly doubled to 47.1% since 2000. The percentage of children eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches ranges from 43% to 69% in the major cities of his district.
• Janesville has also experienced a near-doubling in suicides over the first two years since the GM closing.
Yet Ryan has remained oblivious to this massive suffering, seemingly driven by his embrace of Ayn Rand’s ideology of anti-social capitalism (which he recently and unconvincingly renounced in the face of complaints about her atheism). He has advocated and voted for cuts to the government protections and the social safety net desperately needed by families in his district trying to hang on to their cars, their homes, and their dignity.
Ryan, always readily willing to bestow bailouts on major banks and corporations, but worries that workers and the poor will lose their motivation to work if the government directs meaningful help to workers, the jobless, and the poor. Ryan claims that the US safety net, pitifully thin compared to other advanced nations, is already in danger of seriously undermining the will to work: “We don’t want to turn this safety net into a hammock that ends up lulling people in their lives into dependency and complacency.”
The three major industrial counties in Ryan’s district have endured devastating manufacturing job losses since 2000, with Kenosha County losing 30%, Racine County 33%, and Rock County an astonishing 54%.
After Ryan advanced pro-corporate policies that laid waste to his district, he followed up by seeking to block programs that would relieve the human misery among his constituents:
• Ryan has voted against extended unemployment benefits despite a persistent lack of job openings.
• Ryan has consistently opposed increases in the minimum wage, in spite of growing evidence that the majority of minimum-wage workers are employed by giant firms.
• Ryan has opposed the S-CHIP healthcare program to aid low-income people, as well as vowing to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the face of rising needs for healthcare among the ranks of the uninsured. In Janesville, for example, “Over the last two years, we’ve seen a 77% increase in the number of patients,” Traci Rogers, executive director of the HealthNet Clinic for low-income people,” told me in 2011.
• Ryan has voted against expansions of foreclosure-prevention assistance, in the face of evidence that prior efforts were far too weak and mis-directed toward helping mortgage holders rather than families trying to save their homes.
• Ryan has opposed expanded funding for job training in both his votes and his budget proposals. “The cuts he is proposing would have a devastating effect on the hardest-hit workers in Wisconsin, with cities like Racine and Beloit way above the national average in unemployment,” says Robert Borremans, executive director of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board. “The cuts would mean that displaced workers would be shut out of new opportunities.”
...In sum, Ryan’s economic policies have intensified the incessant carpet-bombing of the First District’s manufacturing base. But even more mercilessly, Ryan has led the strafing of the first aid stations, the safety-net measures and programs designed to help the under-employed and the jobless earn higher wages, feed their families, retain their homes, and get retrained for scarce new jobs.
And that brings us back to our wealthy correspondent from Lake Geneva and the sense of horror he feels about what Ryan has done to his less well-off neighbors and to the Republican Party he grew up loving but can barely recognize any longer. He came to Blue America with a proposal-- to run a series of low tech print ads in small towns across the district, in shoppers and weeklies that would explain to low-information voters, who don't read Krugman or Alternet or watch Rachel Maddow, just who Paul Ryan really is. I spent over an hour yesterday writing dozens of checks to small town newspapers I had never heard of, like the Burlington Standard Press, Delavan Enterprise, Janesville Messenger, East Troy News, East Troy Times, Elkhorn Independent, Franklin/Hales Corners Citizen, The Beacon, Walworth County Shopper/Advertiser, Genoa City Report, Lake Geneva Times, Muskego Chronicle, Paddock Lake Report, Palmyra-Eagle Enterprise, Sharon Reporter, Twin Lakes Report, Walworth Times, Waterford Post, Westine Report, Westosha Report, Whitewater Register, and the Williams Bay Times, to name a few, so we could run ads for the whole month of October, ads like the one below. And we're reinforcing those ads with billboards. Our wealthy friend has agreed to match what we can raise to pay for the campaign. Would you like to help us stop Paul Ryan before he can do even more damage? Please consider contributing to this campaign here. Let's make sure every voter in southeast Wisconsin sees this ad: