The Urgency of Defeating Rebecca Kleefisch by Ron Malzer

As printed in the Madison Cap-Times Editorial Section:

Picture a world in which no Wisconsin physician could legally perform an abortion. Picture a situation where only unlicensed practitioners, operating in secrecy and under fear of legal consequence, could act on a woman’s decision to end her pregnancy. And picture a Wisconsin law stating that anyone who drove a pregnant teenager or sexual assault survivor to an abortion provider in Minnesota or Illinois could be dragged into court by a money-seeking vigilante and fined $10,000.

For Wisconsin, this would be a nightmare. For one politician — Rebecca Kleefisch — it would be the fulfillment of a dream. And she is running for governor to make it a reality.

Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Ann Kleefisch served loyally for the eight years of Scott Walker’s disastrous tenure as Wisconsin’s governor. She accepted both his union busting and his attempt to make what appears to be the largest  taxpayer payout to a single corporation in American history, a liability of up to a $3 billion to the aptly named “Foxconn.”

Kleefisch, in addition to Walker’s pro-big business, anti-worker stances, would bring right-wing extremism and intolerance to the governor’s office. One need only look at a thunderbolt comment she made on Sept. 9, shortly after announcing her run for governor. “I will sign a heartbeat bill” she told a radio show host, making clear her intent to bring Texas-style anti-abortion vigilantism to Wisconsin.

Fanaticism is nothing new for Kleefisch. Campaigning along with Walker in 2010, she publicly opposed same-sex partnership — a very limited set of rights for same-sex couples — saying: “At what point are we going to OK marrying inanimate objects? Can I marry this table or this, you know, clock? Can we marry dogs?”

Kleefisch is also a militant climate change denier. In 2009 she took to YouTube to declare that there is no scientific consensus that human activity is producing climate change, and to suggest that the EPA’s carbon emission efforts foreshadowed the agency’s interest in regulating people’s ability to exhale.

Her views on health care access are callous and cruel. The Walker-Kleefisch regime refused to accept for eight years the substantial annual federal dollars for assisted Medicaid enrollment, with Kleefisch denouncing the Affordable Care Act as an “abomination” and supporting Walker’s participation in the GOP lawsuit to overturn the ACA.

She is no stranger to falsehood. In 2018 Kleefisch claimed, falsely, that her campaign opponent Mandela Barnes had knelt during the U.S. national anthem at the Wisconsin State Fair.

Not surprisingly, Kleefisch has refused to denounce the GOP’s “Big Lie” campaign, choosing instead to curry favor with Donald Trump. After the January assault on the Capitol launched by then-President Trump, and the announcement by 12 Republican U.S. senators, including Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, of their intent to commit sedition by overturning the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, Kleefisch could see only a “terminology issue” and threw her support behind voter suppression efforts.

Voter suppression, using the Big Lie, threatens to replace America’s struggling democracy with single-party rule, and with a U.S. president installed for life.

Democrats won Wisconsin’s statewide midterm elections in 2018, as well as the presidential election in 2020. They can do so again in November of 2022. Gov. Tony Evers’ record of standing firm against GOP right-wing extremism is solid. But the margin of error for another solid blue year in the upcoming midterms is small, and the stakes are enormous.

A functioning Republic, Ben Franklin warned us, will last only as long as the people work to keep it. Every progressive, and everyone in the pro-environment, pro-democracy and pro-inclusion camp, has to be ready to mobilize, register — be sure you have an up-to-date photo ID — and vote in next year’s November elections.

It’s either that, or prepare to live in a Wisconsin-turned-Texas dystopia, and accept Wisconsin as a springboard for those seeking to end our aspirations for an American democracy.