MacIver News Service

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON – Sometimes you don’t know you’ve been hit by a bus until you wake up in the hospital. That’s kind of what 2018 felt like. 

Well, it’s just about over now. There was plenty of good, plenty of bad, and a whole lot of moments that made us wonder what just happened. 

Today, MacIver News Service brings you what we believe to be the Top 10 stories of 2018, with a Badger State focus, of course. From border battles to the end of the Walker Era, the year that was certainly was interesting, if nothing else. 

#10 – The Mueller Probe

It’s the Energizer Bunny of investigations. Launched more than a year and a half ago, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign keeps going and going and going. And all this time, the former FBI director has been unable to show that the targets affiliated with Trump did anything illegal to help his campaign. After all this time, the investigation has netted eight guilty pleas and dozens of indictments, mostly on matters outside the original scope of the probe. Wisconsin conservatives swept up in the unconstitutional John Doe investigation for years know exactly how open-ended and seemingly endless political investigations can be.

#9 – Parkland Shootings Gun Fight

On Valentine’s Day, a mentally deranged former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., shot to death 17 people, many of them students. The damage wrought would reach far beyond the boundaries of Parkland. The massacre swiftly turned into another hyperbolic battle over guns in society, with gun control advocates and opportunistic politicians using the shootings as campaign fodder. This time, the gun fight launched a youth protest movement, nationwide school walkouts and capitol demonstrations. Shooting survivors became omnipresent on the TV news and talk circuits. In the end, arguably little has changed, and the vast majority of the legislation gun-control advocates have called for would not have prevented the mass shootings they were crafted to stop.

#8 – It’s Still the Economy, Stupid

When President George H.W. Bush’s high poll numbers began to plummet, Bill Clinton strategist James Carville offered a fast answer, famously asserting it was “the economy, stupid.” The economy was struggling then.

In 2018, the U.S. economy remained a big deal, but not enough, perhaps, to motivate voters to the polls. That’s because the year marked some of the best economic times on record, with soaring GDP, record low unemployment, personal income rising, and consumer confidence and spending up. Maybe it’s easy to take the good times for granted. Trump’s trade wars with China and others grabbed a lot of the headlines, but the press paid little attention to other key statistics — like black unemployment hitting a record low and businesses small and large expanding thanks to tax cuts and reduced regulations.

In Wisconsin, the state’s jobless rate fell to as low as 2.8 percent, and has stood at 3 percent or lower for nine straight months. More people are working in the Badger State than anytime in the state’s history. Initial unemployment claims are at 30-year lows. Income continues to climb. Earlier this year a Census Bureau report found median household income in the state rose more than $1,000 to $59,305 in 2017.

“Our forecast for next year is we’ll still have solid growth next year, declining unemployment and a healthy economy,” Federal Reserve chairman Jerome H. Powell said last week following another interest-rate hike.

There was a lot of good economic news in 2018. Much of it didn’t make big headlines, lost in the shadows of the Mueller investigation, the sordid details of Senate hearings, and the din of the immigration debate.

#7 – The Border War 

The immigration battle heated up, and so did the political rhetoric surrounding it. From migrant caravans to ICE under attack to border wall budget battles, 2018 saw tempers rise on the immigration debate but little settled. Meanwhile, courts continued to block Trump administration efforts to curb illegal immigration and the rising taxpayer costs associated with it.

#6 – Rise of Socialism? 

The Democratic Party continued to veer farther left on the short drive to socialism.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, at 28, became the fresh young face of the far left after crushing U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), a fixture in the old liberal guard, in the primary. The young political activist coasted with the backing of the Democratic Socialists of America, leading some to insist socialism was not only on the ascendancy in America, it’s takeover of free-market capitalism was inevitable.

Not so fast. While Democrats took back the House in part on the strength of uber-left candidates who mostly won in ultra-left districts, more traditional liberal centrists ultimately won the day. For now. Ocasio-Cortez repeatedly has hurt the cause of socialism — by saying things. And we’re not just talking about the freshman congresswoman incorrectly naming the three branches of government. Her pitch for socialized medicine, a “Federal Jobs Guarantee,” and the abolishment of the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) raise more serious questions.

Randy Bryce, a liberal unionista who ran on a similar platform, was soundly defeated in his bid for Wisconsin 1st Congressional District seat being vacated by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Janesville).

But despite the misery and brokenness socialism has created around the world, an alarming number of millennials like what they’re hearing about expanded government control. About one in three describe themselves as democratic socialist, a socialist, or would identify as either, according to a BuzzFeed News and Maru/Blue poll.

#5 – Blue Wave Stanched

The anticipated “blue wave” didn’t swamp Wisconsin, but it sure did hit Democrat strongholds, Dane and Milwaukee counties. Liberals there turned out in force in delivering slim wins for Democrats Tony Evers,  Attorney General candidate Josh Kaul, and the remainder of the progressive state office candidates. They also returned uber-liberal Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) to a second term in the U.S. Senate.

Overall, though, the 2018 mid-terms were a pitched draw. After a decade in the political wilderness, Democrats won back control of the House. But the Senate remained firmly in Republican control, with the GOP netting two seats to hold a 53-47 majority come next month.

In Wisconsin, both houses of the Legislature will continue to be led by significant Republican majorities. After eight years of full Republican control of the Legislature and the executive, Wisconsin is about to learn once again what divided government looks like.

#4 – Extraordinary Session

Liberals called it lame but it was a most extraordinary session of the Legislature.

Following Evers’ win in November over Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the Republican-controlled Legislature called an extraordinary session to take up dozens of measures. Democrats charged that the session was so much sour grapes from Republicans attempting a “power grab” before Evers arrived in January. Republican leadership countered that the legislation was about restoring the Legislature’s authority in the co-equal branches of government. But they also acknowledged the legislation is about securing the conservative, limited-government reforms of the past eight years and checking the far left inclinations of liberal Evers’ incoming administration.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said constituents and conservatives from around the state have urged him and his Republican colleagues to fight for the tax and regulatory relief the Walker years brought to Wisconsin — to resist, if you will, the liberals who want to wipe out those reforms.

Republicans ultimately scaled back some of the more controversial provisions after long hours of closed door meetings with reluctant caucus members. Measures that had given the Legislature more oversight and review over executive branch decisions were watered-down somewhat. But the majority kept a bill that limited early voting to two weeks before Election Day, a provision liberals say the will fight in court. Measures codifying health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and moving Wisconsin’s presidential primary to March failed to make the cut.

Walker earlier this month signed the bills into law, after announcing his administration would secure millions of dollars in “pay-to-stay” tax incentives for consumer goods producer Kimberly-Clark.

#3 – Speaker Ryan Stepping Down

Fatigued by political Swamp fever and determined to be more present in his children’s lives, Speaker Paul Ryan stunned the pundit world in April in announcing he would step down from congress. The 1st Congressional District’s long-serving and well-respected representative said he had had enough of the demands of D.C. politics.

“If I am here for one more term, my kids will only ever have known me as a weekend dad. I can’t let that happen,” the Janesville Republican said during an April 11 press conference.

Ryan, who officially steps down when his term ends next month, announced his decision early enough to give Republicans ample time to campaign for his seat. Businessman Bryan Steil trounced Randy “the Iron Stache” Bryce, a far left Democrat and big labor heavy who for a time was the darling of the national liberal crowd.

Ryan said he accomplished much of what he came to Washington to do. He certainly did. His 20-year congressional career is a profile in conservative leadership, capped by one of his finest hours: passage of the most significant tax relief and reform packages in a generation.

While Ryan faced a “blue wave” that eventually swept Democrats — and harder left Democrats at that — into the House, he spent his final months as speaker pushing for entitlement reforms and fiscal restraint, long-standing themes of the distinguished public servant.

The only election he’s lost since his first congressional win in 1999 was as GOP vice presidential candidate on the Mitt Romney ticket in 2012. But Ryan’s first and enduring political love was playing in the wonkish world of budget- and policy-writing. He excelled in both, as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and the Budget Committee.

But the demands of political leadership can take their toll.

“It’s easy for it to take over everything in your life and you can’t just let that happen. Because there are other things in life that can be fleeting as well,” Ryan said.

#2 – Supreme Political Circus

What began as a tough confirmation battle quickly devolved into a salacious, three-ring circus of allegations, false allegations, counter allegations, and the unhinged left on full display.

When President Trump in July nominated D.C. Circuit Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh for a vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, most legal experts agreed Trump had picked a solid conservative and a roundly respected legal mind. Things would quickly change during a wildly contentious Senate confirmation process in which California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford was outed by Democrats as the heretofore anonymous Kavanaugh accuser. In emotional testimony, Blasey Ford claimed that her memories of Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her when the two were in high school came flooding back during a session with a counselor, more than 30 years after the alleged incident. Her allegations unleashed a flood of increasingly salacious allegations against the Supreme Court nominee. All of the charges lacked corroborating evidence, many of them were debunked as outright lies.

Kavanaugh fought back in equally emotional testimony before the Senate.

“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups,” Kavanaugh said. “This is a circus. … And as we all know, in the United States political system of the early 2000s, what goes around comes around.”

Kavanaugh was confirmed  50-48, by the Republican majority and one lone Democrat, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

Fuming at Kavanaugh’s confirmation, left-wing protesters pounded on the U.S. Supreme Court doors following the confirmation vote. Scores were arrested.

#1 – The End of an Era 

The Republican Revolution of 2010 did not come to a screeching halt in 2018, but it certainly lost one of its most impactful standard-bearers.

After eight years of leading unprecedented limited-government reforms, Republican Gov. Scott Walker was narrowly defeated by long-time state educrat Tony Evers, superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction.

By just about every measure, Walker leaves Wisconsin in a much better fiscal state than when first took office in January 2011. At the time, the new governor faced a $3.6 billion budget deficit, an economy in shambles, and bleak outcomes for taxpayers. His budget repair bill, also known as Act 10, not only fixed the fiscal crisis, it addressed deep systemic flaws and put Wisconsin’s budget on solid ground moving forward. So much so that Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature presided over an era of budget surpluses. They returned much of the higher revenue — north of $8 billion – to the state’s taxpayers in the form of property and income tax relief.

Kurt Bauer, president of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, predicts Walker will go down in history as one of the two most consequential governors Wisconsin has elected. “Fighting Bob” La Follette made his legacy a century before by leading the progressive revolution. Walker led the Republican revolution that “systematically dismantled many of the failed progressive experiments” La Follette sparked, Bauer said.

Just days after his defeat to Evers, Walker reflected on his tenure. He said he will be remembered as a reformer.

“I’m particularly proud that, because of our reforms, that enabled the people — not the government — to create more jobs, more opportunities and higher wages in this state,” Walker said.

He paused, and considered that he may have been too successful on that score.

“We’ve been such a reformer I may have reformed myself out of a job,” the governor said.

M. D. Kittle M. D. Kittle is an investigative reporter with the MacIver Institute. Reposted here with permission.