By Charles P. Pierce
In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act, building on the land-grant university philosophy first put into action by the Morrill Act during the Civil War, established the agricultural extension service to bring the farm and husbandry science being taught in the land-grant schools out literally into the field so as to enhance the general welfare of the nation’s farmers—and by, ahem, extension, the nation itself. Everybody in all the small farming towns knew where the extension office was, and they knew the person who was running it. The “county agents” generally were respected figures whose advice on farming matters eventually became gospel.
(Daily Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2015. Open source and free to use with link to www.thedailycall.org )
Naturally, at the turn of the last century, this approach was particularly popular in Wisconsin, where it became part of The Wisconsin Idea, the progressive philosophy developed at the University of Wisconsin that the work of the state university should inform the best operations of the state and its government. Just as naturally, the administration of Scott Walker, the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their Midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin, has arranged its budgetary matters to ensure that the extension service is gutted.
The news hit hard. Downcast eyes, people with hands over their mouth, and long pauses after Julie asked the group for questions. Julie explained how budget cuts forced UW Extension administrators to rethink their commitment to 100 years of county-based services. In Extension, Wisconsin has a valuable partnership between the UW System and local counties. Under the “Multicounty Reorganization Plan,” new Extension regions would be created. Many staff would move or lose their jobs. Forty open positions would not be filled and another 40 would be cut. Some staff may remain local but a lot seemed to depend on the ability of counties to pay for lost state funding…Most of us take for granted services that have existed for a century. Few realized deep cuts to the UW System could mean no local staff person to help organize 4-H clubs or provide support for county fairs—so much a staple of Wisconsin rural life. Julie told the crowd, “People didn’t know Extension was connected to the UW.” She added, “If anything, this budget has taught us that people’s first entry into the UW System is a (county) fair or 4-H.” Cuts to the UW System are deep. Majority lawmakers voted last summer to make $250 million in cuts to the UW System’s base budget. Cuts came on top of tuition freezes and many prior losses of state support. Every UW campus is struggling with fewer staff, programs and money for maintenance and facilities.
Ever since we opened this shebeen along the docks of Blogistan in 2011, we have concentrated heavily on the doings in Wisconsin, and not simply because I spent five very enjoyable years of my life there. Even before Kansas, Wisconsin was the lab rat for an assault on the political commons on behalf of the modern oligarchs. If they could do it in Wisconsin, the theory went, they could do it anywhere. And so they did. And they have. You can see it in what Senator Vineout writes above: the people didn’t know that the extension service “was connected to UW.” Why in god’s name not, and in Wisconsin, especially? If you want to see the extent to which the people of a state can be alienated from both their own political history, and their own best political interests, it’s right there in a single sentence.
For some in the Menomonie audience, cuts to the UW System had seemed distant — until they realized this could mean an end to 4-H as we know it now. I talked with local residents after the meeting. A Menomonie schoolteacher who asked about youth being a part of the decision-making told me, “I’m tired of going to meetings that feel like wakes.” One supervisor summed up things best. “We’re just not investing our resources in the right places. The general public is not paying attention. They don’t realize what’s happening until it touches them.” As I left, I admired the youth art hanging in the halls. I walked past a conference room bustling with noisy, happy adolescent girls working together. The sign on the door said “4-H Horse Project Meeting.”I wondered if any of the girls or their parents knew of the meeting I attended about cuts affecting a program about which they are passionate. If they had the opportunity to choose a budget priority, would they have chosen differently?
It is perhaps unfair to the good people of Menomonie to point this out, but due diligence requires us to note that, in 2010, the town voted 52-46 in favor of Scott Walker; that, in 2012, it voted 51-49 percent not to recall Scott Walker, and that, in 2014, it voted to re-elect Scott Walker by 52-48 percent. Remember, this is the same administration that wanted to eliminate the phrase, “The Wisconsin Idea,” from government documents entirely. If they could figure out a way to do it, they’d dig up Fightin’ Bob LaFollette and burn his corpse on the Capitol lawn. Voting is very important. Knowing what you’re voting for is even more vital.
- An Open Letter To Wisconsin Democrats: Simply Hating On Scott Walker Just Doesn’t Work — I know you are frustrated by the outcome of the state Supreme Court election. I am at wit’s end too. I want to spew expletives from the rooftops, but will try to speak my piece as gently and respectfully as I can. Another election, another round of venting and fuming about stupid, unthinking people voting against their own interests. You ask for the umpteenth time how long will it take for them to wake up and see they are being sold down the river. I have different questions on my mind: How many more elections will it take for you to figure out you cannot beat Wisconsin’s governor by hating him? And how many more seats will be filled on the state’s highest court before it becomes clear you cannot beat the governor’s favorite judges merely by tying them to him? … Read the Rest