Walker’s play­book: Rip Madi­son

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - The Arena - Emily Mills Guest colum­nist

It’s gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign sea­son, and the barbs are al­ready flying.

Madi­son mayor and mus­tache afi­cionado Paul Soglin of­fi­cially threw his Hawai­ian shirt into the race ear­lier this week, and Gov. Scott Walker promptly clapped back, tweet­ing:

“The last thing we need is more Madi­son in our lives. @Paulsoglin is the lat­est ex­treme lib­eral who wants to take our state back­ward — just like he did in Madi­son, where busi­nesses have left and mur­ders have gone up. We want to go for­ward.”

Walker has since gone on a (for him) Twit­ter tirade against Soglin and Wis­con­sin Democrats, claim­ing, among other things, that Madi­son’s un­em­ploy­ment rate is some­how bad, when it is, in fact, bet­ter than the state av­er­age (just 2.1% com­pared to 3.2%).

Walker’s claim that we’re los­ing busi­nesses? Also not true: Be­tween 2010 and 2016 (ap­prox­i­mately the lat­est term for Soglin as mayor, and for Walker as gov­er­nor), pri­vate sec­tor em­ploy­ment in Dane County rose by 15.7%, whereas statewide it grew by just 9%. As I’ve writ­ten about be­fore, Madi­son is one of the state’s eco­nomic en­gines.

It’s cu­ri­ous that this so­cial me­dia rant comes from the same man whose ad­min­is­tra­tion just sunk a big chunk of money into a cam­paign to per­suade young work­ers in other states to re­lo­cate to Wis­con­sin. Walker had orig­i­nally wanted the state to spend nearly $7 mil­lion on the cam­paign, which ul­ti­mately fea­tures all kinds of beau­ti­ful footage of Madi­son and Milwaukee at­trac­tions.

A strange change of tone, in­deed, but now there’s a cam­paign to win.

And that mur­der rate thing? A boogey­man. There were, sadly, 11 mur­ders in Madi­son in 2017, which is up over 2016’s to­tal of just eight. But those num­bers don’t tell a story of ram­pant law­less­ness and dan­ger.

Ac­cord­ing to crime data ex­pert Jeff Fis­cher of fivethir­tyeight.com, who spoke with Wis­con­sin Pub­lic Ra­dio, “It’s dan­ger­ous to read too much into a one-year in­crease in Madi­son’s mur­der rate.”

“You’re talk­ing about a crime that has a re­ally low base rate, and you can have one or two in­ci­dents that make the dif­fer­ence be­tween ‘Hey, ev­ery­thing is nor­mal’ and ‘Hey, mur­der is down,’ and ‘Hey, we’re see­ing a 33% rise in mur­ders,” Fis­cher said. “It’s not in­her­ently in­dica­tive of a rise in crime. It may just be pure luck. It may just be pure ran­dom­ness.”

As friend and writer Scott Gor­don suc­cinctly noted in re­sponse, “It’s in­trigu­ing that Walker wants to both por­tray the state as pros­per­ous un­der his lead­er­ship AND por­tray its most eco­nom­i­cally ro­bust re­gion as an abandoned pit.”

There are very real crit­i­cisms to be made of Madi­son: For all of its eco­nomic suc­cess and thriv­ing cul­tural scene, there are swaths of the pop­u­la­tion who have been left out. There are very real racial dis­par­i­ties in ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing and em­ploy­ment. Soglin should be rightly taken to task for his an­tag­o­nis­tic at­ti­tude to­ward the city’s home­less, as well as his habit of pick­ing the most tone-deaf of bat­tles.

But don’t fall for Walker’s false at­tacks. Can­di­dates are not im­me­di­ately sus­pect be­cause of where they live.

Emily Mills is a free­lance writer who lives in Madi­son.

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