Kenosha- Business and Politics
The Republican Party has become dominant in Wisconsin, with promising opportunities for the future. The 2012 edition of the respected Almanac of American Politics by Michael Barone and Chuck McCutcheon emphasizes Republican strength in metropolitan Milwaukee, and describes eastern Wisconsin including Kenosha County as “the most Republican part of the state.” (p. 1751).
Viewed from more local perspectives, however, the picture becomes a more mixed, complex tapestry. The Democratic Party has significant challenges but also opportunities. Kenosha County in Southeast Wisconsin reflects both trends.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump won the state in 2016, against informed predictions and polling evidence. In the same election, incumbent Republican United States Senator Ron Johnson beat back former Senator Russ Feingold, whom he defeated in 2010. Southeast Wisconsin reflects state and national trends. President Trump’s approval ratings continue relatively low. However, polls generally underestimated his true support in 2016.
Republican Governor Scott Walker has been elected and reelected as well as surviving a bitter recall effort. The Republican Party controls the state legislature.
Republican U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan represents Wisconsin’s First Congressional District, which includes Kenosha, after succeeding Republican Mark Neumann in early 1999. Previously, the seat was held for two decades by Democrat Les Aspin, a respected defense policy analyst. Democrat Peter Barca briefly succeeded Aspin in the House.
While Kenosha County has reflected the Republican trend, there is continuing Democratic support. Trump carried the county by less than one thousand votes. By contrast, Barack Obama in 2012 had a vote margin if nearly 10,000. Notably lower voter turnout in 2016 helps explain the difference.
Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser and Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian served as Democrats in the State Assembly. Long-time Democratic State Senator Bob Wirch emphasizes his labor union background, and survived an aggressive 2010 Republican campaign. The four Kenosha Assembly seats are equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, with Peter Barca among the former.
Kenosha was highlighted in the 2016 presidential primary campaign. Senator Bernie Sanders, Democratic challenger for the presidential nomination, spoke at Carthage College in Kenosha on March 30, 2016 to an overflow crowd. Along with the college community, the audience comprised a large number of working people. Sanders won the primary. Selection of Kenosha as venue reflects historic labor union strength in the area, especially the United Auto Workers (UAW).
Likewise, history was a factor in the visit of President Donald Trump to Snap-on Tools in Kenosha on April 18, 2017. During the visit, he announced an executive order to “buy American, hire American.” Snap-on is rightly viewed as an American institution emphasizing quality workmanship, though today the company is global in hiring, production and sales.
Kenosha has successfully adjusted to decline of manufacturing jobs, attracting new residents and new businesses, especially related to transportation and storage. New Amazon and Uline facilities reflect this. Kenosha County is closely integrated with the Chicago regional economy.
Wisconsin historically has been in the forefront of labor reform. In 1865, a local chapter of the Molders Union was formed in Milwaukee. In 1886, there was substantial labor protest across the nation in support of the eight-hour workday. Milwaukee had one of the most sizable such efforts. In 1933, UAW workers sat down on the job at Nash Motors in Kenosha, four years before a similar protest and infamous violent repression of workers at the General Motors plant in Flint Michigan.
Even earlier reform efforts are associated with the Republican Party. In the 1850s, Whigs met in Ripon Wisconsin to form the new Republican Party. Robert La Follette of Wisconsin led Progressive Republican reformers early in the twentieth century.
The UAW from the start emphasized health care, and today that is an important political issue at the local and state as well as national levels. Speaker Ryan has struggled to achieve passage of a Republican alternative to the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act. Ohio resident David Yankovich has received publicity by announcing a move to Kenosha to join other Democrats planning to run against Ryan in 2018. Yankovich is emphasizing health care reform.
Wisconsin opinion appears congruent with nationwide polls indicating President Trump has a relatively low approval rating. However, the 2016 election demonstrated polling errors dramatically. In 2020, Wisconsin likely will remain a battleground state.