Sunday, August 21, 2016

My Kids and Governor Walker

Outside Wisconsin's Capitol
In 1992, our school held a mock election. All the students voted, and some got to be poll workers. The newspaper sent a reporter who asked the obvious question of all the middle schoolers, the one forbidden at the actual polls because an adult's vote is private and discussing politics is impolite. "Who did you vote for? Why?"

My answers, in 1992: "George Bush!" and "Because that's who my parents are voting for!" I remember feeling proud to support who my mom and dad supported, to be able to put my affection for them into action.

Our middle school predicted a close Bush win. We were... incorrect. Wisconsin broke for Bill Clinton, 41% to 37% (that was the Ross Perot year, remember), and our county gave Mr. Clinton an even bigger margin. But the loss didn't sting too terribly. I was only twelve.

Twenty-four years later, my wife and I took our kids to tour the State Capitol in Madison. Before you assume we're some civic-minded uber-parents, we chose Madison for a quick family trip because, in order, it has a nice zoo (that's free), I found an incredible deal on a fancy hotel with a pool, and my wife REALLY likes farmer's markets (Madison has a big one). The capital was fourth on the list, tops.

In the Assembly chambers
In the car on the drive down, I angled the mirror so I could see my children in the back seat. "Hey," I said. "When we're in the capitol, you can't say anything bad about Scott Walker."

"Why?" my son asked.

"Because he's the governor, and we have to respect him."

"But dad, what about..."

And then my son proceeded to recount all the of grievances I have with Governor Walker, shared over the dinner table and overheard in conversations with my wife since 2010. I've learned to loathe arguing politics with friends and strangers, but I can't tell this story without sharing a few of my views here. I'm not a Scott Walker fan. I'm a public school teacher. I signed the recall petition. My disagreements with him are the same as anyone else who disagrees with him, from Act 10 and the union thing to state natural resources to actions I perceive as unfair and underhanded, especially against those who don't agree with Governor Walker.

The Governor's conference room
I don't know how my parents felt when I told the newspaper I voted for Bush, but when my son recited all the reasons why "we" don't like Scott Walker, I felt anxiety, not pride. Eight-year-olds aren't capable of considering both sides of political issues and using their values to choose candidates who they feel best represent them. The boy has my values and beliefs and representatives, wholesale, and maybe those will be fine-enough placeholders until he has the critical thinking abilities necessary to make his own decisions. Or maybe I just brainwashed another thoughtless American voter, like those people who can't even name their representatives but who get spitting-mad at every moron on Facebook who dares have a different view on politics than they do.

The best antidote I could come up with as a I sat in the car was to teach my progeny who our representatives are, quick.

On the capitol dome observation deck
"Listen," I said, "you need to know who our representatives are. Our Assembly person is Dana Wachs. Think about this way - I have a cousin named Dana, and when our representative needs fresh air, he walks. Dana Wachs. Got it?"


"And our Senator is Kathleen Vinehout. You have an aunt Kathy, so Kathleen. And then, think vines, like in the garden. They're outside. They're out. Kathleen Vinehout. Can you remember that?"


"Okay. So who's our Assemblyman?"

"No idea."

"Our Senator?"

"Not a clue."

Overlooking the rotunda
We arrived at the capitol, and the size of the building awed the kids, almost as much as the revolving doors (we don't have any of those in Eau Claire). My cousin's fiancee works for one of the Assembly people, so he gave us a fascinating tour. The children sat in the Governor's chair in the Governor's conference room, and in the Speaker's chair in the Assembly chambers, a privilege earned only by invitation from a government official or staff person. We climbed up into the dome, and heard the stories behind the paintings. My son and daughter paid attention for fifty times longer than they pay attention to anything that isn't associated with Lego Ninjago.

I hope my kids grow up to believe what I believe, but I hope even more that I figure out how to respect their beliefs and values if they don't. Until we find out which way they fall, I will do my best to help them understand what "bicameral" means, and how the Supreme Court works, state and federal, and I promise, Mr. Kind and Mr. Johnson and Ms. Baldwin, I will come up with fun associations to help them learn your names, too.

My son's favorite part of the weekend, even more than the zoo and pool and pizza in the hotel room, was the tour. My daughter's was the capitol's revolving doors. For now, that's close enough.

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