For two years in a row, former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle proudly signed TWO increases in Wisconsin's state cigarette tax with the help of both houses of the then Democratic Legislature. The Wisconsin tax increased by $1.75 a pack in a little over a year, not counting the federal tax hike during the same time period. Doyle cynically rationalized that his motivation was not a path-of-least-resistance, soak-the-poor revenue gimmick for the state, but him playing both doctor and take moral ownership of his state's people with the hope of "getting them to quit". And judging by the 2010 election in Wisconsin, Doyle was right....if by "getting them to quit" he meant "quit" voting Democrats.....
There were a number of states where Democrats got smashed on November 2, 2010, and Wisconsin was near the top, replacing revered Democratic Senator Russ Feingold with a corrupt hack who believes global warming is caused by sunspots, replaced a Democrat-controlled Senate and state Assembly with Republicans, and of course, installed as Governor, to replace Doyle, one of the biggest villains to rise out of Republican politics in my lifetime, Scott Walker.
Would Walker and the rest of the GOP candidates have been victorious without the Democrats' arrogant financial assault on Wisconsin smokers? It's hard to say. But even as a nonsmoker myself, if I put myself in the shoes of the 20% of Wisconsin voters who smoke and get singled out to have my pocket picked to the extent that they were, I'm gonna be hard-pressed to reward the party of Jim Doyle the next time I go to the polls. That's a pretty large segment of voters to make angry, and very possibly the difference in the election that brought to power the rat bastard that is Scott Walker.
Why do I bring this up now? Because in my home state of Minnesota, which has been shut down for the past six days due to a budget fight marred by the usual brand of economic terrorism by Republicans unwilling to compromise, the outcome I predicted coming since last December showed its first signs of materializing.....once again resolving a budget hole by mortgaging the state's budgetary future on still higher taxes on working-class cigarette smokers.
Now Governor Dayton, for all of his faults, is a very good man and I commend him for holding out as long as he has before resorting to this mindless gimmick, but he has gone there now and my sense is that Republican leaders have been waiting for it. They have publicly rejected the call for the tobacco tax increase thus far, but it seems very likely that any final negotiation is going to include them since smokers are a demographic neither side has a problem kicking in the crotch. And it will be a win-win for Republican leaders because the overwhelming majority of their caucus will get to vote against the increase, requiring the Democrats to vote almost unanimously in favor of it to get it passed. They will have their deal....with all the blood on Democratic hands in the eyes of voters, including many of whom have been sympathetic to Dayton's side up until his "compromise" blackballed them.
Everything about exploiting smokers through the tobacco tax is diabolical, but given that they're a disempowered minority, they're easy prey for cowardly politicians. As the frequency of these surprise attacks on smokers increases, and is usually advanced by Democratic politicians, it is needlessly alienating a large segment of the population that is demographically sympathetic to the Democratic platform away from the party. If it's even a possibility that obnoxious increases in the Wisconsin tobacco tax helped elect Scott Walker, it is worth a very strong moment of soul-searching for Democrats whether they really want to be seen as the party who always shanks smokers....and the moment of soul-searching needs to start with Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton tonight.