The Boys at the Top


Wisconsin Capitol/Shame. (Photo by Callen Harty)

When we were kids in small-town Wisconsin there were always some of the popular kids who could get away with all sorts of things. They were athletes or their parents were rich or held important positions in the town, so they were used to being on top of the world and getting what they wanted most of the time. On those occasions when a game of some sort was played and the popular boys lost, they would suddenly change the rules of the game to change the results. A big score for the underdogs would suddenly turn into a penalty for a loss and no amount of arguing could change the new reality that the rules had changed.

For those kids who could change the rules on a whim, playing games was never about competition, sportsmanship, getting to know other people through the games, or even about valuable life lessons as most coaches would say. It was about winning. The big lesson of the Green Bay Packers’ Vince Lombardi–“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,”–was drilled into their heads and they took it to heart. Of course, they only heard that one quote and they took him too literally. Lombardi was a moral man who would not tolerate anything but the best effort from his players. He expected them to win with hard work, heart, and playing by the rules. He might take advantage of the rules, but he would not change them after the fact in order for his team to win. That kind of win would be meaningless to him.

But immature boys don’t understand the nuances of someone like Lombardi. Popular boys don’t understand that they won’t always be the winners. Bullies don’t understand that they can’t push others around to get what they want for their entire lives without some kind of comeuppance. They may continue to try the tricks they learned as children, but there will be times when they lose, when things don’t work out exactly as they had planned–even when they are the ones with all the power. It’s the nature of life. Still, they will continue to try–because for them winning is the only thing, at any cost.

In the recent mid-term election, Wisconsin ousted Scott Walker, one of the darlings of the Republican right wing, from the governorship, replacing him with Democrat Tony Evers. In addition, Badger citizens elected the first African-American Lieutenant Governor, a new Attorney General, State Treasurer, and returned Tammy Baldwin to the Senate, a sweep by the Democrats of the five statewide races that were held. Republicans held onto the State Senate and Assembly.

After the election, the Republican legislators who have held power in all branches of the Wisconsin government since Walker was elected in 2010 and took power with a “divide and conquer” strategy in 2011, were stunned. For the first time in eight years they suddenly did not hold every branch of government and the Governor-elect was talking about trying to undo some of the harm that they had done to the state.

But the leadership of the state Republicans are boys who were used to eight years of absolute power, eight years of pushing through every bill they wanted against an opposing party that couldn’t stop them because of numbers, eight years of changing the rules to win, to get what they wanted no matter what. They are the boys who pushed through bills in the middle of the night, who cut off public hearings, who passed laws giving the governor more power so that they could get even more of what they wanted. The reality is that it really wasn’t so much about what they wanted, and definitely not about what Wisconsin citizens wanted, but about what the American Legislative Exchange Council–ALEC–wanted. ALEC is a conservative lobbying group for various industries that writes boilerplate laws that toadies like Wisconsin’s leadership push through state legislatures around the country. They own these guys.

These boys, who are so full of themselves and the power they have held for so long–have decided, just like the pre-pubescent children playing games in my youth, that they want to change the rules so that they can keep winning. It is not about what’s best for the state or its citizens, but for the bullies and their overlords who supply them with money for their next campaigns. And they are so confident of their power, their right to win, their destiny, that they don’t even pretend that they are looking out for anyone but themselves.

In recent days, they have called for an election date to be changed, even though county clerks across the state have said that it would be a hardship and cost the state millions of dollars. The leadership publicly announced that they believe it will give a conservative Supreme Court Justice a better chance at winning reelection. He was appointed by Walker, but now has to win his seat. They believe the Democrats may not turn out in as many numbers with the changed date as they will for a Presidential primary, which would have been held the same day. They have suddenly had a surprising epiphany and realized that maybe they gave Scott Walker too much power and they should now take back some of the power that they mistakenly gave to him. They also want to take away power from the Attorney General and give it to themselves. And more. This is a naked grab for power, a move so blatant that nobody in the state is fooled by it at all.

There will be citizens at the hearings already scheduled for Monday (after the hundreds of pages of text of the bills were released on Friday). There will be protesters at the Capitol all day Monday and Tuesday (when the vote on these bills is expected). However, the numbers will likely not rival or even come close to the tens of thousands who showed up in opposition to Scott Walker’s sudden push to strip union workers of their rights back in 2011. And the opposition will likely fail. These boys in power have not listened to protests, citizens, newspaper editorials, Democrats in the legislature, or anyone but their moneyed backers for eight years and they have the numbers to pass whatever they want and the Governor-elect does not have veto power until January. Scott Walker is still the governor and can sign whatever they pass. Though he calls himself a Christian and a moral person, he has not yet shown that he has the conscience to veto such unbridled power grabs.

What bullies like these boys don’t understand, though, is that these kinds of unfair bending and breaking of the rules usually come back to bite one in the ass at some point. The popular kids, the powerful boys, don’t always win. During their eight-year reign of power they passed a bill to change Wisconsin’s recount laws, Walker signed it, and that law prevented him from asking for a recount in the election that he just lost. Somehow, some way, karma makes itself known. Somehow, in some way, the boys in power at this moment in time, will lose their power, their popularity will wane, and they will not be remembered fondly when history writes their story.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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2 Responses to The Boys at the Top

  1. Bj Martin says:

    Callen I always appreciate your blogs. I have learned much from your writing and feel more aware of the world. Keep up the good work, I always look for your next article. BMartin

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