That story started 20 years ago, when Congress appropriated $289 million for a Milwaukee-area transit project. It was first slated for a bus-only highway between Milwaukee and Waukesha, but then-Gov. Tommy G. Thompson vetoed that idea in response to neighborhood opposition.Read the whole thing to see how this played out in Milwaukee politics, with Walker favoring buses over trains and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett favoring rail. Barrett was the Democratic candidate for Governor last fall, and now he's got his rail project approved. He's not seeking state money, and the the settlement in the lawsuit supposedly "prohibits the state from blocking the streetcar project."
Congress then took away $48 million, and state and local officials started a major study of how to use the remaining $241 million. The study recommended building a light rail system, adding bus-and-car-pool lanes to I-94 and expanding bus service.
Walker, then a state representative from Wauwatosa, was among the suburban Republicans who helped kill that plan, persuading fellow Republican Thompson to rule out using any state or federal money to study light rail.
In frustration, Milwaukee community activists filed two civil rights complaints against the state with the U.S. Department of Transportation in late 1998.
The complaints noted that many of the central city's African-American residents didn't have cars, but nearly all white suburbanites did. Therefore, activists argued, the state was discriminating against minorities by favoring freeways over public transit.
IN THE COMMENTS: Readers are pointing out that the proposed route for the streetcar does not extend into Milwaukee's minority neighborhoods.
The real goal of a lawsuit often fails to match up with the legal ground that is used to invoke judicial power. Similarly, political rhetoric often exploits values that don't square with what politicians are really doing. There are many reasons to play the race card, and only one is that you actually intend to serve the individuals you are leveraging your argument on.