Craig Gilbert, Milwaukee Journal SentinelPublished 5:30 a.m. CT Oct. 3, 2018
Meet Art and Barbara Bushue, a couple for our polarized times.
America’s partisan divide runs not just through their marriage. It runs through their front yard.
The Bushues have painted a white line on the grass outside their home in the southern Wisconsin village of Clinton (pop. 2,154).
Art has placed Republican campaign signs on one side of the line.
Barbara has placed Democratic signs on the other.
“She’s a ‘union thug,’ and I’m a ‘management moron,’ ” said Art Bushue, joking about their conflicting world views. “It’s kind of nothing serious. We get along just fine.”
Barbara Bushue jokes about it, too, though she described the partisan divide in their marriage as a challenge.
“We fight all day long over the TV. Anybody that walks in, turns it to either Fox or CNN. We’ve been known to hide remotes. We’ve been known to wrestle over the remote,” she said. “If the TV is off, that helps. If we don’t talk about it, that helps. We can talk about other things, as long as we aren’t constantly reminded about (politics).”
Neither is quite sure exactly when it was in recent years they drew the line. Barbara said she painted it after she went searching for Democratic signs to counter her husband’s Republican signs.
“People kept saying (to me), ‘signs don’t vote.’ I don’t give a (hoot) — he’s outnumbering me!’” she said. “It was getting on my nerves … I start getting my signs up. He starts getting a couple more. l go out and draw a line down the middle, putting my signs on one side and his on the other side.”
Their Rock County village was also split down the middle in 2012, with Democrat Barack Obama winning by three-tenths of a percentage point over Republican Mitt Romney. But President Donald Trump carried the community by 17 points in 2016.
“We’ve gotten a lot of attention … (it) being a small town,” Art said of their yard.
While their solution to the yard-sign issue is unusual, the Bushues are hardly alone among couples in dividing their vote. They are a microcosm of many partisan divisions found in contemporary polls: between men and women; between public employees and private employees (she’s a retired teacher and he worked in the private sector before he retired); between labor and management (she was active in her union and he was a middle manager with an MBA); and between consumers of conservative media and consumers of liberal media.
Their political differences haven’t always been as pointed as they are now.
Art said Barbara has become more liberal over time, though he praised her as a “realist” who “can see the other side of the story.” She said she voted Republican for both President Bushes, then for Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. She became deeply opposed to GOP Gov. Scott Walker during the union wars and recall fight in Wisconsin.
“I’ve got stress in my life. It’s called Trump and Walker,” she said.
Barbara said Art has become more conservative over time.
“He wears this damn red cap that says, ‘Make America Great Again.’ My son got it for him as a joke. He wears it everywhere, which is very embarrassing to me,” she said. “I have a little button that says, ‘If you hear crazy voices in your head, turn off Fox News.’ ”
She said she made sure her husband got a hearing aid that allows him to listen to the television without it being audible to her.
“At least when (Fox) is on, I don’t have to listen to it,” she said. “I’d have to leave the room, especially when (Sean) Hannity was on. That would make me crazy.”
Art is a longtime village trustee in Clinton. He said he has some mixed feelings about Trump but believes he has accomplished huge things and might “turn out to be one of the greatest presidents in history.” He described himself as “anti-Democrat.”
“I don’t think the Republicans have moved. I think it’s the Democrats who are moving left,” he said.
Art said he is the only one in his extended family who is a Republican, so he is used to managing his partisan differences with loved ones.
In a recent statewide poll by the Marquette University Law School, one in five Wisconsin voters said they’ve stopped talking to someone due to disagreements about politics.
Art said it’s not that dire in their case.
“Barbara and I, we’re best buddies. We joke with each other. She is my best friend,” he said.
Barbara said she finds the campaign stressful, even at home.
“It’s just very tense these days,” she said. “I’ll just be glad when it’s over and everything calms down.”