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Jobs, Economy, and Energy Intersect With Politics in Janesville, Wisconsin

  • Kane Farabaugh

When voters in the U. S. Midwestern state of Wisconsin head to the polls on November 4th, high gasoline prices coupled with job losses will weigh heavily on their minds. For both Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, Wisconsin is important to winning the White House. Lately, some independent groups charting the 50 states and their electoral votes have put Wisconsin either clearly in Obama's camp or leaning that way. The outcome in Wisconsin could largely be determined by how voters see the economy and its future. VOA's Kane Farabaugh recently traveled to Janesville, Wisconsin and filed this report.

For almost 90 years, this automobile plant has been in Janesville.

The plant has survived tough times -- the Great Depression and World War Two. Since 1919, thousands of workers like Bill Breidenstein have passed through its doors.

In December, General Motors will close the plant.

"It's heart-wrenching when you think you put in your life of trying to keep a company going then to have this happen," Bill Breidenstein said. He is a retired auto worker.

High gasoline prices brought thick clouds to Janesville. Once the producer of iconic American cars like the 1957 Chevrolet, the plant currently makes mid-size trucks and sport utility vehicles. Sales of those cars have plummeted due to the high cost of fuel.

In addition to job losses at the plant, some six thousands more jobs throughout the region will be affected by the closing.

In this part of America, jobs are the greatest concern for voters like Bill Breidenstein. Barack Obama tapped into this when he visited the plant earlier this year, before GM's announcement.

"If our government is there to support you," Obama said. "This plant will be here for another hundred years."

Breidenstein was there for Obama's speech. He worked at the plant for more than 30 years. Most of his children work at the plant or at its suppliers.

Breidenstein supports Obama. "We have an administration in there now that has done nothing but promote companies moving overseas," Breidenstein said. "We cannot have that, and Obama after he gave his speech, he says one thing we need to do is penalize companies that move overseas and not give them tax breaks like they've been getting for the last eight years."

But McCain supporters like Jim Chesmore disagree. Chesmore is a former plant worker. "I can't say the problems this plant is having is actually political," Chesmore said. "I think it's more economy from gas prices, has a big thing to do with it."

Chesmore worked at the Janesville plant for almost 40 years. He supports offshore drilling which Obama initially opposed. Chesmore believes that jobs at the plant would have been saved if drilling were already underway. "It's there, it just has to be tapped into," Chesmore said.

Many issues intersect at Janesville, from the economy to jobs to the high cost of fuel. All contributed to the plant closure. Despite the political rhetoric, it seems no solution can be reached in time to save the plant and the people employed there.

When Wisconsin voters head to the polls on November 4th, they are expected to cast their ballots for the candidate they feel has the best plan for their future and their jobs.