Wisconsin Legislature Needs This New Year’s Resolution
Over the holidays I ran into one of the most colorful and conversant former members of the state assembly. Without doubt Marlin Schneider carries more institutional memory of the statehouse than perhaps all the current members combined. Agree with his politics or not, Schneider is a funny and insightful man. As he was about to exit a restaurant we shook hands and talked a few minutes as the rest of his family gathered themselves so to leave too.
He mentioned a desire to have been in the fray over ACT 10, but sadly was not reelected to what would have been his last term. It was obvious he misses the policy battles under the dome but it was clear the mean rhetoric of the current political climate was not something he wanted to be engaged in. We mentioned how communities have been split, while family and friends are still deeply divided over all sorts of political issues that have developed since the election of Governor Walker in 2010. I wanted to get his thoughts on how the political divide might be bridged but it was time to let him move on.
But I am sure he would have answered in the same way that so many would in this state to that very question. No one knows how to stem the current tide of political chaos.
There is a meanness and crass nature to so much of our politics. Not all of it takes places at the nati0nal level where not a day goes by without Donald Trump saying something that creates a new low in our political culture. (I am quite certain Walker Cronkite would not have elevated much of what Trump said to the level of ‘news’ for his broadcasts. The media certainly have a duty to play a more constructive role in our political discourse, too.)
At the state level there is the relentless politically planned attacks on state employees and public workers that started out as a strategy so to place Walker in the national spotlight. Working feverishly to deny voters the accessibility to casting a ballot or attempting to limit women their health care rights are all part of an elbows out manner of governing in this state that has worked to turn citizen against citizen. Perhaps most shameful of all was the attempt to portray refugees from war-torn Syria as something other than humans in need of help.
This is not to say our politics both locally and nationally have not always been frothy. But in the recent past there is no denying of almost an effort to reach down for the lowest rung on the ladder with the desire to make that the new norm for the way we conduct politics.
Over the holidays while I was on a blogging break while either making cookies or eating them The Wisconsin State Journal published an article about former legislator and current lobbyist Gary Goyke. His words are clear, to the point, and very accurate about the current breakdown in the way the government under the statehouse dome functions.
Yes. I believe that the current political polarization is almost all purposefully designed. People can choose how they will act in political matters. You can choose to be nice or nasty about individuals or policy. Being nasty is in vogue and advocated by many political managers. Nasty successfully divides people. Advice of campaign consultants who proscribe this philosophy may get a candidate to 51 percent, but they will never get a candidate into a history book for achieving any sense of what I believe should always be the main goal of government, which is seeking the Common Good.
The renowned Wisconsin legislative process is being greatly hampered by the current polarization. Many times standing committee members are purposely excluded from legislative matters until the very last minute. That would have been a rare occurrence years ago.
Developing a strategy to deliberately keep a minority out of the process is not respectful to any other colleague who represents the very same number of voters. That kind of behavior does not help build consensus in any way.
Legislative consensus has always built a stronger state of Wisconsin. In my opinion, some kind of consensus building process needs to return—and quickly.
But how does one right the ship of government when it is upside down in the water? I have an idea.
Perhaps it is time to turn to the former leaders of this state–in a bi-partisan fashion–and have them brainstorm about what might be done to again fashion a working center for state politics so to make good, as Goyke stated, for “the Common Good”. Bring former Assembly Speakers Tom Loftus and John Gard, former governors Tommy Thompson and Tony Earl, and former state senators Dale Schultz and Tim Cullen along with others together to put forth a blueprint on how collegiality can again lead us in our politics. Get the editors of our state papers engaged in writing articles and OP-ED pieces so to then enlist the voters of the state to step up and also demand changes.
Our history shows what can happen when partisans place the common good ahead of everything else. When Europe was starving after WWII it was Democratic President Harry Truman who turned to former Republican President Herbert Hoover to enlist his aid in formulating a plan to combat the human devastation in large parts of the world. History shows us the rest of that successful story.
The needs we have in Wisconsin are far less dire than that faced by Truman but the larger lesson should not be missed. Working as colleagues in a fair and open-oriented process of governing will produce good policy, renew the electorate’s faith in government along with those elected to serve, and shine a light on Wisconsin as an example of how the values and ideals we share are still alive.