It would be wrong not to take time to pay tribute on this blog to one of the ‘old-school’ types which once was the bedrock of Wisconsin politics. This past weekend Bill Kraus, a legendary–and that is not too strong of a word to use–Republican strategist died in Madison at the age of 92.
For a number of years he lived on my block on the Madison isthmus and would walk with his wife past our home. It was because of his stature as one who tried to make government work, offered ways to bridge political divides, and was a treasure house of stories that when it was possible to strike up a conversation I made the effort. We have very few living reminders of how our political culture once was in this state. Perhaps no one characterized that better than Kraus.
So when I heard of his passing I was sad. Sad for him and his family, of course.
But I am equally sad for the loss of civility and common sense when it comes to our state’s politics. I will offer just one quick story, and Kraus’ reaction to it, for all that needs to be pointed out about how we once acted in this state, and where we are presently.
In 1987 Governor Thompson was first inaugurated to his office. For whatever reason, and perhaps just out of the blue as we would have said back home, he decided, while walking down the corridors of the statehouse, to just enter some legislative offices and say hello. One of the longest serving statehouse employees, Geneva Rode, was working in the office with me. He took her hand in his like one might at a family reunion. It was laughs and smiles all around. I had started working in the Capitol the day he took the oath of office and was quite impressed with his warmth and spur of the moment visit. There was the sense we all were working for the people of Wisconsin under the statehouse dome.
I told that story one day to Kruas as we talked on the sidewalk and it was his smile and the look in his eyes that said as much as his words. His face revealed that this was how politics should look and feel. Thompson, a Republican, and our office filled with Democrats. Kraus talked of Thompson having a keen mind for names and tidbits about people from across the state. And as for the friendly connection in the office with smiles, handshakes, and a quick hello, Kraus said one gets so much more done in politics with a smile on your face.
That is how I will remember Bill Kraus. I would hope that sage advice from him would guide our politics again.