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True Colors Show At Wisconsin Capitol

April 10, 2019

Elections have consequences.  That is one of the basic understandings students will come to accept as civics is studied in classrooms around the state.  But as news stories this week demonstrate some leaders in Madison, who are to work for the people ‘back home’, have forgotten that precept.

One of the broad agreements, when it comes to the aftermath of elections, along with the need for civility following the dust-ups of campaigns, is for the executive to fill a cabinet with the choices best suited for the needs of the time, and those which match up with the character of the one elected by voters.  Unless there is a strong reason such as criminal behavior, ethical lapses, or moral impairments a governor, or president, should have the cabinet selections of their choosing.

But that is not what we are witnessing when it comes to the cabinet choices from Governor Tony Evers.  Between the news stories on Wisconsin Public Radio and the printed articles in newspapers there is plenty of statements from the opposition party to show accepting the judgments of the voters last November is not their first priority.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, earlier Tuesday said the Senate would hold up confirmation of Evers’ Cabinet secretaries as it waits for the courts to resolve the issue.

“I think some of those Cabinet members could be in trouble,” Fitzgerald said when asked what he would do if the governor doesn’t restore the 15 appointments.

The Juneau Republican said “there’s some truth” to the contention by Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, that he was slowing down the confirmation process as retribution for lawsuits brought by liberal groups challenging the lame-duck laws.

I could add commentary about the many statements from national Republicans concerning the pace of confirmation proceedings over Donald Trump’s cabinet, and compare those words to the tactics now on display in Madison.  But instead I wish to bring up something better than words.   I wish to remind my readers of an action–which speaks louder then any rhetorical flourishes.  And do so with the aid of former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold.

While reading the newspaper today I thought back to Russ and the way he viewed the process of governing.  There is a lesson to be learned as this state moves towards the contentious budget process, because this current power-play taking center stage concerning Ever’s cabinet, is all about getting a stronger position for the construction of that document.

In 2001 I contacted the senator, like so many of my Democratic friends and fellow citizens, to ask him to vote against the nomination of John Ashcroft for the position of attorney general.  Ashcroft was a most troubling nominee put forward by President Bush.  Several weeks later Feingold wrote a letter in response to explain why he had instead supported that nominee in the confirmation process.   He wrote that barring any legitimate reasons such as legal, ethical, or being so far outside mainstream thinking which would demonstrate the nominee could not fulfill the duties of the office, meant there was no course he could take than vote to confirm.

The lesson was clear. A liberal Democrat strongly felt compelled to confirm a strict conservative nominee to serve in the cabinet of a president who himself was only allowed to sit in the Oval Office with the vote of a divided Supreme Court.

Make no mistake about what lesson he demonstrated then, and what we need to learn from it for the sake of our state today.  Feingold felt elections had consequences and an executive, once placed in office, had a right to shape policy and create the changes advocated for in the last campaign.  If that is not a lesson in how the process of government is supposed to work, even when it means biting your tongue and fighting your first instincts, than I am not sure what example could be offered to make the case.

I will be the first to admit my gut reacted negatively to the vote cast by Feingold for the office of attorney general.  I was upset by the vote.  My political mood in early 2001 was not about moving on, or forgetting what had transpired over the weeks following the previous year’s general election.   But my head knew that Feingold was right.  Logic and reason are sometimes slow to triumph over our base emotions.   But are we not glad they do?

That very fact is why we need level-headed statesman to take a stand now in favor of moving forward with Evers’ cabinet choices  At this time we need leaders like Feingold proved himself to be in 2001.  We need elected folks who have the courage to lead our state forward with bi-partisan firmness.  But with equal measure we need state Republicans to lower the temperature among their base as Feingold did when writing his letter to his supporters.

I fully grasp the contentious nature of what is now unfolding under the dome.  But I hold firm that far more important than any citizen’s personal feelings about the cabinet selections is the fact we all must make sure the process of governing is allowed to function.

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