A staffer for retiring state Sen. Bob Jauch (D–Poplar) is sending this to state media:
Three state Senators and Wisconsin’s longest serving governor got together recently to share ideas on how to return civility to Wisconsin politics. The Civility Summit was held at the farm of former Governor Tommy G. Thompson (R-Elroy) who was joined by state Senators Tim Cullen (D-Janesville), Bob Jauch (D-Poplar), and Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center). The three senators are not seeking reelection this year.
The idea for the Civility Summit grew out of conversations Thompson had with each of the three senators.
“The three of us have each been around state government in some capacity for over 30 years,” said Cullen. “We’ve each had a working and personal relationship with Tommy, and we kind of said, ‘Gee, if we could find ways to work together despite being from different parties over the years there’s got to be a way to apply that to what’s happening today.’”
Cullen served two stints in the Senate, the first included being Senate Majority Leader from 1981-1986, and he was then tapped by Thompson to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services. First elected to the state Assembly in 1982, Jauch served as Senate Minority Leader during his over 28 years in the senate. Schultz also began his legislative career in the Assembly in 1982, moving to the Senate in 1991 where he also rose to Senate Majority Leader.
“Tim and I may be from a different party, but first and foremost we’re all residents of Wisconsin. We’ve always found ways to be pragmatic with guys like Tommy and Dale,” said Jauch. “Over the years we’ve had some arguments, but we all knew we had to put the people of Wisconsin ahead of party and personal interests, and it’s frustrating to see that attitude in short supply today.”
The four spent the day discussing how they were able to achieve results, how they differed with others while still being civil and how they can help renew those tactics in a seemingly fractured political environment.
“We’ve all served in leadership in the legislature, and I think that gives you a unique perspective because you have to work with a lot of different personalities,” Schultz said. “I don’t think there has been anyone better at doing that over the years than Tommy Thompson.”
The former governor began his political career in 1966 with his election to the state Assembly where he rose to Minority Leader before beating the odds and winning a contentious primary and then defeating an incumbent to become governor. Governor Thompson was elected an unprecedented four times before being chosen by President George W. Bush to serve as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.
“It was an afternoon of beef, beer and bull – all home grown in Wisconsin,” said Thompson. “We all have a passion, an excitement, for the state we so deeply love, and I’ve always been a doer. To accomplish great things you have to work together. We’re at our very best when we unite for the people of Wisconsin.”
The three senators said they will continue to speak across the state to both encourage their colleagues to engage in a more civil debate and to remind voters during this campaign season to challenge candidates for office to explain how they have or will practice bipartisanship in office which would lead to real results for the people they represent.
Let’s put aside for the moment the millions of Democrats who don’t want you to eat meat and the millions of Republicans who don’t want you to drink, and examine this deeper. You would think the hypocrisy in this news release demonstrates that there was a whole lot more bull than beef and beer.
Let’s start with Cullen and Jauch, who demonstrated their love for Wisconsin, not to mention their putting people over party and personal interests by leaving the state to prevent the Act 10 vote. That vote, of course, was the direct result of the steaming pile of manure that was state government finances when Cullen’s and Jauch’s party had total control of state government. The government unions told Cullen and Jauch to prevent Act 10 from passage by any means necessary, and a trip across the state line was the result. (Cynical Steve is surprised that Schultz didn’t join them; of course he got his cake and to eat it too as he has done nearly all of his legislative career, since he voted against Act 10 and it passed anyway.) Maybe this civility thing can start with Cullen’s and Jauch’s apologizing for their conduct and for being completely, totally wrong about Act 10, but don’t hold your breath.
I’m also unclear where Jauch suddenly became the voice of moderation in the twilight of his career. (Somewhere there is a video clip of Jauch being neither moderate nor civil during Senate debate on Act 10.) I’m sure all those people in his Senate district who would like to work in well-paying mining jobs probably don’t look at Jauch so favorably. Jauch (and Cullen and Schultz) took the views of the latte-sipping Volvo-driving Birkenstock-wearing deodorant-eschewing environmentalists instead of the less fortunate, chronically unemployed blue collar workers from Jauch’s Senate district who would benefit from actual jobs.
The other thing I find hard to stomach is Cullen’s and Jauch’s talk about civility when their party showed none of it. I’m not talking about this decade. For most of the 1990s, the Senate was in Democratic hands, under the control of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala (D–Madison). Over a decade Chvala morphed from being someone I not only voted for, but worked for in the grunt work that goes into a political campaign (for instance, painting a trailer and passing literature in parades), to being one of the nastiest bastards in the history of state politics. Maybe it was in reaction to Rep. Scott Jensen (R–Waukesha), the Assembly speaker most of that time; maybe it was in reaction to Thompson. But did Cullen and Jauch preach civility and moderation while they were in the Senate majority? There’s no evidence they did, and if Cullen and Jauch claim that politics is uniquely nasty now, they apparently weren’t paying attention in the 1990s.
I’ve written about Schultz in this space already. Thompson (for whom I voted five times, I point out, and we are Facebook Friends, at least until he reads this) could afford to be magnanimous because, like a parent, he always got the last word as the governor with the most veto authority of any governor in the nation. Because of that and his other political skills, I don’t think Thompson ever had to make a political deal he didn’t want to have to make. There was, for instance, the time when Thompson said he would sign a bill reinstituting the death penalty if it got to his desk. (Former Republican state Sen. Alan Lasee introduced a death penalty bill in every session of the Legislature.) No death penalty bill ever got to Thompson’s desk, even when Republicans controlled both houses of the Legislature, and I believe it’s because Thompson didn’t want it to get to his desk, and so it didn’t.
On the other hand, Thompson served during a period of growth in tax revenues (at one point, Wisconsin was number one in the nation not in football, but in taxes), and so he never had to make the kinds of difficult decisions for which Cullen, Jauch and Schultz castigated Gov. Scott Walker. The closest thing Thompson did to Act 10 was the Qualified Economic Offer, limiting growth in teacher salaries. The QEO went away after Thompson left for Washington.
I hope the Civility Summit included a mirror, but I’m betting it didn’t. Who is at fault for the decrease in civility in politics? I’ll give you a hint: Those at fault include men with the first names of Tommy, Dale, Bob and Tim.
Why is that? Because from the start of Thompson’s Assembly career to the end of Schultz’s, Jauch’s and Cullen’s Senate careers, state government (and local government too) has grown far beyond justified size given inflation and the state’s population growth. (Had we had limits on government spending tied to population growth and inflation since the late 1970s, according to the Tax Foundation, state and local government would be half the size it is today. However, Thompson never pushed for a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, either as state law or, more importantly, in the state Constitution.) During that time as well, state legislators became full-time legislators, and they are paid nearly twice what their average constituent makes. When the stakes go up in elections, the legislative process and campaigns get progressively more personal and nasty. (And therefore the more money gets spent on getting elected and reelected to office, which is a separate subject.)
Thompson, Schultz, Jauch and Cullen spent their entire adult careers in state politics. (I was 1½ years old when Thompson went to Madison, shortly before the Packers’ first Super Bowl win.) So maybe it’s natural for them to assume that every problem the state faces requires government to fix it. None of the four could ever have been accused as doing anything to promote, or even believing in, smaller government. (Thompson was a “compassionate conservative” before George W. Bush was.) Those four were in the same party — the Incumbent Party, which big government benefits most of all.
Out here in the real world, where people actually have to earn their salaries, government causes many more problems than it fixes. Unless you are a government employee, which means you’re paid for your work by taxpayers, no Wisconsinite has ever gotten his or her money’s worth from government.
The Civility Summit calls to mind an era of state politics that doesn’t exist anymore, if in fact it ever did. (Fighting Bob La Follette would have punched out anyone who called for civility in politics.) Politics, remember, is a zero-sum game. One side wins, which means the other side loses. If you don’t win, you have accomplished nothing for your constituents (at least those who voted for you) or your supporters.
Of course, I don’t elevate politicians like the state’s media does. I like politicians to the extent they do what I want them to do, and no more than that. (I particularly do not like politicians who refuse to place limits on their own power.) And I don’t love Wisconsin. You cannot love a thing, and Wisconsin is a thing — an overtaxed place with bad weather most of the year.