Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wisconsin Politics: Come Smell Our Dairy Air (Or where is Fighting Bob when we really need him?)

Wisconsin's new tourism chief, Stephanie Klett, says the state is looking for a new tourism motto.  After all, the way things are going in Madison you're certainly no longer among friends and given our perennial budget crisis, we can no longer afford to live like we mean it when life isn't so good.  In fact, the political and economic chaos, rather than enhancing our state's image, leaves a lot of folks wondering if we should escape Wisconsin.

All puns aside -- at least for the moment -- we all ought to be concerned about how the shenanigans in Madison hurt our state's image.  Being open for business doesn't necessarily mean business will come -- or stay -- here.  Removing about $380 million a year in purchasing power from state employees will hardly create jobs or turn money around in local economies -- and that's just state employees.  When de facto pay cuts hit local workers and teachers the economic hit will likely be a mini tusnami with no appreciable benefit to most taxpayers, especially the middle class.

To be fair, this didn't start with Scott Walker but our rookie governor makes a bull in a china shop look docile.  And while it's easy to bang up on legislative Republicans, we must remember than when Democrats were in the majority under Jim Doyle the legislature's poo-bahs asserted virtually no independence from another of the finest governors that money can buy.  It's been a slippery political slope for the past two decades and Walker and his Republican bobbleheads only attract the lightning rod -- or the mindless praise -- because of the ultraextremism which has taken partisanship to a new low in our state. 

It's kind of like the fall elk rut.  The male wapiti are so preoccupied with banging up on each other that it's impossible for them to see the big picture.  Unlike the elk, however, partisan legislators these days no longer hang out with the colleagues they bashed during the political rut.  In short, rather then playing the role, they've let the role play them.

This is serious stuff.  A lot of day to day governance -- the nuts and bolts stuff -- got done because politicians would sit down and dine and drink with each other -- a rarity today.  A month or so ago I was with Michigan's Levin brothers -- Senator Carl and Congressman Sandy, both old-school liberals -- and we got to talking about the demise of personal relationships among elected officials and ultraextreme hardball politics.  They pointed out that the gridlock today can be traced to blind "oneupsmanship" than is becoming more the rule than the exception.

If we want Wisconsin open for business we must realize that business wants more than just a favorable tax climate.  People with money to spend is one plus -- and happier people even better.  Responsible collaborative labor peace is gold.  Labor instability is quicksand.  A solid, well-maintained infrastructure is likewise essential but the day to day governance and keeping the ship afloat is taking a back seat to the political shockwaves coming from the state capitol.

What's the solution?  Democrats will say return them to power but they had a shot and failed to adequately address our state's problems.  The proclaimed concern for Wisconsin's working men and women and the dignity of our political process is just that -- proclaimed -- but the reality is that the mark of a great politician is the ability to conceal envy when accusing an opponent of screwing the public.

Perhaps the solution for what ails Wisconsin now is going back to the future.  The "Fighting Bob" La Follette Progressive party -- perceived now as a liberal faction -- was actually spun off of the Republican party in Wisconsin.  A responsible significant third party in Madison and Washington may provide the balance that we critically need -- a watchdog over the extremism of the far left and far fight.  Perhaps now more than ever if we can't get the two major parties moving toward the center we need a buffer between them. 

Time is running out.  If we can't restore sanity to the state house then perhaps there's no reason for us to stay a little longer because the "dairy air" of Wisconsin politics will have become an irreversible noxious stench.

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