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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

'Shepherd Express' Publisher On Healing Our State

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How Healthy Government Worked

Twenty years ago, I had the honor of serving three terms in the Wisconsin Assembly. It was a time when we had a split government, with a Republican governor in Tommy Thompson and Democrats in control of both houses. I certainly disagreed with Gov. Thompson on many issues, but we could always talk and work it out in a way that both sides felt their actions had helped move Wisconsin incrementally forward. Compromise was not considered a bad thing, as it is with some of the extremists today. You could argue and debate on the floor of the Assembly or Senate and then, Democrat and Republican, you could go have a beer together when the day's session was over. Unfortunately, that's not happening today. We need to mend Wisconsin and bring the two sides closer together so we can have civil discourse once again.

In a democracy, experienced players and historians understand that change is incremental and built on compromise. Trust me, it is often very frustrating when you are a new legislator and you have a vision of what you want to do. The problem is that others have different visions. That's why wise leaders learn to compromise to build greater support for their modified vision. Legislative hearings on issues are used to help bring about compromises, which often make initial legislation better, not weaker. Back when Thompson was governor and we had a split government, most of the bills would finally pass with huge majorities. The leaders understood that if you pushed something extreme through the process with 51% support, there would be a backlash. When U.S. Supreme Court justices are being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, one issue always comes up about stare decisis, a legal term that essentially says that the candidate generally accepts precedents and does not intend to try to undo the past 50 or 100 years of accepted law.

How Wisconsin Became a Battlefield

What has happened in our great state of Wisconsin over the past 16 months has been the exact opposite of that notion, and that is why we are currently facing an unprecedented set of recall elections. No one is enjoying these recall elections, but a provision for recall elections for circumstances like we face today was incorporated into our constitution for good reason and approved by a majority of the voters. For those of us who love this state, this has been a gut-wrenching 16 months. We have seen family members become bitter enemies as they feel forced to choose sides while the state goes through these extreme political changes. I know of three couples, for example, who in past years would laugh about canceling out each other's votes on Election Day or the fact that they had two opposing political signs in their front yards before elections. These couples are now in the process of divorce because the political debates had become nasty political fights over the past year. The issues that are causing these fights are important issues, but they are not as important as the fact that we need to bring the state back together so we can have civilized disagreements without them becoming vicious and personal fights.


Barrett Could Work With Both Sides

It was when I was elected to the Assembly 25 years ago that I met Tom Barrett. We both represented the city of Milwaukee, and I also represented two suburbs. Barrett had a strong sense of values and strong views on various issues, but he was always the one who could present his positions in a non-combative manner and thereby work with—and be liked and respected by—both sides. Barrett's skills were very useful when we had the Legislature controlled by one party and the governor's office controlled by the other. This ability caused some to think that he was too nice to make the tough decisions. I think that perception definitely has been shown to be incorrect, as we have seen him publicly disagree on issues with some major Democratic Party constituencies when he believed that his positions were right for Milwaukee or the state of Wisconsin. I did not agree with Barrett on a number of issues as a legislator—and as publisher of the Shepherd Express, the Shepherd and Mayor Barrett have not always seen eye to eye—but we could talk it out and end up agreeing to disagree.

Wisconsin Needs to Come Together

Right now, our state faces the most divisive and vicious political environment that anyone currently alive in this state has ever experienced. Unfortunately, our Legislature and governor are following the playbook of out-of-state special interest groups and the wishes of out-of-state billionaires who do not live in, and will never live in or even visit, Wisconsin.

The agenda that they have promoted for Wisconsin and that was dutifully passed is not designed to create jobs in Wisconsin, and the job creation results over the past year have shown us to be last among all 50 states. They say that this is creating the environment for future jobs, but many economists understand that this is an agenda to make a small group of wealthy people wealthier while lowering the living standards of Wisconsin's middle class. The vast majority of jobs are created by small businesses, and most of these small-business owners are not super-wealthy people, but rather people who work 60 hours a week and are the last ones to be paid when times are tough. As a former economics professor and a successful entrepreneur in Wisconsin, I know that this approach of tax cuts for the wealthy and education cuts for the many will eventually make Wisconsin look a lot more like Louisiana or Alabama, where there are a few good suburban schools and some good private schools and the rest of the public schools are struggling to provide even a modest education. The leading countries of the world are investing in education while Wisconsin cuts back. Cutting back on education is a surefire recipe for a poorer and dumber Wisconsin, when the future depends on a skilled and educated workforce to compete in the world economy.

Tom Barrett on June 5

Wisconsin needs to heal and become the above-average and moderate state that has served us well for so many decades. Tom Barrett has unique skills in the area of compromise and bringing people together, and those skills have never been more needed in Wisconsin than on June 5. Vote to heal Wisconsin. Please vote for Tom Barrett on June 5.

Louis G. Fortis

Publisher

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