A few days ago, I was getting ready for my day and, as is my pattern, I turned on CNN. It was the top of the hour and the lead story was fronted by a split screen of Bahrain – burning in protest against their government – and the Rotunda in the Capital Building of Madison, Wisconsin, filled with protesters.
I was dumb-struck.
As *anyone* who has ever spent more than 180 seconds with me will tell you, THAT is not a common occurrence.
As a Chamber CEO, one of my chief responsibilities is working with our partners to bring new businesses, both expansions and relocations, as well as skilled professionals and workers to our area. We have some geographic issues that are stumbling blocks for some to even consider Northeastern Wisconsin. Namely, the weather, the weather and the weather. And, well, the cheesehead. I distinctly recall before I moved here a decade ago, during the year before we came, every person whom I told where we were going said to me, “you know it is cold there, right?” Keep in mind, I was living in Reno, at 4,500 feet above sea level and 30 minutes from Lake Tahoe, home of some of the best downhill snow-skiing on the planet! I wasn’t in Southern California for heaven’s sake!
I told them what I tell everyone – we chose Wisconsin because of their commitment to community, tradition and progressiveness; world class public education and the strong work ethic of Wisconsinites.
As I stood in disbelief, staring at my television screen, my thoughts were filled with those reasons I had told people. And I wondered where that Wisconsin had gone.
I’m a Political Scientist by training and avocation. I love politics. Yes, odd I know. But I love our system of government. It is all about compromise and finding the elements in any given issue that all sides can live with … not what they *want* … but what, at the end of the day, they can stomach. What I know and what history bears out is the following:
(Danger Will Robinson, idioms and idiomatic expressions are just ahead)
- You know you have good public policy when all sides leave the negotiating table a little ticked off but feeling like they can live with the decisions reached. These feelings mean there were no “winners” and no “losers” just people who compromised their wants for their needs all in the spirit of moving their organization, their community, their state, their nation, their people forward. Having said that, all sides will feel like they won and feel like they lost. Such is the nature of compromise.
- If one side is jubilant and another side is so angry they are beyond the capacity for rational thought, it is very clearly NOT good public policy.
- Good public policy is what we can expect and must demand from those we elect to represent us. NOT what we “want,” but good public policy. THAT is the heart of a representative democracy such as the one we were lucky enough to be handed by a group of wise and brave men in 1776.
- Good public policy ONLY happens after reasoned, thoughtful, intelligent and measured discussion and negotiation amongst all sides of an issue. *hint, there usually aren’t just two sides*
- Good public policy takes time to go through that process. Grandma was right, “haste makes waste” and “act in haste, repent in leisure.” We must demand our representatives take the time to get it right. It just too important.
- In Wisconsin, as in the country as a whole, I believe all people agree we have to make hard financial choices. I haven’t talked to anyone in the last week who doesn’t agree with that. Teachers, nurses, firefighters, police officers – everyone agrees that we are in difficult financial times and that everyone, public employee, private employee, everyone must share the pain to fix our financial house as a people.
- The devil is, as always, in the details.
Is our public financial house out of order in Wisconsin? Damned straight it is. It has been for the decade I’ve been here – and longer! I’ve listened to State Senator Rob Cowles rail about the structural deficit in our state budget since the day I met him in the later part of 2001. He was right then, he is right now. Yes. We absolutely must fix it. It can only be fixed however, by reasoned, thoughtful, intelligent and measured discussion and compromise between all sides. No quick fixes, no easy answers, no silver bullets. No answers that fix today by mortgaging tomorrow.
I call on all sides – the Governor, the Republican leadership in the Senate and the Assembly, the Democratic leadership in the Senate and the Assembly, WEAC & AFT (the teachers’ unions), Wisconsin Public Workers Union, AFL-CIO, AFSCME (state, county & municipal employees union), the Firefighters union(s), Police Officers union(s), Correctional Officers union(s) and any public collective bargaining units I’ve not specifically mentioned (no slight intended Ladies & Gentlemen, I assure you!!) to pull back, let everyone catch their breath and then get to the bargaining table. Work together in good faith.
Legislators, take a long look at all elements of the legislation, because there is a lot more there than just the public workers benefits and collective bargaining – the hole we are in is much deeper than that. Make sure you aren’t fixing today by mortgaging and raising costs for the taxpayers tomorrow. Be judicious. Be studied. Be cautious. Be open-minded. Get it right.
This is currently classified as a budget issue and the issues of collective bargaining in the aggregate are issues that are not budget issues. Pull those aside and let’s all get to addressing the immediate need of the State’s fiscal problem.
It is time to create good public policy. The fiscal situation of the state must be addressed and I believe everyone involved knows that and is willing to make concessions, give up what they want for what they (and we) need. To create GOOD public policy.
Let’s get Wisconsin known again for our strong sense of community and tradition. Our world class educational system. Our strong work ethic. Our ability to craft solutions that not only address our issues and needs, but also serve as a model for the rest of the nation. And yes, for Cheeseheads, beer and the 13 time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Please let those of us who are working to recruit companies and individuals to our great state sell those wonderful things and not have more mornings watching CNN like this last week.
Just, please, for God’s sake, get to working together so the beautiful & historic Rotunda of the Capital in Madison is never again split screen in comparison with a flaming Middle East. We deserve better.