July 2009

Big ideas … and the epic disconnect

The job-killing tax and fee increases in the new state budget were bad enough. But even worse was the epic disconnect between what was happening in Madison and the economy in the rest of the state.

The $3 billion tax hike will hit an economy that has already shed more than 133,000 jobs (almost all of them in the private sector) in the last year. The state’s job loss was the biggest in more than a half a century, but Gov. Doyle prepared to sign a budget that raised taxes on virtually every aspect of the state’s economy, especially business.

This head-banging disconnect between our political culture and our economy is especially striking in light of the analysis in this issue of Wisconsin Interest by veteran business executive Thomas Hefty and journalist and entrepreneur John Torinus Jr.: “Wisconsin Flunks Its Economics Test.”

Even before the current budget, they report, Wisconsin had been falling behind the rest of the country, to the point where Wisconsin now risks becoming “the Alabama of the North.” Despite the administration’s attempts to obscure the extent of job loss by using “rosy or smoky” counting methodology, they note that during the Doyle years Wisconsin has “managed to slide to below-average wages and below-average job growth…the worst of both worlds.”

Their study comes too late to affect the passage of the current budget, but the data they assemble could set the terms of the debate over Wisconsin’s direction, especially going into the 2010 elections.

Also in this issue, an investigative report by Mike Nichols paints a provocative portrait of the unelected and unresponsive board that runs the Milwaukee Area Technical College. Nichols details the tech school’s super-sized staff salaries and benefits and the insider nature of the school’s dysfunctional governance system.

In our “Frontline” report, Sunny Schubert talks with the idiosyncratic Bob Ziegelbauer, a legislator from Manitowoc who “finds himself shunned by fellow Democrats and treated like a freak of nature by Republicans.” Schubert notes that this is a shame because the conservative Ziegelbauer, who is also Manitowoc county executive, is “one of the smartest and most innovative public servants in the state.”
This issue also debuts a new column on the politics of culture by Marquette Law Professor Rick Esenberg; along with a guest column by The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes, who assesses the political prospects of wunderkind Paul Ryan.

Finally, our cover story features the first joint interview of the two men most likely to challenge Gov. Doyle for re-election next year (assuming that he seeks re-election). Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former Congressman Mark Neumann sat down with former Isthmus editor Marc Eisen and me at the WPRI offices in Hartland in late May to discuss the state of the state and conservative politics.

Near the end of our interview, I asked them: “What does an organization like WPRI bring to the conservative movement in Wisconsin?”

Neumann: A lot. For anything to become a reality, you first need a vision. Which you all are doing by bringing ideas forth for people to talk about. Those visions have to be verbalized first and gotten into people’s minds to the point where you can start enacting them.

Walker: What happens here [at WPRI] is the combination of the big vision, the big idea, but also putting the meat on the bone, to give specifics to not just elected officials but to advocates and others in the community. That plays an incredibly important role.

That, at least, was something we could all agree on.

— Charles J. Sykes

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"Diversity" Takes an Odd Turn

Vietnam-born alder targets crime, gets blasted from the left. By David Blaska


Party of One

Conservative Democrat Bob Ziegelbauer scores a breakthrough on health care, but finds few allies. By Sunny Schubert


Bring on the Stats Nerds

Government needs a good dose of sabermetrics. By Christian Schneider



Commuter train boosters pull a fast one on the public. By Deb Jordahl



Dubbed a future leader, Paul Ryan already shapes the Washington debate. By Stephen F. Hayes


Summit Meeting

GOP hopefuls meet for first time, critique Jim Doyle’s tenure, make their cases to be governor. By Charles J. Sykes and Marc Eisen


Under Fire

How Should Conservatives Respond to a Hostile Liberal Takeover? By Richard Esenberg


MATC's Reality Moment

Last fall, the tech board happily endorsed super-sized staff salaries and benefits. Will the recession end the party? By Mike Nichols


Wisconsin Flunks its Economics Test

During the Doyle years, the state failed to create new jobs while descending to Alabama-level wages. By Thomas Hefty and John Torinus, Jr.