Legislators must work to stop political infighting
Last summer, after legislative turmoil divided our state like I have never before seen, I experienced that division first-hand while walking in a Janesville parade.
During the parade, I turned to my left and saw a group cheering and giving me the “thumbs up.”
When I turned to the other side of the street, I was greeted by a man who also had a finger raised. It wasn’t his thumb.
I have always been used to polite clapping from supporters and being ignored by nonsupporters, so these impassioned displays of support and displays of downright contempt were surprising. During the past year, I have been called a hero, and I have been called a bum; I don’t think I’m either one.
Things have begun to settle down this parade season. While walking in the Beloit Memorial Day Parade, the Orfordville June Days Parade, the Oregon Summer Fest Parade, and Fourth of July parades in Evansville, Brodhead and Milton, I have noticed that the general attitude has calmed. I believe most Wisconsinites are ready to end the infighting that led to strained friendships, family feuds, and arguments with co-workers, and return to a less aggressive political atmosphere.
I see this attitude as I travel around the state with Sen. Dale Schultz. R-Richland Center, on our Common Ground Tour. Whether meeting with local service clubs, small-business owners, or radio hosts, we hear a call to return to a state of civil discourse and common courtesy.
The Common Ground Tour is a small step in the right direction, and small steps are what we need now in Madison. We saw another small step with the governor’s legislative cookout, bringing Democratic and Republican legislators together to enjoy friendly conversation in an informal setting.
Our Common Ground Tour certainly won’t fix the hyper-partisanship in Madison, nor will beer and brats with the governor. But small overtures can help lead to a shift in attitude and perspective. As a result of our willingness to maintain an open dialogue, Sen. Schultz and I understand our differences and respect one another’s positions. By forging relationships, legislators can chip away at this “us versus them” mentality.
During his announcement of the “Beer and Brat Summit,” Gov. Walker made a welcome appeal to bipartisan cooperation. I believe that his first call to action should be the announcement of a special session to find agreement on several key issues, including reforming Wisconsin’s mining laws, creating greater venture capital opportunities and investing in job training programs through Wisconsin’s technical college system. We must also work to create a Wisconsin-specific health insurance exchange, one area of health care reform where there should not be a partisan divide.
The Legislature certainly needs a healthy debate to function properly. Differing perspectives help to ensure full scrutiny of the effects and consequences of legislation. But the people of Wisconsin would rather see legislators extending olive branches than throwing bombs. I’m hopeful we can meet their expectations.
Sen. Tim Cullen serves Wisconsin’s 15th Senate District, including most of Rock County and the Whitewater area. He can be reached at 1-800-334-1438 or (608) 266-2253; at Sen.Cullen@legis.wi.gov, or at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707.