Opinion

Heinen: Construction ahead for Wisconsin's government

There's a lot ahead for the state

We’re remodeling our kitchen at home. It needs it. I won’t go into the details, but the old kitchen endured some abuse. And while there is always a certain amount of dread that comes with a big remodeling project, especially of a kitchen, we’re looking forward to an upgrade.

I feel similarly about Wisconsin right now. There’s a lot to clean up and things are going to be messy for a while, but it’s kind of exciting to get the project underway.

Former Gov. Scott Walker did a lot of damage to this state. We don’t need to dissect his methods or his motives any further here — other than acknowledge his next career move will be to help chair President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign in Wisconsin. The new job fits Walker like a glove.

What was always so baffling about Walker was his disinterest in the state he governed. Walker never seemed to like Wisconsin. He took no explicit pride in being a Wisconsinite. He seemed to look on parts of the state, especially Madison and Milwaukee, with disdain. He also appeared to dislike the University of Wisconsin System, public schools and public employees, and he had no interest in infrastructure, the environment or family farms. Worse, he had no imagination, no enthusiasm for innovation or creativity and, as a result, Wisconsin looked hopelessly dysfunctional, backward looking and boring. Like an outdated kitchen, Wisconsin became a place people didn’t want to come to, hang out in and enjoy.

A remodeled Wisconsin doesn’t need to be all bright and shiny. It doesn’t have to have every new gadget. But it needs to be inviting, welcoming and exciting for the quality of opportunity it offers within.

Like any big reconstruction project, there are going to be subcontractors involved and they will offer different opinions. We, the owners of this place, are going to have to make the final decision. 

Too many Republicans in the state Legislature shared Gov. Walker’s desire for a 1950s-style state where one follows a recipe with the same ingredients. They don’t like disruptions or new stuff and they’re going to resist anything that looks too dramatically different. But we also half expect Democratic lawmakers will insist on having things go exactly and only their way, too. Which is why we like having Tony Evers leading the design team. Gov. Evers seems like the kind of guy who wouldn’t get rattled when a new washer and dryer unexpectedly requires a different breaker box, or when it suddenly becomes obvious a new shelf needs to be raised about a foot higher on the wall.

It helps to revisit Wisconsin’s pre-Walker project to build and maintain a vital state university system; an economic development strategy for biosciences, information technology, 21st century manufacturing and small business startups; healthy, local food systems; robust alternative energy generation operations and modern mass transit; an inclusive workforce that acknowledges the contributions of workers from around the world; accessible, affordable health care for all; great child care, preschools and public education; and equity and justice. 

Wisconsin used to be a state others looked at with some envy. It was a cool place to live; a place that was healthy and safe, fun and stimulating and rich in both culture and vision. Despite Walker’s indifference or resistance, we’ve actually been able to add edgy, diverse and inclusive elements. It’s kind of like that splash of color that makes you think “I’ve never seen that in a kitchen before.”

Expect delays. They’re inevitable. But it feels good to have finally summoned the energy and motivation to get this remodeling underway. It’s time to start cooking again.  

Side notes

Madison Food Forefathers
Madison lost two of its iconic participants in the early stages of what we now recognize as a major urban food scene. Dolph “Jeff” Stanley, who founded hamburger haven Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, and Victor Mondry, the ahead-of-his-time founder of the coffee business Victor Allen’s, both died in January. We take great burgers and artisan coffee for granted these days, but Stanley and Mondry did cool food long before it was cool.

Save Our Species
Dane County’s very own Henry Vilas Zoo and zoos across the country play an increasingly important role in protecting animals at risk for extinction. The Save Our Species luncheon on Feb. 12 at the Edgewater Hotel, (I’m the emcee) is a fundraiser to raise awareness of species protection and the important research being done locally. Tickets are available at vilaszoo.org.


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