Time to show support amid the political chaos

Elected officials need to talk to each other
Time to show support amid the political chaos

Boy, I’ve got a lot on my mind. I know, I know: don’t we all? Well, we all do. The challenge is to make some sense of it all and keep it from being a depressant. This most recent bout of introspection was prompted by the latest Kauffman Index of Startup Activity, UW System budget issues, the Madison Metropolitan School District referendum, teacher shortages, ethics debates–Hillary Clinton and the State of Wisconsin Ethics Commission–town of Madison annexation plans, and Milwaukee. Among other things.

I think there’s a theme here, a common thread that ties some of this stuff together. Each provokes a modicum of frustration for me. We should be doing better in measures of new economy performance, in part by virtue of the presence of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the excellence of our public schools. So it would follow that we should be doing a better job of supporting UW-Madison and those public schools. Teaching should be a noble, respected and highly desirable profession. People who chose public service, especially those who hold or seek elected office, should have a sensitive enough ethics antenna that they can recognize appearances of conflict of interest regarding campaign donations and influence. Something as important and sensible as the annexation of the town of Madison should not flounder as a result of dysfunctional relationships between municipalities or legislative and executive levels of government. And Milwaukee should not be suffering such devastating impacts due to a lack of investment, commitment and leadership.

What worries me is the cumulative impact of these issues on the place we live, Madison, Wisconsin. Madison and Wisconsin. I care too much about both to be able to shrug it all off as the result of circumstances beyond our control or unintended consequences of good intentions. People we have designated as leaders have made bad decisions and we are fiddling as Rome burns.

Politics is a particularly ugly game right now. But while I find it encouraging that so many people are identifying the effects of politicizing personal circumstances of income inequality, opportunity for advancement, etc., we are having less success at reversing the damage done by politicizing our institutions. We’ve politicized education at every level. We’ve politicized innovation. We’ve politicized immigration and wages and health care and labor. And in the process, we’ve lost our ability to function as an integrated, representative democracy where business and government and non-governmental organizations complement each other. It’s maddening.

Business and civic leaders predicted years ago that Gov. Scott Walker’s antipathy to 21st century economy tools like multi-model transit, alternative energy industries, state support for venture capital, support for the UW System and education at all levels would discourage entrepreneurs from choosing Wisconsin as a home and headquarters. Elected officials realize money is the most important tool in their box–today’s politics require it–and protecting it is more important than the public trust. UW-Madison is forced to negotiate the minimal state budget support it still has access to and Madison’s schools are forced to ask property-taxpayers to help make up the difference of state budget cuts. And our mayor and our city council and our county executive and our county board aren’t talking to each other.

Madison Magazine recently asked readers to tell us (among other things) what they liked least about the magazine. Politics topped the list. I’m sorry. More sorry than you know.

Side notes

Partners in giving
I recently had the pleasure of speaking to more than 100 state, university, and UW Health workers who had volunteered to chair their departments’ individual campaigns to support United Way of Dane County, Community Shares and other charities. Anyone who questions how state workers view their lives in a post-Act 10 Wisconsin would be impressed and inspired. I was.

Richard Davis, one of greatest bass players who ever lived, started teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1977. I took his second black music class in 1978. He is a special human being and he has touched countless lives in addition to mine. He told me recently despite being honored at a retirement reception that he wasn’t retiring, but rather “re-organizing.” Whew.

Help wanted
Madison’s outstanding Lussier Community Education Center in the Wexford Ridge neighborhood needs a new dishwasher–the machine, not the person. Theirs broke down after serving 16,000 meals a year for who knows how long. They need about $3,800. Very few requests for support are this clear-cut, and this is deserving.