A Wisconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
April 4, 2010
By Bill Kraus
In 2010 there is an open seat in the governor’s office.
In the state Legislature there are 132 incumbent office holders, none of whom are candidates for governor.
The Legislature a generation ago was a virtual spawning ground, a stepping stone, for politicians ambitious for higher office.
If there was a complaint about the make up of those long-ago bodies, it was that the members were climbing over each other in search of shots at the few higher offices that were available for which they could run.
A fast count reveals that this generation-ago group of state legislators produced eight members of the U.S. Congress, one U.S. Senator, three governors, two Supreme Court justices, one ambassador, and uncounted mayors and county executives.
The current crop, if 2010 is an indication, will produce none of the above.
For lack of ambition if nothing else.
For one thing, the recruiting, slating, and electing of the talent pool that produced large numbers of the restlessly ambitious was taken over from the diminished-role-parties by the enhanced-role legislative leaders. The party leaders wanted the best and the brightest with the most promising prospects for higher office.
What the legislative leaders wanted were people who could win legislative elections and, once that was accomplished, would obey orders.
The jobs themselves changed as well. A generation ago most of the members of the Legislature had other lives, other jobs. The legislative pay scale was set on the assumption that the members would be part-timers. Most were. For most, it was not a career destination. It was a temporary trip into public service for some, a first or second step up the ladder of political power for the rest.
Many state legislators came from service on county boards, city councils, and school boards where they got their first appetizer-sized taste of political power and developed an appetite for a larger entree-sized serving. One interesting exception to this progression was the several members of the Milwaukee caucus whose ambition was to use the Legislature as a stepping stone to more lucrative and long-term careers on that area’s county board or city council.
When it became economically possible to live well as a full-time legislator and when self-serving redistricting made perpetual re-election almost a certainty, more and more members of this latter-day crop of legislators decided to career out in Madison.
Those are the real reasons the 132 are staying put except for the few who are opting out altogether for reasons of their own.
The popular explanation that the candidate shortage from this traditional source is that the next governor is going to face an impossible challenge is an excuse not a reason.
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