Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Let's not forget Wisconsin's past

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
March 14, 2011

One of the newest members of the Common Cause in Wisconsin State Governing Board, former State Representative (1975-1991) and State Senator (1991-1998) Calvin Potter of Sheboygan Falls, reminds us not to forget the good government tradition that used to be what people here and all over the nation thought of when they thought of Wisconsin. Here are his thoughts, as published in The Sheboygan Press on Sunday.

By Cal Potter

As we listen to the public commentary surrounding the heated debate in Wisconsin's current political scene, one often sees a lack of understanding of the role of democracy, as well as too little knowledge of, and respect for, our state's unique political heritage. Improved literacy amongst the public and politicians would help resolve the present hostile situation in order to again have government focus on its true role as for, of and by the people.

While Gov. Scott Walker was elected by 52 percent of the voters, it must be recognized that 48 percent did not choose his leadership and stand on many issues. While democracy is often touted as the rule of the majority, it is not meant to be the tyranny thereof. Democracy is as much, if not more, the protection of the minority and respect and consideration of differing opinions.

We are a pluralistic nation and as we grow from 310 million people to 450 million in the next 40 years, we will see even more diversity. If we are to have our major education, infrastructure, health care, environmental, employment and many more issues addressed in a much more successful manner, the polarized opinion machine that has been unleashed in this state and nation needs to be tempered.

Problem solving in a nation of diversity takes listening, discussion, appreciation and knowledge of differences and ultimately compromise. An attitude of my-way-is-the-only-way-and-all-others-are-wrong will only bring continued strife and ultimately a lack of problem solving.

When Wisconsin celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1998, the observance commission published a pamphlet listing Wisconsin's "firsts," recognizing the uniqueness and leadership this state has held in this nation. The 1997-98 Wisconsin Bluebook Sesquicentennial Edition also contained a section that recognized "Wisconsin's Firsts."

This included: worker and unemployment compensation, the progressive income tax, kindergarten and many other educational initiatives, consumer protection, open meeting and record requirements and ethics codes for public officials. The writing of Social Security and many labor and civil rights laws also have roots in our state.

The list of progressive legislation cannot be matched by any other state. Today's generation of politician appears to be very lacking in the knowledge and appreciation for their political ancestors' work, too often seemingly determined to ignore and reverse those gains.

Wisconsin is in a group of a handful of states which political scientists and historians recognize as special places of good government, responsive to the needs and wishes of their people, not just special interests.

We are not a Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, or a majority of other states; and we should not want to be.

We have been a leader in primary and secondary, academic and vocational education; protecting people's rights; recognizing the value of labor; holding high the expectation of good, clean and open government; and protecting our land, air and water resources to name just a few. These accomplishments have not been easy nor cheap, but have been good, special and the right thing to do.

In a cheap labor surplus world of 6½ billion people, soon to be 9 billion, Wisconsin, a cold energy dependent state, cannot win the competitive race to the bottom. We should not even try.

Yes, we must be frugal and use our limited resources wisely, but we need to play off our assets. A productive, well-educated work force, good infrastructure, clean environment, responsive government and we could go on, are what we need to build upon.

Those who like the opposite can find scores of places to fit their model, but transforming Wisconsin to that lower tier should not be part of the agenda, in spite of the well financed efforts, advocacy and expectation of many special interest groups.

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