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In his recent book “The Fall of Wisconsin,” Dan Kaufman does a thorough job of itemizing all the wonderful things the people of the state and the people they elected did for Wisconsin and the country.
The fall that Wisconsin took from its historical highs was large enough to be worth a book.
Politics and governance everywhere took a tumble as well as both became more professional, less social, and unprecedented waves of big money exerted power.
The political parties became less representative and campaigns became more entrepreneurial.
Politicians turned less to their families, neighbors, and friends for support and more to their pollsters and media experts. The costs of winning went from manageable to astronomical almost overnight.
The people counted less. The money more.
This hit everywhere, but the blow to Wisconsin was harder, because at its historical best Wisconsin was full of people who did count and the people who did count belonged.
This was most visible in Wisconsin, because Wisconsin’s incumbents relied on them more.
Every governor makes thousands of appointments. Every governor has citizen-populated Blue Ribbon commissions. Wisconsin had the most.
Wisconsin had [has?] a system that put together committees of citizens and public figures to work on subjects that were high priority and higher controversy.
Then professionalization set in, and the people went home.
And resentment followed. The halls of the Capitol were no longer full of contributing citizens from business, the professions, and educational institutions of which Wisconsin had a plethora.
Socializing was endemic. The citizens not only knew who their representatives were, they knew where their offices were, and they were welcome visitors when they showed up in them.
A kind of governmental/citizen camaraderie was widespread.
In the reading of a couple of recent political bios [one of which is still a work in process] the names of people who were not in government or politics are everywhere, from the once well-known Kellets and Schlicters to a lawyer like Jack Pelisek or Brady Williamson, or a teacher or union leader who was in somebody’s neighborhood in some part of the state.
The Wisconsin Idea was alive and well and accepting contributions of participation as well as money from one and all.
Without this as a daily, important part of the government and politics, the Wisconsin Idea became more a slogan than a reality.
That was why the the fall in Wisconsin registered with Dan Kaufman.
Big money is not going away nor is the campaign business, but citizen participation, unlike Humpty Dumpty, can be put together again.
— Kraus is a longtime Republican strategist and former co-chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin.