Wisconsin, Forward … Not!

May 10, 2015

My relationship with Wisconsin began in spring of 1973, 42 years ago. A cute college rep showed up at my high school, talking about Ripon College. “The place for me,” the 15-year-old thought. Then I heard about Beloit College, and decided it was really the place for me, and the place I needed to be, ASAP!

Alas, I had one problem: I was only a sophomore in high school. I was working to angles to finish high school in three years. I got my classes/credits completed, and got a conditional agreement from parents about graduating in three years. Three years? OK, if I agreed to attend the University of Arizona for at least one year. Then I went to work, hard, and I must have succeeded, for I arrived in Wisconsin as an almost 17-year-old in August 1974.

My relationship with Wisconsin has never ended. I met Ms. J at Beloit College, soon before I left, and soon after she arrived. We reconnected later and, still later, Cate Rubin arrived.

In 2001, Cate adopted as her summer home Eagle River, Wisconsin. She has spent 13 of the past 14 summers at Camp Interlaken—no, not Interlakken, the music camp in Michigan—and will be the sailing instructor there in a few weeks.

Later, Cate took up with Beloit College. She graduates with a degree in Chemistry one week from today. (Go Cate!)

Wisconsin is a beautiful and charming state. Rolling fields in the south give way to forests and lakes as you move northward. Mad-City aka Madison may be the coolest state capital in the country, and UW-Madison is, I think, the only university with its own boat dock and beer garden terrace on a lake. Driving through Wisconsin, a small town pops up every several miles, and there are decent-sized cities throughout the state. There may also be no 30 mile sector without a Culver’s: Home of the Butterburger, as I learned when we stopped at seven of them during a 300-mile, eight-hour drive from Eagle River to Rockford, IL in 2005.

Wisconsin was, in its time, a progressive state. Its motto is Forward. Fightin’ Bob LaFollette was its very progressive governor for five years and a U.S. Senator—he appears on a historians’ list as one of the two best Senators, ever—for 20. When I lived in Beloit I knocked on doors for Les Aspin (D-Wis.), a great Congressman who later became Secretary of Defense. And I worked my tail off in the spring of 1976 for Congressman Morris Udall (D-Ariz.), my homie, in the state in which he came closest to winning a primary. (Second Place Mo’ was the appellation he gave himself.)

So, like, what the f*ck? This post was prompted by Lincoln Caplan’s May 5 piece for the New Yorker, The Destruction of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Mr. Caplan tells the interesting and very sad story of a Court gone wrong. Courts are courts, of course. State supreme court decisions affect people, but any state can survive a bad court.

The real story is told in Right vs. Left in the Midwest by Lawrence Jacobs for the New York Times on November 23, 2013. Professor Jacobs teaches political science at the University of Minnesota. His piece is full of statistics about how Minnesota and Wisconsin had done after three years of with Governors Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) and Scott Walker (R-Wis.) As of late 2013, Minnesota was one of the fastest growing states in the country, by every economic measure, while Wisconsin was among the slowest. (Nothing I’ve seen suggests any shift since 2013.) Both states have union traditions, and both had always placed a high value on education. Governor Dayton built on those themes; Governor Walker has torn them down.

The word Forward is found through and through in the State Capitol.  Sadly, as a representation of Wisconsin circa 2015 it’s about as honest as the state’s governor.

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