Wisconsin trio could lead on pragmatic political solutions

With political gridlock emerging as the order of the day for 2019 at the state and national levels, and the resulting prospect that not much gets done on either level in solving major issues, is there any hope for Americans to see progress in the New Year?

It’s hard to be optimistic. An increasingly isolated and embattled President Trump will soon be at war with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her newly won majority in the House. She will veto his initiatives, and he will welcome the opportunity to set her up as a scapegoat for non-action during his two-year campaign for a second term. It’s already started; he loves the showmanship of campaigns.

Pelosi will catch an unending stream of Twitter insults and will have to figure out how to respond. There’s no good answer.

The nation’s capitol is already in chaos, and it’s going to get worse, a lot worse. Impeachment is not out of the cards. Smart people are headed for the doors, having come to the conclusion that sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.

Meanwhile, issues that affect American households go unsolved. That includes raging health costs and the resulting high levels of strapped and uninsured families; threats to our potable waters, topped by the invasive attacks on the Great Lakes; screaming deficits and national debt per household; soaring costs of higher education; and the uncertainty surrounding unclear immigration policy.

The remaining positive in the New Year is the low unemployment rate.

At the Wisconsin level, however, there is hope for collaborative solutions – if our leaders will do what they are supposed to do, namely lead.

If Gov. Evers and his Democrats really do want to collaborate, and if Republican legislative leaders, Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, really do want to work with him to get some signature measures accomplished, Wisconsin could show the way toward pragmatic problem solving.

That, not so incidentally, is what the voters whom I talk with really want.

There are some areas where collaboration and compromise will not work. Redistricting after the 2020 census taking is one. The GOP likes it just like it is, with Democratic voters packed into densely Democratic urban districts. Evers would like to see non-partisan re-mapping. Not going to happen, unless it comes through court decisions.

Big subsidies to recruit businesses to the state are another non-starter. Gov. Evers won’t sign off on Foxconn kinds of incentives. He might even dial back on existing deals.

But there are arenas where the two parties might work together and thereby convince the voters that they are not just partisan warriors.

K-12 education is an example. Evers could back off on opposition to voucher schools, and Republicans could complete their end of a bargain by providing more K-12 dollars from state coffers.

Health care costs and coverage are another. Gov. Walker missed an opportunity to lead on this number one economic issue in the state and country. The GOP does not have a “blue print” for health care, and the Democrats don’t have an affordable “red print.” Evers, Vos and Fitzgerald could fashion a “purple print” to add coverage while reducing costs and improving quality of care.

They could accept the federal money to expand Medicaid, but ask for a reform waiver of Medicaid by converting it to Medicare Advantage for All, a much better program for recipients and taxpayers.

Almost 40% of Medicare recipients are already there.

By the by, that’s a Wisconsin Idea, one that pragmatically preserves employer coverage and adds choice and competition to government plans.

Transparent and fixed prices at high-quality centers of value could be worked into the mix.

The Evers, Vos, Fitzgerald trio could stand up for the Great Lakes. They could take a national lead on closing the Chicago Canal, the super-highway for Asian Carp, and for closing the St. Lawrence Seaway, an open door for other alien species. To coin a phrase, build the walls. Economists will corroborate that the transportation savings of the two open channels are minimal.

There are other areas of potential common cause, such as:

• Challenging the University of Wisconsin System to help more entrepreneurs start high growth companies. That’s the best source of new jobs. The UWS track record on startups is tepid at best.

• A Blue Ribbon Commission to reorganize the university for the Internet world and the innovation economy.

• A reversal of the state’s negative trends on public health metrics, such as immunizations, unwanted pregnancies to single mothers and opiod addiction.

In short, there are plenty of policy matters and a menu of fresh ideas on which Evers, Vos and Fitzgerald could find common ground.

Most Americans want forward movement, so voters in 2020 may reward party leaders who get things done and punish those who persist in putting partisan politics first.

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  • jim Lenfestey

    Most of your suggestions emininntly sensible, bur NOT school vouchers. I have followed that debate for 3 decades, The origin of voucher idea was parochial schools who were clobbered in quality by public schools in 70’s/80’s and so cooked up the idea to bleed public money into the strapped parochial system (look at all the vanished Luheran and Catholic schools, the effect of superior public school competition and cost). Poorly managed charter schools are bad enough – already bleeding public schools of motivaled parents and chillden (some work well, some are eductaional and financisl sinkholes, and when they are close the children file back into further destabilized public schools),. We invented charters in Minnesota to encourage innovation, sadly often for its own sake ot backed by superior student performance) but MN did NOT implement vouchers, a killer leak in the public school finance system.

    • JohnTorinus


      We could use some truly objective research on the voucher movement.

      Is there any? I hear so many sides to the choice/charter story. More heat than light. Hard to know where to come down.

      It will be a big debate in Wisconsin over the next four years with a pro-choice legislature and a pro-union governor. The debate will anything but objective.

      ow where ro come down.

    • Jim

      Jim Lenfestey, I guess you don’t see the results where private school kids out perform public school kids in testing every year. It’s not about throwing more money at a failing system dummy. The cost to educate a kid in private schools is half of what it would cost in the public schools mainly because the private school teachers do the job for half the pay and benefits. They do it for the love of the job and not just to collect a paycheck.

      • jim Lenfestey

        Jim thx for comments. I do not doubt the test scores you cite, tho I’d bet not so true in the suburbs, and u are right about pay disparities. And if vouchers were allowed, those pay disparities would lessens as private school teacher pay would go up and public pay go down, zero net gain for kids and further disadvantaging the public system, which has the harder job as, by definition, their students are not cherry-picked. In an article I wrote for a magazine in MN, I cited the disparate opportunities for TWIN brothers, one accepted at a prestigious private high school, his brother not for he had disabiliies the private school said it could not handle. Fair enough, but the second brother then attended public school, where there is mandate to serve him. See the difference? There are ways to make public education better, but siphoning money into the private system isn’t one of them.

        • Jim

          By the way Jim why are you so concerned about Schools here in Wisconsin? I don’t think we need input from anyone out of state about the schools. You don’t pay taxes here so worry about what happens in Minnesota.

          • JohnTorinus

            Come on. It’s been a constructive dialog until your cheap shot. We are all looking for better answer, no matter what state they orginate from.

          • Jim

            I guess if you’re not paying property taxes here you really don’t have any skin in the game Johnny. Should I be concerned about how the schools in Minnesota are being run? I should say not! By the way it’s not a cheap shot clarifying this. Grow up!

          • jim Lenfestey

            Jim – well, I grew up there, care deeply about the state, tho indeed I moved Minnesota and worked fro the paper here covering education and more. John Torinus and i were neighbors growing up in DePere, and I have admired his various careers from afar. I always find his blog posts clear and balanced and helpful in thinking about policy problems here as well as there (e.g. health care). In the case of school vouchers, I thought you and he might benefit from our extensive experience here. Best,

          • Jim

            The fact of the matter is private schools out perform public schools year after year. Results don’t lie. Don’t try tell us how the public schools are at a disadvantage because private schools as you say can “cherry pick” their students. You and Torinus want what’s best for our education system and yet here you are ridiculing something that actually works in the voucher system .

  • Scott

    Yes, nothing says let’s work together in a bipartisan fashion than stripping a Governor’s powers the
    moment he is elected. Thanks Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald for that clear message about how much you would like to work with your new Governor to accomplish just as much as your associates do in Washington!

    • JohnTorinus

      Agree that Vos and Fiotzgerald were sending a tough message that the legislature is an equal branch of government. They were enshrining GOP policies passed in the past eight years.

      Still, that does not preclude collaboration on forward issues. It is in the best interest of both parties to get some big issues resolved. The party that comes off as hyper-partisan will lose votes in 2020. As it should.

      • Scott Robbe

        They certainly will lose votes in 2020, much the same as 2018, only far far worse. What is coming in the next year will forever nail the coffin shut on what has become the party of racism, hate, division and the worship of money above all else. And quite frankly, many of the Democrats who share some of their beliefs will go packing as well.

        I applaud the new generation who has totally rejected their repugnant “enshrined GOP policies” and lack of morals. You have to look no further than Trump’s arms sales to the Saudi’s and the starvation deaths of 85,000 children in Yemen…those arms sales guarantee, to witness the results of those policies. Saudi planes and bombs supplied by the US destroy the NGO food convoys daily in Yemen. Spreading death and destruction in the name of profit is an “enshrined GOP policy.”