Issues took a back seat to party or tribal loyalty in the August 9 Wisconsin primary.
Gov. Tony Evers ran uncontested on the Democratic ticket, so he didn’t need to run hard on his platforms.
All three GOP candidates cozied up to former President Donald Trump, and Tim Michels got Trump’s endorsement, and that loomed larger in his victory over Rebecca Kleefisch than their few differences on the issues facing the state.
Knowing that Trump polls far lower with the general electorate (38%) than with his cult of GOP supporters (77%), Evers will link Michels to Trump relentlessly. That’s no small advantage given the accumulation of self-inflicted baggage that the former president keeps piling up. Evers will keep the “Big Lie” front and center.
Blessedly, though, the two candidates will have to address a host of Wisconsin issues that should be highlighted until the November 8 general election. Here are some that have nothing to do with Trump:
- Workforce Shortages a Drag on Economy – The dearth of workers is the number one challenge for company and state growth. Workforce participation, long a strength here, has tumbled. It was 75.5% in 1977; it’s now 66.4%. Evers and Michels need to forward plans to draw people, young and old, into the workforce. There is a wide range of solutions: apprenticeships, training grants, internships, job sharing, faster approval of licenses. In-migration doesn’t work well in Wisconsin. One winner proposal would be a customized education/career plan for every unemployed or underemployed Wisconsinite. Every one of them. Colleges, schools, and job agencies need to be pulled together individualized job-readiness plans statewide.
- Health Costs 4th Highest in Nation – A recent Rand Corporation analysis compared state health costs to a baseline of Medicare costs, and Wisconsin looked terrible at the fourth highest of the 50 states. This is not just an academic finding. The high ranking costs each family at least $1500 per year. There are measures a governor could initiate at the state level, such as opposition to major consolidations of health care corporations that always end up with higher prices. Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul have taken a pass on consolidations. Another is pushing Medicaid, aka BadgerCare in Wisconsin, to pay its fair share of prices. Its underpayment of costs shifts higher prices to private payers, in effect a hidden tax. Yet another is programs to make sure every family has a medical home for proactive primary care that sharply improves care and lowers costs. Should not Evers and Michels deal with this major issue that kills family and business budgets?
- Wage Deterioration — 83.4% of U.S. Average – Back in 2009, Wisconsin wages had fallen to an all-time low of 85.6% of the national average. Now we have a new low at 83.4%. Gov. Evers’ focus is on government programs and solutions. The private sector that generates taxes for his government strategies is seldom on his radar screen. Despite an admirable unemployment rate at about 3% and sharp up-tick in venture capital investment, the state ranks near the bottom in job growth. As an example of the malaise under Evers, the Inc. Magazine 5000 list of top small growth companies showed only seven Wisconsin new companies in 2022 and 27 repeat companies on the list. They accounted for 3881 new jobs. In comparison, Minnesota recorded 11 new companies, 43 repeats and 8599 added jobs. Colorado smoked it with 25 “newcos,” 92 repeats and 14,285 added jobs. Michels is an entrepreneur. Will he make this strategic issue high profile?
- Stress to Great Lakes – Our very existence depends on the health of our water resources. No governor of late has made the challenges to Lake Michigan – primarily the explosion of quagga muscles on the lake bed – a foremost issue. Why not? Collaboration with universities and the federal government are critical. An example: UW Milwaukee can’t raise $20 million for a modern research vessel even with private donations for half or more of the cost. Why not? Green Bay has an expanding dead zone. Why isn’t it addressed?
- City Crime out of Control – This will be the number one issue in Milwaukee and other cities. Should we not use some of the state’s unprecedented $5 billion surplus to fund more cops in high crime areas and security teams in our schools? Why don’t we fund more technology, such as cameras to identify the stampede of speeders running red lights? Can’t we find consensus on limiting AR-15s? Can’t we agree that violent criminals should serve out their prison terms? Governors can lead the way on developing action plans on such matters.
- Another Economic Summit? – The state-wide economic summits from 2000 to 2003 led by the University of Wisconsin led the way to Wisconsin moving sharply ahead on entrepreneurial start-ups and levels of venture capital. Entrepreneurs are responsible for most of the new good-pay job growth. The summit works to develop a bi-partisan consensus on forward policies. Among top issues, a second summit would look hard at matching our educational offerings with job readiness, preparedness for citizenhood and worker shortages.
Will Evers or Michels rise to strategic levels in their campaigns? They are both smart guys, highly educated and experienced. Here’s hoping that they can avoid partisan bickering on lesser issues and deal with the big picture for our state.