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Friday, December 20, 2013

Tom Still: Holiday list includes naughty and nice in Wisconsin politics


By Tom Still
MADISON – A source close to the toy industry has once again leaked a copy of Santa's perks list for Wisconsin politicians and newsmakers. Here's what the good boys and girls in Madison and Washington will reportedly find in their stockings this Christmas. But they better not pout and they better not cry if an alert district attorney asks why gifts were delivered down chimneys after midnight.

Gov. Scott Walker – Let's see, what to get the governor who has everything? How about speculative national press about his 2016 presidential stock? Nope, he's got that. A 2014 re-election opponent who can be tarred as a "Madison elite" in third-party ads? No, Walker's got that, too. How about a bold economic development plan that stiff-arms the old guard and embraces the new? Now, there's a gift that keeps on giving – to the state of Wisconsin.

Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke – She's a woman with business credentials (Trek Bicycle) and government experience as state Commerce secretary and as a member of the Madison School Board. Beating an incumbent is never easy, however, and doing so requires creating electricity and excitement. Burke's gift: A copy of "Let The People Decide," a book by Bill Kraus about Lee Dreyfus and his long-shot, but wildly entertaining, 1978 campaign for governor. Politics can't be all Castor oil.

The UW Board of Regents – "Now Falbo, now Farrow, now Millner, you vixen! On Bradley, on Higgins, on Whitburn and 12 more without friction! To the top of the search pile! To the top of Bascom Mall! Let's hire a UW president acceptable to all."

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson – Everyone in Washington, D.C., deserves at least one friend, so in the spirit of President Harry Truman, Santa should get Wisconsin's Republican senator a dog. On second thought, this Tea Party believer is likely to berate the poor critter for begging for a handout.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan – Speaking of friends in Washington, 1st District Republican Ryan committed the cardinal sin of compromising with Democrats and was branded a turncoat by the conservative "no quarter!" crowd. Not that Ryan's budget deal is a long-term answer, but gridlock won't end overnight without small victories. Santa's gift to Ryan is a vintage "Favre is Judas" trucker cap to remind him this, too, shall pass.

The Wisconsin Legislature – While it's hardly the Age of Aquarius, more bills are passing the Legislature with bipartisan support. The early stage capital bill passed in the spring, for example, with only five "no" votes. How about 132 friendship rings or coupons to visit Madison's "Snuggle House?" Well, OK, maybe the Snuggle House is a reach.

Former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl – Having carried the ball, quite literally, since 1985 as owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, Kohl is shopping for ownership partners to help keep the team in Milwaukee. Santa's gift to the civic-minded Kohl is a rebound from the Bucks' disastrous season start to tweak buyer interest. Or a No. 1 lottery pick, assuming the turnaround never happens.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele – Born and bred an entrepreneur, Abele has put $10 million of his own money where his political mouth is when it comes to business startups. He launched CSA Partners LLC this year to invest in early stage companies in southeast Wisconsin and beyond. Santa's gift to Abele is a desk full of business plans from aspiring 'treps.

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank – No sooner did Blank arrive on Wisconsin's flagship campus than she faced a series of retirements and opening in key positions, especially those tied to economic growth. The list includes provost, director of the Office of Corporate Relations, director of the Discovery to Product effort, director of University Research Park, as well as breaking in some recently hired deans. Santa will slip a copy of "Your New Job Title is 'Accomplice': A Dilbert Book" in the chancellor's stocking.

For Wisconsin's rising political stars: In an era when sharp personal attacks and partisanship drive more good people away from politics than it attracts, it's reassuring to know that some quality office-holders continue to be attracted to public service. That's a gift to Wisconsin citizens. Happy holidays, everyone!

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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