Wednesday was the first meeting of our occasional governor’s new Wisconsin Commission on the Future of the Family, created “for the purpose of identifying issues and barriers relating to the overall wellbeing of families in the State, developing policies that lift individuals out of poverty, and developing and recommending polices for implementation to better serve Wisconsin’s families throughout the future.”
You’d think that with such high aspirations, the commission would be stocked with people who have dealt extensively with the issues of families in poverty, and the issues that affect family cohesion: social workers who deal with family trauma and domestic violence, those who work with families facing eviction, people familiar with food stamp programs, maybe even someone with academic credentials in poverty research.
This being Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, you’d be wrong.
These are the commission members, with my comments.
Eloise Anderson, chair. Ms. Anderson does have experience, having been Scott Walker’s head of the Department of Children and Families, and with 20 years of state service in child welfare. Her policies since coming on board with Mr. Walker, however, particularly in implementing testing for recipients of Food Share benefits, suggest that she has lost whatever impulses she may once have had to lift people out of poverty.
Dr. Sarah Campbell, an Appleton pediatrician. Fine, she’s a children’s doctor, which gives her contact with families. But I don’t see any special expertise in dealing with poverty or troubled families.
Delvyn Crawford, a “fatherhood specialist.” Mr. Crawford says that his is a program to help men of all cultures, races, religions and backgrounds learn how to strengthen their relationships with their children and with their wives or the mother of their children, and to care for themselves. He does work with the population of Milwaukee, and claims to “provide resources for fathers that’ll help them with employment, child support arrears, license recovery, substance abuse, housing, entrepreneurship, and etc.” However, most of his work consists of presentations,especially with music, media, and motivational speaking, not counseling. “Providing resources” could mean laying out brochures. One of his other businesses, Gutter Enterprises, is a Christian faith-based outreach organization.
Rachel Campos-Duffy, mother of 7, former reality TV star, wife of Congressmen Sean Duffy. Ms. Campos-Duffy is the national spokesperson for the LIBRE initiative, the Koch-brothers funded organization advocating for economic empowerment of Hispanics, and does parenting and relationship segments on the Today show. Her book is called Stay Home, Stay Happy: 10 Secrets to Loving At-home Motherhood. It’s not clear what part of her experience would enable her to contribute to a conversation about the needs of people in poverty, although her husband (another former reality TV star) did complain that his $140,000 congressional salary was not enough to live on.
Mikel Holt, associate publisher and a writer for the Milwaukee Community Journal, the largest African-American newspaper in Wisconsin. Mr. Holt has long experience in Milwaukee, is a member of the Black Alliance for Education Options, and signifies strong support for voucher schools. I’ve looked at some of his writing (he has a column called Signifyin’); Mr. Holt certainly has a feel for some of the major issues of Milwaukee.
Jim Kacmarcik, owner of Kapco, Inc. in Grafton, a metal stamping and fabrication firm. Mr. Kacmarcik also is quite a philanthropist. But I see nothing in his history to show any special expertise in family issues.
Archbishop Jerome Listecki. According to the announcement from the governor’s office, Archbishop Listecki “recently called for an urban initiative to address the issue of poverty, unemployment, crime, and violence in Wisconsin. The main goals of the initiative would strengthen Wisconsin families, offer young men and women positive role models, and establish a coordinated effort between members of the local community and law enforcement.” Sounds good doesn’t it, but any initiative championed by Listecki would put up barriers to men and women making the decisions about their own reproductive lives that could help lead them out of poverty.
Alicia Manning, director of new citizenship programs for the Bradley Foundation. Again, I question the expertise in dealing with family issues. Additionally, the citizenship programs at Bradley Foundation are not dealing with civic engagement per se as much as moving society away from what the foundation describes as “contemporary forces and ideas that regard individuals more as passive and helpless victims of powerful external forces [rather] than as personally responsible, self-governing citizens.” The new citizenship programs support projects that “reinvigorate and reempower” traditional institutions (church, neighborhood, school, family); projects that “encourage decentralization of power and accountability away from centralized, bureaucratic, national institutions back to the states, localities, and revitalized mediating structures where citizenship is more fully realized.” This sounds like a deregulated libertarian paradise, where parents can discipline their kids and school them as they wish. It also suggests a notion called “responsibilization,” which we hear from conservative commentators regularly. “Why aren’t the poor more self-regulating? Why aren’t they more responsible for themselves?” It’s a notion that completely disregards the daily chaos of life in poverty.
Jeff Pralle. property manager and real estate broker from Onalaska. Really? Why is he on this committee? Expertise in eviction? He did contribute to Mr. Walker in 2014 directly and also supported the realtors PAC. So there’s that.
Emetia Riddle-Williams, case manager for Salvation Army of Beloit. Well, at least Ms. Riddle-Williams is a social worker. And she’s in Beloit, so she knows something about families in poverty. Score a point for her.
I question the value of proposals and policies coming out of this commission. First, there is a clear lack of relevant experience in its membership, with only two people with social work experience, and only one who has worked with public agencies. The membership also lacks relevant expertise. There is no one with identifiable experience with troubled teenagers, juvenile justice, gay and lesbian parents, child care, or children with disabilities (unless the pediatrician can supply expertise there). Other than the single social worker from Beloit, and perhaps the newspaper publisher from Milwaukee, what insight can these commission members give into the problems of poverty experienced by more than 40% of Wisconsin’s children? Perhaps most critical of all, the makeup of the commission is shockingly one-sided. It would appear that Scott Walker envisions future Wisconsin families to be Christian, Republican, and libertarian. The membership suggests an approach where people in poverty are expected to become “responsible” members of society without the social and material resources which allow that; re-empowerment when you’re off the power grid, so to speak.
The state already has an organization, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, which has focused on improving conditions for families and children for more than 100 years. Its very mission “is to ensure that every child in Wisconsin grows up in a just and nurturing family and community.” That sounds a lot like the goal of the commission. The Commission on the Future of the Family also has the opportunity to take advantage of the Wisconsin Idea. The Institute for the Research on Poverty, an acclaimed center of interdisciplinary research on poverty located on the UW-Madison campus, conducts research on Wisconsin poverty, intergenerational transmission of poverty, building human capital, family complexity and poverty, and economic self-sufficiency.
Yet neither WCCF nor IRP is represented on the Commission. Why not? Why not engage with the expertise that is ready, willing and able to advise the state?
The sad answer is that Mr. Walker is not looking for advice, or even information. He is interested in window dressing. Perhaps there are bills now being drafted that will come out in the commission’s name. Actually having expertise on the Commission on the Future of the Family would ruin that plan.
What a waste of an opportunity.