Serving Wisconsin: Retiring Senators Offer Wisdom From Senator Vinehout

This email missive from State Senator Kathleen Vinehout arrived in my in box yesterday. It’s a little wisdom and maybe a bit of foreboding about our future under the dome in Madison. But as we turn another page on politics in Wisconsin, I thought it worth sharing with you!

“There is a yearning outside the Capitol for common sense, cooperation and compromise,” Senator Tim Cullen told his fellow Senators. “You all know how to do this if you’ve been married for more than 15 days.”

As 2014 comes to a close, so do the public careers of several extraordinary Senators. I listened carefully as these public servants delivered farewell speeches on the Senate floor. The wisdom shared by three great men comes from a cumulative 80 years of experience that spanned four decades.

“We came because we care,” Republican Senator Dale Schulz told his colleagues. “I ran for public office because I felt called.”

“We’re on this earth to help others,” said Democratic Senator Cullen who also served in Governor Thompson’s Republican administration as Secretary of Health.

“Our obligation is to empower the people; not to avoid them because they are of a different political persuasion,” said Democratic Senator Bob Jauch. “We are the caretakers of the public trust. We serve in the people’s place.”

Empower the people is certainly what Senator Jauch accomplished. This year the Pepin-based Flyway Film Festival presented the film Wisconsin’s Mining Standoff, which prominently features Senator Jauch and his work to empower local people and protect the natural resources of our state.

Senator Jauch joined Senators Cullen and Schulz in drafting an iron ore-mining bill that addressed the stated concerns of the mining company while respecting the local people’s wishes, the Native American tribes’ role and the federal regulator’s requirements. Although the carefully crafted bill didn’t pass, the work stands as one of the last great bipartisan achievements.

It’s not surprising as all three men retire, the lessons they share relate to the value of working together and the dangers of partisanship and ideology.

“[We should] lift up ideas, not ideology. Ideology stifles thought,” said Cullen.

“Our history is not written on partisanship, but on partnership,” said Jauch. “Politics ought to be the practice of solving problems.

“We have to quit asking ourselves which team we’re on. I’m on the people’s team,” shared Schultz. “Partisanship is a lens not a straightjacket. We’ve got to stop thinking of the other side as the enemy.”

Senator Schultz expanded on the idea of ‘who the real enemy is’ in a Wisconsin State Journal story:

“Here’s how I see the enemy. The enemy is poverty in a country and a state that has no business having kids and families go to sleep hungry at night or in their cars.”

“The enemy is unemployment and underemployment, because nobody asked an employer advertising a good job if they were R or Ds, they were just thankful to get a job that gave them worth and put food on the table.”

“The enemy is those who encourage an undereducated citizenry. Education is the key to helping give people a hand up and a better future.”

“The most dangerous enemy of all…is the enemy closest to us. It lives with us and within us. The real enemy is fear. We fear what we do not understand. We fear those who are different. We fear losing what we have.”

“When we take away our masks, and face each other…without judgment, fear of loss or recrimination, then we can begin to listen, we can begin to talk, and then we can begin to build a better future.”

All three Senators speak about the dangerous trend of allowing outside groups to take power that should be reserved for the people and about elected officials representing the people’s interests.

“’We the people’ has been substituted with ‘we the privileged,’” said Jauch.

“Be careful of accepting support from powerful groups,” warned Cullen. “You may think you have your hands in their pockets but in the end, they have their hands in your pockets. The best thing we can do is to say ‘no’ to our friends.”

Senator Schultz summed it up well, “When some think tank comes up with the legislation and tells you not to fool with it, why are you even a legislator anymore? You just sit there and take votes and you’re kind of a feudal serf for folks with a lot of money.”

Thank you for your service gentlemen. We are humbled in your shadow.


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17 thoughts on “Serving Wisconsin: Retiring Senators Offer Wisdom From Senator Vinehout

  1. In my eyes, the letter is about legislators working together for a common good, regardless of ideology. As Sen. Cullen is quoted in the letter, “Ideology stifles thought.” It’s much easier not to think. It’s much easier to attack than to work constructively or add something useful to the conversation.

    1. Fine with me if they work together to pass a Right to Work bill. I suppose it is “ideological” to want that but “working together for the common good” to oppose it. I am all for working together but my suspicion is that this working together talk is simply a tactic to avoid actually working together on the agenda of the winning party.

      1. “Senator Schultz summed it up well, “When some think tank comes up with the legislation and tells you not to fool with it, why are you even a legislator anymore? You just sit there and take votes and you’re kind of a feudal serf for folks with a lot of money.”

        Understandably you’ve again ignored the topic of the message in the post. Mr Hass has not. The “oppress all WI workers, further bust unions, employee wage theft and payback to enrich campaign donors,” potential legislation you are referring too is an example of what Republican Senator Schultz was asking REPRESENTATIVES to avoid collusion in and to not support.

        We’ll see if Wisconsin’s Chief Executive Liar is turning over a new leaf and finally seeking even a speck of moral redemption when he vetoes this bill if it eventually comes to his desk, or not. He has in four years, yet to do anything to benefit even a tiny majority of citizens in the state that he is charged with caring for the needs and protection of.

      2. “… is simply a tactic to avoid actually working together on the agenda of the winning party.”

        To me Denis, that’s a shot across the bow saying that the ‘winning party’ doesn’t want to work together.

        1. Ed I don’t speak for the winning party despite the paranoid claims of many on this site. That said, I am sure the winning party would love to have the Democrats fully in support of Republican initiatives.

          1. And that is exactly the attitude that I am pointing out…just at the losing party should refrain from being sore losers as you are implying…the winners shouldn’t take on a gloating my way or the highway…which I sense that you are in full support of. Now, I am taking these as your views since you have posted them…not the view of any party.

  2. Not ignoring the message in the post, just disagreeing with it. Everyone who writes on this site is ideological and so are the retiring politicians quoted in the thread above. Only their ideology was narrowly defeated in an election. Thus we should be working together to advance the Republican agenda if we are to be truly non-ideological. But this is nonsense. We should be ideological AND we should be open to challenges about our ideology. I don’t expect Democrats to drop their ideology to help the Republicans as that would be selling out the people who voted them into office. Conversely I don’t think Republicans should abandon their ideology for the same reasons. I suppose those who routinely lose ideological arguments can be forgiven for espousing a non-ideological approach to legislating.

  3. That you cannot figure out the message in the first place makes it difficult to disagree with it. Whatever.

    Winning an election does not confer correctness to policy, especially something like the employee wage theft legislation being bantered about, obviously already written by ALEC and NEVER having been argued for during the run up to the election as a piece of the party platform. Lying to one’s base through omission, to enrich campaign donors and promote one’s next political career move is minimally despotic in nature, but there you go with the Republican Despotic leadership.

    Losing an election conversely doesn’t automatically confer incorrectness to, or negate the view of the minority opinion or policy.

    Winning an election actually confers the RESPONSIBILITY on the party in power to look after the best long term and sustainable interests of the state and all its people, but complete majority party leadership’s sole devotion to the narrow special interests of large political donors completely ignores that OBLIGATION, even to its own base. You cannot name one piece of legislation passed by the sitting leadership that actually benefits the narrow majority that elected them. Special interests and the wealthy are NOT a majority of Republican voters.

    Republican trolls, title says it all…

    1. What you are calling wage theft I am calling, more accurately, freedom from union coercion. Sure that help donors who similarly don’t want to be coerced to a bargaining table. Also helps workers who would prefer to be judged on the merits of their contribution to the goals of the company rather than in a collective constantly at odds with management. Surely we can work together non in supporting common sense, non-ideological legislation that frees companies and employees from harmful divide and conquer union strategies, can’t we non?

      1. Wage theft is the more apropos title…and let’s be fair here…anyone who takes advantage of benefits earned by union negotiation without contributing to support those negotiations…is in the words of that great Wisconsin pundit, Representative Paul Ryan, a taker.

  4. Federal law dictates union shops must represent all non-union employees in that shop, regardless of whether a non-union employee pays into the support of the union or not. If the freeloaders don’t want to contribute to support the union, which is obligated to support them, by law, give them the real choice to just leave that union shop, a choice which they already have, nobody is coercing them to continue to freeload off the benefits of union protections. Federal law also forbids unions from using non-union worker portions of dues paid, for political campaigning.

    And just for once, keep you story straight Einstein, you started off at the top claiming there was NO such animal as non-ideological legislation, that leaves zero chance of ever working with you. Here’s a broom and shovel, kindly clean up after your pet elephant and yourself on your way out. If this was a union shop you’d get to wear haz-mat gear for that job, but you’ve chosen to be on your own.

    1. I would be in support of changing the federal law such that non-union employees are no longer “freeloaders” as you call them. That said, I would not be the least surprised to learn that the unions had something to do with the “freeloader” provision in federal law insofar as the only thing worse than a “freeloader” is an employee free to negotiate his or her own salary. Can’t have that because it wouldn’t take long for talented employees willing to work toward a common company goal to realize they might get a better deal without the unions “help”. Free the workers.

      1. But Denis, they are free…free to not apply for a job in a union shop…free to quit anytime they like…etc.

        And I don’t really think an individual is going to find a better deal than one that an organized group can provide…

        1. Ed,

          Aside from 10:46am and the 4:28pm having jumped totally off the topic of the OP with the continuing stench of verbal flatulence about wage theft legislation, 4:28 pm totally missed my clue about a haz-mat suit (workplace safety), has completely ignored retirement, profit-sharing, vacation time as it might apply to years of employment, salary increases based on continuing education or accumulated experience differentiating worker compensation even within a union shop, and legal representation benefits that are parts of contracts with employers in making his specious arguments based on salary alone.

          And still has not figured out the topic discussed within Vinehout’s letter.

          1. Being off topic a bit isn’t the worst thing in the world…conversations tend to wander like that…and I said my post-partum moderation would be totally arbitrary.

  5. “But Denis, they are free…free to not apply for a job in a union shop…free to quit anytime they like…etc.”

    Fair enough. I would like them to have more freedom, namely, to accept a job and negotiate directly with the employer, while you it seems want to limit their freedom. I respectfully disagree with your position.

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