Patti Wenzel

Doyle reflects on his tenure as Governor

By - Dec 2nd, 2010 04:00 am

Goodbye Jim. Photo courtesy the Democratic Party of Wisconsin website.

Jim Doyle was upbeat and generous during an exit interview at Marquette University with Mike Gousha earlier this week, but he did have a slight jab for his successor Scott Walker.

“He’ll find this out. There is a big difference between making political statements and actually governing.”

As he prepares to pass the torch to Walker, Doyle encourages the Governor-elect to keep education high on the list of priorities, because an economic turn-around can’t happen without an educated workforce.

Education, along with the economy and a realistic budget are the three things Doyle sees as challenges for Walker and the state’s residents.

In the interview, he said that critics are dishonest in their characterization that he is negotiating hidden costs into the 2009-11 state employee contracts currently being considered for approval by a lame duck legislature. Instead, ratifying the contracts this month will only “memorialize” what has been a reality for the past 18 months.

“There is no money for any raises, and there are furloughs. There is nothing going on,” Doyle said.

Doyle added that he can’t simply end the contract discussion; that would be illegal. He understands Walker’s need for flexibility, but said that flexibility should be exercised on the next state budget, not the one that is currently in place.

As for the complaints on the “secret” train deals, Doyle deferred to the Republican governors and legislatures that came before him.

“The law [about the train deals] was passed by the Republican legislature, which said the governor could negotiate train contracts without legislative oversight. It was passed by my very same critics.”

While he had the legal right to move ahead with the contracts signed for high-speed rail, Doyle chose to exercise discretion following election night. He said that there was too much at stake if Walker were to stop the project, and the prospect of suspended jobs and companies left with expensive supplies and materials was too much for him to face.

“I could have forced the issue, but the decision to pause was the best decision and this gives us time to see where it goes.”

However, Doyle insists that high-speed opponents are spreading fiction by saying that the operating costs are too high, or that the money will be spent on something else in the state. He predicted that someday the train will get to Minneapolis as planned — by going through the Quad Cities.

“Then people will ask, ‘Why not through Wisconsin?’”

Even as critics continue to hound him during his final weeks as governor, Doyle says he is proud of his accomplishments from 25 years in public office.

However, if there was something that bothered Doyle throughout his tenure, he says it was the talk of Wisconsin being a “tax hell.”  He conceded that when he took office after 14 years of Republican leadership, our tax burden ranked 4th out of 50 states. But as he leaves, that burden has dropped to 14th or 18th, depending on which study you quote.

He  points to other  accomplishments from his eight-year term as governor, including improved access to health care. Wisconsin has the second highest number of people covered by insurance (only Massachusetts is higher, with mandated health care) and that all our children are covered through BadgerCare and BadgerCare Plus if needed.

Doyle also touts planned health care exchanges that will allow individuals and small businesses to buy health care at lower costs and increase competition among care givers.

“This exchange will be liked by Republicans because it is a marketplace, and Democrats should like it because it focuses on access to affordable care for those who earn too much for BadgerCare.”

Doyle is also proud of his role in maintaining educational access, first by vetoing educational cuts to his first biennial budget and second, by adopting a Kids First agenda.

Through increased funding and focus on early childhood education, Wisconsin has moved from having 20 percent of 4-year-olds enrolled in Kindergarten at the start of Doyle’s administration to over 80 percent attending 4K at the end of his term. The increase in SAGE programing has also allowed more school districts to keep class sizes small during the first three years of instruction.

His pride also reaches to higher education.

“I am proud that the UW system, in the midst of a recession, is educating more students and has tripled financial aid. High education is the key to our future.”

Doyle says he wants the state to be ready for growth when it occurs, and that it will happen if the state focuses on attracting and maintaining high-tech manufacturing, high-profit agriculture and expanding biotechnology opportunities. He is especially excited by the bio-tech research underway at UW-Madison, with over $1 billion in research at the school alone.

So, while he is leaving, Doyle is confident that Wisconsin will move forward without him — something assured him by Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric.

“This is a blessed state; there is no state with better natural resources and better people,” Doyle said. “When Jack told me we are the best, I said, ‘Are you just telling me that?’ And he said, ‘No. In Wisconsin we never worry about absenteeism, the quality or the pride in the work.’ Those are the intangibles we are blessed with.”

Categories: Economy, Politics

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