Op Ed

How to Pick the Next Governor

Judge the many candidates on how they’d address Wisconsin’s economic chasm.

By - Apr 26th, 2018 10:43 am
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Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Vijay Kumar Koulampet [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Vijay Kumar Koulampet [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Whoa! Not enough fingers to count all the Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidates. Sorting them out practically requires a scorecard. Let’s give that a shot.

To be sure, there’s no shortage of serious issues for our checklist — the crisis in juvenile justice, the fraying of the transportation system, lagging environmental protection, and more.

But the heart of the Wisconsin gestalt in 2018 — and of our scorecard — is the economic chasm dividing the state. Simply put, the good times celebrated in Dane County, the Milwaukee suburbs, the Fox River Valley and a few other lucky communities are not shared in the forgotten precincts of rural and inner-city Wisconsin. This is the “Two Wisconsins” that the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance identified in 2006 and that I expanded upon last year in Isthmus.

Lost in the huzzahs of Wisconsin’s record-low jobless rate and other benchmarks of success is the stubborn fact that the recessionary downturn that took hold at the turn of the century never ended for the state’s left-behinds. Too often, these are neighborhoods of troubled schools, dead-end or non-existent jobs, broken dreams and lots of drug overdoses.

The candidates need to be judged on how they would create broad-based Wisconsin prosperity. Key points:

What is their platform to revive rural Wisconsin?

The trends are not good. Northern and central Wisconsin are losing population. One lawmaker told me her community’s biggest export is…young people. State demographers say by 2040 more than 40 counties will have at least a quarter of their population made up of senior citizens. This is bad news for sustaining schools and young families. So is the protracted decline in home values still evident since the end of the Great Recession in mid-2009. The collapse of dairy prices has only made things worse in farm country.

What is their urban platform?

Wisconsin won’t truly prosper without Milwaukee, our pre-eminent city, recapturing the dynamism of its mid-20th century glory. Today, as a lingering Rust Belt casualty, Milwaukee ranks among the worst metropolises in the country economically. Sure there are great things happening in the Third Ward and in other downtown scenes. But overall the city, like the outstate, is losing young people who seek a better life elsewhere.

It’s no coincidence that Milwaukee ranks among the worst segregated metro areas in the nation. This is a festering wound widely ignored. The National Urban League counts the Milwaukee metro area as fourth worst in the nation in the disparity between black and white household incomes.

How would the candidates deal with the social and economic isolation of Wisconsin’s urban poverty? And let’s be honest, it’s not just in Milwaukee, but also in the suffering neighborhoods of Racine, Kenosha, Beloit, Janesville and, yes, Madison.

How would they deploy the state’s greatest asset, the UW System, for Wisconsin’s betterment?

Venture capitalist John Neis describes the Madison campus as “our sun,” and rightfully says Madison’s breakout tech businesses “are in its orbit benefiting from its light and heat.” But the Madison campus’ research preeminence is slipping while commercialization efforts haven’t yet delivered. The business-crucial Computer Science department, losing ground to its peers, urgently needs an upgrade.

Statewide, the UW’s record is even more mixed. The 26-campus system should be in the forefront of regional efforts to rebuild the outstate economy. UW System President Ray Cross is gamely trying to wrench the system forward. It’s a complicated situation with strong conflicting ambitions for the system. The lack of political leadership is conspicuous.

How would the candidates lead the state away from its dependence on the fading manufacturing sector?

Slow-to-change Wisconsin is sooo old economy. And so unattractive to young tech workers. Our outflow of college grads exceeds our inflow of new talent. Four out of five Wisconsin jobs are in companies at least 16 years old. (One of the highest percentages in the nation.) Our business start-up record, in contrast, pales compared to more dynamic states. Our politics is dominated by powerful legacy industries more concerned about cutting taxes and reducing regulatory costs than in growth and innovation.

Can the state buttress the burgeoning freelance “gig economy”? Are there legal protections and tax incentives that can make it more secure for workers to strike out on their own? What about abolishing the non-compete clauses that sideline young talent exiting a certain Verona software giant and immobilize older workers chained to their Fortune 500 companies in Milwaukee?

The good news is that change is in the air. Look at last week’s startling election results. Gov. Scott Walker certainly knows what’s happening. In pursuit of a third term, he’s cashiered decades of classic conservatism to embrace unabashed government activism. Not just the billions he’s committed to building the Foxconn flat-screen mega-plant, but new spending for schools and rural Wisconsin.

This is a time for big visions and assertive leadership. Voters should demand nothing less from the candidates.

This column was originally published by the Madison weekly Isthmus

Marc Eisen is a former editor of Isthmus.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

10 thoughts on “Op Ed: How to Pick the Next Governor”

  1. Terry says:

    Whichever one supports ending cannabis prohibition and isn’t a lying sycophantic misogynistic racist republican Trump Toady gets my vote!

    Dump Walker 2018

  2. Robby says:

    There is a lot of distrust in todays political climate, we need someone with a history of truth and honesty. We also need someone who is bold in expanding health care, legalizing marijuana, cutting collage costs, green energy jobs, modernizing our infrastructure and won’t sellout for campaign donations.

    The candidate that best fits that profile is Mike McCabe.

    Correction: he is the only candidate that fits that profile…

  3. Tom says:

    Yeah in a perfect world McCabe would be the best but the whole state would be better off withanyone but career politician and corpoate sellout Walker.

  4. Troll says:

    The same Blue jeans McCabe that wants to giveaway state employees pensions to everyone, Felons and illegal immigrants included.

  5. Terry says:

    Beats blowing 4.5 Billion on the FoxCON job, stealing our voting rights, gutting education, polluting our environment, letting the roads go to hell or ballooning the DOT debt and selling the state of to Big Corporate donors, all while mooching off the taxpayers for 28 years like Trump Toady Career Politician Scott Walker.

  6. max says:

    Wisconsin is far behind much of the rest of the country, and the globe for that matter, but does have some glimmer of hope. To realize it’s potential, Wisconsin needs a much different type of leadership, a leader who understands that the 4th Industrial Revolution is here, visible as it is today in the technologies of artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing. China is moving rapidly in these areas, which makes the FoxConn deal all the more puzzling as it has all the earmarks of legacy manufacturing, rather than the highly advanced manufacturing embraced by China. Walker can’t seem to help himself, he embraces what was and will be soon gone, what is politically expedient for the moment, without any ability to see how fast science and technology are changing how things are made and people live. I’m pretty sure Walker has an 8-Track Tape Deck in his car.

  7. Eric J. says:

    Max : Well stated .

    -” Legacy manufacturing ” & all of the negative environmental consequences that this brings to the region.
    -I support new jobs in our state. It remains to be seen how much this will really cost the state and the net benefits achieved. Walker gave Gou a deal he couldn’t refuse. He should have had Trump ” negotiate ” this one-sided deal .

  8. Terry says:

    Well said indeed Max. Didn’t Wisconsin already go bust by locating large single employer manufacturing plants in town, like GM, Uniroyal etc etc etc only to have them close up or move to China leaving those communities in Wisconsin devastated. FoxCON is not high tech. It is just s contract manufacturer for high tech. Given the 4.5 billion of our money Walker handed them it is now cheaper to do business in a desperate, burned out Wisconsin than it is in China. Welcome to the Third World Wisconsin. Once FoxCON automates or companies like Apple who use them innovate and/or vertically integrate the same bust will occur. This is what haapens when you let a life long Career Politician with zero business experience do your business deals Wisconsin. You lose. Instead of building a real economy Walker was simply trying to buy jobs in an election year.

    Dump Walker

  9. JAnderson says:

    It’s clear that Marc Eisen doesn’t know Milwaukee. While trying to help us pick the best Democrat candidate for Governor he trashes Milwaukee in old, outdated views that are ignorant of how Milwaukee is evolving, developing and is today.

    Milwaukee is experiencing a booming downtown with unique new mass transit, enormous building of corporate headquarters, and more importantly extensive development of apartments and condos where there is a big influx of young residents because downtown is where they want to live. There is no fleeing from Milwaukee, just the opposite, young professionals are flocking to live downtown.

    And Eisen is right in his understated way, the Third Ward is a great booming chic place to shop and dine and live, but there also is the booming Bay View part of the city, a booming 5th Ward and the evolution of Wauwatosa, Shorewood, Whitefish Bay and the near north shore area to name a few into thriving areas that indeed are
    full of liberals and deliver majority Democrat votes.

    We don’t want to go back to mid 20th Century Milwaukee as Eisen suggests. We lreally like our modern city as we advance in the 21st Century.

    And don’t call Milwaukee a “lingering Rust Belt city”. That’s an insult to who we are today and where we are headed having built our city up when manufacturing
    declined in America. We are not a city of rust but a beautiful city that has transformed itself through the downturns in the American economy.

    And don’t refer to the rest of Wisconsin as “outstate”. That also is an insult to the beautiful rural areas and smaller cities and towns of Wisconsin that make our state as wonderful as it is. “Outstate”an arrogant reference from a Madison or Milwaukee view. These wonderful areas of Wisconsin are not “out” of our state but a great part of our state. Let’s refer to the other areas of Wisconsin as Greater Wisconsin.

    Finally Eisen took a cheap shot at Milwaukee as one of the worst segregated cities. Indeed we have the segregation issue as one of our most important issues to resolve. But we are not alone as an urban city struggling with this issue and we are not by far the worst. Cities we admire like Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, Atlanta and others have worse segregation problems than Milwaukee. And the studies prove
    it. And let me add that Madison also has its segregation problem with a concentration of African Americans on its south side. Yet Madison is too small of a city to be included in most of the urban studies of segregation in America. Segregation is a pervasive social problem we must work to resolve and we need a Democrat Governor to contribute to that important effort.

    So I hope Marc Eisen learns more about Milwaukee as it evolves as a progressive and beautiful city, so not worthy of his trashing.

  10. Robert Meyer says:

    What an important article that couldn’t be more timely. Not all of the candidates are Democrats, and like the incumbent none of them have spelled out a plan to address Eisen’s questions. I’ve addressed these two structural economic challenges facing our state in my platform which people can learn about at http://www.robertmeyerforgovernor.org.

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