A New Generation of Political Leaders
GenXers and Millennials are replacing Baby Boomers in political office.
Step back from the partisan Republican-versus-Democrat sniping long enough to consider this: Wisconsin is well on its way to a new generation of political leaders.
*Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice-Elect Brian Hagedorn, 41, won the April election to succeed Justice Shirley Abrahamson when the court begins its 2019-20 term this fall. Abrahamson, the first woman justice when she was appointed in 1976, is 85.
*On that same April day, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway defeated Paul Soglin, who ran for governor last year, said he would not seek re-election and then decided, after all, to make a mayor-for-life bid. She is 47; Soglin, 74.
*At its June convention, the state Democratic Party is also on track to elect a next-generation chair, since incumbent Martha Laning, 54, is not seeking a new term.
Saturday is the deadline for other candidates to formally declare their candidacy for party chair.
*Democratic Rep. LaKeshia Myers, 34, of Milwaukee, ousted incumbent Democrat Fred Kessler in last August’s primary. Kessler, 79, was first elected to the Assembly in 1960 – 24 years before Myers was born. He served as a Milwaukee County judge from 1979-81 and 1986-88.
*Republican Rep. Ed Brooks, 76, a respected leader on dairy issues and a Town of Reedsburg supervisor for 40 years, retired for health reasons. Elected in his place was GOP Rep. Tony Kurtz 52, a former U.S. Army attack helicopter pilot and organic farmer.
Brooks died of leukemia on April 23.
*Democratic Rep. Gordon Hintz, 45, replaced then-Rep. Peter Barca, 63, in 2017 as the leader of Assembly Democrats after Barca voted for the Foxconn tax-break deal. If electronics giant Foxconn invests $10 billion, and hires 13,000 Wisconsin workers, state and local tax breaks could total more than $4 billion.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers appointed Barca secretary of the state Department of Revenue.
*Kenosha-area voters continued the youth movement trend last Tuesday, when they chose 31-year-old Democrat Tip McGuire, an assistant Milwaukee County prosecutor, to succeed Barca.
“Wisconsin does seem to have a tendency to re-elect office holders for long periods, rather than defeat incumbents,” Franklin noted, adding:
“That produces a group of office holders who can be above average in age when they leave office. It also produces a roadblock to younger generations who find their path to office blocked.
“There are advantages to both age and youth, so it is not clear that this is a ‘bad’ thing, but it does mean we often have more experienced – but perhaps less innovative – leadership.”
Baby Boomers who retire from politics clear a path for GenXers and Millennials, Franklin said.
“The question will be if they reflect new views of politics or policy priorities that will fundamentally shift our state and local politics, or if generations are mostly different by age – and not really so much by politics.
“Real changes, rather than rhetorical or stylistic changes, will be the proof of that.”
There are at least three prominent exceptions to Wisconsin’s political next-generation movement, however.
Evers, 67, beat the 51-year-old Walker in November. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, 65, has been in office since 2004. And, Democratic Sen. Fred Risser, who has represented Madison in the Legislature since 1957 and is the longest-serving state legislator in the nation, was to celebrate his 92nd birthday yesterday.