Changing Paradigm By State Senator Frank Lasee
June 8, 2011
“State’s deficit fuels political divide; Polarization between parties, population likely to continue, experts say.” That was a headline in the GreenBay Press Gazette this week on a story reporting the sharp differences between the left and right in Wisconsin.
They’re wondering what happened to bipartisanship. In many cases, bipartisanship is still strong. About 80 percent of bills pass
through the legislature with a bipartisan vote and they’re often worked on in a bipartisan way. If you’re going to vote for something, you get a say in it. If you’re going to vote no, then you don’t get much of a say. I tell folks you have to have the votes, whether in the legislature or an election. One leads to another.
Bipartisanship is still here. It just doesn’t make the news very often. It isn’t very exciting. There are real differences between those that believe in more government and those that believe our government is too big, too expensive and too involved in citizens’ lives already.
The political landscape in Wisconsin and the country has changed dramatically in the last decade.
Since the Civil War we had a stable political paradigm in our state and country. Both parties had a full spectrum of elected officials. The Democrats had some conservative, small-government legislators such as Representative Bob Ziegelbauer (formerly D) – now an independent, because he was targeted by the Democrats, unions and liberal groups – and former state Senator Jeff Plale (D), a moderate who is now working in the administration after he was defeated in a Democratic primary by liberal Chris Larson. On the Republican side, we still have some big-spending, government-first types.
In the past paradigm, liberals and conservatives from both parties would have to get together to pass bipartisan conservative laws or bipartisan liberal laws. They couldn’t do it exclusively in their own caucus because of their diverse caucus. Conservatives and liberals needed help from across the aisle to get their agendas passed into law, or they wanted political cover for their agenda. That isn’t true any longer in Madison or Washington.
Now, the Democrats have clearly become the party of big government. They want big spending, big borrowing and higher taxes. They say they only want higher taxes on the “rich” and businesses. In Wisconsin, the “rich” often means a teacher married to a cop. As far as taxing businesses more, liberals show their inability to understand what businesses do. They just pass the cost of higher taxes on to their customers. The customer actually pays the tax.
Over the last dozen years, Democrats have been finishing the process of cleansing small-government conservatives and moderates from their party. Republicans are behind in this process but are making progress in the opposite, small-government direction. There are still some big government Republicans — both nationally and in Wisconsin — just not as many as there used to be.
This change will continue, and that will make compromise between big-government Democrats and pay-the-bills-first, don’t-grow-government Republicans harder and harder. This is the eighth two-year budget I’ve worked on. When final passage of previous budgets would drag on, I’d get angry toned letters from constituents saying. “Why can’t you Republicans get together with the Democrats and agree on what’s best for Wisconsin?” I would write them a polite letter that went something like this: “We’re a couple billion dollars apart on taxes and fee increases. The Democrats want more taxes and fees. I promised that I wouldn’t vote for tax increases. That’s what’s holding up the budget. Do you want me to cave in and vote for what the Democrats want to raise your taxes and fees by a couple of billion dollars? Do you want me to compromise and raise taxes and fees one billion dollars instead, provided we can get the Democrats to agree?** Or should I hang tough and keep my promise not to vote to raise taxes?”
I never did get an answer to that question. What would be your answer?
How do you compromise with someone who believes government is not big enough or involved enough in our lives, when you believe – as I do – that our government is already too big, too costly, limits too much of our freedom and hurts our economy? A government that has departed too far from the vision laid out in our Constitution? Some things should never be compromised away.
** Keep in mind that Democrats (who controlled the legislature and Governor’s office) raised taxes and fees by $4.5 billion, had record-deficits,
spent nearly $2 billion in federal stimulus money, had record borrowing and left us with a $3.6 billion deficit in the last session.