Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Historic Day in Wisconsin Politics

In 1987, a wet behind the ears College Republican and reporter for the Badger Herald daily newspaper on the campus of the University of Wisconsin began reporting to work regularly in the office of Republican State Representative Peggy Rosenzweig.  What to follow was 23 years of work in the Wisconsin legislature, on Wisconsin political campaigns and in the private sector lobbying Wisconsin legislators.  That young man who ventured into the Wisconsin State Capitol twenty years ago and never really left was me.  And the recent swearing in of Governor Scott Walker, Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and his brother, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald on Monday was a surreal experience for me to share with them.

Since working for then-State Representative Rosenzweig, I’ve worked for a Lieutenant Governor, a Secretary of State, a U.S. Senator, a State Senator, a Governor and spent the last fourteen years in the private sector lobbying each of the above and more, the last two as President of Brownstone Communications.  It should be noted that not all the positions indicated above were in Wisconsin.  Most were, but I also worked in Illinois politics and government.  And in 13 years as a regional government relations person for UST, I managed a government relations program in seven different states and developed a national agenda and worked with national organizations of Governors, Attorneys General, Speakers, Senate Presidents, legislators and others.  Still throughout it all there has been Wisconsin, where I was born and raised.

I consider myself fortunate to have had occasion to know Scott Walker before he even entered public office when we were both political operatives working together in Milwaukee County to promote the same ends.  I worked on the campaign of incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Kasten and Scott was the Chairman of the Wauwatosa Republican Club.  It didn’t surprise me in the least when Scott later decided to run for State Representative, later Milwaukee County Executive and now Governor.  He’s extremely well-equipped to handle the job of Governor and he has a great team around him.

I was more than excited, as well, to see other friends of mine with whom I worked in those days, at the inaugural festivities and assuming important positions of power in the Walker administration or with the transition.  Mike Grebe, who served as Chairman of the reelection campaign of Bob Kasten’s so many years ago, served the same position for Scott Walker’s Campaign for Governor. John Hiller who was on our political team back in those early days is finishing up work as Chairman of the the Walker transition team and has been working with Scott since the beginning.

And I couldn’t have been happier than to see my good friends who have worked hard for Scott become Chief of Staff (Keith Gilkes), Administration Secretary (former Speaker Mike Huebsch) and DNR Secretary (former Senator Cathy O’Donnell Stepp).  All three are great leaders, will be great assets to the Walker administration and will be great for the state of Wisconsin.

All the excitement occurring in Wisconsin doesn’t only revolve around the Executive Branch, not even close.

Brothers Jeff and Scott Fitzgerald, in becoming the new Speaker and Senate Majority Leader, will be exemplary stewards of the taxpayer’s interests in each of their roles.  Both Jeff and Scott have been close and dear friends since the days they joined the Legislature.  They are both committed, principled conservatives with a core commitment to the values of limited government, low taxes and reduced government spending.  Not only are those values that I worked for in Wisconsin, but I’m pleased because both Fitzgeralds are such good friends.  Their values are family, faith, Wisconsin. I’ve gotten to know them so well and it will be immensely exciting to see them execute their duties as leaders of both houses of the Wisconsin State Legislature.

Others have also ascended into leadership positions and critical roles within the Legislature and the administration.  Most exciting to me are two folks who I have also known since the beginning who will chair the powerful Joint Finance Committee, which is legislative committee which handles the state budget and all critical issues related to taxing and spending.  Senator Alberta Darling and I had a great opportunity to spend some time together at the inaugural activities and reminisce of her early days in politics when my two oldest children, now 17 and 16, were toddlers who appeared in Senator Darling’s campaign brochures when she ran for State Representative.  And Senator Darling’s, co-chair of the Committee, Representative Robin Vos is a true conservative with whom I had the opportunity to work years ago when were both staffers for Racine County legislators from the same Senate District.  Robin eventually ran for office himself and has been steadily climbing the ladder to more and more responsibility and now he and Senator Darling co-Chair the most powerful and significant committee in Wisconsin.

It’s amazing how things work out.  And I guess one of the benefits of growing older is that many of the talented folks with whom you worked as a committed young operative, eventually assume control of the levers of power.  I’m blessed that it’s happened to me in Wisconsin.  And really, Wisconsin is blessed. Each of the people that I’ve mentioned above is truly a talented, gifted, principled leader that takes his or her work seriously.  I couldn’t feel more comfortable seeing Wisconsin in anyone else’s hands.

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