Sunday, December 19, 2010

Transitions and tribulations

By Bill Kraus

The Walker administration is in the midst of the ultimate political torture test. It's called the transition. It translates into 59 days in which the new administration must staff a governor's office, hire a cabinet, and put together a budget for this huge, complex, multi-billion dollar state enterprise. Madness.

The first priority is the urgent (as contrasted with important) one of dealing with the high profile issues and promises--the train, the state employees contracts, etc.--that come out of the campaign or are on the top of the pile on the governor's desk.

These will be pushed aside as the need to fund the really expensive stuff--medicaid, prisons, education, local governments--takes its rightful place on the top of the to-do agenda along with the ideas needed to deal with the gorilla in the room: jobs.

Want to make friends with the new administration? Help them find ways to grow the Wisconsin economy and show them how to reduce public spending significantly until the fruits of a growing economy kick in.

My own annoying contribution is to remind them that some minor problems and opportunities that are likely to get lost in the big issue shuffle could be a lot more important than they seem. Taken together they add up to proof that the Walker administration will deliver a government that works. And works together.

I start with redistricting. This is a pressing, distracting obligation that will cost the new government time, money and attention, all of which are in short supply.

The important thing is to make sure that it doesn't get into first place on the legislative agenda and in the public's mind as the inevitable wrangling over who votes where for whom gets louder and more prominent in the press.

There is a way to avoid this. This job can be delegated to an experienced, bipartisan group led by respected experts whose own political interests are not engaged in the outcome. The Iowa model works. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Adopt it. Get redistricting off the top of the legislators' priority list. You'll never regret it.

Another suggestion is more personal, less controversial, and too long neglected. It's called schmoozing. The governor is the head of state and the tone setter of the relationships among the quarrelsome, opinionated, intra-party, and inter-party adversaries that comprise the rest of the leadership group. He can find ways to break bread together. Get to know each other. Find common ground and interests. Talk. Schmooze.

And lastly it is time to revive our long reputation for squeaky, absurdly clean government. This virtue has been trampled somewhat in recent years as the need and lust for campaign money has risen.

The side effect of taking whatever steps are available to make sure that everyone knows Wisconsin is bribe-free and responsive can resonate with the ordinary people who are telling us they feel they no long matter and might be an incentive for the business people to come to or stay in Wisconsin and provide the economic propellant that is so badly needed.

At the very least, a functional, open, working government will be a welcome contrast to the internecine warfare so evident elsewhere and particularly in formerly formidable, competitive places like New York and California.

And it doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

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