Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Wisconsin Legislature is a Vastly Changed Institution

By Cal Potter

After having served a total of approximately 24 years in the Wisconsin Assembly and State Senate, I often hear commentary that the political
atmosphere during my 1975-1998 service is in major contrast in agenda, behavior, and the reason for serving in political office to that found today. The same observation is being made by those who have served in Congress over a number of decades.

I have not been a part of the Legislature for about the last 18 years, and thus cannot provide a first hand account of internal operations today, but I am told by those who are still there after many years that things are very different. I do have vivid recollections of the makeup of the Assembly during my early years, and particularly impressions of my first year, 1975. The most vivid image I have is the number of members who were of a more mature age, and had (or still did) served in local government as town, county, or school board members, or in some other unit of local government. The presence of those with that background had them be very task oriented, and not strongly partisan agenda driven. Their local government experience gave them a real worldview that government was to serve the people, and to try to address the problems we face, in spite of our differing political philosophies. So, while there were partisan differences on what should be done, and how much spent on the effort, no one felt a need to stall government for any valid reason. The state budget, in some form, needed to be passed as there were local units of government waiting for printouts as to what school aid, shared revenue, or road aid levels were to be expected so they could in turn prepare their budgets.