Three state senators and Wisconsin’s longest serving governor got together recently to share ideas on how to return civility to Wisconsin politics.
The Civility Summit was held at the farm of former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R-Elroy) who was joined by state Senators Tim Cullen (D-Janesville), Bob Jauch (D-Poplar), and Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center). The senators are not seeking reelection.
The idea for the Civility Summit grew out of conversations Thompson had with each of the three senators.
“The three of us have each been around state government in some capacity for over 30 years,” said Cullen. “We’ve each had a working and personal relationship with Tommy, and we kind of said, ‘Gee, if we could find ways to work together despite being from different parties over the years there’s got to be a way to apply that to what’s happening today.’”
Cullen served two stints in the Senate, the first included being Senate Majority Leader from 1981-1986, and he was then tapped by Thompson to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services. First elected to the state Assembly in 1982, Jauch served as Minority Leader during his over 28 years in the senate. Schultz also began his legislative career in the Assembly in 1982, moving to the Senate in 1991 where he also rose to Majority Leader.
“Tim and I may be from a different party, but first and foremost we’re all residents of Wisconsin. We’ve always found ways to be pragmatic with guys like Tommy and Dale,” said Jauch. “Over the years we’ve had some arguments, but we all knew we had to put the people of Wisconsin ahead of party and personal interests, and it’s frustrating to see that attitude in short supply today.”
The four spent the day discussing how they were able to achieve results, how they differed with others while still being civil and how they can help renew those tactics in a seemingly fractured political environment.
“We’ve all served in leadership in the legislature, and I think that gives you a unique perspective because you have to work with a lot of different personalities,” Schultz said. “I don’t think there has been anyone better at doing that over the years than Tommy Thompson.”
The former governor began his political career in 1966 with his election to the state Assembly, where he rose to Minority Leader before beating the odds and winning a contentious primary and then defeating an incumbent to become governor. Thompson was elected an unprecedented four times before being chosen by President George W. Bush to serve as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.
“It was an afternoon of beef, beer and bull–all home grown in Wisconsin,” said Thompson. “We all have a passion, an excitement, for the state we so deeply love, and I’ve always been a doer. To accomplish great things you have to work together. We’re at our very best when we unite for the people of Wisconsin.”
The three senators said they will continue to speak across the state to both encourage their colleagues to engage in a more civil debate and to remind voters during this campaign season to challenge candidates for office to explain how they have or will practice bipartisanship in office which would lead to real results for the people they represent.