MADISON – Ring… ring… ring.
“Hello, Tommy? It’s Jim Doyle. I know it’s been a while since we chatted, but I need your advice on something.”
“I was beginning to think you lost my number. My advice? When I was governor and you were A.G., you gave me a lot of advice – whether I wanted it or not. So, what’s up?”
“You’re a Republican and for most of the time you sat in this chair, the Democrats controlled at least one house of the Legislature. Things seemed to work pretty well that way… checks and balances, yada yada yada. But, if I recall, you got more grief from the Legislature when your own party was running both houses.”
“That’s right, Jim. When Mike Ellis was running the Senate in the mid-90s, I was convinced he was out to get me, even though he carried the same GOP membership card I had in my wallet. Senator Chuck Chvala? Now there was a guy I could eventually deal with, Democrat or otherwise.”
“Well, Tommy, I’ve got my own Ellis-like situation brewing. I asked the Legislature for two simple things: Pass a bill to families pay for treatments for children with autism, and pass a bill banning smoking in most places, including taverns – both before they go home for the holidays. In 18 other states, insurance companies must cover autism treatments. And as for smoking, I don’t want Wisconsin to be the ashtray of the Midwest.”
“Ooh, that’s a nice line…. ashtray of the Midwest. Like it, Jim! Can I borrow that?”
“Definitely not! But back to the point of my call. The Senate Democrats took a pass on both of my ideas. Now they’re voting on taking away some of my line-item veto powers. And remember how long it took to pass the budget this year? In part, that was because Senate Democrats came up with a gazillion-dollar health care plan that would make Hillary Clinton blush. So, what can I do about these folks?”
“Do what I always did: Find an open spot someplace in state government and appoint them.”
“Really, will that work? What if there’s a special election and someone just as stubborn or worse is elected?”
“That’s the risk you take. But at least you’re trading a known case of heartburn for a chance you might sleep better at night.”
“Well, worth thinking about, I suppose. But I’ve been cutting back the size of state government a bit, so there aren’t many patronage jobs left to fill. In fact, that budget problem I inherited has really crimped my style in more ways than one!”
“Now you’re changing the subject. Let’s get back to your point. If you want the legislators in your own party to behave, you occasionally have to treat them like friends. Listen to them. Get inside their heads. Maybe they’ve got a few good ideas!”
“C’mon, Tommy. Like Mike Ellis had any good ideas when he was Senate majority leader?”
“Well, there was that whole structural budget deficit thing… Hey, look at the time. Gotta go! Before I run, here’s just one piece of advice. This whole co-equal branches of government thing is really over-rated. I learned a thing or two about being governor from Pat Lucey, who was a Democrat, so maybe you can learn a thing or two – belatedly – from me. Gee, I like giving advice! Do you think I should come back and run for attorney general?”
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.