Let’s assume that civil, even good natured differences of opinion are better than heated, even angry differences of opinion.
The former is what was provided by two of the key figures in the Wisconsin Legislature at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” event Friday in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall. The latter was one of the things the Legislature became known for nationwide two years ago.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, a Democrat, didn’t mask their differences on a list of major issues. But the hour-long session was a conversation, not a shouting match.
For one thing, the two actually get along reasonably well on a personal level and, once a month, they tape a similar civil dialogue for broadcast on “Wisconsin Eye,” the cable TV and online service that broadcasts legislative sessions and related programming. For another, they and others in the Legislature are intentionally trying to change the tenor of the environment within the Capitol.
Vos said there were still scars from the spring of 2011, when, among other things, Republicans pushed successfully to strip public employee unions of almost all of their power and the Capitol grounds were engulfed for weeks in protests. But he said he hopes everyone will look forward, and not back, and cooperate when they can. “We still have lots to argue about, but there are definite ways we can work together on common ground,” Vos said.
Barca agreed things are “much better” when it comes to the atmosphere. “The people of the state have better confidence in their government when they can see there is civility,” he said. “Not everything has to be contentious. . . . We’re trying to set an example, a positive example.”
All this said, Barca and Vos did not agree on much when it came to issues Gousha brought up.
The mining law that is close to passage in the Legislature, proposals for tax cuts and breaks in the state budget that will be worked on this spring, accepting (as Democrats want) or not accepting (as Republicans want) federal funds for expanding Medicaid coverage, expanding private school vouchers beyond Milwaukee and Racine to other cities in the state, killing the residency rule for Milwaukee police, firefighters, and teachers — the two took clear and differing positions on each.
The Republicans hold a strong majority in the Assembly and a definite, but not as strong, majority in the Senate. It’s not hard to predict who will generally prevail this year.
But the legislative process is likely to take some interesting turns. For example, Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal on school voucher expansion is drawing resistance from several Republican senators. Two of them, Michael Ellis and Luther Olsen, also told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Friday that they favored allowing public schools to increase their spending by up to $150 per student statewide in each of the next two years, unlike Walker’s proposal to allow no increase in the state-imposed cap over those two years. There will be strong advocacy and clearly opposing views aired within the Legislature. Stay tuned to see just what will emerge on some important fronts.
But, if Vos and Barca are able to keep everyone on the path they are advocating, what you’ll see will be more issue-oriented and non-confrontational than what you saw in 2011.
Click here to view the session with the two legislative leaders.
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