Chris Abele likes to think big. How big? Try this on:
“Move the capital.”
What? Move the state capital from Madison to Milwaukee? The idea was greeted with laughter when Abele, the Milwaukee County executive, floated it during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Wednesday.
It’s hard to picture the odds of that coming to pass as anything other than flat zero. But Abele was serious – sort of. He knew it was not going to happen, but, he said, “you can’t talk me out of thinking about it.” There is “plenty of research” that shows the advantages in terms of economic impact and government efficiency of the state capital and the state’s largest population center being the same. Think of Boston, Denver, and Minnesota’s Twin Cities.
Beyond such far-out ideas, Abele talked about other big goals during the session with Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy.
“Big idea number one: I think government can get a lot more efficient,” Abele said. Making county government more nimble is one of his continuing goals.
Big idea number two: something like regional government for the Milwaukee area. “How do we get all the governments around Milwaukee to be less turfy — sort of city versus county versus suburbs — and more aligned,” Abele said. People pay for having all of these levels of government and things could be organized more effectively.
A third big idea, offered in response to a question from Gousha about the failure in 2016 of an education reform that would have put efforts to raise the success of some low-performing schools in Milwaukee under Abele’s control, was to get to a situation where people focus on what to do about schools and helping students and not on battles between public schools, charter schools, and private schools in the voucher program.
Abele hit on a lot of the issues that confront county government in the one-hour session – among them, the tight budgets, continuing issues around county pensions, mental health services, services to homeless people, public transportation needs, the state of the county park system, his big differences with Sheriff David Clarke, and his hopes for the county’s new Office on African American Affairs. On many fronts, he said, things are better than they were several years ago – but there’s a long way to go.
Gousha asked about the general financial health of county government. “Better, asterisk,” Abele answered. The asterisk, he said, is connected in large part to the growing gap between how much tax revenue people in Milwaukee County send to the state of Wisconsin and how much aid the county government receives from the state. The City of Milwaukee and other units of government in the metropolitan area have comparable situations.
Gousha asked Abele about speculation that he might run for governor in 2018. Abele said no. He said there was still a lot he wanted to accomplish as the head of county government and he loved living in Milwaukee. (“Please tell people in Milwaukee that it’s OK to love Milwaukee,” he said.)
So he’s going to stay in Milwaukee. So now governor’s mansion for him — unless, of course, the state capital was moved here, and then maybe . . . .
Video of the one-hour session may be viewed by clicking here.