Looking For The New Pat Lucey
For a decade now, the Wisconsin economy has sputtered and stalled. I argue in this Isthmus opinon column, that Democrats are part of the problem. Beginning with the Doyle administration in 2002, they just haven’t advanced a modern-day program for economic development. I suggest that the party should look back to its own history for inspiration. Namely to the example of Pat Lucey, who was governor in the 1970s. I write:
Lucey, who is 94 (and living in an assisted-living condo on Madison’s west side), brought consummate political skill to advancing a sweeping policy agenda. “They were enormous changes all at once,” recalls his former staffer David Adamany.
Governing from 1971 to 1977, Lucey merged the two university systems, enacted consumer protection laws, strengthened ethics provisions for officials, revamped campaign finance laws, shifted mental health treatment from institutions to community programs and, perhaps most importantly, retooled government aid programs to reflect the progressive vision: Poorer communities, especially their schools, should get more state aid than richer communities. Republicans howled at how Lucey threatened their low-tax enclaves.
Jesuit educated, Lucey saw the moral end in politics. Linda Reivitz, who worked in the Department of Natural Resources, recalls briefing Lucey on the pros and cons of a policy matter only to be interrupted when she veered into its politics. “He put up his hand and said something like, ‘Young lady. I will worry about the politics. You just tell me about the policy options.'”
Notes Jim Wood, another aide: “Pat knew you only walked through this valley once. Politics wasn’t about getting elected. It was getting elected to do something.”
After La Follette’s Progressive Party collapsed in 1946, Lucey was among the legendary activists who launched the modern-day Democratic Party. When he was elected to the Assembly in 1949, a fellow Democrat griped to the Milwaukee Journal: “He thinks he’s down here to reform us.” Lucey later served as state party chair and built the party infrastructure county by county.
He made his fortune in real estate, and that too shaped his political success. “He could talk to businessmen as one of their own,” notes Adamany. Early on, Lucey embraced a Republican pet issue — exempting manufacturing machinery and equipment from the property tax, as an incentive to reinvest — and got it passed through a divided Legislature. He also removed business inventories from the property tax and standardized assessment practices so county assessors could no longer over-assess business property to benefit homeowners.
By 1977, the Wall Street Journal, chronicling the Wisconsin economic success, called us “the shining star of the Snowbelt.”
Wisconsin needs a new Pat Lucey. A progressive who gets job creation’
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