Posted tagged ‘Mordecai Lee’

The I-94 Road to Prosperity

June 13, 2012

Politically, Madison and Milwaukee are two Democratic peas in a pod. But culturally  they are like oil and water.  Go figure.

In a story for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, I make the case that the two cities need to pull together through an economic corridor along  I-94.

The story begins:

What is it about Milwaukee and Madison – that potent mix of mutual disdain, disregard and ignorance that characterizes their odd relationship?

“Only 80 miles separate them, but it’s like the cities are on different sides of the moon,” says James Rowen, who has worked in journalism and for mayors in both cities.

Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political scientist who served for 12 years in the Legislature, offers another celestial view. “It’s the difference between Saturn and Jupiter. Milwaukee and Madison are on different planets,” he says. “Even as technology erases distances, the two cities remain impervious to cooperating.”

John Gurda, a Milwaukee historian and columnist for the Journal Sentinel, says Madison and Milwaukee are like estranged siblings who meet at Thanksgiving and then don’t talk for the rest of the year.

But enough metaphors – I have to blurt out something as loudly as I can.

Wisconsin needs Madison and Milwaukee to pull together.

Simply put, that 80-mile I-94 corridor traversing Milwaukee, Waukesha, Jefferson and Dane counties could be the muscle and brain of Wisconsin’s 21st century economic renaissance.

The four counties cover less than 5% of the state but have one-third of its population, 44% of its college graduates and almost 40% of Wisconsin jobs, according to the UW-Extension’s Center for Community and Economic Development. The synergy of a great transportation corridor connecting the state’s two largest metropolitan areas seems obvious.

Tom Hefty, the retired head of Blue Cross-Blue Shield United of Wisconsin, made that case 10 years ago when he tried – and failed – to persuade Gov. Jim Doyle to adopt a corridor development plan as part of the state’s economic strategy.

The logic: Milwaukee is the state’s finance and commercial capital. Madison is the political capital and home to a world-class research university. Waukesha County is a teeming entrepreneurial beehive. Already, a good chunk of workers travel back and forth along the corridor. Major educational facilities, including a rising UWM, prepare the workforce.

“You combine an academic powerhouse with a commercial powerhouse and you get job growth,” says Hefty.

Do you think that Wisconsin’s languishing economy could use more jobs? The answer is obvious, but the politics here are deeply dysfunctional. Talk about Mission Impossible. It’s not just Milwaukee vs. Madison, but their shared liberalism is abhorrent to conservative Waukesha County. Lambs will lie down with lions before corridor politicians ever work together.

In that context, Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to kill the $810 million federally funded train service between Milwaukee and Madison is just one more smack-down in that endless grudge match.

But here’s the thing: The corridor is coming together without those feuding politicians.

To read the rest of the story, please go here.

To read a similar argument I made for Chicago-to-Milwaukee connection, please go here.

 

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Taking Aim At Labor Law

December 16, 2010

With the earth seemingly crumbling beneath them, public employee unions are reeling. This post for Milwaukee Magazine sums up the surprising views of two guys associated with the Democrats and labor–John Matthews and Mordecai Lee.

The story begins:

Even as Governor-elect Scott Walker and his triumphant fellow Republicans are promising to get tough on Wisconsin’s public employees, some liberals are also raising questions as to whether the rules for public unions should change.

Former Democratic lawmaker Mordecai Lee and veteran Madison teachers’ union leader John Matthews are among those who, well before the November election, had been arguing for major changes in Wisconsin labor law – changes that could lead to more strikes and turmoil. They made their remarks in response to questions from Milwaukee Magazine.

Lee, a quotable favorite of Wisconsin media, is a professor of governmental affairs at UW-Milwaukee. He believes public employees shouldn’t have collective bargaining rights because of their ability, he says, to manipulate elected officials through political endorsements and campaign contributions.

“You have legislators, mayors, county executives, supervisors – all of them subverted by labor’s political relationships,” he says.

Matthews is the dean of Madison labor leaders with 43 years in the cause. He is equally provocative, wanting to legalize public-employee strikes and toss out the landmark mediation – arbitration law that brought labor peace to Wisconsin schools and local governments after the stormy illegal strikes of the 1960s and 70s.

Matthews is fed up with arbitrators settling contracts. “I’d rather have our fights on the street,” he says. “We’ll go and block school entrances. We’ll tell people they shouldn’t be taking our jobs.”

To read more, please go here.

Union Blues

December 8, 2010

Since the summer I’ve been thinking a lot about the diminished status of  public employees and their unions. This Endgame column, published in mid-November in the December issue of Milwaukee Magazine, is the first piece I wrote on  the troubled prospects for organized labor.

The column begins:

Too bad a ball-peen hammer wasn’t handy. If so, leaders of the embattled Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association might have walloped themselves over the head. Instead, they did something even more self-destructive, suing Milwaukee Public Schools for Viagra coverage of its members.

Union president Mike Langyel gamely defends the suit, saying Viagra is used to treat a bona fide medical problem. But even liberal supporters winced at the timing.

Here was a financially strapped school system struggling with an anticipated layoff of almost 500 teachers, and the clueless union was demanding insurance coverage of a sexual aid that could cost taxpayers more than $700,000 a year.

To read more, go here.


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