Our Wisconsin Commonwealth
By Jody Maier
Hi, my name is Jody, but it could be Sue, Bill, John, or Jill because I’m no different than many of you. I was born, raised, and now choose to live in Wisconsin. For thirty-eight years this land has nurtured and supported me. I write this today because I fear that nurturing and supportive nature is fundamentally changing. I perceive that attitudes are coming to surface so rapidly and with so much venom we may find it hard to move forward together again.
When I was a boy in the early eighties the economy was bad. Jobs — decent paying jobs that could pay for food, mortgage, clothes, and end worry — were difficult to come by. At least they were in my house. Inflation was soaring, interest rates were solidly in the teens, and our household was waiting for our piece of the American pie to trickle down. Without the weekly unemployment checks, blocks of government cheese, and the goodwill of friends and family, our situation would have been much worse. The commonwealth of the people, our shared taxes, helped my family weather the storm of misfortune.
Another asset of the commonwealth (Common: of or relating to a community at large, Wealth: all material objects that have economic utility; especially: the stock of useful goods having economic value in existence at any one time) that proved the difference for me and my family is our educational system. I was an able student, but willful and challenging. There were so many educators that took extra concern with me and brought me back to the straight and narrow when I strayed. As a reflective adult I see this clearly now. At the time I found them meddlesome, but what perspective does a student have on the role of the educator? This is one aspect I find troubling right now. The armchair quarterbacking going on relative to teachers is galling. As if someone over twenty years removed from the experience, and immature when the experience was gained, has any useful insight into the position of our public teachers. No one at large has the competence to judge the worth of a teacher’s compensation. Few understand the commitment, the schooling required as a prerequisite, the sacrifice, and the bargaining that brought them to this pass. Rather than envy a fellow citizen their compensation, we should hold them as a standard for the whole of society. Devaluing their status of compensation only devalues our own. Not to mention that reduced compensation lessens the possibility of the best entering the profession as the best have options. Do we want the best for our children or do we want the mediocre?
I grew up in a family that relied on deer hunting for sustenance. We didn’t hunt for the glory of shooting some Boone and Crocket trophy. My dad was fond of saying “You can’t eat the antlers anyways.” The deer herd then was not robust and it was quite a bit of work to bag a deer. Doe tags were rare and it was a treat to see more than a few flashes of brown in the woods. Today, because of decades of academic practices, we have a thriving deer herd that is the envy of many states. The whitetail of Wisconsin is a prized asset of our shared tax resource, our commonwealth. Our dollars, spanning generations, have paid for the current bounty. Our shared lands, which our money paid for, are managed to produce timber, to produce game, to produce water. These shared resources provided so much for us. My family didn’t have money to go to exotic locations for vacation, but we could go tubing down the river or bobber fish for bluegill. We could get a permit for windfall timber and cut enough firewood to feed our woodstove all winter long. We could pitch a camp at a state park and “Escape to Wisconsin.” We were from here and proud to say so. I now read that some would have us pay in excess of $750 per deer permit (a 3,000% increase) and that public lands should be sold to private interests because private management is so much more effective than government managed lands. I am confused, startled, angry, sad, and unable to comprehend why anyone from here would want to sell off our most valuable asset.
If some government managed assets are deemed not to be in the best interest of our commonwealth why not extrapolate that further? Roads are expensive, requiring huge amounts of cash to build and maintain. We the people really don’t even get the best utilization of them. Freight transportation companies do. Our highways and interstates are choked with tractor-trailers pounding down our tax dollar bought and paid for concrete and blacktop. Our cars do not apply nearly the wear and tear that these vehicles do. And since private business is so much more efficient why don’t we sell off our roads to them? The reason is because we’d not be able to afford driving anywhere of significance. If you think air travel is expensive, sit down and do the math on traveling on a private roadway. The only way that level of infrastructure can be created and maintained is by our combined and shared revenue. Those freight haulers pay their share too by the way, but they couldn’t foot the burden alone.
We all share in the cost of so much: police protection, fire protection, roadways, corrections, water/air/soil protection. The common citizen as well as businesses all pay taxes to support these and many other enrichments to our lives, so for some to think that government serves no role or is inherently inefficient is incredibly ignorant and naïve. In 2008 it was not the government needing a bail out. GM, Chrysler and Wall Street did not lend money to Uncle Sam. Rather it was “We the People” (i.e. the government) rescuing them from their own financial ineptitude. The apologists blame the unions for the woes of these corporations. Other apologists absolve unions of any blame. Common sense dictates that both sides share in the trouble and both sides would need to bend to correct the situation. Isn’t that where we stand right now in Wisconsin?
Special interest money brought this ideological, political war to our state. The extremists currently holding public office would have us believe that money is union money. It is true that some union money is in the campaign. It is also true that Scott Walker brought in over $23 million in out of state donations. His super-sized yard signs and endless television ads are testament to the cash he has on hand. That the Wisconsin teacher’s union would throw some money in to this fray makes sense to me as they have much at stake. That well-heeled people from other states would donate tens of thousands of dollars to a governor from Wisconsin does not make sense. People with that kind of money are not in the habit of wasting their resources. These are men and women that place their money in ventures where they can reasonably expect a return on their investment. So please ask yourself: what return are they expecting here? Cheap land? Private schools? Relaxed environmental regulations to ensure lower operating expenses? Busted unions to ensure lower wages and benefits? What level of political favor would you expect if you handed a politician a check for $500,000?
I’m a son of Wisconsin. Wisconsin and her people have been good to me. I thrive here. I belong here. I live here. I believe in Wisconsin. I believe in our shared resources that our forebears paid for – our commonwealth. I believe that we can disagree, that we can debate, that we can be wary of each other but can overcome our differences. But the key is HOW we treat each other in the process. Our current leader admits to using “divide and conquer” tactics against his constituents – divide me from you and conquer us both. But we are the power. We cannot stand for a leader who will not compromise or consider another perspective – that is divisive at best and destructive at worst. Scott Walker is destructive. He arouses our basest nature and lures us to be dismissive of our neighbor. We’ve all been taught to love our neighbor. We’ve been taught to treat others the way we wish to be treated. Right now there is another “Jody” out there needing the help that this Jody received. Some need much more. We should not be looking to remove our tax dollars from these people. We should be looking to remove our current governor and replace him with someone deserving of us.
Please join me in recalling Scott Walker on June 5.
Jody Maier is a son of Wisconsin born and raised in the greater Wausau area. He enjoys the company of family and friends and communing with nature.