Neighboring Democrats Pay a Visit to Door County

Two neighboring Democratic Assemblymen made a whirlwind one-day tour of Door County to spread the word that important – perhaps even radical – things are happening in Madison since this state became the beta site for various conservative pet projects such as expansion of the school voucher program to nine more cities that have “failing” schools.

“So many of the decisions in this budget are so frustrating, like the big voucher push,” said Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh, who is in his fourth term representing the 54th District. “It’s simply become the biggest political monster in the state. I don’t know if the public has totally caught on to this. This isn’t about educational improvement or helping struggling districts. It’s about watering down what we’ve built in Wisconsin and the continued erosion of public education. It’s hard to put Humpty Dumpty back together once you’ve smashed it.”

Hintz was traveling with Eric Genrich, who, though he was only elected last November to represent the 90th Assembly District in Green Bay, has previous experience in the state Capitol as a legislative aide for Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay from 2001 to 2008. His wife, Emily, is a special education teacher in the Green Bay school district.

“To privatize our educational system is a very extreme policy choice,” Genrich said.

“Oftentimes it’s not until after things get passed that people realize, ‘What do you mean we’re taking taxpayer dollars and giving them to private schools?’” Hintz said. “Eric and I think it’s important enough that we have to get out there and make sure people in all parts of the state understand what is going on. We feel very strongly that this is a very important time because there are a lot of radical decisions that go really against with what I think we’ve had in Wisconsin.”

Hintz said the idea of voting in lockstep by party line has gotten ridiculous.

“We need people to step up and say, ‘Hey, we shouldn’t just be jamming things through.’ We shouldn’t be governing because of ideological purity. We do have a state that is far more balanced than the agenda has show so far.”

The legislators said there are rumors of Republican defection on the school voucher issue, but that brings its own dangers in the present political climate.

“We hear there’s going to be opposition from Sen. [Michael] Ellis and Sen. [Luther] Olsen, but we heard that too during Act 10 and that didn’t last very long,” Hintz said. “And of course in modern-day politics, you vote against what the Governor wants, you get primaried. Dale Schultz is getting that now.” [Schultz, a state senator from New Richmond, was the only Republican senator to vote against Walker’s collective bargaining bill and the only Republican in either house to vote against the recently passed mining bill.]

Here are some other issues the two Democrats discussed:


• The state’s Family Care program, a long-term care service that is offered in 57 of the state’s 72 counties but nowhere in northeastern Wisconsin:  “It’s just an obvious case of real geographical inequity,” said Genrich, who added that he has spoken with Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, and did not find an encouraging word. “I know Garey Bies (representing the 1st District, covering Door and part of Kewaunee counties) is going to work on some motions and I look forward, hopefully, to working with him on those. But I wouldn’t hold out much hope that his Republican colleagues will be supporting him because they haven’t shown any interest in doing that in the past.”


• Low water levels:  Acknowledging that there has been talk of forming a study group to look at the various issues of low water levels on the Great Lakes and their tributaries, Genrich said, “You need qualified scientists taking a look at this and offering some really substantive suggestions.”

And that should be sooner than later, Hintz added. “This issue has been at the forefront (in their Door County meetings),” Hintz said. “Reports from a study group may be too late.”


• Act 10, the 2011 “Budget Repair Bill” that ended collective bargaining rights for much of the public sector:  “One of the untold stories of things going on right now is Act 10. How are we going to deal with some of the Act 10 decisions?” Hintz said. “Proponents said ‘We’ve achieved this savings.’ Opponents said, ‘At what cost?’ We lost $27 million of annual income in my county. The Dept. of Transportation has to hire 150 or more engineers and they cited Act 10, either through retirement or they quit. The state had to contract out, which cost more money. Most of the senior people who were managing loan portfolios are gone. Public safety was exempted, but that’s 60 percent of labor costs for every municipality. We’re constantly in a battle pitting public employees against each other. Everyone in public schools is trying to pick up the morale and figure out if this is still a respectable profession for people to stay in. While some of the political fight on Act 10 has been neutered a bit, you can’t ignore some of the issues we’re seeing in the budget.”


• The mining bill that seemed to have been written by the company that wants to create the state’s largest open pit mine in a sensitive area of northern Wisconsin:

“According to an open records request, it was written by their lawyers,” said Hintz, who now serves on the Assembly’s Jobs, Economy and Mining Committee. Hintz said he went to the proposed mine site in the Penokee range and met with the CEO of Gogebic Taconite. “I learned a lot in my four hours with him, but I also met with the Bad River tribe [whose reservation is directly downstream from the proposed taconite mine] and learned why you really don’t want to do something like that. The process was bad, how quickly it went through and what you’re risking. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. It’s 2013 and these guys are talking about sacrificing for something that doesn’t pass the smell test on the cost-benefit. Is this worth what you’re going to jeopardize up there?”

Genrich said the mining bill was a not-very subtle attempt at manipulation of the electorate by pitting jobs against the environment.

“I represent a very blue-collar district and 93 percent were opposed to mining,” Genrich said. “They failed to convince the public that this was a great idea. They just did it anyway.”

Genrich added that people have to come to terms with the idea that “Environmental protection is economic development, especially for Door County and Bayfield and other areas across the state. Water quality at your beaches is going to have a huge impact on the number of people you see in a season. If you fail to protect your resources, it will have a real negative impact on your own economy.”


• The bitter partisan political climate in Madison:  “The last two years I thought was a disaster policy-wise,” Hintz said. “I don’t think anybody enjoyed it on either side. I think we all got wrapped up in something; it was kind of hard not to take personal.”

“It has been a better atmosphere down there. But I think it is telling,” he continued. “I will meet with anybody. When we heard people last fall that weren’t going to do the League of Women Voters debate because the league is an ideological organization, things have really gotten kind of nutty. It’s not just partisanship anymore. It’s rigid ideology and demonization and settling political scores. It’s kind of permeated now into getting in the way of actual governance. As someone who was pretty upset process wise [about] what was being done, you can’t forget, but you can’t personalize. We all have to get past that and find ways to work together.”