America's Dairyland license plate "COWS"

A state lawmaker plans to introduce legislation that proposes having a contest among high school students to determine Wisconsin's license plate and slogan.

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One might think that the state's big business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, would be satisfied with all the favorable treatment it's received from its bought-and-paid-for governor and Legislature.

But that would be wrong. There's much more that big business wants from our legislators at the expense of the state's citizenry, and now we discover that that even includes our 80-year-old license plate slogan, "America's Dairyland."

Thanks to its practice of financing the best politicians money can buy, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce has had a remarkable run under Republican state government control these past seven years. It has achieved legislation to practically erase all business taxes. State government has handed out untold amounts in incentives and outright grants to corporate interests, even before Foxconn was awarded a risky $3 billion taxpayer subsidy  — a subsidy WMC championed. It's tax money, after all, and big business in Wisconsin pays very little of it.

WMC has won  — and continues to win  — in state environmental regulations so its members can more easily fill wetlands and build or mine next door to pristine lands and fragile natural sites. Its governor and legislators have seen to it that unions don't have the power they once did to fight for working people. Likewise, they succeeded in throttling those pesky liability suits that allowed consumers to hold corporations accountable for their misdeeds.

So one might think that with such success in tilting the playing field so far in its direction, WMC and its leaders might be content just coasting downhill these days.

But no. On a day when WMC members swooned over a speech from House Speaker Paul Ryan on how the federal government will make life even better for them with Donald Trump's so-called tax reform, executive director Kurt Bauer went public with his latest scheme. Sticking a finger in the collective eye of the state's farmers, Bauer said that the "America's Dairyland" license plate slogan is probably bad for business.

Bauer's convinced that it's off-putting to our millennial generation, for example, which would rather live and work in urban areas. And that makes it tougher for state businesses to recruit this younger generation to take jobs in Wisconsin. They probably head to Chicago or Minneapolis instead.

Let's face it: What Bauer is really saying is that "America's Dairyland" doesn't evoke pleasant thoughts of vast green fields, fresh air and contented cows that produce some of the world's best dairy foods, but conjures up images of hayseeds and yokels wearing cheesehead hats at Packer games.

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But here's a vote for those 413,500 folks  — roughly 12 percent of our workforce  — who still make a living from milking cows, producing the most cheese in the world, manufacturing prize-winning butter and ice cream and, yes, accurately representing Wisconsin as a beautiful and industrious state.

What we need to be doing is promoting that bedrock of Wisconsin business, not trying to hide from an inaccurate image, as WMC is suggesting.

I'd much rather be known as the dairy state than drive around with a license plate that says "Home of corporate giveaways."

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel

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Dave is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.