State Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, is not the first Wisconsin legislator in recent history to announce he is leaving government, in part, because of the increasingly toxic nature of state politics. In the past few years, a number of lawmakers from both parties have called it quits, citing the hyper-partisanship that dominates the Legislature today.
Last month, one of Jauch’s allies, Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, said he would not run for reelection after coming to the conclusion that he could more work more effectively outside of government, where he said “compromise is borderline a four-letter word.”
At the time, Jauch told the Wisconsin State Journal that Cullen’s attempts to seek consensus across party lines had helped make the past four years “liveable.”
The sentiment was echoed last year by state Rep. Dick Spanbauer, R-Town of Algoma, one of the few Republicans to vote against Gov. Scott Walker’s signature collective bargaining legislation, when he announced he would leave the Assembly after two terms.
“It is worse than years ago,” Spanbauer told Oshkosh Scene. “I’ve been in government almost 40 years, and legislators that I dealt with used to talk about working with the other side on issues. There was an air of cooperation among both sides.”
Spanbauer shared an anecdote with Scene in which he was ordered by then-Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, not to support a bill because it was opposed by insurance interests that contribute heavily to GOP campaigns.
‘You know Fitz, I didn’t come here for the insurance company,” he recalled telling the speaker. “And he responded, ‘Dick you have to remember one thing – the insurance companies give us a lot of money at campaign time.’”
Although Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, who has worked closely with Cullen to try to reach compromise on a number of issues, has not announced his retirement, his apparent disinterest in raising campaign funds signals the strong possibility that he will not run for reelection next year, a decision that would not be surprising given his strong condemnation of the state’s political polarization.
In an interview with the Capital Times in July, Schultz not only bemoaned the unpleasant atmosphere that partisanship had brought to state politics, but suggested that the ideological purity demanded by the parties made the job of legislating seem practically pointless.
“When some think tank comes up with the legislation and tells you not to fool with it, why are you even a legislator anymore?” he asked. “You just sit there and take votes and you’re kind of a feudal serf for folks with a lot of money.”
Three years ago, veteran Republican Alan Lasee, R-De Pere, by no means a moderate, also left the Legislature, saying the brutal nature of modern campaigns had cast an ugly shadow over legislating. He told the Associated Press that many of his colleagues had come to the same conclusion.
"I think they're fed up with the (expletive)," he said. "You can print that and I don't care. For those of us who have been around for a while, the atmosphere in the Capitol has become somewhat poisoned."
Given the context of Lasee’s quote, it is safe to assume that the expletive referred to a vulgar expression to describe a cow patty.