We sure hope the race for governor doesn’t devolve into the tired old script of “Madison versus the rest of Wisconsin.”
Republican Gov. Scott Walker quickly thumbed to that well-worn page of the GOP political playbook this week after Madison’s longtime Mayor Paul Soglin announced he’s joining the large field of Democrats seeking to unseat the two-term governor this fall.
“The last thing we need is more Madison in our lives,” Walker wrote in a Twitter post, slamming not just the capital city’s mustachioed “mayor for life,” but the city itself.
Dubbed the “Berkeley of the Midwest” long ago, Madison may epitomize the nanny state for many conservative and rural voters. The capital city spends lots of money, makes developers jump through hoops, loves to protest and is a hotbed of progressive politics and union pride.
But Madison is changing, and the old caricature has grown stale.
Madison is now the state’s fastest-growing urban area, with cranes regularly dotting the skyline. It’s home to a flourishing technology sector, evidenced by the recent announcement of nonstop daily flights between San Francisco and the Dane County Regional Airport, which will better connect Wisconsin with Silicon Valley innovators and investors.
Moreover, three-quarters of Dane County’s surging economic output comes from the private sector — not state government or UW-Madison.
Madison also is central to Wisconsin’s efforts to attract more of the young workers our graying state needs to continue to prosper in the global economy. Wisconsin faces a looming worker shortage if it doesn’t do a better job of keeping and attracting budding talent.
In fact, just as Gov. Walker was criticizing Soglin and the city he has intermittently led for about 20 years over more than four decades, the governor’s Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. was touting Madison’s culture and economic opportunities in ads urging young professionals in Chicago to move here.
Madison has ranked as the most livable city in the nation, WEDC stresses on its website, with affordable housing, great schools, excellent health care and lots of recreation and entertainment. The city’s technology hub is contributing to its building boom, attracting business and talent.
That’s not to say Madison doesn’t have problems, some of which Soglin shares responsibility for. Madison has low graduation and high incarceration rates for black males. Madison lost an Oscar Mayer plant and experienced a record number of 11 murders last year, though that’s still low compared to other cities its size.
Madison can’t go it alone. It benefits from the hard work, good ideas, scenic beauty, natural resources, manufacturing, agriculture and tourism that the entire state provides.
Madison needs Wisconsin to succeed, and Wisconsin needs Madison. We’re on the same team, and we need a leader who can bring the entire state together.