There’s something about the New Year that brings freshness and hope. Pain and loss are eased as the calendar turns to 2015. Opportunity and change await.
Farming taught me the importance of new beginnings. While the ground lies fallow, plans begin. The farmer sees the snow covered field. But in the mind’s eye, the field is lush green. The weeds are few; the crop bountiful; the balance sheet in the black.
So begins the work of the people in 2015. Every bill is new (although many are recycled). Each bill begins the laborious process of committees and public hearings. Many legislators are new; returning lawmakers have new offices and some new staff.
The close of the year is a good time to reflect on what passed and look forward to what lies ahead. This week I offer my annual review of the opinions and needs of the folks I’m honored to represent.
Communication with constituents is a big part of a Senator’s job. This year I had over 6,500 contacts with more than 4,500 people in the 31st district on dozens of issues. Most people chose to send an email but 44 hard-working, old-fashioned souls took the time to send a handwritten letter or postcard.
Almost 300 people made the long trip to Madison to meet with me. Many came to celebrate a special occasion – like the 100th anniversary of 4-H in Wisconsin. Others came to testify or attend a public hearing. This year, many people from western Wisconsin traveled to Madison to stop legislation that took away local powers especially related to sand mines.
“I promise you that two years from now, when we are sitting here, the GAB will not be in the current format,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told a crowd at a Madison luncheon as reported by the Wisconsin State Journal.
The Government Accountability Board (GAB) was created seven years ago to prevent corrupt practices in state government. The agency had its beginnings when the existing ethics and election board failed to stop lawmakers from using public resources for campaign purposes in the 2002 “caucus scandal”.
A recently released Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) audit of the GAB provides insight to the activities of the GAB. The audit also spurred a partisan attack on the agency crippled by underfunding and unprecedented challenges.
“There is a yearning outside the Capitol for common sense, cooperation and compromise,” Senator Tim Cullen told his fellow Senators. “You all know how to do this if you’ve been married for more than 15 days.”
As 2014 comes to a close, so do the public careers of several extraordinary Senators. I listened carefully as these public servants delivered farewell speeches on the Senate floor. The wisdom shared by three great men comes from a cumulative 80 years of experience that spanned four decades.
“We came because we care,” Republican Senator Dale Schulz told his colleagues. “I ran for public office because I felt called.”