During the Holiday Season there are many visitors to the Capitol including many school groups. This past week I had the opportunity to meet with high school students from Sparta who are competing in the Project Polar Bear Contest.
The students are partnering with the elementary schools in Sparta and community members to encourage recycling and to plant trees. They journeyed to Madison to share with their work with me as part of their student project.
The students are part of the Earth Club at the Sparta High School. They started a recycling project that spread across the Sparta School District. If you walk through the schools you may see big white bins decorated like polar bears.
"I thought you as State Senator would get an answer right away,' said the man who needed information from one of our state agencies. I called him to say after two weeks of phone calls I still didn't have an answer.
With the change of power in Madison comes change in many state agencies. People come and go. But the mass exodus of public employees this month seems unusually great; and with it the state's ability to continue efficient operations.
Talk swirling around the Capitol is among those leaving state service were ten top employees from the Department of Revenue.
In the time honored tradition, to the victor go the spoils of war. In the Senate, the spoils of war are committee leadership, staff and Capitol real estate.
Last week a highly complex dance occurred as Senators moved to “better” real estate. By seniority rank and majority/minority party, Senators choose office space in the Capitol’s South Wing.
Senate offices come in different shapes, sizes and number of windows. Some Senate offices are decorated with period stenciling and pieces of original furniture from around 1912 - the year the current Capitol Building was built. All offices include reproduction carpeting and furniture and wall colors in the tradition of the original Capitol.
“Why can’t you Democrats and Republicans get along?” the woman asked me. “All of this fighting is tearing our country apart.”
When I asked her what it was that disturbed her most the answer was loud and clear - “Take those nasty campaign ads off TV and get them out of my mail box.”
What people remember most about the election of 2010 is the very negative nature of ads - most of which were written and paid for by independent groups.
Last Sunday, a woman asked if I would make sure United States trade agreements were negotiated in fairness to every Wisconsin worker. She said, “If you can get this done you will be elected every year for life!”
I support fair treatment for Wisconsin workers; but I had to tell her negotiating trade agreements with other countries involves her U.S. Senator - not her State Senator.
Recently I had the opportunity to participate in discussions that were as close as any State Senator would come to negotiating with other countries.
“I went to Wal-Mart to get my hunting license and they told me I could not have a doe permit,” said the man from Jackson County. “Since when are we not supposed to shoot does?”
Hunters heading to the woods this week are promised a better hunt than last year.
“I am feeling pretty positive,” said Kris Belling, a regional wildlife manager, in an interview with the Eau Claire Leader Telegram. “Hunters are going to have a better year than last year.”
The election was over and everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. No more nasty mail and campaign commercials. The county clerks who are responsible for administering the election, and so much more, relaxed a bit and prepared for the onslaught of deer hunters seeking a hunting license.
But the much needed rest from elections was not to happen; at least not now. Two close elections required a recount. And in a third election the losing candidate sought a recount.
The Government Accountability Board oversees elections and recounts in Wisconsin. The recount is governed by state law and spelled out in a 50 page manual that begins with the sentence “Elections are often decided by a few votes.”
“What changes can we expect as a result of last Tuesday’s election?” the reporter asked me. He was one of several who asked my opinion on how things will change under the new leadership in the Capitol.
The state saw a surge of successes among Republican candidates which resulted in a switch in the majority party in both houses of the Legislature. The Senate has 19 Republican members and 14 Democrats; the Assembly has 60 Republicans, 38 Democrats and one Independent.
Since the election people have asked me what this change means to their lives. Some people called with concerns about specific legislation they support or oppose and wondered about the prospects for the coming Legislative Session.
Two men took a motorcycle trip to the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King. Their conversations on that trip were the start of an organization that had its official birth last Saturday.
Both men were Marines. Both men recognized the strong bond among those who serve. Both men realized strengthening that bond among Marine veterans, including those returning to civilian life, could help ease the transition for returning warriors. For one man this mission was very personal. His three sons were all active duty Marines.
“The bond between Marines is some times stronger than blood,” he told me.
“You know, I have never voted before, but this year I am going to figure out how to do it,” the thirty-something business owner told me in a voice so low I could hardly hear it.
We worked together on a state issue that affected her business. Through our effort to resolve the issue she saw the connection between what happened in her business and what happened in state government.
Voting is a right, privilege and responsibility in our democracy. Election Day is Tuesday November 2nd and every eligible voter should exercise their right.