In a previous post I lamented the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce's glacial progress toward getting involved in the political life of the community. Four years after I gave clear instructions, something to the effect of "get a move on" -- the movers and shakers are moving very slowly and shaking very little.
Maybe that's the chamber/business way: call two-day retreats, build great cascading PowerPoints, draw up a mission statement, take surveys, describe the oceans and the lakes -- do everything but get wet.
So, I'm glad that the Chamber finally (finally!) is bestirring itself in county (read metro) government. It should not have taken four years. And I remain unconvinced that the GMCC "gets it" even now.
There are two approaches:
- Vichy collaboration. Madison is incorrigible. It cannot be changed. The best you can do is to curry favor with the overlords and hope a few crumbs fall your way. Maybe do a little missionary work on remedial economics for those willing to attend Sunday School.
- Regime change. Isolate the radicals on Willy and Monroe Streets, carpet bomb the swing districts, pacify the countryside, seize the commanding heights, do some nation building.
Believe in your message
Guess which one I favor. You can do the second while floating like a butterfly -- all sweet reasonableness -- while stinging like a bee.
The Progressive Dane mentality is unsustainable. The inclusionary zoning ordinance, their highest achievement, proves that. Socializing the accumulation of equity -- you have to return most of it to the city when you sell -- is not a way to encourage home ownership. It is an expensive way to rent. (Irony of ironies, the current downturn in the market is making home ownership more affordable.)
PD is out of ammunition on public safety, taxes, and other issues people really care about. Their biggest cheerleader, The Capital Times, is retrenching into a once weekly publication (not counting the arts and entertainment issue). Vicki McKenna, Mitch Henck and Brian Schimming on WIBA radio are setting the agenda. A couple of years ago, Madison actually turned down two of three public school spending referenda!
Madison is talking about law enforcement today, not trolleys, thanks to the election of a very conservative minority woman by the name of Thuy Pham-Remmele. Yes, the Chamber endorsed Thuy. But she brought her own courage to up end the civic conversation 180 degrees -- from its preoccupation with trolleys to our current commitment to neighborhood safety. (And I just happen to know who formulated that message.)
Who knows? An assertive Chamber might embolden the Wisconsin State Journal once again.
You want dot points? I got 'em
Here is your work list, Chamber-arians:
- Lose the supplicant mentality. Tell elected officials what you want and when you want it. Expect delivery, not take-out.
- Not thunder, but lightning. No one understands county government completely. (See: Kathleen Falk and "law enforcement.") So, pick your spots and then hit them hard. Don't think for a minute that Big Labor or the Sierra Club covers the waterfront on every issue. You have friends, they'll tell you what you need to know.
- Raise up the dead. Encourage business people to get involved in public affairs. They have abandoned the field to the government class and the non-profits. From this promising soil will come a future mayor and county executive.
- Flood the zone with your issues, your proposals, your programs in between elections. Make them respond to you.
- Promote that platform -- in op eds, guest editorials, purchased air time and ad space.
- Sanctify the brethren and sisteren (?) with campaign conduit cash and muscle.
- Punish the wicked. Politicians appreciate sweet reasonableness but they respect clout. When you strike, leave scorch marks.
Public service brownie points
The Madison Common Council still resembles "a congress of nonprofit organizations," as I wrote four years ago.
Precious few members of either the Madison Common Council, the Dane County Board or the Madison school board are not public sector or non-profit. The few exceptions tend to be self-employed -- real estate agents, bar owners. Where are the employees of CUNA Mutual? Alliant Energy? Epic Systems? Berbee? AmFam? Blue Cross? GE Medical?
Member companies, when they review employees' performance, need to give bonus points for meetings of the town planning commission, service on the village board, candidacy for the local school board, etc.
The university does that when it evaluates its professors -- it is looking for community involvement.
As far as issues, none is more important right now than public safety. Here is issue No. #1 -- get behind Fred Mohs with everything you've got to stem the so-called "homeless" problem downtown. The proper term, of course, is "vagrancy." Building more and better shelters is not the answer. I'll have more to say about that very soon.
The audacity of courage
I regard both Mark Bugher and, especially, Delora Newton as friends. I know they get a lot of blowback from the Left. They need more pushback from the Right.
I closed that State Journal op-ed from October 2003 with this advice:
Jennifer this is important: walk one block and knock at the door of 501 E. Washington Ave. People listen to the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce because they are heavy hitters, not because they are nice guys.
Politics is about ideas but you don't put ideas into play without some jolt in your batteries.
I have long preached that there are more conservatives and moderates in Madison than are reflected in the halls of local government but that the whole does not equal the sum of the parts. The Chamber is ideally positioned to be the hub unifying all those spokes. It must lead.