Wow! What a perceptive article from Judith Davidoff of The Capital Times. In its weekly print edition there he is on the cover, the most unloved man in Madison, Jim E. Doyle, pictured alone in a sea of darkness representing the bent of his mind. Over his head, the telling headline: "The Lone Stranger; Jim Doyle got what he wanted but he made few friends along the way."
It is a must read.
Doyle is described as a man who "will hold a grudge forever" and, my favorite, "a sore winner."
These quotations are not attributed, I think understandably. A good reporter has to choose between getting it on the record or getting the story. Bob Woodward has made a career of getting the latter.
As one former executive staffer put it: "The governor is not a nice person. He's not a nice human being."
Tough stuff. Remember, that's a Democrat talking. Sheesh, the man didn't even get along with a Democrat(ic) Legislature. Hated his lieutenant governor. One gets the impression, based on the sketchy descriptors that Davidoff does offer, that most of her sources are Dems. In fact, it appears the reporter penetrated fairly deeply into the East Wing of the Capitol.
It was a very difficult, "unhealthy" place to work, says this aide. You got yelled at for mistakes, but never heard about a job well done. "There are no hugs in Doyle land."
Ooh, good stuff! Be sure to read the comments to her article which, as of this writing, all agreed with her assessment. ("the most out of touch executive office in the 30 years I've been given to observe.")
Getting in to see the guy was a tough ticket and that was just his own gubernatorial staff! In my short year in Tommy's office, the rule was the more the better. You got maybe 30 seconds to state your opinion, very succinctly. But at least you were heard.
The irony is that pipe-smoking James Doyle senior was a beloved figure. My grandfather served with a much younger Ruth Doyle in the state Assembly in the 1949-51 session and, I am told, spoke highly of her.
Judy Davidoff's article falters when she buys into the argument from one of the man's few confederates that ...
No one disputes that Jim Doyle has been a strong governor.
Actually, that is complete revisionism. The report card IS in and it ain't pretty. The Cato Institute gave failing grades on fiscal integrity to seven governors, including Doyle (and one Republican). Earlier this year the Pew Center for the States listed Wisconsin as one of the 10 worst-managed states. Marc Eisen details the dashed dreams of liberals who had expected much more of a Democrat(ic) governor.
I called him the furious nibbler, so negligible is the Doyle legacy.
- After eight years, the state has a $1.2 billion structural deficit.
- School financing is more broke than ever - since he deep-sixed the qualified economic offer as a sop to the teachers union.
- He failed to reform the dysfunctional Milwaukee public school system.
- He could not get a dime from the President's education reform grants even after Barack Obama announced Race to the Top at a Madison school.
- One billion dollars of wealth has fled the state for greener pastures.
- Is responsible for Wisconsin being the only state in the nation refusing the right of concealed carry but allowing the open display of firearms.
To his credit, Doyle did not accede to allowing the Sierra Club to name his Department of Natural Resources secretary and he did not buy the Russ Feingold/Mike McCabe snake oil of "campaign finance reform."
Davidoff grants that anyone might suffer in comparison with the colossus of state government, Tommy Thompson. But 10 years after TGT left office, he "is still greeted at appearances with cries of 'Tommy, Tommy, Tommy!'"
It's safe to say there have been few, if any times, Jim Doyle has been serenaded ...
I can attest to the former, having done so myself. The love his former employees have for the man is enduring. I wrote about it here.
The two guys to right of the BlaskaMan and TGT in the photo are his long-time office manager Scott Frohmader and Reggie Hennessy of his security detail, now retired (and an unreconstructed Democrat, btw). We're pictured at the Governor's 7th annual charity golf outing at Door Creek last month.
Hugs in Tommy Land
Well, there were!
I'm slaving away over yet another speech for the boss in the (then) un-air conditioned press office on the second floor in the East Wing of the State Capitol when a cloud of men in suits rushes past the open door. That was always the governor en route to another engagement with a few aides for the occasion and his contingent of bodyguards. I paid little notice until a familiar face returns and appears in the doorway.
"Great speech on the (forgotten topic) last night, Dave!" Then disappears. I looked quickly at my two co-workers then back at my computer screen. Compliments are always more delicious when shared with others.
I had put all I had into the statehood sesquicentennial speech that the Governor delivered from the southeast portico balcony one June day in 1998. Kevin Keene, the governor's press secretary, had pretty much completely rewritten the first half of the speech. But the last half was recognizably mine.
That evening, the governor had his hard-working staff over to The Residence to show his appreciation for their work on the intensive, week-long schedule of sesquicentennial events. I am walking with the Lovely Lisa down the pier into Lake Mendota when a man approaches out of the darkness.
It is Governor Thompson and he is quoting from the portion of the speech that I wrote, in the presence of my wife.
We worked 12-hour days as the rule, not the exception, under great pressure. We loved every minute of it.
A toxic environment
I endured the first seven years of Doyle by burrowing into the bureaucracy as best I could. But I knew the jig was up for my career when the Wisconsin State Journal, sometime between the bastard's first election and inauguration, announced in a Page One story that "Blaska has a target on his back."
Hey, I made my bed and I am not complaining. Among other sins, I had touted the Thompson administration's acceleration of farmland use valuation, which allowed farmers to pay property taxes based on the land's agricultural value rather than its much-higher potential development value. I noted that then-attorney general Jim Doyle had opposed the move. In fact, the AG would not defend the decision. The chief attorney for the Department of Revenue, John Evans, won at the circuit court level, in the appellate court, and at the state supreme court.
One of the first things Doyle did upon becoming governor was to demote John Evans for the sin of being a better lawyer.
At the same time, Doyle's political appointees were required to sign secrecy oaths. Secrecy oaths! I could only wonder at the press such a drastic measure would have gotten had a Republican done that!
Thousands of other state employees began also to complain about the secrecy, the favoritism, the backstabbing, the second-guessing, and the lack of moral support that -- they soon appreciated -- emanated from the Capitol.
One division administrator, upon leaving my department, told his division that he had never seen an administration with a greater ability to take a problem and make it worse.
Tommy came by our shop often. Doyle, we never saw. (Which was fine by me.)
Dead man walking
Once a year department management was made to go through the motions of Employee Appreciation Day. I refused to stand in line for my cookie.
Some of us made attempts to lighten the mood, usually with humor, but the atmosphere was truly toxic. A fellow worker joined me in the elevator one morning. "Only three years until retirement," he announced. Great way to start the day when your fondest hope is of parachuting out of there. Like many state employees, he was a dead man walking.
Another co-worker, one of the most well-regarded employees in the department, showed me her cubicle calendar, each day X'ed out like a prison inmate's until the day she would be set free.
With my own health failing, I realized the atmosphere was toxic. I refused to be a victim. I decided to get out while I still could do so on my own two feet. I have not looked back, except toward the golden Tommy Thompson years.