It is pronounced "Dray-fuss."
Not "Dry-fuss," as in "J'accuse!"
I need to provide a pronunciation guide because 1978-1983, the years Lee Sherman Dreyfus ran for and served as governor, is a quarter century and more ago. Now he is dead, at the age of 81.
Which would have put him in his early 50s when his under-funded campaign cobbled together that old bus and made it look like a train caboose in his run for governor. Except that he never looked young and never seemed to look older.
Lee Sherman Dreyfus -- LSD! -- resembled the Great Gildersleeve of radio fame.
He was that rarest of creatures, a Republican academic and red-vested rebel. Students on the campus at UW-Stevens Point, he would say, would give him the victory sign -- but forget to hold up the second, index finger. Pa-dumppp! But he held up a figurative finger to the Republican establishment to beat the Milwaukee power brokers' candidate, photogenic Bob Kasten, then a sitting congressmen, for the party's nomination. Then he unseated an incumbent governor, albeit a party hack named Marty Schreiber who, like Jerry Ford, acceded to the office when its incumbent, Patrick Lucey, quit.
He signed a law banning job discrimination against gays. Good for him. He campaigned on returning a budget surplus to the people rather than laying down a hedge against bad times and going after the tax system that produced that surplus. He institutionalized tax increases when the Rust Bowl recession came in the early 1980s.
He famously called Madison, "30 square miles surrounded by reality." He called Wisconsin a "23rd Psalm kind of state" ("my cup runneth over"). It was his missus who called honey "bee poop." Lee Sherman rained torrential downpourings of quotes, so many that the scribblers and tape recorder monkeys cried, after Roberto Duran, "no mas, no mas."
Dreyfus was, like Reagan, a professional communicator. Unlike Reagan, he had little to say. He fought the good fight to get elected and then seemed to wonder, now what?
And then he raised one final finger, announcing his decision not to run for a second term too late in the cycle to mount a credible candidate aside from the always-game Terry Kohler.
He announced that he was going to take the presidency of Sentry Insurance back in Stevens Point. The afternoon daily newspaper was indignant, as it always is at Republicans, and saturated the political discourse with its usual overdose of vitriol. It was certain of a quid pro quo. Reporters throughout the state searched for favoritism done to the insurance industry in LSD's four years but could find none.
LSD hosted a Madison radio show and spun the Johnny Paycheck disk, "Take this job and shove it." This, he said, is dedicated to The Capital Times.
Then this good and decent man left Madison, pretty much as he found it, 30 square miles surrounded by reality.
Blaska's ranking of governors... of the last 50 years (leaving aside Doyle, who is still writing his place in history):
- Tommy G. Thompson, Republican. Elected 1986. Welfare reform, school choice, two-thirds state funding of public schools and the qualified economic offer to restrain costs, brought the DNR into his cabinet and preserved more conservation acreage than any previous governor, reintroduced elk, engaged in a needed prison building spree (Wisconsin hasn't closed any of them yet), supported building Miller Park. A record 14 years in office. Remodeled state capitol. Built a stronger veto every time Democrats went to court to challenge it and used it.
Larger than life and legendary. Ranks with the La Follettes. The Appleton Post Crescent's Sunday top of the Page One headline got it right: "Thompson's pen is mightier than sword." Unfortunately, the space between the words "pen" and "is" was kerned almost to oblivion.
- Patrick J. Lucey, Democrat. Elected 1970. Consummate political pro. Kennedy confidante. Merged the UW system with the old state college system, required environmental impact statements, repealed M&E tax on manufacturers. First crack in gambling ban: bingo is legalized. No one's fool. (He is the oldest living former governor, beating Nelson, who died at the age of 89 years and one month. Lucey will be 90 years old on March 21.)
- Warren P. Knowles, Republican. Elected 1964. Mr. Conservation. Guided state through the turbulent student protests of the 1960s. Called out the National Guard. Completed Interstate highway system. Cabinet form of government took hold. The P. stood for "Perley."
- Gaylord Nelson, Democrat. 1958. Heralded ascendancy of the modern Democratic party; elected in 1958, first Democrat since Alfred Schmedeman's election in 1932! Permanent funding mechanism for conservation purchases.
- John Reynolds, Democrat. Elected 1962. Introduced sales tax in his single term. Not a good thing, but important.
- Lee Sherman Dreyfus
- Tony Earl, Democrat. Elected 1982. A truly decent man and bonhomie who was undone by his own party, including Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier, and by his well earned reputation as "Tony the Taxer," who advised Walter Mondale to pledge tax increases at the 1984 Democratic convention.
- Martin Schreiber, Democratic. Moved up from lieutenant governor in 1977. Never allowed to grow into the job. Victim of a tax revolt.
- Scott McCallum, Republican. Moved up from lieutenant governor in 2001. Declared war on local government -- all those county board members, village trustees, town clerks, and mayors -- in a foolish quest to outbid Jim Doyle for the teachers' union vote.