I had the pleasure of attending an impromptu history lesson on the history of Wisconsin politics at Maduro's Cigar Bar the other week. Amidst the smoky smell of freedom, a former legislative chief of staff to members of both parties (!) told me how things used to go down at the Capitol.
Before 1994, things were a lot more collegial. Republicans and Democrats lunched together, drank way too much together, and often collaborated on policy.
Furthermore, the debates they had were more civil, if not less genuine. In fact, floor debates in the Assembly and Senate were generally negotiated behind-the-scenes by party leaders, who then worked out the practically scripted "battles" with members of their caucus.
Hence, as this political vet told it, government functioned better but was a little less honest. This would perhaps strike most people familiar with the popular representation of Wisconsin's past as ironic, since the Badger State was formerly lauded as "squeaky clean" for its high standards of transparency and ethics.
The Republican Revolution brought a new crop of legislators to the Capitol more partisan, more ideological and less interested in compromising with the other side, let a lone having a beer with them.
As Sen. Spencer Coggs once told me, Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen forbade Republicans from eating with Democrats. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), who is known to dine with his GOP counterpart on the JFC, Rep. Robin Vos, nevertheless was once warned by a Republican friend not to call him on his work phone.
According to Coggs, even some of the most right-wing Republicans who are from the pre-1994 era still abide by the older standards of collegiality. This was displayed to me at the Tea Party in April and recognized Sen. Al Lasee (R-Door County), who was first elected in 1974 and recently told the Appleton Post-Crescent that he, like many other old timers, were retiring because they are "tired of the bull shit."
The senator and I agreed on one thing - the U.S. was not descending into socialism under Obama's leadership. "More like communism," he quipped.
Before I had time he respond he recognized an old friend of his Joe Wineke, a former Verona state senator and former chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. I left them to reminisce on the good old days.