One of the most important political questions circulating in Wisconsin this year: What does the lieutenant governor do? Do we really need one?
Henry Sanders, a Madison-area businessman and founder of Journal Sentinel that if he's elected, "on one will ever have reason to ask that question again."
What is Sanders' vision of the job? When I talked to him yesterday he made the idea clear. Jobs. Job creation. And jobs again. The guy knows how to stay on message, a characteristic that will inevitably frustrate reporters trying to pry open his positions on a variety of issues.
Why is he more qualified than his opponents (Assembly Majority Leader Tom Nelson, State Sen. Spencer Coggs)? "I have the real-world experience creating jobs," said Sanders, referring both to his work with MAGNET and his experience as a small businessman who helps biotech firms get financing from public and private sources.
What distinguishes his vision of job creation from that of the GOP? He responded that Republican candidates propose irresponsible spending cuts, instead of targeted tax credits to stimulate job creation. When asked what he believes are "essential services" the state owes its citizens, he mentioned a world-class education and job training, and then discussed needed investment in green jobs. He did not mention health care or any specific government programs.
When I prodded him on the role of the state in funding the University of Wisconsin, he replied that the current system is not working and that leaders need to examine a new funding model. He did not give a specific answer as to what the solution would be, except that leaders "need to look at all options on the table." What options? He mentioned tuition hikes and increased state funding as two possibilities.
When I asked him what he thought of Republicans in the legislature, he called them "the party of 'no,'" a label that has become integrated into Democratic talking points nationwide. However, when asked how a Democratic administration would pursue its agenda if the GOP takes back either the Assembly or the Senate, Sanders emphasized the need to work together for the people of Wisconsin, and said people are tired of "politics as usual."
Even after acknowledging the existence of an anti-incumbent sentiment in the political landscape, Sanders does not believe Barrett will be one of its victims. "Tom Barrett doesn't represent politics as usual," he said, emphasizing Barrett's record as a job creator in Milwaukee.
Would Sanders be willing to publicly oppose Barrett if the two disagree on an issue? Sanders seemed to say no. He said if he disagreed with the governor he would make sure to discuss the issue "behind the scenes," but made clear that it's the governor's role to define policy.
Barrett has publicly come out in favor of consolidating certain economic policy departments into one Department of Jobs, and has expressed hope that his lieutenant governor could play a key role in spearheading the jobs initiative. Sanders says the difference between a jobs-oriented LG and the Secretary of Commerce, for instance, is that the LG gives the agenda continuity because he is in for a four year term, whereas Commerce Secretaries come and go as they please.
In addition, Sanders supports gay marriage unequivocally. On the issue of law-and-order, he noted the link between poverty and crime and said the state needs to make sure it is not prosecuting offenders in a discriminatory manner. However, he would not state what sentences he believed were appropriate for specific crimes, such as cocaine possession.