Equipped with my brand new business cards and a notebook my dad once used to record French vocab (I rarely use pen and paper), I arrived at the second day of the State Democratic Convention eager to get some premium interviews for my dear readers. After chatting with Henry Sanders, who I interviewed last week but had never met in person, I spotted Sen. Herb Kohl. After awkwardly waiting for an adoring fan to finish up with their compliments, I asked the senior Democrat for a few minutes of his time.
After bantering for a moment about the Bucks (if only I knew basketball), our conversation turned to partisanship in American politics. Like most old-timers, Kohl agreed that politics had become more partisan and divisive in the past two decades. When asked why, Kohl did not have a definitive answer, but said that our legislative culture reflects the broader culture.
"We've become a more coarse culture," said the 75-year-old native of Milwaukee. He could not define the source of the coarseness but suggested cable news and other outlets that promote divisiveness.
Kohl, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also expressed confidence that Elena Kagan would get confirmed and that Russ Feingold would win re-election.
Later, when I talked to State Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), he supplemented Kohl's discussion of partisanship with specific examples in state politics. Like Sen. Spencer Coggs the day before, Pocan blamed the GOP leadership of the 1990's, especially former Republican Leader Scott Jensen. Both allege Jensen forbade Republicans from socializing with members of the other party, and ended the tradition of bi-partisan lunches.
Like many liberals, however, Pocan placed a lot of the blame on conservative talk radio, especially in the Milwaukee area. He said media personalities like Charlie Sykes, whose listeners regularly flood legislative phone lines, distort legislators' perception of public opinion. According to Pocan, the phenomenon pushes Democrats to the right and keeps Republicans from defecting from the party line.