Former legislators Chuck Chvala, left, and Ted Kanavas, take good-natured jabs at each other while debating issues.
Chuck Chvala and Ted Kanavas were on different sides of the aisle when they served in the state Senate. But this Thursday afternoon they’re huddled around a table in Chvala’s downtown law office, prepping to tape their weekly WisOpinion.com web show, The Insiders.
The topics are Gov. Scott Walker’s falling poll numbers in Wisconsin, the state budget and the “Uber” bill, since signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker, that exempts app-based taxicab services from municipal regulations. Chvala, a former Democratic senate majority leader from Madison, warns his co-host that he plans to take a jab at the GOP for its hypocrisy on the matter of local control.
Bring it on, says Kanavas, a former Republican state senator who represented the Brookfield area. “That’s good schtick.”
Schtick, humor, one-liners and good-natured jabs are all part of the repertoire. And when Chvala, in the segment on Uber, asks what happened to local control, Kanavas is ready.
“Hit the gas on Uber! Are you kidding me?” he says. “The vast bulk of the state wants this.”
Chvala tries to press his point, arguing for minimal insurance requirements and safety standards. “Well, Chuck,” Kanavas interrupts, “As you know, every time you get in a vehicle, it’s unsafe for all of us.” Chvala cracks up.
There is minimal primping before the taping begins, which takes place in another room in Chvala’s office. “How’s the tie, Kelly, good?” Kanavas asks his daughter, who is part of the production team. The co-hosts are miked, and Tracy Will, who is shooting the show, does a few sound checks and reviews who will speak when. The countdown begins: “3...2...1...”
“So, Ted,” begins Chvala with a sly smile. “The state numbers are really dropping. Walker is down to 41% positive, 58% negative. I think the people of Wisconsin are finally waking up and seeing this absentee governor isn’t working.”
“Well, Chuck, I think we just had an election when Gov. Walker again steamrolled another Democrat,” retorts Kanavas, who adds that Walker’s poll numbers will bounce back as soon as the budget is passed.
Chvala stares deadpan at the camera. “Now I heard Scott Walker is going to make a surprise appearance in Wisconsin this month. That’s wonderful for the people to get a chance to see him.”
“Ouch,” says Kanavas.
The two are smart and quick, which is important because the shows are only two minutes long. They also like and respect each other, which makes for good chemistry.
“The thing is, he’s an honest liberal Democrat,” Kanavas says of Chvala after the taping concludes. “There are a lot of fake ones. He’s not one of them. And he’s got that populist streak, which is a blast. And I just love to pick at it.”
It was not love at first sight. Kanavas once told a reporter he got into politics because of Chvala’s obstructionism as senate majority leader.
But over time the two became friends.
Chvala left the Senate more than a decade ago when facing charges for his role in the Capitol caucus scandal. After finishing a nine-month jail sentence, he worked as a real estate agent, and in 2008 he got his law license reinstated. Kanavas chose not to run for reelection in 2010 and now works as a lobbyist with the Michael Best & Friedrich law firm.
They say the purpose of their show is to provide concise information that covers both sides of an issue. And, most importantly, to make it fun.
“Keep it punchy and keep it informative,” says Kanavas. “Bring a little insider’s perspective because we’re around the Capitol quite a bit.”
“People don’t want to hear you preaching,” adds Chvala. “We’re doing it in a way that’s entertaining.”
Jan. 16, 2015
Wisconsin Counties Association and Michael Best Strategies
Tracy Will, Roland Will, Glenn Will and Kelly Kanavas
Other WisPolitics video co-ventures:
WisBusiness.com: The Show and UpFront with Mike Gousha