With the UW's financial and philosophical future under attack, it is really tempting to go march on the Capitol. Dig the blue fist shirts from the back of the closet, polish the old vuvuzela.
However, that is the wrong move this time around. There are solutions to Gov. Scott Walker's budget, but they require calm voices and cooperation. We need phone calls and letters to every member of the legislature from their constituents. These regular people can talk about the benefits they have received from their UW education, or what the UW System does for them today. They could press the need for affordability for when their children plan to go to college.
Frankly, 50 calls from people in their district makes a legislator take notice more than 5,000 people standing outside the Capitol. They are also more likely to listen to them as individuals; it is much easier to ignore protesters as an unruly mob of Madisonians and out-of-state rabble rousers.
Meanwhile, the UW campuses have started tapping into their alumni networks, including the business leaders and prominent Republicans who attended a UW campus. Professors and staff might lean liberal, but that doesn't mean the former student body are all lefties. Just look at the alumni who can afford to travel to bowl games and the Final Four -- they didn't make that money by being socialists.
I believe Gov. Walker would prefer if this became another red vs. blue fight because polarization will make him look strong in Iowa, and polarized fights are fights he knows he can win. If he didn't want protests, why else would he actively talk about getting rid of shared governance; why else would his staff attempt to remove the Wisconsin Idea from the UW's mission? Both of those are throwing gasoline on a fire, an attempt to stop Democrats and Republicans from talking because talking just might lead to a better solution.
This budget is in the best interests of Walker the presidential candidate, but it is not in the best interest of Wisconsin legislators. Gov. Walker wrote a budget that seems to assume that the state of Wisconsin will no longer exist as of Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. Many of our legislators plan to be around far past the next election cycle. My suspicion is that legislative Republicans don't want to dig their own careers into a grave to help out an absentee governor.
As part of the hyperpolarized rhetoric of the last few years, Republicans are too often portrayed as uniformly anti-education, but GOP officials in both chambers are concerned about what's happening to the UW. Assembly Speaker Vos says he worries about the size of cuts, and this is the guy who said "Ancient Mating Habits of Whatever" within the last 90 days.
Even though he is a longtime friend of Walker, Vos wants to be governor someday. He won't want to burn his first term cleaning up his predecessor’s mistakes, particularly since Vos wouldn't be able to blame Walker for everything the way Walker has blamed Gov. Doyle.
It is actually pretty easy to see how the budget might get modified in the Senate. Republicans hold a 19-14 majority in that chamber, but they aren't unanimous when it comes to these budget cuts.
Sens. Luther Olsen and Jerry Petrowski have already publicly voiced their concerns over the size of the cuts.
With the two of them plus the 14 Democratic senators, that turns a 19-14 Senate into a 17-16 body. That means the UW's broad base of supports need to reach just one more senator to soften the cuts, perhaps even remove some of the more onerous elements of the privatization plan.
Sen. Steve Nass is the strongest critic of the UW in the state. But Nass has said he doesn't want to turn away legislative control over tuition. He isn't going to advocate for giving the UW lots of money, but he will throw a wrench in the public authority plan.
Sen. Howard Marklein may have solidly won Dale Schulz's district, but he did it in a wave year against a mind-numbingly awful effort on the part of the Democrats. Lost jobs, higher tuition and a Democratic candidate who isn't terrible could make Marklein vulnerable, particularly given the increasing number of people who live in his district who commute to the Madison area for work.
Sen. Rick Gudex barely squeaked by Jessica King in the 18th District back in 2012, winning by little more than 500 votes. UW-Oshkosh is right outside his district and a number of those employees probably live in his territory. How well will layoffs and cuts play in a competitive district in 2016?
Even if enough Republicans agree to reduce the size of the cut, it will still be sizable and painful. But even a moderate reduction in the massive $300 million budget cut will prevent some layoffs, maintain more services and reduce the inevitable tuition spike of 2017.
Conventional thinking and traditional partisan battles will only lead to the worst-case scenario, a lose-lose for everyone who doesn't get a job with Walker's presidential campaign. No matter what a budget line item states, the University of Wisconsin System benefits all parts of the state, Democrats and Republicans alike. Now is the time for UW supporters to make their case.