David Michael Miller
In a statement Wednesday, state Sen. Alberta Darling and state Rep. John Nygren, the co-chairs of the Legislature's powerful Joint Finance Committee, had harsh words for UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank. They accused her of playing "Washington politics," and the statement only got weirder from there.
That witty "Washington politics" bon mot was bound to get here at some point. No one at the Capitol raised too much of a stink when the Board of Regents (already filled with plenty of Walker appointees by that point) hired Blank, who had been Obama's acting Secretary of Commerce. But legislators knew they could save the Obama connection for a later date. The first time Blank stepped out of line, toss down the Obama card.
"Playing Washington politics" is just more of the standard rhetoric that has become the norm here in Wisconsin. There were two other accusations below the surface that seem even weirder to me.
First, the lawmakers seemed angry that Blank was fighting cuts to UW-Madison in the first place, which puzzles me. Shouldn't the person at the head of an organization fight vigorously for it? You wouldn't expect the CEO of a company to say "Yes, please raise taxes on the goods I manufacture in Wisconsin!"
UW officials have to walk on eggshells around the Legislature. But that doesn't mean they should expect Blank to vacate the basics of what you would expect from a good leader. Good leaders defend their teams and fight for them. Blank is raising support for her team by mobilizing UW-Madison's alumni base.
Second, Darling and Nygren wondered why she was now questioning things her predecessor, former Chancellor Biddy Martin, agreed to. That's like admonishing new Badgers football coach Paul Chryst for not using Gary Andersen's old playbook. Or like asking JJ Abrams to shoehorn Jar Jar into Star Wars: The Force Awakens. You get a new leader, you get new directions and new objectives.
Martin agreed to a potential $125 million cut and a divorce from the UW System, but that alienated her from staff at UW-Madison and the UW System. It was a bad move, politically and economically, and one that Blank is wise not to replicate.
Darling and Nygren mostly seem mad that Blank is just doing her job. That's probably a sign that she's doing something right.