By Kevin Binversie |Special to Wisconsin Reporter
Ah, the start of another session of the Wisconsin Legislature. It’s a bit like the start of a new school year isn’t it? High School. Excitement, giddiness, awkward conversations, hope for a fresh start, quickly degenerating into backbiting, name-calling, cliquish groupings.
Maybe it’s more like “Lord of the Flies.”
Well, the new, eager young class of legislative freshmen gets settled in. They see their names lithographed on plane glass windows in the state Capitol, to welcome them, to highlight their importance.
Adding to the newness of it all is the constant call for bipartisan cooperation among the members, leadership and newspaper editorials. The idea that we can forgive and forget the previous session, the most politically bitter session in Wisconsin legislative history with all its protests, state-fleeing and an epidemic of recalls sounds great in theory.
It’s as if all it would take to move past the animosity is to have all 132 legislators hold hands and walk together into the Capitol Rotunda — maybe joining the Solidarity Singers for some lunchtime crooning — and sing like the Whos down in Whoville, hearts still full of joy, on a barren Christmas morn.
These people hate each other. You can see it in their body language. You can see it in their interactions. It’s there in their thinly veiled, cheery news releases.
Only the truly naive think we’re going to see anything resembling bipartisan cooperation in the 2013-14 session. With a regularly scheduled governor’s race on the books next year, each side will be doing everything it can to label the other as uncooperative, incompetent, reckless and extremist, or a combination of all.
Don’t expect anything except the usual games we’ve been seeing for years now — all in an attempt to create attack ads come election time.
Republicans, in charge of the rules, the schedule and the calendar of bills, will use every lever of power to their advantage. It will mean the age-old game of forcing potentially vulnerable incumbents to vote against one or a series of tough measures meant to make or break them back home.
Democrats, on the other hand, will attempt to weigh down legislation with amendments that have nothing to do with the issue at hand to slow down the process. (If they stay in the state this year, we’ll call that progress).
Others will say that despite November’s results, Republicans have no business declaring a mandate. Instead they’ll claim, as did Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, how, without gerrymandering, they’d be the ones running the place.
Meanwhile, we’re already seeing the empty platitudes from both sides about cooperating with each other, while they write legislative rules behind closed doors.
At least we have Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca to tell us what bipartisanship really means.
“Here is what bipartisanship is:
“Bipartisanship is working together with one another and the public from the start — not just a final vote tally,” the oft-bombastic Barca, a Kenosha Democrat, wrote in his inaugural day message.
“Bipartisanship is wide consensus — not picking up a stray vote or two from the other side. “Bipartisanship is cooperation on thorny problems …” Oh, God, make it stop.
Yes, it’s a noble sentiment, Barca’s What Bipartisanship Means To Me. Not sure if the Fleeing 14, the Senate Dems who split to Illinois in the winter of 2011 to avoid debate on a collective bargaining bill they hated, got the bipartisan memo.
There were a lot of problems Dems found too thorny for compromise last session, it seems.
So anyone thinking that the start of the new legislative session puts an end to political warfare in Wisconsin is either sniffing glue or reading way too many partisan press releases. Oh, I’m not planning on tens of thousands paying a call on the Capitol this go round, but trust me; there will be bad blood.
That might be the only thing truly bipartisan about the session ahead.
Veteran political blogger Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native. He served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at [email protected]