Saturday, July 20th, 2019

97th Assembly forum needed more lions


Hagen was the only one in that room who knew the identity of the portraits hanging on the dark paneled walls. They were mostly portraits of fabulous financial figures done in rich oils. One was of Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton. Hagen could not help thinking that Hamilton might have approved of this peace meeting being held in a banking institution. Nothing was more calming, more conducive to pure reason, than the atmosphere of money.”

– Mario Puzo, The Godfather


The candidates for the 97th Assembly gathered last night in a bank on Waukesha’s south side to field some softball questions. There were no major gaffes but no breakthroughs, either. If Scott Allen and Brandon Rosner were leading the field before last night’s forum, they were certainly leading as they exited into the night.

There were some, if few, bold promises during the debate. Scott Allen favors eliminating the state income tax. Aaron Perry is in favor of the Kenosha casino proposal. Vince Trovato is in favor of Right to Work. Allen said he would use shared revenue to get local governments to share resources. Perry is opposed to a gas tax tax increase to fund transportation costs.

Mostly the candidates spoke in generalities, and that was encouraged by the format and the questions. Asking this bunch their favorite Republican principle and how can we keep the state moving in the right direction with Scott Walker is not going to lead to interesting answers. The candidates were also restricted from rebuttals or even talking about their opponents.

So instead of differences, the audience got to hear Brandon Rosner drop every political name in Waukesha and Madison. I’m not sure mentioning Walter Kolb is going to help Rosner’s campaign, even for those audience members who recognize Kolb’s name. Mentioning former Governor Tommy Thompson is not consistent with the “fresh start” theme of his campaign. It was as if Rosner was applying for membership in the country club rather than running for office.

Allen jumped in with a few endorsements of his own. So did Perry. Maybe next debate we could just have the endorsers show up.

Joe Banske claimed he didn’t need endorsements. So did Kathleen Cummings. Considering it’s a short list for both, it’s just as well.

For the record, I’m endorsed by my mom.

Banske talked about how he was the third vote on every 3-2 vote on the town board, which only reminded the audience of the controversial nature of his time in town government before the voters kicked him out of office. As Humphrey Bogart said in Casablanca, “I wouldn’t mention Paris if I were you. It’s poor salesmanship.”

Allen’s “one true conservative” remark did cause my eyes to roll, as somebody asked me on Twitter. So did Perry’s remarks about being more (fill in the blank) than any member of the state assembly ever was before.

Trovato was the most disappointing candidate of the night. Not because of what he said, but because the audience had to be wondering what might have been if he could have raised $40,000. Trovato delivered the best line of the night when he said he didn’t need a GPS to find his way around Waukesha. He cemented his qualifications when he mentioned he was the only candidate to have his way to work blocked by the Reverend Jesse Jackson during the Act 10 protests.

Cummings confessed to being nervous speaking in front of an audience. She’s a better public speaker than she gives herself credit, but it’s clear that holding two elective offices has not made her a polished politician. As somebody said to me later, what will she do when she’s on the Assembly floor? It’s one thing to joust with Jeff Scrima or Larry Nelson in a Common Council meeting, but politics in Madison is a completely different arena.

Education activist Rose Fernandez, a pretty astute observer of politics, said she came hoping to pick a candidate but the canned questions and answers were not enough to make a decision. She was also disappointed that with all the bluster about Common Cause not one candidate said they wanted to sit on the education committee.

I agree. Not only is education in Wisconsin the subject of so many important policy debates, it’s also where the money is.

On to the next candidate forum which is Monday night from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM at the Waukesha Public Library. I suggest getting there early as it’s not the biggest room.

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