Recently I did something I have never done before — I walked out of an Assembly floor session in protest. The day before, Sen. Dale Kooyenga, a Republican from Brookfield, walked out as well, after expressing his dismay with the culture wars being played out in our legislative chambers.
Our state is in the middle of a pandemic, PFAS chemicals and other contaminants are being found in our water, and we’re struggling with the fact that a whole generation of our children have been set back in their education and socialization due to COVID. Our businesses are being shuttered, and many people are still unemployed through no fault of their own.
We are facing all this while simultaneously trying to craft a budget for the next two years. Our friends, neighbors, and family members are struggling, and they are asking for our help.
So, what better time to argue about whether Rush Limbaugh was a great American, right? How about a no-holds barred battle over whether it is scandalous to add a gender-neutral member to the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head family? And our democracy will surely rise and fall on the question of whether the estate of Dr. Seuss was out of line in discontinuing publication of some of his books.
If television personalities want to have a fervent debate on these issues, they should feel free to knock themselves out. If individual members of our community want to have these debates among themselves, that is how a free society works. But, when issues are brought before the legislature with no purpose other than to divide, that is just wrong.
This is not why I ran to serve in the legislature, and it sure as hell is not what our community sent me here to do. I ran because I wanted to be a part of making our state a better place. I worked in the state legislature in the 1980’s for a Democrat named Joe Andrea. Joe used to boast that his closest political ally was Republican Governor Tommy Thompson. Senator Andrea accomplished a lot of good things during his time in the legislature, and I was proud to work for him. I learned a lot about how the government can work. I learned about the importance of setting aside differences and sitting down to debate the issues that matter. I take that lesson with me every time I return to Madison.
During the recent debate in the Senate on the resolution honoring Limbaugh, Republican Kooyenga stated, “I’m just disgusted with this body. Resolutions are being used to poke people in the eye…Your cultural wars will not be solved in this chamber with your resolutions.”
Senator Kooyenga is right, of course. These resolutions solve nothing, and again, our friends, neighbors, and family members are struggling, and it is our job to help. We have too many problems to address to be spending time on “gotcha” votes. There is passionate disagreement over issues like health care, education funding, and spending choices. Speeches on these issues are animated and moving, and, though rare, have changed minds. Debating the direction of our state is healthy and good for democracy.
Debating meaningless hot-button matters that will have no impact on our lives is a waste of time and an insult to the voters who sent us to Madison or Washington to work together to solve our problems.
Our friends, neighbors, and family members expect more of their elected officials. I am not going to waste any more of my time or theirs on gotcha hot-button back and forth that does no one good.
I’ve offered to meet with Senator Kooyenga. Maybe we can find a common way forward. Maybe not. All I know is that it is time for things to change around here. We have to start somewhere.
Rep. Steve Doyle, a Democrat, serves the 94th Assembly District and is from Onalaska