It was a tale of two cities, a tale of two political conventions and a tale of two starkly different visions for America’s future.
While most of us watched the recent Republican and Democratic National Conventions from the comfort of our living rooms, Milwaukee business executives Yash Wadhwa and Keith Schmitz watched from the convention floors.
The Wisconsin delegations played prominent roles at both conventions.
On the Friday before the Republican Convention, Wadhwa was in the midst of a business meeting in Madison when he received a telephone call from someone at the Republican National Committee asking him if he would be willing to be interviewed live from the convention floor in Tampa, Fla., to speak on behalf of nominee Mitt Romney.
Wadhwa, a long-time donor to the GOP, said he did not know who or what initiated the request to include him in the program, but he suspects it was someone who was familiar with his story. Wadhwa came to Wisconsin from India with $5 in his pocket and a dream. He built his Milwaukee engineering company, Larsen Engineers, before selling the firm to Strand Associates Inc. He is now director of operations for Strand in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.
“I’m sure it has something to do with me being an immigrant and a successful small business man,” Wadhwa said.
Wadhwa’s interview was broadcast live on the screen in the convention hall and on C-Span. Like actor Clint Eastwood, Wadhwa did not stick to a script in his interview. However, Wadhwa did not need an empty chair for a prop.
“Let me first say one thing, I’m a proud Republican from the state of Wisconsin,” Wadhwa told the interviewer. “Guess what? I have lived the American dream. And I’m very proud of it. This is the best country on earth, and I love it.”
Wadhwa said he appreciated the speeches by Romney and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan of Janesville about a smaller federal government and national debt.
Throughout the convention, Wadhwa brushed elbows with Republican rock stars such as House Speaker John Boehner, former presidential candidate Herman Cain and of course, the Wisconsin delegation of Congressmen and Senators.
“It was so exciting. It was a once in a lifetime experience,” Wadhwa said.
A week later, the Democratic National Convention took place in Charlotte, N.C., where Schmitz logged a Facebook diary of the goings on.
Schmitz, the president at KRPR Inc., a Shorewood public relations firm, said, “Barack Obama stepped up and did two things. Using personal stories, Obama was able to demonstrate that his programs in the stimulus and the Affordable Care Act are making a difference in the lives of people. The auto bailout was the star of the show. In playing the role of leader and in contrast to the ‘I built it’ theme of the GOP, he called on us all to summon up our energy, innovation and vision, driven by our hopes for our families. Rightfully so he emphasized that we, the middle class, are the job creators and that his administration would push for programs in education, in business development and infrastructure investment to expand the middle class, with the help of just slight upper income tax increases. Tax cuts on the wealthy will not do the job.”
Cue up the countless television commercials. It’s going to be a long to be a nasty sprint to November.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.