Old guard laments bipartisan era

Democrats and Republicans alike recently gathered in Madison for a ceremony to honor former Wisconsin Gov. Patrick Lucey.

Lucey, a Democrat who died in May at the age of 96, was celebrated for merging the two university systems, equalizing tax support for poor school districts with richer ones and de-institutionalizing mental health treatment in favor of community programs.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson, the state’s longest-serving governor, captured the moment and drew the biggest applause. Thompson started his speech by saying: “I’m a Republican.” Then pausing for dramatic effect, he added, “Pat Lucey was my friend.”

In a booming, passionate talk, Thompson explained how he identified with Lucey because they were both Irish Catholic boys and the sons of small-town Wisconsin grocers. Thompson said he kept Lucey’s official portrait hanging in the governor’s office, even though fellow Republicans were puzzled by it.

Thompson, like Lucey, achieved some of his most important legislation through a politically divided Legislature.

“It was the government of a different time, and it accomplished so much,” Thompson said of the Lucey years. “These were civilized days when you could have friends on the other side of the aisle.”

The Capitol today is marked by “the politics of destruction,” Thompson said. “Pat Lucey never believed in that, nor did I.”

Retiring state Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, blamed the rancor of contemporary politics on the money flowing into campaigns.

“It’s volume,” he said afterwards. “There’s always been money in politics. But it’s either left-wing money or right-wing money. In an era when big money dominates, there’s no money for the middle. That’s why there is no middle.”

This report was produced by WisPolitics.com, a media partner of BizTimes.

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