One man’s advocacy group is another man’s lapdog

    Who does more damage to the state of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce or the Wisconsin Education Association Council?

    The answer to that question, of course, depends upon which side of the political aisle you’re standing in.
    State Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) raised some eyebrows recently when he spoke at the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) Business Day in Madison 2009.

    At the end of his remarks, Miller took the WMC to task for "bad-mouthing" Wisconsin as a place to do business and for being "a large contributor" to the "degradation" of politics in the state.

    Here’s exactly what Miller, who is co-chairman of the powerful budget writing Joint Finance Committee, said to the WMC:
    "I think I would not be doing you a service if I didn’t address something that has concerned me for a long, long time and that has been the fact that for the last 15 years it seems like the organization that bad-mouths Wisconsin more than any other is your organization right here, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. We try as hard as we can to try and promote Wisconsin, to bring businesses in here. And it’s very, very difficult to try and push that bean uphill when our largest business organization is saying what a bad place Wisconsin is to do business. I would hope that as part of your getting together here you would take on the responsibility for (re-)visiting your role in helping to promote Wisconsin, helping us to bring additional businesses in here. Help us to figure out our strategic future for Wisconsin that benefits not only you as business people but also the citizens of our state. And also, I think, and I suspect, and I sense, that there is a willingness to revisit the sort of extraordinary one-sided investment in partisan politics that Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce has engaged in. I perceive that the WMC’s participation in our political process has significantly coarsened our political dialog. The kinds of political ads that WMC has run on behalf of candidates and against candidates, more importantly against candidates, I think has been part of what has really irritated the citizenry about politics in general in our state. Wisconsin was known for its clean politics for decades. In the last 20 years, we’ve lost that reputation, and I would charge that WMC has been a large contributor to that degradation. I know none of you want to be part of that. So I am hoping at this meeting you will have an opportunity to revisit how you participate in our political process. I know these are things that you probably did not want to hear, but I think I would not have been doing my duty to challenge you to be part of making Wisconsin better. You are absolutely the lifeblood of our economy. We need to work together."
    (You can go to WisconsinEye if you want to view footage of Miller making the remarks.)


    Republican Party of Wisconsin (RPW) executive director Mark Jefferson responded to Miller’s remarks by criticizing the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) for its influence in state politics.

    "While the Wisconsin Education Association Council is in the process of buying yet another race for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and on the heels of the group’s 2008 purchase of the Wisconsin state Assembly, Sen. Mark Miller is drawing laughs for blaming the state’s chamber of commerce for destroying the state’s reputation for clean government," Jefferson said. "Mark Miller should open his eyes and look who’s bankrolling the Democratic Party in this state. Can anyone remember when the Department of Public Instruction wasn’t controlled by WEAC?"

    In a recent Milwaukee Biz Blog Jeff Hoffman, vice president of Pewaukee-based Judson & Associates S.C. and president of the Independent Business Association (IBA) of Wisconsin, lamented "anti-business" legislation under consideration in Madison and also commented on Miller’s remarks to the WMC.

    Then the Democrats struck back at Jefferson.

    "Why are Mark Jefferson and the Republicans launching petty attacks on behalf of WMC?" said Joe Wineke, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. "Is WMC too cowardly to defend themselves, or are they simply broke after eight years of supporting the Bush economic policies that have hurt main street and bankrupted many of their own business members? Mark Jefferson should open his eyes and look who’s bankrolling the Republicans in this state. Can anyone remember when the Republican Party of Wisconsin wasn’t WMC’s little lapdog?"
    The April 7 election is around the corner. Stay tuned.

    Andrew Weiland is the managing editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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