John Wiley, who will retire in September as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, is shaking things up in Madison as he goes out the door.
Wiley has written a controversial column in the September issue of Madison Magazine, where he issues a warning to Wisconsin citizens about partisan bickering at the expense of the state’s future. Wiley also takes a parting shot at the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), which bills itself as the state’s largest business advocacy group.
In the column, Wiley said he wants to send "a wake-up call to the citizens of Wisconsin" regarding the state’s economy and educational system.
"The ailing economy poses a serious threat to our schools and colleges and unless we act now to protect funding for education, the state’s future will be bleak … Still, the hyper-partisan political environment at the state capitol is toxic. The first priority seems to be to repudiate, damage or block any proposal or position of the other party. The second priority is to push their own party’s proposals and positions in unaltered form. The far distant third priority – to be avoided if at all possible – seems to be addressing any genuine state need that requires compromise … All of this is pretty obvious to most Wisconsinites. In every corner of the state, I hear complaints about partisanship from corporate executives, average Joes and everyone in between," Wiley wrote.
Wiley said the WMC has been "hijacked by highly partisan, ideologically driven" staff, and he said many former WMC board members agree with him.
"WMC has evolved from being a strategically focused business organization to being a partisan political lobbying organization. This, combined with WMC’s wealth and undeniable political influence and effectiveness, has made WMC the single biggest driver of our toxic political environment and, thus, the single biggest obstacle to the recovery of Wisconsin’s economy," Wiley said.
Wiley’s remarks are another glancing blow for the WMC.
Judy Faulkner, CEO of Epic Systems Corp. in Verona, the largest homegrown tech company in the state, has called for a boycott of companies that support the WMC.
In June, J.P. Cullen & Sons Inc. in Janesville withdrew from the WMC, and David Cullen, the company’s chief executive officer, resigned from the WMC board of directors,
Earlier this year, David Wittwer, president and chief executive officer of TDS Telecom, the Madison-based parent company of TDS Metrocom, resigned from the WMC board. Wittwer had received a letter from a Waukesha customer who expressed outrage at the WMC’s antics.
Paul Linzmeyer, the former president of Bay Towel in Green Bay, told Isthmus magazine that he is hearing growing dissatisfaction from business executives about the partisan mission of WMC, which pumped millions of dollars into recent attorney general and Supreme Court justice races.
"I’m starting to hear it more and more. Why is Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce speaking for all businesses when it’s probably only speaking for a small portion of its membership?" Linzmeyer said.
In a written response to Wiley’s column, the WMC stated, "WMC’s ideology is the ideology of the WMC board of directors and the WMC members. The staff represents the members. Period. The policy agenda was approved unanimously by the WMC board, and the WMC board unanimously has recommended that WMC continue to engage in the political debate in our state."
To read the full WMC response, visit WisPolitics.com, a media partner of Small Business Times.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of Small Business Times.