Forward Again!

This morning I had the pleasure of meeting with Tim Cullen to learn about his plans for a potential run for Wisconsin Governor in 2018. I have known Tim for over 30 years, first during his initial stint as a State Senator from Janesville, then when he became Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services. He took a break from government service and served as a Vice President for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin, during which time I teamed up with other public health advocates to negotiate with him to create a public health foundation with over $600 million which the insurer donated when it converted to a for-profit. Our relationship continued when he returned to the State Senate in 2010. Coincidentally, his season tickets to the University of Wisconsin Badger basketball games are right behind mine, so we regularly catch up with each other at the games.

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I have always been impressed with Tim as a thoughtful man, who is a good listener and seeks to understand and then solve problems. So, after I read the news that Tim was thinking about running for Governor in 2018, I asked him if we could meet to discuss his plans and he quickly agreed.

At this early stage, he is simply meeting with a lot of people around the state to determine if he can garner sufficient support and raise the necessary funds to make a credible run for Governor. Thus far, he has received a lot of positive feedback. It helps that prior to considering a run for Governor he wrote a book entitled, Ringside Seat: Wisconsin Politics, the 1970s to Scott Walker, which is part political history, and part memoir, with a significant dose of critique of the politics of divisiveness that Scott Walker has wreaked on the State of Wisconsin since his election in 2010, fomenting the politics of resentment causing the decimation of state government, public schools and Wisconsin’s economy. He has traveled the state on a book tour and learned a lot from average Wisconsinites about how Scott Walker tore apart a state that was once known for being nice. Knowing how important it is to rebuild the ranks of public school teachers decimated by Scott Walker, with a diverse group of new teachers, he donates the profits of his book to the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Opportunities Scholarship, which has already benefited many young high school graduates of color.

Recently, he starred, alongside former State Sen. Dale Schultz in an excellent video, Whatever Happened to Wisconsin Nice? In the video, both former Senators–one Democrat and one Republican, lament the divisiveness that Wisconsin’s political system has degraded into, and talk with regular Wisconsinites about how to heal that rift.

Our conversation started by Tim letting me know that he has already lived far longer than he ever expected. His father died from heart failure at the age of 63, and Tim never expected to live longer than his father. Indeed, Tim had the same heart problem as his father, but fortunately medical technology has improved and after surgery, his heart is fine. Fourteen years ago, he successfully battled cancer, and he has come through that stronger than ever.

From a political standpoint, it was Bernie Sanders’ run for President that convinced Tim that it was possible for him to make a similar run for Governor. Sanders demonstrated that an older candidate with the right message can inspire millions of young people to engage in politics. He also demonstrated that it was possible to raise millions of dollars through small donations, averaging roughly $27.

Tim and I agree that the key to winning the Governor’s race is for him continue to travel around the state and talk to average Wisconsin citizens about the need to move Wisconsin Forward Again.

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Doing so requires rebuilding what Scott Walker and his legislature have decimated for the past 6 years. Tim recognizes that this will not be an easy or quick process. He also understands that it will require a different kind of leader, one who understands consensus driven leadership and governs by forming Blue Ribbon Commissions to learn from Wisconsin’s best and brightest as to how to move Wisconsin Forward Again. Fortunately, one thing that can be done quickly, is to reverse Scott Walker’s costly decision to refuse federal funding to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, which is projected to cost Wisconsin $678.6 million through the 2017 fiscal year. Tim promises to reverse that decision on his first day in office, if elected as Wisconsin’s next Governor.

Tim also understands the need to end the gerrymandering that has resulted in Democratic legislators receiving far more votes than Republicans but nevertheless only winning a minority of legislative seats. Tim has been a key player in the lawsuit currently challenging what has been dubbed the worst gerrymandering in the nation.

State Assembly MapFinally, while Tim believes his age should not be an impediment to a successful run for Governor, he also understands that he needs to help raise the profile of a promising group of young progressive women politicians, such as Mandy Wright who is running to regain the Assembly seat she lost due to gerrymandering. He believes a successful run for Governor will include a strong young woman candidate for Lieutenant Governor running with him, ensuring continuity of progressive policies after he is done serving our state.

Of course, the Governor’s race will not start in earnest until after this November’s Presidential election. But Tim Cullen is wise to start early. He is willing to talk to just about anyone to find out how he can help move Wisconsin Forward Again.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Saving IRIS=Include, Respect, I Self-Direct

A few months ago, I joined the Board of Directors of the Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin (ASSCW). With my advocacy experience, I was quickly drafted to join an advocacy team that includes members from all 3 Autism Society organizations in Wisconsin, including the Autism Society of Wisconsin and the Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin. While we are working on many issues, one of the most critical advocacy issues for adults with autism as well as other people with disabilities and the elderly with long-term care needs, is Gov. Walker’s budget proposal to eliminate IRIS, Wisconsin’s self-directed, community- based, long-term care program for adults with disabilities & older adults with long-term care needs. People using IRIS have the flexibility to self-direct their plan of care within an authorized budget based upon their individual needs and desired outcomes. ​IRIS participants choose and direct the services and supports that make it possible for them to live, work, and participate in their communities- allowing more people to stay in their homes and avoid costly nursing homes and other institutions.

IRIS stands for, “Include, Respect, I Self-Direct,” so it makes sense that the Governor’s drastic budget cut inspired the creation of the Save IRIS organization which has helped to organize the fight to keep this incredibly successful program in place for the 12,000 people who use it to self-direct their long-term care.

Save IrisSince the Wisconsin legislature is controlled by the Republican party right now, the 16 member  Joint Finance Committee (JFC) includes 12 Republicans, who hold the key votes that will deterine whether or not IRIS will be saved or eliminated. So, yesterday afternoon, I organized a trio of advocates, including myself, a former special education teacher and former ASSCW board member, Char Brandl, and Abby Tessman, an IRIS participant to meet with staff for all 12 Republican JFC members.

As our marathon afternoon of legislative meetings evolved, it became clear to me how critical it was that Abby Tessmann, our IRIS participant team member, joined us. After all, the whole point of IRIS is that participants get to control their own lives. By clearly explaining to all 12 Republican JFC member offices, why IRIS was essential to her living as independently as possible, she evoked consistent responses from legislative staff that the Governor’s proposal to eliminate IRIS had caused their bosses serious concerns. Abby handed staff from each office her business card, indicating that she is an Advocacy Mentor. Abby is pictured on the right along with other great self-advocates involved in the Save IRIS campaign.

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By the time we finished our marathon session of 12 meetings, we felt confident that the Governor’s proposal is unlikely to pass. It remains unclear exactly what the legislature will do, however, so people with disabilities, their allies, families and friends, should continue to advocate for IRIS, the empowering program: Include, Respect, I Self-Direct. After all, isn’t that what all of us want?_________________________________________________________________

For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Protecting the Nest, Preserving the Earth

The late, great comedian, George Carlin, had a routine about protecting the environment, in which he suggests that, “the planet is fine, but the people are f#$k@d.” You can watch the whole routine here.

The struggle to protect our environment is not new, and yet, despite ever growing signs of imminent catastrophe due to climate change, some of our political leaders bury their heads in the sand and deny the existence of climate change, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary, or duck the issue when asked. As recently as yesterday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker twice declined to say whether he believed that climate change is real and influenced by human activity. He deflected by stating,

I believe that the government needs to make sure we balance between a sustainable economy and a sustainable environment.

While such a position may appear reasonable at first glance, the truth is by failing to confront the reality of climate change, Gov. Walker and others like him, fail to understand that a sustainable economy cannot exist without a sustainable environment and failing to confront the human damage caused to our environment head on will result in economic disaster. As Governor Walker was tacitly denying the importance of climate change, he explicitly worked to undercut his own state’s Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) ability to protect Wisconsin’s environment by issuing layoff notices to 57 DNR staff, 27 of whom are in the Bureau of Science Services, due to the Governor’s proposed drastic budget cuts. The timing was remarkable as these layoff notices were issued on Earth Day.

For my own part, I have a small unpaid role in government which serves to protect the environment of a truly special place. I serve as the Chair of the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD) in central Wisconsin, where my wife and I have the privilege of owning a beautiful natural piece of land much of which remains untouched by human hands.  When we first bought this land 23 years ago, we discovered that Sand Hill Cranes nested there, but since they had almost been wiped out due to the now banned pesticide DDT, there were very few.  Fortunately, they have made a comeback, which has caused some to want to hunt them, which thankfully has not been permitted as of yet.

In order to make sure the GLWD is monitoring the health of Goose Lake, I take the opportunity to explore the lake as often as possible, often by canoe. This past weekend, I had the remarkable fortune to notice that the GLWD’s work is paying off in the health of breeding water fowl.

First, I noticed this magnificent Sand Hill Crane protecting her egg on her nest.

20150419_151942 Then, my canoe must have startled a mother goose on her nest causing her to leave it and allowing me to take this picture of her eggs. 20150419_151703

These breeding waterfowl are signs of a healthy environment, but it takes work to sustain that health. It also takes an appreciation of these small things in nature in order to take personal action to protect the environment. President Obama understands this which is why he spoke to a group of 4th graders on Earth Day, and announced his initiative to provide free National Park access to all families of 4th graders, because providing our children with the appreciation of nature’s magnificence will inspire many to protect the earth in a manner which sustains the rich diversity of life on it, which is a never ending generational task.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Broken promises=Bad fiscal management

While Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker refuses to publicly regret his 2010 campaign promise to add 250,000 new private sector jobs to the state, despite the fact that Wisconsin will not even come close to meeting his promised goal, deeper questions must be asked about how well Gov. Walker manages state government when he operates under false premises. As Politifact amply describes, with very little time left for Gov. Walker to meet his goal, it is clear that he will not do so, having only created 102,813 new private sector jobs in over 3 1/2 years on the job, not even half-way towards keeping his promise.

While the public may be jaded and routinely assume that politicians will make empty promises they will not keep, this particular promise has implications which suggest that Gov. Walker’s overly rosy view of his ability to improve Wisconsin’s economy has resulted in a gigantic budget deficit. Earlier this year, Gov. Walker called the legislature into a special session when his optimistic economic outlook was that the Wisconsin State budget would have a $1 billion surplus.  To curry favor with the voters and the business community, he pushed for and his Republican dominated legislature delivered an over $800 million tax cut.

At the time, some in the Wisconsin business community questioned the fiscal soundness of giving so much money away so quickly. Their fears have proven true only months later, with the announcement that Wisconsin is now facing a $1.8 billion deficit. 

Gov. Walker can certainly try to spin his way out of this double dose of bad news.  What he cannot explain is why the public should re-elect a governor who routinely relies on wildly inaccurate economic forecasts.  As his opponent, business executive Mary Burke stated in response to the deficit announcement.

“In the business world, if a CEO created this big of a financial mess, he would be fired.” 

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In a democracy, voters have a unique opportunity at election time to hold their political leaders accountable for their performance.  In this case, voters must weigh not only whether they want to re-elect a Governor who came woefully short of a cornerstone promise of his initial election campaign, but perhaps more importantly, whether they want to re-elect a Governor who routinely relies on overly rosy economic forecasts in setting the state’s budget, resulting in an a fiscal mess for the state.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Stop Burning Bridges

As we all watch our dysfunctional Congress fail to carry out its most basic duty of passing a budget year after year, and we see divisive political battles in states like Wisconsin, where police arrest peacefully singing protestors resulting in the filing of 15,000 complaints against the Capitol police, it is worth considering whether both sides of the political aisle’s current strategy of vilifying each other achieves the goals they seek. Cynics who believe that politics is all about power and has little to with actual policy may believe that burning bridges with the other side is the best way to fire up their loyal troops.

But for those who seek genuine, long-term systemic change to improve our society, whether on a local, state or national level, burning bridges through name-calling, personal insults and other forms of vilification, will at best, provide short-term emotional satisfaction, and short-term political victories.  Perhaps the worst case example of name calling is through comparing politicians to Hitler or Nazis.  Remarkably, this unfortunate pattern exists on both sides of the aisle, with the left making absurd comparisons between President George W. Bush and Hitler, and the right using the same vilification against President Obama.

Long term systems change happens when society at large believes it should happen and politicians are convinced that blocking such change will result in their loss of power.  Indeed, the opposite is also true.  Do those who invoke the ultimate Hitler insult against a sitting President, or any other politician in power, actually believe that they can work with supporters of the sitting President effectively?  In addition to the fact that such absurd comparisons insult the memories of the millions slaughtered by Hitler, they also ensure that partisan sniping continues and substantive progress on policy grinds to a halt.

For too many, when they disagree with whomever is in power at the time, they believe that they must oppose all that they stand for and use whatever arguments and tactics, no matter how absurd, to oppose that political leader.  For all the appropriate opposition to Gov. Scott Walker’s attacks on public employee unions, suggesting a comparison to Hitler is not only absurd, but makes it impossible to work with him and his allies.

Thus, in my own work, I have spent my entire career working with politicians on both sides of the aisle.  I have avoided joining any political parties, which has eased my ability to work with whomever is in power. While I certainly agree with some political leaders more than others, and vote for those whose policies I support, I studiously avoid personal attacks and seek to find common ground with whomever is in power while avoiding burning bridges with those out of power.  The simple truth is that power is always transitory and good advocates know that they always want to be able to influence those in power.

So what should an advocate do when faced with political leadership that generally stands for views the advocate opposes?  

  • First, by all means, the advocate should clearly state opposing views, but those views should be articulated intelligently and respectfully, without burning bridges.
  • Second, seek common ground on issues that the advocate and the political leadership both support.  For example, along with many other advocates, I was able to work with both Republican and Democratic leadership during the highly divisive 2011-12 legislative session and obtain Gov. Walker’s signature on Act 125, which passed the legislature unanimously and now protects Wisconsin school children from inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint.

This picture shows how advocates who refuse to burn bridges can work with both sides of the aisle for the common good as the bill’s lead sponsors Democratic Sen. Julie Lassa and Republican Sen. Luther Olsen join me and other advocates to applaud Gov. Walker as he signed Act 125 into law to protect vulnerable children.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Consensus Driven Leadership

As I have previously written, our political system has devolved into a state of Great Dysfunction, such that political leaders, such as Speaker of the House John Boehner and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, seem to thrive on conflict rather than actually reaching across the aisle to resolve problems faced by the people who elected them.  At the national level, Speaker Boehner persists in allowing the House of Representatives to vote over 40 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, even though he knows that such votes have no chance of becoming law.  In Wisconsin, Governor Walker persists on arresting peaceful Solidarity Singers in the Capitol, even though he knows that they will not stop their peaceful protests no matter how many times they are arrested.

The question our nation struggles with today is whether there is any room in our political system for consensus driven leadership.  Before exploring that challenge, let’s make sure we know what consensus means.  A common misperception is that consensus requires everyone to agree.  A much better definition, which avoids the sabotage of vetoing progress by refusing consensus is Merriam-Webster’s definition:

the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned.

Using this definition would avoid the political gamesmanship of Speaker Boehner and Governor Walker that appears to be calculated for power accumulation rather than actual substantive policy leadership.

In 2004, then candidate for US Senate, Barack Obama, gave his famous speech at the Democratic National Convention, where he optimistically declared that:

The pundits…like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.

We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.

There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

Given President Obama’s difficulties in bringing Speaker Boehner’s House along for consensus policy making, the question remains: can consensus driven leadership succeed?

It is well recognized that consensus driven  decisions provide the best results for the most people.  But how can we get there when power driven naysayers are committed to destroying consensus?  Key elements to achieving consensus are:

  • Providing sufficient information to decision makers.  Consensus cannot be achieved in a knowledge vacuum;
  • Consensus cannot be achieved in an atmosphere of fear or threat;
  • Quality leadership is essential to achieving consensus;
  • Consensus requires mutually accepted accountability to implement the decisions which are made.

In Wisconsin, Governor Walker’s new book, Unintimidated, is a declaration of war on those who disagree with him, rather than an invitation to lead through consensus.  His leadership style has resulted in Wisconsin becoming one of the most politically polarized states in the nation.  The challenge for his next opponent, in 2014, is to present a viable option to become the Governor for ALL of Wisconsin.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Why Small Local Government Matters

One of the many hats I wear is that of Chairperson of the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD).  The GLWD is a small governmental body which has 5 members, 3 of whom are elected by the 157 property owners in the watershed district, 1 is appointed by the Town of Jackson, and one is appointed by Adams County.  We have the power of taxation and those taxes bring in about $18,000/year.  Those funds are used for the care and maintenance of Goose Lake, including combating invasive species, weed control, aeration, and beach maintenance.

The GLWD was formed about 4 years ago when it became clear that neither voluntary efforts nor other, larger governmental units, were maintaining the necessary environmental quality of Goose Lake.  Last summer, after watching the GLWD’s initial success, I decided to put my hat in the ring when a vacancy opened up, and I was unanimously elected Chair at the annual meeting.

The GLWD operates remarkably free of partisan politics, as we all have the same goal in mind, improving the quality of Goose Lake for all to enjoy.  One of our biggest challenges involves how to deal with the privately owned Gilligan’s Island which has a deteriorating boardwalk and bridge leading from the mainland to the island.  It presents unique challenges because there are 17 co-owners of the island and it cannot be sold without all owners agreeing to its sale.

To deal with this challenge, the GLWD sent a survey to the island owners and discovered that they were also frustrated by the island’s deteriorating condition.  After the survey results were in, the GLWD invited the island owners to a meeting to discuss how the GLWD could potentially buy the island and fix or remove the deteriorating boardwalk and bridge.  While this process is far from concluded, these initial cooperative steps show promising signs as we agreed to put together a committee to develop a plan to improve the island.

At its last meeting, after much investigation, the GLWD also signed a contract to buy a used lake weed cutter, which over time will allow us to maintain the lake in better condition for less money.

While the GLWD is strictly non-partisan, it does not mean that it does not express its views to the Wisconsin legislature.  Earlier in the Wisconsin state budget process, we wrote our legislators and sought restoration of state funds for lake conservation staff. Our State Senator, Luther Olsen, sits on the Joint Finance (budget) committee, and agreed with our position, and successfully restored that funding.

At our last meeting, we agreed to write Gov. Scott Walker to request that he veto the policy provision which is in the budget recently passed by the legislature that eliminates the right of citizens and Lake Districts such as GLWD to challenge high capacity well permits.  I just sent that letter to Governor Walker and I hope it influences his decision in favor of vetoing this non-budgetary anti-environmental provision.

The GLWD is an excellent example of how a few dedicated citizens can have an important impact at the local level.  Policymakers would be wise to support the success of local governmental units, rather than limiting their ability to succeed through unnecessary restrictions.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.