Secretary of State Doug La Follette is one of four Democrats running for the party’s nomination for governor in the upcoming recall. La Follette served as secretary of state between 1975 and 1979 and again during a second stint between 1982 and the present. A former University of Wisconsin-Parkside professor, La Follette sat down with The Badger Herald to discuss his candidacy.
The Badger Herald: The UW System is currently facing major funding cuts. How do you think the System should deal with them? And if you became governor, what would you do about them?
Doug La Follette: Well, the best way to deal with the cuts is for us to elect new legislators and a new governor who support the university. You know, I’ve said over and over again that university research is critical if we’re going to in fact have the innovation and the businesses and the jobs for the future.
And there’s a lot of innovation that spins out of university research. I used to be a university professor; I understand that.
So we need to fund education, not only the research, but also the tuition held for students. Not all very bright students are rich. A lot of students who should be going to the university can’t afford it anymore. So, I’ve always been a strong supporter for a lot of help for tuition and more money for the universities.
Where do you get that money? You raise taxes on the rich people. You stop all the loopholes that Walker gave for foreign corporations.
BH: Job creation is a key issue on both sides of the aisle. What initiatives would you support to create more jobs in Wisconsin?
DL: Well, the key first is education and environmental protection. People don’t often think about that, and good health care. Why do I say that? Because if businesses want to come to Wisconsin, they come here because they want to live here.
And to live here they want good schools for their children; they want a good environment to recreate in, and they want health care possibilities. So, that may not sound like job creation, but that’s an important first step.
I would also eliminate some of the tax loopholes created for out-of-state businesses, something called the “Las Vegas” loophole, and that money should be invested in the technical schools, particularly because those are the schools that can graduate people who are looking for jobs and the jobs are waiting for them.
BH: Given the current partisanship in the state, how would you work with a potential Republican Legislature to accomplish your goals?
DL: From July until next year, there wouldn’t be much going on. It’s an election season. So, what I would do is first look at appointments. The governor can appoint many people.
I would look for Wisconsin ideas. I call it Renew the Wisconsin Idea, something that Gov. [Bob] La Follette started many, many years ago to bring the university to the borders of the state with good ideas and many of the ideas that came out of our university system.
And I would work with those people to come up with ways to deal with the economy, jobs, healthcare, the environment, etc.
But during the election, I would work across the state with candidates, progressive Republicans – there are thoughtful Republicans who don’t like what is going on – Independents and Democrats and see if we can elect the majority of people in both Houses who would try to solve our problems and do it in a reasonable way.
It’s not going to be easy. The budget will be tight and education, health care and the environment are important things.
But I would work with all sides. I don’t represent this special interest or that special interest. That’s why I’ve said I’m running my campaign in a better way. I’m not taking special interest money. I’m not running negative attack ads.
I’m going to be able to work with all sides, whether it be school boards or teachers, whether it be Republicans or Democrats. And that would be what a La Follette governorship would look like next year.
BH: What other difference do you see between yourself and the other Democratic contenders for the nomination?
DL: I think the main difference is one of style. I think if you look carefully at the issues that are important – education, environment, health care etc. – we are very similar. But it’s a style difference.
The reason I decided to run was because I thought my approach, my maturity and my experience, my ability to work with both Republicans and Democrats, was what Wisconsin needed at this time.
You know, I’ve got nothing to prove. I’ve had a great career. I’ve been secretary of state for many years. But I really think we need something special in this election.
BH: You were an organic chemistry and environmental science professor at UW-Parkside. How did you first become involved in politics?
DL: I ran for Congress on three issues. The first was environmental issues. That was the first Earth Day back in 1970, and I was teaching environmental science.
And I’ve always cared about the environment. Wisconsin’s a beautiful place. I love the streams, the rivers, the woods of Wisconsin.
So when Gaylord Nelson, our great senator, organized the first day, I was involved, and that was one of my motivations for someone who has scientific training to get into government who understands these issues.
The second issue was the Vietnam War. I didn’t agree with that war and it was still going on. And my congressman was very pro-war, so I wanted to replace him.
And finally, it was tax reform. I had just read a book called “The Rape of the Taxpayer” by Philip Stern. And I’ve always thought that our tax system was unfair and we should change it.
So here’s 40 years ago: I ran for Congress on environment, anti-Vietnam War and tax reform.
And I might say, here, 40 years later, we’re facing the same issues. We’ve got a couple of wars that are a disaster, sending home many men and women very seriously injured.
We’ve had environmental protection being hurt dramatically by this administration and in Washington.
And we still don’t have tax reform. We’re still giving away the store to wealthy people and corporations and raising taxes on individuals, cutting health care and cutting education.
So, it’s almost amazing that we haven’t made that kind of progress from back where I was when I first started.