University of Wisconsin-Madison’s new federal relations director, Michael Lenn, is a Wisconsin native, but he’s no stranger to Washington.
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A native of Sheboygan, Lenn attended UW-La Crosse for his undergraduate degree before earning his law degree at the George Mason University School of Law.
After passing the Wisconsin Bar Exam, Lenn served on the House Judiciary Committee and later managed the Washington office of U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, as chief of staff. Lenn eventually moved to a position at the Insured Retirement Institute as the primary contact in Washington.
These experiences taught him valuable lessons he plans to use in his new position, Lenn said. From Sensenbrenner, he learned to put aside political differences to work for the greater good. Lenn said Sensenbrenner and colleagues like U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, did not always see eye-to-eye on every issue, but had to work together to create jobs in Wisconsin.
As the federal and state budgets start to form in the coming month, Lenn said he plans to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle to continue the success of UW-Madison and find new ways to move the university forward.
“I will follow that model and work closely with members of Congress regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum,” Lenn said.
Ben Miller, the former federal relations director for UW-Madison, created many relationships with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress — relationships Lenn said he hopes to cultivate during his time at UW-Madison.
While Lenn said he does not know what to expect in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, he said working with Trump should have no more an impact on UW-Madison than working with other presidents has had. Regardless of the shift to a stronger Republican-controlled government, Lenn said he is optimistic UW-Madison’s federal relations will continue to remain strong.
“The incoming Trump administration is a wild card, but I am confident UW will continue to thrive in this new environment,” Lenn said.
The federal budget process will begin in February, shortly after the country transitions to Trump’s administration.
In light of this transition, Lenn expects Wisconsin state legislators to do what is best for the university and their constituents. He said he will be monitoring policy changes and working with higher education organizations to ensure UW-Madison’s interests are taken care of.
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Despite having a prominently Republican background, Lenn believes his experience and background will play a stronger role than his politics in his position.
UW-Madison officials like Chancellor Rebecca Blank and those in the Federal Relations Office have worked well with others regardless of political affiliation and he wants to lead through that example, Lenn said. He also said his job is to build on the success of those relationships and find new ways to move Wisconsin forward.
“While there may be policy differences on both sides of the aisle,” Lenn said. “I would note, by and large, the delegation supports the university.”