With a new administration hitting its stride in 2019, Gov. Tony Evers had to fill a variety of cabinet positions, and his choice of Craig Thompson for Secretary of the Department of Transportation drew some attention.
Many state Republicans feel Evers’ choice is political payback against former Gov. Scott Walker, given Thompson’s historical positions against the former governor and history as a transportation lobbyist.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Thompson’s history as a lobbyist makes this appointment ” … possibly inappropriate or a little out of line with what they would expect when the Gov.-elect puts a name out there.”
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Thompson served for ten years as the legislative director for the Wisconsin Counties Association, a group that advocates on behalf of all 72 Wisconsin county governments at the state and federal level. In other words, Thompson’s role as legislative director means he advocated on behalf of both Democratic and Republican districts.
This entire dilemma pertaining to lobbying highlights a common, damaging truth that must be brought to the surface — everyone hates lobbyists when it best suits their agenda.
People of all walks of life generally view lobbyists as part of the swamp that consumes politics. This all too common train of thought lacks not only reason but represents the ideology of an incredibly misinformed public. Lobbyists serve a far greater purpose than the corrupt man meeting in dark alleys at night.
Are there corrupt lobbyists? Of course. To think all lobbyists are angels sent from above would simply be naïve. But, one can find a bad egg in any industry. The vast majority of all professions consists of honest, hard-working people trying to make a difference. It only takes a couple of major headlines to create an unflattering portrayal that individuals within a profession are bad people. This type of thought process is incredibly dangerous for society.
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If one were to pick any given issue they are passionate about, there is someone, somewhere, who is a lobbyist for that particular cause. The idea that all lobbyists are bad people is incredibly misguided.
The question then becomes, why believe a lobbyist? If they truly are corrupt people, shouldn’t one stay as far away as they can?
In politics, one’s word is one’s bond. This has been a common norm for decades, if not centuries. While there may be a current disruption to this norm for certain elected officials, history has a way of condemning those who betrayed the truth for political gain. Look no further than Wisconsin’s own former Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
The only lobbyists who survive are the ones who tell the truth. If one lies to the people and to their employers, they will never be invited back to the table again. This serves as a fundamental check to keep lobbyists honest. If they get caught deceiving others, their reputation is ruined.
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Above all, lobbying gives a person a deep, passionate understanding of the issue at hand and how it affects the people they are advocating for. Each government department is their own microcosm of issues, laws, funding and bureaucracy. The insight of a lobbyist may lead to more comprehensive, effective policy. When one appoints officials with absolutely no experience, the results can be catastrophic — a lobbyist-turned-politician may be able to mitigate this issue.
As it pertains to Thompson, a reasonable solution to this dilemma would be for him to recuse himself from dealing with any specific issue he formerly held a vested personal interest in. His new job vastly exceeds specific issues he lobbied for in the past. Thus, he would still be able to effectively carry out his duties as DOT Secretary. This offers a pragmatic, common sense solution.
Transportation in Wisconsin is a divisive issue and played a very significant role in the gubernatorial election. The department has experienced a lot of turnover recently, as many officials could not find common ground with Walker, who refused to raise taxes to pay for road projects. The challenges are present and not going anywhere anytime soon — but fresh blood may be the beginning of a solution. This is a thought Thompson shares: “It’s a daunting endeavor — I don’t underestimate that. But I’m ready to get started.” So let’s begin.
Mitch Rogers ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in economics.