A Down-and-Back Madison Road Trip
BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Madison, Wisconsin is said to be 77 square miles surrounded by reality. It is also Wisconsin’s capital city, where new laws are introduced and either sent to a dark hole or are debated and signed into law. Skeptics may say the faint hearted should avoid watching the bill-making process.
Each year, ‘citizen lobbyists’ descend on Madison to advance regional priorities with legislators. Given the poor reputation of lobbyists, most volunteers refer to themselves as advocates. The La Crosse area conducts Oktoberfest at the Capitol; Superior area has its Superior Days (plural), and the Chippewa Valley promotes its causes under the Chippewa Valley Rally theme. The Valley Rally includes a wrap-up reception featuring a Chippewa Falls-based brewery whose name rhymes with Leinenkugel.
As for St. Croix, its advocates team up with Polk, Pierce, and Dunn counties for the Greater St. Croix Valley Legislative Day and the 2019 event is set for February 6th. For those wishing to conduct business with cabinet secretaries, policy advisors, legislators or staff, it means a long day on the road before the Madison skyline comes into view. There’s a worn-out anecdote along these lines, The good news, Madison is four hours away; the bad news, Madison is four hours away.
Departure from Hudson is at 6:00 a.m. and following a pit stop at the Mauston exit, the somewhat weary volunteers arrive at the capitol around 10:30. There’s a group photo at 10:45 followed by orientation and box lunches before appointments in teams of two or three begin at 12:30 p.m. The timid or nervous have no place during the appointments. In rapid fire order, a legislator or staffer learns details on the St. Croix Valley, then successes and thank-you’s, and finally, the issues. Each team member is expected to present an issue or two. By the fifth or sixth appointment the routine is down pat.
In the early years of the legislative treks, a cabinet secretary put the work of the citizen-led activities into perspective. He said, “Your region could hire a lobbyist to deliver the message. It’s more effective coming from citizen volunteers.”
By 4:30 p.m., it’s time to load up the high occupancy vans and negotiate an exit from the capitol square. One of the founding volunteers continues to promise three full verses to a country western song entitled, Madison in My Rear View Mirror. Four and half hours later the travelers are in the St. Croix Valley. Mission Accomplished or Mission Impossible? They’ll track the current year’s issues and plan on doing it again in 12 months.
The St. Croix Valley is well represented in Madison. We’re proud of our legislators and the same is true from their perspective. This region continues to grow, which leads to a long list of wants and needs as well as the potential for stronger, if not additional representation. Even legislators from the most rural or most urbanized parts of the state have interest in places four hours from Madison. They should. A rising tide lifts all boats. The St. Croix Valley is a rising tide.