Having spent the better part of twenty years working as a media relations consultant in a variety of areas, including government, I feel qualified to comment on the sometimes bizarre, sometimes surprising and always embarrassing goings on in Madison, Wisconsin, these days.
As a full-blooded cheesehead with family ties to Milwaukee that go back more than a century, I have a special affinity for Wisconsin. And, as if watching both sides of the Budget Repair Bill debate play stickball with common sense and the truth wasn’t painful enough, I’m a fairly conservative guy who is married to a public school teacher with whom I am completely, passionately and permanently in love. Yes, the “how was your day honey,” conversations have been interesting.
I have, on occasion, referenced in this space the inexorable link between trust and reputation. Never has that link become more apparent than it has as I watch the main event and associated sideshows at our state Capitol in Madison.
As the debate plays out in the press, a solution seems simple enough. The public employee unions have made their point clear: They’ve agreed to financial concessions regarding contributions to pensions and health care costs. They just don’t want to give up their rights to collectively bargain on future contracts. So why not get this deal done now? Because Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Republican majority don’t trust the unions. They simply do not believe what the unions, and the Democrats, are saying.
On the flip side, Walker said in a Wednesday press conference that he’d “speak” with the 14 AWOL senators who’ve been hiding out in Illinois for the past week in an effort to prevent a vote. So why don’t the senators return and try to convince Walker and the Republicans to amend the bill? Because they don’t trust Walker and the Republicans. They simply do not believe what they are saying.
In the meantime reputations, not to mention relationships, are being destroyed all over the place.
It is a painful lesson that politicians of every political stripe are learning today. The rest of us can learn from it, too.