MADISON — Entering the Legislature after a fractious session marked by fleeing senators, statewide recalls and heated, all-night debates, newly elected Caledonia Republican Rep. Thomas Weatherston said he and other freshman legislators hope to take a more collegial approach.
“I certainly will not be repeating that kind of behavior,” Weatherston said. “You have to be respectful of people regardless of their opinions, and I think you’ll see a lot of freshmen feeling that way.”
Working from his new Madison office amongst piles of cardboard boxes and half-erected decorations, Weatherston is still adjusting to his new Capitol digs, but already developing relationships with his 25 fellow freshmen legislators, including several Democrats he met during training earlier this month.
“We’re kind of kindred spirits,” said freshman Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, noting that the new legislators all have their inexperience in common.
Republicans and Democrats training together (rather than staying sequestered in their separate caucuses) offered a good chance to get to know colleagues by their personalities, not just their politics, Weatherston said.
Kolste and Weatherston have been in conversation since that initial training session, and both serve on the Assembly’s Committee on Workforce Development.
Middleton freshman Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, who identifies as a Progressive, also sees opportunity to move forward from that starting point of collegiality.
Hesselbein and Weatherston both serve on the Committee on Veterans Affairs, which Weatherston chairs, as well as Colleges and Universities, two committees Hesselbein sees as connected.
“When veterans get back, education gives them the tools they need to be employed,” she said, adding she hopes to work on legislation with Weatherston to facilitate that connection.
Nonetheless, Hesselbein, like Weatherston and Kolste, acknowledged, “I don’t think by any means we’re always going to agree on every issue.”
All three freshmen pointed to an upcoming vote on much-debated mining legislation as a likely point of disagreement.
“It’s a good bill, good for jobs,” Weatherston said. “I know my friend Dianne (Hesselbein) is against it, and I understand her concerns... I just don’t think they’re as overwhelming as she makes them out to be.”
Although they agree that the jobs are needed, the two Democrats balk at what they say are prohibitive environmental threats posed by the proposed mine.
The mining issue notwithstanding, Hesselbein said she has an “open door policy” when it comes to Weatherston and others on the opposite side of the aisle.
“I think it’s important that we get the message out that we want to work together,” she said.
But as Kolste and Hesselbein both cautioned, many politicians are fond of preaching bipartisanship. Practicing it — particularly with one party controlling the Legislature — will be a different challenge.
From Weatherston’s perspective, “We now have an understanding of each other,” he said. “We might not agree in the long-run, but I think in some issues we seem to know where we’re coming from.”