YORKVILLE — Rather than butting heads from across the aisle, Racine County’s Democratic and Republican state lawmakers sparred from across the table at the County Board’s annual Legislative Breakfast Monday.
Meeting early for coffee, orange juice and donuts, Wisconsin’s political leaders presented their legislative agendas and answered County Board members’ questions, but not without several veteran legislators taking the opportunity to pick at one another’s policies.
Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos, R-Rochester, listed several “Democrats did” and “Democrats said” scenarios, including blaming Democrats for “raiding” the state transportation fund.
When it was his turn to speak, Vos’ legislative counterpart, Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, leveled counter-accusations of Republicans gutting separate segregated state funding.
“I love this Democrat-Republican stuff, but there’s no room for purity here,” Barca challenged, saying neither party has the high ground because both share the blame for the state’s problems.
While more recently elected Reps. David Craig, R-Waterford, and freshman Rep. Thomas Weatherston, R-Caledonia, generally kept their statements brief and pointed, the veteran lawmakers sparred on forthcoming mining legislation and over which party should take the blame for Wisconsin’s financial state. While Vos spoke, Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Somers, smilingly shook his head, and Barca frequently rushed in to counter the Speaker’s assertions.
At one point, Vos suggested that Democrats purposefully voted down controversial mining legislation last session just to avoid handing Gov. Scott Walker a political victory before his statewide recall election. Barca countered that Republicans controlled the Legislature at that time, and noted that a Republican senator was the one whose vote drove the nail into that bill’s coffin.
In a relatively rare moment of collegiality near the breakfast’s beginning, state Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, called out Assembly leaders Barca and Vos for being “too humble,” and downplaying the weight their prestigious positions lend county issues.
“We are in a wonderful position,” Lehman said. “With the leadership of both parties in the Assembly, the Racine County voice should be well-listened to in this session.”
The legislators did reach some measure of consensus on the need to address mental health issues in the state, and to reduce burdensome or simply unnecessary state regulations. For example, Vos said, on the books is a rule that dictates which direction farmers must pack their eggs.
When county board members invoked a recurring request to examine the number of state mandates on local government, Vos challenged the board to bring forward any mandate found to be unnecessary, and promised his office would examine them.
“We will accept your challenge and get you a list of mandates that we’d like to see disappear,” County Executive Jim Ladwig assured Vos.