Loftus Delivers Keynote at Statesmanship Reception W isconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) once again joined with the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) – the state’s teachers union – to present the bipartisan Statesmanship Reception in late November. The annual event aims to bridge the political divide in Wisconsin by bringing both sides of the political aisle together. The event was attended by nearly 200 people, including the newly-elected Gov. Tony Evers, and the keynote address was delivered for former Ambassador and Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Tom Loftus. An excerpt of his remarks are below: When Tommy Thompson was elected the first time in 1986, he had defeated an incumbent governor, Tony Earl, and faced a Legislature where both houses were controlled by the other party with big majorities. The exact situation the people of Wisconsin voted for Nov. 6: divided government. The four years of the first Thompson administration when he was governor and I was the speaker (speaker, 1983-1991) of the Assembly were the most productive four years of divided government in Wisconsin’s history. Ah ha. You are thinking that is because Tommy was special and I was a
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brilliant leader. The Tommy Thompson elected in 1986 was Dr. No. The saint from Elroy came later. And I became the Machiavelli of nice because it was necessary and my nature. So there was an evolution but it had a history. At the start of the session before Tommy was elected governor – he was the minority leader – the day in the Assembly when the members are sworn in and the speaker is elected, Tommy Thompson took the floor and asked all of the Republicans to vote for Loftus as the speaker. So all the Democrats voted for me as did all the Republicans, a first in Assembly history. I started my remarks by saying, “The minority leader and I pledge an opportunity for the Assembly to proceed in a bipartisan manner. It is up to you the members whether you take advantage of the opportunity. As always we will try to proceed in a civilized manner.” You can’t get more bipartisan than that! How did it happen? Well, actually, I called Tommy and we made a deal. I would give the Republicans one more seat on the Joint Finance Committee, the seat they deserved because of their growing numbers, and in return he would ask his caucus to vote for me.
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My knowledge and his knowledge of the history and psychology of the Assembly was such at this point we knew this would make the place better, more civilized, with less rancor. We did not want the rancor between the two parties that we witnessed in the sessions prior to the time he became minority leader and I became speaker. Also that session we formed a special Assembly committee on the future of the UW System co-chaired by the two of us. We traveled to almost every campus. Gave opening remarks and then listened. We did this so many times that at one stop we agreed he would give my opening remarks and I would give his. No one noticed – although a Republican in the audience did come up to me and say I was starting to make a lot more sense. So we knew each other. We were friends. n
Tom Loftus of Sun Prairie is a former member of the UW Board of Regents and speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, and was the Democratic candidate for governor in 1990. He was ambassador to Norway from 1993 to 1998. From 1998 to 2005 he was the special adviser to the director general of the World Health Organization.