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Dec 12, 201603:24 PMVan Lines

with Joe Vanden Plas

Memo to a Madison hater

(page 1 of 2)

Dear Congressman Duffy:

Consider this a good-natured rebuke to your recent disparaging comments about Madison, or as you no doubt call it, the People’s Republic of Madison. The rebuke is mild only because Madison Mayor Paul Soglin was wrong to call you a moron in response to your controversial comment suggesting that Madison basically is a commune of comrades.

Ignorant would have been a more precise word for Mayor Soglin to use because to label this hotbed of entrepreneurism a communist enclave shows just how much you know about your home state’s capital city. If Madison is red, it’s because of the cardinal red of Bucky Badger, not because it’s Moscow on Lake Mendota and Monona. No Bolshevik.

As someone who is not a resident of Madison but has worked here for 15 years, allow me to straighten you out. My motivation is not only to defend the community I’ve come to know, but to discourage you and others who should know better from further dividing a state and country that’s divided enough already. That doesn’t bode well if we need to come together after another national crisis such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and since you’re one of 535 members of Congress you have an obligation to conduct yourself in a civil manner, even while criticizing.

Your comments are illustrative of an unfortunate tendency that’s contributing to this division, and that’s assigning the worst characterizations to people you disagree with. Both sides do this and it needs to stop because pejorative putdowns are meant to stifle debate, not engage in it. Besides that, it’s rhetorically lazy. If you look around we all want pretty much the same things, but we have different ways of getting there. I understand that you’re angry about the recount of votes cast in the presidential election, but in lashing out at Madison you not only chose the wrong culprit — Jill Stein — you revealed an unfortunate divisive streak.

For your information, Madison is a lot of things and most of them are pretty impressive. Having covered the local business community here since 2000, I can testify that Madison has a business community chocked full of expertise and excellence, with an endless reservoir of philanthropic sentiment. Local executives have an abundance of nonprofits to support, and for the sake of their workforce they do so with a generous spirit of community building. They also give their workers paid time off to support the worthy cause of their choice because they know how meaningful that is to their workers.

That’s communal, not communistic.

As someone who has attended his share of business conferences here, most of them at University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Business facilities, I can assure you that free-market capitalism here is alive and well and practiced with a passion. Perhaps what sets Madison executives and community leaders apart is they strive to spread the benefits of a free-market system to a broader range of folks. When they realize they’ve fallen short of their own ideal, they try to remedy that by promoting workforce diversity and inclusion. With an assist from economic development organizations like MadREP that’s beginning to happen, and I hope other communities and regions follow suit.

What’s more, there are many admirable people here. I’d like to introduce you to people like the United Way’s Keetra Burnette and countless others who are demonstrating their concern about police-involved shootings by connecting people of color in this community with local law enforcement agencies to develop ways to prevent any more of these tragedies from occurring. They don’t get the same attention as professional athletes who won’t stand for the national anthem, but you should know about their devotion to problem solving.

That’s communal, not communistic.


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Dec 13, 2016 02:36 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Actually a lot of the community activity here is because we really need a diverse labor pool in terms of skills and cultures (cultures because many of us work and sell globally- skills because there is a huge amount of job growth here). That doesn't always work because the state formulas for welfare to work don't work here. They keep or drive people into poverty. for people moving here often Wisconsin is the place where dreams go to die. That is because our free market conservative legislature ignores the free market. Soglin is right- a significant percentage of the entire state's workforce and economic growth is here much along the stretch of highway that ironically "our laser on development" legislature has decided to laser like ignore. Oddly turning the state parks into totally fee for service entities is okay and raising the fees but not doing the same for roads through fee and gas tax increases. The fact is the state is one collaborative economic entity that thanks to politics and lobbyists has become massively dysfunctional. Which is why it is performing way below the norm. If the Republicans succeed in slowly or killing development in Dane because it is not contributing to them - they will kill the state. For 25 years I have tried to explain the free market to legislators and in most cases they ignore it- the Republicans oddly more than the Democrats.

Dec 20, 2016 03:01 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Good letter, Joe. And glad to have you stand with Hizzoner, but especially Madison......and great folk such as Dr. Rose, Kaleem, Keetra and Scott. Betty Harris Custer

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