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Jackson, state transportation leader, dies

Lowell B. Jackson

Lowell B. Jackson, a 1982 Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate and influential
state figure in transportation, labor and politics, died at the age of 75 Saturday.

Jackson had the distinction of being appointed Wisconsin Department
of Transportation secretary by governors from two political parties – Republican
Lee Sherman Dreyfus in 1978 and Democrat Tony Earl in 1983 – according to
a biography released by WisDOT.

“When Lowell left his post in 1986,
he was unanimously saluted by Joint Finance for his service and (got a standing
ovation) from politicians in both parties,” said Tom Walker, a contemporary
of Jackson who is now the director of government affairs for the Wisconsin Transportation
Builders Association. “That showed the respect everyone had for the intellectual
leadership he provided.”

During Jackson’s first tenure as head
of WisDOT, the six-year highway improvement program was approved in 1980, as well
as a state-funded bridge program, a revenue bond-financing program for multiyear
projects, and the first increase in highway fees since 1966 to compensate for
rampant inflation and fuel price increases.

“All of that goes back
to Secretary Jackson,” said Walker. “He realized that if you are investing
in multiyear projects, you need a continuous revenue source. Because of the widespread
recognition of the good job Lowell did, Earl appointed him again in 1983.”

Mass
transit tango

As WisDOT secretary, Jackson was known to frequently tangle
with John Norquist, then a state Assembly Transportation Committee member who
advocated spending less on highway construction and more on mass transit.

In
the fall of 1981, Dreyfus shifted Jackson to serve as secretary of the Department
of Industry, Labor and Human Relations, where he was a member of several educational
and training committees until he resigned in May 1982 to pursue the Republican
gubernatorial nomination, which he lost to Terry Kohler.

During that time,
legislation passed requiring alternative standards for the preservation or restoration
of buildings or structures designated as historic buildings. Another statute passed
requiring installation of fire detection, prevention or suppression devices in
all public buildings and places of employment.

Also in 1982, a public employees
OSHA law was passed by the Legislature to provide state and local government workers
with protection and rights equal to those granted private-sector employees under
the federal OSHA law of 1971.

Born on May 5, 1931, in Milwaukee, Jackson
actively served in the U.S. Army from 1954 to 1956 and in the active reserves
until 1968, specializing in military bridging, airport construction, heavy construction
and Soviet waterways. He retired as a captain in the Corps of Engineers and Intelligence
Corps.

“Lowell was one of those people who were able to visualize on
a bigger picture level than most,” Walker said. “He was very good at
conceptualizing, and sometimes it was hard for people to keep up with him. But
he always encouraged discussion among his staff, and those discussions were often
quite lively.”

‘National’ leader

Jackson graduated
from Purdue University with degrees in communications (1953) and civil engineering
(1957) and was a registered professional engineer in Indiana and Wisconsin. He
was also a licensed pilot.

He became active in politics in 1960 and was
the operations manager for Ronald Reagan’s Wisconsin presidential primary
campaign in 1976. He then headed up Dreyfus’ successful campaign for governor
in 1978.

“The conditions of roads became a significant issue on which
Dreyfus campaigned,” Walker said. “Lowell was a civil engineer with
direct experience in highway engineering activities, so it was natural to appoint
him as WisDOT secretary.”

Jackson worked in Washington, D.C., after
leaving office in Madison and was a Michigan resident at the time of his death.
Jackson and his wife, Joni, have three grown children, Jessica, Steven and Kevin.

“Lowell
was an advocate who believed in fiscal responsibility,” said Walker. “His
message was that any investment made should be wise, sound and properly financed.
I would say he was a major national transportation leader.”

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