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After the vote, focus shifts to new insiders

By Matt Pommer

Personnel selections will be in the spotlight next week as the governor-elect gets down to work.

Early selections are expected to be a secretary of administration and state budget director, but Capitol insiders will focus on who will be the governor’s chief of staff and his other key insiders in the new administration that takes office in January. The chief of staff usually acts as the gatekeeper to the governor’s office.

The governor-elect will quickly have to set a political tone for the state in the aftermath of Election Day. Some of his strongest supporters may lapse into thinking the new governor will quickly solve whatever issues are left from the Doyle administration.

On Nov. 20 the new administration will get the required estimate of the state’s financial condition.

Preliminary indications suggest the Legislature will face a biennial revenue-spending gap of more than $3 billion that must be solved through increased income or spending cuts.

Other states probably are in even worse shape. Press accounts suggest the Minnesota deficit ranges between $5 billion and $6 billion. Illinois also has had trouble paying its bills.

Despite some political claims, this hasn’t been the worst recession since the 1930s. The unemployment rate just approached double-digit numbers. By comparison, Wisconsin had 13 consecutive months of double-digit unemployment in the early 1980s.

Wisconsin’s jobless rate is now below 8 percent and lower than the rate of some states without a personal income tax.

This has been an important election for everyone in the State Capitol. The new Legislature will draw lines for legislative districts for the next 10 years. If one party can draw the lines, it will give that party a splendid opportunity to dominate the Legislature for a decade.

The reapportionment drama is an insiders’ game. It’s not the stuff that ends up on the front page of newspapers or in 30-second television news items, but moving a boundary even a few blocks can influence future legislative elections.

Major players in the drama will be the Assembly speaker and State Senate majority leader. They already have political power by being able to round up donations for loyal members. Their role in drawing new boundary lines increases their power.

Members, worried about their own district lines, will be reluctant to bolt from any policy wish of their governor or legislative leaders.

But one-party control can have drawbacks. There is no bogeyman for the party in power to blame for the difficult budget decisions ahead. Being on the outside in difficult times can have political advantages.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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