Since last fall, scores of people have told me they talked to someone who attended our inaugural Cap Times Idea Fest who told them the event was just awesome.
Smart, well-staged, diverse and big-time were among the frequent descriptors. They then, typically, say they wished they had been there.
Well, here’s their chance.
For those not familiar with our marquee annual event, it is two days of lively discussions and social fun, featuring a diverse array of fascinating speakers — more than 60 in all — from the realms of politics and public affairs, the economy, technology, the environment, racial justice, journalism, food and culture.
This year’s still-evolving program lineup is already strong and deep, highlighted by three of the most knowledgeable political observers in the nation. On that list again is David Maraniss, the Pulitzer-winning author, Washington Post editor and Madison native.
At last year’s fest, David mused that he grew up at the Cap Times and has grown old at the Washington Post. (He once worked in the Cap Times newsroom when his father, Elliott, was the editor here.)
David will be joined on stage on the evening of Friday the 28th by David Axelrod, chief strategist of Barack Obama’s winning campaigns and now a regular commentator on CNN. He also heads the non-partisan Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and hosts the highly successful Axe Files podcast, which features everybody who’s anybody in national politics and beyond.
The two Davids last appeared on stage in Madison at the Orpheum Theater in 2015 and talked about the two presidents they came to know well — Obama and Bill Clinton. Among his many books, Maraniss wrote “First in His Class,” a biography of Clinton.
They will be joined on stage by Dan Balz, chief correspondent of the Washington Post, frequent guest on Washington Week in Review on PBS and one of the keenest political journalists in the country. Balz is an Illinois native who has written extensively about the Donald Trump phenomenon in the upper Midwest.
Their talk will occur just weeks before this fall’s mid-term elections.
We will also present an array of political heavyweights still being nailed down. Last year we featured both of Wisconsin’s U.S. senators plus U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of neighboring Minnesota. (Major national politicians, we have learned, tend not to commit this far out. But trust me, we are working on it.)
But don’t mistake Idea Fest for a political event.
There will be about two dozen wide-ranging sessions — mostly on Saturday, culminating in an outdoor reception that evening. The central theme — the glue — of the weekend is “Reach a Better State.”
Other major names who will appear include: civil rights leader and school visionary Kaleem Caire, Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy, former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, political pollster Charles Franklin, former local Boys and Girls Club leader Michael Johnson returning from his new job in Cincinnati, environmentalist Tia Nelson and Tony Award-winning actress Karen Olivo, among many, many others.
Panel discussions will look at everything from the Foxconn deal to school vouchers to which media you can trust, how technology is changing us, the future of children’s literature, whether college athletes should be paid and the role of businesses in advancing racial equity.
One especially provocative session asks the question: “What would it take for you to move back?” It will feature a panel of millennial Wisconsin natives who have found success elsewhere, still think fondly of home, but have different views on whether they would return.
We are able to pull off Idea Fest because of our many sponsors, most prominently our presenting sponsor: UBS — The Burish Group, an investment firm headed by Andrew Burish. UW-Madison is once again a co-sponsor and host, and it’s worth noting that another of our key sponsors this year, CUNA Mutual Group, is organizing and moderating the session on the role of businesses in advancing racial equity.
And there’s a lot more to the festival than just the informative sessions. On the social side, we plan a trivia contest and hip-hop soul DJ dance party, plus the Saturday evening reception. The all-festival passes that go on sale today give you access to all of that plus a free T-shirt.
What’s more, the setting is exceptional and logistics are more convenient than last year.
We are basing the event at the UW’s Memorial Union and also using the nearby Pyle Center and Wisconsin Historical Society for many sessions. (No need for trolley rides or long walks this year.) For our biggest events — like the one featuring Axelrod, Maraniss and Balz — we will use the remodeled Shannon Hall (formerly the Wisconsin Union Theater), a sparkling venue.
This column is a departure from my usual style, but it does connect to the Cap Times and the future of journalism in Madison.
And here is how: I do a lot of public speaking about the Cap Times as a Madison institution, or, as I see it, a Madison gem.
We are built on excellent, aggressive and fair-minded journalism, as well as progressive opinion. And we have a huge commitment to locally focused philanthropy through our Evjue Foundation, named for founder William T. Evjue, which has donated nearly $60 million here since his death in 1970.
Like all media, we are looking to new business models. Events like this are part of our future. By supporting our event, you are supporting local journalists who are totally focused on Madison and Wisconsin.
That, I’d argue, is the icing on an already attractive cake.
Hope to see you there.