I was with a lively throng of about 250 people at Monona Terrace last week paying tribute to a fellow who, 50 years before, had been elected to the state Assembly for his first elected office.
Tony Earl, a Democrat from Wausau, quickly became a major player in the Legislature. He served as secretary of the Department of Administration and the Department of Natural Resources in the 1970s, and then a few years later was elected Wisconsin's 41st governor.
The event, "A Toast to Tony Earl," recaptured his long public service, but what was so striking about the event, emceed by former ambassador to Norway Tom Loftus, was its congeniality — Democrats and Republicans, friends and even some old political adversaries gathering together to remember old times when you could disagree but not become an enemy.
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson, the Republican who beat Tony Earl in 1986, told about the relationship he, then the Assembly's minority leader, and Earl, the majority leader, forged in those tumultuous days. Yes, they disagreed, sometimes vehemently, he admitted — but there was respect and, above all, trust.
And that was the theme through the evening. In addition to current Gov. Tony Evers, five former governors were there — Republican Thompson and the Republican who succeeded him, Scott McCallum, Democrats Marty Schreiber and Jim Doyle and, of course, Earl. (You can click here to see pictures from the event. The shot of the six governors is a classic.)
Interestingly, Thompson defeated not only Earl, but emcee Loftus. Doyle beat McCallum. Schreiber lost to Earl in a primary to succeed the late Lee Dreyfus, but you would never know any of them ever shared a cross word.
Indeed, the whole evening was lively and fun. Attendees shared stories of the old times and several wondered out loud what in the world ever happened to them.
While Monona Terrace was filled with well wishers toasting a former governor — one who was the first to appoint women to his cabinet and pushed equal rights for gays — another scene was taking place two blocks away inside the state Capitol at virtually the same time.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald appeared in an empty Senate chamber to effectively poke Tony Evers in the eye all by himself. He opened Evers' call for a special session to debate two gun safety bills and then adjourned it in less than a minute. Virtually the same scenario played out in the Assembly shortly before, with Speaker Robin Vos playing the leading role.
Vos insinuated later than Evers should know better than to send the Legislature bills — even if 80% of Wisconsin citizens favor them — that Republicans will never accept and, obviously, never even debate.
Such is the honor that prevails today.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
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