Politicians get a lot of grief for being dishonest, but sometimes it’s speaking a little too frankly that really reveals their darker sides.
Like last week when Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald displayed his loyalty to party over policy.
Funding for roads has been the biggest policy burr under the saddle for a GOP that has controlled the Legislature and the governor’s office for the last six years.
Gov. Scott Walker refuses to go along with any tax increase to raise money for road construction, while others of his party are less doctrinaire.
In the meantime, Wisconsin’s already ailing roads just keep getting worse.
Fitzgerald was asked about a suggestion from a couple of his fellow Republicans that the transportation-funding portion of the 2017-19 state budget be split off and considered as a separate bill, perhaps with help from minority Democrats to pass it. The party of roaming aimlessly in the political wilderness would be needed, after all, to override a Walker veto of any bill that increases taxes to pay for road construction.
Fitzgerald was less than enthusiastic about the idea.
“If the Republicans are taking up a separate transportation package outside the rest of the state budget and relying on Democrat votes to get it passed, it clearly means we’re in trouble,” he said.
Perhaps sensing more, well, trouble from another member of the “liberal Madison media,” Fitzgerald’s office declined to clarify for me what exactly he meant by “trouble” and which “we” would be in it.
But it seems fair to assume he means it would not be good for his party to look as if it needs help from Democrats to get things done.
Two things are notable about this perspective. One is apparently Fitzgerald isn’t interested in the possibility a bipartisan transportation-funding package could be a good transportation-funding package that would please most Wisconsinites. He’s just worried it would make the GOP look like they can’t legislate on their own.
The other thing is: Since when did bipartisanship become bad?
OK, I know actual bipartisanship has been out of fashion for a long time now, but last time I checked the ideal of bipartisanship was still one of those happy lies politicians told an electorate cynical about politicians.
The veneer of bipartisanship is why, shortly after assuming power in 2011, Republicans authorized a bipartisan commission — including bona fide Madison liberal former mayor Dave Cieslewicz — to come up with road-funding solutions.
The death of bipartisanship is why the group’s recommendations have since been ignored.
In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said “it’s embarrassing that after six years of Republican control, we’re left with crumbling roads, a billion-dollar transportation deficit and no fix in sight.”
Shilling spokesman Tony Palese referred me to a May 3 proposal from her and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca’s offices to create a bipartisan panel of lawmakers to come up with transportation-funding solutions.
In other words, the powerless claim to be ready to help, even if the powerful aren’t interested in stooping to their level.