October 18, 2002 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Tunisia RPCV Jim Doyle in race for Wisconsin Governor
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October 18, 2002 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Tunisia RPCV Jim Doyle in race for Wisconsin Governor
Tunisia RPCV Jim Doyle in race for Wisconsin Governor
Caption: Attorney General Jim Doyle (left) looks toward the Metcalfe Park neighborhood near North Ave. and N. 33rd St. while on a neighborhood tour led by Larry Moore (center) on June 29.
Read and comment on this story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Tunisia RPCV Jim Doyle in race for re-election for Wisconsin Attorney General. He served with his wife in Tunisia and lived most of the time in the desert. Jessica was often sick. "We spent two years malnourished," Doyle recalled. "There were days, very hot days, where we didn't get food. Everybody in the village, including us, had parasites." It was a huge contrast to their privileged upbringing in Madison. The experience may be one of the keys to understanding Doyle's toughness. "Everybody in their lives comes upon something where they don't know if they can do it," Doyle noted. "This was it for me and Jessie. This was our test."
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Jim Doyle: A hands-on leader, he's not afraid to take an independent stand*
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Jim Doyle: A hands-on leader, he's not afraid to take an independent stand
By BRUCE MURPHY
Last Updated: Oct. 18, 2002
Attorney Gerald Mowris still recalls a disagreement with his boss, Jim Doyle, not long after Doyle took over as Dane County district attorney in 1976. Mowris, then an assistant DA, had gotten a gift from the family of a victim whose case he had prosecuted.
"They sent me a book as a thank you," Mowris recalled. "And Jim said, 'You can't keep that.'
"I said 'What? It's a $10 book.' "
But Doyle insisted it was unethical, and Mowris ultimately had to donate the book to the library and then check it out so he could read it.
Doyle supporters would cite this as a perfect example of his integrity and high principles. Detractors would likely see it as an example of how Doyle calculates the political impact of every decision he makes.
Both would probably agree on one thing: Doyle is a very tough customer, who managed to get under the skin of Republican governor Tommy G. Thompson even as he outraged Democrats who felt he was too moderate. Doyle's toughness has made him both a formidable attorney general and a hard-hitting political candidate who has never lost a bid for public office.
Madison attorney John Burr, who worked with Doyle and has had meetings with Scott McCallum, said the latter is a "very nice man."
Burr added: "Doyle can be nice, too, but he's cut out of a little stiffer cloth."
Rooted in Democratic history
James E. Doyle, Jr. grew up with the weight of history, the pressure to live up to his parents. James Sr. was one of the founders of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, a candidate for governor in 1954 and a federal judge. His mother, Ruth, whose maiden name was Bachhuber, served in the state Assembly, as did her father, grandfather and great-grandfather, a political legacy stretching back to the 1860s. Ruth later served as dean of the University of Wisconsin law school and on the Madison school board.
"Eleanor Roosevelt would call on our home," Jim Doyle recalled. "Adlai Stevenson would come to our house. Pat Lucey was my sister's godfather."
Doyle's father leaned toward Stevenson for president in 1960, but young Jim was enthralled by an Irish Catholic like himself, John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy came to town to campaign, Jim attended, and JFK went out of his way to meet with the star-struck youth.
"The security guard came and said Sen. Kennedy would like to meet with you," Doyle recounted. "They were trying to get to my father through his 13-year-old son. We talked about baseball, sports. My memory is we talked for an hour. But it was probably five minutes."
Doyle was one of four children of very busy parents.
"My memory of it is I got very little attention," Doyle said. "My mother had many fine qualities but doting on the children was not one of them."
Doyle's parents were revered in Madison, and Jim was expected to achieve. His father, Doyle noted, "could keep me in line by doing nothing more than clearing his throat or raising his eyebrow. I don't think I ever disobeyed him in my life."
Doyle was a star on his Madison West basketball team and excelled at academics.
"He was a formidable kid for a kid," said high school pal Fred Barbash, who went on to become an editor for The Washington Post. "In arguments he almost always won because he stuck to his arguments. Jim Doyle was not somebody who would be pushed over."
Not the obvious path
It was perhaps inevitable that Doyle would go into politics, but like many second-born children, he was not eager to follow the obvious path. Doyle said that his elder sister Mary "was very high-performing. She was a lot more driven than I was."
Mary got her law degree and rose to become the dean of the University of Miami's law school and has held positions in the Carter and Clinton administrations.
Jim's rise was slower. He attended an elite college, Stanford, for three years, then finished his degree at the University of Wisconsin. He married Jessica Laird, who had been homecoming queen at Madison West, and who began dating Doyle after high school. This created another political connection as Jessica was the niece of Melvin Laird, a Wisconsin congressman who was secretary of Defense under President Nixon.
The two newlyweds signed up for the Peace Corps, inspired by Jim's hero, JFK, who created the program. They served together in Tunisia and lived most of the time in the desert. Jessica was often sick.
"We spent two years malnourished," Doyle recalled. "There were days, very hot days, where we didn't get food. Everybody in the village, including us, had parasites."
It was a huge contrast to their privileged upbringing in Madison. The experience may be one of the keys to understanding Doyle's toughness.
"Everybody in their lives comes upon something where they don't know if they can do it," Doyle noted. "This was it for me and Jessie. This was our test."
After the Peace Corps, Jim got his law degree from Harvard while Jessica taught school. Armed with that degree, Doyle could have gone on to a high-paying career with a major law firm,but he and Jessie chose to move to Chinle, Ariz., and work on an Indian reservation.
For three years, she taught Navajo children, and Jim worked for their families in a federally funded law office. He handled a sophisticated class action suit and argued cases in federal court, at a time when his fellow Harvard graduates were just getting their feet wet with routine duties at major firms.
Unable to have children, they decided to adopt and expressed no preference as to race. As it turned out, they adopted two African-American boys.
They weren't trying to make a statement, Jessica Doyle once said, they just wanted to have children. Their sons Gus (now 27) and Gabe (now 24) became the joy of their lives, as well as a window into a different world.
"There's no doubt I have a better understanding of (racism). My wife and I have had to deal with issues that other parents haven't," Jim Doyle said. "We have a lot of African-American friends. We have joint concerns."
Politics part of the picture
The Doyles moved back to Madison in 1975, and Jim soon decided to run for Dane County district attorney. He served six years (1977-1983) in that office, followed by nearly eight years in private practice, before being elected state attorney general in 1990.
Doyle emphasized that he has not been a career politician, yet politics has never been far from his mind. Two-thirds of his career has been taken up by the profession, and he flirted with running for mayor of Madison in 1982 and attorney general in 1986.
His first race, against incumbent Dane County District Attorney Humphrey Lynch in 1976, surprised some Democrats.
"You don't run against an incumbent Democrat in Dane County," noted David Walsh, a Madison corporate attorney and Harvard classmate of Doyle's.
For that matter, what was Doyle doing running for chief prosecutor and talking about getting tough on crime? His father was a contemplative federal judge who championed civil liberties and was a national head of the liberal Americans for Democratic Action.
"That's one reason Jim's father didn't get as far as Jim did," Barbash noted. "He just wasn't enough of a politician."
Doyle joked that it was his mother who won all the elections and conceded he might have learned some pragmatism from her.
But he also argued you can do more to help people as a district attorney.
"The job of defense attorneys is to represent their clients," he said. "The prosecutor's job is to see that justice is done."
During his winning campaigns for district attorney and six years handling the job, the Doyle style became clear.
As a campaigner, he was friendly, but not effusive, even shy or diffident at times. Doyle has a core of good friends, many of whom date back to his high school days, but "he's not a hail-fellow-well-met," according to Andy Cohn, a longtime friend who worked in the attorney general's office.
He was an able administrator. John Burr, who served under Doyle, offers this assessment: "Very bright. Very focused. Very organized. Very effective."
John Noisetter, a friend who also served as assistant district attorney, called Doyle "a steady, unflappable manager with great people skills."
He was hard working. "His average work week was 50 hours or more," said Burr. "You get your money's worth with him."
Doyle was not a micro-manager, observers say, but he was demanding and was particularly concerned about the political impact of any major decisions. Several lawyers "didn't like their leashes shortened," noted Mowris, another assistant district attorney at the time.
"He was very concerned about his public image," Burr noted. "He had a set of rules that he followed to the letter. He wouldn't ever be seen drinking in public."
Doyle dismayed some members of his party by prosecuting a Democratic state senator, Henry Dorman, for allowing members of his family to use state-issued telephone credit cards. He instituted a new policy to get tough on drunken driving. He was viewed by some defense attorneys as "a little too unyielding," said Noisetter.
Doyle took some stands that Democrats could appreciate: He recruited more women and minorities. He instituted job sharing, so women with children could share a position. He modernized the approach to crimes against women, prosecuting domestic assaults and providing more sensitivity to rape victims.
"I think he's pragmatic," said Cohn. "I think he cares very much about what works."
But when Doyle ran for attorney general in 1990, almost every Democratic legislator supported his primary opponent, William Te Winkle. Doyle won handily and went on to win the general election.
Not afraid of Thompson
Once in office, Attorney General Doyle dismayed some Democrats by supporting numerous tough-on-crime proposals. Barbara Lawton, Doyle's running mate as lieutenant governor, criticized him just one year ago for his stance on truth-in-sentencing, calling it "a very expensive, short-sighted policy that's going to be . . . very costly. . . in both human terms and state revenue."
Doyle also successfully defended Thompson's veto powers against numerous legal suits by Democrats.
But Doyle battled Thompson on many issues. Six times in a row, he declined to go to court to defend a Thompson policy he determined was illegal. In each case, Thompson hired an outside attorney; each time, Thompson lost.
Doyle has a reputation as a skilled courtroom lawyer, whether arguing before a jury or judge. He personally handled three Wisconsin cases that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He won all three.
Doyle was also an effective administrator as attorney general, improving the operations of the State Crime Lab, which had snafus and delays that had been criticized under Doyle's predecessor, Donald Hanaway. Mowris, past president of the state bar association, said that such improvements have won Doyle "a lot of support from DAs and law enforcement people around the state."
During the 1990s, when Thompson built tremendous power as governor, Doyle was his most effective antagonist, playing a hardball style of politics he developed as a district attorney.
"If he perceives that you've crossed him, you're in a huge amount of trouble," Burr noted. "He has a long memory. He doesn't forgive and forget."
Doyle's philosophy has been consistently in tune with the Democratic party on many issues: He's pro-environment, in favor of abortion rights and opposes the death penalty. His enthusiasm for public education won him the endorsement of the state teachers union in the Democratic primary.
Doyle once bragged that he gets "an F-minus" from the National Rifle Association. He has pushed the Legislature to ban semiautomatic weapons, short-barreled handguns and armor-piercing bullets. He has pushed for a seven-day waiting period for hand guns.
But Doyle also styles himself as a pro-business Democrat. He has suggested balancing the budget by cutting back the number of state employees by 10,000 positions, back to the level of 1986, when Thompson assumed power.
McCallum has said nothing about cutting employees. Even Thompson would never take on the state employees union. For a Democrat to do that is remarkable, said an obviously ambivalent Ed Garvey, a longtime Democratic liberal.
"It's an indication that Doyle will be independent, perhaps even lonely, as a governor," Garvey quipped.
Doyle may well feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to defining the message of the Democratic party. As someone who met the national luminaries of the party when he was just a boy, whose parents helped rebuild the party in Wisconsin, Doyle seems to have the confidence to go his own way. In the primary for governor, he once again faced the opposition of nearly every Democratic legislator, and once again won.
That's the Doyle style, and he's not about to change it.
"If he gets elected governor," Burr predicted, "he will be a hands-on governor. He will know about everything. He's not somebody who will delegate and go off to the beach."
Bruce Murphy is a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
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