January 16, 2005: Headlines: COS - Tunisia: Politics: State Government: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: RPCV Governor Jim Doyle faces GOP challenges and towering deficit in term's second half

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tunisia: Special Report: RPCV Jim Doyle, Governor of Wisconsin: Special Report: Governor and Tunisa RPCV Jim Doyle: January 16, 2005: Headlines: COS - Tunisia: Politics: State Government: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: RPCV Governor Jim Doyle faces GOP challenges and towering deficit in term's second half

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RPCV Governor Jim Doyle faces GOP challenges and towering deficit in term's second half

RPCV Governor Jim Doyle faces GOP challenges and towering deficit in term's second half

RPCV Governor Jim Doyle faces GOP challenges and towering deficit in term's second half

Doyle faces GOP challenges and towering deficit in term's second half
Posted: Jan. 16, 2005

Madison - Gov. Jim Doyle's job is so basic, even a first-grader can understand it.

When Doyle visited Kathy Rehl's classroom at Milwaukee's Ralph H. Metcalfe School last week, Rehl and her co-teacher asked if anyone in the class knew what Doyle does.

One girl piped up: "He decides how much money we get."

"That's about right," Doyle said, laughing.

For the first two years of his term, the Democratic governor's greatest struggle was tackling a $3.2 billion budget deficit without raising taxes or gutting government services. Now entering the second half of his term, Doyle faces still another deficit and growing challenges to his agenda by Republicans who control the Legislature and who already are gearing up to unseat him in 2006.

Though observers from both sides of the political aisle said they are impressed by what he's accomplished so far, they expect Doyle to demonstrate a broader vision of where he wants to take the state over the next two years.

In 2002, Doyle emerged from a contentious Democratic primary to beat incumbent Republican Gov. Scott McCallum. At the time, Wayne Corey, executive director of Wisconsin Independent Businesses in Madison, said he thought Doyle would have to make such unpopular decisions that he wouldn't make it past four years.

Now, Corey sees Doyle as being "extraordinarily competitive" in 2006. But he said, "It's disappointing that because of the budget mess, he hasn't been able to put more of the stamp that he'd like to put on the State of Wisconsin."

Despite entering a few high-profile fights with the Republican-controlled Legislature over same-sex marriage, concealed weapons and Indian gaming compacts, Doyle signed more than 325 bills in the 2003-'04 legislative session - three times as many as McCallum signed in the previous session.

"The facts are that the governor and our team have made some real progress, but it's been when he's most willing to work with legislators," said Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-Peshtigo). "When he's stubborn and inflexible, he doesn't get anything done."

Among the bills Doyle signed was a job creation act that the governor said brought 70,000 new jobs to the state last year.

"He was very clear that he wasn't going to raise taxes to solve (the deficit) and stuck to that," said Jim Buchen, vice president of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, a pro-business trade group in Madison.

Among other new measures Doyle mentioned in his "state of the state" speech Wednesday, he talked about expanding prescription drug coverage to the 500,000 who lack it, rating child care centers and lowering the sizes of some elementary classes.

But some Democrats, who sat through 16 years of Republican administrations, are frustrated with his performance, said Ed Garvey, a Madison lawyer and 1998 Democratic candidate for governor.

"You spend 16 years in the cave waiting for a Democrat to emerge with a flashlight, and it's been business as usual," Garvey said, adding he wished Doyle would do more to protect the environment and the University of Wisconsin System.
Pushing job creation

Doyle said spurring economic development was the most important work he could do.

"What I believe the Democratic Party stands for is to create opportunity for people," Doyle said. "That means jobs, and that's really been the focus of what we've tried to get done."

Doyle has tried to keep his agenda simple: balance the state budget; reduce government spending; and use any leftover funds to reform education, improve access to health care and spur the economy.

"I think he's done great things," said Chris Woleske, general counsel for Bellin Health Care, who heard Doyle talk about prescription drugs in Green Bay during his two-day post "state of the state" tour. "Those aren't easy accomplishments."

John Schnurr, a retiree who lives in Wilmot, said he was concerned about the $1.6 billion deficit the state faces in the next two years. Though he said he will wait to see what Doyle does before passing judgment, Schnurr is skeptical of Doyle's approach.

"There's going to have to be some big fixing" to cover the deficit, Schnurr said.

A Badger Poll, conducted this month by the University of Wisconsin Survey Center, found that the number of people who think Doyle is doing an "excellent" or "good" job is about the same as the number who think he is doing a "fair" or "poor" job. The poll was sponsored by the Journal Sentinel and Madison's Capital Times.
Re-election bid

Doyle has been hamstrung by the situation he inherited, said Jonathan Barry, a Republican and former University of Wisconsin regent.

"He has to do what he's doing and hope for an improved economy, then he can become more of a Democrat," Barry said. "The vision doesn't extend much beyond being re-elected."

Though he said he's not yet focused on the 2006 election, Doyle raised $2.4 million during the first 18 months of his term.

"I've been a pretty good fund-raiser, and these campaigns get more and more expensive," said Doyle, a former state attorney general.

While Democratic Party leaders such as Price County Democratic Chair John Smart are impressed with Doyle's accomplishments on education and health care, others such as Garvey said there is a lack of enthusiasm for Doyle because he's governed too carefully from the center.

For their part, Republicans are promising a tough fight in the Legislature on issues they hold dear, such as taxes and school choice. Meanwhile, they promise to keep an eye on the election and Doyle's vulnerabilities.

State Republican Party Chairman Rick Graber said Doyle hasn't stepped out to be a cheerleader for Wisconsin, as former Gov. Tommy G. Thompson did, nor has he offered a comprehensive vision about where he wants to take the state.

Republicans' push for a property tax freeze will be one of the major issues this session; Doyle vetoed such a measure in 2003.

Property taxes "are something people are talking about all over the state, and he underestimates the extent to which people are tired of it," Graber said. "It's coming back, and it won't go away."

Republicans are lining up to oppose Doyle. U.S. Rep. Mark Green of Green Bay last week sent out an e-mail to supporters declaring his intention to run against Doyle in 2006, and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is sending strong signals that he will run. Gard is also reportedly thinking about jumping into the race.

Green's e-mail painted Doyle as an "out-of-touch Madison liberal." Yet observers said Doyle is as visible in Milwaukee or Ladysmith as he is in the Capitol.

He has visited 171 different cities and municipalities since taking office. Superior Mayor Dave Ross said he was surprised when Doyle picked up the phone and called him after a major company in town closed a facility and cut 350 jobs.

"I think he really rolled up his sleeves and said, 'Let's try to figure this thing out,' " Ross said.

Some Capitol watchers said they would like to see Doyle more often avoid tangling with Republican lawmakers.

"The never-ending campaign for governor or legislative majorities wearies some of us," Corey said.

The most recent battle is over Doyle's attempt to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.50 an hour.

Republicans have blocked a Doyle-appointed task force's recommendation to increase the wage, and Assembly Majority Leader Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) said Doyle has been in an "all-or-nothing" mode.

Doyle maintains that the procedure for raising the wage has been in place since 1919, and the new wage floor was set by an agreement from labor and business leaders.

"When the political parties are just fighting . . . I have to be focused not on what their fight is, but what does an ordinary working family really need?" Doyle said.

From the Jan. 17, 2005, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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Story Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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