November 19, 2008

New Year, New People, New Power

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

The New Year is soon upon us and events in January bring hope that 2009 will see brighter days than 2008.  With the inauguration of Barack Obama, we are hoping for economic recovery, an end to an unnecessary war, a fix to the health-care crisis, and new priorities that will help families prosper.  But those policy priorities are not the only things that have changed with the election.  Just as important is the shift of power and “who” makes the decisions on those priorities    As President-Elect Obama makes moves to fill cabinet and leadership posts in his administration, Wisconsin leaders are doing the same in the Senate and Assembly.

In Wisconsin, the State Assembly returned to a Democratic majority for the first time since 1994 with 52 seats for the party.  Along with taking over the majority come important decisions for Democrats on who will lead their efforts.  At the “organizational caucus”, the new majority elected Rep. Mike Sheridan (D-Janesville) as Speaker, Rep. Tom Nelson (D-Kaukauna) as Majority Leader, and Rep. Donna Seidel (D-Wausau) as Assistant Majority Leader. 

You may have noticed that there are no Milwaukee Democrats in that list; a fact that has been the subject of intense political discussion at the Capitol.  Yes, Milwaukee democrats did not win leadership elections and that does not bode well as a sign of “standing” among their colleagues.  However, it does show us that as Milwaukeeans we have to learn to work with our out-state friends to build coalition and consensus.  Milwaukee cannot stand alone, nor can Wisconsin stand without Milwaukee.

Milwaukee is not without its power at the Capitol, however.  The most powerful committee in the Legislature is the Joint Committee on Finance which writes the budget and controls the state’s checkbook.  I have been honored to serve on this committee for two sessions and have been re-appointed by the Senate Majority Leader for this coming session.  Joining me from Milwaukee will be Rep. Tamara Grigsby, and Rep. Pedro Colon.  Together we can do great things for Milwaukee and will be called on to show progressive leadership on our city and state’s budget crisis and policy priorities.

In the Senate, a structure has been built by the Majority Leader, Sen. Russ Decker (D-Weston), to foster success for Democratic priorities.  In that structure, I have been appointed the chairwoman of the Committee on Judiciary, Corrections, Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform, & Housing.  This committee is similar to the one that I have chaired over the last session, but has added some new “jurisdictions” to the committee’s work.  Added is insurance which includes all areas of regulation and oversight over the insurance industry.  Campaign Finance Reform speaks for itself, but includes the important work we will have to do to ensure reform of our Supreme Court elections. 

These new leadership positions and appointments have shown us the new direction our state and country will be taking.  With the right people, the year 2009 should start off on a great note.