Yes, the Cap Times Idea Fest has celebs, but it has much more

By Paul Fanlund, The Cap Times 

As the Cap Times Idea Fest nears, I want to switch from focusing on the big names to emphasizing its depth and breadth.

And we have plenty of each — depth and breadth — that will help inform the weekend’s central theme: “Reach a Better State.” The ticketed event is on the University of Wisconsin campus on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 16-17.

There’s no question that our lineup has notables: three U.S. senators — Tammy Baldwin, Ron Johnson, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar — four-term former Gov. Tommy Thompson and Barry Alvarez, UW athletic director and the godfather of modern Badger athletic success.

One pairing we are really excited about is Marty Baron, top editor of the Washington Post, with David Maraniss, also a Post editor, successful author and a Madison native, in an in-depth conversation about journalism.

But we’d like to highlight the intriguing variety of speakers and panels — fascinating people who are well-known in their professional circles but maybe not yet in yours.

There’s Dan Brown, for example, the executive manager of Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison who will be interviewed in one session about the surprisingly little-known history and culture of his regionally dominant tribe. Another one-on-one will feature Deb Carey, who will share the story of how she created New Glarus Brewing — brewer of the iconic Spotted Cow — and continues to lead it today in small-town New Glarus. We’ll also have a conversation with Gloria Ladson-Billings, a UW education professor who is a nationally renowned authority on the education of children of color.

And while all the panelists have great ideas to share for Wisconsin, you might not think of all of them at first blush as being about public affairs.

A panel about how hip-hop can shape Wisconsin culture, for example, includes Michael Ford, who has brought the sensibility of that genre of music to bear on architecture, leading a “design justice” movement.

Another panel looks at the farm-to-table movement, which had early adopters among restaurateurs here in Madison but which is now shaping how we eat everywhere else. UW Health Executive Chef Ellen Ritter will talk about that along with renowned chefs Tory Miller of L’Etoile fame and Justin Carlisle from Ardent in Milwaukee.

Other panels will have some sharp conversations on, for example, how to talk about race in all of your spaces — I’ll be on that one as will the Rev. Alex Gee of the Justified Anger movement. Another will feature straight talk on what it takes for women to succeed from a panel of women who have done just that, including former gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke and Madison School District elementary schools chief Nancy Hanks.

Several sessions will pose pressing public-affairs questions to panels with diverse points of view. A discussion about reducing opioid abuse, for example, will feature Republican state Rep. John Nygren and Democratic state Sen. Janet Bewley.

Another session looking at the best-case scenario for the state’s economic future will include UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, an economist and former acting U.S. Commerce secretary; Kevin Conroy, chief executive officer of Exact Sciences, a Madison-based health cancer-testing company; Brian Birk, co-founder of the Badger Funds of Funds, a statewide venture capital program endorsed by the Legislature; Kurt Bauer, president and chief executive of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce; and Jack Daniels III, president of Madison College.

That panel typifies the diversity and depth common throughout the two-day event.

On politics, we will have panels on what’s next for progressives in the era of Donald Trump, featuring U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan, Madison Ald. Maurice Cheeks, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign director Matt Rothschild and state Rep. Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point. Then, for Republicans, we pose the question of the GOP’s future under Trump to a panel that features Charlie Sykes, the prominent political analyst and author, and Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty President Rick Esenberg.