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This Labor Day, let's revive the Wisconsin Idea: Column

4:24 PM, Aug. 30, 2013  |  Comments
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This Labor Day, we urge Wisconsinites from all walks of life to remember that the history of our great state has always been one of progress.

For more than 100 years, courageous women and men fought to expand freedom and opportunity for all Wisconsinites. Progressives at the beginning of the 20th Century challenged bad corporate citizens, known at the time as robber-barons. These bad actors ran roughshod over the state, exploiting workers, hoarding public resources, degrading the state's great natural resources, and bribing politicians at the expense of everyone else.

To restore democracy and freedom, Wisconsin progressives made purposeful investments that empowered generations to work their way up out of poverty to the middle class. These policies embodied the Wisconsin Idea, the notion that Wisconsin should be the "laboratory of democracy, crafting well-constructed legislation aimed at benefiting the greatest number of people."

Unemployment insurance originated from scholars at the University of Wisconsin in 1932, was developed as part of the Wisconsin Idea. Since then it has been one of the most successful poverty reduction programs in the history of our nation, making it possible for workers and their families to stay on their feet economically during their search for a new job.

Sadly, the jobless economic recovery has tested the program, creating a crisis for Wisconsin's long-term unemployed who have been unable to find family-supporting work despite their best efforts.

Rather than following the lead of our forefathers, conservatives in the state Legislature are moving to restrict rather than expand opportunity to unemployed workers by seeking to cut unemployment insurance from 26 weeks to 12 weeks and allow state government to access unemployed people's private bank accounts, treating them like criminals.

This shameful effort to cut unemployment insurance reflects a shift away from shared responsibility, a resurgence of greed by bad corporate actors and a hardline conservative movement that blames workers for the severe shortage of family-supporting jobs.

It's clear that the austerity policies of Gov. Scott Walker and conservative legislators have exacerbated the impact of the Great Recession. Wisconsin is 50th in the nation in short-term job growth, 49th in economic outlook, and 45th in wage growth. Cutting unemployment insurance will only further diminish opportunity and make it harder for working families struggling to get back on their feet to earn a fair shot at the American dream.

This Labor Day, enjoy the beer and brats, but then make a commitment to revive the Wisconsin Idea for future generations. Join the fight to protect unemployment insurance from the conservative assault.

We must rebuild our economy from the ground up, by strengthening the embattled middle class and expanding opportunity to those who strive to someday be middle class. A strong middle class doesn't happen by accident, we create it with the decisions we make together, guided by our shared values. It is time to return to true Wisconsin values.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

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It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports