Yesterday morning Governor Scott Walker addressed participants in a conference called “New Partnerships: Government and Real Estate” which was sponsored by the UW Graaskamp Center for Real Estate, Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, Wisconsin Department of Commerce, Wisconsin Realtors Association, Wisconsin Bankers Association and M&I Bank. In attendance were scores of property developers, bankers, mortgage brokers, and real estate agents.
Walker’s speech came after the opening plenary session, "The New Regulatory Realities: What Can You Expect?" that featured the Secretary of the WI Department of Financial Institutions, an assistant director of the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the president of the Wisconsin Bankers Association, and a vice president of M&I Bank, all of whom spent their time on the podium complaining about over-regulation and too much paperwork involved with truth in lending requirements.
In his opening remarks, the director of the UW Graaskamp Center for Real Estate, Stephen Malpezzi, displayed a power point slide of a photo of the “sifting and winnowing” plaque on the side of Bascom Hall. He noted that the UW Board of Regents decision from which this is excerpted dealt with the case of Prof. Richard Ely, who was accused of organizing workers to strike in 1894. He went on to say, “People have a right to be heard and we owe it to those with whom we disagree to listen to them,” adding the caveat that some ideas are better than others.
Malpezzi went on to talk about how there are no “silver bullets” to the difficult issues facing society today, and weirdly singled out public education as his example. Out of nowhere, he asserted that there are no “careful studies” that show that class size has any impact on academic achievement whatsoever. Huh? Have the Walton Family and DeVos Foundations added speech writing for real estate professors to their repertoire?
Half way through the opening session, the relentless, rhythmic throbbing of drums and the screeches of air horns and vuvuzuelas penetrated the hushed, formal atmosphere inside the auditorium. As the bankers and developers began to get restless, some decamped to the lobby to see what was afoot. Scores of protesters were picketing on University Ave., holding signs and shouting slogans like, "Housing for the Needy, Not Profits for the Greedy." During the coffee break just before Scott Walker’s speech, a banner with that same slogan was briefly unfurled inside the atrium of the building before the stealth agents were escorted out of the building.
At 11:05am, Walker entered the auditorium to a standing ovation. His speech entitled, “The Current Political Landscape and Its Impact on the Economy” had nothing to do with the topic of the conference, much like Stephen Malpezzi’s bizarre remarks about education. It consisted of a mash-up of ideas about “tools,” “fiscal responsibility,” and “long-term economic stability.”
At several points during this stock speech Walker was forced to ad lib and make reference to the increasingly loud noise levels just outside the auditorium doors on University Ave. and N. Frances St. He brushed off the protesters’ presence, saying that while we may be in a period of “momentary political uncertainty,” he is much more concerned with tackling the unpopular, tough fiscal issues in order to create “long-term economic sustainability and a solid foundation for long-term investment.” This is not the first time Walker has said something to this effect; indeed, it seems to be one of his main talking points. The more I hear it, the more I realize how patently true it is.
What Walker is actually saying with comments like this is that the laws, policies and rules that he and his henchmen are ramming through state government so rapidly are carefully crafted to permanently disable the power of democratic institutions as we have known them, rendering the formal political sphere less relevant to society and to the people who inhabit it. Taken within the context of the legislation that has already passed this session, the vision implied by these and other remarks such as, “I have the mindset of a CEO, not the mindset of a politician,” reveals a nightmarish plan for the people, land, and water resources of Wisconsin.
Walker is making no bones about the fact that he, as CEO, serves at the pleasure of his “shareholders” (campaign contributors), and regards the citizens and resources of the state as little more than productive inputs. Given this frame of reference, this statement seems all the more eerie: “I want to make changes that last for the next generation, not just for the next election.”
Ten minutes into the speech it was nearly impossible for the audience to concentrate on the stream of pre-packaged language pouring out of Walker’s mouth. The 150 conferees were visibly rattled by the disruptive noise; even more so when protesters began pounding on the doors. Without missing a beat, Walker quipped, “That’s opportunity knocking!” as the audience released their tension through nervous laughter and clapping.
Walker took a few questions, including one having to do with the extremely divisive political climate in the state. Ever mindful of his public image, he blamed protesters, “most of them from this campus,” for dividing the state. He challenged people to find a YouTube video of any of his public appearances in which he makes a single utterance of disrespect for teachers. To the contrary, he can be seen heaping praises on them!
Upon the conclusion of Walker’s speech, protesters moved over to the parking garage from which his vehicle would emerge. For a moment, they surrounded his vehicle as it got caught in traffic just outside of Ian’s Pizza. Shouting and pressing signs to the windows, these Wisconsinites had a clear message for Governor Walker. In the words of the Madison band the Kissers: “Scotty, We’re Coming For You!”Wisconsin WaveWisconsin WaveWisconsin Wave