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Eye on the

 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinFebruary 11, 2005 Issue 

Divided government means action will take cooperation

Both parties in legislature or the governor and legislature will have to work together

By John Huebscher

photo of John Huebscher
John Huebscher

For the next two years, Wisconsin will continue its recent tradition of "divided government" in which Republicans and Democrats share power. Only proposals that have bipartisan support will become laws.

This will happen in one of two ways. One way is for the Republican majority in the legislature and Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle to agree on the issue at hand. Another way is if enough Democrats join Republicans to pass a bill by a two-thirds majority, sufficient to override the Governor's veto.

In such an environment, both parties will strive to convince the press and public that their ideas are the most reasonable. One measure of such reasonableness is the degree to which legislators in the other party support it. Thus, bipartisan coalitions will be desired commodities this legislative session.

Not all such coalitions are the same. Some will be more meaningful than others.

The ultimate coalition is unanimity. Some bills will pass with no opposition or only one or two "No" votes. These bills will usually be of a technical nature or address an issue on which there is little or no difference of opinion.

Other coalitions, in which several legislators in the minority party will join the majority, cover a narrower range of the spectrum. This often happens on a budget bill if a member of the minority party can get funding for a pet project or small program that does not incur the objection of the majority. Such bipartisan coalitions will produce a majority but generally fall well short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto.

The more significant bipartisan coalitions are those that command a majority of both parties. Such coalitions are generally "centrist" and represent genuine compromise in the sense that neither party gets all it wants.

A tell-tale sign of such compromises is that while most legislators of both parties support the compromise, some in each party do not. Generally, though not always, the dissenters will include the more liberal Democrats and the more conservative Republicans.

A Governor will be much more likely to sign a bill passed by such a "centrist" coalition that includes a "veto proof" two-thirds majority in both houses. Even support that falls just short of a two-thirds vote will be hard to resist, if it has genuinely solid backing from both sides of the aisle.

Proposals that have broad support are not always wise. But if they command the agreement of large numbers of Democrats and Republicans, they are more likely to reflect genuine concern for a broad array of interests in the society. To the extent they do, these proposals are also more likely to further the "common good" which the Catechism defines as "the sum total of social conditions that allow people, as groups or as individuals to reach their fulfillment..."

When told a plan is good because it has bipartisan support, citizens might find it helpful to assess the make up of that bipartisanship as they form their own opinion on the matter.

(Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the civil arm of the state's five diocesan bishops.)

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