Listen Up! By John Wiley

Okay, Guv, I didn’t vote for you. You didn’t sound all that promising, so I voted for Tom Barrett, even though he didn’t seem all that promising, either. I lost. We all lost. This is what democracy looks like? Sad thought.

You didn’t ask me for advice, and you don’t strike me as someone who cares about other people’s experience and insights. But I’ll take this opportunity to spit in the ocean and give you some advice anyway.

Take time, starting today, to listen to the people who put you where you are.

Listen to the people who cut your hair, unclog your toilet, change your light bulbs, drive you to your events, protect your family, cut your grass, answer your phones, fix your car, sell you clothes, bag your groceries, deliver your papers, plow the streets and monitor the safety of the water you drink (unless you do that yourself).

The next time you pass a construction site, think about who is building Wisconsin’s future. Listen to the people pouring the concrete, welding the support beams, wiring the future and checking that it is all done safely.

Listen to Wisconsin’s teachers and nurses. Ask them why they decided to do these difficult jobs instead of things they surely could have done for lots more money.

Ask the people in the “unruly mobs” outside the Capitol why they take time out of their lives to be there, and what they are so upset about.

If you get lots of different answers, think about it: Don’t demonize them for being “unfocused.” Instead, realize that they have so many legitimate complaints that they hardly know where to start. With a couple of different breaks, you would be one of them.

Guv, I didn’t say, “Talk to them.” I said, “Listen to them.” They don’t need two words from you, unless those words are “I’m sorry.”

When I retire, in a couple of months (after nearly forty years on the state payroll, the last twenty in high-level positions), I’ll be watching future events in Wisconsin—probably from another state.

I’ll keep in mind that people get what they vote for and deserve what they get. They voted for you. They put their hopes in you. Sad but true.

Prove me wrong. Surprise us. Just listen.

John Wiley is a former UW–Madison chancellor.

READ MORE:

Unsolicited Advice: What Would You Tell the Governor?

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