Act One of what appears to be a very long drama will soon be over. It began with the presentation of a Rorschach-like document, New Badger Partnership Plan, to which audience members, somewhat magically, were able to project whatever values, aspirations and ambitions- including pay increases- that they desired. Later, a new more ominous character, the Public Authority, entered the scene, played by the Governor with (or without depending on who is recounting the story) the collaboration of the Chancellor. This character had an inherent element of villainy and was less well-liked by many observers.
In Scene III, the somewhat vague and inept but well-known character, The System, entered the drama. At first, The System was content with a heated denunciation of the Chancellor and the Plan. Later, finding there was considerable support for much of the substance of the Madison campus’s grievances against the System among most of its other constituent campuses; it came up with an alternative proposal- the WIP. Much like the protagonist, the System and its machinations could not reach a critical level of support or sympathy but nonetheless exceeded all expectations in effectively presenting itself as a worthy antagonist.
As these scenes come to a close, it appears that the legislature has little interest in any of the characters or their oddly named plans and programs. Indeed, not even the Governor has expressed interest or support for his own plan- the Public Authority. It is likely that many of the University-related provisions in the budget may be removed from the budget next week when the Joint Finance Committee completes its version. After all, the Joint Finance Committee has something much more important to do: KEEP CONTROL OF THE SENATE.
While the legislature appears to focus on legislation in the last few weeks, it is actually fixated on ONE THING: the RECALL elections. Everything that comes before them is examined through the lens of the upcoming (now July 12th) elections. That’s less than two months. A change in three seats would give control to the Democrats and end the implementation of the conservative agenda. Senate Republicans who now chair committees would have to move to smaller offices, have fewer staff and might as well have unlisted phone numbers.
As such, legislation that does not have to pass (e.g. a UW Public Authority) will not be addressed. Items that are critical to the conservative agenda will be rushed through: end of collective bargaining, Voter ID, repeal of environmental protections, etc. Those items where the political benefit is either difficult to discern or negative will be either jettisoned or put on the shelf for a later day.
We may find ourselves in the midst of a very long intermission as the various characters sort themselves out. During the intermission, will the adversaries, Reilly and Martin come to an agreement? Or will Reilly’s supporting cast, the Regents, find that they don’t want to lose any of their authority and would rather keep things just as they are? But if Reilly cannot make a deal, does he find himself out of a job in two years? If so, what options are left for Reilly? Or Martin? Will she reappear in the Second Act or will she decide that this play is not what she really wants after all?
All of this aside, the important question for us is this:
Shall we be spectators or actors in the drama to come?
In Act 1, to the great frustration of many, we had little ability to take part in the real-life decision-making of the University. The debate and its attendant struggle on the future of the University will continue after the July elections. Legislation will be introduced that will have a profound effect on employees, students and the institution. Walker will continue to seek meaningful control of Madison, if not the System. How can we play a significant role? What are the options? What needs to happen to move us, collectively, from the balcony to the stage?