The Wisconsin Legislature used to be full of Dale Schultzes. Now he is a rare bird, hunted by a mob of his political genus if not his species. If he seeks reelection, he will face a primary challenge. His sin? Being what almost all Wisconsin Republicans were in the not-so-distant past.
I first encountered Dale Schultz in the early 1980s when he and another senator-to-be, Brian Rude, were aides to Senator Dan Theno, a Lake Superior-area Republican. I got to know Theno and his staff because the state assembly district of my boss, Representative June Jaronitzky, was nested in Theno's senate district. Our offices were in regular contact because of the overlap of constituencies.
I had not seen or heard of Theno in years, before noticing a letter to the editor he wrote last month expressing opposition to the expansion of Wisconsin's private school voucher program on the grounds that handing out the public's money to help a few families pay private school tuition is an inappropriate government entitlement that also will inevitably lead to state interference in the operation of private schools. A classically Republican take on the issue; at least it was a Republican take until unthinking support for vouchers became a GOP litmus test.
When I was an assembly aide for two legislative sessions, staffing at the Capitol was considerably thinner than it is today. State representatives shared aides. I worked not only for Jaronitzky, but also Bob Larson, a moderate from Medford, and Earl Schmidt, an old-school conservative from Birnamwood who went on to become a circuit court judge.
Because Jaronitzky represented northwoods communities blessed with scenic beauty and not much else and thus heavily reliant on the tourism industry, she worked on legislation curbing acid rain and backed a statewide phosphate ban. Most notably, she became the first Republican lawmaker to join Madison's Mary Lou Munts in pushing for marital property reform. In the weeks leading up to passage of that landmark legislation, I was June's emissary at daily strategy sessions with Munts and women's rights advocates.
Several years after I left the Capitol staff corps, it occurred to me that I was Jaronitzky's only aide and worked for her for two legislative sessions and I never knew her position on abortion. She didn't wear it on her sleeve, and it wasn't a litmus test the way it is today. There were pro-choice Republicans and pro-life Democrats. Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!
Perhaps Larson's proudest achievement was teaming with fellow Norwegian and then-Assembly Speaker Tom Loftus to carve out an exemption for lutefisk in a bill creating tougher regulation of toxic substances including lye, which is instrumental in the making of the Norwegian delicacy. Larson's real passion was daily card games with fellow legislators like Dave Paulson and Brownie Byers.
Schmidt was less gregarious than his officemate Larson. He was studious, serious, with an eye for the fine print in laws. A judge in training.
None of them liked Democrats much, but they all could work with them. Like Dale Schultz can. The Capitol was full of Dale Schultzes back then, and it is a much worse place today now that he sticks out like a sore thumb.