Monday, December 28, 2020

Lunch with the Governor

Every so often the “Something I’ve Done That You Haven’t” meme floats by on Facebook, and I have to say that I always enjoy it when it does.

People are interesting. Even the ones who you see every day. And when friends start to post the things they’ve done, well, what else can I do but settle in and enjoy?

I do this exercise in every one of my classes as well. As part of the first day “get to know you” exercises I ask my students that same basic question – what is one thing you’ve done that nobody else in the class has done? – and see what comes back. I’m always impressed with the things my students have done, and I hope they are too. I post them (anonymously) throughout the semester, either on the board before class or in an online discussion forum for classes at a distance. No guessing allowed. I once had a student ask me why I did that. “Because your classmates are more than just note-taking lumps in the seats around you and you should know that,” I told him.

The fun part of that meme is realizing how much you have actually done over the course of a life. It often doesn’t seem like you’ve done much of anything, really – just one foot in front of the other, day in and day out. But even the quietest life is interesting, and it’s nice to be reminded of that fact now and then.

I’ve probably posted a lot of those stories here on this blog, but not all of them. Every time I think I’ve completely covered my entire existence and there will be nothing left for any future biographer to do but collate and index, I find that there is more. This is, after all, a nice problem to have.

For example, I once had lunch with the Governor of Wisconsin.

Admittedly, he wasn’t the Governor at the time. But I did have him all to myself for an hour.

This was back when I was teaching at Not Quite So Far Away Campus. I was filling in for another historian who had been bumped up to an administrative position, so not only did I spend three semesters teaching in my field but I got to teach Western Civ II as well, which is a course I enjoy because it gives me license to roam freely over seven hundred years of European and American history and spend an entire class period on Thomas Malthus. Even the commute wasn’t bad, especially since I ended up carpooling with a friend of mine for most of that time. The ride is much easier when there’s two of you.

Tony Evers was the Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction at the time – the equivalent of the Secretary of Education in this state. As such he was a member ex officio of the Board of Regents of the UW System – the only one at the time who had not been foisted off on an unsuspecting public by then-Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries). It was, I’d imagine, a lonely position to be in.

At some point everyone at NQSFA Campus got an email plaintively asking if anyone wanted to have lunch in the campus Commons with a Regent, since they were all coming for a meeting of some kind. I figured “why not?” – I’d never met a Regent before, and as an adjunct instructor I have learned never to turn down a free lunch, particularly one that promised to be as high-quality as something that would be served to the Board of Regents.

So I threw my name in.

Not many people did so they ended up divvying out the Regents to individual faculty and staff, and this is how I found myself alone at a table with Superintendent Evers.

It was, I have to say, a fascinating time. He was a gracious companion and an interesting one. He was also clearly the smartest person in that room, which is saying something in that context. The level of detail and the thoroughness of his ideas was truly impressive – I’ve met very few people who can speak in coherent paragraphs, and he’s one of them. It ended up being one of the highlights of my time at that campus.

And now he’s the Governor.

Of course I voted for him. I would have voted for a two-pound bag of carrots if it meant getting rid of Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries). Give me a chance to vote for someone qualified, humane, and intelligent on top of that? I couldn’t fill out that ballot fast enough.

In a state that wasn’t as criminally gerrymandered as Wisconsin, where the opposition party wasn’t as mindlessly fanatic about maintaining its grip on absolute power at the expense of human decency, common sense, and the lives of the citizens they rule over, he might have had a chance to make some necessary and real improvements here. As it is he does what he can in the face of unthinking ideological resistance, and for that I’m grateful.

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