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Our view: Political civility scores win on Wisconsin farm

Two Democrats and two Republicans were able to do it. All of them Wisconsinites and all of them either out of public office or on their way out, they were able to spend a few hours together in mutual respect this summer, talking, sharing ideas and actually finding common ground.

So there’s hope, even if just a glimmer, that others who don’t always see eye to eye can find a way, too, to be together and to work together, forging compromise for the common good.

“It was an afternoon of beef, beer and bull — all homegrown in Wisconsin,” former Gov. Tommy Thompson said in a statement Thursday after hosting the “Civility Summit” on his farm in the southwestern Wisconsin town of Elroy. “To accomplish great things you have to work together. We’re at our very best when we unite for the people of Wisconsin.”

Thompson, Wisconsin’s longest-serving governor, was joined at the summit by fellow Republican Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center and by Democratic Sens. Tim Cullen of Janesville and Bob Jauch of Poplar. None of the senators are seeking re-election this year.

The Northland’s Jauch, involved in politics for 41 years and elected to statewide offices for 32 years, may have seemed an unlikely participant in the summit after being at the center of partisan politics at its worst in 2011. He was among 14 Senate Democrats who fled the state to delay a vote they didn’t like and knew they wouldn’t win. Wisconsin’s Fleeing Fourteen skipped out on their responsibility as elected leaders and set a bad example about facing problems and dealing with unpleasant situations.

Regardless, on the heels of the gathering with the former governor and the others, Jauch said in a statement, “(Democratic Sen. Cullen) and I … (have) always found ways to be pragmatic with guys like (Republican Gov. Thompson) and (Republican Sen. Schultz). … Over the years we’ve had some arguments, but we all knew we had to put the people of Wisconsin ahead of party and personal interests, and it’s frustrating to see that attitude in short supply today.”

That attitude has been in short supply for some time, frustrating more than anyone else those of us who count on our elected leaders to do what’s right ahead of what may be right for their party.

According to Jauch’s chief of staff Jeff Buhrandt, the summit focused on achieving results, disagreeing while still being civil, and how bipartisan practices of the past can be renewed in today’s fractured political environment. The three senators left vowing to encourage their colleagues to engage in more civil debates and to urge voters to challenge candidates to explain how they have or will practice bipartisanship in office. “Doing so will lead to real results for the people being represented,” Buhrandt wrote.

If former Gov. Thompson and Sens. Schultz, Jauch and Cullen follow through on doing that, then their afternoon of beef, beer and bull will have been time beneficially spent. And if others jump on their bandwagon, then all the better.