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Politics & Government

National Governors Association Aims to Find Common Ground in Milwaukee

Eric Thayer, Getty Images

Gov. Scott Walker won’t be the only governor in Wisconsin later this week, when Milwaukee hosts the annual meeting of the National Governors Association.

It will begin Thursday at the Wisconsin Center. The annual meetings have been going on since 1908.

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tony Earl attended four of them in the 1980s. He says the state leaders usually spent time venting frustration at the federal government.

He recalls the issues of his day. Some sound familiar.

“The federal government was going deeply in debt, all the state governments had to balance their budgets, we’d talk about that and how unfair it was that we were getting burdened with other stuff,” Earl says.

Earl says environmental concerns were also emerging.

”The federal government wasn’t involved and states were doing a lot of stuff on clean air, clean water and the like,” Earl says.

Earl says one person he palled around with at the conferences was former Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. This year, former President Clinton will address the governors.

Earl says he wouldn’t be surprised if Milwaukee sees some of today’s high profile governors such as New Jersey’s Chris Christie or Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal.

Both are mentioned as potential presidential candidates for 2016, along with Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. He will host the event in downtown Milwaukee. It will be mostly a congenial gathering, according to political scientist Charles Franklin.

“To socialize with one another, to get to know each other especially within party and to some extent across party lines as well,” Franklin says.

However, Franklin says the state leaders will talk about common problems they face, even though the governors take different approaches to solving them.

Three issues on this year’s agenda are containing health care costs, maintaining roads and bridges and training workers.

One local group that will attempt to bend ears at the conference is the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. Steve Baas is spokesman.  He says it wants the governors to keep business needs in mind.

“Whether it’s in the area of workforce and talent development, tax or energy or regulatory policy, business around our region really is acutely aware of both the national and international competitive marketplace. We need to make sure that our governors are sensitive to how hard we need to compete and what government can do to remove obstacles,” Baas says.

Baas says members of the MMAC will attend some social events planned for the governors. Those will include trips to Miller Park, Discovery World and Potawatomi Casino.

Demonstrators also intend to be on hand. Groups such as Occupy Milwaukee and Move to Amend are summoning members to downtown Milwaukee. Organizers say they’re upset with Republican governors for subverting the power of the federal government and favoring business interests over the rights of citizens.