Gov. James Doyle (D)
Elected: 2002, term expires Jan. 2011, 2nd term.
Born: Nov. 23, 1945, Washington, DC .
Home: Maple Bluff.
Education: Attended Stanford U. 1963-66, U. of WI, B.A. 1967, Harvard U., J.D. 1972.
Family: Married (Jessica); 2 children.
Elected office: Dane Cnty. D.A., 1976-82; WI atty. gen. 1990-02.
Professional Career: Peace Corps, Tunisia, 1967-69; Atty., Navajo Indian Reservation (Chinle, AZ), 1972-75; Practicing atty., 1982-90.
James Doyle, a Democrat, was elected governor of Wisconsin in 2002. He grew up in Madison in a political family. His parents were part of a group of Madison liberals in the 1950s and 1960s who backed Sen. Gaylord Nelson, Sen. William Proxmire, Gov. Pat Lucey, and Gov. John Reynolds. Doyle’s mother was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1948, the second woman to have the distinction and the fourth generation of her family (the Bachhubers) to serve in the Legislature. His father ran for governor in 1954 and lost the primary to Proxmire; in 1967, he became a federal judge and for years was the only judge in the Western District of Wisconsin. Jim Doyle was a star basketball player and top student in high school, went to Stanford University for three years and then graduated from the University of Wisconsin. With his wife, a niece of former Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, he spent two years in the Peace Corps in Tunisia. Back in the United States, the couple marched in Washington to protest the Vietnam War. Doyle graduated from Harvard Law School, then worked for three years as a lawyer on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona.
|James Doyle (D)||1,139,115||(53%)|
|Mark Green (R)||979,427||(45%)|
|James Doyle (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (45%)
He returned to Madison in 1975 and the following year, ran against and beat Dane County District Attorney Humphrey Lynch, a Democrat. Doyle served for six years, then went into private practice in Madison. In 1990, he ran for attorney general and defeated the incumbent Republican. His most publicized accomplishment was the state’s $6 billion tobacco settlement, but he was criticized for paying the state’s lawyers $847 million in fees for the case. Ed Garvey, a Democrat who had run for governor, sued and got the fee blocked.
Republican Tommy Thompson, long the dominant figure in state politics and the author of the changes in welfare laws that became a model for the nation, left Madison in January 2001 after 14 years as governor to become President George W. Bush’s secretary of Health and Human Services. When Lt. Gov. Scott McCallum took over, he was faced with more serious budget problems than Thompson had faced in many years and proposed cuts of $1 billion in aid to local governments over three years. The move was unpopular, and McCallum’s job rating fell to about 35% in spring 2002. Four Democrats lined up to run against him, including Doyle, who was endorsed by Nelson, former Gov. Martin Schreiber and Lucey, who had managed his father’s campaign for governor. Doyle started off much better known than his two major Democratic rivals, U.S. Rep. Tom Barrett of Milwaukee and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. The Democratic candidates avoided negative campaigning; their ads were mostly positive. Doyle’s showed his two grown sons, who are adopted and of African-American descent, praising him. He won the September primary.
Doyle came out of primary night swinging at McCallum. “He’s living proof that not all on-the-job training programs are successful,” he said. He promised to cut $1 billion from the budget by reducing the number of state employees and attacked McCallum for spending the state’s entire tobacco settlement on balancing a single year’s budget. McCallum, who emerged from the primary with three times as much money as Doyle, ran an ad showing a messy desk and spilled coffee and attacked Doyle for missing deadlines while doing the state’s legal business. McCallum said he would balance the budget through revenue growth and said Doyle had promised teachers’ unions and other groups programs that would cost $2.7 billion on top of an anticipated $2.8 billion shortfall. Into the fray stepped a third candidate, Libertarian nominee and Tomah, Wis., Mayor Ed Thompson, Tommy Thompson’s brother. In public polls Doyle held a slight lead, McCallum never seemed to rise above his lackluster job ratings, and Thompson ran in the high single digits. In November, Doyle beat McCallum 45%-41%, with 10% going to Ed Thompson. Doyle’s narrow win was accompanied by Republican gains in legislative races. Republicans won control of the state Senate 18-15 and enlarged their Assembly majority to 58-41.
In office, Doyle faced a $3.2 billion deficit, but working with Republican legislators, he was able to balance the budget without increasing sales, income or corporate taxes. A tax on job creation was eliminated, and a single-tax formula based on corporate sales established. So was a sales-tax exemption for the cost of energy used in manufacturing. Doyle declared that taxes as a percentage of income were the lowest they’d been in Wisconsin in 34 years. In December 2004, he cut state employment by 1,500, a little below his goal. He also sought to increase Wisconsin’s trade with China, Japan and Mexico.
Wisconsin’s governor has broad and quirky veto powers, collectively known as the “Frankenstein veto” because the governor can stitch together major alterations in bills by striking particular words and phrases. Doyle regularly used the power against a Republican Legislature eager to advance its agenda. He vetoed 54 bills in his first session and 47 in the 2005-2006 session. He twice vetoed bills allowing residents to carry concealed weapons and was just one vote away from being overridden. He vetoed three times a bill requiring voters to show a photo ID, arguing that senior citizens often have a hard time producing identification. But he signed the Real ID bill, which requires those applying for driver’s licenses to show proof of local residency. And he supported a bill to raise the cap on enrollment in Milwaukee’s school-choice program and another to cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases at $750,000.
In January 2005, facing a two-year projected deficit of $1.6 billion, Doyle again came out against a tax increase and proposed increasing school aid while holding down property-tax increases. Republicans wanted a freeze on school spending. Doyle threatened to veto the entire two-year $54 billion budget that Republicans had approved because it gave him less than half of the additional $938 million he had sought for school spending. Instead he made creative use of his line-item veto authority to bring the bill more closely in line with his priorities. He made 139 separate changes that redirected $360 million in other funding to boost school spending by $861 million while still placing limits on property-tax increases.
Despite his successes with a Legislature controlled by the opposition, Doyle was unable to move his approval ratings above 50%. That seemed to leave him vulnerable in 2006 to a challenge by U.S. Rep. Mark Green, who had traveled the state stumping for Assembly candidates in 2004 and began the governor’s race by transferring $1.3 million from his federal account. Green ran on an anti-tax platform and said he would limit state spending. Doyle portrayed himself as a problem solver who had cleaned up the problems created by Republican administrations. An energetic supporter of the University of Wisconsin’s pioneering embryonic-stem-cell research, Doyle made Green’s votes against such research a central line of attack. Actor Michael J. Fox, afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, appeared in an ad for Doyle just before Election Day.
Republicans tried reminding voters about the state procurement official who had been found guilty of steering travel contracts to Doyle contributors (she was later exonerated) and about Doyle appointees who had approved the sale of a nuclear power plant the same month the plant’s owners donated to Doyle’s campaign. But Green ran into his own fundraising conflicts when the state elections board ordered him to return nearly $470,000 from out-of-state political action committees that he had transferred from his federal campaign account. The Republican Legislature placed same-sex marriage and death-penalty initiatives on the November ballot, raising the prospect of increased conservative voter turnout. But Doyle won 53%-45%, becoming the first Democratic governor in over 30 years to win re-election in Wisconsin. Democrats also won four seats in the state Senate to claim an 18-15 majority and picked up eight seats in the Assembly to narrow the Republican majority to a 52-47 margin.
In 2007, Doyle achieved one of his central goals when the Legislature agreed to expand the BadgerCare Plus health-care program to cover all of the state’s uninsured children. It also went along with his proposals to increase the state cigarette tax by $1 per pack and to add millions of dollars in new funding for schools, universities and student financial aid. Still, Doyle had some setbacks. The 2007 budget was passed in October, four months late and barely in time to avoid a statewide government shutdown. Doyle ended up compromising with Assembly Republicans and accepted a reduction in his cigarette tax from $1.25 to $1 a pack. He also jettisoned his proposals to place new taxes on oil companies and on hospitals. The budget still came in $892 million too high. Doyle promised to balance it by using his Frankenstein veto but promised to refrain from using that power as much as he had on previous budgets. Doyle had also pushed a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and other businesses. The Legislature did not pass it during that session, although it was adopted two years later, in May 2009.
The 2008 elections proved beneficial for Doyle. Democrats took over the state Assembly, gaining a 52-46 margin of control, and kept a majority in the Senate. An early supporter of President Barack Obama’s candidacy in 2008, Doyle was rumored to be a contender for a Cabinet position, but no offer came. He was a vocal supporter of Obama’s $787 million economic-stimulus bill, which passed in February 2009, and was one of a group of six Democratic governors who successfully pushed to have the bill include funds for state education and health-care programs in addition to the money for infrastructure.
Shortly after the election, it became clear that the state faced a projected three-year budget shortfall of more than $5 billion. In February 2009, Doyle called for a bill to raise taxes by $1.7 billion over three years, with a planned 10% increase in business taxes by 2011 and with a revised version of his hospital tax. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature just three days after he released his proposals, with every Republican in opposition and nearly every Democrat in support. Then in May, revised revenue estimates showed the budget shortfall to be closer to $6.5 billion. Doyle found himself making more unpopular decisions. He told state legislators they had to either back his proposal to lay off 1,100 state workers and furlough many others or propose their own tax hikes. He called for additional taxes on cigarettes and for an overhaul of the welfare system that would loosen some of the restrictions on access that Gov. Thompson had instituted in the early 1990s.
In 2009, Doyle also met with Republican Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to work out a pooling of resources that would help both states meet their budget shortfalls. The two governors agreed to a series of small plans that would save each state approximately $10 million. This is not the first time the two states have worked together on “Minnesconsin” projects. They already have reciprocity agreements for in-state college tuition. Doyle’s other proposed initiatives included the creation of domestic-partnership benefits for same-sex couples and a requirement that health-insurance companies cover autism treatments. That June, Doyle signed into law a bill requiring equal pay for women. He has been coy about running for re-election in 2010, but most observers expect him to do so. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican, announced his candidacy for governor in 2009.