A Primary That Mattered

March 20, 2012

Rarely have Wisconsin presidential primaries played a decisive role in the selection of a nominee. The primary of 1960, with Hubert H. Humphrey versus John F. Kennedy, was different.

Baby boomers remember Hubert Humphrey as a talkaholic stooge for Lyndon Johnson’s failing Vietnam War policy and the loser in the 1968 presidential race, but there is more to his story.

Hubert Humphrey in Wisconsin, 1960. (Courtesy, Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Ass'n.)

He vaulted to national prominence—as did Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—by way of a speech at the Democratic National Convention. Humphrey was the thirty-seven year-old Mayor of Minneapolis when he took the podium in 1948. Conventions actually conducted serious political business in those days and Humphrey rose to speak in favor of the minority plank on civil rights in the party platform.

The majority on the platform committee had recommended that the Democrats continue to close their eyes to the reign of racial discrimination, segregation and out right terror in the southern states, as well as the slightly milder forms of all three in the north, that had helped them win national elections for decades.

Humphrey stood up and said it was time “for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights!” The delegates responded by voting in favor of the minority plank calling for federal laws against lynching,  an end to segregation in public schools and a halt to job discrimination based on race.

Delegates from several southern states stormed out of the hall, organized their own Dixiecrat Party, and nominated South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond for president. Some Democrats feared the loss of conservative southerners would doom President Harry Truman’s chances for re-election. Instead, he gained more than enough African-American voters to make up for it.

Humphrey himself won his race for the U.S. Senate that year. As the 1960 election appeared on the horizon he was, if not the frontrunner, arguably the first among equals.

In Wisconsin he was known as our “third senator.” By comparison, John F. Kennedy was a stranger from New England. Fewer states had primaries in 1960 than today, and Wisconsin’s was one of the earliest, which made it more important than it would be in later years. If Kennedy could beat Humphrey in the Minnesotan’s back yard, he would hurt his leading rival and establish himself as a national candidate.

Humphrey was the favorite of the liberal-progressive wing of the Wisconsin party, of most African-American, rural and union labor voters, and of non-Catholics. Kennedy appealed to more conservative voters, including Republican crossover voters in the Fox River Valley, where his family’s connections to Senator Joseph McCarthy weighed in his favor. A heavy majority of the forty percent of Wisconsinites who identified as Catholics was also on his side.

Well-aware of his oratorical abilities, Humphrey challenged Kennedy to debate the issues. Kennedy refused, relying on his well-stocked campaign chest for media buys, photogenic family members who toured the state, and his own “charisma,” a political attribute that was little spoken of in Wisconsin or elsewhere until the 1960 campaign.

Kennedy’s combine of cash, cousins and charm made Humphrey feel like “an independent merchant up against a chain store.”

John Kennedy on his charm campaign, 1960. (Courtesy, Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Ass'n.)

The turnout was the largest of the postwar years. Kennedy scored 476,000 votes to Humphrey’s 366,753. The Minnesotan stayed in the race for the West Virginia primary, which he lost by an even larger margin and where Kennedy proved that he could win an election in a state with a predominately non-Catholic electorate.

The 1960 primary was the only election John Kennedy won in Wisconsin. In the November general election, a majority of Wisconsin’s voters, and our state’s electoral votes, went to Richard Nixon.

Ten Years and a Thousand Miles

September 10, 2011

According to Mapquest, my office on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus lies 937 miles west of Ground Zero, 846 miles northwest of the Pentagon, and 840 miles from the crash site of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. Ten years and nearly a thousand miles away seems so far in space and time. So while I was counting years and miles, I assembled some numbers to give clarity to my own connection to a somber anniversary.

Ten years ago we often heard that the September 11 attacks, which claimed 2,977 victims, brought Americans together as a nation. We gathered, we prayed, and we wept. We didn’t know how else to help, so we waited in lines to donate blood. (The Journal of the American Medical Association reported a 2- to 3-fold increase in donations in the first week after the attacks.) We bought American flags. (The dollar value of imported U.S. flags peaked at $51.7 million in 2001, up from $747,800 the previous year, according to the Flag Manufacturers Association of America). We stood overwhelmingly behind our president. (Gallup polls show that George Bush’s approval rating spiked–from 51% to 90%–in the weeks following September 11.)

Since then, presidential approval ratings have never equaled 2001 levels. President Bush’s ratings dipped to a low of 25%, while his successor Barack Obama’s high and low are 69% and 38%, respectively. This year Congress’ approval rating bottomed-out at 13% twice.  Americans are cynics when it comes to media bias and news stories, too:  Pew Research Center reported in 2009 that “just 29% of Americans say that news organizations generally get the facts straight,”  a two-decade low.

As of last month, 6,230 American servicemembers have died in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and related conflicts around the world. This is according to USA Today’s website, which had the most recent tally I could find. Reports on the number of civilian casualties in Iraq vary widely, but estimates I found begin at around 100,000 deaths since 2003. Pinning down the number of casualties in Afghanistan is a more dizzying exercise, with no single official figure in existence. I can credibly report that thousands of Afghans have died since 2001 as a result of war in their country.

Of the American casualties, 115 soldiers came from Wisconsin. As a university employee, I get email alerts from the governor’s office regarding the status of the state flag. I estimate I’ve received 17 of these solemn messages in my tenure as PortalWisconsin.org’s project manager. They inform me when flags at the Capitol are flown at half-staff, as a mark of respect for a Wisconsin citizen who died serving his or her country.

Here is the story of one:

And here are the faces of many.

More personally, two of my family members served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. One of them returned home, safe and sound.


I’ve lost track of how many times in these ten years I’ve watched video of the towers falling, but seeing the smoke, the rubble and the bodies never fails to put a lump in my throat. Yesterday my 14-year-old son watched television coverage of the September 11th terrorist attacks at his school–from the initial impact of American Airlines Flight 11 at the north tower to its stunning collapse. Remarkably,  it was the first time he’d viewed the footage, and the experience clearly moved him. The conversation between us last night comforted me: my son, alert, compassionate, and somehow able to put 9/11 into the context of tragedy everywhere; and me, struggling to make sense of the numbers swirling in my head. Maybe we all need to listen more closely to the kids.


This weekend in Wisconsin, communities are offering numerous opportunities to gather in observance of the September 11 attacks. I counted 18 on PortalWisconsin.org’s calendar alone. Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio will broadcast performances and ceremonies throughout the day; if you’d prefer to gather, please see what we have listed for your area.

One event I recommend is the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters’ Perspectives on a Post 9/11 World, taking place all Sunday afternoon at the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison (video of the talks will be available online at a later date). The Wisconsin Academy has a reputation for presenting clear-headed, nonpartisan public discourse around issues important to Wisconsin residents. Its series of three free public talks on Sunday will address U.S. military operations since 9/11, attitudes towards Islam and American citizenship, and how art can help us understand tragedy.

I’m especially looking forward to what the artists have to say.

–Tammy Kempfert


With Music In Its Soul, Wisconsin Went To War

April 8, 2011

Michael Goc

The credit scandal and recession that had felled the economy three years previous had eased but the manufacturing, financial and real estate sectors were still lagging.

The Republicans had swept into office at the last election, taking the governor’s office and gaining commanding majorities in both houses of the Wisconsin legislature.

The party’s vehement opposition to the Democratic administration in Washington had brought national attention to the state and its aggressive young governor, Alexander Randall.

News from Washington had been troubling for months and, as the winter of 1860 warmed into the spring of April 1861, the national crisis worsened.

On April 12, word reached Madison that armed forces of the state of South Carolina were firing on United States troops and on the American flag at Fort Sumter. The news arrived the same day it occurred, thanks to the latest innovation in communication technology—the telegraph.

On April 14, the receiver tapped out the message that the U.S. Army had surrendered Sumter to the Carolinians.

On April 15, President Abraham Lincoln, in office for only six weeks, issued his proclamation calling on the states to raise 75,000 troops to suppress the rebellion and “cause the laws to be duly executed.”

In Madison, a crowd gathered outside the Capitol, along with two companies of Wisconsin militia men who paraded around the Square. Inside the Capitol, the Republicans isolated themselves in the governor’s offices to discuss how to respond to the President’s appeal. The Democrats held their own caucus in another room.

Second Wisconsin State Capitol

Wisconsin Capitol, 1860.

About nine o’clock at night, the Democrats came to the Republicans and said that they all wanted to work with the majority party “in defense of the country and the restoration of the principles of our National Constitution.” The Republicans welcomed them warmly.

The next day they went to work—together—and agreed to raise and equip all the troops the President required and borrow several million dollars (in 2011 money) to equip and pay them.

The session lasted until April 18. On that final day, while waiting for the Assembly to finish some work, the Senate went into recess. As they milled around their desks and out in the hall, one of the Senators started to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Soon the other thirty Senators joined in.  By the time the Senators finished the first chorus, they were joined in singing by ninety-some voices from the Assembly meeting across the hall.

The legislators continued and the song was taken up by spectators and workers in the Capitol. It spread outside to the militia men, as well as women and children in the Square, until several hundred people—inside and out—were singing the anthem.

“Everyone, whether possessed of music in his soul or not, did his utmost to do justice to the song.”

Then the legislature adjourned and, along with the citizens on the Square, shouted  cheers “that shook the building,” for the militia and the flag.

With music in its soul, Wisconsin went to war.

Source: E.B. Quiner, The Military History of Wisconsin, 1866.


You are cordially invited

May 13, 2010

For those who haven’t heard, LZ Lambeau is coming to Green Bay beginning May 21.

Presented in real life stories, art exhibits, artifacts and song, LZ Lambeau is part history lesson, part welcome home party, and all overdue acknowledgment for Wisconsin’s Vietnam veterans. It gets its name from the landing zones that Vietnam veterans were often deployed to and, of course, from the iconic Wisconsin venue in which the event will take place. With the exception of a special tribute ceremony Saturday night, all events are free to the general public. (For Vietnam vets, the ceremony is free, too.)

I think Wisconsin’s vets explain LZ Lambeau best, though:

In another promo I watched recently on YouTube, Wisconsin Vietnam War veterans explained why they hope their contemporaries attend next week’s event.  Near the end of the spot, one veteran says, “Just to be around guys and gals who have the same ghosts that you do — don’t have to talk about ’em — but just to be amongst them people will be very rewarding for you. And that will be the beginning of your healing process.”

His statement gives the rest of us good reason to attend as well:  40 years after many Wisconsin men and women returned from service in Vietnam, and veterans are talking about beginning the healing process.  It’s about time.

LZ Lambeau was inspired by interviews conducted for the upcoming Wisconsin Vietnam War Stories, airing on Wisconsin Public Television May 24, 25 and 26. LZ Lambeau is a partnership of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, the Wisconsin Historical Society and Wisconsin Public Television, along with an extensive group of veterans organizations statewide.

In support of the event, Wisconsin Public Radio has created a Web page collecting the station’s Vietnam War and LZ Lambeau-related stories. Listen to them at wpr.org/lzlambeau.

–Tammy Kempfert


Comfort in a Centennial

May 21, 2009

Wisconsin’s budget shortfall sags past $6 billion. Home foreclosures and unemployment rates rise, retail sales and tourism fall. University tuition goes up, job prospects for graduates go down. Our schools cut programs and staff, but demand for a better educated work force grows. By all accounts, we face the most serious economic crisis since the 1930s.

So why am I sitting in the visitor’s gallery of the Wisconsin Assembly to show support for a resolution heralding the centennial of the first airplane to fly in Wisconsin. You would think–actually, you’d know–that the legislature has a mountain-high pile of more serious matters to consider. Yet here I am, part of a group of men and women, members of the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame, who care about the history of aviation in our state. We rise and wave when Representative Gary Hebl of Madison introduces the resolution, each paragraph starting with a “whereas” that explains and justifies why the measure merits the time and attention of the people’s representatives in these parlous times.


On November 4, 1909, an inventive and prosperous businessman from Beloit named Arthur  P. Warner, made the first successful flight of an airplane in Wisconsin. He had purchased a newly-built flying machine from Glenn Curtiss, the New Yorker who, in 1908, designed and built the second American airplane that could fly.

Arthur Warner was the first American to buy an airplane. It cost $6,000 in 1909 money but he could afford it. When he took it out to a farm field on the outskirts of Beloit and flew it, without any training or experience flying anything, he became the eleventh American to pilot an airplane. Not only did he get the Curtiss Pusher, as it was known, into the air, Warner also landed without breaking his neck. He made seven or eight flights that day, soaring about one-quarter mile as the crow flies and all of fifty feet off the ground–about the same as the Wright Brothers on their breakthrough flight in 1903.

Arthur Warner introduced Wisconsin to aviation. As historians of flight, we in the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame, thought this event worthy of celebration statewide and we will be celebrating this summer. We’ll be touring the state with an exhibit featuring a beautifully crafted quarter-scale model of Warner’s plane. It was on display in the Capitol as the resolution was discussed and will be back again in a few months. We’ll celebrate in Beloit on November 4 with an re-enactment of Warner’s flight and on November 7 with a lecture at Beloit College delivered by Dr. Tom Crouch, Senior Curator of  Aeronautics at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

While we watched, the Assembly passed our resolution declaring November, 2009 as the Centennial of Flight Month in Wisconsin. It did not cost the taxpayers anything–except for time and effort expended by Representative Hebl and his staff. It was recognition, the kind of recognition of our interests that we citizens expect from our representatives. In this case the item recognized was a cheerful landmark of accomplishment. Progress made. A new age begun. We know the cliches.

Yet there is comfort in these cliches. We face a colossal crisis but we tend to matters of seemingly minor significance. We ask our elected representatives to do the same and we all find comfort there.

–Michael Goc

Meet George Tzougros

May 13, 2009

When politicians, pundits and government watchdogs use appropriations for the arts and education in the same sentence as “pork,” I first want to debate the meaning of the term “government pork.”

Then, I want to introduce them to the Wisconsin Arts Board‘s Executive Director, George Tzougros. Who better than he to explain why investing in the arts and arts education pays off  for Wisconsin communities? Now, thanks to Arts Midwest, YouTube and the Portal Wisconsin blog, I can.

So, politicians and pundits, meet George Tzougros.

Next, meet Sue Martinsen. Up north in Ashland, Wis., she has embarked on a decade-long mission of bringing revenue to her community through the arts.  The mural artist and businesswoman says she concocted the idea for an Ashland Mural Walk after watching tourists pull over to view Ashland’s first historic mural (completed in 1998),  take a snapshot, get back inside their cars and speed off to their intended destinations. With the Mural Walk, now twelve murals strong, Ms. Martinsen’s goal is to make Ashland the intended destination.

“I make no bones about it,” she says. “These murals are about getting people to come to Ashland, shop in Ashland, vacation in Ashland, move to Ashland, work in Ashland. It’s all about Ashland. It’s about jobs and commerce.”

The Asaph Whittlesey mural painted by Kelly Meredith and Sue Martinsen was Ashland's first of twelve mural projects.

This mural, the first of 12 painted by Kelly Meredith and Sue Martinsen, depicts Ashland's founder.

Ashland is not alone in recognizing the relationship between art businesses, education and community prosperity. The Web pages at PortalWisconsin.org are filled with stories of arts and culture organizations that serve as economic anchors for their neighborhoods–the sea of dots you see on Mr. Tzougros’ map land in Menomonie, Milwaukee, Hollandale and places too numerous to mention.

Still, with all the talk about bridges to nowhere and three million dollar projectors, even as Americans continue to lose jobs and homes, it’s no wonder many are angry about what they see as government waste. Unprecedented federal spending proposals have ramped up the squabbling, with accusations aimed in every direction. Republicans and Democrats alike promise theirs will be the party to provide greater transparency in the legislative spending process:  “I will make them famous and you will know their names,” John McCain famously said of lawmakers who insert earmarks into federal legislation.

We should know their names, I think. As citizens, we should be frugal, vigilant and skeptical. But let’s not confuse sound investment in communities with wasteful spending. As a statement released by the National Endowment for the Arts reads, “the arts and culture industry is a sector of the economy just like any other with workers who pay taxes, mortgages, rent and contribute in other ways to the economy.”

Remember one person’s pork may be another’s bread and butter.

At the Arts Board Web site, artists and others can find a “Toolkit for the Economic Crisis.” Meanwhile, please watch for more about the ongoing Ashland Mural Walk project in PortalWisconsin.org’s feature section later this month.

–Tammy Kempfert

The 4 P’s

March 28, 2009

A while ago, I watched Jeremi Suri’s Academy Evening presentation, “The Past and Future of American International Leadership,” online at PortalWisconsin.org’s digital library.

Professor Jeremi Suri

Professor Jeremi Suri

Suri is a much-celebrated professor of history at the UW-Madison, who appeared at UW-Fox Valley last October to “unpack” the American international successes of the past. His research has led him to distill four qualities–or as he calls them, four “lessons of effective, enlightened and enduring American policy, to help us move forward,” nicely alliterated for our mnemonic convenience: prosperity, partnership, prudence and power.

A lot has changed in the five months since Suri addressed the Menasha audience. We emerged from what seemed like an interminable election cycle with the country’s first African American president. Nations around the world, in response to America’s crumbling economy, have struggled correspondingly. Unemployment and home foreclosure rates have soared, while the Dow tumbled. Words like stimulus, deficit and bailout–and acronyms like TARP and AIG–became part of our daily vocabulary, and numbers like billions and trillions became our reality. International turmoil continued to fester. Sasha and Malia got a puppy.

Professor Suri is scheduled to give his talk again next week, this time in Madison. Given the newer context, the ongoing political developments and the economic intricacies, I expect him to be as fascinating in March as he was in October. Real tests of some of his assertions loom closer than ever.

For brevity, I’ll indulge myself with just one more quote from Suri’s October Academy Evening–in reference to the third P, prudence. He says that a component of exercising the caution and wisdom essential to effective leadership lies in recognizing the “virtues of inconsistency:”

To me inconsistency is like sailing on a lake. You’re constantly adjusting to what’s going on–you still know about where you want to go, right? But any good sailor does not know exactly how they’re going to sail. You have to adjust to the wind, you have to tack back and forth … There’s a virtue in being able to adapt, to understand your conditions, to listen and watch and adjust, with still some sense of where you want to go.

I love a good analogy.

You can catch Jeremi Suri’s Academy Evening presentation this coming Tuesday, March 31, 7:00-8:30 p.m., at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Academy Evenings are free forums offered by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters to encourage public engagement with the state’s prominent artists and scholars. For those unable to attend, the Academy offers a variety of ways to watch or listen to these talks. Learn more here.

Finally, here’s a link to Suri’s book: Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Detente.

–Tammy Kempfert