Fighting Bob might not have wanted to be there, either…

 
A poorly-kept rumor for the past several weeks is that Scott Walker would be sworn in as governor in the North Gallery of the Capitol rotunda instead of the traditional East Gallery. The reasoning was because Walker didn’t want to share the photos of the event with a bust of Fighting Bob La Follette as part of the backdrop. I didn’t think I had quite enough to say much about it, but it was good enough to snap a picture of the La Follette bust for potential use and yesterday, the Wisconsin State Journal reported on it:
 
* * *
Wisconsin governors are typically sworn into office near the East Gallery, where a prominent bust of La Follette gazes out under the Capitol dome with the governor’s office behind him.

But not this year. Incoming Republican Gov. Scott Walker will be sworn into office near the North Gallery, meaning many in the audience will be sitting with their backs, or sides, to Fighting Bob.
  
A Walker spokesman confirmed the swearing in would be in the North Gallery, but didn’t immediately have an explanation for the location choice. But who knows? Maybe a bust of Ronald Reagan would have at least had a fighting chance of getting a photo opportunity with the conservative new governor.
  
* * * 
 This from the Wisconsin Historical Society:
 
Robert La Follette developed his fierce opposition to corporate power and political corruption as a young man. Affiliated with the Republican Party for almost his entire career, La Follette embarked on a political path that would take him to Congress, the governorship of Wisconsin, and the U.S. Senate. His support for progressive reforms, rousing oratory and frequent clashes with party leaders earned him the nickname “Fighting Bob.”
  
* * *

 

A 1982 survey of historians asking them to rank the “ten greatest Senators in the nation’s history” based on “accomplishments in office” and “long range impact on American history,” placed La Follette first, tied with Henry Clay. That’s not too bad. (Of course, it may not be the kind of thing that stops a train, but still…)

 

Here’s an excerpt from a speech by Robert M. La Follette and you can compare it to the kind of message you’ll be hearing Monday in the Rotunda, along with the special session of the legislature to follow and from the new leaders of the state’s regulatory and administrative agencies:

* * *

“Since the birth of the Republic, indeed almost within the last generation, a new and powerful factor has taken its place in our business, financial and political world and is there exercising a tremendous influence.
The existence of the corporation, as we have it with us today, was never dreamed of by the fathers…
 
Corporations exacting large sums from the people of this state in profits, upon business transacted within its limits, either wholly escape taxation, or pay insignificantly in comparison with the average citizen in Wisconsin. . .
Owning two thirds of the personal property of the country, evading payment of taxes wherever possible, the corporations throw almost the whole burden up on the land, upon the little homes, and the personal property of the farms. This is a most serious matter, especially in the pinching times the people have suffered for the last few years . . .

 

* * * 

Fighting Bob died in the middle of the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression followed soon after, lending prescience to his words. You can decide for yourself after the first session of the legislature, the cabinet selections, the rhetoric and everything else, whether Fighting Bob La Follette would have wanted to be part of the inauguration. I’m guessing Bob wouldn’t feel too slighted and may even prefer to be looking the other way. I’d be happy to be wrong about that, but I just think that instead, folks are going to find out why Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is so happy about the outcome last November and why Fighting Bob would not have been quite so giddy.
 
 
JR

 

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One Response to “Fighting Bob might not have wanted to be there, either…”

  1. Nancy L. Schulz Says:

    Imagine my being directed to your blog. After the events in Madison yesterday I decided my next pastel portrait will be of Fighting Bob LaFollette. I may even set up to paint in the capital when I visit Madison this weekend. What does the Progressive senator look like? Bust of LaFollette on Google images directed me to my fellow Wausau hometowner. Hi Jim, enjoy your commentary. I have you on favorites.

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