Category Archives: Weekly Rotary Guest Speaker

“History Inspires People to Build a Better Future”

submitted by Kay Schwichtenberg; photo by Mike Engelberger

Christian Overland 5 22 2019Christian W. Overland has been the Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society since his appointment in February 2018.  He came to Madison from sixteen years in various positions at The Henry Ford Museum, in Dearborn, Michigan.

Overland has stepped into the position at an exciting time.  He and the Wisconsin Historical Society are planning to develop a new museum that would nearly double the square footage of the current facility on the Capitol Square at Mifflin and State Street.  It will be a $120 million public/private funding effort with the state funding $70 million and private funds providing the remaining $50 million. The story is unfolding in several chapters.

Chapter one started with the recently completed Wisconsin Historical Society archive facility on the east side of Madison that houses more than 200 million artifacts. It includes a large North American history collection that is second only in size to the archives in the Library of Congress.

Chapter two now connects that history through events and digital access for every citizen in the state. The new museum will be transformational by boosting access to many thousands more visitors.  Those stories will be shared around the state and around the world.

With additional space, Overland believes that exhibition and educational activities could be expanded with new state of the art technology providing visitors and students a unique ‘Wisconsin experience’.

Overland said that public input into the ideas, plans and content is critical to a successful project.  To that end, the Historical Society is setting up multiple events across the state to get input. “Every community needs a voice,” Overland said.

For more information visit www.wisconsinhistory.org.

Our thanks to WisEye for videotaping our meeting this week, and if you missed our meeting, you can watch it here.

Governor Tony Evers — At the Heart of It

submitted by Ellie Schatz; photo by Mike Engelberger

Gov Tony Evers 5 1 19Being a past Rotarian when he was a private citizen, Governor Tony Evers opened with some personal observations. First, he applauded the audience for their civic mindedness and stressed the importance we play as role models for our young people. Second, he talked about the small private liabilities of being in a major public position. For instance, he asked how do you sell a car? It took him and his wife over a month to figure that out. In summary of his private life, he said, “I try to figure it out; not worry; keep steady.”

The Governor focused on questions of the budget in his formal presentation. His budget/funding goals include:

  1. The Transportation System. Wisconsin ranks low, somewhere between #48 and #50. Transportation issues include biking, walking, and mass transit.

 

  1. Health Care. He has a plan to infuse 1.6 million dollars to invest in, among other things, good baby and mom care, opioid treatment, and the health of children suffering from lead poisoning. As an aside he mentioned that frustrations include answering questions such as, “why spend all that money on those kids” (who are eating lead paint from their walls)?!

 

  1. Education, which is underfunded to the point of threatening the stature of the UW-Madison. Frustrations here include having to explain why professors are an important resource and why kids with disabilities or who speak English as a second language deserve a financial commitment.

 

  1. Criminal Justice Reform. Wisconsin has too many people sentenced to prison for non-violent crimes. We need urban area programs to help them rather than focusing on sentencing.

 

Some of these issues were elaborated during the Q & A. For instance, regarding education he was asked about in-state tuition for dreamers. He replied, “I think we’ll win that argument…. In-state tuition (and driver’s permits) are important – a no brainer.”

When asked about steps to stop abuses of minorities in school and housing, he emphasized the importance of conversations at the local and state levels. As he visited schools and communities in the past two weeks, he asked personnel and students if they thought racism was worse now than ever before. The answer was an unfortunate, resounding, “Yes!” The Governor emphasizes that we must acknowledge the problem, examine what is in our hearts, look at what we can do as individuals as well as groups, and accept our civic responsibilities for making a difference.

So, Governor, you were anything but dull today. From your heart and our hearts, we acknowledge the problems and resolve to move forward with respect and good will.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.  Our thanks to WisconsinEye for videotaping our meeting this week.

The Rise and Decline of US Global Power

–submitted by Linn Roth; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

Alfred McCoy 4 24 2019

In an insightful and concerning presentation, UW history professor Alfred McCoy outlined some of the history and future direction of the world’s geopolitics and presented a somber view of the future of US global influence.  Since the early 1900’s, the US has steadily built up its international preeminence and paid special attention to the “Eurasian” axis, which consists of Asia and Europe, and more recently, Africa.  Due to actions begun in the late seventies and guided by Zbigniew Brzenski, National Security Advisor during the Carter Administration, the US made Eurasia the central area of concentration in order to establish and maintain its global primacy.  President Obama furthered that effort, but in the last two years, the Trump administration has reversed course on three main pillars of US primacy:  NATO, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, and relations with Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines.  This entire problem might be further exacerbated by a trade war with China.

Additional signs suggest this concern is well founded.  By 2030, projections indicate India and China will grow their Gross Domestic Products considerably more than the US, and China will become the world’s largest economy.   Moreover, China now files more patents than the US, has built the world’s fastest supercomputer, and does substantially better in its science and math education programs.  As most of us can observe at UW, the majority of technical PhD candidates are foreign born, and therefore likely to return to their home countries with their acquired knowledge.

Furthermore, China has become extremely proactive in attempting to widen its influence throughout Eurasia in a variety of ways.  This effort might be epitomized by their ongoing $1.3 trillion Belt and Road program, which cuts right through the heart of Eurasia.  In addition, they have become aggressive in taking over ports in Italy, Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and in the conversion of sand islands to military bases in the South China Sea.  Given these developments, as well as concerns regarding current US foreign policy, Professor McCoy projects that US hegemony will substantially decline by 2030.  The eclipse of US influence should give us all pause for thought, and for those interested in learning more about this critical issue, please see Professor McCoy’s recent book, In the Shadow of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

 

 

   

Telling the Stories of Madison’s Earliest African American Residents

submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Valerie Renk

Muriel Simms 2 20 2019

From left: Marci Henderson, Ron Luskin & Muriel Simms

Our speaker on Wednesday, amidst a snow storm, was Dr. Muriel Simms, the author of a new book, “Settlin’: Stories of Madison’s Early African American Families,” published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. The dedication to the book captures its essence: “To the African American families who settled in Madison in the 1800s and early 1900s. They showed strength, courage and pride as they made a better life for themselves and for others in the community.” And Dr. Simms’ talk illustrated this with the stories of people in the book.

Dr. Simms began by speaking about the importance of the oral tradition in the Black community, and oral histories done by Dr. Simms provide much of the content of her book. She also spoke of what motivated her to write the book. She was always interested in history, and she wondered about the ancestral Black families in Madison, including her parents: her mother joined her father here in 1925.

The talk featured stories and photographs of some of the people in the book in four broad categories: military, sports, volunteerism and “other.” Dr. Simms began with a newspaper article from the Wisconsin State Journal about the return of “Buck” Weaver from service during World War II. The headline referred to him as a “Beloved ‘Red Cap’ at the bus station.” He had been killed shortly before the end of the war. She mentioned Al Dockery, a star athlete at Madison Central High; Lois McKnight, a music teacher who volunteered wherever a musician was needed; and Velma Hamilton, one of Madison’s greatest citizens. There were important Black civic groups such as the Utopia Club, the Wisconsin State Federation of Colored Women, and the National Association for the Protection of Colored Women, and the NAACP (Velma Hamilton was the first president of the Madison branch in 1943). Dr. Simms discovered many of these organizations in the issues of the Wisconsin Weekly Blade, the first Black newspaper in Wisconsin, founded in 1916 by J. Anthony Josey, who declared in his mission statement his belief that “the Negro has in his own hands his destiny.”

It was a great talk. If you missed it because of the snow, get a copy of the book and read it.

An Analysis of the 2018 Mid-Term Election

submitted by Andrea Kaminski

_SHR0908UW-Madison Political Science Professor Barry Burden, on February 6, gave Rotarians an overview of the November 2018 election in Wisconsin, along with an analysis of how and why voting patterns differed from past midterm elections.

The 2018 election had the highest national voter turnout rate for a mid-term election since women won the right to vote in 1920. Wisconsin’s participation in the midterm was higher than most other states’ turnout in presidential elections. Both major political parties had turnouts above 60 percent in our state, and the overall participation was 25 percent higher than would normally be expected for a midterm.

Burden attributed the high turnout to the fact that it was an “interesting election” driven by the gubernatorial race. He recalled that his students were watching the Walker-Evers race much more closely than more nationally hyped elections, such as Beto O’Rourke’s Senate bid in Texas.

The 2018 Wisconsin election ended the longest stretch of one-party control in the state since the 1950s. Burden noted that former Governor Walker has always been highly organized and disciplined as a candidate, and he is a master at fund raising. However, Burden described a shift in Wisconsin politics away from the formula that worked so well for Walker in the past toward a formula that worked well for Donald Trump in 2016. Walker was first elected Governor in the Tea Party Wave of 2010, which was a good year for Republicans. In contrast, it was clear early on that 2018 would be a difficult year for Republicans.

Democratic voters were better mobilized in 2018, and they voted in big numbers, particularly in Dane and Milwaukee counties. Although Walker won 65 to 70 percent of the vote in the Republican strongholds of Waukesha and Washington counties, neither the turnout nor the Republican edge was as strong there as in the past.

Burden does not believe Wisconsin saw a “Blue Wave” in 2018. First, the results were not particularly surprising. The President’s party always suffers losses in mid-term elections. Second, the effects of gerrymandering have proven to be quite durable.

Burden explained that until recent years, collecting more votes generally translates into winning more seats in Congress and state legislatures. According to that rule of thumb, the Democrats should have picked up 30 more seats in the House of Representatives than they actually did.

Democratic voters tend to live in densely populated cities. Burden said this presents a districting problem for Democrats even in “blue states.” The other problem for Democrats in Wisconsin and some other states is that the current voting maps were drawn by the Republicans who prevailed in the “Red Wave” of 2010.

Next year will be another exciting election year. With the Census taking place next year, the state legislators elected in November 2020 will get to draw the next set of voting maps in 2021. And, according to Burden, Wisconsin is the most competitive state in the nation and we can expect the presidential candidates to spend a lot of time and money here in 2020.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Saving and Improving Lives: One Drop at a Time

submitted by Linda Baldwin; photo by Pete Christianson

Ben Merens 7 25 2018

From left: Program Committee Chair Sara DeTienne; Ben Merens & Marcia Whittington

This week’s Rotary presentation by Ben Merens, a “storyteller” for the Blood Center of WI Blood Research Center, was one where I left having learned amazing information about a subject of which I knew nothing.

Merens did indeed tell stories…

The young man at Verizon who had had a double lung transplant, survived, married his nurse and had a family.  Ricky owes his life to doctors like those at the BRI because blood research found a way to get the body to accept transplants.

Chaos, Merens describes, is what the blood system looks like and scientists determine what patterns do exist, how they are supposed to work and then find out how to fix things when they don’t.

BRI scientists patented a test to determine whether the regularly used blood thinners would work for a specific patient and if not, doctors could substitute a more effective blood thinner.

We watched with Merens as he described a heart being harvested and then rushed down the hall to transplant into a waiting patient.  The heart was successfully inserted…then the action stopped, and they waited. The heart, still in the open chest, began to beat.

Merens described a WI Donor event when a mother spoke about the joy and sadness when she realized her son is living because another person’s child has died.  Then she said, he’s an active two year old being held by the mother of the donor who heard her child’s heart beat in the chest of my son.

We think about research being a scientific activity with words and practices that most of us don’t understand.  Merens brought the results of research into our hearts and minds at Rotary today.  And we do understand.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Battle for Economic Growth in Wisconsin

submitted by Carol Toussaint; photo by Pete Christianson

Kevin Conroy 7 11 2018AWhat will it take for Wisconsin to win the battle for economic growth fueled by entrepreneurship?  Rotarians and their many guests left the Wednesday lunch with some specific ideas presented by Kevin Conroy, Chairman and CEO of Exact Science.

According to Conroy, Wisconsin is not inspiring start-ups. Our demographics are currently against inspiring start-ups and our demographics are holding us back.  Our workforce is rapidly aging and shrinking.  Median family income is flat.  We are near the bottom in terms of net migration of college workers and we’re not building a promising young workforce.  We need exciting companies to keep and draw exciting companies.

According to studies conducted by the Kaufman Foundation, Wisconsin is ranked last in the U.S. for start-up activity and Conroy stressed that start-ups create most new net jobs and are the key to success in the battle for economic growth.  Venture Capital needs to be more readily available in Wisconsin if there is to be a change in status among the states.  Currently three states–California, New York and Massachusetts–manage 83% of the nation’s venture.

What Conroy termed a “silver lining” is that experience from the last 3 years has been better for investment in new companies.  Angel investors are providing significant help but there is a “funding gap” after angels.  Without growth in next stage funding Wisconsin will continue to lag behind other states.  Models to look at include a private sponsored venture capital model in Michigan and a Public-Private Partnership.

In speaking of the Company he heads, Conroy shared that Exact Science relentlessly pursued a solution to the big problem of colon cancer, partnered with the Mayo Clinic, focused on great science, raised nearly $2 billion, and had a direct lineage to the UW-Madison via Third Wave Technologies.

The company is expanding to a new campus which includes lab, manufacturing, and customer care services in the former Rayovac building and is expanding into new headquarters in University Research Park.  To make the point that “start-ups matter”, Conroy summarized that the impact on Wisconsin from the start-up he heads provides $2 billion in capital and $29 million in taxes.