Statecraft: The Politics of Welfare Reform in Wisconsin
L. M. Mead
Wisconsin’s reform of family welfare is the most radical and, arguably, the most successful in the nation. This is not due to anything special about the welfare problem or public opinion in the state but rather to special features of the state’s politics and government. Reform is radical, but at the same time it has been largely bipartisan, with most Democrats joining with Governor Tommy Thompson and other Republicans in seeking to transform the system. Bipartisanship, in turn, reflects the unusual moderation of Republicans in approaching reform and the unusual willingness of Democrats to criticize the old system. Outside groups—such as black leaders, welfare advocates, and academics, who elsewhere block reform—have been moderate or ineffective in their protests, while business has been unusually supportive. Two background conditions have helped shape this political environment—Wisconsin’s cohesive society and its masterful government, the product of its Progressive past. In Wisconsin, in contrast to other urban states, both the will to reform welfare and the capacity to do so are strong.
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