Larry Martin (left) was deputy campaign manager for Tony Earl’s U.S. Senate campaign in 1988. Here they discuss strategy in the campaign headquarters.
The first time I met Tony Earl, I was a kid from Kenosha in my freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I had gone to his office at Foley & Lardner in downtown Madison, looking for a speaker for an event I was organizing on the U.W. campus.
He was warm, polite, and more than happy to help: attributes that I would come to know well in the years ahead.
Later that summer, as Tony was preparing to run for governor, I attended a reception in his honor. As I walked into the room, he smiled and quickly welcomed me by name. I was shocked he even remembered me.
Getting in on the ground floor of a gubernatorial campaign created its own opportunities. I quickly went from stuffing envelopes to being one of Tony’s drivers. Together, we traversed every corner of this state. I missed more than a few classes along the way, but what I learned about politics, the people of our state, and life shaped, in large measure, who I am today.
After Tony won, I worked as an aide in his office and would later go on to help run his campaign for the U.S. Senate. But the real honor was in our friendship, which only deepened with each passing year. Not long after I got married (to a beautiful woman who lived around the corner from the Earls), Tony and I began what would become regular trips to Brewers games and, most valuably, ongoing lunch outings.
We would talk about family, political gossip, and the issues of the day. Tony would quietly dispense his wisdom and thoughts on the changing dynamics of politics in America. Tony always viewed his political rivals as friends he simply disagreed with. He considered Tommy Thompson, the man who defeated him in the 1986 election, to be a good friend; it was a friendship that continued for the rest of Tony’s life.
Justice Jon Wilcox, despite having come from “the other side of the aisle,” proudly told me that he and Tony had been friends for 52 years. During their shared legislative days, they regularly attended U.W. Badger football games together with their wives. It was an era of collegiality that sadly no longer exists.
Gone is any effort to find consensus and common ground. It may seem Capraesque now but until not long ago, state elected officials worked together across party lines when there was agreement and fought like hell when they didn’t agree. Regardless of the outcome, they would gather afterward and together raise a cold Wisconsin beverage.
It gravely bothered Tony, who recently passed away, that politics has become a blood sport, measured by the ability to demean opponents, dehumanize them to the public, and block any effort to find common ground.
I have been fortunate to observe Tony, Tommy, Jon, and so many people of both political parties who worked toward the common good, all while never compromising their partisan beliefs and values.
Although it may seem a distant memory, I believe it is an approach worth valuing and emulating today.
» Cite this article: 96 Wis. Law. 7 (April 2023).