Wisconsin Governors Martin Schreiber, Anthony Earl, Tommy Thompson, and James
Doyle, all lawyers and political leaders, are the 2017 recipients of the Wisconsin Law
Foundation’s Charles L. Goldberg Distinguished Service Award for a lifetime of service to
the legal profession and their communities.
Growing up in Kenosha, most of my friends followed sports teams, mainly the Cubs and the Packers. I did, too, but at an early age my passion became politics. While others could name starting line-ups, individual batting averages, or total yards gained, I could recite electoral winners and losers, their voting percentages, and where they ran strongest and weakest.
My introduction to politics came when a family friend ran for county treasurer. She asked if I would help collect nomination signatures door to door in my neighborhood. Getting several sheets signed ultimately led to additional volunteer opportunities and an invitation to attend her election-night party. She won (the first woman to win a local courthouse office), and I was hooked.
Two years later, I was sitting on a folding chair in a basement helping plan a campaign for another candidate running for clerk of circuit court. The room was full of local attorneys, union and party leaders, and a 14-year-old kid. Next to me was our young district attorney – Bruce Schroeder. I will never forget his advice that night: “If you want to be a lawyer, you need to study hard, do particularly well in English, and develop strong writing skills.” Advice that has served me well, despite my not becoming an attorney. It was that night that I realized for the first time the role that lawyers played in the ongoing civic and political life of our community.
Well into my college years, I would hang out at our courthouse every election night. It was the most exciting place to be as returns would come in, projected by an overhead projector onto a screen in the main lobby. Local attorneys, judges, community leaders, elected officials, and leaders from both political parties were there, getting results first hand as they came in.
Over my years of involvement, I would come to appreciate the unique role that lawyers play in society. Drive into any town, large or small, in Wisconsin and, I will guarantee, you will find lawyers on the local school board, leading the United Way campaign, serving as officers in Rotary or Kiwanis, coaching kids’ soccer and baseball teams. For all the lawyer jokes out there, the fact is that communities highly value and respect the role attorneys play as citizen-leaders.
Never has there been a greater need than today for thoughtful members of the legal profession to step up and serve our communities, particularly by running for public office. Wisconsin has had a strong tradition of lawyers as political leaders, but it is a tradition in jeopardy. Fewer attorneys, from both political parties, serve in our state legislature than in the past. It is time for the next generation of legal leaders to step up – Wisconsin will be stronger for it.