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Who cares if one of the new gazillionaire owners of the Milwaukee Bucks supports Democrats and welcomed President Obama to Milwaukee? What does that have to do with the price of tea in China? (sorry for the cliché. It seems apt).
Yet now comes the news that one of the new owner's liberal politics might be harming the chances in the rock-solid Republican Legislature when it comes to gaining support for a new arena. They’ve been trashed in the past on talk radio too for their liberal politics, so this is not a new strain of thought on the right.
The offense? One of the two new owners, Marc Lasry, apparently had the audacity to welcome the president on the airport tarmac when he flew into town for a Mary Burke rally at North Division High School. Frankly, welcoming a president to a city isn’t a partisan thing, anyway. After all, Scott Walker has welcomed Obama several times to the airport (as well he should). It’s called respecting the office.
However, apparently Lasry also has the audacity of having donated some of his bazillions to Democratic candidates over the years. He is supposedly close to the Clintons, and his son worked for Obama.
Again: Who cares? Who gives a rat’s you know what?
Last time I looked, we lived in a free country (well, sort of). I thought that Republicans A) supported really rich guys; B) supported really rich guys who want to invest in the local economy and buy or expand businesses in Wisconsin; and C) supported really rich guys who want to donate money to political candidates. In principle, anyway.
Just not really rich guys who want to invest in the local economy but donate money to Democrats and welcome them at airports? What?
Business owners shouldn’t face some kind of political penalty because they support political candidates in their personal lives (although I suppose the craftiest ones donate to both sides because they know how politicians can be, which is often a problem for such crafty business owners when they later run for political office themselves. See Campaign Files, Russ Darrow).
These Bucks’ guys aren’t seeking nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court. When you boil it down, they bought and run a business in Milwaukee. They’re contributors to the local economy. They’re job creators! And we all know, we could use more of those.
We don’t live in Putin’s Russia where oligarchs must show fealty to the guys in charge of the government. OK, that’s purposeful hyperbole. But it’s just weird if a single Republican lets Lasry’s politics factor into the new arena debate.
Was it wise of the Bucks owners, in our ugly political climate, to support Democrats? Honestly, why should that even have to be a thought? Why should it be considered wise or unwise? It’s their right to do it. We don’t live in a state that is engaged in a perpetual war game. At least, I hope not. Their jobs aren't Republican or Democratic jobs. Their money is just as green.
What matters here – or should matter – is whether a new Bucks arena is good for the state and regional economy and its vitality. That’s it. No more. And no less. Good and decent people can disagree on the details. People can oppose public financing on principle, and I think it should be an absolute last resort. Republicans can oppose public financing without deserving to be trashed over it, and many of them do. That’s a stance of principle.
I feel sort of sorry for the Bucks owners. The people who usually oppose class warfare and like rich business guys don’t like them because they want public money, want it in Milwaukee, and like Obama and Clinton. Meanwhile, the people who usually support public money don’t like rich business guys like them and think supporting a Bucks arena owned by rich business guys is diverting attention from the real problems in Milwaukee, like poverty.
In other words, they can’t win. On the other hand, they’re super rich hedge fund managers who can afford to buy sports teams and hobnob with presidents on tarmacs, so I don’t really feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for us, if the Bucks leave.
I prefer more creative approaches to keeping the Bucks here than holding out a big public bucket.
However, I do think it’s clear that keeping the Bucks here would be a good thing. Sure, the new owners should contribute to that (they are, with more money than I will make in a lifetime). Sure we have a big projected budget deficit, so public money is tight (great). Sure, taxpayers in, say, West Bend don’t want to pay for a new arena for billionaires in Milwaukee (even though they might enjoy going to watch the games).
But this is a practical reality. If the owners don’t get a new arena, since it’s a free country, they can easily go somewhere else. And that would be bad. They aren’t a train that hasn’t been built yet. They would take with them a team that is good for the state. (Oh, and by the way, Herb Kohl was a Democrat too. Don't tell anyone).
I’m most intrigued by the new proposal that would capture the income taxes of Bucks’ players and employees for a time and funnel them back into the arena. It sounds sort of like a TIF district, but with targeted income, not property, taxes. I think we need creative new approaches like that one. There’d be concern over the precedent, but this project seems like a special case. After all, we have precious few major league sporting teams in Wisconsin. Gov. Walker has apparently said he’s intrigued by this idea too.
Having major league sports teams in Wisconsin helps the entire state. It creates jobs. It creates revenue. It makes our state’s urban center seem like a bigger place. It helps the entire region. I enjoy going to Brewers games. I enjoy going to Bucks games. One reason I like living near Milwaukee is because of the cultural and sporting amenities it offers. Otherwise, I might as well live in northern Wisconsin (where I grew up, by the way).
Lasry and his co-owner must feel like they landed on another planet. One wonders if they had any idea what they were wandering into when it came to the politics in this state. I personally don’t care if they support Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, or Martians.
However, I do hope that we find a way to make sure that they don’t decide to take their billions, their team and its revenue somewhere else.
Jessica McBride spent a decade as an investigative, crime, and general assignment reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is a former City Hall reporter/current columnist for the Waukesha Freeman.
She is the recipient of national and state journalism awards in topics that include short feature writing, investigative journalism, spot news reporting, magazine writing, blogging, web journalism, column writing, and background/interpretive reporting. McBride, a senior journalism lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has taught journalism courses since 2000.
Her journalistic and opinion work has also appeared in broadcast, newspaper, magazine, and online formats, including Patch.com, Milwaukee Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, El Conquistador Latino newspaper, Investigation Discovery Channel, History Channel, WMCS 1290 AM, WTMJ 620 AM, and Wispolitics.com. She is the recipient of the 2008 UWM Alumni Foundation teaching excellence award for academic staff for her work in media diversity and innovative media formats and is the co-founder of Media Milwaukee.com, the UWM journalism department's award-winning online news site. McBride comes from a long-time Milwaukee journalism family. Her grandparents, Raymond and Marian McBride, were reporters for the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel.
Her opinions reflect her own not the institution where she works.