With the retirement of James Haney, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) is looking for a new president and chief executive officer.
The state's largest business advocacy group would do well to consider Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).
Sheehy's track record of uniting people around disparate causes without poking other people in the eye would be a useful addition to the WMC cause.
In recent years, the WMC has become little more than a partisan voice for the state's Republican Party. In effect, the WMC has become the GOP counterweight to the left-leaning Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC).
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign estimates that the WMC spent $2.2 million in support of conservative Annette Ziegler's Supreme Court justice campaign in 2007 and another $1.76 million in support of conservative Michael Gableman's Supreme Court justice campaign in 2008.
Those expenditures drew the ire of several WMC members, including some board members who withdrew from the organization.
The WMC's polarizing politicization created an opening for a new organization, the Wisconsin Business Council, to be formed as a group seeking to build consensus with other factions to improve the state's business climate.
To his credit, Haney recently lamented about the state's nasty political climate in a recent exit interview.
"I've seen this extraordinary polarization of the political system, and it didn't used to be that way. And I worry whether we've contributed to that in any way. This notion that if you disagree with me you're evil and you're a vile person - that just is so offensive, and yet that's kind of what we've degenerated to, and I don't know how to fix it," Haney told the Wisconsin State Journal. "Maybe we just need to get more common sense and more camaraderie in the process. You've got to get the people in the middle flexing a little bit more, and saying, ‘We're not going to go along with the extremes of the right or left.' But the minute you say that, you're (accused of being) unprincipled. We need to reach a reasonable compromise, and that's not easy on some of these issues. But I just wish I'd been more effective in bringing people together."
Sheehy could be just the tonic to help the WMC navigate going forward. His diplomacy was crucial in convincing players from seven counties to pull the same direction in the Milwaukee-7 collaborative.
And even though the MMAC led the fight against a proposed city ordinance to require Milwaukee employers to provide minimum amounts of sick leave for their employees, Sheehy was a diplomat throughout the process, calmly debating the issue while sitting next to Amy Stear, Wisconsin director of 9to5 National Association of Working Women, at a Milwaukee Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon.
The search for Haney's successor is being led by WMC board chairman Thomas Howatt, president and CEO of Wausau Paper, Mosinee.
When asked if he had any interest in pursuing the WMC job, Sheehy responded by e-mail: "I love my job."
As they say in my business, that is a non-denial denial. Losing Sheehy would be a terrible blow for the MMAC and Milwaukee, but if the greater good of the state is at stake, we might have to just get over it.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.
Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at email@example.com.