The Doyle Legacy: Advancing the Knowledge Economy

Okay, I was wrong. A few weeks ago, I speculated that all the speculation about Gov. Jim Doyle not seeking a third term could well turn out to be nonsense. The Governor has made me look bad on several occasions, so his recent announcement that he will not seek a third term doesn't come as a complete shock.

The announcement no doubt will set off a scramble in the Democratic Party, where Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton, Congressman Ron Kind, State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (assuming he makes a full recovery from his recent altercation/scare near State Fair Park) are among the rumored candidates for the 2010 party nomination.

All that will sort itself out in time, as will debate about the Doyle legacy. His opponents will no doubt hammer away at the new state budget and its impact on the business climate in Wisconsin, but I think the state's 44th chief executive will be most remembered for the arrows he took to advance the knowledge economy, especially science and technology.

It starts with his support for embryonic stem cell research at the University of Wisconsin, which is not a universally accepted practice. Given the political clout of groups like Wisconsin Right to Life, Doyle risked considerable political capital to make the case for it, but he did so persuasively.

When the ribbons are cut on the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery next year, Doyle may or may not already be fading from memory (rumors about a role in the Obama administration persist), but he committed funding for the construction of what might well become the crown jewel in Wisconsin's portfolio of research/economic assets.

He also pushed the development of alternative fuels and the electronic sharing of patient data among health care institutions. He raised educational standards by making a third year of math and science mandatory for high school graduation, and he incentivized the deployment of additional angel and venture capital to promising high-tech companies. It seemed that anytime there was an opportunity for the state to be on the cutting edge, Doyle was there to sharpen the blade.

Something else to consider in an age where free trade has become a dirty word — a near doubling of Wisconsin exports since 2003. What does that have to do with the knowledge-based economy? Plenty. Among the state's top exports are advanced industrial machinery, electrical machinery (including computers and components), and scientific and medical instruments. His emphasis on producing high-end products in a range of industries is paying dividends here.

So say what you will about the Doyle legacy, but don't deny his accomplishments in setting the foundation for a 21st Century economy. I hope his successor, no matter what letter (D or R) is placed next to the name, will build on what he's done.