I love end of the year lists. Top ten this, top ten that. People who died. All that stuff. Here’s my list of local folks who I think had the biggest impact on our community and state this year.
Tony Evers. God knows, I’ve had my differences with the governor. I even called for him to be primaried after he signed a thoroughly Republican budget…for the second time. But you can’t argue with success. He won a second term in what should have been a Republican year against an opponent who could fund his own campaign. He was right when he said, “boring wins.” So he’s there for another four years to stop the Republicans from taking us back to the 19th century. Now, if only Democrats could find a way to win outside of Dane County.
Robin Vos. Robin Vos? Remember this isn’t a list of people I necessarily like or agree with. It’s people who have had a big impact, and there’s no question Vos had a lot of impact this year. He created Vos’ Monster, Michael Gableman. But when Gableman’s “investigation” into non-existent voter fraud in the 2020 election got away from Vos, the speaker eventually drove a stake into the monster’s heart. He did the same with unhinged elections committee chair Rep. Janel Brandtjen of Menomonee Falls, expelling her from closed caucus meetings and stripping her of her committee chair. And, he survived a primary challenge by a Donald Trump-endorsed election denier. To be sure, Vos dealt with Gableman and Brandtjen only because they dared to cross him, but that’s more than we can say for most Republicans who knuckle under to Trump even after he attacks them.
Chris McIntosh. Who knew? Barry Alvarez’ hand-picked successor has done things that are very un-Wisconsin. First, he fired the beloved local boy, coach Paul Chryst, in mid-season. The Badgers had never fired a football coach during a season before. Then McIntosh surprised everyone again by not handing the job to interim coach Jim Leonhard, another local favorite and part of the Alvarez football family. He completed the hat trick by landing Luke Fickell, a hot coaching commodity out of Cincinnati. McIntosh apparently saw the program going stale and he decided he needed to shake things up. He’s the anti-Evers in his boldness, but he may be equally successful.
Christina Gomez Schmidt and Laura Simkin. I’m starting to feel a little better about the direction of Madison’s public schools and it’s mostly because of these two school board members. Schmidt’s been on the board for a few years while Simkin was just elected last April. They are voices of left-center moderate reason, expressing a sense of urgency about some of the safety issues in the schools and pushing back against efforts to eliminate stand-alone honors classes.
Jeffrey Copeland. Speaking of Madison schools, Sennett Middle School Principal Copeland got himself fired after only a few weeks on the job. His sin was to express dissatisfaction with the communications skills of a teaching job candidate, a comment that the central administration viewed as racist though Copeland, who is Black, made no reference to race. But teachers at the school rallied around him, saying that he had brought a kind of tough-love discipline and order to the school that was badly needed. To its credit, the board reinstated him. Now that he’s back, let’s see what Copeland can do with a full semester.
Judy Davidoff. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The Isthmus editor signs my checks. But seriously, folks. Judy has led a small band of scrappy journalists who have saved Madison’s beloved alt-weekly, now going on a third year since they had to suspend publication amid the COVID crash. They’ve even brought it back in print with a monthly cover that is New Yorker-worthy and a quality paper stock that stands up in those outdoor boxes for a full four weeks, including those in December. With local journalism in retreat all over the country, this is no small accomplishment. And, for cryin’ out loud people, if you haven’t done so already, kick in a couple of bucks for the cause.
All in all, I think it was a good year for people. There are a lot of them who could go on this list, so feel free to add your choices in the comments section below.
A version of this piece originally appeared in Isthmus.