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MONDAY HOT READ: THE STARS OF 2010

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 My article from the new Wisconsin Interest on the Rising Stars of the legislative Class of 2010. They are a very impressive group and provide conservatives with one of the deepest benches in years. At the top of the list: State Rep. Michell Litjens, who was the subject of the verbal assault by Gordon Hintz earlier this year; the way she handled that incident and her rising media profile has already justifies the designation.

 Last November’s electoral tidal wave not only changed the party alignment in the state Capitol, it also marked the emergence of a new class of freshmen legislators, strikingly different from their predecessors.

“They are ‘Obama babies,’” says one longtime insider, “nontraditional candidates spawned by offense at Obama’s assault on the American Dream.”

“These people are citizen-soldiers,” says another observer. “They came out of the woodwork.” As a result, he says, the Assembly Republican caucus went from “conservative and moderate to conservative and more conservative.”

This is not your traditional legislative class.

The Class of 2010 includes entrepreneurs, business executives, certified public accountants and physicians — an unusually potent mix given the state’s fiscal mess and the need to address health care reform. It’s unlikely that any freshman class has ever come to Madison with as broad and deep an appreciation of the business climate or as committed to dramatic change.

Insiders describe the Class of 2010 as smart, independent, principled — and impatient. While veteran legislators still run the show, the unusually large freshman class (30 in the 99-member Assembly, eight in the 33-member Senate) will not only help shape the legislative debates of the next two years, but also provide conservatives with their deepest bench in generations.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a future U.S. senator or governor in this class,” says one observer.

Their first two months have already been a heady experience. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime legislative session,” says a business spokesman. “This two-month special session will be the most productive legislative session in 30 years. They will get more done than most legislatures get done in a two-year session.”

Even so, some new members would like the pace to quicken, and they have not hesitated to push their leaders and the Walker administration to take bolder steps on issues involving public employee unions, for instance. Some have questioned whether the GOP agenda goes far enough.

“We had a group of them get together right after the election, and there was no doubt they were thumping their chest — a collective thumping,” says one insider.

With every week, says another insider, “this group is coming into its own.” Their real test, however, lies ahead, when Walker and the Legislature begin to tackle the massive budget deficit left by their predecessors.

“What makes this group different is that most are political rookies, which means they are wild cards,” says Jeff Mayers of Wispolitics.com.

Another longtime insider agrees: “It will be a real challenge to see if they can hit the right balance of teamwork versus refusing to go along to get along. But this class has an unprecedented level of actual private-sector experience, and they’re here to make a difference and not just to hold office.”

Here, based on candid interviews with Capitol insiders and observers, are ten freshmen lawmakers to watch in 2011.

Bring on the New Guard.

 

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