America Under Fire: Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum
On September 11, Scott McCallum was only a few months into the job of Wisconsin governor and having a hard time proving he could be as good a leader as the beloved Tommy Thompson had been. He was catching hell on budget matters from Democrats and even a few of his Republican colleagues. The last thing he needed was a crisis.
He got one anyway in the form of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. He began immediately trying to figure out how the unfathomable events might impact his state.
“My role as governor has changed completely since September 11. For months, we had been hard at work on the state budget and a number of other pressing issues like smaller class sizes, a prescription drug plan for seniors, wetlands legislation etc…Then September 11 happened and changed everything,” McCallum, 51, said in an email interview with Stateline.org.
“My main role now is to ensure the safety and security of the state of Wisconsin. That includes citizens, buildings and infrastructure,” said McCallum, who replaced Thompson as governor in January after his predecessor resigned to become U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.
McCallum had hoped to take some time off in the early fall to “regroup and set our direction” for dealing with revenue shortfalls that could mean more budget cuts beyond the million trimmed from state spending this year.
Instead of going on vacation, however, he found himself ordering new security measures into effect, opening up an emergency operations center under control of the National Guard, holding emergency meetings with other state and national leaders and creating a terrorism task force to examine state readiness.
He even helped organize a Red Cross blood drive at the State Capitol and began cutting public service radio and TV spots to ease fears and to keep state residents informed about where they could get help if they needed it.
“The citizens of Wisconsin want to know that they are safe, that they are being protected, that safeguards are in place, have been in place and will be in place. Citizens are counting on their government to protect them,” says McCallum, who was a trade adviser in the Reagan Administration and environmental adviser in the first Bush administration.
He said people tell him that they generally feel safe living in the Midwest heartland, but that the “senseless attacks we’ve seen” along with the anthrax scare frighten people anyway.
“I tell people that we cannot panic, that we must get on with our lives, that we cannot let terrorists win by allowing them to keep us from living and working and moving forward. Living in fear is exactly what they want.”
As the end of the year approaches, McCallum’s attention is once again being drawn back to budget matters. He says serious revenue shortfalls and the economic fallout from the terrorist attacks will force Wisconsin lawmakers to cut spending even more.
“Wisconsin, like at least 40 other states, finds itself with declining revenues and the need to cut more state spending in order to balance the budget,” McCallum said. “On August 30 (when the 2001-2003 budget was approved), no one could have imagined we’d be in this position right now. My job as governor is to take immediate action and lead through this crisis.”
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