A Tale of Two Republican Governors

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A Tale of Two Republican Governors–Stalwart Walker and Progressive LaFollette: Historical Perspective on Present-Day Wisconsin Politics


Jacob Stampen (BIO)

WISCAPE Affiliate and Professor Emeritus
Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Linda Endlich

Senior Graphic Artist
Department of Media, Education Resources, and Information Technology (MERIT)
University of Wisconsin-Madison


With two exceptions, Wisconsin has thrived as a representative democracy throughout most of its history. Exceptions are delegative democracies during the period between 1891 and 1900, which preceded Governor LaFollette, and the period since 2011, following the election of Governor Walker. This paper compares Wisconsin Governor Scott K. Walker’s government with the government of Governor Robert M. LaFollette, Sr. a century ago. James Conant and Scott Morgenstern’s conceptual frameworks are combined to categorize political system changes in Wisconsin history and to review the accomplishments of the two governors and their respective systems. Governor LaFollette expanded public participation in governing and employed the knowledge resources of the state university to develop widely acclaimed policies and programs. Governor Walker has relied instead on private interests to define solutions to public problems​, yielding widely criticized outcomes. 

To share comments or feedback on this working paper with the authors, please email Jacob Stampen.


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