Friday, December 14, 2012

Herb Kohl--In Retrospect

With Senator Herb Kohl having delivered his final speech on the floor of the Senate (he apparently doesn't anticipate having anything to say about a bill to avoid the "fiscal cliff") I thought it would be a good time to look back on the career of second-longest serving Sentator from Wisconsin.

Let's first review the influential pieces of legislation that Senator Kohl sponsored and helped to write while in Washington:

OK, now that we are done with that, I thought I would play back some of the strongest comments Senator Kohl provided to the media about the major issues during his terms:

Alright, now that we are done with that, let's spend the rest of our time together talking about what Senator Kohl is actually good at: philanthropy.

I don't think most Wisconsinites grasp just how rich Herb Kohl is.  In a room full of millionaires known as the US Senate, Herb had all but a handful of those guys covered.  Not bad for someone whose best business decision was to sell off his parents' grocery chain before it got buried by the big boxes.  Senator Kohl then set about to giving away a good amount of that cash to help the people of Wisconsin.

He bought the Bucks to "keep them in Milwaukee".  However, aside from one season where they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals with Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson, the Bucks really haven't generated any buzz with Wisconsin sports fans during the Kohl tenure.  And the team consistently loses money due to declining attendance and (a point that can certainly be disputed) an "aging" Bradley Center.  Outside of a few businesses around the arena itself, how much would Wisconsin actually miss the Bucks?

Speaking of arenas, Senator Kohl's most conspicuous contribution to the state is the University of Wisconsin-Madison facility that bears his name.  As much as we like to romanticize about our historic buildings, the UW Fieldhouse is a dump.  Uncomfortable seating, bad sight lines and not enough bathrooms to accommodate a small group outing--much less 11-thousand people to watch a basketball game.  Senator Kohl stepped up with $25-MILLION for the project--which covered about 80% of the total costs.  It remains the largest single gift to the UW System in its history.  Suddenly, the Badgers went from one of the worst to one of the best Basketball and Hockey facilities in the countries--and Wisconsin had another top-notch concert venue as well.  Every year at the WIAA Basketball Tournament when I can just walk in and use the restroom right away, I give a little thanks to Herb Kohl.

As nice a gift as the Kohl Center is, the Senator's most lasting contribution to Wisconsin will be the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation.  This non-profit has provided $8.2-MILLION in scholarships to college-bound students, along with grants to K-12 teachers and schools over the last 22-years--along with presenting honors to those who excel in all roles in the classroom.  I'm fairly sure that when the Senator does pass on, the foundation will be the main beneficiary of his estate--and the scholarships and grants will only get bigger.

Like everyone else in the "1%" Senator Kohl gives away a lot of money to other causes that don't bear his name--but also serve to better our communities and our state.  So I hope in his retirement Herb Kohl will find new ways to voluntarily share his wealth with the less fortunate--now that he is done voting for bills that force the rest of us to do the same.

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