Bracing for more brain drain

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One challenge that we consistently hear about in Wisconsin is that we suffer from what is known as a “brain drain.”

Simply put, this is the loss of talented young and highly educated professionals to other states. With the coming takeover of state government by an extreme brand of conservatives, one has to wonder if the coming brain drain inside the Capitol will exacerbate the brain drain in the state as a whole.

The younger workforce that the state is trying to attract and retain is much more tolerant on social issues, including LGBT equality, than older people. The trend toward supporting equality crosses both partisan and ideological lines. In addition to appealing to these younger workers by positioning Wisconsin as a forward-thinking state, leaders must also recognize the increasing number of talented and open LGBT professionals. Does anyone think that a turn to the most mean-spirited extremes is going to attract and retain these workers? How do we expect to attract outside talent when our incoming lieutenant governor makes national news for comparing same-sex unions to marriages between humans and tables, clocks or dogs?

Unfortunately the Republicans elected Nov. 2 have given us a plethora of examples of their regressive plans. Gov.-elect Scott Walker repeatedly promised on the campaign trail that he would repeal the state’s domestic partnership registry. That registry offers only 43 of the more than 200 rights that married couples enjoy. These include such basic protections as inheritance rights and the right to visit partners in the hospital. Such mean-spirited regression will not play well to a more tolerant generation of younger professionals and academics.

The University of Wisconsin system was for too long the only one in the Big Ten that did not provide domestic partner benefits for its employees. In 2009, the Legislature and Gov. Jim Doyle finally rectified that unfortunate status, not only for university workers but for all state employees. Although they promised to focus on the economy and jobs, incoming Republicans have already indicated they will also take back these benefits.

A recent report by the Cream City Foundation shows that our state lags seriously behind Illinois and Minnesota in terms of how it treats its LGBT professionals. While state government should be creating policy to close the gap, instead it is being taken over by lawmakers who seek to widen it.

This destructive and divisive ideology is best exemplified by soon-to-be state Sen. Leah Vukmir. Last year she received e-mail from a progressive organization seeking to send Wisconsin young people to a Washington, D.C., conference. She forwarded the e-mail to one of her staffers and commented, “Yes. Let’s send them to Washington – but they have to promise that they will never come back.”

When you combine this kind of thoughtless intolerance with inevitable cuts to education, the loss of funding for world-class research and the rejection of modern transportation alternatives, Vukmir just might get her wish.

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