2nd Quarter 2024 Incoming President’s Message

By Jason Stein

If you sum the long histories of the two organizations that combined to form the Wisconsin Policy Forum – the Public Policy Forum of Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance of Madison – they total almost two centuries of service to our state. Yet despite the fact that the Forum began in 1913 and the Alliance in 1932, each organization has had only a handful of leaders. They represent an exceptional group, and it is daunting for me to join them as the Forum’s incoming president.

For generations, the Forum has sought to better the lives of Wisconsin residents by giving them the facts about their state and local governments. Our leaders also have served as former state cabinet secretaries and heads of state tax commissions, county administration and human service directors, and leaders of other nonprofits. Their ranks include Norman Gill, who watched over Milwaukee government for four decades; James R. Morgan, who served in Madison for almost as long and who also led the state Department of Revenue for six years; Jean B. Tyler; Todd Berry; David Meissner; and Paula Lynagh, a senior researcher under Gill who served just as long and as faithfully as he did.

The Forum’s leaders have been not just brilliant, they have been tireless, and no one embodies that better than Rob Henken. In more than 16 years leading this organization, he has put not just our nonprofit but the entire city of Milwaukee on a better footing, by poring over the Forum’s modest finances and the billion-dollar budgets of the city, county and school district with the same dogged scrutiny. The fact that he has been tapped to lead the Herzfeld Foundation in a part-time capacity is a testament to his standing in the community, and we are fortunate he will be remaining with the Forum on a half-time basis as well.

The legacy of Rob and all these other leaders is the trust and credibility that the Forum enjoys among the public. In an age when “fake news” is a watchword and outrageous conspiracies pass as the coin of the realm, the Forum trades in plain facts and still – somehow – survives in this increasingly toxic marketplace. The fact that we have done so is a tribute to Rob, to our remarkable staff, and most of all to you, our individual and corporate members, who have contributed time and money to the Forum for years or even decades.

Together, we have established a set of shared values: transparency, both in the operations of government as well as our nonprofit; expertise and accuracy in verifying details and delving to the heart of problems; collaboration in partnering with leaders and groups of all stripes; and the humility to admit what we do not know. Both I and our executive committee believe that our values and strategy are sound, though we are still planning a round of strategic planning next year to consider updates where warranted.

The difficulties of this moment are intimidating at times for me as I’m sure they are for many of you – from the deep racial disparities of our state to the factional politics of our nation. Yet in meeting these challenges, we will draw on our shared values and on what I see as the Forum’s core creed: the belief that if we furnish our leaders and citizens with the facts, then as a community we will chart a wiser course than any one of us could have done separately. The Forum has always stood for this principle, and together we will make sure it does so for years to come.


Jason Stein