The state Department of Tourism has a long-standing tradition of not being political. We carried on that tradition during our eight years in office. Specifically, we retained several members of the Governor’s Council on Tourism that were appointed by former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a new approach at the agency. Reports suggest an effort to force Kathy Kopp, a long-time member, off the council. Kathy had previously received a lifetime achievement award for her work in tourism. Why would this administration push to get rid of such a valued member of the council?
As Empower Wisconsin first reported, documents obtained by state Rep. Travis Tranel under the open records law show that multiple votes were held online for council chair. Paper votes were cast in the past. Presumably tourism leadership were trying to block Kathy from the leadership position.
Similarly, why would the department stop using Green Bay Packer legend and “Dancing With The Stars” champion Donald Driver as a spokesman for tourism in Wisconsin? It seems that his biggest liability was having worked with the prior administration.
In 2010, I asked Stephanie Klett to be the tourism secretary. At the time, she was an Emmy-winning host of the longest-running tourism show in America—Discover Wisconsin. As host, she covered events in every county in the state. Klett was a natural for the position and a perfect fit for a department that is about promoting fun—not politics.
Gov. Tony Evers did not ask Klett to stay on as tourism secretary. Instead, he nominated Sara Meaney, who was serving as the marketing and development director for Milwaukee Film. Before that, Meaney was with advertising agencies in Milwaukee. I don’t know her, but I do hear concerns raised by state lawmakers that she is bringing politics into the Department of Tourism.
Meaney says she wants to spend around $1 million to create a Wisconsin-branded hospitality space during the four days the Democratic National Convention is in Milwaukee next year. Can you imagine the protests if my administration spent taxpayers’ money on a hospitality space for a Republican event being held in Wisconsin?
I’ve also heard concerns that the department is moving away from promoting attractions and events in smaller parts of the state, focusing more on the Milwaukee and Madison markets. Those areas are important, but not at the expense of the rest of the state.
Tourism in Wisconsin has an economic impact of more than $21 billion a year, and the industry supports nearly 200,000 jobs. Tourism grew by 35% during the last six years, and that helped create 21,000 new jobs. It did so in no small part because our administration kept politics out of tourism. Secretary-designee Meaney should do the same.