The Wisconsin State Journal editorial board just got bigger, better and more diverse.
For the first time in our news organization’s more than 180-year history, three community members are joining the board that shapes the State Journal’s opinions.
We’re excited to announce today that former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske, Downtown Madison dynamo Susan Schmitz, and former police lieutenant and longtime youth football coach Wayne Strong have generously agreed to contribute their time and expertise to our mission.
Please join us in thanking them. These three proven leaders will serve one-year terms on our editorial board, participating in regular board meetings and helping us set our agenda.
The State Journal has long strived to be Madison and Wisconsin’s best friend and most constructive critic with its editorial voice. That won’t change with the addition of these three civic-minded professionals. But we do expect Geske, Strong and Schmitz to broaden our view and sharpen our focus as we encourage a better direction for our city and state.
Geske, Strong and Schmitz will be more than advisers to our editorial board. They will be full members, with the same say on our positions and calls to action as the four staff members who will remain on our board: president and publisher Christopher T. White, executive editor Jason Adrians, editorial page editor Scott Milfred, and editorial cartoonist Phil Hands.
All three community board members are Wisconsin natives. All three have excelled in their fields and persevered through challenges. All three have rich experiences and insights to draw from and offer.
Geske was only the second woman to join the state Supreme Court in 1993. She remembers coming out of law school in the mid-’70s when small communities in Wisconsin “weren’t really ready” for a female attorney. So she went to work in Milwaukee, representing poor clients in civil court and becoming chief staff attorney. That led to a circuit court appointment by Gov. Lee Dreyfus. A dozen years later, Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed her to the Supreme Court, and she subsequently won statewide election.
Geske has taught at Marquette Law School, including a recent class on counseling clients. She left the high court in 1998 to pursue her passion for peaceful resolution of disputes outside of the legal system in communities, prisons, the business world and politics.
Our editorial board endorsed Geske’s strong commitment to an independent judiciary in 2011, and we touted her call for more court transparency in 2012. After a high-court justice put his arms around the neck of a colleague during a heated argument in 2014, then-Gov. Scott Walker suggested to our editorial board that someone such as Geske help mediate the dispute. Before that, in 2002, Geske was picked to serve as Milwaukee County’s interim county executive in the wake of a pension scandal.
Geske has been a voice of reason that Wisconsinites across the political spectrum can trust. And she continues to help bridge differences today. Just last week in Milwaukee, she led a community discussion on race and the judicial system. Notably, she lives outside the Madison “bubble,” providing our board with more of a statewide view.
We couldn’t be more thrilled to have her join our editorial board as an independent and creative thinker.
The same goes for Strong and Schmitz.
Strong impressed our editorial board while running for Madison School Board. A retired police lieutenant who served as one of the city’s first school-based officers, Strong has been a role model for countless young people as co-director of the Southside Raiders football and cheerleading program for more than a quarter century.
Strong has worked and volunteered for too many organizations and nonprofits to list. Now in retirement from the police force, he coordinates training in how to deescalate crisis situations for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Dane County, and he helps UW-Madison students earning certificates in legal studies find jobs.
Strong understands firsthand the tough job of policing and the professionalism of Madison’s department. He earned a Medal of Valor and Life Saving Award on the force. But he also recognizes the need for law enforcement to improve. He’ll help our editorial board speak with more authority and knowledge about the achievement gaps in schools, racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and violent crime.
Schmitz’s family in Madison dates back almost as far as our news organization. The State Journal traces its origins to 1839 — nine years before Wisconsin became a state. Schmitz can nearly match that. Her great-great-grandfather arrived in the area in 1854. And her great-grandfather opened a men’s clothing store — The Hub — on the Capitol Square in 1898. She and her family kept it going until 1991.
Then she ran her own clothing store at Hilldale Shopping Center in the 1990s. She counted Republicans including Gov. Thompson and Democrats such as U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold as loyal customers. Her profile and leadership in the business community only grew from there when she became executive director of Downtown Madison Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to the health of the city’s core, retiring three years ago.
No one loves or is more enthusiastic about Downtown Madison than Schmitz. And nobody will try harder to make the central city a success in the wake of COVID-19, vandalism and looting that badly damaged the hospitality and retail industries, especially on State Street. In recent years, she’s advocated for a modern homeless shelter in Madison, and she’s raising money for a new state history museum. Our editorial board has endorsed both noble efforts and long admired her advocacy for small business owners.
We welcome Geske, Strong and Schmitz to our editorial board. We look forward to learning, collaborating and engaging with them to promote the public good.