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The Top 10 of 2010


A Vietnam veteran arrives at the
LZ Lambeau "Welcome Home" event in May

In 2010 Wisconsin turned from a blue state to a red state, witnessed four visits to the state by President Barack Obama, experienced heavy summer and winter weather, belatedly welcomed home its Vietnam veterans, heatedly debated the issue of high-speed rail, and saw its beloved Wisconsin Badgers earn a trip to the Rose Bowl. There were other headline-making news stories as well, including the threatened departure from Milwaukee of the iconic motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson and a December report from a federal agency naming Wisconsin as the number one state in the nation for drunken driving. Continuing a year-end tradition begun in 2003, the Wisconsin Historical Society has selected 10 history-making news stories of 2010 with a Wisconsin connection. Please join us in reflecting on the events and issues that made headlines this year.

Top 10 Wisconsin History-Making News Stories of 2010

  • Blue State Turns Red
    Political discourse and debate dominated the news throughout the year, leading up to the midterm election in November. The results in Wisconsin turned the state from blue to red, politically, with a victory for Republican Scott Walker over Democrat Tom Barrett in the governor's race, the defeat of three-term Senator Russ Feingold by political newcomer Ron Johnson, and control of both houses of the state Legislature shifting from the Democrats to the Republicans.
  • Obama Visits Wisconsin Four Times
    Anytime a sitting president visits a city, it's big news and it impacts a lot of lives. In 2010 President Obama paid not one, but four, visits to Wisconsin cities. He led a town hall meeting in Racine on June 30, toured ZBB Energy Corporation in Menomonee Falls on August 16, led a Labor Day rally in Milwaukee on September 6 and spoke on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on September 28. University police estimated the latter political rally drew a crowd of more than 26,000 people, making it Obama's largest rally since the campaign. The Wisconsin Historical Society, directly facing Library Mall, shut down for the day to allow for Secret Service security sweeps and to accommodate the presidential press corp.
  • The High-Speed Rail Debate
    Throughout the year advocates and opponents of a high-speed rail line linking Madison and Milwaukee, funded by $810 in federal stimulus money, had their say. The city of Madison went so far as to select a downtown site for a high-speed rail station. Proponents said the project would create jobs, stimulate the economy and give people a fast and convenient way to travel between Wisconsin's two largest cities. Opponents said the project would amount to a boondoggle that would saddle the state with infrastructure support costs. Governor-elect Scott Walker stuck by his campaign pledge not to accept the federal money unless it could be put to other uses such as road building. In the end, the Obama administration redirected the $810 million to other states for high-speed rail projects.
  • The Badgers Earn a Trip to the Rose Bowl
    The University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers football team had a stellar season behind the solid play of senior quarterback Scott Tolzien and his talented teammates, losing just one game, on the road, at Michigan State and finishing the season in a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten. In one nationally televised night game on October 16, the Badgers dominated and defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes, then the number one-ranked team in the nation, by a score of 31-18. By virtue of having a higher Bowl Championship Series ranking than Michigan State and Ohio State, the Badgers earned the right to travel to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on New Year's Day to take on the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs. Good luck Badgers!
  • Harley-Davidson Stays in Wisconsin
    Harley-Davidson, the iconic Milwaukee-based motorcycle manufacturer, warned its unionized employees at plants in Menomonee Falls and Tomahawk early in 2010 that the unions must agree to major concessions in their labor contracts or the company would move its production plants out of the state. Among the company's demands were wage concessions and the need to adjust its production schedule to fit seasonal demand. In September the unions' rank and file accepted new seven-year contracts that freeze wages, increase employee contributions for health care coverage, slash some production jobs and assign large volumes of work to part-time workers. The move saved hundreds of production jobs, but in November the company rejected $25 million in tax incentives offered by the Governor Jim Doyle administration aimed at ensuring the jobs stay in Wisconsin over a nine-year period. The company said the terms attached to the incentive package were too restrictive.
  • Congressman David Obey Decides Not to Run for Re-election
    In another politically charged story, Wisconsin Democratic Congressman David Obey announced that he would not run for re-election to the seat he has held for 41 years. As chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Obey was a force to be reckoned with in Washington. Appropriations served as his power base and allied him with other Democratic leaders in Congress, including outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the late John Murtha. At a news conference announcing his impending departure from the House of Representatives, Obey called the passage of the Obama health care bill one of the hallmarks of his Congressional career. "I have been waiting for that moment for 41 years and its arrival finally made all the frustrations of public life worth it," he said. In a sign of the political times, in the November general election Republican Sean Duffy won the seat that Obey had inhabited since 1969.
  • Tornadoes Hammer Southern Wisconsin
    On the evening of June 21, a swarm of five powerful tornadoes struck southern Wisconsin, causing heavy damage and knocking out power to thousands. The most powerful of the tornadoes, an F2 twister packing winds between 125 and 130 miles per hour, hit the area around Eagle, Wisconsin, including the visitor center area and tree-lined parking lot of the Society's Old World Wisconsin historic site. The storm flattened 2,700 trees at Old World Wisconsin alone, covering the parking lot and parts of the site with downed timber, destroying an animal shed and damaging some of the historic buildings. Fortunately, the storm didn't destroy any buildings and no one, not even the animals in the destroyed shed, sustained injuries, but the site closed for a month to make it safe for visitors to return. The same night tornadoes also struck in the nearby Big Bend-Muskego area, western Dane County, southwest Jefferson County and central Lafayette County.
  • LZ Lambeau™ Welcomes Home the State's Vietnam Vets
    In May the Society teamed with Wisconsin Public Television and the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs to give a long-overdue "welcome home" to the state's Vietnam veterans. LZ Lambeau™: Welcoming Home Wisconsin's Vietnam Veterans, held on the hallowed ground of Green Bay's Lambeau Field, delivered a massive, three-day tribute to those who served and those who never returned. A motorcycle honor ride from La Crosse to Green Bay honored the 1,244 Wisconsin troops killed or missing in action in Vietnam. Veterans, their families and the general public flocked to Lambeau Field by the thousands to take part in the moving event, which featured an exhibit, "Back in the World," "The Moving Wall™," a traveling, half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., music and speeches. The highlight of the event was a tribute ceremony featuring music, aerial fly-bys, presentations and premiere segments of the "Wisconsin Vietnam War Stories" documentary produced by Wisconsin Public Television.
  • Massive December Snowstorm Blasts the State
    In December a massive snowstorm hit the entire state, closing a 150-mile stretch of Interstate 94 from Tomah to Hudson, sending hundreds of cars into ditches and prompting blizzard warnings for much of the state. The widespread blizzard conditions prompted Governor Jim Doyle to declare a state of emergency for all 72 counties, and the state Department of Transportation warned people not to travel during the dangerous storm. Following the storm, the thermometer plummeted, sending temperatures into the single digits or below zero over much of the state, leaving most roads covered by a hard layer of ice resistant to removal by road salt due to the extreme temperatures. The storm was reminiscent of another dangerous snowstorm in December 2009 that shut down state government for a day and closed most campuses of the University of Wisconsin system.
  • Wisconsin Tops the Nation in Drunken Driving
    In a report from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released on December 9, findings of the agency's National Survey on Drug Use and Health concluded that Wisconsin leads the nation in the percentage of drivers who drove drunk in the past year. The report found that 23.7 percent of Wisconsin residents 16 or older say they have driven drunk during the past year, followed closely by North Dakota at 22.4 percent. Of the top 10 worst states for drunken driving, five were in the Midwest (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska and North and South Dakota). If there is a bright side to the report, it is that, combining data from 2006 to 2009 with data collected from 2002 to 2005, the nation as a whole has experienced a statistically significant reduction in drunken driving — from 14.6 percent to 13.2 percent.
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