Former Wisconsin Governor Patrick Lucey Dies At 96

Lucey Created UW System, Signed Same-Day Voter Registration Into Law

Former Gov. Patrick Lucey, right, sits with his family during a Milwaukee political event in 2012. Photo: Chuck Quirmbach/WPR News.

Former state Gov. Patrick Lucey, a man being described by friends and family as a statesman who got things done, died on Saturday night at the age of 96 after a brief illness.

Former Gov.Tony Earl was a Democratic state legislator when Lucey was sworn into the executive office in 1971. What followed, Earl says, was a record of accomplishment no governor can match.

“I truly believe he was the most effective governor in Wisconsin in the last 100 years, and that includes the Robert M. LaFollette years,” said Earl. “’Battle Bob,’ to take nothing away from him, could get people riled up, (and he) proposed lots of things. But he had a lot of trouble getting things passed. Pat didn’t stir the fire very much, but boy, he got a hell of a lot done.”

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Lucey created the University of Wisconsin System as it’s known today, merging UW-Madison with campuses around the state. He also signed a same-day voter registration law, and created Wisconsin’s shared revenue system.

Earl, who went on to serve in Lucey’s cabinet, says Lucey was a Democrat who was able to work with Republicans. “We had permanent allies, or as much as you could want permanent allies,” said Earl. “No permanent enemies.”

Republican Senate President Mike Ellis, who was a freshman state representative in 1971, says that if you had a good idea, Lucey would listen to it. Being freshmen, we were a little bit in awe any time that the governor would even acknowledge that you existed,” said Ellis.

Former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle says Lucey built relationships in politics to accomplish his agenda.

“In many ways, he was Lyndon Johnson without all the rough edges,” said Doyle. “He was a politician in the best sense of the word.”

Lucey and Doyle’s father worked to organize Wisconsin’s modern Democratic Party, and Lucey served in the Legislature with Doyle’s mother. Doyle says there was a tremendous loyalty to Lucey among Democrats because of what he did for the party, but Lucey never let it go to his head.

“Pat Lucey was a great governor,” said Doyle. “He was a great political leader. But the thing about Pat Lucey is he was even a better man.”