No. 22, Petak switches his vote

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With the sports activities world on maintain, we current a countdown of the 50 biggest moments in Wisconsin sports activities historical past over the previous 50 years. That is No. 22.

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Simply two weeks after he misplaced his Wisconsin State Senate seat in unprecedented trend, George Petak threw out the primary pitch at a Brewers sport at County Stadium.

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It was a second wealthy with irony since he was readily available because the consultant for “Racine Evening” on the ballpark. The Republican from Racine had drawn vital ire from his constituents for his outstanding position in a 1995 state-senate vote that authorized a financing plan for the development of Miller Park.

In an consequence that left his celebration surprised, the second-term Republican fell in a particular recall election to Meeting Democrat Kim Plache of Racine, who had 51.2% of the vote to Petak’s 47%. No Wisconsin state lawmaker had ever misplaced a recall election earlier than. 

However for every of the earlier 5 years, Petak had thrown out the primary pitch on Racine Evening, and so there he was once more. His spouse, Nancy, sang the Nationwide Anthem and their son, Brian, then 26, accompanied her on the keyboards. 

Even when Racine residents had demonstrated their dissatisfaction with Petak, Milwaukee baseball followers would bear in mind his title after they walked into Miller Park.

“I am as satisfied as I ever have been that shedding main league baseball could be a devastating blow to the financial system and the standard of life {that a} main league franchise brings to southeast Wisconsin,” he stated. “None of that has modified. That has been my sentiment all alongside.”

RELATED50 greatest Wisconsin sports moments of the past 50 years

A proposal for a gross sales tax in 5 Milwaukee-area counties had failed the Senate twice and appeared on dying’s door earlier than Petak swapped his vote at 5 a.m. following 16 hours of deliberation on the third try. His determination swung it to a profitable 16-15 vote on Oct. 6, 1995. Gov. Tommy Thompson, a significant proponent of a brand new stadium plan in Milwaukee, signed the laws and set in movement the plan that introduced Miller Park to fruition and saved the Brewers on the town.

It additionally set in movement the top of Petak’s political profession. 

“I did what I assumed was in one of the best pursuits of the state and have been considered as each a traitor and hero, all in the identical breath, truly,” Petak stated. “In the end, because the votes have been forged, and the time got here both to observe main league baseball depart our nice state or to assist in seeing that it stayed for generations to come back, it was clear that (the Democratic votes) weren’t there, and I used to be there.”

A county in revolt

Petak was initially in favor of a plan to maintain the Brewers however was against the 0.1 p.c gross sales tax that may affect 5 counties — Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Waukesha and Ozaukee — as a result of his personal county was one of many 5. The northern county line of Racine County was simply lower than 20 miles from County Stadium.

The Racine County Board voted one week earlier than the plan was earlier than the Senate, 28-0, in opposition to the taxing plan, and all three of Racine County’s state representatives voted no when the plan handed the Meeting in a nail-biting vote into the morning in late September 1995.

“I’ve by no means seen voters so intense on a problem in my seven years within the Legislature,” acknowledged Plache. “They’re nonetheless calling me this morning (after the vote) asking what can we do to oppose it.

“George Petak is fortunate he is bought three years earlier than he is up for re-election,” Plache added.

Petak stated he was a Brewers fan and attended a number of video games a 12 months and had “no intention” of killing the package deal general.

“The truth I confronted was, both I alter my vote; persuade any individual else to, which was extremely unlikely; or the Brewers are gone, frankly,” Petak stated. “And I by no means needed to see that occur, whatever the dimension or form of the funding package deal.”

Brewers proprietor Bud Selig had handed off operation of the staff to his household throughout his tenure as Main League Baseball’s performing commissioner (starting in 1992 and persevering with till he turned full-time commissioner in 1998), and he by no means indicated he was actively searching for to maneuver the Brewers. However County Stadium, inbuilt 1953, wasn’t a facility that might assist the membership keep afloat financially.

Thompson made it clear he believed that if the stadium invoice was not authorized by the Senate, the debt-ridden Brewers would relocate.

“How good do it’s important to be to understand they can not keep in Milwaukee?” Thompson stated. “D-Day is Thursday.”

Change to preliminary plan creates sticker shock

The Brewers wanted luxurious packing containers, membership seats, eating places, outlets and expanded parking. Plans to exchange the venue had been hatched all the best way again in 1987 when County Stadium was deemed financially out of date, and in 1989, the membership initially pledged to privately finance a $120 million undertaking.

However plans modified in 1994. The Brewers now needed so as to add a roof, considerably upping the value tag. Not solely that, the Brewers reported a lack of $10.7 million that 12 months and an annual debt service of $Four million. Not solely that, baseball was within the midst of a gamers’ strike that left baseball in an financial downturn and clouded the game’s future. 

The staff stated it might pay $10-$15 million upfront and pay $2-Three million a 12 months in hire for 20 years to offset the prices. The remainder of the $180 million would fall to taxpayers. That created some sticker shock.

As Wisconsin Rapids Democratic meeting assistant minority chief Marlin Schneider put it: “It is inconceivable to me that we will cap salaries of college lecturers after which be bankrolling baseball groups.”

Recalled

Petak, who was 45 in 1995, had twice earlier than received election, together with in 1990 when he upset Senate Majority Chief Joseph Strohl. The previous Faculty Board member was named to a coveted spot on the Joint Finance Committee.

“George Petak might be what’s greatest in a public servant,” Thompson stated after the vote. “He actually strongly believed in his coronary heart and his thoughts and really fiber of his physique that skilled main league baseball is essential for Wisconsin.”

However discontent started instantly after he modified his vote. Republicans believed it turned extra about celebration management, with Republicans holding a one-seat benefit within the state senate. The required 12,000 signatures from Senate District 21 have been obtained by February, and opponents adopted the slogan “No Extra Petax.”

“That is as much as the folks of Racine,” stated Senate Democratic Chief Charles Chvala of Madison. “The folks of Racine began this, and they’re going to end it. … These (Racine) individuals are furious; the pot is boiling down there.

“George Petak broke religion with the folks of Racine, and voted in opposition to their pursuits. The folks of Racine really feel like `stick it to ’em’ utilized to them personally.”

Chvala was referring to Tommy Thompson’s “stick it to ’em” rhetoric he used across the state, noting that voters may assist the plan with out worry of private loss, as a result of the Milwaukee counties would foot the invoice. 

On June 4, the particular election happened, and Petak misplaced.

“We have now nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be displeased with, however the voters have spoken,” Petak stated. “I am shocked by the end result however not discouraged. We’ll transfer ahead.”

How the second lives on

In 2020, the stadium tax finally met its sunset after elevating $600 million for building and operation of Miller Park, and the stadium that may be altering its title to American Household Discipline in 2021. However for Brewers followers, the second means Milwaukee bought to maintain enjoying previous the 1990s. Miller Park opened in 2001, the Brewers returned to the playoffs in 2008 after a 26-year playoff drought, and the membership made return visits in 2011, 2018 and 2019.

The roof took climate out of the equation, and Milwaukee followers have flocked to the park to place the Brewers yearly in Main League Baseball’s high 10 of attendance, regardless of enjoying within the smallest market. The Brewers drew Three million followers in 2008 for the primary time, then once more in 2009 and 2011. Earlier than Miller Park, the Brewers drew 2 million followers only one time (1983). Within the 19 years of Miller Park, the membership has drawn fewer than 2 million simply twice, in 2002 and 2003.

Petak stepped away from politics, and at the moment he is the senior enterprise and group engagement officer for the Wisconsin Housing and Financial Improvement Authority based mostly in Madison.

‘So lengthy, previous good friend’

On Sept. 28, 2000, the Milwaukee Brewers stated goodbye to County Stadium, with the largest-regular season gathering in franchise historical past (56,354 followers) readily available to observe the finale. 

The Brewers misplaced to the Reds, 8-1. But it surely was extra in regards to the recollections surrounding the stadium and the particular appearances from Robin Yount, Rollie Fingers, Paul Molitor, Hank Aaron, Packers greats like Willie Davis and former Braves star Warren Spahn, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Even a future star, Olympic hero Ben Sheets, was readily available. 

Earlier than the stadium lights have been flipped off for good, legendary Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker delivered the farewell.

Guidelines of the 50 in 50 sequence

  • Moments are recorded over the 50-year window from 1970 to 2019 (sorry 2020, however you are disqualified)
  • These are moments and never achievements, though that largely goes hand-in-hand.
  • These are “biggest” 50 moments, so you will not see moments which are pivotal however in the end heartbreaking (just like the NFC Championship loss to Seattle, Kareem getting traded, and many others.)
  • You additionally will not see (many) moments that got here to be acknowledged for his or her greatness later, such because the day the Bucks drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo or the day the Packers traded for Brett Favre.
  • Moments thought of embrace groups based mostly in Wisconsin and Wisconsin athletes competing in particular person sports activities or as a part of nationwide groups (such because the Olympics), or moments on Wisconsin soil.
  • These are singular moments. You are supposed to recollect the place you have been after they occurred.
Extra of the 50 biggest Wisconsin sports activities moments of the previous 50 years

JR Radcliffe could be reached at (262) 361-9141 or jradcliffe@gannett.com. Comply with him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.

Our subscribers make this reporting potential. Please think about supporting native journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.

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