By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Founder, Taxpayers League of Minnesota
It was the kind of moment Mike Wigley, founder of the rigorous and often antagonistic Taxpayers League of Minnesota, no doubt cherishes. In 2003, with a newly elected Tim Pawlenty refusing to hike a single tax in the face of an acute budget crisis, former Minnesota Gov. Wendell Anderson stood at a Humphrey Institute podium flanked by three fellow former Minnesota governors and demanded, "Where's Mr. Wigley? He runs state government. Do you know Mike Wigley?"
Wigley is the brains behind the "no new taxes pledge," a tool his Taxpayers League started pushing on state legislators. When he was still in the Minnesota House of Representatives, Pawlenty took the pledge, under the influence of Wigley's patented brand of urging, to raise no kind of tax no matter how deep the state's financial woes.
Wigley made his millions in construction. He's chairman, president, and CEO of Great Plains Companies, Inc. He has degrees from Stanford and Harvard. And he's got a monomaniacal fix on his issue: taxes. Specifically, eliminating them. And he's a walk-the-walk man: He's donated $95,500 of his own money to the Taxpayers League over the years.
When state government hits a wall over one tax issue or another, you will probably find Wigley in a corner somewhere smirking. But it's not just about muscle. The league doubles as a research center, issuing talking points to fuel the tax debate. Sure, says Weber, "Wigley pisses a lot of people off—but that's his job." Weber observes that Minnesotans—liberals and conservatives alike—occasionally lock arms on tax issues. "And in a liberal political climate, in areas where we do have some common ground, there needs to be somebody to organize around it."
And organize Wigley does. Relentlessly. He's called for the resignation of a state Republican speaker of the House. In recent months, he's called on Chamber of Commerce members to revoke their membership.
"He's been able to mobilize an extraordinary amount of money for anti-tax campaigns," says Steven Schier, a professor of political science at Carleton. "That voice didn't exist in Minnesota politics before him. He made a material difference in Minnesota politics."