The Ripon Commonwealth Press performed a valuable act of public service last week by interviewing state Rep. Fred Clark (D–Baraboo), who wants to defeat Sen. Luther Olsen (R–Ripon) in the 14th Senate District recall election sometime this summer, when Clark stopped by the newspaper office.
Before we continue, two points you’ve read here. First: No elected official should be recalled from office for one vote. Recalls should be meant for elective officials’ misconduct in public office, such as, oh, bugging out of the state to prevent a vote they’re going to lose. Second: Olsen is going to win the recall election for several reasons because, for one thing, he’s never faced a Democrat, which means that no Democrat between 1994 and 2008 felt they could defeat Olsen.
The headline starts things off: “Clark: Philosophical differences mark distinctions between himself and Olsen,” which could also read: “Philosophical differences mark distinctions between Clark and Olsen’s Senate district.”
Red Fred’s website claims that his being “a contractor and small business owner, and rural farm resident, serves him well as a representative to a rural area.” I wonder how often he’ll mention in the truncated campaign that he used to work for the Department of Natural Resources, which is not exactly popular for more reasons than I have time to list in this “rural area.” Maybe Clark’s definition of “rural Wisconsin’s progressive tradition” (hence my “Red Fred” reference) works in the Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells areas; it is unlikely to go over as well in the rest of the 14th Senate District, a majority of whose voters do not see government as the be-all and end-all of their lives.
The people who do see government as the be-all and end-all of their lives — and Baraboo is just 40 miles away from the People’s Republic of Madison — would include Clark’s endorsers in his 2010 reelection, a list that includes AFSCME, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, the Clean Wisconsin Action Fund, the National Association of Social Workers, the Wisconsin Laborer’s District Council, the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Wisconsin Progress, the Wisconsin State AFL–CIO — organizations that do not represent the mainstream of 14th Senate District thought, based on past election results.
Clark asserts that “Sen. Olsen did not represent his district,” without giving any evidence that Olsen did, other than, one assumes, assertions from Clark’s buddies from AFSCME, the AFL–CIO and teacher unions. “He failed to do that on one of the most important issues a lot of people have seen in a generation,” as if public employee collective bargaining rights (which he calls a “fundamental human right,” irrespective of that right appearing nowhere in the U.S. or Wisconsin constitutions) are more important than the state’s Lake Michigan-size vat of red ink.
What would be amusing if it wasn’t so pathetic is that Clark appears to have no better answers for the state’s godawful finances. Consider:
• “We have a structural deficit; we have to address that. We can’t tax our way out of it; we do need to make cuts.”
• “I do not disagree that many public employee unions had bargained for benefit packages that were unaffordable.”
• “I firmly believe that everything should be on the table. … I always believed that we need to be doing something to lower costs of benefits. Did we need to require [public employees] to contribute more to health care benefits? Yes.”
• “I’m not a proponent of raising anybody’s taxes, but a lot of people aren’t [paying what they are supposed to be paying]. We should fund the Department of Revenue more to have more examiners.”
• “The change I talk about is not getting us there; it doesn’t get even get us halfway” to the $2.5 billion budget deficit.
• “We’ve made more commitments … than we can really support. … We need to ask the public — how much do you want to invest to” keep those commitments.
The summary of these quotes is that Clark didn’t like what Olsen voted for, but Clark doesn’t have better answers than what Olsen voted for and Clark voted against. Clark’s union buddies believe the solution to our fiscal disaster area is to raise taxes, which Clark eschews if you believe the Commonwealth Press story.
The last time Clark’s party controlled the Legislature and the governor’s mansion, the Legislature increased taxes by $2.1 billion, yet managed the novel feat of significantly worsening state finances. The last complete fiscal year Democrats were in charge in Madison left us with a $2.9 billion deficit as correctly measured by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, and a structural deficit of more than that heading into the 2011-13 state budget cycle.
Clark the entrepreneur has the following to say about the state’s business climate, which was made significantly worse in the years his party controlled the governor’s mansion:
• “We need to set up a tax environment where small businesses can survive and thrive. We need to balance a growing economy and the environmental value of our … lands. We should should have an economy that can grow and protect our resources at the same time.”
• “At the end of the day, the way we want to grow our state … is we need to grow the tax base. I don’t think cutting government to the bone is the way to do that. Creating an environment where businesses can thrive” will.
Clark’s assertion about the economy and the environment is made about a state that has spent billions of dollars and is spending $86 million a year to buy land and take it off the tax rolls in the guise of preservation, and a state where its environmental agency, Clark’s former employer, earned the nickname “Damn Near Russia” decades ago. (I wonder how voters in the “rural area” think about that.) And this is a state where agriculture and tourism, two obviously environment-dependent industries, dwarf every other industry. If anything, in Wisconsin the teeter-totter between the economy and the environment has giant weights on the environment’s seat.
Clark’s assertion about “cutting government to the bone” — which is a straw man since those elected Nov. 2 aren’t anywhere close to “cutting government to the bone” — is an accusation in a state with the fourth highest state and local taxes in the nation. That ranking also occurred under the Democrats’ watch.
Olsen — who ironically has been criticized for being not conservative enough, as demonstrated by his past opposition to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and concealed-carry legislation — is being punished for being an adult and making the financially responsible vote his opponent’s party failed to do when it controlled the Legislature. For that and other reasons, voters fired Democrats left and, well, left Nov. 2.