The next reforms

Sunday, those who waste their time reading The C(r)apital Times editorial within the Wisconsin State Journal opinion section were told that Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential campaign is floundering in Iowa.

Leaving aside whether that’s actually meaningful, a good question to be asked is what should Wisconsin Republicans do now that Act 10, right-to-work legislation and limited reform of the state’s prevailing-wage law are now law, whether Walker remains as governor or not.

Collin Roth has a list:

  1. Eliminate Minimum Markup – If you thought prevailing wage was bad, wait until you hear about minimum markup, also known as the Unfair Sales Act. Minimum markup sets a basement price with the intent of keeping ‘mom and pop’ gas stations in business by keeping big companies from undercutting their prices. In effect, it’s a law that prevents drivers from getting a discount on gas. It’s a bad law, and must be done away with before any consideration of a gas tax increase.
  2. Civil Service Reform – Act 10 was one of the most consequential and important reforms to state and local government in decades. But unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Legislators need to explore serious and significant civil service reform that empowers government agencies to reform, streamline, and hire and fire without so many barriers. We’re living in an age of limited public resources, and taxpayers deserve the most efficient government possible.
  3. Tax Reform – Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans have done a wonderful job of tackling tax reform in Wisconsin – but there is still a long way to go before this state sheds its reputation as a tax hell. Outside of major reforms to flatten the tax bracket, legislators should explore eliminating the Personal Property Tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax. Wisconsin is one of just six states with an AMT that is catching more and more taxpayers. Rep. Dale Kooyenga and Sen. Howard Marklein reformed the AMT to federalize the formula. It’s time to get rid of it.
  4. GAB Reform – This is one of the few reforms on this list that is almost guaranteed to happen this session. Rep. Dean Knudson is putting the final touches on a reform package that will likely come up this Fall. What remains a question is exactly what the reform will look like. Initially, it looked like a “hybrid” model of judges and partisan appointees may be the leading option. But comments from the GAB Chair in the wake of the John Doe investigation ought to make legislators think twice about retaining the judges.
  5. John Doe Reform – Like GAB reform, it looks like Rep. Dave Craig’s John Doe reform bill is almost a certainty. This bill will add transparency and constitutional safeguards to a process that was so obviously abused for political purposes over the last four years.
  6. Updating Campaign Finance Laws – After decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, Wisconsin must update and rewrite portions of its campaign finance laws. In their written form, they are unconstitutional and their interpretation have led to the confusion and abuses in the John Doe investigations. This will be a delicate process fraught with danger, so it has to be done right.
  7. WEDC – Get rid of it. Admit mistakes and move on. Break up the essential functions and send them to various existing government agencies. Get government and legislators out of the business of picking winners and losers and avoid the headache of more scandals and bad headlines. This will take some courage given that WEDC has become a Democratic talking point, but principled conservatives need to take a stand on this unfortunate debacle.
  8. DPI Reform – The state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is a bureaucracy ripe for reform. Rep. Joe Sanfelippo is expected to introduce a bill this Fall that could streamline and eliminate bloat at DPI by removing certain programs from Madison and shifting funding and responsibility to local school districts. This would be a good start.
  9. UW System Reforms – Taking on the University of Wisconsin System will take courage and endurance similar to the Act 10 fight. The nibbling around the edges this session left a lot of scars and little reward. It’s time for a real conversation about campus consolidation, real reform to tenure, tackling administrative bloat, ensuring that tech colleges are meeting workforce demands, and addressing the affordability of education. Tackling these issues will require vision and leadership, and legislators could get buy-in by wrapping these reforms in a vision of something like a $10,000 four-year degree like Gov. Rick Perry in Texas.
  10. Regulatory Reform – Like taxes, Wisconsin has come along way in regulatory reform – but still has a long way to go. One great idea proposed by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) is a requirement that regulations with a total cost of $25 million to business or local government must earn legislative approval. Legislators ought to make this reform a priority.
  11. Juvenile Sentencing Reform – Rep. Rob Hutton showed some courage and ingenuity last session when he introduced a criminal justice reform aimed at keeping first-time, 17-year old offenders who commit minor crimes in juvenile court. Its a reform that deserves consideration given its success in conservative states like Texas where it has saved money and reduced the prison population. But a recent crime wave in Milwaukee will make this a difficult sell in the short term.
  12. Mandatory Minimum for Felons Caught With Guns – Bipartisan and commonsense, this bill from Rep. Joel Kleefisch earned support from some Milwaukee Democrats as well as conservative Republicans who are hoping to address a violent crime wave in Milwaukee. The bill provides a mandatory minimum sentence for felons caught illegally possessing a firearm. It won’t solve the crisis in Milwaukee, but it is a step in the right direction and shouldn’t be too controversial.

The ordinary Scott Walker

Jon Gabriel:

Despite what The Donald and Jeb! and Carly said in last week’s debate, Scott Walker’s closing statement tackled an even larger elephant in the room: “I’m a guy with a wife, two kids, and a Harley. One article called me ‘aggressively normal.’” The Wisconsin Governor’s detractors aren’t as euphemistic. Let’s face it: Scott Walker is B-O-R-I-N-G.

He brags about the bargain rack at Kohl’s. He spends his Sunday mornings at church and his Sunday afternoons watching the Packers. He live-tweets his haircuts and getting the oil changed in his Saturn. His only unhealthy obsession seems to be an addiction to hot ham and rolls after church. (He really loves hot ham.)

In a news cycle filled with burning cities, beheaded Christians, and transgendered Kardashians, how does a dull Midwesterner stand out? He showed how Thursday night. To paraphrase a reporter talking about Barry Goldwater’s presidential strategy, “my God, Walker is running as Walker!”

This isn’t the first time a politician listed “aggressively normal” as a selling point. In 1920, America’s political climate was in even greater tumult than today’s. President Wilson had fundamentally transformed the federal government into an oppressive entity that regularly jailed detractors, instituted a then-unimaginable level of regulation, and created the first income tax. Our battered soldiers returned from the charnel houses of Europe to find an executive branch pushing for an even more robust internationalism. By the time the president was incapacitated by stroke (a fact hidden for months), most Americans had had enough.

In a field of flashy candidates, a dull Midwesterner caught the zeitgeist by calling for a “Return to Normalcy”:

“America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.”

Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding’s promise of a boring four years delivered a landslide victory from an exhausted electorate. After dying in office he was replaced by our dullest president, Calvin Coolidge, who was succeeded by a third steady hand, Herbert Hoover.

In many ways Walker is the heir to Silent Cal; a leader focused on concrete results with minimal rhetoric and even less drama. He spent his time as a county executive and governor methodically rolling back the worst excesses of government as the world flailed around him. The unwashed progressives in Madison ranted and raved, but Walker remained the eye of the storm. Unions threatened his family, judges harassed his friends, and MSNBC’s Ed Schultz held a year-long St. Vitus’ dance, while the governor stretched in his church pew, dreaming about hot ham.

As an ideologue, I’m more attracted to conservatarian activism. If a candidate promised to cut government in half, I would think it was merely a good start. Forget balancing the budget, I want spending well below incoming revenues for the next decade. And if the next government shutdown doesn’t last a year, don’t bother. So, on paper, a “return to normalcy” shouldn’t be that appealing.

But Walker appeals to an exhaustion with politics in general. Like most small-government enthusiasts, I don’t want to think about Washington, D.C. every minute of every day. My ideal politician is someone I only hear about at election time and maybe in January when he submits his State of the Union address in writing. I would much rather focus my time on family, business, and art, than waste Christmas Eve watching C-SPAN’s live congressional feed. I long for the days when supermarket magazine racks featured celebrity weight loss tips instead of FLOTUS lecturing me about kale.

If we’re frustrated with politics now, we’ll desperate for relief by November 2016. If Scott Walker is able to capitalize on that mood — starting with a definition of what “normal” even means anymore — the White House chef might need to stock up on hot ham and rolls.

This is an ironic observation for those of us who remember the Act 10 debate and Recallarama earlier this decade. It was certainly the most bold thing a Wisconsin governor has done in quite a while, and it generated vociferous opposition, to say the least.

But only in today’s society where excess politicization crashes into hypersensitivity to offense does what Walker did seem controversial. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels ended public-sector unions by executive order. Ohio Gov. John Kasich tried to do Act 10-style reforms only to have them negated in a statewide referendum.

As it is, not many voters are ideologues as Gabriel claims to be. Walker, meanwhile, is as unflappable a politician as exists today in the high-pressure 24/7 media world. He didn’t blink during the Act 10 debate, or during Recallarama. Walker may be well-positioned once Donald Trump inevitably burns out, or gets bored with running for president.


In search of an anti-union Democrat

Holman W. Jenkins Jr.:

In Thursday’s Republican debate, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will be the antiunion candidate. That will be the media snark. He signed (unenthusiastically) a right-to-work bill that applies to his state’s private-sector workers. He promoted (very enthusiastically) a law that all but ended collective bargaining for its public-sector workers.

Critics will ask: What does this have to do with being president? Unfortunately, everything.

Unions may not matter much in American workplaces anymore but unions represent the main political obstacle to just about every kind of reform: School choice. Entitlements. Pensions. Health care.

Even causes that wouldn’t seem union business prompt union opposition. Labor has been the chief obstacle to overhauling California’s notorious Environmental Quality Act—a reform supported by Democrats and environmentalists—because unions like using the law’s excessive paperwork burdens to threaten projects important to employers.

Big labor is behind a New Jersey state senator’s proposal last week for a trillion-dollar federal bailout of state and local government pensions—pensions that most federal taxpayers who would be paying for the bailout can only dream about.

Big labor is behind $15 minimum-wage proposals in major cities—a high-risk experiment for low-skilled workers, who may find themselves without jobs. But it will be a winner for organized labor. Not only will it raise costs for nonunion businesses. In Los Angeles, unions seek their own exemption so they can conspire with employers to substitute untaxed benefits for taxable wages, which strengthens the union’s hold on workers while shifting costs to other taxpayers.

As Miles Kimball, a University of Michigan economist who calls himself a “supply-side liberal,” wrote on his blog a couple of years ago: “Most unions are middle-class organizations that in their political activities are ready and willing to sacrifice the interests of the poor to benefit their members and their leaders.”

Mr. Walker’s revolution was driven by voters in towns and small cities who noticed that government workers had morphed into a privileged class—with the best pay, best benefits, longest vacations, and job security that made them basically unremovable.

Their dues, meanwhile, funded a political class that seemed indifferent to anyone else’s problems. Not always a friendly source, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this year credited Mr. Walker with having “shifted the policies of his state more than anyone else in generations.”

A heavy-breathing Mother Jones commentary at the time accused Mr. Walker of engaging in a “deeper game” to deprive Democrats of union funding and infrastructure that “allows the opposing party to exist at all.” The tiny smidgen of truth here actually shows how misleading such partisan simplicities are. Ted Kennedy (because he was Ted Kennedy) could buck the unions and promote airline deregulation in the 1970s. He bucked the unions in the early 2000s to push the school-accountability law No Child Left Behind.

But even Kennedy said his greatest legislative regret was letting labor block a national catastrophic health-insurance compromise with the Nixon administration in 1974.

Bill Clinton, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle were keen to back private Social Security accounts in the 1990s—until labor shut them down. More than 20% of delegates at Al Gore’s 2000 convention were union members—and said their goal was to make sure the platform said nothing about entitlement reform.

Mr. Walker recently and unnecessarily burnished his antiunion credentials by signing a bill he’d previously resisted on right to work—which, contrary to label, actually deprives employers of their freedom of contract (e.g., Harley-Davidson, a Wisconsin employer that finds value in its union relationships).

His important fight, which led to the 2012 recall effort, unwound a 1959 experiment in union representation for public employees that proved a bad idea for all the reasons FDR and other traditional liberals warned. It gave rise to what some call the blue-state governance model, combining a stagnant, overtaxed private sector, a bloated public sector, and a long-term pension time bomb of the sort nowadays blowing up in cities and states (and Puerto Rico) around the country.

The beef against Mr. Walker is a lack of breadth—a common snipe when it comes to inland governors—and an alleged reluctance to take advice. But paragons of presidential virtue are overrated when what’s needed is a candidate who can do the job that needs doing now. And he enters Thursday’s debate as the No. 2 runner in a Fox News Poll, just behind Donald Trump.

His real failing is that he belongs to the wrong party. An antiunion Republican candidate is practically a redundancy these days. Yet even a GOP president backed by a GOP Congress won’t be able to carry forward meaningful reforms unless Democratic reformers are willing to step up too.

To change America’s path will require both parties. Too bad we don’t have a Democratic Scott Walker yet. We’ll need one.

Certainly the states run by public-employee unions, particularly teacher unions, need someone willing to stand up to the most malignant force in politics today.

Silenced no more

The Wall Street Journal interviews the targets of the John Doe witch hunt:

The John Doe investigation of Wisconsin conservatives collapsed last week with a powerful decision from the Wisconsin Supreme Court that called state prosecutors’ theory of campaign-finance law “unconstitutional” and “unsupported in either reason or law.” But the legal exoneration shouldn’t pass without noting the hardship the secret probe imposed on its targets and on political debate in Wisconsin.

For the past few days, I’ve been talking to the targets of the task force of Milwaukee [County] Democratic prosecutors, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board and Special Prosecutor Francis Schmitz. Their experiences, on the record here for the first time, reveal the nasty political sweep of an investigation that invaded privacy with surveillance of email accounts, raided homes with armed law enforcement, and swarmed individuals with subpoenas demanding tens of thousands of documents while insisting on secrecy.

One target did speak up in public in real time— Eric O’Keefe, who went on the record in limited ways with me not long after he was subpoenaed in October 2013 as part of the prosecutors’ investigation of conservative speech during the Wisconsin recall elections. The director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth knew that violating the gag order put him at personal risk, but he told me then that he had to fight because it was an assault on basic constitutional freedoms and “we have done nothing illegal.” A Journal editorial exposed the extent and dubious legal basis of the Doe investigation for the first time.

As the legal challenges went on in state and federal court, Mr. O’Keefe’s disclosures to us made him a bull’s-eye for prosecutors and local media. “I did not want to see the inside of a jail cell,” Mr. O’Keefe says, but “I didn’t want to shirk my duty to confront tyrannical behavior.”

In a Jan. 24, 2014, filing with John Doe Judge Gregory Peterson, Special Prosecutor Schmitz wrote that “the Wisconsin Club for Growth (hereafter WiCFG), acting through Eric O’Keefe, has demonstrated contempt for the John Doe process, secrecy order, and Wisconsin legal system.” The filing added that Mr. O’Keefe had “disclosed the existence of his subpoena and the fact that search warrants were executed,” and included footnotes to our editorials as evidence.

Now the 60-year-old Mr. O’Keefe is willing to provide more details about his decision. He says he talked it over with his children, and he and his wife, Leslie, discussed “how she should operate if I was arrested for contempt of court.” The maximum penalty in Wisconsin is a $10,000 fine and one year in jail. “She asked if she could bail me out of jail. My position was ‘no.’”

The prosecutors were especially interested in Mr. O’Keefe’s correspondence with R.J. Johnson and Deborah Jordahl, political consultants who had worked with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Mr. Johnson was on a plane when the raids happened, and his 16-year-old son woke up at home to find six law-enforcement agents with guns and a warrant. “He was told he couldn’t move, that he couldn’t call a lawyer, that he couldn’t call his parents. He was a minor and he was isolated by law enforcement,” Mr. Johnson says.

“My first reaction was incomprehension. We were baffled. We had no idea what this was about or that this is what they do over campaign finance issues. … It wasn’t until much later that we even began to understand that it was connected to the first Doe [investigation].”

Mr. Johnson now knows that prosecutors had been tracking him since 2011 during the first John Doe probe, which began as an investigation of money stolen from a veterans group when Mr. Walker was still the Milwaukee county executive. In 2011, Mr. Johnson was called in for an interview connected to the investigation, though he was officially not a target at the time.

John Doe Judge Neal Nettesheim compelled Mr. Johnson’s attorney to disclose what emails they had reviewed together and told him that attorney–client privilege didn’t apply. “When we sat down for our interview, I was told my attorney couldn’t speak, couldn’t object. I was asked how does my business operate, who are my contacts, how do I make money, what are my percentages, who are my clients? If I didn’t answer I would be in contempt.”

At the end of that conversation, Milwaukee [County] Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf asked a question, Mr. Johnson recalls: “‘Is there any reason at the end of the campaign you deleted all of your emails?’ So I knew then I had been tracked all the way through, that they had been reading my emails. … They knew what they were looking for all along, but I didn’t know anything again until they showed up at my door.”

Once news of the subpoenas was leaked to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a favorite venue for prosecutors, his business was in the cross hairs. While many of his longtime contacts were supportive, Mr. Johnson says, some business calls went unreturned, and he had to pass up an opportunity in another state because he could have been a liability for the clients. “Even if they hadn’t heard about the Doe” investigation, he says, “it would have been unethical for me to bring them in blind. So I had to turn down business on that account.”

His business partner, Deborah Jordahl, says that while her own home was being searched and her children were roused in the dark by law enforcement, prosecutors were searching her office without her knowledge. “Earlier this year I learned … David Budde, the lead investigator for Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, was searching our office in Madison. My partner and I were never notified of the search of our office,” Ms. Jordahl says, “and the prosecutors never provided us with a copy of the warrant or an inventory of what was taken.” (Mr. Budde did not respond to a request for comment.)

Meantime, she says, “my business partner and I had to figure out how to function without our equipment or records, and without the ability to disclose our situation to anyone. … You live under a cloud of suspicion.”

Ms. Jordahl says prosecutors have deliberately misled the media about their involvement with the raids and how the search warrants were executed while denying her the right to call her attorney. “[Milwaukee District Attorney John] Chisholm denied any direct involvement in the raids through his attorney but his investigators led the searches at each site,” Ms. Jordahl says, adding that Special Prosecutor Schmitz “lied when he said we were not told we could not call a lawyer.”

The subpoenas that hit Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce demanded so much information that the group hired a forensics team to copy it from computers. “They had absolutely unlimited resources,” says the group’s president, Kurt Bauer, of the prosecutors, “and I think part of the goal all along was to chill our fundraising and keep us off the airwaves. So the money and time we had to spend defending ourselves was money and time that we couldn’t spend toward issue advocacy.”

He adds: “I’ve been in or around politics for two decades and I would have thought this happens in other countries but not the U.S., and not in Wisconsin. In this country, we don’t leverage the justice system to punish our political opponents.”

In all, the prosecutors’ pursuit of their mistaken legal theory of campaign coordination included more than two dozen subpoenas. It also used subpoenas of Internet search providers and raids on the homes of Ms. Jordahl, Mr. Johnson, former Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch and former Walker Chief of Staff Keith Gilkes, who now runs a super PAC supporting Mr. Walker’s presidential campaign.

‘They were spying on people who were making it tough for them to retain their hold on state government,” Mr. O’Keefe says. “People often ask, ‘What were they investigating?’ That’s the wrong question. It wasn’t the what, it was the who.”

And the “who” happened to be political allies of Scott Walker, who was a political opponent of Messrs. Chisholm and Landgraf. While this story has a happy ending, it still required years of legal expense to fight back and expose the prosecutorial abuses. The targets have been vindicated, but a reckoning for prosecutors and the abusive John Doe machinery is still in order.

Unfortunately, an example of collateral damage from Chisholm’s investigation has been silenced. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

Former aldermanic candidate Michael Lutz died early Sunday morning of an apparent suicide, according to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Lutz, 44, a former Milwaukee police officer, suffered an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound “while in the presence of Menomonee Falls tactical officers after a brief tactical situation,” the medical examiner’s office said in a release issued Sunday. …

Lutz finished fourth in Tuesday’s primary in the 11th Aldermanic District to fill the Common Council seat left vacant by the death of Joe Dudzik. He received 426 votes out of 4,155 ballots cast.

He retired from the Milwaukee Police Department after 17 years, initially receiving taxpayer-funded duty disability pay for post-traumatic stress disorder. His pay was later converted to a regular retirement.

In 2005, Lutz was shot in the arm after he and his partner chased a suspected drug dealer into a house on the city’s near south side. He never returned to active duty.

Lutz later became a criminal defense attorney and was the anonymous source for a series of stories last year critical of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.

Lutz suggested that Chisholm, a Democrat, had a political agenda in overseeing a John Doe investigation of aides and associates of Republican Gov. Scott Walker during his time as Milwaukee County executive and in initiating a separate probe of Walker’s campaign.

Stuart Taylor wrote about Lutz:

Stuart Taylor follows up on his report of the real character of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm:

After missing a scoop on Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm’s long-running investigation into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker,Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writers, along with the district attorney’s staff, hunted down the key source who had asked for anonymity, fearing retaliation.

That story, produced by the American Media Institute and published by Legal Newsline last week, said that the district attorney’s wife was a teachers union shop steward, had taken part in demonstrations against the Republican governor’s proposal to curb public employee unions and was repeatedly moved to tears by governor’s legislative crusade.

Chisholm, a Democrat, said privately that it was his “personal duty to stop Walker,” the confidential source said.

AMI’s confidential source was a former prosecutor in Chisholm’s office who feared his reputation and his law practice would suffer if he were unmasked.

The district attorney’s staff launched a Nixon-style “mole hunt” to find the anonymous source, aJournal Sentinel columnist said, and was annoyed that the description of the confidential source wasn’t precise enough to identify him. The staff developed a list of roughly a dozen suspects, the columnist said. The Journal Sentinel never reported this secret search.

The feared retaliation was not long in coming. TheJournal Sentinel’s Dan Bice, whose “political watchdog” column is titled “No Quarter,” appeared after dark at the source’s home on Sept. 11. Bice’s persistent door-bell ringing and heavy knocks awakened and frightened the source’s sleeping 12-year-old daughter, he said. The noise was so loud that a neighbor came out to investigate the din, he said.

When the source, a decorated and disabled-in-the-line-of-duty police officer, Michael Lutz, came to the door, he opened it a crack to hear Bice demand to know if he was the person quoted in the story. He did not deny it and speaks exclusively on the record in this story for the first time. …

Most journalists’ first instinct is to protect the identity of whistleblowers against powerful people likely to retaliate against them. Not columnist Bice or the Journal Sentinel. They have devoted their energy to exposing Lutz’s identity, subjecting him to attacks, and seeking to discredit him.

I am certain no one in the Milwaukee County DA’s office, nor anyone at the Journal Sentinel, feels guilty about the death of Lutz, who was a Facebook Friend of mine. To feel guilt requires a conscience.

Wisconsin vs. Minnesota

My Facebook feed sometimes includes assertions about how Minnesota, run by liberals, is doing much better economically than Wisconsin is. These assertions are, not surprisingly, posted by haters of Gov. Scott Walker.

(Before we move on, I am required to point out that half my lineage is from Minnesota, including people who were part of the Democratic–Farmer–Labor group, along with people who were big fans of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy and probably voted for Democrats less often than I have. The statements about “much better” never seem to apply to Wisconsin vs. Minnesota or the Packers vs. the Vikings in football, for some inexplicable reason.)

UW–Madison Prof. Noah Williams begs to differ with the assertion within the first sentence of this blog:

Before Governor Scott Walker took office in January of 2011, Wisconsin was seeing high unemployment, stagnating incomes and a high tax burden. Fast-forward four years: The state enjoys strong growth in employment and improvements in living standards through higher after-tax incomes. Thanks to a fiscal policy of reducing tax and regulatory burdens while balancing the budget, Wisconsin now outperforms many of its neighbors.

(Disclosure: Mr. Williams has been serving as an informal adviser to Gov. Walker’s presidential campaign.)

But this economic performance has not always been recognized. For example, on his recent trip to the state President Barack Obama contrasted Wisconsin with Minnesota, which has seen increases in taxes, government spending and the minimum wage. The president, echoing earlier press reports, cited Minnesota’s lower unemployment rate and higher median income as signs that these “middle class economics” policies were working. But to see the effect of policies, we need to look at changes since they were implemented.

Minnesota had a lower unemployment rate and higher income than Wisconsin at the start of 2011. But since then, the unemployment rate has fallen more in Wisconsin and per capita output growth in Wisconsin has outpaced Minnesota each year. Since 2012 real per capita disposable personal income—a broad measure of average after-tax income—has fallen in Minnesota. In Wisconsin, due to reductions in state taxes, real after-tax incomes have increased twice as fast as the nation as a whole.

The labor market in Wisconsin tightened substantially under Gov. Walker, with the unemployment rate falling from 8.1% in December 2010 to 4.6% in May 2015. In addition, labor force participation has been roughly stable over the past few years around 68%. By contrast, participation nationwide has fallen to under 63%, levels not seen since the late 1970s. Some of this decline has been demographic, but an important component has been discouraged unemployed workers leaving the labor force.

A useful statistic including these workers is the employment–population ratio, measuring the fraction of the population that is working. In May, it stood at 59.4% nationally and 64.8% in Wisconsin, the 10th highest in any state.

While Wisconsin has seen strong employment growth, some press reports focus on a different measure: job growth on nonfarm business payrolls. By that metric Wisconsin lags the national average—but not without explanation. The recession was not as severe in the state, so slower job growth should be expected in the recovery. In addition, shifts out of farm and self-employment nationally have increased nonfarm job growth but not net employment. But most importantly, (working age) population growth in Wisconsin has been half that of the nation as a whole.

With slower growth in labor supply, it is difficult to create jobs at a faster rate. For these reasons, measures of household employment give a more accurate picture of the state of the labor market. Similarly, per capita measures of income and output, capturing improvements in living standards for an average worker, are better indicators than aggregate measures of overall size.

Under Gov. Walker, per capita output and income in Wisconsin have grown more rapidly than in the nation as a whole, bringing improvement in household living standards. Households in Wisconsin are also keeping more of their income due to reductions in state taxes. In the 2013-14 and 2014-15 fiscal years, state income taxes were cut by a total of $747 million, and property taxes by an additional $536 million, with smaller reductions in other taxes.

While many states have struggled with deficits and credit downgrades, the tax reductions in Wisconsin have been more than matched with spending reductions, bringing the budget into balance. In response to this sound fiscal management, Moody’s revised up its outlook for Wisconsin to positive, and increased its bond rating last November. Moody’s cited the improvement in the state’s budget, an improved liquidity position, well-funded pensions and limited liabilities for other retirement benefits.

The recently passed budget continues this strategy: limiting spending while further reducing property taxes.

Nationwide, the recovery has been marked by slow economic growth. Productivity growth has remained low, even turning negative in the first quarter of this year. One of the main factors has been a slowdown in business investment.

At the same time, there has been a vast expansion in federal regulation, with new business regulation under Obamacare, financial regulation under Dodd–Frank and recent expansions of environmental and labor regulation. All of this has increased business costs and created a climate of uncertainty, further hampering investment.

By contrast, Wisconsin has seen the adoption of a number of pro-growth policies, which have improved the business climate. Most well-known are the labor market reforms to collective bargaining and the recent right-to-work legislation. But there has also been a substantial streamlining of regulation, and in addition to the cuts in personal taxes, there have been reductions in business taxes and investment incentives.

While the reforms are recent and ongoing, they are having an effect. There have been marked improvements in the state’s business rankings by Chief Executive Magazine, Area Development Magazine and the Manpower Group. In addition, the annual rate of new business filings in the state was 21% higher in 2014 than 2010 and Ernst and Young ranked Wisconsin 10th for 2014 in announced jobs for mobile capital investments.

I am not an uncritical fan of the Walker administration. Tax cuts have been insufficient (more on that momentarily) to erase Wisconsin’s well-earned reputation as a tax hell. Walker hasn’t done very much to actually cut government, as opposed to reducing the growth in government. (If growth in state and local government spending had been held to inflation plus population growth since the late 1970s, state and local government would be half the size it is today.) But Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was worse than the national average under Gov. James Doyle. And, under governors going all the way back to Martin Schreiber, Wisconsin has trailed the national average in per-capita personal income growth. So to see Wisconsin below-average on unemployment and finally above-national-average in personal income growth is overdue progress.

One area where Minnesota has historically exceeded Wisconsin is in various forms of entrepreneurial activity — business start-ups, incorporations and large corporations. The two states have similar ethnic backgrounds and political cultures among their original settlers, but it’s as if those who wanted to control their own lives by owning a business went west of the Mississippi River, and those content to work for someone else went east of the Mississippi. (Apparently Minnesota hasn’t been anti-business to the extent Wisconsin has been.) The fact remains that the only way for someone to really make money is to own a business, though owning a business is no guarantee that you will make money on your business.

Note as well that …

… Wisconsin still has higher state and local taxes than Minnesota, or did in the 2011 fiscal year.

One other difference between Wisconsin and Minnesota is the Twin Cities vs. the rest of Minnesota. The Twin Cities totals 60 percent of Minnesota’s population. In contrast, the most broad definition of “Milwaukee” comprises only one-third of Wisconsin’s population. To match that you would have to put metro Milwaukee, metro Madison, Green Bay and the Fox Cities together in one geographic area. For that matter, the parts of metropolitan New York within the state of New York comprises less than half of New York state’s population, and Chicago comprises only one-sixth of Illinois’ population. Rural areas generally have lower incomes than urban areas; the downside of the urban area, of course, is the urban ills that infest Milwaukee.

As always, there is a solution for those who believe Minnesota’s government and politics are superior to Wisconsin’s (which means you think you’re smarter than those who have voted for Walker and Republicans three times since 2010). You can take Interstate 90, Interstate 94, U.S. 2, U.S. 8, U.S. 10, U.S. 12 or U.S. 14 west, or U.S. 53 or U.S. 61 north, and don’t stop until you encounter crappy football.

Divisive by definition

Christian Schneider examines whether Gov. Scott Walker is divisive:

Before Gov. Scott Walker began his sweaty presidential announcement speech at the Waukesha County Expo Center on Monday, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin was looking to put his future ambitions on ice. Signaling the attacks Walker will endure from the left, party chair Martha Laning said the governor was guilty of “unprecedented corruption, division” and “extremism.”

Of course, the charge of “division,” is merely a placeholder for saying, “Walker has enacted policies we don’t like.” The Journal Sentinel Editorial Board followed with an editorial titled, “The ever divisive Scott Walker,” which claims Walker is “the most divisive Wisconsin politician in living memory.”


Set aside the cranial gymnastics necessary to portray a governor who has won three elections in four years in the birthplace of progressivism as “divisive.” (Also, whose “living memory”? Nobody alive remembers Joe McCarthy?) In fact, even after the left has thrown the kitchen sink, the plumbing and a bucket of rubber duckies at Walker, Wisconsin seems to have come to the conclusion that it might actually like the guy.

But “divisiveness” is a charge reserved for Republicans who are actually governing in a manner consistent with their campaign promises. The “divisiveness” charge is especially cynical, as it assumes the GOP has passed much of its landmark legislation solely to irritate Democrats. In reality, Walker and the Republican-run Legislature are simply enacting policies they earnestly believe benefit the state.

Of course, Democrats are never portrayed as “divisive.” Like when a president rams a bill that takes over 16% of the American economy through Congress using a procedural gimmick, leading to electoral bloodbaths for Democrats in 2010 and 2014. Or when a president circumvents Congress to enact amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, fully in opposition to public opinion.

But Walker is painted as “divisive” because he enacted a bill that all but eliminated the indefensible practice of public sector unionization. Thanks to Act 10, taxpayer money no longer will be shoveled into Democratic campaigns, electing representatives who ratify friendly union contracts. In staking out the anti-public union position, Walker joins famous other “divisive” figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who opposed collective bargaining for government employees.

Instead, Democrats will continue to get a free pass, even when they enthusiastically support the most polarizing policies in the nation. Amazingly, Walker is portrayed as “divisive” because he signed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks. According to Gallup, banning abortions after the first trimester has been supported by no less than 64% of Americans over the past two decades.

This issue has been given stark immediacy in the past few days, as a video has surfaced that shows Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research, discussing the barbaric practice of harvesting organs from aborted fetuses and selling them for profit. Such a practice may run afoul of laws preventing the selling of human organs; at the very least, it confirms the grisly, immoral business in which Planned Parenthood traffics.

Of course, Planned Parenthood’s unwavering supporters never will be declared “divisive,” because their victims never get the chance to march on the Capitol, blow loud horns and hold homemade signs. (Plus, human fetuses are notoriously poor spellers.)

But in the Walker world, we have to pretend that bare-knuckled “divisive” partisanship was invented in 2011, when Walker took office. Ironically, it seems that calling Walker “divisive” is itself simply meant to be divisive.

Independent of the obvious double standard Schneider notes, I’m not sure that Walker isn’t divisive. Because Barack Obama is also divisive. In fact, every politician is divisive when politics is, as it has always been and always will be, a zero-sum game — one side wins, therefore the other side loses.

Open the Constitution

Warren Bluhm has a great idea you may have read before (say, here):

In light of the current assault on the Wisconsin tradition of open government, and to ensure that the door is closed to such legislative mischief, it’s time that the preamble to our open records and open meetings laws was enshrined as an amendment to the state constitution:

“In recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them.” …

The original drafters of the state constitution even embraced that philosophy: “Each house shall keep a journal of its proceedings and publish the same, except such parts as require secrecy. The doors of each house shall be kept open except when the public welfare shall require secrecy.”

More and more in the last decade or so, the requirement to include the public while doing public business has become an inconvenience to public servants, and so they inserted this repeal among 67 “adjustments” in the final omnibus motion before sending the 2015-17 state budget to the Legislature for final approval.

It did not take long before news outlets and other advocates of open government throughout Wisconsin and, indeed, the nation began calling foul. So loud was the outcry that by Saturday morning, Independence Day, the governor and legislative leaders issued a statement that the offending language would be removed from the state budget.

With the same enthusiasm with which they had objected, the advocates of open government celebrated a victory, perhaps overlooking the final words of the statement: “In order to allow for further debate on this issue outside of budget process, the Legislature will form a Legislative Council committee to more appropriately study it and allow for public discussion and input.”

In plain language, the repeal of Wisconsin open government was not stopped in its tracks, merely postponed for a day when advocates are not paying as close attention.

And therein lies the reason for my call for a constitutional amendment: Our elected officials will always be uncomfortable under the spotlight of public scrutiny, and from time to time they will attempt to violate the spirit if not the letter of the law by doing the public’s business in private – even to amend the law to turn the spotlight off.

We the people have no recourse but to insist that the concept be spelled out in constitutional language. This is not the first assault on open government, nor will it be the last.

It takes time to amend the state constitution, and there are issues that must be addressed more immediately. First and foremost, the committee to “more appropriately study” closing the doors of government must acknowledge that the law may need change to allow greater, not lesser, scrutiny. …

Second, legislative leaders must identify whose idea it was to introduce such language into the state budget. Inquiries have been stonewalled with mealy-mouthed expressions like “It wasn’t me, there were several requests, but I don’t recall who made them.” Bollocks. …

Third, we must secure commitments from our own representatives that they will support the Wisconsin tradition of open government.

Most of the media has not reported that this idea originated with the experience of a Democrat, Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D–Middleton), who spent $170,000 taxpayer dollars losing a lawsuit to prevent the MacIver Institute from seeing the email addresses of government employees emailing him about Act 10. State GOP leaders saw what happened with Erpenbach, realized that could happen to them too, and a bad idea was born.

The real beneficiaries of Open Records Law deform would have been incumbent legislators. Of course, the losers would be everyone else, including those of us whose taxes pay their salaries.

It seems to me that the only way to prevent the GOP from bringing it back, or Democrats from bringing up when they return to power in Madison sometime in the future, is to prevent them from doing that. That’s why an Open Meetings and Open Records constitutional amendment needs to be added to the state Constitution.