If you see a fork in the road …

Kevin Binversie:

You would think state liberals would be cheering the state Department of Transportation’s 2015-17 budget proposal and not trying to score cheap political points. After all, the budget largely reflects the success of the liberal environmental agenda. …

For those that missed the headlines, on Friday DOT Sec. Mark Gottlieb dropped a staggering request for the next state budget. Totalling $751 million, the proposal radically restructured the state’s existing gas taxes on unleaded and diesel gasoline, raises vehicle registration fees on electric and hybrid vehicles and raises fees on new vehicles sales. All of which are designed to acknowledge a reality facing all 50 states and the federal government – cars and trucks are getting more mileage, and as such, gas tax revenue is shrinking.

For years, the state’s largest source of highway funding has been the gas tax. Since it is a “per use” tax, only those buying gasoline by the gallon pay it. As cars become more fuel efficient, they need less and less gasoline and thus the tax is paid less and less. If you add in new hybrid or even electric cars, the tax is paid even more infrequently or not at all.

So as cars on the roads become more fuel efficient and less revenue comes in through traditional sources, governments are scrambling to find ways to pay for roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects. Most transportation experts will tell you this tends to go into three different routes.

1.) More and more toll roads.

Federal law forbids states to establish toll roads on existing roads. It does however, allow them to be established on either newly built roads or when existing roads go under reconstruction or increase their capacity. Given how anathema toll roads are to the average Wisconsinite, it would both take too long and be too costly to establish a viable toll road system on Wisconsin’s high use roads in Milwaukee, Madison, Waukesha, Green Bay and other locales.

2.) Mileage Use Taxes.

Imagine if you will, a state where every vehicle has a GPS tracker installed. This tracker measures not just how much you’ve driven, but also gives to government agencies detailed information in real time such as where you’ve been, how fast you got there, and any detours you took while along the way. You’re taxed by the mile and sent a monthly bill.

Could police use this data to give driver’s speeding tickets and other traffic violations? Likely. Is this all a series of extreme violations of one’s civil liberties? Probably, but many don’t want to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to sort it out.

3.) Reconfiguring Traditional Gas Taxes / Increased Registration Fees

The old standby and the route Gottlieb seems to be going.

Given the 2005 fight in which Wisconsin conservatives successfully ended Wisconsin’s practice of gas tax indexing to inflation, one would understand legislative hesitation to go anywhere near DOT’s proposal. After last week’s election, the last thing a newly-minted legislative Republican majority wants to hang on the state is a huge gas tax increase and new user fees related to numerous kinds of vehicles.

Critics of the DOT plan will no doubt mention how Gov. Walker never proposed any of this during the campaign. Then again, Mary Burke didn’t come with any specifics herself.

While the solution is far from perfect, Gottlieb should be applauded for getting the conversation started. Because the past ways; where fund raids and indebting the next two generations with bonds so the highways of today could be paved were all too common, won’t cut it anymore.

When it comes to deciding how best to fund roads, the legislature will either have to get with the times and devise a system that encompasses new technologies into old revenue streams or learn to go with less when it comes to road-building.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

A $751 million boost in taxes and fees isn’t the only way Gov. Scott Walker’s transportation chief wants to keep major road projects on schedule.

Over two years, Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb also wants to borrow more than $805 million, study the feasibility of tolling and use $574 million in funds that typically go toward schools and health care.

Under another part of Gottlieb’s plan, the state Department of Transportation would gather odometer readings when drivers register their vehicles each year — a move that would help it review whether the state should create a new fee based on how many miles people drive.

Gottlieb’s proposal is in its infancy. On Tuesday, Walker told The Associated Press he would make significant changes to it before submitting a transportation plan to the Legislature as part of the overall state budget early next year.

He declined to rule out raising the gas tax, saying he was “not making absolutes on anything right now.”

Once Walker gives his plan to lawmakers, they will spend months modifying it before returning it to Walker for his final approval. The Legislature is controlled by Walker’s fellow Republicans.

Legislators from both parties have been muted in their responses to Gottlieb’s plan. They have said they see a need for more money, but also have expressed reservations about increasing taxes and fees or relying too much on borrowing.

Bonding more than $800 million for road projects is “not sustainable,” said Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), co-chairwoman of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee.

She said she would listen to her constituents on what to do when it comes to funding transportation.

“I’m all ears,” she said. “I honestly hear about two different pictures of Wisconsin. Some people say we have enough roads already. Others point to what bad shape the Zoo Interchange is in.

“We have a problem. People agree we have a problem, but when you say, ‘How about these solutions,’ they say, ‘None of the above.'”

Brett Healy, president of the conservative MacIver Institute, said Gottlieb would have a tough time persuading people to sign onto his plan.

“Everywhere drivers look, all they see is road construction and orange cones but now the department says they need more transportation funding,” he said by email. “Adequate transportation funding is critical to economic growth but there must be taxpayer balance.

“Higher transportation taxes and fees in this economy and this political environment will be difficult to justify.”

One thing not mentioned is a closer look at what WisDOT wants to fund — for instance, mass transit, which is not used by most Wisconsinites, but you’re paying for it. Gas taxes also pay for such non-motorized-transportation as bike paths. So the first thing the Legislature needs to do is to stop using the transportation fund on things that don’t benefit drivers, including drivers of tractor-trailers. Mass transit is directly contrary to people’s freedom to go where they want when they want.

The gas tax in theory is a proper tax because it’s paid by drivers in proportion to their use of roads. If you drive more, you buy more gas, and therefore you pay more gas taxes. The problem is that as vehicles become more efficient, their drivers purchase less gas. (The Obama Recovery in Name Only has also reduced driving, which also has reduced gas tax revenue.)

User fees are in theory better than taxes because non-users don’t pay them. On the other hand, making car ownership more expensive is not beneficial to users of roads. (This demonstrates, among other things, that Republicans in Madison really haven’t done nearly enough to reduce government in other areas to be able to afford higher spending in transportation. As you know, state and local government is twice the size it would be had it been had government been limited to growth in inflation and population growth the past three decades.)

The feds have a pernicious influence as well. Federal mandates to spend money on mass transit and other things that don’t benefit drivers need to be repealed by Congress. So do prevailing-wage requirements, which make construction projects, including road projects, considerably more expensive than they should be in a supposedly free-market economy.

There have been proposals for several years to devote tax revenues generated by transportation for transportation, particularly sales tax proceeds from vehicle purchases. That makes sense, particularly in keeping with voters’ wise choice to keep legislators’ hands off transportation funds for political convenience (see Doyle, James).

The toll study, however, is a waste of time, because there is no political support for toll roads, even if toll roads today aren’t like the Illinois Tollway of the 20th century. You want more recalls? Create toll roads, and you will have them.

Making driving more expensive by increasing taxes has a direct effect on taxpayers’ wallets, as we all discovered during the $4-per-gallon era of gas prices earlier this decade. Whether people drive less or not, gas prices affect the price of everything that is transported by vehicle, so if you increase gas taxes, you increase the price of things people buy at stores, particularly food.

Walker (and others) vs. government employee unions

The Wisconsin State Journal printed this Jay Ambrose column that must have infuriated the State Journal’s liberal readers:

Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, took on public employee unions about to sink the state and reduced their bullying powers sufficiently to save the government billions and help rejuvenate a tepid economy.

Despite a variety of retaliatory efforts by the unions and rival politicians to then sink him — some of the efforts about as dirty as dirty gets — he rose high, he overcame and, in the recent elections, was happily victorious.

Three other Republican governors beat back intense opposition from public unions they had challenged — Rick Scott in Florida, John Kasich in Ohio and Rick Snyder in Michigan. That’s major, but the story does not end with Republicans.

For yet more reason to applaud, look to Democrat Gina Raimondo, who, as Rhode Island’s treasurer, reduced pension costs that could not be long endured at the rate they were growing. She alertly, expertly, courageously and successfully pushed for the necessary state laws to correct the trajectory, and this year ran for governor. Some unions vowed to cripple her ambitions and definitely tried. She won anyway, and the upshot of the multiple victories is that America won anyway.

We are on course to being saved from the seemingly immoveable power of the unions to distort democracy, devastate finances, render governmental operations less efficient and even, in some cases, cheat children out of the kind of education necessary for them to have a decent future.

The problem with the unions has not been that their members are somehow bad human beings happily doing damage to others for their own sake. In negotiations, unions reasonably enough aim for the best they can get. What then usually happens in the private sector and not enough in the public sector is that management will finally agree to no more than it can afford.

In the public sector, unions deal with often corruptible politicians whose elections they can help assure. They can do this with heaps of cash — teachers unions this past year spent $60 million helping election campaigns — and by getting out the vote for those who cooperated and fighting fiercely against those who did not.

Even when the office holders are more or less honest, they can be irresponsible, neglecting to think through the ramifications of the deals they make and especially favoring lavish, feel-happy bargains when the good times roll. It is when you have bad times, such as the fiscal crisis and ensuing recession in 2008, that everyone notices what a jam they have gotten us into.

How do you pay the bill? Do you raise taxes to the point of shriveling the lives of average citizens? Do you take the money from schools and road repair? Or do you maybe find ways to bring collective bargaining, pensions and more under control?

Money, of course, is not the only issue, and articles on a new book by Joel Klein, former chancellor of public schools in New York City, point to some of his concerns, such as how union contracts made it impossibly difficult to fire a teacher. As New York Times columnist Frank Bruni notes, it could take more than two years and cost more than $300,000 to do the deed. A consequence of such difficulties around the country is that bad teachers keep their jobs and students pay the price.

The outcomes of the latest elections signal to the political class that it is possible to do what’s right and get by with it, meaning that some tardy souls may get going on required reforms and others will keep at it.

 

Buck(s)ing against taxpayer dollars

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos apparently thinks his fellow Republicans are not really interested in providing state funding for a new Bucks arena, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The Milwaukee Bucks investors who are seeking public money for a new arena will have to negotiate a difficult political path in Madison, where Republicans have widened their control of the Legislature.

The latest sign of trouble for those wanting public money for the arena came from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who said he thinks Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry made a mistake by greeting President Barack Obama at the airport in the lead-up to last week’s election.

Obama was in town Oct. 28 for a rally at North Division High School on behalf of Democrat Mary Burke. A week later, Republican Gov. Scott Walker beat Burke to win a second term.

Vos said Lasry’s appearance “did not make my job easier” in terms of persuading Republican legislators to back a possible financial plan to build a new, multipurpose arena in Milwaukee.

“It’s a tough sell when you’re asking for millions of dollars,” Vos said.

The Bucks want to replace the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center with a new downtown arena at a cost of $400 million to $500 million. Lasry, co-owner Wes Edens and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce have said some public funding would be needed for the project.

Lasry and Edens have committed $100 million toward a new arena. Former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl has also said he would put $100 million toward an arena, and additional private investment could bring the total commitment to $300 million. Kohl sold the Bucks to the two hedge-fund investors this year for $550 million.

Finding state money for the project will be difficult. Some lawmakers are ideologically opposed to using public money for a private facility. Others are open to the idea, but the proposal must compete with other issues they hope to tackle. …

A detailed proposal has yet to be put forward on getting public money for a new arena, though one idea under consideration is capturing the income taxes paid by professional athletes and other employees at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. An estimate from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau concluded that the athletes and other employees paid state income taxes of approximately $10.7 million in the 2012 tax year. If accurate, that could potentially support state bonding totaling $125 million or more.

[Gov. Scott] Walker has called that idea interesting and said he wants to keep the Bucks, but he has not publicly embraced a particular plan.

“Governor Walker has said that we first need to hear details of a plan from elected officials, Bucks officials and civic leaders in Milwaukee,” Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said by email. “Then we will review and evaluate any role that might involve the state government.”

Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Allouez) said he had not been briefed on ways to fund the arena, but expressed skepticism on using income tax receipts that are already earmarked to fund schools and an array of state programs.

“I’d be very cautious” on using funds the state generates from income and sales taxes, Cowles said.

One idea — extending the 0.1% Miller Park sale tax in five counties — appears to be dead.

“That will not happen on my watch,” Vos said.

Walker has also rejected that idea, saying there is no support for it.

Approving the sales tax was a difficult political battle that resulted in the 1996 recall of then-Sen. George Petak (R-Racine), who voted for the stadium tax after saying he wouldn’t.

The stadium fight has “salted the earth” on using a sales tax to fund a sports facility, said Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine).

“It is a tougher path than it was before. And if you don’t believe me, ask George Petak,” Mason said.

Another way to fund the project would be to create a modified tax incremental financing district.

Tax incremental financing districts borrow money to pay for public improvements and other expenses. Property taxes from the new developments are used to pay off the debt.

For the arena, the TIF district would also capture state income taxes and state sales taxes generated within the district to repay that debt.

For the moment, Vos’ comments about Lasry’s visit with Obama have grabbed the headlines on the issue. In addition to his statements to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he made similar ones to the Milwaukee Business Journal and WISN-TV’s “UpFront with Mike Gousha.”

“If you’re looking to people for support, you certainly don’t want to poke people in the eye,” Vos told the Business Journal.

The Bucks, meanwhile, are hoping to stay out of the political fray and are reaching out to both parties.

“We don’t view revitalizing downtown Milwaukee as a political issue. Our objective is to have a transparent, open discussion with all the stakeholders to come up with a plan that unifies the city and state to do something transformative,” said Bucks’ spokesman Jake Suski.

The Milwaukee Business Journal adds a partisan wrinkle:

Despite Vos’ displeasure with Lasry, he said he anticipates Walker will consider strategies to support the Bucks.

“I support what we can do to save a business,” Vos said. …

The biggest arena cheerleader besides the Bucks so far has been the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, which is friendly with Republicans. MMAC president Tim Sheehy said Wednesday he believes both Walker and Vos are open to considering state funding.

After the election, both the state Assembly and the state Senate remained in Republican control.

“Knowing who the make-up of the leadership in Madison is — from the governor to both the Assembly and Senate — the leadership is very helpful in thinking through potential approaches to address our need for a new civic center, home for the Bucks,” Sheehy said.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which spent heavily in support of Walker and against Burke, believes “Milwaukee needs thriving arts and entertainment options to keep and attract a dynamic workforce and quality of life,” said WMC CEO Kurt Bauer. That position echoes statements Sheehy has made in support of a new arena for more than a year.

“We may become more involved when the details are revealed,” Bauer said.

Would legislative Republicans go against one of their biggest supports, the business community?

Well, yes, they would, or at least they did in the mid-1990s during the Miller Park vote. That was a truly bipartisan vote in that Republicans and Democrats both favored and opposed the stadium sales tax.

That, however, was for a stadium funded by a five-county sales tax. Lambeau Field’s early-2000s improvements were funded by a 0.5-percent Brown County sales tax. And the Brewers and Packers are much more statewide teams than the Bucks. In terms of statewide interests, the gap between the Bucks and the Brewers, Packers and Badgers is the approximate size of the drive from Superior to Platteville.

Not surprisingly, the hypocrisy is strong on this issue. Those who complain about Vos’ comments apparently ignore the fact that if the new Bucks owners were Republicans, then Democrats would be complaining about a new arena being a “playground for the rich” staffed by minimum-wage workers with zero benefit beyond the Milwaukee city limits, and would suggest that the new owners should fund it themselves.

According to the MacIver Institute, Vos is floating a proposal to devote proceeds from income taxes of players and Bradley Center employees, about $10.7 million per year, to bond up to $150 million for a state contribution to the new arena project. The arena is estimated to cost $400 million to $500 million, so Vos’ idea would work, if you don’t mind the state’s paying $214 million (including interest) over 20 years for an arena. (Cue Democrat complaints about state debt levels in 5 … 4 … 3 …)

It would be hypocritical to complain about walling off this $10.7 million — which in a $35 billion annual budget isn’t much — when state voters just approved (correctly) walling off transportation funds from the next fund raid attempt. But where is the City of Milwaukee’s contribution? Where is Milwaukee County’s contribution?

This blog has previously reported that the purchase of the Bucks has a National Basketball Association buy-back option if the Bucks don’t get a new arena. A Bucks move is certainly possible, though it would make more financial sense for the NBA to add two teams instead of moving the Bucks.

Of all the new stadium projects, this makes the least sense for anyone outside Milwaukee. The Bucks may be Wisconsin’s only NBA team, but the Bucks are far from a statewide team.

I think the Republicans will make a deal to get an arena built. Not that they necessarily should. The Packers are a statewide team, and yet Brown County paid for the stadium expansion. The Brewers needed Miller Park and its roof to become a statewide team. The Bucks are not now, and are not likely to become absent Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls success, a statewide team.

 

Civility in the eye of the beholder

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s David Haynes has decided after the election that our politics are too fractious:

Fresh off the election, one of my Twitterati sent me this greeting:

@DavidDHaynes nice try to knock off Walker, again, you socialist a——. Hahahaha.

I thank him for his comments. But a small correction: I’m actually a lot closer to an Eisenhower Republican than I am to a socialist. And I’ll leave it to my friends and co-workers to decide whether I’m an a——.

Passions run hot during any campaign, but messages such as that didn’t used to be so common. They are now. And they’re just as likely to come from liberals as conservatives. But if people understood that both sides of the political divide are driven by values and then tried to find ways to accommodate those disparate values, could we change the tune being played in Madison and Washington, D.C.?

Jonathan Haidt believes we could. He’s a social psychologist who teaches ethical leadership at the Stern School of Business at New York University and the author of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.”

Before I get to his ideas, though, it’s important to understand the polarization that grips Wisconsin. I see the anecdotal evidence every day washing up in my in-box, of course, but the Journal Sentinel’s Craig Gilbert proved it. In a terrific reporting project earlier this year, Gilbert found that the Milwaukee area is arguably the most polarized metro area in the nation. I don’t doubt it for one moment.

This state is deeply divided over voter ID, abortion, the minimum wage, the role of government, immigration, guns. Urban vs. rural. Black vs. white. Rich vs. poor. Men vs. women. Young vs. old. Our politics is divided by education and perceptions of where the country is headed, by whether we go to church on Sunday and even whether we’re married or not.

In an exit poll on Tuesday, voters were asked: “Compared to four years ago, is the job situation in your area better today, worse today or about the same?”

Sixty-six percent of voters for Republican Gov. Scott Walker said it was “better today” compared with only 15% of voters for Democratic candidate Mary Burke. And that’s on a question that has a quantifiable answer.

We simply do not agree. But the question I’ve been asking is this: Do we have to be so disagreeable about it?

Haidt doesn’t believe that we do. But he says for that to happen, we need to take time out from demonizing one another to try to understand one another.

He argues that we can learn from our political foes. As a liberal, he has disappointed his brethren by asserting that the reason Republicans win elections has a lot to with their understanding of “moral psychology,” which Democrats either don’t get or don’t try to get. Conservatives, Haidt writes, have a broader set of moral tastes and thus more ways to reach the public.

His research found that there are certain core ideas upon which all cultures base their moral foundations: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. All Americans are moved by these ideas, but depending on your spot on the political spectrum, you are moved by some more than others.

Liberals care more, Haidt found. Conservatives are more moved by fairness, by the idea that people get what they deserve. Both value liberty. But conservatives value the other three moral foundations more than liberals and thus have a bigger vocabulary to draw on when they discuss them. Conservatives can offer a wider selection of food for thought at the ideas cafeteria.

That’s why it’s wrong to assume that Republican politicians somehow dupe voters into casting ballots against their own economic self-interest, which was the thesis of the 2004 book by Thomas Frank “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Haidt writes that “rural and working-class voters were in fact voting for their moral interests.”

Both sides are driven by their values. “Everyone cares about fairness, but there are two major kinds,” he writes. “On the left, fairness often implies equality, but on the right it means proportionality — people should be rewarded in proportion to what they contribute, even if that guarantees unequal outcomes.”

Conservatives can learn from liberals as well — recognizing the effect of special interests on politics and government might be one example.

“The first step we all need to take is to understand that the other side is not crazy, they are not holding their positions because they’ve been bribed, because they are racist or whatever evil motive you want to attribute,” Haidt told talk show host Bill Moyers earlier this year.

Haidt is part of a group of academics that founded Civil Politics, a nonprofit that hopes to educate the public about research on improving relations across divisions. I poked around the site recently and found ideas for how individuals can improve political discussion and insights into the pressure points for change (hint: blue state Republicans might be one).

But I wonder if Haidt’s ideas are practical. The value of the spoils that go to the victor in winner-take-all politics makes compromise and civil discourse very difficult. And unlikely. In the Moyers interview, Haidt pointed out that those Eisenhower Republicans and Stevenson Democrats were all members of the Greatest Generation who were bound together against common enemies: the Great Depression and fascism. Their children, the baby boomers, cut their eye teeth on conflict — whether their country was evil or not. They grew up differently.

Politicians prey on divisions and exploit them; the hands of neither side are clean. Think of how liberals score points when Medicare reform is raised. Or how conservatives pounce whenever a liberal talks about gun control. The media (that includes me) often feeds partisan appetites by focusing on extremes. And the media is fractured: Voters have dozens of outlets for their opinions on talk radio, social media, newspapers and websites. More channels mean more division into like-minded enclaves. We’ve even self-sorted ourselves into neighborhoods where we all agree with one another. And I continue to think that a languid economy has left us all in a surly mood.

We certainly need to know and understand our fellow citizens better, and legislators of every stripe need to get to know one another. That once happened. It happens far less often now, and that’s too bad, because out of knowing can come understanding, and out of understanding can spring compromise and progress.

This prompted George Mitchell to reply:

During the 2011 hysteria in Madison over Act 10 I sent an email to Journal Sentinel Managing Editor George Stanley.  I observed to Stanley (and others) that opponents of Governor Scott Walker hurt their cause by resorting to thuggish behavior (death threats, nails in driveways, obscene graffiti, comparisons of Walker to Hitler, etc.).Stanley responded that “both sides” were guilty.  When I asked, “Are you suggesting that the behavior of Walker supporters is comparable to that of his opponents?”  Stanley responded, in part, “I prefer honesty to bulls—.”  After I sought clarification of that comment, he wrote, “…[Y]ou’re just full of s—, that’s all I’m saying.”

Stanley wasn’t finished.  For good measure, he recommended I consider “turning honest…I like to think that every soul can be saved.” …

There is much irony in such a theme being advanced by a leading editor at the Journal Sentinel. Apart from Stanley’s decidedly uncivil exchange with me, has Haynes not read some of the caustic emails Stanley sent this year to readers who objected to the paper’s John Doe coverage?

In light of its recent track record, the Journal Sentinel surely should think long and hard before casting aspersions about a lack of “civility.”  Indeed, the paper itself has contributed to the divisive climate that Haynes decries.

Nothing illustrates this better than the paper’s four-year stretch of reporting on John Doe investigations involving Governor Walker. During that time the paper has trashed many principles of journalistic fairness.

For example, in the early years of the John Doe Journal Sentinel reporting relied heavily on sources who transmitted illegally leaked information.  Stories cast many individuals in a negative light, including people who were legally prohibited from comment.  The people portrayed unfavorably in the Journal Sentinel didn’t know who had spread negative information to the paper.  For legal and practical reasons, they could not effectively respond. Consequently, readers received a sliver of information — the opposite of transparency and balance (or journalistic “civility”).

The paper’s stream of damaging innuendo was a key ingredient of the decidedly uncivil stew that contaminated the recall election campaign that Walker faced in 2012.  Relying on Journal Sentinel coverage, Walker opponent Tom Barrett urged the Governor to “come clean.”  Following Walker’s recall election victory, Democratic Party Chair Mike Tate predicted that because of the John Doe Walker would see the “inside of a jail.”

Was there an overriding public purpose that justified setting aside the traditional journalistic principles of transparency, balance, and fairness? None whatsoever. To the contrary, relying on the unlawful release of selective information corrupted and eroded concepts central to our justice system.  This was anything but “civil.”

Fast forward to the current phase of the John Doe investigation, one premised on a “criminal theory” that is at direct odds with federal constitutional jurisprudence.  Haynes’ editorial board and Stanley’s newsroom are sympathetic to this theory.  The result? A series of articles and editorials that cast a dark cloud over activity that two judges have found to be legal.  The Journal Sentinel’s reporting and commentary have led several national media outlets to put Governor Scott Walker at the center of a “scandal.”  This dogged Walker throughout his successful re-election campaign.   Yet Haynes now positions himself apart from — and distinctly above — the rancor and divisiveness spawned in part by the Journal Sentinel.

Near the end of the recent campaign Haynes personally fell off the civility wagon.  A week prior to the election, an online media outlet (The Wisconsin Reporter) quoted a former longtime executive at Trek Bicycle Company as claiming Mary Burke had been fired from the firm.  A day later another former Trek executive effectively confirmed this story, thus exposing the media’s failure to examine thoroughly the portion of Burke’s resume central to her campaign.  Haynes responded with a lengthy editorial under the mantra “consider the source.”  Because the executives have conservative political leanings, the paper judged them suspect.  In an attempt to paper over its failure to vet Burke, Haynes and the Journal Sentinel effectively framed the news as a last-minute smear.

Haynes’ essay describes a time when “we [knew] and [understood] our fellow citizens better, and legislators of every stripe [got] to know one another.”  Set aside, for a moment, that this amounts to an airbrushing of actual history in Wisconsin and nationally.  To the extent Haynes is correct about bygone days, he also might have referenced an earlier era in Milwaukee journalism.  For example, I recall well the 1960s and 1970s, when I was a journalism student, a reporter, and later an official in state government.  The Milwaukee Journal of that period, led by editors such as the late Dick Leonard, was a model for the kind of discourse Haynes advocates.  Leonard would not have resorted to the kind of epithets that Stanley now throws around.

I have met neither Haynes nor Stanley. I therefore can’t say if Haynes is an a——. I heard Stanley hang up on Charlie Sykes on the air, which was dumb for Stanley to do, so perhaps Stanley is an a——. Remember this: Anyone whose title includes the word “editor” is by design an a——. (Me too, you ask? Especially me.) And as someone who has lost his temper with members of my audience (something I’m not proud of doing), I think someone above Stanley should tell him that he needs to not express his inner a—— with his employers — that is, Journal Sentinel readers — or find another workplace in which to be an a——.

As for the John Doe: It apparently is illegal to leak information from an investigation, though I don’t believe it is illegal for the Journal Sentinel to print said information. The Journal Sentinel didn’t do anything to vet the accuracy of their information, and spent not a second questioning the motives of their leakers, which is an odd lack of cynicism from what should be a cynical organization. Conversely, the Journal Sentinel decided the last-week revelations about Burke’s role, or lack thereof, at Trek Bicycle had to be politically motivated, without finding out if they were correct. The Journal Sentinel also couldn’t be bothered to investigate why Democratic Gov. James Doyle extended Indian tribal gaming compacts to perpetuity, something that, regardless of the politics involved, failed Negotiations 101.

Haidt certainly has the most interesting insight in these two pieces about “moral interest.” One of the worst features of today’s liberals is their condescension, seen last week in all those Wisconsin Democrats who believe that voters for Republicans are stupid. Since voting began people have wanted to have their opinions reflected in their elected officials. That may be why a majority of voters were willing to give Walker a pass for not reaching his 250,000-jobs goal. And maybe for 52 to 53 percent of Wisconsin voters for the past four years, Walker represents their moral views better than Tom Barrett or Mary Burke did.

Neither piece really explores the root cause of all of this. The root cause of political nastiness is the excessively high stakes in politics today. Statewide elected officials and members of Congress make salaries far higher than the average Wisconsinite, and even state legislators make more money by themselves than the median family. When was the last time you saw a state- or federal-level politician exit office poorer than when he or she got elected? There is also serious money to be made as a lobbyist or consultant. And of course the media benefits by having something to report, along with money for campaign advertising.

More importantly, politicians at every level, regardless of party label or lack thereof, have too much power over our lives. Haynes’ observation about winner-take-all politics didn’t go far enough; it’s actually zero-sum politics — one side wins, therefore the other side loses. Part of this is, to be candid, because of us — for instance, a homeowner complaining to his or her alderman about the condition of the house across the street — and our inability or disinterest in dealing with problems ourselves. The media is embedded into government because media people cover government. Too many reporters sit at meetings and report on what a city council or school board does without asking whether whatever happened really needed to happen.

Haynes’ observation about the difference between his parents’ generation and his (and those that follow) demonstrate how the civility genie will never be put back in the bottle. For one thing, the Journal Sentinel is the only print newspaper in Milwaukee and the largest in Wisconsin, so no more can liberals write (or complain) to the Journal and conservatives do the same to the Sentinel. It’s sort of a paradox that thanks to social media opinions are easier than ever to express, and yet people today are more prickly and quicker to take offense to, well, anything, ranging from an opinion with which they disagree to being stuck in a line or having an unsatisfactory customer service experience.

What would make people become more civil to each other? Nothing that is likely to happen.

A hero ain’t nothin’ but a sandwich

Readers of a certain age may recall the book listed in the headline that many of those of us of a certain age read in school.

It was either that, or insert a music video here:

The concept in each is what Charles C.W. Cooke refers to:

My colleague Jay Nordlinger likes to gripe that “you should run for president” is uttered far too swiftly on the right nowadays, the injunction tending to follow almost every instance of public-facing conservative competence. A man has made an impressive speech, full of critiques of which you approved? He should be president! A governor is doing well in a state that is usually run by the other side. Shouldn’t he be our commander-in-chief? We have someone in the legislature who is fluent in fiscal policy? Let’s remove him from his area of expertise and put him immediately into the White House. More often than not, it has to be said, this happens with minorities and with women — the tendency serving perhaps as the Republican party’s own form of affirmative action. If we could just parachute this gifted black man into a position of prominence, the thought goes, our image problem would be solved.

This proclivity is not entirely unwise, of course. Washington D.C.’s insider culture is certainly a real problem, and the abundance of career politicians and wannabe lobbyists does render substantial retrenchment unlikely. On occasion, we really do need outsiders to shake things up. But there are talented political newcomers and there are mavericks and then there are rank amateurs and flavors of the month, and the difference between these two types is the difference between a Dwight Eisenhower or a Rudy Giuliani and a Herman Cain or a Donald Trump. One would like to imagine that the prospect of an unknown’s being held up as the face of a centuries-old party and a timeless political movement would set loud alarm bells ringing in the ears of those who characterize themselves as “conservatives.” That for so many it does not is troubling indeed.

As a rule, we on the right like to tell ourselves that we are steadfastly opposed to heroes in politics, and that we are especially opposed to heroes who promise that their election to the executive branch will result in sweeping changes or in a post-partisan utopia. The United States, we argue, was set up in opposition to princes and to aristocrats, with the express recognition that politics will always be with us and with the explicit understanding that the influence of individual players would be strictly limited by the system. Long before anybody in the wider electorate so much as knew Barack Obama’s name, this instinct was a virtuous and a sensible one. But if we have learned anything from his presidency, it is just how prudent that conviction was. Somehow, however, the hope that a shining knight will come to save the republic from itself remains common within conservative circles. What gives?

I suspect that the impulse is in part the product of the way in which the Right sees politics. On Wednesday, Reihan Salam quoted Noam Scheiber’s invaluable observation that, unlike “interest groups on the left, which tend to accept the transactional nature of government, many movement conservatives have a genuinely coherent worldview they want to see reflected — in its entirety.” This is correct, and to an extent I am among them. An ugly consequence of this, however, is that individuals who line up with a given conservative’s worldview tend to be held up by that conservative as a rarity and as a savior — as an unimpeachable superhero who will not compromise in the face of identity politics or elite pressure and whose elevation to power will immediately stop the ratchet from moving ever leftward. Those who doubt this should see what happens when one criticizes Sarah Palin or Ron Paul. Right-leaning politicians who differ on a few important issues, by contrast, are quickly dismissed as “traitors” or “sellouts” or “fake conservatives.” To witness this process in action, consider just how far Marco Rubio has fallen in the affections of many who once greatly admired him. Rubio, who has an impressively conservative voting record and a generally winsome character, erred on the question of immigration last year. Did this error transform him in the eyes of the Republican base into a fair prospect with some unlikable traits? Or did this make him an unconscionable turncoat who should never have been elected in the first place? For too many, I’m afraid, it is the latter.

This inclination helps to explain why Ronald Reagan is so chronically misremembered, too. Reagan was an unquestionably great man, who, like Margaret Thatcher in Britain, not only helped to turn around the prospects of his own country but played a key role in freeing millions of foreigners who had been brutally enslaved by the Soviet Union. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, as the old saying goes. And yet, despite the common implication of those who revere him, Reagan was by no means a perfect president, and there is some truth to the common progressive jab that he would not get through a Republican primary today. For a start, Ronald Reagan compromised far, far more than conservatives at the time wanted him to — to the extent that some here at National Review considered him to be a failure. He signed an amnesty that we now regard as having been a disaster. He raised taxes when he thought it necessary. He signed gun-control bills, including one that outlawed the importation of automatic weapons. And, famously, he made deals with Mikhail Gorbachev that were slammed by many on the right as being little more than “appeasement.” It is all very well for conservatives to say, “If only Ronald Reagan were president,” but in doing so they have to take the rough with the smooth and to remember, too, that Reagan did not achieve as much as he did because he was a superman, but because he was part of a more general shift.

All in all, the “Reagan era” was an expression of changed public sentiment as much as it was the product of an especially capable president. At no point in Ronald Reagan’s tenure did Republicans control the House, and for six years of his time in office the Democratic party had a majority in the Senate. Despite this, he changed the country for the better and reset the ideological presumptions of the electorate for a generation — perhaps more.

Besides that: Should politicians be anyone’s hero? No politician — and that includes the politicians you like and vote for — enters politics for reasons that don’t include accumulating power for himself or herself, even for good reasons.

From Walker to Ryan, Sensenbrenner, Grothman, Duffy, Ribble and Johnson

One week removed from his reelection, Gov. Scott Walker has a few things to say to Congress (from Politico):

It’s put up or shut up time. Those were the words I spoke to the newly elected Republican majority in Wisconsin back in 2010. With both houses of the legislature and the governorship in Republican hands for the first time in more than a decade, it was our time to prove that the trust voters placed in us was warranted. That we would do what we had said we would do. That we would turn things around.

Those are the same words I share with Republicans preparing to lead both houses of Congress come January. Your election is a message from the American people that they want change. So go big and bold.

Before the November 2010 elections, Democrats in Wisconsin controlled the governor’s office, both houses of the state legislature, both U.S. Senate seats and a majority of the state’s House seats. In fact, a Republican had not carried the state for president since 1984. We were a blue state in tough shape. In the four years before we took office, more than 133,000 people had lost their jobs and 27,000 businesses had turned out their lights. The unemployment rate was 7.8 percent. The state’s finances were poorly managed, taxpayers were on the hook for a $3.6 billion deficit and the state owed millions in unpaid bills. Instead of providing solutions to Wisconsin’s problems, past leaders had chosen to raise taxes and pass the buck on difficult fiscal choices.

But Wisconsin Republicans changed that. We focused on the fiscal and economic issues facing our state and our country, and the voters responded in a big way. On November 2, 2010, I became the first Republican governor elected since the 1990s, Republicans regained the majority in the state Senate and Assembly, and we won a U.S. Senate seat and picked up the majority of Wisconsin’s House seats.

Days after the 2010 election, Republicans gathered in our state Capitol to elect their new leadership. At that meeting, I addressed the new majority caucuses and talked about the sea change that had brought us together; voters had made a dramatic shift because they wanted a government that would do the same. I told them we had to make changes worthy of voters’ faith in us, and that if we merely nibbled around the edges, instead of pushing real reforms, Wisconsinites would have every right to push us out of office.

To say the least, we did not nibble around the edges. We pushed full-scale, common-sense, conservative reforms and got to work beginning on day one. One of our first moves was to reform collective bargaining for public employees. Those reforms have saved Wisconsin taxpayers at the state and local level more than $3 billion to date, mostly through reasonable healthcare and pension contributions and the elimination of bid rigging. Now, schools can also make personnel and payment decisions based on merit, which means we can put the best and brightest teachers in our classrooms and pay to keep them there.

In my first term, we lowered taxes by $2 billion, streamlined government services, passed comprehensive tort reform, eliminated more than $300 million in government waste, fraud and abuse, invested more than $100 million in worker training so people can get the skills they need to get good-paying, family-supporting jobs and paid back past due bills left behind by the previous administration. And contrary to caricatures drawn by the left, more than 97 percent of the bills I signed into law garnered bipartisan support.

Four years later, the results are clear. Wisconsin has created more than 110,000 private-sector jobs and nearly 25,000 businesses, and our unemployment rate is 5.5 percent, the lowest it’s been since 2008. While we’re not done yet, Wisconsin is back on the right track. On Tuesday, voters here responded to the progress we’ve made, by reelecting me and giving Republicans a combined four additional seats in the state Senate and Assembly, for the biggest total we have seen since the 1950s.

The Democrats and their union friends spent tens of millions of dollars trying to defeat me—multiple times—but all of their advertising and special tricks couldn’t pull the wool over the eyes of Wisconsin voters: They were happy with what the GOP majority has done on their behalf.

The message Wisconsin holds for national Republicans is clear: Don’t be afraid to lead. …

Following Tuesday’s election results, President Obama told voters, “I hear you,” but he also said he wouldn’t give any ground on issues like Obamacare or his administration’s carbon regulations, which many Americans oppose. Democrats lost the majority in the Senate because voters are fed up with the Obama agenda. They’re fed up with government that takes more and more while taxpayers make do with less and less. So a message to Republicans in Congress: Don’t nibble around the edges. Push common-sense, conservative ideas. Lead.

What does that mean? First, take this opportunity to restore America’s economy. That starts with lowering the tax rate to put more money into the hands of the American people. It also means lowering corporate tax rates to encourage employers to bring jobs back to America. And it means passing a balanced budget.

Republicans in Congress should also enact a comprehensive energy policy that makes the United States less dependent on foreign oil—including approving the Keystone XL pipeline. Repeal Obamacare and offer an alternative that is driven by patients and not bureaucracies. Send funds for Medicaid and similar programs back to the states in the form of block grants to encourage innovation. Rein in those federal agencies that stand in the way of prosperity. Reform welfare programs to restore the dignity that comes from work.

The lesson from last Tuesday is that voters will affirm candidates who get things done. And they will keep leaders who do what they say they will do.

Following Tuesday’s election results, President Obama told voters, “I hear you,” but he also said he wouldn’t give any ground on issues like Obamacare or his administration’s carbon regulations, which many Americans oppose. Democrats lost the majority in the Senate because voters are fed up with the Obama agenda. They’re fed up with government that takes more and more while taxpayers make do with less and less. So a message to Republicans in Congress: Don’t nibble around the edges. Push common-sense, conservative ideas. Lead.

What does that mean? First, take this opportunity to restore America’s economy. That starts with lowering the tax rate to put more money into the hands of the American people. It also means lowering corporate tax rates to encourage employers to bring jobs back to America. And it means passing a balanced budget.

Republicans in Congress should also enact a comprehensive energy policy that makes the United States less dependent on foreign oil—including approving the Keystone XL pipeline. Repeal Obamacare and offer an alternative that is driven by patients and not bureaucracies. Send funds for Medicaid and similar programs back to the states in the form of block grants to encourage innovation. Rein in those federal agencies that stand in the way of prosperity. Reform welfare programs to restore the dignity that comes from work.

The lesson from last Tuesday is that voters will affirm candidates who get things done. And they will keep leaders who do what they say they will do.

Of course, some people hate Walker. They also hated Gov. Tommy Thompson, and Ronald Reagan. None of them seemed to care.

Walker the winner

The Wall Street Journal profiles Gov. Scott Walker:

‘Wow. First off, I want to thank God for his abundant grace and mercy. Win or lose, it is more than sufficient for each and every one of us,” Scott Walker said, taking the podium on Tuesday night at the Wisconsin state fair grounds after being re-re-elected for governor. It was a curious register, given that Mr. Walker’s religious faith, even though his father was a pastor, has never seemed central to his economic and political identity. But then maybe the intervention of a higher power is as good an explanation as any for the commanding victory that unions and liberals went all-out to prevent.

Mr. Walker suggests a more secular reading: “People actually saw, they saw with their own eyes,” he says. “Once they got past the myths and the half-truths and sometimes the outright falsehoods, they could see in their own families, in their own homes, they could see in their own workplaces and towns and cities and villages and counties that life was better.” In a word, despite the political convulsions of his first term, his reforms worked, and voters rewarded him for the results.

In a wide-ranging phone interview from Madison on Thursday night, Mr. Walker sounded exhausted but joyful after his third statewide election since 2010. The governor laid out how he thinks center-right reformers can succeed among Democratic-leaning bodies politic—Wisconsin hasn’t broken for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984, when he was in high school—and why he doesn’t think the same trend is inexorable in like-minded states in 2016.

The race Mr. Walker won this week was close-run and became a referendum on his first term. His opponent, Mary Burke, a former executive of Trek Bicycle Corp., ran as a not-Walker. The governor calls her “almost the bionic candidate,” in the sense that her intelligence, business experience, gender and noncommittal up-the-middle platform were focus-group-tested as the perfect foil for his agenda and his track record of the past few years. …

Surveys indicated that Mr. Walker and Ms. Burke were statistically tied through the summer and most of the fall, though Mr. Walker observes that “those polls consistently showed that the opinion of the state in terms of right-track/wrong-track was still very positive. A solid majority felt the state was headed in the right direction.” He was confident that he would receive those votes in the end.

Act 10’s collective-bargaining reforms allowed the state to balance the budget, and counties to restrain or even reduce the property taxes that had increased 27% over the decade before Mr. Walker. But the legislation also improved Wisconsin in ways that “wouldn’t seem quite as obvious,” he says. By eliminating tenure and seniority work rules, “we can hire and fire based on merit and pay based on performance, we can put the best and brightest in our classrooms—and voilà, graduation rates are up. ACT scores are up, now second best in the country. Third-grade reading scores are up. The left certainly doesn’t acknowledge this: Our schools are better.”

Mr. Walker also believes that the national intervention on Ms. Burke’s behalf—including visits from President Obama , first lady Michelle Obama (twice), Bill Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka —backfired. “Our opponent, you know she’s aligned with these Washington-based special interests, particularly the unions. I’m aligned with the hardworking taxpayers of Wisconsin,” he says, recapping his closing argument.

In an anti-Washington year, that may have made the difference: He won independents by a 10-point margin as some 56.9% of registered voters came to the polls this year, the second-highest share in the nation.

Mr. Walker also inspires acute loyalty among Wisconsin Republicans, and he has built a remarkably durable political coalition to overcome the state’s Democratic tilt. He won 52.2% of the vote in 2010, 53.1% in 2012, and won 52.3% to 46.6% against Ms. Burke. He prevailed in 59 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties four years ago, 60 two years ago and 56 this year, winning the same 54 all three times. Though you’d never know it from the media coverage, Mr. Walker’s support runs deeper than the antipathy of his opposition.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) attributes this loyalty in large part to the ruction over Act 10, a period that he recalls as “unbelievably vicious.” Mr. Walker notes that thousands of state protesters occupied not merely the capitol building in Madison but picketed his private family residence in Wauwatosa.

Yet Mr. Walker says that as he commuted the 75 miles on I-94 during that time, “handmade, hand-painted signs started to pop up out in the fields, these big four by eights, that would say ‘We Stand With Walker.’ You’d see one, and the next day you’d start to see some more, and so on, and eventually you’d see them not just in the fields, but then in the cities and little towns. It was a visible reminder of how intense people felt.”

Mr. Walker returns for his second term with larger Republican legislative majorities in the assembly and senate. “I said throughout the campaign that anyone who wants a job should be able to find a job,” and he will outline a pragmatic agenda to lower the cost of doing business, reduce the tax burden and promote “learn more to earn more” skill training. Mr. Walker pushed through both corporate and individual tax cuts last year, amounting to about $1.9 billion. Yet Wisconsin’s top personal income-tax rate is the 10th highest among the states and per capita state and local tax collections rank 12th, according to the Tax Foundation.

Republicans are often instructed that tax cutting, especially the rates on marginal income, is tapped out as a political issue, and that the GOP must find other methods to appeal to the middle class. “Boy, I don’t buy that at all,” Mr. Walker says. “Like the Midwest I come from, we respect quality in government, but we want a good deal for it.”

Mr. Walker has also been one of the few GOP governors to manage ObamaCare’s take-the-money-and-run Medicaid bribe competently. His Democratic predecessor opened the program to twice the poverty line, but lacked the funding to cover the flood of new patients. Mr. Walker reduced eligibility to 100% of poverty but also took everyone off the wait list. “Silly me, I actually thought Medicaid was meant for poor people,” he says.

Another politician from the Great Lakes region often says that when you die, St. Peter won’t ask you what you did to keep government small but he will ask you what you did to help the poor. “It’s probably not fair to ask the son of a preacher to use biblical metaphors,” Mr. Walker says. “My reading of the Bible finds plenty of reminders that it’s better to teach someone to fish than to give them fish if they’re able. . . . Caring for the poor isn’t the same as taking money from the federal government to lock more people into Medicaid.” …

In his victory speech, Mr. Walker went on to develop a “Wisconsin versus Washington” theme that notably differed in tone from his previous speeches and could be a prelude to a White House run. As a conviction politician with a substantive record and a chain of victories, Mr. Walker could be a formidable candidate. He has “put the state back on the right path and shows what we need to do in America,” says Sen. Johnson.

The challenge for Mr. Walker as a potential candidate and president would be broadening his appeal beyond regionalism, and persuading independents that he is not the radical monster of liberal caricature. Achieving the second goal, but maybe not the first, would be made easier because he is decent and affable in that familiar Midwestern manner.

But Mr. Walker is also notably redefining the progressive political tradition in Wisconsin, which was the birthplace of collective bargaining for public unions, in 1959. The progressivism that stretches from Robert La Follette to Sen. Tammy Baldwin has always emphasized protecting the common man from special interests, usually meaning business. Mr. Walker’s pitch is that government excess has emerged as the new threat. Though La Follette’s politics were “the polar opposite end” of Mr. Walker’s, the governor says that he belongs to “that proud tradition of people who are aggressive and not afraid to take on big challenges. I actually think I’m a progressive too, I think I fit in that tradition.”

In any case, Mr. Walker says he jokes with his wife that he is “kind of on a two-year campaign cycle”—he won a special election for Milwaukee county executive in 2002, the regular election in 2004, contemplated a gubernatorial run in 2006, and then the latest string of 2010, 2012 and this year. It may be that, in 2016, he’s due.

Walker also said on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press” that governors make better presidents. He’s correct, because unlike members of Congress, who get to vote “present” (see Obama, Barack) and who get to make votes that have no significance whatsoever, governors actually have to accomplish things, have to manage government, and either have to work with their political opponents or defeat them.