Wisconsin politics

Dubious Story of the Day

First, the Forbes premise:

How content are the residents of your state? And what about their mental and physical health, how do they rate their communities in terms of those important measures? Those are the questions posed by the annual Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which just released the results of its research for 2013.

Based on interviews with more than 178,000 American adults living in all 50 states conducted from January to December 2013, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is actually an average of six different indexes, which track:

  • Life evaluation
  • Emotional health
  • Work environment
  • Physical health
  • Healthy behaviors
  • Access to basic necessities

In a nutshell, the heartland and “fly-over” states won out big time; only one coastal state (Washington) and not one state housing a top metropolitan area made the top 10. Even more specifically, the west and midwest are doing the best job wowing their residents, with 9 out of the 10 of the top 10 states falling in those categories. And even within these areas, there are some surprises, particularly the predominance of prairie and mountain states among those most pleasing to their residents.

The news is …

… that Wisconsin improved in happiness from 20th in 2012 to 14th in 2013. Moreover …

In another interesting insight, the poll ranks the well-being of the nation as a whole, using the same set of criteria. And perhaps surprisingly to those touting continuing improvements in the economy, the well-being of the country as a whole dropped from 2012′s 66.7 to 66.2, the same as 2011, suggesting that the upswing in the national mood may be over.

In a separate ranking, Gallup calculated the 11 states that had made the steadiest improvement since 2010, when the recession officially ended.

The states on that list, in order, are

  1. Nevada
  2. Montana
  3. Vermont
  4. Nebraska
  5. Iowa
  6. Maine
  7. Arizona
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Mississippi
  10. Texas
  11. California

Since 2010. What has happened since 2010 in Wisconsin? Hmmm …

So what difference does the replacement of Democrats statewide by Republicans statewide have to do with happiness? Good question, which prompts this headline.

To delve a little deeper into what constitutes “well-being,” the Healthways researchers have developed a series of 5 criteria that can be used to evaluate quality of life. They are, and I quote:

  1. “Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals;
  2. Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life;
  3. Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security;
  4. Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community; and
  5. Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily.”

A state senator I follow on Facebook termed this “Happy days are here again!” (You can guess which capital letter follows her last name.) Which is interesting seeing as how this state was supposedly torn asunder in 2011 and 2012, with government employees forced to pay (less than taxpayers funding their salaries) for their benefits (that are better than taxpayers funding their salaries). And if you believe Democrats, our state’s economy has been suffering as a result ever since then, despite the fact that state unemployment numbers are lower than the national average.

I’m not sure I consider a jump from 20th to 14th to be that significant. Actually, the 20th ranking in 2012 might be more significant, suggesting that, despite all the political crapola of Recallarama, most Wisconsinites were able to put things in their proper perspective.

As for the five happinesses, government has to do with no more than two of them. This state remains overtaxed, and every dollar government takes from you is $1 you can’t use anywhere else. Those tax dollars are used for public safety functions as listed in number four, but if government is stronger than community, then there really is no community in the social sense of that word.

Jonah Goldberg wrote this about Washington, but it certainly applies to Madison too:

I’ve long believed there’s a strongly held view in Hollywood and D.C. that says that without the government in Washington American society would descend into anarchy almost instantaneously. People are walking around downtown Peoria. They are perfectly calm and rational. Mr. Jones says “good morning” to Mrs. Smith. “Nice weather, huh?”

Then, as if Landru had replaced the noontime chime with the code phrase “the federal government is gone,” someone shouts, “The federal government is gone!” and anarchy immediately ensues, with rape and rapine fast on its heels. Upon hearing the news that Washington stands idle, Mr. Jones attempts to ravish Mrs. Smith. His dastardly plan is only foiled because Slim Pickens ordered the ol’ number six.

And I’m not talking about panic over a nuclear strike or the news that Cthulhu has started his horrible feast on Capital Hill. I mean that I think there’s a notion — more like an unarticulated assumption — that it’s the government in Washington that holds society together. This is somewhat implied in the way Obama talks about government as the word for the things we all do together and his efforts to sow bowel-stewing panic over the government shutdown. It’s implicit in all the talk — from Republicans and Democrats alike — that the president needs a “vision” for the whole country and that he “creates” jobs.

The simple fact is that if the federal government disappearedtomorrow — and the media didn’t report it — it would take days or even weeks for many people to even learn about it. And the news would not come from marauding barbarians on motorcycles laying waste to communities. It would mostly spread with the news that there’s something wrong with the Post Office. And if somehow you could keep the Post Office going — and with it the checks from the treasury — people could go months without murdering, raping, or even running with scissors.

A liberal might respond, “Aha! You concede the point that people need those checks from government!” Well, yes. But the government also needs those people to need those checks. My point isn’t about wealth-transfers, it’s that normal people don’t look to the federal government for much direction or meaning in their lives.

Goldberg was writing about the difference between statutory law and what Jonathan Rauch defines as “hidden law,” “which is the norms, conventions, implicit bargains, and folk wisdoms that organize social expectations, regulate everyday behavior, and manage interpersonal conflicts.” The “hidden law” governs community, and that is much more important than what the windbags in Washington, Madison, your county seat or your city or village hall devise to make themselves more powerful.

The other thing, of course, is that Wisconsin’s ranking is destined to crater from 14th in 2013 to 50th in 2014, for reasons unrelated to do with politics and government.

Categories: Culture, Wisconsin politics | Leave a comment

Don Quixote Doe

The Clinton administration’s scandals du jour created a new term — “document dump,” when Clinton’s minions got around to releasing reams of documents, usually on Friday afternoons hoping to escape media notice.

That didn’t happen yesterday, when more emails than you can read were released on the attempt by Wisconsin Democrats to derail Gov. Scott Walker’s 2014 gubernatorial and possible 2016 presidential campaigns.

This, from WisPolitics,  is what passes for a bombshell:

Prosecutors suspected Scott Walker knew his aides in the Milwaukee County exec’s office were operating on a secret computer network and sought to expand their John Doe probe the day before the 2010 election, newly released documents show.

The documents also showed prosecutors subpoenaed Walker’s 2010 guv campaign to get a better handle on who was replying to the political emails his county employees sent from their public offices. They were also trying to see if Walker was involved in the activities. …

The thousands of pages, including emails, affidavits and court transcripts released Wednesday were from the case against former Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch, one of six people convicted in a John Doe probe. Prosecutors closed that probe, but have since opened a separate, second John Doe built partially on evidence collected during the first investigation. …

The documents show prosecutors requested permission the day before the 2010 gubernatorial election to expand the Doe to four additional Walker aides.

That included: Rindfleisch, Walker’s deputy chief of staff; chief of staff Tom Nardelli; communication director Fran McLaughlin; and Dorothy Moore, the scheduler for the county exec. Out of those four, only Rindfleisch was eventually charged.

The judge overseeing the probe signed off on the request as well as one for search warrants covering the county exec’s offices in the courthouse, Rindfleisch’s homes in West Allis and Columbia County, and her car.

Among other things, the documents show prosecutors believed members of Walker’s staff worked in concert to hide the work they were doing in the public office.

Prosecutors had previously disclosed an email from Walker to Tim Russell following the troubles of former aide Darlene Wink in which he wrote, “We cannot afford another story like this one. No one can give them any reason to do another story. That means no laptops, no websites, no time away during the workday, etc.”

But according to the records, employees continued to use private email accounts to do campaign work while in their public offices. …

I should probably find a hissing-cat sound effect to add to this:

The emails also offered some unflattering commentary by Walker aides and allies on people like Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and then Lt. Gov. candidate Rebecca Kleefisch.

An email from Barrett in the spring of 2010 comments on a job fair held by AirTran, saying having the airline base crew in the city was a “feather in our cap.”

Walker responded to the initial email, which copied several other campaign allies and county staffers, saying “Mayor forgot to thank the county for running one of the best airports in the country which is why Air Tran is adding jobs here.”

Walker and Barrett squared off for the guv’s office that fall.

In reply to that email, Robert Dennik, a former deputy chief of staff to Walker and, at the time, a VP for VJS Construction, said: “Small detail when you’re the abti-christ[sic]!!!”

In addition, Rindfleisch also repeatedly complained about Kleefisch. Most of the comments were in emails that dealt with Rindfleisch’s campaign work for then-state Rep. Brett Davis, who was running in a primary campaign against Kleefisch for lt. guv.

One exchange followed an invite to an event featuring a joint appearance with Kleefisch and Walker in March. Rindfleisch contacted Walker campaign manager Keith Gilkes and wrote it gave the impression that Walker was endorsing Kleefisch. When she was told that Walker was doing appearances with other lt. guv candidates as well, Rindfleisch asked if she’ll be able to use the appearance for advertising, writing in the email that Kleefisch “is the bane of your existence.”

Gilkes replied that she wouldn’t be allowed to use the appearance for advertising and “that will be made abundantly clear to her.”

Rindfleisch’s dislike of Kleefisch carried forward when she was told by Walker’s county exec spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin that Kleefisch didn’t show up to an event attended by Davis. Rindfleisch responds “I hope she keeps missing them. And topples over in her high heels.”

That is fundamentally what yesterday’s e-document dump is all about. It is not about finding Walker’s illegal actions, because, as Charlie Sykes reminds us, there were none to be found:

As the media and partisan operatives (but I repeat myself) sift through 27,000 pages of emails from that “secret” probe, we find volumes of old news, office gossip, political chatter, and unproved allegations.

But no White Whale. Only some random guppies.

Nothing in the new batch of emails incriminates Walker in any way. But we already knew that: if there was evidence of criminal activity, prosecutors would have filed charges. Instead, they shut down that probe without charges against the governor.

Now they seem intent on trying to score points in the court of public opinion that they didn’t dare try in a court of law. And Democrats have stripped even the thin of veneer of non-partisanship from the probe by going all-in to exploit it for partisan advantage.

This brings us to the latest investigation: John Doe II.

Lost amid the back and forth over the latest secret investigation of conservatives in Wisconsin is this inconvenient detail: there is no White Whale here either.

The John Doe II probe allegedly centers on charges that Scott Walker’s re-election campaign and dozens of conservative nonprofit groups known as 501(c)(4)s may have illegally coordinated their efforts during the 2012 recall campaign.

But in quashing numerous subpoenas, Judge Gregory A. Peterson, the judge presiding over the Doe, has ruled that  the prosecutors had not shown “probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign finance laws.” What the targets were accused of doing, the judge said, was in fact, protected free speech.

Noted the Wall Street Journal:

The order is all the more remarkable because it bluntly rejects the prosecutor’s theory of illegal coordination between the groups and the Walker campaign. Wisconsin’s campaign finance statutes ban coordination between independent groups and candidates for a “political purpose.” But a political purpose “requires express advocacy,” the judge wrote, and express advocacy means directly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate.

“There is no evidence of express advocacy” and therefore “the subpoenas fail to show probable cause that a crime was committed,” Judge Peterson wrote. Even “the State is not claiming that any of the independent organizations expressly advocated” for the election of Mr. Walker or his opponent, he added. Instead they did “issue advocacy,” which focuses on specific political issues.

So after all the pre-dawn raids, the seizure of personal computers, kitchen sink demands for records and emails, the sweeping probe turns out to be an investigation without a crime.

Let’s repeat that sentence: if there was evidence of criminal activity, prosecutors would have filed charges. They didn’t.

How do we know this is a partisan witch hunt? Media Trackers profiles the chief persecutor:

Formerly secret documents released by prosecutors and made public by a liberal advocacy group show David Budde, the chief investigator in the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, played a central role in the politicized John Doe investigation that concluded shortly after Gov. Scott Walker was re-elected in 2012.

On May 21, 2012, Media Trackers reported that Budde had a Democratic Party of Wisconsin “Recall Walker” sign in his front yard and an AFL-CIO union fist poster on his front door. Democrats hoped that the investigation Budde was helping lead would destroy Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) chance to win the recall election.

The released documents relate to prosecutors’ investigation of Kelly Rindfleisch, a Republican operative who struck a plea deal with the District Attorney’s office after engaging in political activity during working hours at her Milwaukee County government job. Before now the records were not public since John Doe investigations are conducted entirely in secret.

Democrats in 2011 and 2012 seized on numerous leaks about the investigation to suggest Walker’s political career would be over by the time the investigation concluded. The fact that the Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm is a Democrat and 43 members of his staff signed petitions to recall Walker raised questions about a possible political motivation to the probe.

Walker was never charged with any wrongdoing. …

In seeking to obtain an affidavit to search the home of Darlene Wink, another county employee, who was then in her late 50′s, Budde explains that he had a male investigator – Paul Bratonja – stalk the woman and track her movements before bringing his intentions before a judge.

Wink later pled guilt to two misdemeanors – not felonies – and was given probation.

On August 20, 2010, Budde wrote an affidavit backing up Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf’s request to broaden the scope of the John Doe investigation. Less than a month later on October 18, Budde asked a judge to give him more investigative power to search other records for evidence to build a case.

Budde also helped orchestrate a raid of the County Executive’s office by investigators and representatives of the DA’s office in November of 2010. Three of the people mentioned as targets of the raid were never found guilty or even so much as charged with any wrongdoing.

It appears that Budde, a long time political supporter of his Democratic boss Chisholm, never faced any repercussions for allowing a recall Walker yard sign in his yard. The situation made it appear as if Budde was extraordinarily biased in his perspective and thus possibly partisan in his work on the John Doe investigation.

Let’s repeat that sentence: Walker was never charged with any wrongdoing. But don’t believe me, believe the judge, as Watchdog reports:

On a day when news headlines nationwide screamed of Gov. Scott Walker’s “apparent” knowledge of illegal campaigning going on in his office when he was Milwaukee County executive, the judge of the nearly three-year “secret” investigation into Walker’s former aides and associates summed up the meat of the matter.

“The John Doe is closed and the results of the John Doe speak for themselves in terms of who has allegedly committed a crime, who has been charged with a crime and who has been convicted of a crime,”  former Appeals Court Judge Neal Nettesheim told Wisconsin Reporter on Wednesday.

Not on that conviction list, perhaps much to the dismay of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and like-minded liberals, was Walker.

Nettesheim served as the presiding judge over a sprawling probe launched in spring 2010 by the Democrat-led Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office. He shut down the investigation in March 2013, months after the prosecution’s quest for convictions fizzled out. In the end, Democrat DA John Chisholm and his prosecution squad had compiled six convictions — only two of them related to the original scope of the John Doe, and no charges of wrongdoing by Walker. …

“The John Doe here is closed except for one lingering motion which was brought by the Journal Sentinel,” Nettesheim said, referring to the newspaper’s push for the judge to release all documents under seal in the probe. That decision has been delayed, Nettesheim said.

Nettesheim said he was not surprised by the political heat the first John Doe probe generated.

“When I was approached by director of the state court office and was asked if I’d be willing to conduct the John Doe, I knew very well the political implications on both sides of the aisle,” the judge said. “But like Harry Truman once said, I find the heat in this kitchen very comfortable.”

Nettesheim said he managed to equally aggravate the right and the left.

There appears to be something larger going on here, as Matt Kittle reports:

In advance of the court-ordered release of thousands of personal emails of a convicted former aide to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker when Walker served as Milwaukee County executive, liberal attack group American Bridge on Wednesday morning giddily announced it was launching a new website on Wisconsin’s not-so-secret John Doe probes.

American Bridge, the Hillary Clinton-attached, super political action committee run by former Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse, rolled out the website as a court lifted the seal on Kelly Rindfleisch’s emails.

The announcement of the website follows American Bridge’s breathless “memo” Tuesday reminding members of the media of the scheduled release of the documents. The group need not have bothered: Every outlet from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to the Washington Post seemed to eagerly anticipate the looming distribution of Rindfleish’s emails.

American Bridge’s website — dubbed JohnDoeWalker.com — drives home the point that the left appears to be doing all in its power to connect the name of Scott Walker to the politically charged John Doe investigations which have, to date, found no evidence of any wrongdoing by Walker, a bona fide threat to the Democrats’ quest to hold the White House in 2016. …

American Bridge and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin have hammered on the latest John Doe investigation, also launched by the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, into dozens of conservative organizations. The presiding judge in that probe has quashed several of the subpoenas and ordered the return of property to targets subjected to pre-dawn raids, arguing the prosecution failed to show evidence of alleged illegal campaign coordination reportedly between the conservative groups and Walker’s campaign during the 2012 recall elections. …

American Bridge’s coordinated effort to drag Walker’s name through the mud of an investigation that has not found the governor guilty of any wrongdoing may, in the minds of conservatives, substantiate their darkest suspicions: That the John Doe investigation is part of a national effort to cut the tongue out of conservative political speech, in the mission of taking down Walker.

The smear campaign against Walker — who was charged with nothing from the John Doe investigation — is Wisconsin’s chapter in a nationwide campaign by Democrats and their apparatchiks — including, as we know, the Internal Revenue Service — to destroy conservatives.

Kittle calls this “Wisconsin’s Secret War,” but it’s really not a secret anymore.

Categories: media, US politics, Wisconsin politics | 2 Comments

A little less taxing

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that a tax cut deal will be finished today:

Republicans reached a compromise late Tuesday on Gov. Scott Walker’s more than $500 million tax cut proposal, agreeing to $38 million in spending cuts in the final piece of a deal that paves the way for a key committee vote on Wednesday.

Along with two other modest changes, the cuts to take place in the next budget beginning in July 2015 were enough to win over a remaining Senate GOP holdout who had balked at passing tax cuts that would leave the state in a worse financial position in the future. The deal will preserve all of the property and income tax cuts that Walker proposed after new projections last month found the current state budget would finish in June 2015 with a $1 billion surplus. …

The deal would also keep a chunk of the surplus— more than $100 million — in the state’s main account rather than shifting it to a rainy-day fund. It would also drop a proposed sales tax exemption added by Assembly Republicans last week for construction companies doing work for local governments and churches. …

By Tuesday morning, the number of GOP holdouts in the Senate had come down to Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Allouez), who backed Walker’s tax cuts but was seeking an additional $38 million cut in state spending in the next budget to help pay for them. …

A lapse is a technical term in the state budget. It would amount to requiring agencies in the Walker administration to return that amount of money to the state’s main account during the fiscal year ending in June 2016.

The agencies could do that by dialing back their authorized spending or taking cash from separate pots of money that have built up over time.

Fitzgerald said the Walker administration was initially reluctant about the lapse, which can make it more difficult for agencies to budget because it introduces a level of uncertainty about what their actual spending will be. …

Republicans hold an 18-15 advantage in the Senate, but Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) and all Senate Democrats are widely seen as no votes on the tax cuts. If they vote against the tax cuts, Cowles and every other GOP senator must vote for the bill to assure its passage. …

The move — and the additional $38 million cut — would also lower the shortfall expected in the 2015-’17 state budget under one way of estimating what is known as the structural deficit.

Before the new projections of unexpected new tax money last month, that shortfall had been estimated at about $707 million for the next two-year budget. Walker’s proposal would increase that projected shortfall by roughly $100 million to $807 million.

With the additional $38 million cut, the package would lower the expected shortfall to less than $660 million for the next budget.

First: Good for Cowles for insisting on more spending cuts. Even with the tax cuts, government in Wisconsin spends too much and taxes too much. (In addition to government’s other faults too numerous to list here.) There is no problem Wisconsin faces that more tax dollars will fix. The next time a unit of government in Wisconsin provides value that even matches your tax dollars will be the first time.

The aforementioned Schultz claims that no constituent of his told him they want tax cuts. (Which is a false statement, provably so if Schultz read his Senate district’s newspapers.)

In addition to their usual ranting about tax cuts for the “rich” (that is, those who actually pay income taxes), Democrats have been hypocritical about the issue of the rainy day fund, as Media Trackers reminds us:

On February 11, the state Assembly approved a $504 million property and income tax cut. The measure, promoted by Walker in his January state of the state address, also makes a payment of $117 million to the budget stabilization fund, better known in political vernacular as the “rainy day fund.”

While two Democrats joined a united Republican caucus in passing the tax cut, most Democratic members of the Assembly voted against the plan. More than a few Democrats publicly complained that the tax cut was irresponsible because more revenues were not deposited in the rainy day fund.

Rep. Penny Bernard-Schaber (D) called the tax cut package an “irresponsible and reckless plan.” As if on cue, other Democrats also called the measure “irresponsible.”

“When are we gonna stop doing irresponsible election year gimmicks?” Rep. Cory Mason, a Democrat from Racine, complained on the Assembly floor.

“Democrats believe we should take a balanced approach to the projected surplus,” Minority Leader Peter Barca said in a press statement outlining his side’s plan to double Walker’s requested contribution to the rainy day fund.

Barca subsequently expressed horror when Republicans voted down his plan and voted for what he called an  ”irresponsible election-year ploy.”

What Barca, Mason and other Democrats are conveniently ignoring is just how much money Walker and legislative Republicans have put into the rainy day fund. Today, the fund has more money in it than at any other time since its creation in 1985.

According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the rainy day fund had $279.3 million in it as of January 16, 2014. If the Senate agrees with Walker’s tax cut package, the $117 million sent to the fund in that legislation will boost the reserve to $396.3 million.

That’s a far cry from when Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, took $57 million out of the fund in 2008, leaving it with only $1.3 million.

Prior to the 2001-2003 budget, which established a funding mechanism for the rainy day account, the fund had a paltry $35 in it: a testament to the abundant political intentions that led to its creation and the lack of political will to meaningfully fund it.

The leftwing Wisconsin Budget Project on January 15th called on Walker and lawmakers to spend the budget surplus on yet more government programs. After Walker announced his tax cut, the group blasted him for not earmarking more money for the rainy day fund. Calling tax cuts a “shortsighted move” they said lower taxes “could come back to haunt the state during future economic downturns.”

While throwing together a chart that claims the state needs around $2.25 billion in a rainy day fund, the group never credited Walker with growing the account far more than his predecessors in either party.

The tax cut remains too small because it doesn’t even match the $2.2 billion tax increase Doyle enacted in the late 2000s. That tax increase didn’t solve the state’s fiscal problems of the time, but it did wreck the state’s economy. The tax cut is not larger because Walker and legislative Republicans have refused to make actual cuts — not merely decreases in increases, but a budget in which the last number, total spending, is less than the previous budget’s number — probably because they want to remain in power.  So this apparently is as good as Wisconsinites will get, and better than yet another Democratic tax increase.


Categories: Wisconsin politics | Leave a comment

Tamp down your tributes

Right Wisconsin subscribers can read my thoughts about retiring Sen. Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center), which include …

This might fit a definition of political courage today: According to one of the tributes in a newspaper in his Senate district, Schultz stood up at a meeting on the proposed Lac du Flambeau Chippewa casino in Shullsburg and announced he was opposed to expanding gambling in Wisconsin. He also voted against the bill to reform the process of reviewing school tribal nicknames, despite the presence of seven high schools with Indian nicknames within his Senate district.

The Act 10 and tribal nickname votes are freebies in a sense, since both passed without Schultz’s vote. On the other hand, Schultz’s vote against the2012 mining expansion bill killed the bill, since Schultz voted with all 16 Democrats against the bill. Schultz appears to be against Walker’s Road to Prosperity tax cuts, claiming not a single constituent of his favored tax cuts as the first use of the state surplus. That makes one think Schultz has stopped listening to his constituents who are more conservative than he is, or those constituents have decided to stop talking to Schultz.

Categories: media, Wisconsin politics | Leave a comment

The two words Wisconsin Democrats despise, about someone Wisconsin Democrats despise

The Capital Times’ Steven Elbow:

There’s no statement more telling in Emma Roller’s story in Slate on Gov. Scott Walker than the following comment on challenger Mary Burke’s campaign:

“Two weeks after Burke entered the race, 70 percent of Wisconsin residents either had no opinion of her or didn’t know who she was. That number was the same three months later. Although she’s more charismatic than Walker’s former opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, she still risks running the same sort of phlegmatic campaign that cost Barrett the recall election.”

And there is a lot of head scratching in liberal circles about the Burke campaign, which has failed, a little less than nine moths before the election, to generate any measurable excitement.

Walker, meanwhile, is getting all the ink. As the months pass, there’s more and more speculation about Walker in 2016. He’s a smart enough politician to let the momentum build, for now, without pushing it. He just has to maintain a national presence on TV and through personal appearances while still playing to his Wisconsin base by skillfully wielding the power of his office.

When the time comes, he could be a formidable candidate. He’s already impressed some as the person to watch. If the Republican power brokers think he’s their guy a year from now, he’ll have the cash he needs for a viable run.

And — talk about a backfire — the run-up to the 2012 recall election pretty much gave it to him.

“The recall established him nationally in conservative circles, gave him much more visibility nationally than he would have had otherwise, and most importantly let him have a national fundraising base,” Charles Franklin of the Marquette Law School Poll tells Roller. …

No one can say if Walker will hold up under the glare of national politics, but unless something surprising happens, it sure looks like he’ll get his shot.

Though I remain skeptical for several reasons that haven’t changed, maybe Walker will run for president, and Democrats in the rest of the U.S. will hate Walker as much as Wisconsin Democrats hate Walker.


Categories: US politics, Wisconsin politics | Leave a comment

Meanwhile, in the state State Department …

You may have missed the fact that there is a Republican primary race for secretary of state. (Congratulations to you for not being a political junkie.)

Candidate Jay Schroeder wants to eliminate the office. Candidate Bill Folk wants to expand the office.

Folk sent out a news release that proves that either Folk or his staff needs to write better news releases. Folk starts by violating Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment by saying:

This morning Secretary of State candidate Bill Folk stated that he was not surprised with the Schroeder campaign announcement today that Schroeder would return a portion of the salary, “lets be honest here, Jay [Schroeder] is a politician with more gimmicks than substance. He offers the people of Wisconsin nothing by electing him Secretary of State,” said Folk.

Schroeder begs to differ:

The current incumbent of that office has been hunkered down in Madison for over 33 years with very little to do, and it is my goal to empower the voters of Wisconsin to determine the fate of this do-nothing office. …

Why not simply just eliminate the office if it has no useful purpose? Excellent question! Since the office of Secretary of State is a constitutional office the only way to eliminate the office is to amend the Wisconsin Constitution. As you can imagine, this is no easy task. This is why I intend to empower the voters of Wisconsin to have the option to eliminate this expensive and unnecessary office.

By giving you, the voters the facts, my hope is that you will use that information to contact your state senator and assemblyman and let them know that you do not want to spend over $1 Million a biannual budget to run an office with no important purpose.

Folk, the Racine County GOP chairman and member of the Village of Caledonia Plan Commission, accuses Schroeder, who ran against Rep. Dean Kaufert (R–Neenah) in 2012, of being a politician. That start is made worse by this non sequitur:

The Schroeder campaign is running on the elimination of the office, a duty that is in the hands of the legislature and the voters of Wisconsin not in the hands of the Secretary of State. He continues to state that we can reduce the budget by $1 million by eliminating the office but fails to take into account that the duties and costs will only be shifted to other areas of the government with no savings to the taxpayers and no recourse for the voters. …

Democrats stripped the Secretary of State of election responsibilities in the 1970′s due to the fact that Republicans controlled the office for nearly 30 years, Republicans did the same to Democrat Secretary of State Doug La Follette in the 1990′s and again in 2011 and 2013. “It is time to get past political expediency and return to a state of normalcy. In order to regain the proper balance we need to stop playing the gimmick angle and defeat Doug La Follette,” said Folk.

“Political expediency” is another term for “politics.” (“Normalcy” refers to a political state that happened in the halcyon past, which wasn’t really that great anyway, but is never coming back.) Democrats cut duties from the office because they didn’t like a secretary of state not from their party, and Republicans have done the same. Folk accuses Schroeder of exceeding his abilities to change the responsibilities of the secretary of state, and then proceeds to exceed his own abilities to change the responsibilities of the secretary of state.

Things get better when Folk’s webpage gives a then-and-now comparison:

In 1946 the Secretary of State of Wisconsin was responsible for the following: (Stats from NASS)
· Issue Corporate Charters
· Member of the State Land Board
· Member of State Board of Canvassers
· Administer Election Laws
· Register Trade Marks
· Custodian of Legislative Bills, Acts and Records
· Publish Session Laws
· Publish Abstract of Votes
· Attest Executive Documents

Under the 36 years of LaFollette here is what we are left with:
· Issue Corporate Charters
· Member of the State Land Board
· Member of State Board of Canvassers
· Administer Election Laws
· Register Trade Marks
· Custodian of Legislative Bills, Acts and Records
· Publish Session Laws
· Publish Abstract of Votes
· Attest Executive Documents

There is a growing call to eliminate the office – If the office is to continue to be held by Lafollete, I agree. However there is a better way…Vote For Folk.

You’ll notice that the Wisconsin secretary of state is not in charge of Wisconsin’s foreign policy. (Which is hard to believe, given the excessive political activism in Madison, that Wisconsin doesn’t have a foreign policy.) There is nothing on the current list, and arguably nothing on the old list either beyond possibly “administer election laws,” that justifies paying someone $69,000 a year — nearly three times the average Wisconsinite’s yearly income — for those duties.

I hesitate to put words in the mouths of dead people, but somehow I don’t think what Folk has in mind is in the spirit of this Reagan quote, which Folk uses in his news release and Schroeder uses on his webpage:

Ronald Reagan once said, “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!” Bill Folk wants to return vital responsibilities back to the elected office of Secretary of State by removing them from those unelected, unaccountable “government bureaus” established by the legislature.

One of those things is not like the other. I am all for keeping “unelected, unaccountable” government employees out of the political process. That, however, presumes in this case that what the secretary of state’s office does actually includes “vital responsibilities.”

The incumbent, Douglas La Follette, likes to fancy himself as a watchdog. La Follette, however, is unable to come up with any instance in which he served as a watchdog against the wishes of his own party’s leadership. La Follette was quite the opposite, in fact, when he illegally delayed publication of Act 10, the public employee collective bargaining reforms, to facilitate a lawsuit against Act 10 supported by his party. For that, La Follette should have been prosecuted and thrown out of office. I would be more convinced of the watchdog ability of either the offices of secretary of state or state treasurer if they were nonpartisan, but they aren’t. (And that wouldn’t guarantee anything anyway, given that the nonpartisan superintendent of public instruction is a toady of the teacher unions.)

Perhaps Folk should move a few miles south into Illinois, whose secretary of state has considerably more duties than Wisconsin’s. Of course, in Illinois, secretaries of state get elected governor, and then end up in the federal prison system for activities while they were secretary of state. (See Ryan, George.) Power corrupts.

Reagan’s comment that no government voluntarily reduces itself in size is answered by Reps. Tyler August (R–Lake Geneva) and Michael Schraa (R–Oshkosh). August and Schraa introduced a constitutional amendment last year to eliminate the office of secretary of state …

Earlier this year, Governor Walker signed Act 5, which repealed the Secretary of State’s duty to publish notices of new laws in the newspaper and eliminated his ability to selectively delay the publication of enacted bills like Act 10.  Currently, the only remaining duties of the Secretary of State are sitting on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, as well as three other minor duties.

… and treasurer:

… the [2013–15] state budget reduced the Treasurer’s office to the sole duty of sitting on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands.  In the wake of this change, current State Treasurer Schuller publicly stated that this lone duty amounts to “two 15-minute phone calls a month.”

Their proposed constitutional amendment fits my thinking. The lieutenant governor has only one main responsibility, but it is important: to replace the governor if the governor leaves office, by choice or otherwise. That has happened twice in my lifetime, when Lt. Gov. Martin Schreiber replaced Gov. Patrick Lucey upon the latter’s appointment to be Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to Mexico in 1977, and when Lt. Gov. Scott McCallum replaced Gov. Tommy Thompson upon the latter’s appointment to be George W. Bush’s secretary of Health and Human Services in 2001. Three lieutenant governors became governor upon the deaths of their predecessors, and a fourth became governor after Gov. Fighting Bob La Follette became U.S. Sen. Fighting Bob La Follette.

The duties of the secretary of state’s and treasurer’s offices should be able to be folded into the lieutenant governor’s office for less money than the $5.5 million per year the two offices now spend. At a minimum state taxpayers would save the $138,000 the state treasurer and secretary of state undeservedly receive.

Categories: Wisconsin politics | Leave a comment

If he says “hello,” check it out

An immensely talented newspaper editor wrote this about retiring Sen. Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center).

More of this is needed in the news media — not (only) because of the writer, but because the news media needs more people who refuse to worship politicians and uncritically report what they say, whether the politician’s name is followed by a D or an R, or belongs to no party. Politicians are about themselves first and foremost, and that fact alone should make the media, and more importantly voters, critically appraise everything a politician says starting at “hello.”

Categories: media, US politics, Wisconsin politics | Leave a comment

Dumbest idea of the campaign, so far

The Democratic candidate for state treasurer wants the state to create, yes, its own bank:

Madison attorney and former Green County District Attorney, Dave Leeper, registered his campaign for the office of Wisconsin State Treasurer on January 21, 2014. Leeper is the son of former State Representative Midge Miller, and the brother of State Senator Mark Miller. …

Leeper points out North Dakota has had a state bank since 1919. The North Dakota Bank makes use of the credit and the resources of the state to provide banking services for banks, communities, businesses, and North Dakota residents. “I will work with the legislature and the governor to create a State of Wisconsin Bank that meets the needs of Wisconsin communities, businesses, and individuals,” Leeper explained.

“I’ve been working to improve our communities for over 30 years, yet the problems we face seem to grow larger and more urgent,” said Leeper. “Income and wealth inequality are growing.  I know we can’t solve the problems we face until we regain control over our own resources. The time is right for Wisconsin to take control of its financial future.”

Yes, the problems of the state require state government to compete with business, specifically banks and credit unions. (Given the animus banks have toward credit unions because the former pays corporate income taxes and latter doesn’t, on this issue they might actually be in agreement.) That approach has worked so well in the Obama administration and was just swell during the Doyle administration.

(Here’s some irony for you: Leeper apparently was a district attorney. So was Doyle, who couldn’t be bothered to prosecute bad checks when he was Dane County district attorney. No media apparently reported this when he was running for attorney general, and then he became governor Deficit Doyle, the very model of bad government finance.)

It’s one thing to have the Federal Reserve Bank. I’m not a fan, though I’m not sure what should replace it. It is another thing entirely to have politicians and bureaucrats controlling a state bank, competing against investor-owned banks (most of which are nowhere near the size of, say, Chase) or member-owned credit unions, which are also businesses required to make a profit. The Soviet Union and its captive countries controlled their own “banking system” too.

Given that the chances of the Democratic Party getting control of even one house of the Legislature aren’t very good, I suppose this is a freebie for Leeper. He can channel his inner Fighting Bob, and Democrats who get elected and reelected in 2014, many of whom get campaign contributions from banking-related political action committees, can worry about having to actually vote on this turkey.

Categories: Wisconsin business, Wisconsin politics | Leave a comment

Driving Democrats

Being from the ’80s, I am a fan, indeed a student, of irony.

So I am amused at the juxtaposition of two events of this past week. The first, which actually started one week earlier, was the self-revelation that state Rep. Christine Sinicki (D–Milwaukee) has been driving on a suspended driver’s license for a considerable amount of time while on state business.

Working backwards: Media Trackers reported this after finding out that Sinicki collected more than $3,000 in per diem payments that state legislators who live outside Dane County are eligible to receive. Sinicki’s legal issues came to light because …

During Governor Scott Walker’s (R) State of the State address this year, Sinicki garnered media attention for announcing on her Facebook page that the speech was “full of sh#@” and she wished she could walk out. Days after that controversy, the loudmouthed legislator used an expletive to describe what she though U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s (R) response would be to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

Sinicki, like all state legislators, makes $49,943 per year in addition to said per diem payments and other handsome benefits. Don’t you feel happy about that use of your taxpayer dollars?

To be fair, Sinicki is not the only legislator to have driver’s license issues. Newspapers reported in the 1980s the legal maneuvers the Assembly minority leader had to drive through to keep his driver’s license as a result of his lead foot. At one point, said legislator was down to one or two points on his license, the newspaper breathlessly reported. Of course, once that legislator was elected governor, Tommy Thompson didn’t have any speeding-ticket problems, at least not in a car. U.S. Rep. Bob Kasten (R–Wisconsin) got picked up for drunk driving in the 1980s as well, prompting a UW–Madison student government party to call itself the Bob Kasten School of Driving.

The per-diem payments reportedly require that the legislator attest that he or she was driving from his or her district to Madison. The suspended license made it appear as though Sinicki either submitted fraudulent per diem payments, or was violating state law by driving on a suspended license. The latter was the case and, contrary to what Sinicki wants you to believe, not for the first time.

The point in all of these cases is that driving records are public records. When someone whose salary is paid by our tax dollars gets into legal trouble that is public record, and hostile media reports that, no sympathy is deserved. Sinicki’s previous operating-after-suspension citation occurred in 2012, before she was reelected to her Assembly seat. Apparently her constituents are OK with being represented by someone who seems to not believe that the laws of Wisconsin apply to her.

What’s so ironic about this, you ask? On the same week Sinicki was trying to explain her way out of her self-generated controversy, Sinicki’s party leader in the Assembly, Rep. Peter Barca (D–Kenosha), announced:

In order to decrease the number of distracted-driving casualties and injuries on Wisconsin roads and highways, Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D–Kenosha) and Sen. John Lehman (D–Racine) today announced a new bill to require a hands-free device when using a cell phone while driving. Earlier this month, Illinois became the 12th state to prohibit hand-held cell phone use while driving.

During the 2009-11 legislative session, Rep. Barca authored legislation that made Wisconsin the 25th state to ban texting while driving. Now 41 states prohibit that practice.

“It is important for Wisconsin to take the strong step toward ending this unsafe behavior on our roads,” Rep. Barca said. “This is a common-sense public safety proposal that would help keep Wisconsin’s drivers and pedestrians safe. We must use technology, such as hands-free options, whenever possible to enhance safety.”

This proposal provides exemptions for emergency vehicle operators, the use of GPS systems or two-way radios, touching the phone to receive or place a call, and reporting an emergency situation.  The effective date is delayed one year to allow drivers time to consider purchasing hands-free capable devices.

One wonders what Barca’s and Lehman’s position is about the “unsafe behavior on our roads” of driving without a valid license, but that’s not the irony.

Another Democrat, Rep. Jon Richards (D–Milwaukee), is running for attorney general espousing tougher penalties for drunk drivers. That too is ironic not just because attorneys general are supposed to enforce the law, not try to create the law, but for the additional reason that in the same week, Richards’ Democratic opponent, Dane County District Attorney General Ismael Ozanne, and their Republican opponent, Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimmel, both announced they had been picked up for drunk driving in the 1980s. (Ozanne and Schimmel were ticketed well before they entered public office, in an era in which drunk driving was less seen as a menace as today.)

The additional irony is that one of Richards’, Barca’s and Lehman’s fellow travelers, Rep. Melissa Sargent (D–Madison), is espousing something that will increase the number of impaired drivers on the roads. Sargent has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana use. It is mere logic that if you legalize use of a previously prohibited substance, that substance will get more use, more users and more abusers, including by drivers immediately before driving. It should not be controversial to point out that alcohol use increased when Prohibition ended. (Similarly, it should be pointed out, the offense of Operating a Motor Vehicle while Intoxicated does not distinguish between intoxicating substances. )

Barca’s and Lehman’s cellphone ban is a stupid idea for the same reason that Barca’s self-touted texting ban is bad law. Cellphone use, including texting, is an example of inattentive driving, already proscribed by state law up to felony status (homicide or causing injury by negligent use of a motor vehicle). It is ignorant for Barca and Lehman to assert that cellphone use is more distracting than the previously existing distractions of passengers (particularly arguing adults or misbehaving children) and other vehicles. No ginned-up safety study disproves that reality.

Richards’ desire to stiffen drunk driving penalties brings up Sinicki’s inability to drive without a valid license. The fact, which can be found at your local county courthouse’s clerk of circuit court office, is that there are probably thousands of Wisconsinites who drive every day without having a valid driver’s license, usually because theirs got suspended, like Sinicki, or revoked because of, for instance, drunk driving convictions. Every week newspapers that print their counties’ circuit court convictions include multiple listings for the citations of Operating After Suspension, or Operating After Revocation, or Operating After Revocation/Suspension of Registration.

Why do thousands of Wisconsin drivers get away with not having a valid license? Simple: The police don’t catch them. Why don’t the police catch them? Simple: Because the police cannot merely pull over anyone the police wants to; probable cause is required by law before a traffic stop is made. Unless they’re involved in a crash, most drunk drivers are caught because they drive impaired — driving too fast or too slow, not being able to stay in their lane, driving at night without headlights, or driving without working lights — in view of a police officer. In the case of a driver without a license, a police officer in a small city or village may know that a certain driver doesn’t have a license because the officer stopped the driver previously for not having a license.

Cellphone and texting bans, and apparently the operating after revocation/suspension laws, don’t stop people from, respectively, using cellphones and texting on them, and driving cars while not legally able to do so. That’s not necessarily a reason to pass a law — otherwise murder should be legal since people still kill others though murder is illegal — but it is a reason for legislators to think harder than they’re apparently used to before passing another unenforceable law.

Richards and others who espouse tougher drunk driving penalties also need to explain how the estimated costs associated with stiffer drunk driving penalties — as much as $204 million every year by one estimate — will be paid, and in the state with the fifth highest state and local taxes, the phrase “raise taxes” is the wrong answer. Sinicki’s suspended license reportedly was due to her not paying fines, which suggests that increasing fines might end up increasing license suspensions from unpaid fines.

Then there’s the issue of whether we really want to be putting more people in prison and jail when some argue there are already too many people in prison and jail for such crimes as, well, use of certain drugs. On the other hand, given the number of repeat drunk drivers, one wonders how drunk driving can be effectively stopped other than by physically separating a driver not just from his car, but from the ability to drive any vehicle.

Categories: Wheels, Wisconsin politics | Leave a comment

Tax cuts are not enough

If I may quote from myself at Right Wisconsin

Most states have some form of spending or tax controls in their state constitutions. Wisconsin does not. The controls we have, such as they are, are in state law, passed by legislatures and signed by governors who want them, and overturned by legislatures and governors who do not. (You may recall that Doyle got rid of the Qualified Economic Offer law to allow teacher contract increases to go as high as the sky.)

The Tax Foundation has a Taxpayer Bill of Rights calculator on its website that allows users to compare actual spending against spending that would have been limited by such common limits as population growth, the Consumer Price Index increase and personal income growth. Going back to the late 1970s — when Wisconsin’s per capita personal income growth exceeded the national average, the last time that happened — had population growth and CPI limits been the law of this land, state and local government today would be spending half what it does now in this state.

The absence of permanent — that is, constitutional — limits on government spending is what has given Wisconsin the fifth highest state and local taxes in the U.S. Wisconsin has had Republican and Democratic governors, and Republican, Democratic and split-party control of the Legislature since the late 1970s, but one thing in common with all of them — spending that spirals upward, and therefore taxes that spiral upward, even when no one votes to increase taxes. …

No Democrat and not enough Republicans support taxpayer rights because they don’t want to lose political power. Voters cannot trust Walker or the Legislature’s Republicans to control spending, because voters cannot trust politicians of either or no party to control spending.

Voting the right way is necessary but insufficient. Politicians must be prevented from spending more taxpayer money than the taxpayer approves.
Categories: Wisconsin politics | Leave a comment

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