Walker Derangement Syndrome, UW–Madison edition

Why, you ask, do Republicans want to cut the UW System? Why do most Republican-leaning voters support something like that?

Well, it might have something to do with what happens with those taxpayer-funded salaries at the state’s only world-class university, as reported by The College Fix:

University of Wisconsin sociology Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab claims there are “terrifying” psychological similarities between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Nazi leader and mass murderer Adolf Hitler.

In a July 1 tweet, Goldrick-Rab said: “My grandfather, a psychologist, just walked me through similarities between Walker and Hitler. There are so many-it’s terrifying.”

The extreme comparisons didn’t stop there.

A day later, Professor Goldrick-Rap tweeted: “No doubt about it-Walker and many Wisconsin Legislators are fascists. Period. They proved it today. #SHAME.”

Walker, a Republican, announced on Monday that he is running for president.

The College Fix reached out to Professor Goldrick-Rab on Monday to seek clarification about her strongly worded tweets. Goldrick-Rab released the following statement to The College Fix:

Thank you for your question. Please note that I have taken time out of my unpaid vacation to respond, as a courtesy to the timeliness of your request.

If you reread the tweet, you will see that I stated that an expert in the field – a psychoanalyst with decades of experience – compared the ‘psychological characteristics’ of the two individuals, and that I was struck by his analysis. There do appear to be commonalities.

I’m confident you are capable of seeing the difference between such an assessment and equating the whole of two different people.

I’m also confident you will note that the tweet was not a “reaction” to any particular event, and thus it may not fit with your narrative.

Recently Goldrick-Rab also targeted the Wisconsin budget as an attack on education and tenure, tweeting she “spent more than 20 years working for & honoring the tenure I earned. Walker just robbed me of it. He robbed Wisconsin. It’s unforgivable.”

She went on to suggest Walker would “make an example” out of her and fire her to advance his campaign.

“You should hear my kids, trying to figure out what moving means. Walker is driving them out of their home state. He took mom’s job.” Goldrick-Rab tweeted July 12.

In a statement issued to the Wisconsin State Journal, Goldrick-Rab said that her colleagues around the UW system are talking privately about leaving, and that “(legislators) had literally shattered their employees and students and they stand up and say ‘thank you.’ It’s cowardly. We’re the laughingstock of the nation.”

Professor Goldrick-Rab also joined the chorus of those lamenting the fact that Walker doesn’t have a college degree, tweeting: “My 5 year old just busted out with ‘Scott Walker needs to go to college to get some more knowledge!’  Whoa. She’s way ahead…”

Yes, readers, these are the kind of people who have succeeded in making Walker a national political star. Among other inconvenient facts, Walker is approximately 12 million short of Hitler in deaths caused by evil ideas. This, we are supposed to believe, is what academic freedom and tenure are for.

 

The O in AFL-CIO stands for …

The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza wrote this before yesterday’s big news:

Scott Walker’s message in his soon-to-be-announced presidential bid is simple: I’m a conservative who has won and won (and won) in a blue state. I’ve talked the talk and walked the walk.

“We fought and we won,” Walker says in the video his campaign released in advance of Monday night’s formal announcement. “Without sacrificing our principles we won three elections in four years in a blue state.”

That’s a very powerful message for Republicans desperate to win the White House back. And, it’s one that Walker has Democrats to thank for.

Remember that Walker’s initial win in 2010 occasioned no great attention among national politicos.  He was a little-known county executive who was known, primarily, for being the “brown bag” guy. No one expected to hear from him again, nationally speaking.

Then Walker made his move on public employee unions. Suddenly, he became enemy number one of the organized labor movement nationally and the Republican every Democrat in Wisconsin loved to hate. That emotion led to the push to recall Walker in a June 2012 election; there was a widespread belief in the anti-Walker crowd that it was a virtual guarantee that voters would get rid of the governor.

Except that didn’t happen. In fact, Walker won by a larger margin over Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett in the 2012 recall than he did in the regularly scheduled 2010 election. In the wake of that loss — and, in truth, in the months leading up to the vote — there was considerable disagreement between labor/Wisconsin Democrats and national party strategists about whether the recall was a smart political move.

Following Walker’s win, I wrote this:

There was considerable internal discussion and disagreement between Washington and Wisconsin Democrats (and organized labor) about whether to push for a recall election this summer or wait until 2014 for a chance to unseat Walker. (Washington Democrats broadly favored the latter option, Wisconsin Democrats and labor the former).

As the recall played out, two things became clear: 1) There were almost no one undecided in the race and 2) those few souls who were undecided tended to resist the recall effort on the grounds that Walker had just been elected in 2010.

The sentiment among those undecided voters, according to several Democrats closely monitoring the data, was that while they didn’t love Walker they thought he deserved a full term before passing final judgment on how he was performing.

That Democrats nominated Barrett — the same man who Walker had defeated in the 2010 general election — added to the sense among independents and undecided voters that this was primarily a partisan push to re-do a race in which they didn’t like the final result.

Looking back, it’s clear that without the recall, there is no Scott Walker presidential announcement today. What the recall did was turn Walker into a conservative hero/martyr — the symbol of everything base GOPers hate about unions and, more broadly, the Democratic party.  He went from someone no one knew to someone every conservative talk radio host (and their massive audiences) viewed as the tip of the spear in the fight against the creep of misguided Democratic priorities. He became someone who had the phone numbers of every major conservative donor at his fingertips. He became what he is today: The political David who threw a pebble and slew the mighty liberal Goliath.

It’s hard for me to imagine that if Democrats had never tried to recall Walker that he would be a) running for president in 2016 or b) solidly established as one of the three candidates regarded as most likely to be the nominee.  Even if Walker had, as he did, won a second term as governor in Wisconsin in 2014, it’s much more likely he’d be grouped in with fellow governors like John Kasich and Chris Christie rather than, as he is now, with Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

The recall was a major — and long-tailed — strategic mistake by Democrats. It elevated Walker from a low-profile governor into a conservative superstar.  If Walker winds up as the Republican nominee in 2016 — and he has a real chance to be just that —  Democrats have only themselves to blame for his rise. They made Walker into the kind of politician who could beat Hillary Clinton next November.

Conventional wisdom claimed that Walker won the 2012 recall election …

… because of a significant number of non-fans of Walker who nonetheless voted for him because they believed Walker shouldn’t have been recalled over Act 10. That foreshadowed Walker’s loss in 2014 … until, of course, he won again.

Democrats and liberals (but I repeat myself) could blame the 2014 loss on the inept campaign of Mary Burke, but Democrats were all atwitter of having a female candidate who ran a successful family business, until it became obvious that Burke didn’t have as large a role as was claimed at said successful family business, and as a candidate she reminded no one of, say, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards. One wonders when Democrats will stop underestimating Walker for having a low intellect (due to his sin of a lack of college degree, the same as with a majority of Wisconsinites), because obviously he’s smarter than the Democrats and their political experts.

So what does the O in AFL-CIO stand for? That’s the number of elections (yes, using an O for a zero — the new version of Hawaii Five-0 does it) Big Labor has won against Scott Walker. That also represents the number of times Big Labor has succeeded in wresting control of either house of the Legislature away from Republicans in the regularly scheduled 2010, 2012 and 2014 elections. When AFL-CIO chief thug Richard Trumka calls Walker a “national disgrace,” Trumka should look in the mirror; that’s called “projection.”

Alternatively, I love this tweet:

The ideological diversity of the state GOP

Kevin Binversie looks at the 11 Assembly Republicans who voted against the 2015-17 state budget:

While it’s easy to group all 11 as some of the most potentially-vulnerable members of the Republican caucus, the reality is there are three groups here.

The Truly Vulnerable

  • Ed Brooks, R-Reedsburg, 50th Assembly District
  • Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, 51st Assembly District
  • Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, 68th Assembly District
  • Nancy VanderMeer, R-Tomah, 70th Assembly District
  • Dave Heaton, R-Wausau, 85th Assembly District
  • Warren Petryk, R-Eleva, 93rd Assembly District

With an eye on 2016, and the likelihood of higher Democratic turnout, there’s little doubt the majority of these representatives voted against the budget with concerns over their re-election at the top of their minds. Given recent teeter-tottering between the parties in these swing districts, even a “No” vote might not be enough to ensure a return to the Madison in 2017.

Of the six seats listed above, since redistricting, results have ranged from 48 percent to 52 percent for the Republican candidate in either 2012 or 2014. Three of these six seats (Novak, VanderMeer, and Heaton) had margins of victory (or defeat in the case of VanderMeer in 2012) which triggered a recount.

The others, while sitting on respectable margins of victory in 2014, had squeakers in 2012.

The Prevailing Wage Trio

  • Keith Ripp, R-Lodi, 42nd Assembly District
  • Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, 72nd Assembly District
  • James “Jimmy Boy” Edming, R-Glen Flora, 87th Assembly District

This set of state representatives each issueda press releaseagainst the state budget saying essentially the same thing, “I’m disappointed that prevailing wage language was included in the final budget.”

On an electoral level, nearly all three inhabit relatively safe seats. With each winning re-election (or initial election) to the assembly in 2014 with margins between 56 percent to 66 percent. Only Scott Krug, who won a squeaker in 2012, can claim true political worry.

Of course, how the Stevens Point-area Republican can claim he’s looking out for taxpayers by opposing prevailing wage reform while leaning towards support for a Bucks arena from his out-state district will be something to watch next year on the campaign trail.

The Big-Government, College Town Republicans

  • Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, 49th Assembly District
  • Lee Nerison, R-Westby, 96th Assembly District

Both opposed Act 10 in 2011, both opposed prevailing wage perform now, both are from western Wisconsin and concerned about the vote from their college-aged voters. (Tranel from UW-Platteville, Nerison from UW-La Crosse)

Sense the pattern.

Electorally, both Tranel and Nerison are fairly safe. In 2014, Tranel won re-election with 61 percent, and won in 2012 with 54 percent. Nerison carried his district in both 2012 and 2014 with 59 percent of the vote.

Both essentially are longshots to be beaten in 2016, but they’ll be on the radar anyway. Tranel, elected in 2010 and one time was seen as a rising conservative star, has quickly developed a reputation as “the next Dale Schultz” in the sense he talks a solid conservative game in district, but is rarely there when the votes are counted.

Well, until Tranel casts a vote that actually kills a GOP wish-list item (for instance, mining reform, in which Schultz’s vote and all the Democratic votes killed northwest Wisconsin mining), Tranel is not a shorter, thinner Dale Schultz. Nerison may represent a district near La Crosse, but he does not represent La Crosse.

I assume the list of the Vulnerables is more or less accurate, though Brooks’ district hasn’t gone Democratic in my memory. Novak is a first-termer, but has qualities that will be hard for Democrats to oppose. I disagree with the stance those opposed to prevailing-wage reform took, but notice that it passed.

In fact, notice that the state budget passed even without these 11 votes, or the vote of Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay). That seems like good political maneuvering to me. The 11 can say that they opposed whatever about the budget they opposed, and yet, like Act 10, it passed anyway.

This is something Gov. Scott Walker can spin to his advantage in this politically divided state within this politically divided nation. If I were Walker I would say that the 11 No votes demonstrate that the Republican Party does differ on some subjects, that the GOP has actual political diversity, unlike the other side. Know any anti-abortion Democrats? How about any Democrats who favor the Second Amendment? (My definition does not include gun control that only affects the ability of law-abiding Americans to purchase guns.) How about any Democrats who favor general tax cuts, instead of cutting taxes for a few by raising taxes on everyone else?

With all due to respect to Charlie Sykes and the Right Wisconsin people, whose work I enjoy reading and who have worked hard to influence the Wisconsin political debate: I’m not sure labeling and appearing to shun Republicans who don’t vote your way is helpful to the conservative cause. (For that matter, the state GOP could be labeled into suburban-Milwaukee, Fox River Valley and outstate elements, with most of the aforementioned 11 in the latter group, and Walker, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald in the former group.)

The GOP has a 13-seat majority in the Assembly and a two-seat majority in the Senate. Obviously conservative legislation still is getting passed without every single GOP vote. In fact, the larger a majority is, the more likely there is to be wavering from the supposedly true line. That’s not much of an issue until your one-vote majority includes Dale Schultz, which is no longer the case.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel claimed that Walker wanted a big budget victory heading into his presidential campaign. Well, state government should not be negatively affected by presidential politics. The Republican Party needs to be bigger than Scott Walker, who may or may not become president and will not be governor forever, or, for that matter, any single Republican.

 

The latest from #openrecordsgate contrary to #opengov

The week since the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee unveiled its plans to exempt the Legislature from the state Open Records Law has been fascinating for political geeks.

It is interesting that the coverage of nearly every media outlet in this state, including this award-winning publication, has found only two people under the dome willing to defend it publicly. The Wisconsin State Journal reported:

Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, said the plan had the input and support of legislative leaders from both houses. …

Nygren, R-Marinette, said in an interview that the goal of the proposed changes was to protect constituents, and he said news outlets have misrepresented the intent.

“In my view, there should be some privacy for constituents to contact my office. You guys don’t give a (expletive) about that,” Nygren said. “All you want to do is make this about, somehow, that we’re stifling transparency for the press.”

Speaking in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio earlier Monday, Vos, R-Rochester, echoed that reasoning and said there was “nothing sinister” about the open records changes or lawmakers’ decision to scrap them less than 48 hours after they were made public.

“We want to ensure that if somebody writes their legislator, they should know that the comments that they make and the words that they say have some ability to be protected, so they can’t be targeted,” said Vos, R-Rochester.

Nygren is correct that we in the media “don’t give a (expletive) about that.” The unnamed State Journal editorial writer(s) followed up with:

It’s certainly true that this newspaper will always champion open government to help our readers — including Nygren’s constituents — find out what their state and local leaders are up to.

The State Journal, for instance, used public records last year to show that a multimillionaire GOP donor was the driving force behind a controversial child-support bill, which one of Nygren’s colleagues quickly dropped after our article ran.

It’s also true, during the Capitol protests over collective bargaining restrictions in 2011 that the State Journal went to court for public records showing doctors were writing fraudulent sick notices to teachers skipping school to rally. We don’t remember Nygren complaining about that.

Nygren has done good work passing laws to stem Wisconsin’s heroin scourge. Were communications to him on this topic unfairly scrutinized? We doubt it.

Newspapers rarely print constituent letters or emails unless something suspicious or nefarious is going on. Yet public access for every citizen, not just the press, is an important way to keep elected officials honest, especially when they’re being heavily influenced by special interests and wealthy campaign donors.

Moreover, Wisconsin’s open records law includes a balancing test. Nygren and other public officials can weigh the law’s broad presumption of openness against potential harm to constituents if truly personal information becomes public. And if there’s a dispute over what should be public, the courts can decide.

The State Journal did not mention — but I did — the genesis of this ridiculousness, which wasn’t in Nygren’s party. Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D–Middleton) lost his bid to keep the email addresses of more than 1,000 government employees who emailed him during the Act 10 debate from the eyes of the MacIver Institute, which wanted to observe government employees using government resources during what appeared to be work hours. At a minimum a fair appraisal of this traveshamockery would observe the benefit not only to Republicans, but to legislative Democrats too.

The State Journal also didn’t bring up — but I did — another case in which the Open Records Law benefited Republicans, by revealing the signers of petitions to recall Walker and other Republicans during Recallarama. That remains a sore subject in some quarters because it revealed government employees, including members of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office (last seen persecuting Republicans and conservatives), judges and members of the Madison media.

Nygren didn’t bring up, as far as I have read, a rationale for why the Open Records Law should be changed more than three decades after a Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican governor made it law. The abuses Nygren seems to be concerned with have been possible every day since it became law in 1981, because mail to legislators has always been subject to the Open Records Law, just as email is. The difference, I suppose, is that most Republicans seem to look at the news media as the monolithic enemy.

On the other hand, the State Journal didn’t bring up why people should trust the media to do the right thing, given the number of media people — including those who get paychecks across the building from the State Journal at The C(r)apital Times — who do their work with the malign intent that concerns Nygren, not to mention their ideological sycophants, including whoever called in the bomb threat to the Capitol Wednesday night. These hyperpoliticized times of ours provide motivation for ideological warfare, because political battles must be won by any means necessary. Ask Rep. Gordon “You’re F—ING DEAD!” Hintz about that.

State Rep. Todd Novak (R–Dodgeville) was quoted thusly by an excellent weekly newspaper:

“It can be a problem,” said Novak. “I’ve had constituents that have contacted me with some pretty personal issues” that involved the departments of Revenue and Workforce Development, and Office of Unemployment Compensation. “They do give you some personal information, which is open records.”

But, Novak added, “The way to address it is to make it very narrow in scope. … Coming from a newspaper background, I can’t see any newspaper in the state publishing personal information. It is an issue and it’s concern of many of us, but it needs to be very, very narrow.”

I hope Novak’s assertion is correct, but I’m not positive it is. The question comes down to whom do you trust more — politicians or the news media. That’s probably like choosing between vomiting and diarrhea for many people, but keep in mind that all of us pay elected officials’ salaries, but subscribing to newspapers is your own choice. As I wrote before, if a change cannot be made that is “very, very narrow,” then the Open Records law should be kept as is. (For that matter, the Open Meetings and Open Records laws should be added to the state Constitution to prevent the Legislature from fixing that which only the Legislature thinks is broken.)

There is another change to the Open Records Law that Walker needs to veto — a provision that allows applicants to UW System jobs to keep their names secret. Certainly very few people want to let their employer know they’re attempting to leave their employer. But in my experience, this is commonplace in the public sector, and I have not observed negative blowback for someone in the public sector (or in higher education) looking for new employment. Even if that were not the case, it’s immaterial because our tax dollars pay UW System salaries and fund the UW System. Public dollars, public scrutiny.

 

The potential next First Lady

The Washington Post profiles Tonette Walker, who certainly compares favorably to the current First Lady, as well as a previous First Lady now running for president:

Tonette Tarantino’s year of sorrow came when she was only 30. First she lost the grandmother who helped raise her, like a second mother. Weeks later her brother, her only sibling, died of bone cancer. Then her husband died of kidney failure.

Now, as Tonette Walker, the wife of Wisconsin governor and GOP presidential hopeful Scott Walker, looks back, she says those brutal 12 months in the mid-1980s prepared her for her life ahead — and most especially for the rough ride of politics.

“My mom was tough. She didn’t give you a break,” Tonette Walker said in an interview at the Camp Bar, a neighborhood hangout here. “Days after my first husband died, my mom said, ‘Get up, get moving, you are not going to wallow in this. You’re going to be great, you are going to be fine. Life is going to go on.’ ”

Tonette, who at 59 is a dozen years older than her husband and comes from a pro-union Democratic family, is part of a 2016 class of political spouses who are more visible and unusual than ever. …

With her short brunette cut and bangs, and an infectious laugh, Tonette Walker is, as Brad Yates, the general manager of the bar, describes her, “a bit of a spitfire. She has a bubble to her.”

On the campaign trail, Walker constantly mentions Tonette, whom he married in 1993, often calling her “my rock.” And although Walker is a famously combative politician who wrote a book about himself called “Unintimidated,” his wife, in many ways, adds steel to his spine.

Walker has had a tumultuous time as governor, especially over his high-stakes showdowns with public workers unions that made him a hero to conservatives and a pariah to liberals. The governor who touts smaller government is now in a fevered battle over the state budget, and his proposed cuts to public education have led friends and neighbors to complain to Tonette.

“People ask me, ‘Is your wife tough enough to handle this?’ ” said Walker, who plans to formally announce for president July 13. “She is certainly not fragile,” he said, describing all she has been through, including caring for her mother when she was dying of a brain tumor, and, more recently, her father, who died of lung disease.

“Politics is nothing compared to that,” he said. …

The Walkers live primarily in the governor’s residence in Madison, but [Wauwatosa] is where they say they feel most at home, where they have a modest white house on a busy street, and where their two sons went to high school.

But even here, the roughness of politics intrudes: During Walker’s 2012 recall election, angry protesters swarmed around their home. Death threats were sent not just to Walker but to Tonette, including one vowing to “gut her like a deer.”

“Scott signed up for this,” but his whole family is dragged through it, said Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who endured the recall alongside the Walkers and calls it a “scary time.” She says there is growing interest in the man or woman beside the candidate, perhaps, she said, because in this “reality TV” era “we want to know what happens behind the scenes.”

“She is not a political junkie who gets up in the morning and reads RedState, Drudge, Politico or The Washington Post,” Kleefisch said about Tonette. She gives her husband “the perspective of the smart, average voter . . . she is the ‘first listener.’ ”

“Do I agree with him all the time? No,” said Tonette. “But most of the time things work out a lot better than I think they will.”

A particularly tough day for the family came a little more than a week ago, when the Supreme Court issued its ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. Scott Walker, a favorite of Republican conservatives and the son of a Baptist preacher, issued a statement calling it a “grave mistake” and supporting a constitutional amendment to allow states to determine who can marry.

In the political world, Walker drew immediate scrutiny for being particularly strident. In their house, Tonette Walker heard immediately about her husband’s response from the couple’s two sons, Matt and Alex, who are taking time off from college to help their father’s campaign. She told them to talk directly to him.

“That was a hard one,” Tonette said, pausing and choosing her words carefully. “Our sons were disappointed. . . . I was torn. I have children who are very passionate [in favor of same-sex marriage], and Scott was on his side very passionate.”

“It’s hard for me because I have a cousin who I love dearly — she is like a sister to me — who is married to a woman, her partner of 18 years,” she said.

She said her son Alex was her cousin’s best man at their wedding last year.

The couple, Shelli Marquardt and Cathy Priem, have vacationed and hosted parties with the Walkers, according to friends.

The day after the Supreme Court ruling, Tonette flew with her husband to Colorado, where he addressed a group of 4,000 conservatives and met with donors. It was widely noted that, despite a perfectly receptive audience, Walker did not repeat his sharp criticism of the Supreme Court decision.

Instead, Walker spoke more vaguely and was quoted as saying, “We should respect the opinions of others in America. But that in return means that they not only respect our opinions, they respect what is written in the Constitution.”

Asked at the Camp Bar what effect it has when his family disagrees with him, Walker said, “It doesn’t mean I change my position,” but it may lead to “finding a different way of explaining it, so they can appreciate where I am coming from.”

He said that during the protests over his move to end collective bargaining for many public-sector unions, Tonette was a huge help. He said he knew how costly it was to taxpayers and how it could help close the gaping state deficit but he hadn’t explained that well enough, even to his wife. He made a better public case, he said, after Tonette asked him one night: “ ‘Why are you doing this? Why is this causing so much havoc?’ ” …

Tonette was married at 23 and widowed at 30, supporting her sick husband at the end. Then six years later, in April 1992, she and a friend went to karaoke night at Saz’s, a Milwaukee bar known for its barbecue.

There, as she chuckled at the amateur singers, she spotted a young man looking at her, and they kept locking eyes.

Scott Walker, then only 24, scribbled a note on a napkin and handed it to Tonette as he walked out, without saying a word.

“Forgive me for being rude. I have to go to get up early for work,” he wrote. “If you want to have dinner, please call,” he said, as the two recounted their first meeting laughing as they quibbled over how many days it took her to phone him. (She says a week; he says two days.)

Despite their differences — she was a Catholic Democrat, he was the son of a Republican Baptist preacher — they hit it off immediately. But she said her parents were concerned about the age difference.

“But he had an answer for everything — that’s Scott Walker,” she said. “I said, ‘I want kids,’ and he said, ‘Okay.’ I said, ‘I want kids now,’ and he said, ‘Okay.’”

She said she looks back now and thinks that if her son Matt at 24 brought home a 36-year-old woman, “I would say, ‘Really, Matthew?’ ”

But just months after they met, when the couple went back to Saz’s, Walker pushed another napkin-note toward her. This one was a marriage proposal, and she said yes. And on their wedding day in February 1993, they returned to Saz’s again, stopping in their wedding attire for a drink before the reception.

Their wedding day was also, coincidentally, Ronald Reagan’s birthday, so every year they have a Gipper-themed anniversary party with jelly beans and macaroni and cheese. …

Much of the charity work she does is related to her own experience, including a gala she runs for the Lung Association. Her father carted an oxygen tank to campaign events before dying of lung disease. She works with Teen Challenge, a faith-based rehabilitation program for young people with substance-abuse problems, and has talked there of her mother’s struggle with alcohol. …

As a state trooper came to tell the Walkers their car was waiting, the governor said that not much gets his wife down: “She’s tough.”

He mentions, too, that she has Type 1 diabetes and an insulin pump.

“It’s fine. It’s fine,” she says, waving off talk of that, preferring to chat about the Rolling Stones concert she attended in Milwaukee — 11th row! Then she was off with someone in the bar following her to ask if she wouldn’t mind posing for a picture.

Protection for the incumbent party

Rick Esenberg expands on a point I made in this space yesterday:

Two days ago, the Joint Finance Committee inserted language into the proposed state budget that would have substantially — actually almost completely — immunized the legislature from the state’s open records law. It’s a very bad idea and it was greeted by spontaneous opposition from groups across the political spectrum, including my organization, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty who released a joint statement with the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy.

There is a reason we issued the statement in collaboration with our friends at MacIver. This time, it is Republicans who want to restrict government transparency. Four years ago, it was Democratic legislators who stonewalled MacIver’s request for information. We represented MacIver in a lawsuit against Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D–Middleton). In defending against our suit, Sen. Erpenbach, at great public expense, argued, in part, for a view of the open records law that was just as bad — just as protective of the legislature’s desire to keep things secret — as what the JFC attempted on July 2.

We won. Sen. Erpenbach’s attempt to largely immunize the legislature from the open records law failed. … If it ever did get passed, my guess is that the Governor would veto it.

I understand that people in government don’t much like the open records law. Compliance is time-consuming. The law was passed before the digital age — before things like e-mail exponentially increased the number of “documents” that individuals and organizations generate. In a world of simple-minded social media and hash tag philosophers, any effort to be candid in writing is likely to be turned into distorted attacks by partisans who either are incapable of understanding — or have no interest in — context.

Perhaps the law can be improved. But, as I said in our statement, transparency is the price you pay when you get to spend taxpayer dollars.

Baldwin’s Constitution

While Wisconsin Republicans were demonstrating, until they were forced to back down, their disagreement with the state Open Records Law because it applies to them, along comes a Democrat with her own unique interpretation of our constitutional rights.

That would be U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who said this, according to Media Trackers:

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) says the 1st Amendment’s religious liberty protections don’t apply to individuals. On MSNBC last week, Wisconsin’s junior Senator claimed that the Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion extends only to religious institutions, and that individual’s do not have a right to the free exercise of their own religion.

During the MSNBC appearance, which was covered by Breitbart and NewsBusters, Baldwin appeared clueless to the fact that the free exercise clause of the 1st Amendment has already been found to apply to individuals – not just churches, synagogues, mosques or other institutions of faith and worship.

The full text of the 1st Amendment reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The relevant portion of Baldwin’s MSNBC appearance transcript reads:

“Certainly the First Amendment says that in institutions of faith that there is absolute power to, you know, to observe deeply held religious beliefs. But I don’t think it extends far beyond that. … [I]n this context, they’re talking about expanding this far beyond our churches and synagogues to businesses and individuals across this country. I think there are clear limits that have been set in other contexts and we ought to abide by those in this new context across America.”

The 1st Amendment’s free exercise clause says nothing about protecting religious institutions but not individuals. “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise of [religion].”

University of St. Thomas Law School professor [Thomas C. Berg] writes in The Heritage Foundation’s Guide to the Constitution that Supreme Court jurisprudence has long concluded that the clause protects religiously motivated conduct as well as belief.

“Because it is now accepted that the Free Exercise of Religion Clause protects religiously motivated conduct as well as belief, the most important modern issue has been whether the protection only runs against laws that target religion itself for restriction, or, more broadly, whether the clause sometimes requires an exemption from a generally applicable law.”

[Berg] goes on to explore instances of individuals – not just institutions – receiving protection for their free exercise of religion thanks to the 1st Amendment.

Fascinatingly, Baldwin is on the record claiming that another portion of the 1st Amendment shouldn’t apply to institutions and should exclusively apply to individuals; a contradiction with her present arguments.

In the landmark case Citizens United v. FEC (2010), the U.S. Supreme Court held that corporations, unions and other organizations could spend money advocating for or against political candidates and issues. The Court said such spending was free speech protected by the 1st Amendment.

Baldwin made opposition to Citizens United a consistent theme of her campaign for U.S. Senate and her time as a senator. “I think it is so important that we overturn Citizens United,” Baldwin declared in a 2012 video for the leftwing publication The Nation. Baldwin claimed that corporations – essentially institutions – should not be entitled to the same freedoms afforded individuals.

“It is far too often the case in Washington that powerful corporate interests, the wealthy, and the well-connected get to write the rules, and now the Supreme Court has given them more power to rule the ballot box by creating an uneven playing field,” Baldwin complained after another free speech-related decision by the Supreme Court. Already she has voted in favor of a Constitutional amendment that would specifically curtail the 1st Amendment’s free speech protections by denying them to institutions and organizations.

As free speech and the free exercise of religion remain contentious topics, there is no sign Baldwin intends to reach a consistent position on whether or not the Constitution applies to individuals, institutions, or both.

So Baldwin doesn’t favor the First Amendment’s application to organizations that make political contributions, but she also doesn’t favor the First Amendment’s application to individual religious freedom. Well, at least she’s consistent.