The most complicated opinion piece I’ve ever written was before a 1993 five-part statewide referendum on gaming.
One of the five referendum questions was a constitutional amendment; the other four were advisory referenda. In a stunning example of small-R-republican cowardice, the Legislature of the time couldn’t decide how much gaming should be legal or not, and so they threw the whole mess at the voters. I wrote for three weekly newspapers that voters should vote Yes on three questions and No on two to essentially maintain but not expand the amount of legal gaming in Wisconsin at the time. (And that is how voters voted.)
The second most complicated opinion piece I’ve ever written was a Marketplace of Ideas column for an issue that fell in between the November 2000 presidential election and the U.S. Supreme Court’s finally deciding the 2000 presidential election. The nightmare of every opinion-writer, of course, is that he or she writes a piece that, between when it’s published (or, now, is posted but hasn’t gone live yet) and when it gets read, something happens to invalidate the premise of the opinion piece. (Such as writing about why the Packers lost Super Bowl XLV.)
Since when Marketplace went to press no one had any idea when or how Bush vs. Gore would finally be decided, I wrote a do-it-yourself column. The left column was headlined “If Gore wins, read this,” the right column was headlined “If Bush wins, read this,” and the center column was headlined “… and then read this.”
That long preamble is my introduction for a series of columns I’ll be writing about the marathon of state Senate recall elections that will start with six primaries Tuesday and end with two Senate elections Aug. 16. When I was the editor and publisher of Marketplace, I would preface election columns by saying that my opinion thusly expressed was only my own opinion, and not the opinion of Marketplace, Add Inc/Journal Community Publishing Group, Marketplace’s advertisers, etc., etc., etc. It was not, in other words, an endorsement in the traditional newspaper sense that “the newspaper” as an institution endorsed candidate A or a Yes vote on referendum B.
Now, of course, I am 100 percent responsible for this blog, so let me make myself perfectly clear: you absolutely must vote exactly the way I tell you to vote over the next few weeks. Your life, your fortune and your sacred honor depend on it.
There will be six Democratic primaries Tuesday: Nancy Nusbaum of De Pere vs. Otto Junkermann of Allouez in the 2nd District, Rep. Sandy Pasch (D–Whitefish Bay) vs. Gladys Huber of Mequon in the 8th District, Shelly Moore of River Falls vs. Isaac Weix of Menomonie in the 10th District, Rep. Fred Clark (D–Baraboo) vs. Rol Church of Wautoma in the 14th District, Jessica King of Oshkosh vs. John Buckstaff of Oshkosh in the 18th District, and Rep. Jennifer Shilling (D–La Crosse) vs. James D. Smith of La Crosse in the 32nd District.
You may conclude that my voting recommendations make a mockery of the primaries. The reason is that, as I’ve argued before and will argue again, the recalls of the Republicans make a mockery of the democratic process. Recalls are intended for those who engage in actual misconduct in office — leaving the state to prevent a quorum, for instance, or, say, drunk driving (see Wood, Jeff) — not because of votes you don’t like. The recall effort is because those who didn’t like the Nov. 2 election results, as well as the April 5 Supreme Court results, are trying to undo those elections in a red-faced, screaming, crying, shaking-their-fists, punching-holes-in-the-wall, obscenity-filled tantrum of Democrats, public employee unions and their apparatchiks. Any other explanation is disingenuous. It takes naïveté of sky-high levels to suggest that voters didn’t know that Gov. Scott Walker and Republican challengers were going to do things differently if elected Nov. 2.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also makes two predictions:
Misuse of recalls practically begs a tit-for-tat response when the tables are turned and Democrats return to power. And hanging this sword over the heads of legislators may make them even less likely than they are now to confront controversial issues. We need more courage in governance, not less.
The easy part first: The three people for whom you should not vote — whether this month, next month or in November 2012 — are Pasch, Clark and Shilling. Those three were all in the majority party of the Assembly when the then-majority party in the Legislature worked hard to permanently ruin state finances and the state’s economy, as in $2.1 billion in tax increases, a GAAP deficit of $2.9 billion, and a structural deficit that maxed out at $3.6 billion. Under the Democrats’ watch, in fact, Wisconsin had some of the worst finances of any state in the country, but Wisconsin also had a business climate that, at best, ranked in the bottom fourth among the states. If fiscal incompetence were a crime, Pasch, Clark and Shilling would be in prison, along with Gov. James Doyle and other Democrats in the 2009–10 Legislature. (The added bonus is that we 14th Senate District voters have seen revealing glimpses of Clark’s character since he started running.)
And WEAC respected taxpayers exactly when, Shelly? It shouldn’t surprise you that Moore the Mouth is now part of the new 9.2 percent unemployment rate, having been fired in January for using school district computers to organize Protestarama in Madison.
King has a compelling personal story but offers no evidence that she would do anything other than what Democratic leaders tell her to do. (And we’ve seen where that got Wisconsin.) In fact, based on her website, her sole reason to vote for appears to be that she’s not Sen. Randy Hopper (R–Fond du Lac), who’s not even named. As Walter Mondale said of Gary Hart in 1984, where’s the beef?
The one race that presents a bit more of a dilemma is the 2nd Senate District primary. Nusbaum has had an interesting career, having run as a Republican against U.S. Rep. Toby Roth (R–Appleton) in 1994 and then running in the Eighth Congressional District Democratic primary against Steve Kagen in 2006. In between, she did a good job as Brown County executive and before that as De Pere mayor. Eighth District Democratic voters made the profoundly wrong choice in 2006; whatever Kagen’s qualities as an allergist were, his poor intellect but outsize ego made watching him repeatedly insert his foot into his mouth made him an entertaining embarrassment to Northeast Wisconsin.
(I should point out that Nusbaum favored in 2000 extending the 0.5-percent Lambeau Field sales tax to provide more revenue for Brown County. I favored the sales tax for Lambeau Field but not anything else. I think Nusbaum dropped out of my fan club after the referendum, in which Brown County voters approved the sales tax only for Lambeau Field.)
This introduction on Nusbaum’s website, however, turns me off:
I’m running to be the next State Senator for the 2nd Senate District because I believe we can do better in Wisconsin. We need to bring change to Madison now before they do anymore damage to the values we know are so important. And we need a state senator who will always put the people first.
Independent of the typo (“any more” should be two words in this sentence), I’m curious as to what “the values we know are so important” are. Clearly fiscal responsibility is not one of them, as demonstrated by Nusbaum’s current party’s reprehensible state fiscal record. If “we can do better” means creating budgets that are not awash in red ink and increasing government debt to one of the highest per-capita levels in the country, well, I’m all for that. To me, putting “the people” first means not overtaxing the 85 percent of Wisconsin workers who aren’t government employees but whose taxes pay the salaries and (much better than private-sector) benefits of government employees. To me, putting “the people” first also means more consideration for the employers of those 85 percent of Wisconsin workers beyond puerile “Tax the rich!” slogans.
Note that two losing Democrats, Kagen and former Assembly Majority Leader Tom Nelson (who now is Outagamie County executive apparently because Outagamie County voters didn’t pay attention to his work in Madison), are endorsing Nusbaum. I would be more comfortable with Nusbaum’s candidacy if 2nd District voters had actual evidence that Nusbaum would represent a different approach from Democrats’ bending over to public employee unions at non-public-employee taxpayer expense. I would be interested in what Nusbaum, who had to deal with union employees both as De Pere mayor and as Brown County executive, would suggest to deal with spiralling public employee compensation costs other than what the Legislature did. But we’re apparently not going to get the answer to that, which brings up another point …
King’s issues-free website and Nusbaum’s issues-free website demonstrate a reality of all the Republican Senate recalls. They are only about getting Sens. Robert Cowles (R–Green Bay), Alberta Darling (R–River Hills), Sheila Harsdorf (R–River Falls), Luther Olsen (R–Ripon), Hopper and Dan Kapanke (R–La Crosse) out of office, as if that’s going to undo the current Legislature’s first steps toward fiscal responsibility. Among other things, the current Legislature balanced the budget (though only on a cash basis) without raising taxes and without large-scale state employee layoffs. (At $71,000 on average per state employee, the state spends nearly $4.9 billion on state employee compensation every year.) Would Democratic recall candidates have favored further dumping on Wisconsin’s economy by raising taxes, or tens of thousands of public employee layoffs?