Category: Wisconsin politics

We’re number four!

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos recently issued this news release:

Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) released a new memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau that analyzed the tax law changes since 2011. The analysis reveals Republicans cut taxes by more than $13 billion since 2011. In income tax rate cuts alone, a typical Wisconsin family will save $2,000 over the ten year period. This news comes as Democrats across the country are proposing ways to increase taxes on American families.

“One of our top priorities has been to allow Wisconsin families to keep more of their own hard-earned money,” said Speaker Robin Vos. “Republicans have proven we can cut taxes, fund essential state programs and grow the economy.”

The review looked at statutory changes that directly reduce a person’s tax liability. As illustrated in the memo, the current budget grows the annual tax cuts to more than $2.3 billion, which includes reductions by more than $1.2 billion in income and franchise taxes and economic development surcharges, $18 million in other general fund taxes and $1.1 billion in property taxes.

“I’m proud that Republicans led the way in the recent budget process and reversed Governor Evers’ plan to increase taxes by more than $1 billion,” said Speaker Vos. “In the end, the taxpayers in Wisconsin win with a stronger economy and a smaller tax burden.”

Even before the latest round of tax cuts in the current budget, the Wisconsin Policy Forum found that the tax burden in our state dropped to the lowest level in nearly 50 years. Its report examined state and local taxes as a share of income.

There also has been progress in the national tax climate index. In 2011, Wisconsin was in the top ten worst taxed states in the country. The Tax Foundation currently ranks the state at #32, a marked improvement over the last eight years of surveys.

“Assembly Republicans have followed through on our promise to reduce taxes whenever possible,” said Speaker Vos. “Since 2011, we’ve lowered taxes every session that we’ve held the majority in the Wisconsin State Legislature.”

Wisconsin Republicans hold a 63-36 seat majority in the state Assembly.

Advertisements

I agree with The Cap Times!

The former editor of the newspaper formerly known as The Capital Times, Dave Zweifel:

The much-maligned sculpture dubbed “Nails’ Tales” has disappeared from its spot at the corner of Regent Street and Breese Terrace, one of the gateways to Camp Randall and the old Field House.
While some praised it as a piece of art that did what art should do — draw attention and provoke comments and discussion — most amateur art critics couldn’t have been happier when it was removed. They considered the $200,000 sculpture an eyesore that, instead of depicting the strength and virility of Badger football, looked more like a cob of corn or a phallic symbol.

It has been replaced, although across the street on city property, with a 10-foot-long sculpture of Bucky Badger created by the late Harry Whitehorse, the acclaimed Ho-Chunk sculptor and painter from Monona. He created the life-like Badger so it could be touched and sat on by people who came to see it.
We were talking about that at a luncheon the other day, when Joe Hart, who spent much of his newspaper career on our sports staff, including as sports editor, piped up.

Wouldn’t it be fitting, he said, if the UW would commission and install a statue of one of the football program’s greatest heroes who, unfortunately, seems to be largely forgotten? A kid from Lancaster, Wisconsin — Dave Schreiner.

He indeed was a hero, not only on the Badger football field, but in World War II, where he gave his life in the battle of Okinawa, only a few weeks before the Japanese surrender.

After graduating from Lancaster, Schreiner became one of Badgers football’s most revered players. He was a two-time All-American at end (he played both offense and defense), and was named the 1942 Big Ten Most Valuable Player. As a co-captain of that team, he led the Badgers to an 8-1-1 record. The loss was to Iowa, 6-0, and the tie was with Notre Dame, 7-7, while the big win was over number-one ranked Ohio State.

Following the ’42 season, he joined the Marines and two years later found himself in the Pacific Theater as a lieutenant and company commander in the Marine regiment that was fighting to clear the island of Okinawa of the Japanese.

After he had left to join the military, he was picked as a second round 1943 draft choice by the Detroit Lions. Unfortunately, at age 24, he was shot by a sniper after his unit had been part of the victorious last battle on Okinawa.

Schreiner’s career with the Badgers and the following horrors on the front lines during World War II are detailed in the outstanding book, Third Down and a War to Go, written by Terry Frei — the son of Jerry Frei, one of Schreiner’s teammates on that storied ’42 team.

“In that era you had to be multi-faceted and he was tough and clever,” the author noted. “Most important of all he was a leader by example. Others tended to follow in his wake.”

Camp Randall, of course, was the training center where young Wisconsin men were stationed before being sent to the front lines to fight to preserve the Union during the Civil War.

What an appropriate place to permanently remember a young man who represented everything that is best about Wisconsin football.

Zweifel, a retired Army National Guard colonel, is absolutely correct. It is unlikely to happen, of course, in this era in which, depending on which college student you ask, this country is either no different from any other country or the focus of all evil in the world, any reference to the military glorifies war, and students cannot possibly fathom the idea of sacrificing their own lives toward something more important than they are.

 

Tony and the Incompetents

The latest thing the Evers administration has screwed up is explained by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty:

Congressman Sean Duffy resigned from the House of Representatives effective September 23, 2019. Upon his resignation, Governor Tony Evers called a special election to fill the now vacant 7th Congressional District seat with a special general election date of January 27, 2020.

If more than one candidate from any political party runs and obtains the necessary nomination signatures, then pursuant to Evers’ schedule there will be a special primary election on December 30, 2019. Nomination signatures from potential candidates are due four weeks before the potential special primary election, on December 2, 2019.

A primary election is all but a certainty in the special election as two GOP candidates have already entered the race.

Issue: Federal law (called the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (“UOCAVA”), 52 U.S.C. §§ 20301 et seq.) gives overseas voters like deployed servicemen and women the right to vote via absentee ballot. In 2009, UOCAVA was amended by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (“MOVE”) Act, to add the mandate that such voters receive a ballot 45 days before an election. Evers’s scheduled dates violate this federal law for both the proposed primary date and the proposed general election date.

Evers has now admitted that his Executive Order setting these dates violates federal law and he is in the process of setting new dates.

Analysis: Evers appears to have followed the same timelines used by himself and former Governor Scott Walker to call special elections for state legislative seats, but why he did so for a federal election is unclear. UOCAVA imposes requirements for federal elections which make these timelines unlawful. As a result, and as Evers has now recognized, the originally proposed election dates are unlawful.

Courts have found violations of UOCAVA and issued declaratory and injunctive relief when States have established election schedules that did not allow military voters the federally mandated 45 days to vote. In United States v. Alabama, 778 F.3d 926, 929 (11th Cir. 2015) and United States v. Georgia, 952 F. Supp. 2d 1318, 1333 (N.D. Ga. 2013), for example, state laws required runoff elections to be held less than 45 days after the corresponding election.  The courts held that these state laws violated the UOCAVA.

The governor has said he will change the dates to comply with the law, which is good because it is all but certain a court would have required that anyway. This is especially true given that Wisconsin had clear notice that our election laws violated UOCAVA: in June of 2018, the state entered a consent decree with the federal government requiring the state to “take such actions as are necessary to assure that temporary overseas voters will receive all of the protections of UOCAVA in all future elections for Federal office…” The current Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator actually signed that consent decree, and yet the Commission proceeded forward as if it was fully intending to have the election that plainly violated federal law. Why no one at the Election Commission blew the whistle on the unlawful dates set by Evers is a question worth asking.

Insofar as Wisconsin law conflicts with federal law with respect to election deadlines, Wisconsin law is preempted. Any special election for the Seventh Congressional District must comply with UOCAVA. It must also comply with any state law not in conflict with federal law.

Which prompts Dan O’Donnell to comment:

In his desperation to avoid holding a special election to replace the now-retired Sean Duffy in the 7th Congressional District on the date of the Spring Election, Evers spun a web of deceit in which he now finds himself tangled.

Either he can admit that he lied about when state law required him to hold that special election or he can admit that his Administration was too incompetent to read applicable federal law before issuing his executive order.

One might imagine that neither is especially appealing.

When Duffy officially resigned his seat on September 23rd, Evers issued the head-scratching order to hold a special election for the seat on Monday, January 21st instead of the more logical Tuesday, January 22nd.

State law, his office told WisPolitics.com, dictated that the earliest the primary election could be was Tuesday, December 24th.  Since Evers didn’t want to hold a primary on Christmas Eve (or New Year’s Eve the following Tuesday), he had no choice but to move the election to Monday, December 30th.

Naturally, he didn’t realize that this date marks the final night of Hanukkah (and the fifth day of Kwanzaa), and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos “respectfully demanded” that the primary be moved.

“It is unnecessary to require Wisconsinites to exercise their civic duty to vote on a day they have set aside for a religious purpose,” Vos wrote in a letter to Evers on Friday.  “Our Constitution allows us to freely practice a religion if we so choose and as public servants, we must treat people of all faiths with the same dignity and respect.”

Evers did not publicly respond to this, but on Monday was forced to confront an even more pressing challenge to his planned special election—a federal law requiring 45 days before a federal election for military and overseas voters to receive and return their ballots.

Since the congressional race is a federal election, the primary would need to be 45 days before the general. Moreover, state law provides that no special election can occur after February 1st unless it coincides with the Spring Election (held next year on April 7th).

Evers wanted to avoid a special election in the heavily Republican 7th Congressional District on the date of the Spring Election because it would provide a draw to the polls for conservative voters who might otherwise stay home.

After all, the Spring Election will feature Wisconsin’s presidential primary and since the Democratic Party has a wide open primary while President Trump doesn’t have a serious Republican challenger, conventional wisdom assumes that there will be significantly higher Democrat turnout.

This would tend to buoy the chances of liberal Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates Jill Karofsky and Ed Fallone as they try to unseat incumbent conservative justice Dan Kelly.

Assuming Kelly advances out of the primary on February 18th, either Karofsky or Fallone would have a significant inherent advantage against him in the general election because they will presumably have hundreds of thousands more Democrats than Republicans at the polls for the presidential primary.

That advantage would be somewhat muted, however, if 26 of the most conservative of Wisconsin’s 72 counties had a special congressional election in which to vote as well.  Their votes might just be enough to counterbalance the expected overwhelming turnout in the heavily Democratic Milwaukee and Dane Counties and put Kelly over the top.

Evers couldn’t allow that, but he also couldn’t be seen as so Machiavellian in his political scheming, so he came up with a nonsensical reason that he just couldn’t hold the special election on April 7th: The constituents of the 7th Congressional District would be unrepresented in the House of Representatives for far too long—six months instead of four.

Those two extra months meant so much to Evers that he is now considering holding the special election on May 5th just so that he won’t have to hold it on April 7th.  The Evers Administration has already demonstrated that it doesn’t examine the calendar closely enough to notice Jewish holidays, and now it’s apparently conveying that it doesn’t know that seven months is a longer time for residents of the 7th Congressional District to be unrepresented than is six months.

Of course, Evers actually does know this, but his lack of knowledge of federal law has revealed his dishonesty.  Now that he is required to hold the special election on April 7th at the earliest, he is looking for a later date just so that his preferred candidate in the Supreme Court race can maintain a massive voter turnout advantage.

He never cared about residents going unrepresented at all; that was just the web he spun.  Now, though, karma has tangled it and Evers is caught.  Does he admit that all of his sanctimony was disingenuous and order the special election on May 5th, or does he stick to his supposed convictions and schedule the election for April 7th even though it might hurt him politically in the Supreme Court race?

The Evers (mis)administration is nine months old, and already is working hard to be the political equivalent of the Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight. Anyone who had any dealings with the Department of Public Instruction when Evers ran it should have known this was going to happen, but apparently none of Evers’ Madison and Milwaukee voters knew or cared.

Understand that we are not talking about such policy issues as Evers’ demands to raise taxes or his jonesing to ban guns. Evers and his minions can’t get the nonpartisan, nonideological political and nonpolitical things right either.

For instance, Evers decided to sneak into Platteville to visit UW–Platteville and a Platteville school without telling anyone in the news media, for reasons no one has even attempted to explain. When Scott Walker was governor, media were told at least 24 hours in advance via email, and then Walker’s media people followed up with a phone call to the media.

The corollary is Evers’ refusal to speak to unfavored news media, specifically the MacIver Institute, when he is perfectly fine with speaking to One Wisconsin Now, which meets no one’s definition of “news media.” MacIver is now suing the Evers administration for doing something Walker never did either.

It’s not as if Evers’ administration is trying hard in media relations outside of conservative media. Newspapers that used to get more detail than they could possibly use about the daily whereabouts of Walker, his wife Tonnette, or former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch now get nothing from this governor or lieutenant governor. That is Media Relations 101, and given the number of ex-journalists working in state government as public information officers you’d think one of them might say something to the party hack who is supposedly handling Evers’ media relations.

Speaking of relations, or lack thereof, Evers’ office and appointees are apparently not on speaking terms with legislators (as in non-returned emails and phone messages) whose last names are not followed by the letter D. I got that piece of information from two of them, who interestingly represent an area of the state considered to be a swing political area.

This state used to have a fantastic tourism secretary, Stephanie Klett. Since tourism is one of the three biggest pieces of this state’s economy, one would think Evers would find someone competent. One would be wrong to think that. From what I’ve been told by people in the tourism industry, the new tourism secretary, a self-proclaimed world traveler, has not been to most of this state, and her department is uninterested in promoting most of this state, perhaps because of all of those unwashed Republicans who live outstate.

Remember, following Evers’ pledge to not raise taxes, Evers’ budget proposal to raise income taxes and gas taxes? Neither happened. In fact, the 2019–21 state budget, other than Evers’ budget vetoes, bears little resemblance to what Evers proposed. It’s as if Evers didn’t even attempt to negotiate with legislative Republicans, hoping that Democrats can take over both houses of the Legislature in 2020, when the tea leaves are not favorable for that happening, at least 13 months away from the election.

As far as the election date, this state has an attorney general whose office, one would think, should be cognizant of, or at least be able to research, federal election law. Or not, it seems.

This is what voters in Milwaukee and Dane County voted into office last November — not merely liberals, but liberals incompetent at the basic functions of state government, such as media and constituent relations. The administrations of Gov. Tommy Thompson — whose years in office had more Democrats than Republicans in charge in the Legislature — and James Doyle — who governed with a Republican Legislature six out of his eight years in Office — were nowhere near this incompetent.

 

Evers vs. the First Amendment

M.D. Kittle:

Nearly 10 months into is his first year in office, Gov. Tony Evers has compiled a woeful record on open government.

Now the Democrat’s administration is doubling down on a “deeply troubling” policy that is closing the door to even more members of the media.

Attorney General Josh Kaul, defending Evers in a First Amendment federal lawsuit brought by the MacIver Institute, argues that only what the administration deems to be “bona fide” journalists and news organizations are entitled to attend certain press events with the governor. The MacIver Institute, according to Kaul’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, is not a “bona fide” news outlet. Never mind the fact that the conservative MacIver News Service’s reporters have been covering policy as credentialed members of the Capitol press corps for years.

“(T)he government is free to exclude individuals or groups so long as the limitations are reasonable and viewpoint neutral,” Kaul’s motion states.

Except they are not, according to MacIver’s lawsuit.

The complaint, filed in federal court, asserts the administration violated MacIver’s First Amendment rights by banning its news organization from a February briefing with the media on Evers’ budget proposal. I know that MacIver reporters were banned, because I was one of those reporters. MacIver asked to be included on the list of journalists covering the budget briefing. When the administration failed to respond, we showed up at the governor’s office, where we were denied access.

The lawsuit also alleges the governor’s press team refused to add MacIver News Service and its journalists to a “press list” that at one time included more than 1,000 email addresses.

Among those invited to Tony Evers’ exclusive club, left-wing political operative One Wisconsin Now, the Progressive, a Madison-based liberal publication, and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

Yet MacIver News Service, part of a free-market think tank, doesn’t make the cut because the parent organization engages in advocacy.

Evers’ arbiters of who is a bona fide journalist are themselves former officials with the Democratic Party and liberal activist organizations. The “gatekeepers” seem hardly nonpartisan judges of journalism.

Exhibit A, Melissa Baldauff, Evers’ communication director. Before taking the gig with the governor, Baldauff was a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party.

This party hack sits in judgment of journalists. In a sworn statement, Baldauff declares that, “based on my experience with media and politics, the MacIver Institute engages in policy and lobbying.” MacIver does not lobby. It does advocate for free-market policies, as newspaper editorial boards across this country advocate for liberal government policies.

As proof that MacIver doesn’t fit into the Evers’ administration’s journalistic standards, Baldauff notes that the organization joined “44 other free market groups and individuals in urging the United States Senate to repeal all Obamacare taxes.” The horror! Certainly the First Amendment right to a free press can’t sustain such viewpoints, Baldauff suggests.

“In this case, the decision is being made by someone who herself is incredibly involved in politics and you end up in a problematic place where MacIver is denied access but someone like John Nichols (of the Progressive), who engages in much more explicit activity than MacIver, gets on the list because, from their perspective, he’s one of the good guys,” said Daniel Suhr, associate senior attorney for the Liberty Justice Center, the law firm representing MacIver.

What the latest court filing from Kaul, a Democrat, uncovered is that days after MacIver received the governor’s office’s list of acceptable media outlets through an open records request, the administration changed the rules and whittled down some of the members. The new policy actually doesn’t include rules at all, but factors or standards the governor’s office deems necessary to meet to be a real, bona fide journalist.

“The new criteria are just putting lipstick on a pig,” Suhr said. “You have the same problem at the end of the day.”

“And the factors … create way too much potential of a judgment call in favor of a liberal news outlet or commentator to get a break and for a conservative outlet, an outlet that challenges the administration or asks too many tough questions, to be denied access,” Suhr added.

But now Evers’ keepers of “the list” have kicked out other news organizations, like the Jewish Chronicle, Suhr said. Even the new Wisconsin Examiner, a liberal apologist website, is excluded, but only because the policy says the publication hasn’t been around long enough.

Evers has been knocked several times for his transparency troubles. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty in a review of the administration’s compliance with the state’s open records law found its processes “disorganized and dysfunctional” — failing to live up to the recognized standards of Evers’ predecessor, Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Suhr, who served as legal counsel for Walker, said the former governor opened up his press and public events to all media organizations, even the ones that wanted to see him run out of office.

The attorney said the MacIver lawsuit is about breaking down the gates Evers and his team have erected around the First Amendment.

“Ultimately, this is a fight for the First Amendment. Freedom of the press is only a robust right when people step up to defend it,” Suhr said. “Every journalist and, really, every citizen has a stake in assuring the First Amendment is robust and protected for each and every one of us.”

Grounds for recalls

Benjamin Yount:

Wisconsin’s attorney general says the governor doesn’t have to answer questions from anyone other than “bona fide” journalists.

Attorney General Josh Kaul made that argument in his response to a lawsuit from the MacIver News Service, which is suing Gov. Tony Evers for being excluded from State Capitol press events.

MacIver, which operates as a news agency under the auspices of the free-market MacIver Institute, wants to be able to attend certain press briefings, namely the sneak peak of the state budget, but Kaul said Evers’ administration can exclude groups if he doesn’t consider them real news organizations.

Kaul’s response says those opportunities are “open to only a select group of invited journalists who meet the criteria for bona fide press organizations.”

Kaul does not define what makes a group a bone fide press organization, nor does his filing list who is or is not on that list. Kaul’s office also did not respond to questions about what makes a journalism organization bona fide, or comment on other possible conflicts of interest for other statehouse media outlets.

MacIver has said liberal-leaning groups have been invited to cover the governor’s press briefings.

MacIver President Brett Healy said the governor’s self-selection of who gets to write about his office is a First Amendment threat.

“All MacIver wants to do is ask the Governor straight-forward questions about his policies and the actions of his administration,” Healy said Monday. “MacIver cannot do our job on behalf of the Wisconsin taxpayer if we are prevented from attending the Governor’s press briefings and other public events.”

Kaul’s filing before the court offers a pithy response to that idea.

“MacIver does not argue that its journalists will be unable to report on news relating to Governor Evers absent an injunction. It simply argues that it will have to work harder to gather news and break stories relating to Gov. Evers,” Kaul wrote.

State finances > federal finances

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson:

Close the Book on Shutdowns

Congress’s budget process is broken. Our bill creates incentives for members of both parties to shape up.

  • TEXT


  • 17

PHOTO: CHAD CROWE

If the Legislature in my home state of Wisconsin fails to pass the next year’s appropriation bills, we don’t shut government agencies down. We fund them at the previous year’s appropriation levels. Doesn’t that make sense?

That common-sense approach should apply in Washington, but it doesn’t. By the time I arrived in 2011, Congress’s appropriations process was completely broken. The U.S. has since had three government shutdowns, passed 34 continuing resolutions to avoid shutdowns, raised or suspended the debt ceiling nine times, and increased the federal debt $8.5 trillion.

The debt ceiling is supposed to be a fiscal control that forces Congress to balance the budget or at least reduce annual deficits. That our federal government’s gross debt stands at $22.6 trillion, and that this year’s annual deficit is close to $1 trillion, proves it hasn’t worked. Elected officials have become skilled at circumventing the debt ceiling and mortgaging our children’s future with impunity.

That’s why the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which I chair, passed a bill in June to force some fiscal discipline on Congress and end the cost and chaos of government shutdowns. There have been similar bills. Sens. Rob Portman and Mark Warner each introduced legislation earlier this year to fund the government automatically and avoid shutdowns. At least eight bills in the House seek to do the same. Some of these proposals decrease spending, while others would allow for more. None have passed because each party is suspicious that the other will exploit mandated spending discipline.

Sens. James Lankford and Maggie Hassan, a Republican from Oklahoma and a Democrat from New Hampshire, introduced a compromise measure that operates similarly to Wisconsin’s law. If Congress can’t pass an appropriations bill, their legislation would automatically appropriate funding for the affected parts of government at current levels. As an incentive, it prohibits members of Congress, their staffs and certain members of the administration from spending federal or campaign funds for travel until all the required appropriations bills pass. It also prevents both chambers of Congress from considering legislation other than appropriations bills except in rare cases of national emergency. Our committee added an amendment that would hold members’ pay in escrow until all regular appropriations bills pass.

We might be surprised at how not getting paid, or having to pay for their own travel, would get members’ attention. Despite the usual dysfunction and slow pace of the Senate, it’s amazing how efficiently the body can function when a weekend or a recess is approaching and members are worried they might miss it.

I moved the Lankford-Hassan bill through my committee because I thought it had the best chance of getting bipartisan support. I was right. The bill, as amended, passed the committee 12-2. The two no votes were Republican members who had competing bills.

Skeptics who fear the bill could become the long-term funding mechanism for the federal government should look at Wisconsin’s example. The longest period the provision has been in effect in Madison is four months—and that was in 1971. It makes more sense to hold spending at previous levels for a short period than to incur the cost and chaos of recurring shutdowns.

Anyone concerned that Congress would leave spending unchanged for the long term doesn’t understand the pervasive bipartisan support for increased spending. Before this August’s congressional recess, Congress worked out a budget deal that again suspended the debt ceiling (though July 2021) and raised spending by $320 billion over existing law in the next two fiscal years. The bill passed the Senate 67-28 and the House 284-149. A majority of nearly two-thirds in each chamber had no trouble simply suspending the debt ceiling and locking in annual deficits of about $1 trillion each year.

Members voting for the August budget deal and debt suspension felt the agreement would remove the threat of a government shutdown heading into the new fiscal year on Oct. 1. Yet last week the Senate could not muster the votes to advance a bill appropriating defense funds, and Senate leaders are now talking about passing a 35th continuing resolution to get us to November. The dysfunction continues.

I’m convinced, based on the discussion and votes in my committee, that the Prevent Government Shutdown Act of 2019 can pass with broad bipartisan support. Congress should vote on it before the end of the fiscal year. It’s the least we can do to reduce Washington’s pervasive dysfunction.

Mr. Johnson, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Wisconsin.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

UP NEXT

0:00 / 1:30

Opinion: Democrats Are Wrong on Income Inequality According to Census

Opinion: Democrats Are Wrong on Income Inequality According to Census

Best of the Web: As Democrats paint a picture of economic despair, the U.S. Census data shows more jobs, higher incomes, and less poverty for the average American. Image: Scott Eisen / Getty

Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

SHOW CONVERSATION(17)

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

  • WSJ News Exclusive | Some WeWork Board Members Seek to Remove Adam Neumann as CEO

    Some WeWork Board Members Seek to Remove Adam Neumann as CEO
  • ‘Opening the Door to Hell Itself’: Bahamas Confronts Life After Hurricane Dorian

    ‘Opening the Door to Hell Itself’: Bahamas Confronts Life After Hurricane Dorian
  • At 10,000 and Counting, This Company Is Flooding the U.S. With Tariff Appeals

    At 10,000 and Counting, This Company Is Flooding the U.S. With Tariff Appeals
  • Men Pick Up Grandpa’s Razor for a Close Shave—Too Close

    Men Pick Up Grandpa’s Razor for a Close Shave—Too Close
  • Americans Are Saving More, and That Isn’t Necessarily Good

    Americans Are Saving More, and That Isn’t Necessarily Good
  • Where the World Stores Its Emergency Stockpiles of Oil

    Where the World Stores Its Emergency Stockpiles of Oil
  • NYSE Owner Launches Long-Awaited Bitcoin Futures

    NYSE Owner to Launch Long-Awaited Bitcoin Futures
  • August’s Hot Recession Trade Is Cooling

    August’s Hot Recession Trade Is Cooling
  • U.S. Voters Support Expanding Medicare but Not Eliminating Private Health Insurance

    U.S. Voters Support Expanding Medicare but Not Eliminating Private Health Insurance
  • Unicorns’ Pre-IPO Profit Claims Get Scrutinized

    Unicorns’ Pre-IPO Profit Claims Get Scrutinized

From the conservative WSJ (as opposed to Madison’s non-conservative WSJ)

M.D. Kittle:

When word surfaced in October 2013 that prosecutors were expanding their political John Doe investigation to multiple Wisconsin counties, Wall Street Journal editorial writer Collin Levy began to dig around.

It didn’t take long before Levy and her boss, Paul Gigot, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Journal’s Editorial Page, knew they had a powerful story — a story different from what the groupthink press was peddling.

Thanks to Eric O’Keefe, one of scores of conservative activists targeted by partisan prosecutors and Wisconsin’s political speech cops, the newspaper’s editorial board began piecing together the facts. The “John Doe II” was an assault on basic constitutional rights in which investigators illegally raided homes, spied on citizens, and silenced the left’s political opponents. And it was all driven by a bogus campaign finance law theory.

“Eric O’Keefe was willing to go on the record with us, at considerable risk to himself. That’s when we put into work that first editorial,” Gigot told Empower Wisconsin on this week’s Power Up! podcast. (Full disclosure: Eric O’Keefe is president of the Empower Wisconsin Foundation.)

The first piece was headlined, “Wisconsin’s Political Speech Raid,” and, as Gigot said, it blew the lid off the investigation, and exposed coordination theory prosecutors based their secret probe on. “We also had the subpoenas and, bravely, Eric O’Keefe went on the record, risking contempt of court for violating the gag order.”

O’Keefe and his fellow John Doe targets and witnesses faced jail time and hefty fines if they told anyone about the secret investigation.

Wisconsin’s old John Doe procedure, unlike the standard grand jury, was built on silence.

“(In a grand jury,) (Y)ou can speak to the public about what you told the grand jury if you want. You can have a lawyer. You can talk to a lawyer,” Gigot said. “According to targets of this probe, they were told under no uncertain terms, ‘Don’t talk to a lawyer. Don’t talk to anybody about this. Don’t ask anybody else if they were the subjects of the raids. Don’t talk.’”

The gag order made the story that much more compelling. But the tactics used by the prosecutors to target conservative speech never seemed to concern mainstream media outlets like the New York Times and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gigot said. Nor were most news organizations overly concerned that the campaign finance law theories of state regulators and investigators didn’t match with settled court rulings on political speech.

“In fact, they cheered on the John Doe. The New York Times, the New Yorker, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, they were all in lockstep,” Gigot said.

“The media ought to be, you would think, a protector of the First Amendment and the right to speak, but in this case, they were cheerleaders for reducing political speech,” the editor added. “It was just astounding to me that the rest of the press corps did not show any doubt about what the prosecutors were doing.”

In 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed with a lower court decision that quashed the subpoenas used in the probe. The court also declared the investigation unconstitutional and ordered iit shut down for good. John Doe Prosecutors tried to take their bogus theory all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. They lost there, too.

“They had this theory that was a violation of First Amendment and the constitution, yet they used the awesome prosecutorial power of the state to eavesdrop for months on people. (The John Doe targets were) fundraisers, not Gambino Crime Family members. Just people who were trying to raise money to participate in the American democratic process. And they were raided at home at dawn, their children left in tears, they were told they can’t talk, their businesses were forced to shut down, in some cases because they couldn’t raise money anymore in politics.”

“It’s just a tremendous abuse of power in my view. That’s why we stayed on it, that’s why we stayed in it. Someone had to speak up about this because it wasn’t right,” Gigot added.

Hating your government (employees)

At some point during serial sex offender Bill Clinton’s eight-year presidency, Slick Willie gave an interview from Air Force One to KMOX radio in St. Louis in which Clinton said, “You cannot love your country and hate your government.”

Bubba was, of course, wrong. J.D. Tuccille expounds on that general topic:

“People actively hate us,” one recently retired U.S. Border Patrol agent complains in a New York Times piece on morale and recruitment problems at the federal agency. In El Paso, an active duty agent admitted he and his colleagues avoid many restaurants because “there’s always the possibility of them spitting in your food.”

What’s remarkable about the piece isn’t the poor treatment directed at many Border Patrol agents; it’s that you could replace “Border Patrol” with the name of any one of several other federal agencies and find a similar news story from recent years. Many arms of government are unpopular with large swathes of the American population, and people are not shy about expressing their contempt.

For those of us who want a smaller, much less intrusive government, that should be viewed as a trend to nurture and encourage. And what a trend it is.

For instance, the tax man can’t catch a break.

“The IRS has long been disliked, but its employees aren’t used to being vilified,” Bloomberg reported in 2015, in language that foreshadowed current reports about the plight of immigration-law enforcers. One retired IRS agent told reporters that “throughout his career, he dealt with antigovernment tax avoiders in Arizona, but once the Tea Party scandal broke, his encounters with otherwise law-abiding ranchers became more hostile.”

Likewise, J. Edgar Hoover’s heirs have become controversial.

“Public support for the FBI has plunged,” Time noted last year after the famed law-enforcement agency’s ongoing series of fumbles and scandals were complicated by questions over its role in the 2016 presidential election. “The FBI’s crisis of credibility appears to have seeped into the jury room. The number of convictions in FBI-led investigations has declined in each of the last five years.”

That’s a lot of hate directed at these federal employees, but it’s not necessarily coming from the same people. Perhaps inevitably in these fractured and polarized times, Americans belonging to one of the dominant political tribes tend to like the federal agencies despised by loyalists of the opposing political tribe, depending on their mutually incompatible views of what government should be doing and who it should be doing it to. Their diverging antipathies fit together into a jigsaw puzzle of misery for government workers caught in the crossfire.

“Americans’ opinions about Immigration and Customs Enforcement are deeply polarized: 72% of Republicans view ICE favorably, while an identical share of Democrats view it unfavorably,” Pew Research Center reported last year on opinions about Border Patrol’s sister agency. With specific regard to Border Patrol, “Among Republican voters, 65% believe the enforcement is too lenient while just 12% say it is too harsh. Democrats are more divided but lean in the opposite direction: 40% say too harsh and 22% too lenient,” according to pollster Scott Rasmussen. The heated debate between the two legacy parties over immigration is reflected in their attitudes toward, and treatment of, government agencies tasked with enforcing immigration laws.

Opinions of the IRS reflect a similar divide. “Democrats (65%) are more likely than Republicans (49%) to view the IRS favorably,” Pew reported in the same 2018 survey. The numbers reflect not just long-time differences in views of taxation, but also Republican suspicion of the IRS after it was caught targeting conservative organizations.

It’s the same for the FBI. “The 23-percentage-point gap in views of the FBI among Republicans and Democrats is among the widest of the 10 agencies and departments asked in the survey,” Pew noted about the beleaguered law enforcement agency. “While 78% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have a favorable opinion of the FBI, 55% of Republicans and Republican leaners say the same.”

Americans don’t agree about which federal agencies they hate, but the fact that significant numbers of them do openly despise government workers plays havoc with morale. That, in turn, slams employee retention and recruitment.

Border Patrol is about 1,800 agents short of its hiring targets, IRS workers are heading for the exits, and even the fabled FBI saw a drop in applications, despite a slight uptickthis year in morale.

To be clear, federal agencies don’t need partisan animosity to make their employees unhappy; they’re awfully good at doing it by themselves. Transportation Security Administration workers are so miserable that a blue ribbon panel convened this year to brainstorm schemes for dragging them from the depths of despair. And the entire Department of Homeland Security makes a specialty of managerial incompetence so extreme that politicians seek to raise morale through—literally—an act of Congress (is there nothing beyond the magical power of legislation?).

But red vs. blue infighting creates a no-win situation in which American political factions fundamentally disagree over the role of government, despise those arms of government that serve their enemies’ purposes, and wield the agencies they control as weapons against anybody seen as opponents. It’s at least theoretically possible (if highly improbable) to make a generic federal agency a better place to work. But how do you get Americans to show respect to government workers who they see as engaged in evil?

So, given that those of us who want a smaller and less bothersome state are often deeply opposed to those agencies’ worst efforts, why not help the partisans lay on the hate? After all, the one thing that Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on is that government should be bigger and busier—”most either want to increase spending or maintain it at current levels,” pollsters found this year—though, of course, Republicans and Democrats disagree on just where our huge and debt-ridden government should become more involved.

Helping the major political tribes attack each other’s favored agencies won’t formally reduce government the way libertarians like, but it could continue to hobble agencies so that they’re less of a threat to our freedom and rights. At least for now, the most effective means of protecting liberty may lie less in winning political battles than in assisting the major partisan tribes in waging war against each other and the government agencies they currently disfavor.

In Wisconsin, that would include the Department of Natural Resources, famously known as “Damn Near Russia” in the Soviet Union days, and heading back in that direction under, of course, a Democratic governor.

The anti-open government governor

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty:

A review of the open government practices of Governor Tony Evers, Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, and various state agencies by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) found a disturbing departure from best practices as defined in two executive orders issued by former Governor Scott Walker. Without an immediate course reversal, Governor Evers threatens to turn Wisconsin’s proud legacy of transparency in state government into a bureaucratic black box.

The study, authored by WILL’s Libby Sobic and CJ Szafir, can be found here.

The Background: In 2016 and 2017, Governor Scott Walker issued executive orders that directed his administration to implement best practices to bring new transparency and responsiveness to state government. The EO’s directed executive offices and state agencies to respond to records requests in ten business days, keep and maintain an organized tracking system, and develop a dashboard website for the public to monitor how the administration is complying with records requests and best practices.

WILL Research: WILL’s goal was to see whether, and to what extent, the Evers administration is following the best practices outlined by Governor Walker. To test this, WILL submitted identical open records requests to 11 offices and state agencies for tracking documents and records practices. By the end of August, WILL received responses on 9 of the 11 requests and reviewed over 4,000 records. Some of the results:

  • Office of Governor Evers: The system to track records requests in Governor Evers’ office is disorganized and dysfunctional.
    • There are scores of missing data making it impossible to know whether the Governor’s office is complying with open government best practices.
    • 1 out of 3 of all open records requests are either unfulfilled or not recorded properly.
  • Office of Lieutenant Governor Barnes: The Lt. Governor’s office is not doing much better and their response time to records requests far exceeds the 10 day goal.
    • Despite only receiving 13 requests, it takes his office on average 22 business days to respond to a request.
  • Walker’s open government website is no longer active: Since taking office, the open government dashboard the Walker administration created to provide the public with metrics and data on transparency practices has gone dark. The public is no longer easily able to determine how the Evers administration is practicing government transparency.
  • Some state agencies are maintaining the Walker-era best practices: Five state agencies (DATCP, DNR, DHS, DOA and DOR) responded to WILL’s request for tracking documents.
    • All five agencies are continuing to respond, on average, within ten business days.
    • But, despite given over 40 business days to respond, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Children & Families (DCF) have not complied with the request.
  • The results are mixed for the non-cabinet agencies (DPI and DOJ).
    • DPI’s response time has slipped from, on average, within 12.5 business days, to responding for the last six months within 15 business days.
    • DOJ’s Office of Open Government, founded by Schimel, continues to provide unprecedented amount of transparency, including publishing a monthly metric of the department’s open records request responses.

The Quote: CJ Szafir Executive Vice President said, “Unlike his predecessor Governor Scott Walker, Governor Tony Evers is clearly not prioritizing government transparency. This is dangerous because open government is not just an ideal but a critical tool for the public in a democracy to hold their elected officials and public employees accountable. Evers threatens to turn Wisconsin’s proud legacy of transparency in state government into a bureaucratic black box.”

WILL Solutions: In a short time, the Evers administration has done great damage to Wisconsin’s proud tradition of open government and transparency. To correct this, WILL recommends:

  • Governor Evers should quickly reissue the Walker-era executive orders that define the best practices for open government and revitalize the open government dashboard website. There is no reason this should not be a bi-partisan tradition.
  • If the Evers administration does not act, the state legislature should consider oversight hearings to determine why the Evers administration is taking Wisconsin backwards on transparency.
  • The state legislature should require all government offices and agencies to comply with open records laws and create clear and up-to-date tracking systems.
  • The state legislature should ensure full transparency by instituting low records request fee policies to ensure that all citizens have access to the inner workings of government.

Legislative Republicans were pilloried, correctly, for attempting an end run around the state’s Open Meetings laws during the 2013–15 budget process around, of all times, Independence Day.  Some Republicans have not really been open-government enthusiasts when the Open Records Law helped expose signers of the Walker recall petitions, including future political candidates and people in the news media.

Turns out Democrats don’t like open government either, or at least their governor doesn’t.

 

Pot, meet kettle, meet other kettle

Bruce Murphy:

Somebody high up at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel doesn’t like the Wisconsin Examiner, the new progressive publication covering the state Capitol. You can tell this because the newspaper keeps hammering the same misleading message.

First there was an August 20 JS story on the rise of liberal ‘news’ websites in the state, the use of quotes around news tipping readers off that maybe these groups don’t do real journalism. Then came an August 21 summary of the newspaper’s stories that week by reporter Sarah Hauer which described the Wisconsin Examiner as a “partisan political website.” And then there was JS editor George Stanley’s August 23 column warning to his readers to “Watch out for slanted political coverage” from publications like the Wisconsin Examiner.

So If the Examiner is a “slanted” and “partisan” operation whose claim to cover the news deserves to be questioned and put in quotes, it should be easy to find and report some examples of such journalism, right?

And yet the Journal Sentinel story on the Wisconsin Examiner, by Patrick Marley andMary Spicuzza offers not one example of a slanted or inaccurate story by the publication.As the reporters surely knew, the Examiner actually had one the biggest Capitol scoops in its first few weeks of launching. Its editor Ruth Conniffdid a story revealing that Republicans were discussing using a Joint Resolution to pass redistricting and thereby bypass Gov.Tony Eversand continue gerrymandered districts in Wisconsin.

The Journal Sentinel did a follow-up story that credited the Wisconsin Examiner, while quoting Republican leaders (who pointedly declined to respond to Conniff) denying any such plan.

Conniff also credits her reporterIsiah Holmes with being the first Wisconsin journalist to report on Pentagon spy balloons doing overhead surveillance of the state. This was based on an earlier story by The Guardian, but Holmes hit upon a company called Persistent Surveillance Systems, which sells a similarly sweeping surveillance system.

His story was published at 9:30 on August 8th and about 90 minutes later the Journal Sentinel published a similar story byBruce Vielmetti that also mentions Persistent Surveillance Systems in his story. Did he get that from the Examiner story? “I don’t think so,” Vielmetti says, adding that he remembers the company from some prior stories he read.

That’s a pretty squishy reply and it’s worth noting the Journal Sentinel has always been reluctant to credit other publications who are first to report a story. Indeed, back when Holmes was a free lance reporter for Urban Milwaukee, he did a remarkable investigative piece revealing that a transitional living center that is supposed to help drug addicts had seen five residents die of overdoses within eight months and that the center hadn’t been licensed by the city.Weeks later the Journal Sentinel did a story on the opioid deaths and the city review of the center’s license without crediting Holmes or Urban Milwaukee, whose reporting led to the city’s scrutiny.

The main thesis of the JS story on Wisconsin Examiner is that it is a “left-wing” response to right-wing sites like the MacIver Institute. But MacIver was started as a think tank, not a news site. And when it did do journalism, its methods could be questionable, as Sourcewatch has noted: In 2009 MacIver operative Bill Osmulski was charged with obtaining interviews with two elected Wisconsin officials under false pretenses. The MacIver Institute falsely claimed the state Government Accountability Board would deem recall signatures from “Mickey Mouse” or “Hitler” to be valid when counting signatures in the recall effort against then-governorScott Walker.

MacIver is first and foremost a political group whose staff works to support the Republican Party. Thus, it filed class action suits against the Government Accountability Board and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm for their role in the John Doe Probe of Walker. While MacIver has done more reporting in the last couple years, it does so sporadically: its site lists four new stories it did in the month of August and 13 in July. The Examiner did more than that in its first two weeks. One of MacIver’s main “reporters” is Chris Rochester, who is also the communications director for the group. The other is Matt Kittle, who previously wrote for the now defunct conservative site, Wisconsin Reporter, where he did hundreds of stories with Captain Ahab-like obsessiveness bashing the John Doe probe.

The Examiner has hired four experienced journalists, including Conniff, who worked for two decades for the Progressive Magazine while also doing columns for the Madison weekly Isthmus, Erik Gunn, a former Milwaukee Journal reporter of many years and longtime Milwaukee Magazine contributing editor, Melanie Conklin, who worked for years as a reporter for Isthmus and the Wisconsin State Journal, and Holmes, who free lanced for several years for Urban Milwaukee and other publications. The JS story only reports on Conklin’s background.

The Examiner is funded by the liberal Hopewell Fund, but as Conklin told the JS, the publication is “non-partisan,” and it has already proven itself with many solid news stories. Whereas the JS has already followed up on two Examiner stories, it rarely cites the MacIver Institute. I emailed Marley and Spicuzza for examples of some MacIver stories cited by the JS, and Marley, who responded, had to go all the way back to 2009 to come up with three stories. Versus two for the Examiner in two weeks.

Nice bit of weasel work on Cunniff’s and Murphy’s parts here. “Nonpartisan” and “nonideological” are not synonyms. I’ve been on the radio with Cunniff. Her politics are obvious, as are Isthmus’ for decades. And as I’ve stated here before, Murphy despises Republicans and conservatives, and he proves that here.

Their story has the feel of one assigned by an editor (to not one but two journalists) with a pre-ordained thesis. Most stories start that way, but a good reporter (and both Marley and Spicuzza are good ones) is first and foremost curious and driven to find the real story, even if it departs from the original thesis. In this case there is a huge one that was ignored: the decline of for-profit journalism and the rise of non-profit journalism.

Between 2008 and 2018, newspapers lost 47 percent of their newsroom jobs, as the Pew Research Center has reported. “These major cutbacks, according to the Institute for Nonprofit News… are fueling the growth of nonprofit news outlets,” as the Johnson Center, which tracks non-profits, has reported. “In late 2017, both the Guardian and The New York Times announced the establishment of nonprofit wings….philanthropy is pouring new money and emphasis into nonprofit journalism.”  According to another analysis, there are now some 270 U.S. nonprofit news sites, with most popping up in recent years.

You can see that in Wisconsin, where the for-profit Wisconsin Gazette went of business, the Journal Sentinel has suffered a massive loss of staff and the size of the Business Journal has steadily declined. Meanwhile non- profits like WUWM-FM and Wisconsin Public Radio have maintained or increased their news coverage. Even Radio Milwaukee does some news stories these days. Now add the Examiner to the list.

On an average day, a reader interested in coverage of the Capitol will find more stories by checking Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Examiner than from the Journal Sentinel. Urban Milwaukee republishes stories by both publications, along with stories by Neighborhood News Service, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and Wisconsin Justice Initiative, all also non-profits. And as for-profit entities like the Journal Sentinel continue to decline, you’re likely to see more of its one-time coverage replaced by non-profit journalism.

That’s the big trend in journalism which the JS story on the Examiner pointedly ignores, because it’s bad news for the newspaper. Instead it publishes a sloppy story lumping the Examiner in with political entities like MacIver or the liberal super PAC American Bridge. Whatever nuance emerges in the story by Marley and Spicuzza (and it isn’t much) was quickly overwhelmed by Hauer and Stanley slamming the Examiner as partisan and slanted. It’s all part of an exercise to convince readers the JS is the only news source you can trust, and to do this the paper publishes an obviously misleading story.

I learned something decades ago. A publication should never, ever write about its competition. There is no way for you to look good in the process. Do good work, and let the readers and advertisers decide. And the market (which, as you know, liberals hate) will decide whether the Wisconsin Examiner survives or not.