Category: Wisconsin politics

The federal Off switch

I was asked by a reader if I planned on opining on the proposed federal budget cuts to public broadcasting, where I can occasionally be found on Friday mornings, as you know. (For which I receive nothing more than attention, and some of it negative, which is why I stopped reading Wisconsin Public Radio Facebook posts while I’m on the air.)

Now that someone brought it up, at the risk of biting the publicity hand that feeds my need for self-promotion, I bring up Ryan Girudsky:

President Donald Trump unveiled his budget on Thursday, and is planning on making massive budget cuts to domestic programs. Programs like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) which fund NPR and PBS will be on the chopping block. Rest assured, Big Bird and Elmo will survive without the government.

While liberals are comparing Trump’s budget to a dystopia and giving children nightmares that their favorite puppets will soon be no more, Sesame Street and most PBS shows will be fine.

Mitt Romney threatened to cut off funds to PBS if he were to win the presidential election in 2012. Sherrie Westin, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Sesame Workshop, told CNN that the cut in funding would not “kill Big Bird.”

“Sesame Workshop receives very, very little funding from PBS. So, we are able to raise our funding through philanthropic, through our licensed product, which goes back into the educational programming, through corporate underwriting and sponsorship,” Westin said. “So quite frankly, you can debate whether or not there should be funding of public broadcasting. But when they always try to tout out Big Bird, and say we’re going to kill Big Bird – that is actually misleading, because Sesame Street will be here.”
Only 31 percent of Sesame Street funding comes from a mixture of corporate, government, and foundational support. Nearly 70 percent comes from licensing, distribution fees, and royalties.

Sesame Street has so much potential to be even more profitable now that HBO bought the right to air the show for five years in 2015. PBS gets to air the new episode after a nine-month exclusivity period for HBO.

Furthermore, PBS and NPR will also be fine because they aren’t that reliant on the CPB either. According to Pro Publica, only 15 percent of PBS’s funding are CPB-issued grants, while only two percent of NPR’s funding comes from the government agency.

Perhaps all the celebrities who love to bask in the glow of their own greatness at award shows can open up their pockets and give additionally to the very small amount cut from PBS’ budget.

Kind of like the feast of donations Meals on Wheels programs have received after the proposed budget cut that isn’t a Meals on Wheels budget cut at all. (Community Development Block Grants fund Meals on Wheels programs in some areas, none of which receive more than a single digit percentage of their funding from CDBGs.)

A similar budget cut happened in Wisconsin during the 2015–17 budget, though the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported at the time:

Republicans on the Legislature’s budget committee on Tuesday cut funding for public broadcasting and programs to mitigate farm runoff, but not as deeply as GOP Gov. Scott Walker wanted. …

Walker, who is in Israel this week as he prepares for a likely run for president, recommended cutting nearly $5 million over two years from the state Educational Communications Board, which runs Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television. The board also operates the system that is used for Amber Alerts and other emergency alerts.

Republicans on the committee voted to restore $2.6 million of the funding, leaving the board with a $2.3 million reduction.

Democrats invoked “Sesame Street” to argue for fully funding the board, with Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) saying the cuts were proposed by “Gov. Walker the Grouch.”

Public broadcasting is “the one consistent thing we get from one end of the state to the other,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton). “It’s public. It’s ours. We as Wisconsinites own it and we should be supporting it.”

Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), co-chairman of the committee, argued the cuts would not affect public broadcasting’s programming but some staff would be trimmed.

Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) said restoring some of the funding was important because public radio provides a service by letting its audience “listen to people from across the state.” But he said some cuts were warranted because public broadcasting in Wisconsin receives more taxpayer support than similar systems in other states.

Beyond the dollar figures involved, Logan Albright adds:

Budget hawks will be quick to point out that $445 million is but a fraction of a drop in the proverbial bucket of government spending, and it’s true. But no one is claiming that cutting public broadcasting will balance the budget. The question we should be asking is, “Why are we funding it in the first place?”

State-funded media suffer from one glaring, common problem: Someone — a central authority — gets to decide what kind of content is appropriate for the public, and what isn’t. As taxpayers, we cannot withhold our money if we object (or, are indifferent) to what we see — we have to pay for it regardless.

In most countries, this is called propaganda; the populace is fed what the government wants them to see. While public broadcasting in America is generally more benign than the term “propaganda” implies — focusing mainly on classical music and educational programming rather than fictional glorifications of Dear Leader — national media are nevertheless contrary to the American principles of a free press.

But what will happen to all that beloved programming on PBS and NPR if the federal government doesn’t pay for it? What about “Sesame Street”? What about “A Prairie Home Companion”? Should we just let these things wither on the vine? There are two responses to these concerns.

The first is that, if something really is popular, it will survive just fine without government having to force people to fund it.

“Sesame Street” is widely watched. It is certain that advertisers would be willing to sponsor it. Or, if you are among those who feel some moral objection to advertising in children’s shows, is there any reason to believe that donations couldn’t sustain the program? PBS and NPR already receive a majority of their funding from voluntary donations anyway — they are not suddenly going to disappear without the federal government as a backstop.

The second answer to the above question is simply “Yes,” things that no one is willing to pay for should be allowed to end.

There is no such thing as objective value in a television show or a radio program. The only value they have is in the subjective opinions of the viewers and listeners. If you have to use the force of taxation to keep a show running, it means that you are subsidizing the preferences of a few at the expense of everyone else.

For those who make the argument that we need public broadcasting to provide culture for the nation’s poor (who otherwise could not afford it), I would argue that this smacks of arrogance and elitism. The programmers at NPR may like classical music and cool jazz, but what evidence do they have that single mothers working three jobs appreciate these highly specific forms of “culture”?

Claiming that “the poor” need to listen to a particular type of music in order to better themselves is not based on anything but a false sense of superiority and a desire to impose one person’s tastes on others.

The government’s funding of broadcasting is as much an affront to the First Amendment as it would be if Donald Trump announced today that the federal government is going to dump $445 million into Fox News. (Someone before me came up with that observation, though I cannot find the source.) There is no guarantee of editorial independence from the government funders by the management of public TV or radio as long as there is government funding.

The identities of those in charge don’t matter. The heads of PBS and NPR can swear up and down that their news coverage is and will be unbiased, and they can be presumed to be sincere. That doesn’t prevent a future head of PBS from mandating news coverage to adhere to his or her own political views. That also doesn’t prevent a president from putting pressure on NPR to cover things as the president wants covered.

Jim Epstein adds:

If the Trump Administration gets its way in ending federal funding for public broadcasting (see the budget proposal …), it wouldn’t spell the end of NPR, PBS, or the radio and television programs that many Americans cherish. The biggest impact would be on rural stations that rely on government dollars for a large share of their operating budgets. Several reporters have noted that these rural stations “serve” communities that skew heavily Republican, claiming irony. “[D]efunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,” the Washington Post’s Callum Borchers writes, “would mean hurting the local TV and radio stations that a whole lot of Republican voters watch and listen to.”

We don’t actually know how many Republican voters (or anyone for that matter) watch and listen to NPR or PBS in these rural communities because the networks keep that information private. If saving the rural stations is the main reason to maintain federal funding, don’t taxpayers have a right to see multi-year ratings data? In a press release responding to the budget cuts, PBS merely cites its old talking point that public broadcasting costs each citizen just $1.35 per year. Just because something’s comparatively cheap doesn’t make it worth buying.

The notion of a television station “serving” a community is outdated. You don’t hear Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu boasting that they “serve” one area of the country or another. As I argued in a recent video, the mean reason to end federal funding to these stations is that the media landscape looks nothing like it did in 1967, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act.

The blight of Wisconsin

Dan Benson:

In his recent “state of the city” address, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett reiterated one of his favorite recent talking points — the state of Wisconsin is benefiting from the “Milwaukee dividend.” What he means is that Milwaukee gives more to the state than it gets back, contrary to the popular view that Milwaukee is a money pit for state taxpayers.

Barrett and Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton first made the claim in early January, first in a pitch to the Greater Milwaukee Committee and then in a  Jan. 28 op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

According to a Journal Sentinel news article, it represented the launch “of a fact-based ‘offensive to change the narrative’ about Milwaukee sucking up an excessive amount of state funds” in hopes of getting additional aid from the state. Barrett repeated the claim on March 5, in a speech at the Harley-Davidson University and Conference Center and the next day in his “state of the city” address.

“If anyone tells you that Milwaukee is a drain on the state, correct them immediately,” Barrett was quoted as saying. “The city of Milwaukee is a donor. The state benefits by having Milwaukee here. And I want to change that narrative.”

Problem is, the claim isn’t quite as fact-based as he’d like. First, Milwaukee gets back more than most cities. Second, Barrett is not counting everything Milwaukee gets from the state.

State report cited

Barrett’s and Hamilton’s figures come from a state Department of Revenue report titled “State Taxes and Aids By Municipality and County For Calendar Year 2015,” published last November. The report lists revenues collected and sent to Madison by counties, cities, villages and towns. It then compares the dollars that return to those communities via shared revenue.

Milwaukee city residents and businesses, the report estimates, sent more than $1.37 billion in revenue to Madison in 2015 from all income, sales, utility and other taxes, while the state returned $912 million in the form of state aid payments, a difference of about $458 million. In effect, the city gets back only 66 cents for every dollar it sends to Madison. Milwaukee County as a whole got back even less on a percentage basis, sending $2.5 billion to Madison and getting back $1.45 billion, or 57.49%.

The revenue figures include pretty much all sources of revenue paid by the city and county except that from “various administrative fees and charges … small dollar amounts on their own,” said DOR spokesman Casey Langan.

State aids, the money sent from Madison to local municipalities and counties, listed in the report include shared revenues, school aid, aid to counties, first dollar and lottery credit, natural resources aids, transportation aids and miscellaneous aids, the DOR report said.

“Wisconsin’s taxpayers residing outside of our county,” Barrett and Hamilton wrote in the Journal Sentinel, “are benefiting by more than a billion dollars in tax revenue from Milwaukee. With only 66% of what the city generates and 57% of what the county generates returning to our communities, we are providing a robust and growing ‘Milwaukee dividend’ to our state’s coffers.”

Bruce Murphy, writing in a Feb. 14 UrbanMilwaukee article, touted the mayor’s claim and accused Gov. Scott Walker of “libeling” Milwaukee by allegedly promoting the idea that Milwaukee is subsidized by the rest of the state.

“(I)t was Walker’s state that was the relative loser, that was leeching off the city,” Murphy wrote. “That includes every category of state dollars flowing to Milwaukee.”

But it’s not every category of state dollars.

The state report on which Barrett bases his argument leaves out large sums of state dollars that make their way to Milwaukee city and county residents.

“Any direct aid to a person is not included in the (DOR) report,” Langan said.

Consequently, Barrett’s and Hamilton’s figures failed to consider:

► More than $631 million in state Medicaid payments, not counting federal dollars, to county residents in 2013, the most recent figures available, the state Department of Health Services estimates.

► $108 million in 2015 state funding to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which primarily serves Milwaukee County and nearby residents, according to the university website.

► Nearly $90 million in state unemployment benefits paid by the state and Milwaukee employers, and not counting federal dollars. That’s almost $62 million to city residents and more than $28 million to other county residents, state Department of Workforce Development spokesman John Dipko said.

► $7.8 million in salaries in 2015 for 120 staffers in the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office, also state employees, according to state Department of Administration figures.

► More than $6 million to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court’s 47 judges, all state employees, each of whom is paid $131,187 a year.

► $4.3 million in state court support payments to Milwaukee County, including the clerk of circuit courts office, for fiscal 2017.

► $600,000 in salaries for the 12 people who staff the Milwaukee County public defender’s office, according to DOA.

That’s an additional $ 847.7 million that comes back to Milwaukee. Added to the DOR report, that’s nearly $2.3 billion, almost 92% of the $2.5 billion paid to the state by Milwaukee County. And that’s not counting the cost to state taxpayers of FoodShare Wisconsin and other social service programs, the state Department of Corrections, the state subsidy for Supplemental Security Income, historic tax credits and other assistance.

“How do you not count Medicaid?” asked state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield). “That’s a big part of the state budget. It’s bogus accounting (by Barrett). He’s counting what he wants, and he’s not counting other things.

“On a more personal note,” Kooyenga added, “I don’t know why the mayor is going around trying to create bad blood between the city and the state.”

Barrett’s chief of staff, Patrick Curley, denied that the mayor is creating bad blood with legislators.

“We’re not picking a fight, not looking to pick a fight and really are hoping to engage Rep. Kooyenga and others in a thoughtful discussion. I don’t read the (mayor’s) speech as ‘fightin’ words.’ ”

Todd Berry with the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance agreed with Kooyenga that Barrett isn’t counting everything Milwaukee receives from the state.

“While it is true that over the last few years, as state aid has flattened and (Milwaukee’s) economy has recovered, they have become a donor community compared to what they were a few years back,” Berry said. “The big hitch is (Barrett and Hamilton) are only talking about shared revenue. They really suck in the money when it comes to Medicaid. A quarter of all Medicaid dollars are spent in Milwaukee County.”

Asked why Medicaid and other aids to Milwaukee residents were not counted by the mayor, Curley replied in an email:

“Seventy-two percent of the region’s poor are within the city — second only to San Antonio metro for metro concentration of poverty,” Curley wrote. “That’s a staggering statistic that can’t and should not be minimized. The fact that people are talking about state aids and locally generated revenues is good and a conversation that Mayor Barrett looks forward to having.”

Berry also noted that many of the income and corporate taxes in the DOR report attributed to Milwaukee County are not coming from the county.

“Many of those people paying those taxes live in Ozaukee and Waukesha counties and other places,” he said.

And while Barrett made a major point of saying that Milwaukee gets back just 66% in shared revenue of every dollar it sends to Madison, he failed to mention that Milwaukee gets back more on a percentage basis from Madison than most other communities.

In Milwaukee County, only Cudahy (70.83%) and South Milwaukee (77.48%) get back a higher percentage of state aid than Milwaukee, according to the same DOR report that Barrett cited. River Hills, for instance, only gets back 19%; Glendale just 28.21% percent. Mequon gets the worst return among cities in the five-county area with a 13.5% return; Brookfield, Oconomowoc and New Berlin each gets back less than 20%.

Source: Wisconsin Department of Revenue

Among the surrounding counties, only Racine County does better than Milwaukee County at 62.11%, while Waukesha County (36.8%), Washington County (35.98%) and Ozaukee County (25%) do worse.

Milwaukee’s 66-plus percentage return also exceeds most other cities in the state, which average even less, 51.03%. The statewide average for all municipalities, including towns and villages, is just 55.69%.

The DOR report lists only a handful of the state’s 190 or so cities as getting back more than 90% of what they pay out to the state. Milwaukee ranks in the top third among the state’s cities in the DOR report.

The real point Barrett was trying to make is that Milwaukee is an economic engine experiencing an economic turnaround that’s benefiting southeastern Wisconsin, the state and the region and that it deserves the support it receives and is necessary to a healthy Wisconsin economy and culture.

But many of the city’s problems continue to siphon millions of dollars from the rest of the state while for decades failing to produce desired results. An op-ed from Barrett and Hamilton laying out a plan to solve those problems would be worth reading.

Barrett fails to mention Milwaukee’s leadership, if you want to call it that, in homicides and gun crimes, the accessory to which is the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office’s refusal to prosecute gun crimes. Barrett also didn’t mention the craptacular state of Milwaukee Public Schools and his refusal to do anything about it (like ask the Legislature to give the mayor’s office control of MPS, which the Legislature would do yesterday). Nor does he mention the contribution of non-Milwaukee taxpayers to Miller Park, the Bucks’ under-construction playground, or other Milwaukee things for which Milwaukee gets primary benefit.

And then there’s this memory from last year

… the way Milwaukee residents noted the police’s removal from this planet of Sylville Smith, of the lengthy criminal record, last August.

Milwaukee deserves all this, because a majority of its voters keep electing the people (namely, Barrett) who refuse to do anything about Milwaukee’s problems. Wisconsin does not deserve this.


The transportation “deficit”

Those who read Wisconsin newspapers have been reading all about the $1 billion transportation spending deficit.

But is there a deficit? The MacIver Institute does some math work, starting with …

A billion-dollar shortfall in the next transportation budget started the debate about raising Wisconsin’s gas tax, which was so explosive, no one seemingly had the time to confirm there is a billion-dollar shortfall. If they had, the current debate might not be centered on the gas tax, but instead on how we fund roads in the first place, because there’s only a shortfall if you change the way Wisconsin funds transportation.

The current 2015-2017 state budget spends $2.8 billion on highways, and $855 million of that comes from bonding. That means about 30 percent of everything Wisconsin spends on roads is borrowed, and there are those who believe the state should not be borrowing at all to pay for roads. That was the cover story for a peculiar request the Legislative Fiscal Bureau received last summer.

Even though the DOT was about to submit a new budget request in less than two months, Fiscal Bureau was asked to project what the DOT’s budget would look like under an unlikely set of circumstances. The request wanted the Fiscal Bureau to omit all bonding under a cost-to-continue scenario. The result was a $939 million difference between the current budget and the next.

The billion-dollar transportation deficit was born.

That number started the narrative that Wisconsin has a transportation funding crisis. It didn’t matter that two months later the DOT presented its actual budget request that included spending projections, revenue estimates, current federal funding commitments, and existing bonding. That request also indicated there would be a shortfall, but at $449 million, it was less than half of the previous projection. When Governor Walker presented his budget proposal, he included $500 million in new transportation bonding to fill that gap, which would be the lowest amount since the 2001-2003 budget. It would also mean no delays on major projects currently underway.

Still, the fabricated billion-dollar deficit dominates coverage of the transportation budget, and it continues to frame the debate over the gas tax. Framing the transportation debate this benefits those who want to raise the gas tax. However, they will still readily point to bonding as an underlying concern.

“It is more conservative to pay for projects today than it is to borrow the money and make our children pay the price. But for far too long under Democratic and Republican leadership, the state has relied too heavily on bonding.  According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Wisconsin will spend roughly 20 cents on every transportation dollar on debt service for this fiscal year,” Vos said in a September 15, 2016 press release.

The Walker Administration, on the other hand, argues that transportation bonding is no different than taking out a mortgage for your house. The idea is you spread out the expense over the amount time you plan to use it.

Bonding is the one of the most common ways states fund transportation projects. There are only five states that don’t use transportation bonds at all. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) released a report in November that found bonding to be one of the most successful approaches to transportation funding and finance.

Meanwhile, heavy reliance on fuel taxes is considered one of the least successful approaches to transportation funding according to AASHTO. In fact, many experts say fuel taxes are becoming obsolete as people drive less and cars become more fuel efficient. Even the supporters of raising the gas tax in Wisconsin admit it’s not a perfect solution.

“Even though a lot of conversations have been about the gas tax being a declining revenue source or a dying revenue source long term, there are limitations to every different option that’s out there,” Representative John Nygren, Co-chair of the Joint Committee on Finance, told the Milwaukee Press Club at a luncheon on January 11th.

When it comes to options, Wisconsin has 19 different sources of revenue for its Transportation Fund. That’s more than any other state in the country, according to AASHTO. These include aircraft registration fees, airline property tax, drivers and vehicle records fees, driver’s license and state ID card fees, fines for truck size and weight violations, fuel tax, general funds, interest income, outdoor advertising revenues, oversize/overweight truck permit fees, passenger rail station sponsorship, passenger vehicle fees, petroleum inspection fund revenues, property sales, railroad property taxes, state rental vehicles fees, taxes on alternative fuels, taxes on aviation fuels, and truck registration fees. This is expected to bring in a total of $3.5 billion over the next biennium. When it comes to user fees specifically, Wisconsin’s collections of user fees per lane mile are comparable to its neighbors.

However, when we compare total highway spending (including administrative and debt service costs) per mile to road quality, we see that Wisconsin spends more for poorer quality roads. The state is clearly not getting a good deal on its roadwork, and it begs the question why? Fortunately, lawmakers sensed something was not right at DOT and ordered an audit last year.

That audit came back in January 2017, and it was, in a word, devastating. The auditors found the DOT regularly breaks state law in budgeting, negotiating, communicating, and managing contracts. Among these statutory violations: the department does not always solicit bids from more than one vendor, it does not spread out solicitations throughout the year, it does not post required information on its website, its cost estimates to the governor are incomplete, and it skips steps in the evaluation process for selecting projects. These practices manifest themselves through an inescapable reality: the cost of major projects tends to double after the DOT gets approval from the governor and legislature to proceed. The auditors looked at 16 current highway projects and found they are over-budget by $3.1 billion. …

The side arguing for more highway spending hasn’t provided a solid figure. We often hear about that fabricated billion-dollar deficit, but now there are some, like Rep. Nygren, who say even that might not be enough. On the other hand, Rep. Vos has suggested $300 million might be a realistic amount given the governor’s budget criteria.

The governor has been firm and public in his opposition to raising taxes or fees for transportation. However, in December he made a comment that the only reason he might reconsider is if there were tax cuts in other parts of the budget to offset it. Vos took that comment and ran with it. He announced the $300 million target a month later, and Walker quickly clarified there was no deal to begin with.

Hypothetically, if Wisconsin were to boost highway funding by $300 million and it all came from a gas tax increase, the state’s gas tax would have to go from 32.9 cents to 37.7 cents a gallon. That would give Wisconsin the eighth highest gas tax in the country. Of course, Vos’ plan could spread that $300 million out across various taxes and fees in order to soften the blow. No one’s really talked about that $300 million for over a month now, but then again, Vos and his allies are playing this very close to the vest. …

Yet, the only option we continue to hear is raise the gas tax, and the best evidence to support that option is the fabricated billion-dollar shortfall. And nobody has definitively promised if we raise the gas tax, there will be no transportation bonding – which supposedly initiated this debate in the first place.

The personal is political, consumer edition

Virginia Postrel:

After 20 years, the big Outdoor Retailer trade show is leaving Salt Lake City — not because it ran out of space or got a better deal elsewhere but because Utah lawmakers opposed an expansion of the industry’s biggest federal subsidy.

To most Americans, national parks and monuments are places to enjoy the outdoors while preserving natural and historical treasures. To the Outdoor Industry Association, they’re also a business necessity. It calls public lands “the backbone of the industry’s sales.”

“Utah elected officials do not support public lands conservation nor do they value the economic benefits — $12 billion in consumer spending and 122,000 jobs — that the outdoor recreation industry brings to their state,” Rose Marcario, the president and chief executive of Patagonia, declared in a statement announcing that her company would no longer attend the Salt Lake City show. Other industry leaders, including Polartec LLC and Arc’teryx Equipment Inc., quickly joined in. Then last Thursday, after a conference call with Utah Governor Gary Herbert that ended on a “curt” note, the show’s organizers said they’ll go elsewhere when their contract expires next year. Colorado is campaigning for their business.

At issue is the December designation of 1.35 million acres of federal land as Bears Ears National Monument. How to preserve the area has long been a contentious subject in Utah. President Barack Obama’s late-term action thrilled environmentalists and tribal leaders, upset ranchers and other rural residents, and thwarted oil and mineral development and the blue-collar jobs it might mean. The Republican governor, legislature, and congressional delegation all opposed the designation. In response, the legislature passed a resolution calling on the Trump administration to reverse Obama’s decision. When the governor signed it, calls for the boycott began.

Since it frankly acknowledges that its sales depend on public lands, is the outdoor industry applying a moral veneer to its quest for profits? Or is it using a corporate fig leaf to promote managers’ political views? The two motives are in fact impossible to separate.

When it comes to public lands, the outdoor industry shares the view of pioneering labor leader Samuel Gompers: “We do want more, and when it becomes more, we shall still want more.” As with the union movement, the industry’s financial interests are inextricable from its social values.

As I’ve previously written, the industry is one example of a much larger cultural and economic phenomenon: the shift from function to meaning as a source of economic value and, with it, the melding of consumption, politics and identity. What we buy increasingly expresses who we are.

Brands built on specific political or cultural values will inevitably take public stances, using their economic clout to influence public policy, whether out of genuine conviction, cold-eyed market positioning, or both. It’s not surprising that Patagonia Inc., the outdoor apparel brand most prominently built on its political stances, led the anti-Utah charge.

The bigger question is whether in the Trump era brands that aren’t traditionally political will feel forced to choose sides. Overtly political shopping is on the rise. Every week seems to bring a new boycott: against North Carolina over its bathroom bill, Nordstrom Inc. stores because they carry — or discontinue — Ivanka Trump’s merchandise, Kellogg Company for dropping ads on Breitbart News, Under Armour Inc. for its chief executive’s nice words about Donald Trump, Starbucks Corporation for pledging to hire refugees, and on and on. Wegmans Food Markets Inc. recently sold out of Trump Winery products in Virginia. The reason: calls for the chain to drop the wines, which produced a pro-Trump backlash.

Wine, breakfast cereal, workout clothes and business apparel aren’t inherently political goods. Brand choices choices may reflect largely unconscious tribal affinities, but they allow some play. You can eat organic food and vote Republican or drive an SUV and vote Democratic. Conservatives can enjoy Meryl Streep and liberals can esteem Clint Eastwood. “Vote right, live left,” an urbanite conservative advised me many years ago. Despite Trump’s frequent attacks on Jeff Bezos, Americans of all stripes like Inc.

Now, however, that pluralism is at risk. We seem headed toward an economy of red brands and blue brands, red employers and blue employers, with no common ground. In this context, the outdoor industry’s action is a disturbing bellwether, as is the increasing partisanship of once-evenhanded fashion magazines like Vogue. Outdoor activity appeals to Americans of all political persuasions, and the country’s western landscape has long helped define the national identity. People can disagree over how best to enjoy and protect that landscape, and how to weigh preservation against other values, while still sharing much in common. Enforcing the party line by declaring an entire state off limits is an extreme step.

Writing with the memory of religious wars, Voltaire in 1733 offered a peaceful alternative. “Go into the London Stock Exchange — a more respectable place than many a court — and you will see representatives from all nations gathered together for the utility of men,” he wrote:

Here Jew, Mohammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt. Here the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist and the Anglican accepts a promise from the Quaker. On leaving these peaceful and free assemblies some go to the Synagogue and others for a drink, this one goes to be baptized in a great bath in the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, that one has his son’s foreskin cut and has some Hebrew words he doesn’t understand mumbled over the child, others go to their church and await the inspiration of God with their hats on, and everybody is happy.

Once the great solvent of difference, commerce threatens to become its enforcer. And everyone is unhappy.

Wisconsinites know we’ve already had that here. Read the list from the Scott Walker Watch website of companies whose employees and/or management committed the unforgivable crime of giving money to Walker’s campaign, including Kwik Trip, Johnsonville Sausage and Georgia–Pacific, owned by The Evil Koch Brothers. At least two advocated boycotting the entire state.

That prompted an Isaac Newton-like “buycott,” where Walker supporters encouraged themselves and others to buy from companies whose employees and/or management contributed to Walker’s campaign. On the one hand, Walker has been reelected twice since the boycott attempt, and on the other hand, I believe no company on the boycott list has gone out of business, and Wisconsin appears to have survived. The political fortunes of those supporting boycotts have sunk like a Chicago Bears football season.

This is nearly all the fault of liberals. The phrase “the personal is political” came from neither conservatives nor libertarians; it came from a feminist, Carol Hanisch. There are a few liberals (this writer and the late Christopher Hitchens, for two) who understand how vapid that assertion is, but in our hyperpolitical times, now some conservatives are touting boycotting New Glarus Brewing, Penzey’s Spices, Madison and the musical “Hamilton.”

Part of the problem is that many people don’t grasp that for nearly every business (and I have yet to find one beyond one or two employees for which this is not the case) employee pay (including benefits) far exceeds that business’ profits. So if you think your not purchasing something from a company will hurt the owners, you’re wrong; it will hurt that company’s employees first and foremost. The American Enterprise Institute provides this chart …

… that shows how ignorant Americans are about business.


Rural school choice


Will Flanders of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty suggests an expansion of school choice that might not be obvious:

Too often, school choice is Wisconsin is considered to be an issue only for Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Public School (MPS) district continually fails its students, particularly from poor and minority backgrounds.  School choice has given these children a second chance at life. But lost in this debate is the fact that school districts outside of Milwaukee are not living up to expectations either.

For example, children in Wisconsin rural school districts are falling behind the rest of the state. These students are less likely to be proficient in math and reading relative to their peers in suburban districts. To show this, I analyzed data from the most recent state test, the Forward Exam.

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) designates each school in the state as urban, suburban, rural or town.  While most of these definitions are self-explanatory, “towns” are areas outside major cities with populations between 2,500 and 25,000.  In the figures below, I show the difference in proficiency on the math and English portions of the Forward Exam from an econometric model that includes these school designations and many control variables also related to achievement (I leave Milwaukee out of this analysis).

The length of the bar in the graph below represents the extent to which schools in each category under perform suburban schools in math proficiency.

All of these types of school districts perform significantly worse than suburban schools, but the differences are most staggering in rural areas and small towns. In Math, students in rural schools are 8% less likely to be proficient in math. In small towns, they are more than 4% less likely to be proficient. A similar story is told when by the numbers for English/Language Arts, presented below.

In English, students in rural areas are about 5% less likely to be proficient than students in suburban schools, and students in small towns are 4% less likely to achieve proficiency.

Further increases in per pupil spending are unlikely to close this achievement gap. As I have detailed previously in Right Wisconsin, there is little relationship between per student spending in Wisconsin and academic achievement.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem. School choice programs like the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) have been shown to consistently improve performance. In Milwaukee, studies have found improved academic performance, lowered likelihoods of becoming involved in criminal activity and increased likelihood of high school graduation.

It is vital that access to school choice be expanded rapidly outside of Milwaukee. One key to doing this is lifting the income cap on the WPCP.  Currently, students in Milwaukee whose families earn up to 300% of the poverty line are eligible for a voucher.  In a situation that is fundamentally unfair to outstate parents, they are only eligible for a voucher with incomes up to 185% of the poverty line. This easy change would allow many more kids to access high quality schools their families could not otherwise afford.

Additionally, existing enrollment caps on the WPCP stunt the growth of the program. By lifting enrollment caps, far more students could enroll, and the WPCP could flourish.

Well … there is a substantial logistical problem here, and it has to do with an obvious characteristic of rural areas. The most common non-public school in rural areas are Catholic schools. There are more non-Catholic Christian schools than there used to be, but still very few. And non-religious private schools are nearly impossible to find outside urban areas. If you think rural schools are far apart now, imagine having one non-public school in a 10-county area.

Nevertheless, charter schools have been seen as taking away resources from rural schools. This would be one way of dealing with that issue.



The Walker budget

M.D. Kittle writes about Gov. Scott Walker’s version of the 2017–19 state budget:

Liberals and the mainstream media have called Republican Gov. Scott Walker a lot of things over his two and a half terms in office.

Now the Wisconsin left’s Public Enemy No. 1 is being described with a pejorative that no conservative could easily abide: Walker is suddenly a “liberal.”

Or at least his budget proposal is.

How low can the left go?

An Associated Press story last week, headlined “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposes surprisingly liberal budget,” noted the 2017-19 spending plan “includes a huge boost in funding for schools, sizable cuts for college students and increased tax breaks for the working poor.”

While budget hawks aren’t thrilled with some of the spending increases included in the $76.098 billion biennial budget, no one is about to confuse Walker with California left-winger Gov. Jerry Brown, or Walker’s liberal colleague to the more immediate west, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton.

Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute, a Madison-based free-market think tank, said there’s a lot for conservatives to like in Walker’s budget proposal. Not the least of which is nearly $600 million in tax and fee relief, including the elimination of the state portion of the property tax levy.

“Think about it. When is the last time a politician proposed eliminating a tax? It just never happens,” Healy told Wisconsin Watchdog on Monday on the Vicki McKenna Show, on NewsTalk 1130 WISN in Milwaukee.

“The biggest concern when you are a conservative in the Legislature is, if you start a new tax or fee, it’s never going to go away,” Healy added. “Here we have a situation where Gov. Walker has actually stepped up and he proposes eliminating the forestry tax on everyone’s property tax bill. That’s huge.”

To accomplish this tax exorcism, Walker’s plan provides more than $180 million in fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018-19 to ensure continued state funding for forestry programs covered by local property taxpayers. The administration says the state forestry account in the conservation fund will be unaffected through this “tax relief action.”

“This tax, which had gone up each time a property’s value increased, will no longer be imposed on Wisconsin property owners,” states a Department of Administration budget analysis. reserve concerns

Eric Bott, Wisconsin state director of Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Prosperity Foundation, said Walker’s latest budget plan again sets the pace in limiting the size and scope of government.

The proposal calls for phasing out the prevailing wage mandate for state-funded construction projects. Prevailing wage, a Great Depression-era relic that artificially fixes wages based on trade and geographical location of the state, can substantially increase costs for government construction projects. Bott calls it “protectionism at its worst.” Unions and their Democratic allies fought ferociously to keep prevailing wage reform at bay in the last session. They failed. Walker wants to go deeper this time.

The budget also includes some of the strongest welfare reform initiatives in the nation.

Bott is especially excited about the inclusion of a state version of the REINS Act in the Walker budget plan. The REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) proposal would require state agencies to get legislative approval for any regulation with an economic impact at certain thresholds.

Rep. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, and Sen. Devin Lemahieu, R-Oostburg, earlier this year reintroduced a similar bill that would hold the economic impact threshold at $10 million.

“If there is a compliance estimate above $10 million, then I’m very comfortable throwing a wrench into it, grinding it to a halt, and forcing the legislature to then approve it,” Neylon told Wisconsin Watchdog. “Because that is the best way to hold people accountable, to let their elected officials be the ones to decide on big spending items.”

Bott said Wisconsin would be among the first states to adopt a REINS Act. There is similar legislation pending in Congress.

Healy said that behind the scenes MacIver is hearing from budget hawks concerned about the spending increases, particularly the nearly $650 million marked for K-12 public education.

“I think going forward that will certainly be something the Legislature looks at, if they want to dial back spending in certain areas,” he said. “That certainly would make this strong budget even stronger.”

To Walker’s credit, Bott said, the governor “isn’t just throwing money at problems.” He’s specifically delineating dollars for priorities. That includes approximately $55 million for rural schools districts, $25 million in local transportation aid, and funding for STEM education that works hand-in-hand with Walker’s expectation that the University of Wisconsin System better-prepare students for the demands of the new economy.

“If you’re part of the government and you want to be part of the solution, great. He’s going to provide the resources,” Bott said on the Vicki McKenna Show. Those that don’t want to be part of the solution, such as the Madison Metropolitan School District and its open rebellion against implementing state collective bargaining reforms, will lose out on the increased spending.

Some of the biggest budget battles are coming from inside the GOP. Walker has made it clear that he is not interested in tax increases, or “revenue enhancers” as some like to call them. That means no to a gas tax increase and vehicle registration fee hikes. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and his leadership lieutenants in the Assembly have pushed gas tax and fee increases as potential solutions to transportation budget shortfalls. It is, at least for now, a rhetorical line in the sand.

Healy said that line is subject to change, and he predicts Vos will end up on the other side of it.

“Right now you have to bet that Gov. Walker is going to win that battle,” he said. “(Senate Majority Leader Scott) Fitzgerald is on his side. When you have two of the three players in the Capitol on one side of the argument, generally they win out.”

The rhetoric so far has been pitched, with supporters of “revenue enhancers” attacking Walker’s budget for transportation borrowing and for not offering sustainable funding to keep several Wisconsin highway projects moving forward.

Bott notes that Walker has proposed $6.1 billion for the Department of Transportation, with the highest level of transportation general aids ever. While he agrees that there is too much borrowing in the transportation budget, Bott noted that bonding for highway construction is down 41 percent, the lowest level since the 2001-03 budget.

And a recent audit found waste and incompetence in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to be incredibly costly to taxpayers. A total of 363 DOT contracts between 2006 and 2015 – about 16 percent of the total – received only one bid each, according to the review. That accounts for $1.1  billion in projects.

“And we know that when there’s no competition, it drives up the price dramatically,” Bott said.

Despite its spending increases, Bott said the Walker budget plan could be a “model budget” for the nation.

“The governor has laid out a vision with conservative victories,” Healy said. “Hopefully the Legislature, instead of being bogged down in gas tax and registration fee increases, can make some improvements to the governor’s budget and we can have this thing done in June.”

Well … the claims of conservatism are a bit dodgy when the proposed budget is bigger than the previous budget for no justifiable reasons. If you think there is waste in the DOT, you should look elsewhere in government (for instance, all the press officers all over state government).

Charlie Sykes has seen this before:

Governor Scott Walker’s new budget, which includes spending increases for health care and schools, seems to have taken some observers by surprise. It probably shouldn’t have, since Walker has signaled rather clearly that he rejected what we called the “sour politics of austerity.”

A few years ago, I wrote this piece for Wisconsin Interest Magazine about Walker’s book, Unintimidated, which highlighted some of the political paradoxes in Walker’s world view:

Scott Walker remains a puzzle to even some of his closest observers. He is, after all, a hard-edged conservative who talks about being a “champion to the vulnerable”; a fiscal conservative who disdains the politics of austerity; as well as a master communicator who sometimes fails to make his case.

In light of his budget, this section may be of particular interest:

Walker is a fiscal conservative but disdains the politics of austerity. After nine years as Milwaukee county executive and three years as governor, Walker’s image (at least among progressives) is that of a relentless budget cutter. In a scathing attack in 2011, historian John Gurda accused him of “dismantling government one line item at a time, regardless of the consequences.”

But in his book, Walker is sharply critical of what he calls the “sour politics of austerity.”

“Too often, conservatives present themselves as the bearers of sour medicine, when we should be offering a positive, optimistic agenda instead.”His budget could have laid off tens of thousands of middle class workers, slashed Medicaid, and cut billions from schools and local governments, he writes. “But,” Walker asks, “where is the optimism in that?”

Instead, Walker champions what he calls a “hopeful, optimistic alternative to austerity.” The key, he writes, is rejecting the “false choice” of spending cuts versus tax hikes and opting instead for changing the fundamental rules of the game.

“We found a way to make government not just smaller, but also more responsive, more efficient and more effective. And because we did, we were able to cut government spending while still improving education and public services.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Walker’s budget is certainly more fiscally conservative than any Democratic budget would be, but maximizing individual rights means minimizing what government can do, and we shouldn’t have to rely on elections to keep government out of our lives.

School districts are happy with the proposed increase in state aid, and were I a state legislator I would vote for the requirement for school districts to certify their Act 10 compliance before getting more aid (or, I would argue, any state aid) today. (Remember when Gov. Tommy Thompson touted the Miller Park project by telling outstaters to “stick it to Milwaukee”? I would be fine with sticking it to Milwaukee and Madison.)

Walker also needs to tout the REINS provisions more than he has. One of the worst features of state government is its ability to pass laws without having the Legislature vote on them, through the oxymoron of “administrative law.” Anything that has the power of law is a law and should be voted on by the Legislature, not enacted by bureaucrats.

One interesting issue is UW tuition, which Walker wants to cut and the UW System does not want to cut. The U instead wants to be able to increase tuition but increase student financial aid on the rationale (usually seen in private universities) that rich families can afford higher tuition, and increasing financial aid allows less wealthy families to pay less. Walker seems to believe that tuition cuts should apply to all, not just lower-income families.

This budget is, for better or worse, an establishment Republican state budget. Unfortunately, Republicans in Wisconsin tend to be big-government Republicans.

Does anybody really know what time it is?

Apparently in several states, including this one, every problem state government faces has been solved so that legislators can focus on this, the Washington Post reports:

Elected officials in a dozen states are currently considering legislation to opt out of changing the clocks, either by remaining permanently on daylight saving time or standard time. Standard time is in place from November to mid-March, after which time (see what we did there?) clocks move one hour ahead to daylight saving time, leaving eight months with later sunrises and sunsets.

Time can be quite a controversial issue. In 2005, then Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) suffered some political blowback after he pushed hard for the state to universally adopt daylight saving time. Opponents to daylight saving time say that it causes a major disruption to sleep and that the switch is associated with an increase in workplace accidents and other health risks.

The Uniform Act of 1966 established daylight saving time throughout the United States, but states can opt out, and two already have: Hawaii and Arizona. Here’s a look at states that are considering opting out or otherwise changing how they observe time …


State Rep. Bill Mitchell (R) said he was inspired to introduce a bill to end daylight saving time in Illinois after a newspaper ran an that lamented the clock change. Then, an 80-year-old retiree contacted him, saying she wanted it gone.

“I think it affects everyone’s circadian rhythm. I just don’t think its necessary,” resident Marilyn Smith said, the Herald-Review reported. “It’s just a pain. If our lawmakers could do one thing to make us happy, well …”

Mitchell’s bill hasn’t gone anywhere yet.


Democratic state Rep. Jeff Irwin has introduced a measure that would have the state permanently observe standard time. “As we have all experienced this week, changing schedules for daylight saving time is stressful and unnecessary,” he said, MLive reported.

I excerpted those states because of what the Post didn’t report, but the Associated Press does:

Two Republican lawmakers want to make the sun set earlier in the summer.

Reps. Samantha Kerkman, of Salem, and Michael Schraa, of Oshkosh, introduced a bill Friday that would eliminate daylight saving time in Wisconsin. The move would mean state residents would no longer have to move their clocks ahead an hour in the spring or back an hour in the fall as the country shifts back to standard time. That would mean the summer sun would appear to rise and set earlier.

Kerkman and Schraa said in a news release that the change would save people the hour of sleep they lose in the spring. The time change also causes general confusion and forces kids to go to school in the dark, they added. Kerkman said in a phone interview that a number of constituents have contacted her to tell her the time change is frustrating.

“People definitely have an opinion about this,” Kerkman said. “I wish I could create more sunshine, but I can’t.”

Arizona and Hawaii don’t observe daylight saving time. Kerkman and Schraa said in a memo they sent to colleagues Friday seeking co-sponsors that eight states introduced similar legislation that would do away with daylight saving time this year.

“We often see stress and confusion associated with moving the clocks twice a year,” the legislators wrote. “A full repeal of daylight saving time would eliminate that stress, take possible tolls off of people’s bodies and make more sense year round.”

Daylight saving time begins at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday in March and ends at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday in November. Wisconsin residents adopted it in 1957 through a statewide referendum.

Kerkman and Schraa gave their fellow lawmakers until Feb. 24 to sign onto the bill. Spokeswomen for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the bill’s chances.

Yes, people do definitely have an opinion. The WITI-TV online poll, admittedly unscientific, showed 53 percent support for keeping DST. The comments on the story were split between keeping DST and moving the clocks permanently ahead, with no comments in favor of Kerkman’s and Schraa’s proposal for permanent Central Standard Time.

Wisconsin has had DST since a 1957 referendum in which 54 percent of voters favored DST, finding, according to Ballotpedia, these rationales more persuasive …

  • More than half of the U.S. states had already switched to Daylight Saving Time, may of which were closely related to Wisconsin.
  • 80% of Wisconsin’s population were non-farmers, who would see benefits from Daylight Saving Time.
  • Regular wage earners would have more time for outdoor recreation with there families in the evening hours.
  • It would help with keeping TV schedules steady, as major broadcasters where in states that already adopted Daylight Saving Time–New York and California.
  • Daylight Saving Time better matches the movement of the sun.
  • Daylight Saving Time would not affect cow milk product. Supporters stated Wisconsin had record milk production during both world wars, when the state used Daylight Saving Time.

… than these:

Major opposition was led by farmer groups. They contended:[2]

  • Daylight Saving Time would put an undue hardship on dairy farmers who would have to get up an hour earlier to get milk ready for delivery.
  • Daylight Saving Time would create some problems with harvesting crops, because farmers have to wait for the sun to dry morning dew.

Other opponents stated:

  • Daylight Saving Time would cause problems for families to try to get children to go to bed while it was still light outside, and get them up for school in the months of May to September.

Clearly the state’s parents and farmers have adapted in the 60 years since DST was voted into law. So why Kerkman and Schraa want to get rid of DST is a mystery to me.

Readers know that I generally favor Daylight Saving Time. My second choice would be to move the clocks permanently ahead, whether or not doing so “better matches the movement of the sun.” (That is a new one.) For those who say that children who ride school buses should not have to wait in the dark for them on winter mornings, there is a simple solution — start school later. (In my experience as a student and parent, few kids are really awake by 8 a.m., and medical science backs up a later-starting school day.)

Going back to so-called “God’s time” is, frankly, stupid, but making any time zone change without neighboring states going along is even more stupid. And regardless of what happens, the Legislature has better things to do than to change Daylight Saving Time.


Driven by hate

This song came to mind …

… when reading Kurt Schlichter:

Leftists don’t merely disagree with you. They don’t merely feel you are misguided. They don’t think you are merely wrong. They hate you. They want you enslaved and obedient, if not dead. Once you get that, everything that is happening now will make sense. And you will understand what you need to be ready to do.

You are normal, and therefore a heretic. You refuse to bow to their idols, to subscribe to their twisted catechisms, to praise their false gods. This is unforgivable. You must burn.

Crazy talk? Just ask them. Go ahead. Go on social media. Find a leftist – it’s easy. Just say something positive about America or Jesus and they’ll come swarming like locusts. Engage them and very quickly they will drop their masks and tell you what they really think. I know. I keep a rapidly expanding file of Twitter leftist death wish screenshots.

They will tell you that Christians are idiots and vets are scum.

That normals are subhumans whose role is to labor as serfs to subsidize the progressive elite and its clients.

That you should die to make way for the New Progressive Man/Woman/Other.

Understand that when they call Donald Trump “illegitimate,” what they are really saying is that our desire to govern ourselves is illegitimate. Their beef isn’t with him – it’s with us, the normal people who dared rise up and demand their right to participate in the rule of this country and this culture.

They hate you, because by defying them you have prevented them from living up to the dictates of their false religion. Our rebelliousness has denied them the state of grace they seek, exercising their divine right to dictate every aspect of our puny lives. Their sick faith gives meaning to these secular weirdos, giving them something that fills their empty lives with a messianic fervor to go out and conquer and convert the heathens.

And the heathens are us.

Oh, there are different leftist sects. There are the social justice warriors who have manufactured a bizarre mythology and scripture of oppression, privilege, and intersectionality. Instead of robes, they dress up as genitals and kill babies as a blasphemous sacrament. Then there are the pagan weather religion oddballs convinced that the end is near and that we must repent by turning in our SUVs. Of course, the “we” is really “us” – high priests of the global warming cult like Leonardo DiCaprio will still jet around the world with supermodels while we do the ritual sacrificing of our modern comforts. Then there are the ones who simply worship themselves, the elitists who believe that all wisdom and morality has been invested in them merely because they went to the right college, think the right thoughts, and sneer at anyone living between I-5 and I-95.

But all the leftist sects agree – they have found the revealed truth, and imposing it upon the benighted normals like us is so transcendently important that they are relieved of any moral limitations. They are ISIS, except with hashtags instead of AKs, committed to the establishment of a leftist caliphate.

You wonder why the left is now justifying violence? Because they think that helps them right now. Today it’s suddenly OK to punch a “Nazi.” But the punchline is that anyone who opposes them is a “Nazi.”

You wonder why they ignore the rule of law, why they could switch on a dime from screaming at Trump for refusing to preemptively legitimize a Hillary win and then scream that he is illegitimate the moment she lost? Because their only principle is what helps the left win today. That’s why the media gleefully, happily lies every single day about every single thing it reports. Objectivity? When that stopped being a useful thing, it stopped being a thing at all.

They are fanatics, and by not surrendering, by not kneeling, and by not obeying, you have committed an unpardonable sin. You have defied the Left, and you must be broken. They will take your job, slander your name, even beat or kill you – whatever it takes to break you and terrify others by making you an example. Your defiance cannot stand; they cannot allow this whole Trump/GOP majority thing to get out of control. They must crush this rebellion of the normal, and absolutely nothing is off the table.

Schlichter’s premise requires believing that Trump is actually the savior of the “normal,” as opposed to yet another political opportunist. But well before Trump hit the scene, Wisconsin’s own Walker Derangement Syndrome proves that indeed many of Wisconsin’s leftists are motivated by hatred of the other side. Perhaps you’ve noticed how well that’s worked out for Democrats in the past four statewide elections, not even counting Recallarama.

Wisconsin’s Dumocrats

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s David Haynes:

In Wisconsin, there are two political parties. There is the Republican Party, which believes in low taxes, limited government and judicial restraint.

And then there is the other Republican Party, which believes all those things except when it comes to highways, social issues and interfering with local governments.

Finally, there is a third organization in Wisconsin political life, a dysfunctional, institutionally inept organization, known as the Democratic Party. After its most recent thrashing by Gov. Scott Walker’s political machine, it is a PINO — a Party in Name Only.

The PINOs hold only 35 of 99 seats in the state Assembly and 13 of 33 in the state Senate. Republicans hold the executive branch, of course, and conservatives have a 5-2 edge on the state Supreme Court.

Maybe, in time, this will pass. Maybe the Democrats’ recent victory in federal court over the GOP’s 2011 slice-and-dice of legislative districts will stick, and maybe that will mean more competitive districts. Maybe Donald Trump will prove to be just as divisive as he seems to be and hurt Republicans everywhere in the mid-terms. Maybe Democrats will become as proficient as Republicans at digital politicking.

But there is this one truism in American politics. To win, you have to actually, ahem, put up candidates.

The Democrats are the organization that couldn’t be bothered to recruit a candidate to take on conservative state Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler or to find challengers to take on Walker appointees for circuit court seats in — wait for it — Milwaukee County, one of the two most Democratic counties in the state.

Democratic insiders have plenty of excuses for this sort of malpractice. They tell me that judicial races are a special challenge coming so soon after a big national race because both money and political talent is scarce. And the Walker machine still roars like a Maserati. No one wants to get flattened.

But here’s what I think:

I think the Democrats are playing the game the way no party should ever play it — they are playing in fear.

And I think that until they figure out 1) what they actually believe; 2) how to sell what they believe to someone who doesn’t live on the trendy east side of Milwaukee or in the baby blue districts of Dane County; and 3) identify smart, capable candidates who aren’t afraid to play smack-mouth with Walker …

… They will keep losing.

A chunk of the blame has to rest with state chairwoman Martha Laning, who is running for another term at the state convention in June and will get a well-deserved challenge. She’s the leader, after all, and she has to own this folly. But it goes deeper than Laning’s perceived faults and, in fact, pre-dates her, according to long-time Democrats I spoke with.

Here’s how one summed it up:

“I’ve been saying this for years: The party has a problem with its message. It gets in silos on issues pandering to its groups. What does it mean to be a Democrat? What does it mean to be a liberal? What does it mean to be progressive? … We have more labels and no general consensus on what the values of the party are.”

This insider told me that focusing on tactics — like winning the redistricting lawsuit or hoping that Trump continues to be, well, Trump, is short-term thinking.

The party needs vision first, then tactics to implement that vision. Hope is not a strategy.

Right now, I have no idea what this organization called “the Democratic Party” stands for.

For democracy to function well, Wisconsin and the nation need two well-oiled, competing political parties to debate ideas, to fight over them, to agree, finally, on solutions that will help the most people. That is not what we have now.

What will it take for Wisconsin Democrats to get the message? Sen. Tammy Baldwin losing in two years? Walker carving another notch in the governor’s mansion?


Maybe the Democrats have to hope for a split of the GOP as in the Progressive Era. Or maybe they are, in the words of David Blaska

I can do Haynes one better: Whigs in waiting. …

You want brain dead? They’re sticking with Peter Barca as minority leader! (The Nancy Pelosi of losers.) No, it can’t be that Wisconsin Democrats are out of ammunition. Can’t be that they lost the blue collar worker. Pissed off the values voter. Denigrated their guns and religion. Blamed the cops.

It’s got to be gerrymandering. What else explains the Milwaukee daily’s fixation with an arcane concept known as “the efficiency gap.” Yeah, we know, a federal court ruled 2 to 1 that the state has to redraw its legislative boundaries. It will be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court once President Trump (!) fills the Scalia seat.

Excuses, my liberal-progressive-socialist acquaintances, make poor strategies.

Here is how Ann of Althouse, retired UW Law Professor, reads it: The “efficiency gap” …

… helps Democrats overcome the problem of having its voters concentrated in relatively small geographic spaces — that is, cities. It would make an equal protection problem out of a pattern of human behavior. It’s basically the same problem Democrats have with the Electoral College: Their voters aren’t spread out enough geographically. This is a terrible problem for Democrats, but I can’t believe the Supreme Court will inscribe their mathematical fix into constitutional law.

Madame Althouse notes that the U.S Supreme Court has never found any redistricting to be unconstitutional political gerrymandering.

Even Journal Sentinel reporter Craig Gilbert (“More evidence of a skewed GOP map“) acknowledges that Democrats are more concentrated geographically in urban areas, such as Milwaukee and Madison, meaning their voters are less efficiently distributed across districts statewide.

What great advantage did this supposed gerrymandering provide? Before redistricting (2010 election), Republicans won the State Assembly 59 to 39 (with 1 independent who voted with Republicans). The so-called gerrymandering rendered their advantage in the next election to 60-39 — putatively a pickup of one seat. The Senate was 18-15 in the election before “gerrymandering.” It remained the same in the next election. And somehow, Republican Scott Walker won statewide elections in 2010, 2012, and 2014.

It’s the maps, it’s the maps! Truth is, Wisconsin Democrats are feckless.

The necrosis extends to Democrats at the national level. Democrats are low on energy, ideas, and imagination, Politico reports.

The Democratic Party is in crisis, hollowed out at the state level, and desperate for new ideas, bold leaders and a cutting-edge plan of action against Donald Trump. The race for Democratic National Committee chair is bland and bloodless. The seven candidates are downplaying differences and offering conventional ideas they all agree on.


Red dawn

Michael Kruse goes to Pepin County to find Democrats surrounded by Republicans:

The morning after Donald Trump was elected president, Andrea Myklebust’s sheep needed new hay. Distraught by the results from the night before, feeling like this was the first day of a suddenly altered American reality, she walked down the driveway of her farm to meet the man who brings her feed for her flock. Myklebust didn’t know for sure, but she suspected he had voted for Trump, a person she considered odious, dangerous and unqualified for the job he had just won. She said nothing about the election, and neither did he, as they talked only about where to drop the bales of hay—a brief exchange during which, she told me, she tried to “rearrange” her facial expression into something “neutral,” “friendly.” She could do only so much, though, to mask her despair. The sculptor, shepherd and weaver had moved from Minnesota’s Twin Cities because she found this area’s rolling hills bucolic and welcoming—and now, and for the first time in her 11 years here, she felt uneasy.

When I met Myklebust, 51, in late November, these sentiments had not softened. She described the history-twisting election of 2016 in stark, before-and-after terms, unable to fathom how anybody could have voted for Trump, much less three-fifths of the people with whom she shares her adopted home in Pepin County. “There is sort of a baseline assumption of common sense and decency that’s been thrown into question in a way I never expected it to be,” she said. “And it’s a struggle. You have to continue to interact with people, and you have to wonder: Do you really have hate in your heart in this way? Really? At the core, I didn’t believe this about us.”

The population of the county is barely more than 7,000 people, which can give it an everybody-knows-everybody sort of allure. But in this tiny county, the smallest in Wisconsin, wedged against the east bank of the Mississippi River, Myklebust and so many other Democrats and progressives woke up November 9 jilted, deeply confused about where they lived—where they had lived for years, decades, even their entire lives. Wisconsin, after all, hadn’t voted for a Republican for president since 1984, and Pepin County itself had gone blue in every presidential election since 1972. This put it near the top of a sizeable, nationwide list of similarly flipped counties—the rural, out-of-the-way spots on the map that made Trump president. It left those on the losing end of the tally roundly stunned.

“Totally shocked,” said Wally Zick, 71.

“Blew me away,” said Jen Peterson, 36.

“My mom said, ‘What happened to our blue state?’” said Alex Johnson, 24. “I said, ‘Trump set it on fire.’”

Terry Mesch, 67, has lived here since 1976 and oversees the local historical society. He knows the story of the county better than practically anybody, and yet he was “dumbfounded,” he said, telling me he walked into his polling spot on the day of the election and voted alongside people whose names he knows. The results that rolled in later that evening were not at all what he was expecting. More than that, they came with an unsettling realization: “I said to myself, ‘I don’t know my own neighbors.’”

Democrats and progressives thought they lived in one kind of place. It turns out they live in another. That’s true in the nation as a whole, and it’s particularly, poignantly true here. Pepin County at first glance doesn’t seem like much of a microcosm of America—it’s 98 percent white, the overall population hasn’t changed in 120 years, and the unemployment rate this past fall was an infinitesimal 3 percent—but what I found in a week of talking to farmers and small-business owners, longtime residents and transplants, was a startlingly precise reflection of the national rift that animated Trump’s campaign. “Stronger Together” versus “Great Again.” Move-ins versus natives. Urban versus rural. The loss wrought by long-term change here isn’t so much a visible picture of a closed, rusted factory as it is a less measurable communal decline in morale, a slow seep of self-worth, a perceived slippage of relevance in the national conversation.

As Donald Trump takes the oath of office—a phrase that still has the power to make those on the left shudder in shock—an easy way to process the election is that people in rural areas all over America loathe Washington and New York and San Francisco and Hollywood and finally had a chance to show it in a big way. But Pepin County is one of those rural areas, and the resentment isn’t just directed at the coasts. It’s local. Here, the urban elite isn’t a faceless, distant other: It’s the enclave of liberal, mostly Twin Cities newcomers who have moved here over the past few decades—not just an abstract political imposition, but an actual physical presence. It has spawned anger and bitterness, a simmering undercurrent of alienation among many people locally born and raised. It has made “Democrat” mean something it didn’t mean a generation ago. And it was made manifest on November 8.

Pepin County represents not only the most compelling reasons Trump won but also the reasons so many liberals were so surprised. If more people from more places had been talking to the people of Pepin County—and if the people of Pepin County had been talking more to one another—the notion of a Trump victory wouldn’t have seemed farfetched in the least. But my interviews, with Democrats and Republicans alike, started to feel to me like listening to disconnected halves of conversations that had never occurred. And still weren’t.

“We have found a whole community here,” said Pat Carlson, Wally Zick’s wife, “of very like-minded—it’s going to sound elite—but bookish, artsy, I’d say compassionate … organic foodies, the whole nine yards. It’s all transplants. It’s mostly liberals.” As for this election, and the locals, she continued, “I think they thought the liberal elite was looking down on them, and I guess, in some ways, we were. Because we couldn’t believe anybody would vote for Trump.”

Zick described a fault line here between the old and the new, the people who have lived in the county forever and the move-ins from over the Minnesota border, clustered primarily on the southwestern end of the county. “They don’t come here,” Zick said. “We don’t go there.”

“We don’t know them,” Carlson, 72, said.

“I could ask them, ‘Why did you vote for Trump?’” Zick said. “Then what would I do about it?”

“You don’t want to make them mad,” Carlson said. …

Katherine J. Cramer, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, recently wrote a book about this. The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker came out just last March. It’s based on research she did from 2007 to 2012, when she essentially kept inviting herself to informal but regular gatherings of people in more than two dozen rural communities around the state—and listened. For decades, Wisconsin has been politically malleable, but the window for Cramer’s work ended up being particularly fascinating and telling. When she started, the state had a Democratic governor and two Democrats in the U.S. Senate, and its voters had picked a Democrat for president in four straight elections; by the time she finished, Democrat Russ Feingold had lost his 18-year spot in the U.S. Senate, and Wisconsin’s governor was Scott Walker, a union-busting, public-employee-attacking Republican. In her book, she wrote about “rural consciousness” and “multifaceted resentment against cities.”

But even Cramer was surprised by the extent of the resentment stemming from a growing rural-urban divide, and now its consequences. “I did go into the evening saying that Hillary Clinton was going to win,” she admitted to me. The reason Clinton lost: “It’s people looking around,” Cramer said, “and then making the assessment that their way of life is under threat.”

“It feels like somebody is coming from the outside and changing their world,” said the area’s state senator, Kathleen Vinehout, a Democrat. It feels that way because it is that way.

“People are wondering just what their place will be in this 21st-century global economy,” said the congressman who represents western Wisconsin, Democrat Ron Kind. “This is very unsettling for a lot of folks.”

“It’s more than the loss of a job or a wage,” Cramer added. “It’s the death of an expectation of a certain kind of life. … Across society, what’s seen as up and coming, successful, whatever you want to call it—it’s not you anymore.”

And what I heard in Pepin County, again and again, is that they’ve had it. In conversation after conversation with people who have lived here forever and who voted for Trump, some people were more measured and diplomatic than others—but the same blunt, base feelings kept coming up.

“Where’s the richest place to live?” said Gerald Bauer, 74, born and raised on a local dairy farm, who now is the vice chairperson of the county board of supervisors. “The area around Washington, D.C.—that’s wrong.”

And here these city people have come, with their money and their politics, right to Pepin County, which now has its very own liberal left coast. “The ones that move in try to change everything,” said Gary Samuelson, 72, “and the people who’ve been here a long time don’t care too much for change.”

“They don’t share our views on anything,” Vic Komisar, 41, the president of the ATV club, said of the people from Minnesota. “They got this picture that we’re all country bumpkins, the locals are, that we’re not educated. The people who move in talk down to the natives. I don’t know how you want to word that, but that’s the persona given off.”

Komisar said he frowned upon some of Trump’s rhetoric, calling him an “oddball.” But one thing he liked a lot: “I think he’s going to stand his ground on—how the hell do I want to word this?—I don’t think he’s gonna get ran over by the social agenda.” He cited gay marriage, the legalization of marijuana and Black Lives Matter. “It shouldn’t be center stage with troops overseas and the economy. We got other things to worry about than Black Lives Matter having a protest. Come on—we got bigger issues. To me, that’s what it’s been for eight years. I’m not a racist. I’m not a homophobe. I’m not any of those things. But OK, you guys have your rights—can we move on?”


When these feelings collide with politics, it’s the Democratic Party that tends to take the hit. Once, the party was a coalition of farmers and workers and union members, along with urbanites and minorities. A lot of farmers in Pepin County come from longstanding Democratic families. But over time, the party has come to represent a way of seeing America with which people here have trouble identifying.

John Andrews, 68, was the sheriff in Pepin County for 28 years. He is a Republican. He used to be a Democrat, though—and not just any Democrat, but the boss of the Pepin County Democrats, the position currently held by Bruce Johnson. Andrews told me he switched parties in the mid-2000s after the newcomers started coming to the meetings. “They actually took over the party,” he said.

He agrees with Komisar’s opinion concerning the overemphasis on “the social agenda.”

“When the people came in—and the things that they were trying to push on the rest of us—that’s why I left,” Andrews added. “I didn’t want to deal with these people. I didn’t want to be a part of what they were a part of. You’re talking about people from the Cities who are very progressive. I call them tree-huggers, a bunch of tree-huggers. They referred to us, meaning the people who’ve lived here and worked here all our lives, as a bunch of hicks. They just think they’re a little bit better than everybody else, and that we’re not as smart.”