Category: Wisconsin politics

Another needed reform

Forbes interviewed state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R–Brookfield):

Occupational licensing, the requirement that individuals gain government permission before entering certain professions, creates substantial barriers to work and limits economic opportunity. This reality is acknowledged by those with ideological viewpoints  as diverse as President Obama and Senator Mike Lee.

Despite a growing momentum for change, it remains difficult to pass effective reforms. Many established businesses and trade associations support higher government-imposed barriers to entry because increased costs limit their competition.

Wisconsin stands out as one of the few states that overcame opposition and passed meaningful occupational licensing reforms . Last year, Representative Dale Kooyenga sponsored a bill that stopped local governments from creating new occupational licenses or levying additional fees. This was a welcome first step because occupations including Christmas tree sellers and secondhand dealers currently require licenses in a number of Wisconsin communities. If this reform was passed a decade ago, it is estimated that 100 fewer occupations across the state would require a local license. …

Jared Meyer: When did you first realize that occupational licensing made it harder for people to start working?

Dale Kooyenga: I’m the son of a garbage man, so I had to figure out how to pay for my college after high school graduation. As a result, I attended a two-year college before enrolling in a small private college in Wisconsin. When I arrived, the guidance counselor told me that my anticipated graduation date would be May 2002. I corrected him and pointed out that I was on track to graduate in four years, or in May 2001.

But I was mistaken. Wisconsin, like most other states, passed a law that required all certified professional accounting candidates to have 150 credits (approximately five years of courses), effective January 2001. I did the quick math—$30,000 for tuition plus $45,000 in a year of lost income—and found that the new law was going to cost me $75,000. As a result, I doubled up on my class load, took summer classes, and barely graduated in the three and a half years that allowed me to be grandfathered in under the old standards.

Since I was elected as a legislator, I have had the opportunity to meet many middle- to low-income citizens who face limited work opportunities because of licensing. These people are hardworking, but government-imposed burdens make it too costly or time consuming to start working. Stories like this are common as one in five Wisconsinites needs a license to work. This is why a major focus of my years in the Wisconsin Assembly has been on rolling back occupational licensing injustices.

JM: Based on your experience in Wisconsin, what advice do you have for policymakers who want to reform occupational licensing in their states?

DK: The simple question to ask when evaluating licenses is, “Is the license and related education and training the only way to provide clear consumer health and safety protection?” If not, the requirements should fall or go away completely. Because of this, it is tempting for legislators to attempt to pass a large licensing reform bill—one that immediately ends dozens of unnecessary licenses or reduces education or experience requirements across-the-board.

But this approach provides an opportunity for special-interest groups to unite with other special-interest groups against the single bill. Established businesses want higher barriers to entry so that they face lower levels of competition . They have a financial stake in maintaining the status quo.

Comprehensive licensing reform bills will rarely pass because the opposition is simply too strong. I have found it more effective to first play defense by stopping new licenses and other associated requirements. I also select very specific, particularly egregious examples to pass narrow bills that eliminate individual licenses or lower the education and experience requirements.

JM: I noticed that your bill did ban municipalities from licensing one occupation—photographers. This must be one of your particularly egregious licensing examples. People seriously needed government’s permission to take pictures for a living?

DK: Yes, believe it or not, the city of Milwaukee required a license to take photos . As a pragmatic move, our bill banned local units of government from creating new licenses. But beyond that, we thought it was important to highlight examples of what we were banning. This is why we specifically said in the bill that no city could require a license for photography. Photography clearly poses no threat to public safety.

JM: What do you think is the next step for occupational licensing reform in Wisconsin?

DK: We need to continue eliminating individual licenses and making sure that our education and experience requirements are not outliers. For example, if 20 states can get by without licensing midwives, Wisconsin does not need to require 730 days of professional training to work in that profession.

I am also working with other states to establish licensing reciprocity. This will allow individuals to offer their services from state to state without jumping through the bureaucratic hoops of obtaining separate licenses in every state that they operate in. This especially helps families that move often such as military families, which I am sensitive to as a Captain in the U.S. Army Reserves.

There is a lot more to do in Wisconsin, but I am proud that we can serve as an example of how successful licensing reform sets the table for continued progress. …

Each occupational license creates its own set of entrenched interests. For proof, look no further than the nationwide push to license interior designers. When all the various factions band together behind the façade of public safety, reforms go nowhere. To get the ball rolling and restore sanity to occupational licensing, state policymakers can follow Representative Kooyenga’s lead.

TWTYTW 2016

As I have been doing for most of the past two decades in one medium or another, I bring you That Was the Year That Was …

… 2016, as strange and unpredictable a year as has existed during my lifetime at least.

Consider this: In three weeks, Donald Trump will be president. Almost no one predicted this, and I question the seriousness of anyone who did. Trump was a major Democratic donor whose positions (depending on the time of day) didn’t really match the GOP mainstream. He won a plurality of GOP primary votes, but trailed basically every day of the race, and made enough gaffes to make one question whether he was trying to sabotage his own campaign. And to a majority of voters in enough states to top 270 electoral votes, it didn’t matter.

That’s because Trump’s voters were, and are, angry with political correctness, being called racist for daring to criticize Barack Obama and sexist for daring to criticize Hillary Clinton, and angry with a political establishment more concerned with staying in office than fixing this country’s problems (if in fact they can be fixed). Black Lives Matter helped elect Trump, and so did for that matter one of the worst major-party presidential candidates of all time in an arrogant, too-smart-for-you campaign that blew off states that Clinton should have won.

Want to know why Trump won? Jon Caldara counts the reasons:

Watching this meltdown, it’s clear the anti-Trumpies aren’t just poor losers. They don’t get that Trump won because, in great part, they had been such poor winners. The hard-edged progressive left just can’t help but do a dance in the public policy end zone. The Trump victory was the ref’s flag for “excessive celebration.”

It’s not that the left won gay marriage (which I support), it’s that they destroyed bakers who, for their religious convictions, wouldn’t bake cakes for the victors.

It’s not that they passed a federal takeover of health care, it’s that they just had to force nuns to pay for birth control sinful to their core beliefs.

It’s not that they imposed massive environmental and energy restrictions, or even that they went around the Constitution to do it by presidential fiat. It’s that they insultingly label those who’ve come to a different conclusion on global warming as “deniers.”

I could go on and on.

Every time I witness another example of how Trump-phobes help Trump, that little thought surfaces and rings like a bell — “And that’s why Trump won.”

It happens so often, I’m launching it as its own hashtag: #ATWTW.

My daughter comes home from school and tells me how the teacher taught how we need raise taxes, and the bell rings, #ATWTW.

I hear reporters and activists talk about the need to “end gun violence” instead of saying what we all know they mean, “gun control,” #ATWTW.

Boulder passes a soda tax, #ATWTW. “Minorities can’t be racist,” #ATWTW. University speech codes, #ATWTW. “There is a consensus on climate change,” #ATWTW. (If there really was a consensus, he wouldn’t have won.)

The media still has no clue they were a driving force for Trump. I’m an avid public radio listener and this year they went into anti-Trump overdrive, completely oblivious to the possibility their sticky-sweet, politically correct story telling was driving people to, not away from, Trump.

How many #ATWTWs do you encounter every day?

Unfortunately, Trump will disappoint conservatives (including his weird bromance with Putin, who is not this country’s friend) even as he terrifies liberals. Trump’s inability to speak (including tweet) before thinking and his, well, mixed work since the election should not make conservatives optimistic at all.

There were accusations the Russians “hacked” the election, explained by Tim Nerenz:

So a Swede living under Ecuadorian asylum in Britain releases a trove of emails which proved a campaign funded by Saudis rigged the Democrat primaries and the Presidential debates with the help of American journalists, while a Hungarian emigrant paid Mexican thugs to assault rival supporters at rallies. This is called “Russian hacking”.

Sorry, I am not mad at the Russians. I am not buying it until I see some evidence – you know, like emails that discuss illegal and unethical violations of law and regulation, maybe a money trail through a bogus front organization, or perhaps a couple dozen classified documents on a pedophile’s laptop would be convincing.

Or how about a statistical analysis of California’s machine count anomalies that show the absurdity of the reported Trump victory….oh, wait, that was Clinton’s win over Sanders in the primary…never mind. We’ll just go with the President’s word on this one: “if you like your Russian hack you can keep your Russian hack…period.” That worked so well for health care.

Putin is the big threat to our Constitutional Republic? Really? Did he fabricate those thousands of duplicate ballots found in the Detroit recount? Did Vlad send all those death threats to electors across the country to scare them off from voting Trump? Why would the Russians want to steal the election away from the sickly globalist whose money laundering Foundation they had already greased for favors and hand it over to the combative America First guy with way too much swag and a fondness for Israel? This makes no sense, but then again, neither did that YouTube video explanation, the last bogus excuse to come from the Clinton camp when she biffed a slam dunk with Arab Spring.

News flash: governments and digital mercenaries have been attempting to hack into every computer and phone in the world every day for the past 15 years – millions of times per day. There is even an Army recruiting commercial on TV that shows our soldiers thwarting the attempts – no need to attend the daily briefing to know the score. Whoever it was that stole the e-mails exposing Democrat corruption and malfeasance were able to do so because of the ignorance, arrogance, gross incompetence, and criminality of five prominent Democrats – Clinton, Aberdin, Podesta, Wasserman-Shultz, and Weiner. I have not seen any of those names on the back of an NHL or Olympic hockey jersey, so I am quite certain they are not Russian. These are Democrats who mucked it up by what they did, not because we found out, and they blame everyone else when it didn’t work – par for the course.

But I have to say that I am quite pleased that those posers are not going to be managing our nation’s secrets and appointing our top national security team. President Obama’s own crack national security apparatus is still unable to determine who hacked the computers of Sony, Department of Defense, Healthcare.gov, and half a dozen central banks around the world and they are the same guys and gals who are unable to unlock an iPhone. But they are suddenly certain about this international election hacking caper, the one where Assange has already identified the leak source who surprise-surprise turned up dead two days later.

President Obama has retaliated by expelling Russian “diplomats” and closing two safe-houses he has allowed to operate for years with impunity. He did not care when espionage was being directed against American interests, and he did not act when the first accusations of electoral manipulation were raised in July and it was Trump who was the suspected victim. In fact, he scoffed at the stupidity of Trump’s people who suggested the election could be manipulated. This is the same President who sent teams of ACORN people and gobs of money to Israel and Canada to hack their elections – and bragged about it.

Obama only got his hackles up when his own personal engagement in the Presidential campaign failed to deliver the black vote to Hillary and his legacy was bruised when she lost. Even Putin sees through the ruse and is not taking the bait. Obama is shamelessly dropping a turd in Trump’s punch bowl and hoping to provoke a confrontation sufficient to wake the anti-war left out of their 8-year partisan coma. We were warned against electing a petty and vindictive narcissist with no experience, but we did it anyway…in 2008.

Less than 39% of the American people believe the President’s claim that Russians hacked the election – rejecting Obama/Clinton for the second month in a row. And that is because more than 61% of Americans are smarter than the liberal Ivy Leaguers in government and media who look down their noses at us with disgust and pity. Our election was not hacked, but our government has been – by partisans, ideologues, unionists, globalists, and a puppet press who have completely disgraced themselves over the past year of pimping for The Her.

Trump’s election means the end of Barack Obama, of whom Courtney Kirchoff writes:

Respectfully, you sir are both the discourteous denizen who deserts dog excrement to be stepped in, and the excrement itself. You may wonder how someone can embody both human and dung forms simultaneously, but then I wonder how a human being with such a deplorable (to borrow Hillary’s expression) character could ever be president. Mysteries both. …

Rather than maintain appearances for the sake of America’s greatest ally in the Middle East, rather than protect America’s friend from the gutter-dwelling gangsters of the UN, instead of allowing the next administration to smoothly transition into international affairs, you visited your favorite manicurist. Drew your twiddling fingers from satin gloves. Offered your digits for a fine polishing. Then flipped both middle fingers to the Jewish state.

Was I surprised? No. For unlike your most fawning admirers, I am not a spinning-wheel bound gerbil, taking news from a self-serving drip bottle. For years I’ve witnessed your reluctance to string both “terrorism” and “Islam” into the same sentence. Even after the Paris terrorist attacks. Then Belgium. San Bernardino. I could go on, but why? You know what moves your frigid heart better than anyone. What pulls at your heart strings is not a small, successful first world democracy amidst the barbaric third world Islamic nations. No, no. What causes you to drop your pompous head in sadness is how an unapologetically Jewish state is outperforming its Islamic neighbors. Both economically and morally. Despite its Muslim neighbors (your pals) actively calling for its destruction.

You cannot bear to see success in any form, much less when that success has been… Jewish. Not when you, an Islamic sympathizer (allegedly?), believes the future does not belong to those who mock Muhammad.

You, Barack Obama, are a sad, pathetic, scrawny little man. That’s more than a potshot against your affinity for denim worn better by matriarchs. I’m targeting your character. It is one thing to harbor a personal animosity toward Israel. It’s one thing to personally believe the Jews are in the wrong. It is an entirely different notion to leverage the Presidency of the United States as a vessel for your seething hatred. That’s crossing a line. A red line. …

Well good riddance, you festering pile of pulsating fecal zits. You are not America’s pride, you’re our embarrassment. Our downfall. Our one small step backward, one giant leap forward for narcissism. You didn’t bring us hope or change. You didn’t create a legacy worth protecting. You ushered in intolerance for people who don’t think as you do. You embodied hatred for those who believed in a God who was not Muhammad. You actively made America, and by extension the world, less safe. You did all of this while touring the globe on America’s generous dime, while enjoying the riches the office of the presidency allowed. An office you used to undermine America’s ally. You did all of this knowingly, purposefully, with a smug countenance better displayed on a barroom dartboard.

May you enter the history books for exactly what you are: the first American President to undermine America at every possible opportunity. Out of spite. Out of pettiness. Out of an angry, massive ego.

The worst trend of the year was the continuing deification of politicians, including Trump, Hillary, Obama, Scott Walker and too many more to list here. They all suck. The ones I vote for may suck less than others. Politicians suck, and government sucks at every level. (As the FUBARed-up street project behind my house that included not linking the house to the new sewer system demonstrated earlier this year.)

The second, and related, worst trend of the year is the inability of people to be civil about politics, which is a direct result of government and politics’ taking far too large a role in our lives. Stupidities such as calling Charlie Sykes a RINO because he didn’t bow down to Trump make you wish that the last prediction of the Apocalypse was accurate.

While Trump tended to gobble up all the attention, the MacIver Institute found 10 undercovered stories this year:

10. Referendum Voters Around the State Increase Their Own Taxes

Our #10 most under-reported story of 2016 is the increase in the number of referendums where voters are increasingly approving local spending increases and essentially raising their own property taxes.

For example, of the 71 referendums on the April 5 ballot, voters approved 55 of them, giving school districts a total of $630.6 million in new spending power. Voters rejected only 16 referendums, a 77 percent passage rate – keeping with recent trends.

A MacIver Institute analysis also found that referendums held during Gov. Walker’s administration have increased in number, decreased in price tag, and have been far more likely to pass.

Legislators were concerned some school districts were up to no good by holding referendums on low turnout elections or placing them on the ballot during consecutive elections until they finally pass. The author of one piece of legislation intended to limit such tactics, Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), considers these to be dirty tricks intended to bypass the will of a majority of voters, particularly if a referendum initially fails.

In the end, assuming these referendums are held in a fair and democratic way, it’s ultimately up to local voters to be informed about the merits of the ballot questions and make the decision they think is best.

9. Republicans Roll Out Ambitious Agenda

When Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republicans rolled out their Better Way agenda back in June, the smart money in the media was on Hillary Clinton easily defeating Donald Trump in the November election. President Clinton would use her veto pen to stop any Better Way legislation, so what would be the point of giving any ink or airtime to the ideas contained within that agenda?

Well, that didn’t happen. Instead, President-elect Donald Trump will take office in January along with an all-GOP Congress. Right now, while everyone seems to be getting along, it’s likely that many of the ideas in the Better Way agenda – including tax reform, health care, the Constitution, the economy, national security, and poverty – will be signed into law by President-elect Donald Trump.

Brush up on the Better Way agenda and see what kind of legislation Congress is likely to put on President Trump’s desk next year.

8. The Left’s War on Free Speech

Receiving scant mainstream media coverage, the left’s ongoing crusade to stamp out free speech continued to grow more fervent in 2016. Democratic attorneys general banded together to intimidate climate change skeptics, including attempting to illegally seize private documents from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Then in July, 19 Senate Democrats took to the floor of the U.S. Senate in a fascist attempt to publicly intimidate and silence groups opposed to their policy positions. In response, the MacIver Institute joined the American Legislative Exchange Council and other groups from around the country in co-signing a letter fiercely defending the fundamental right to free speech of all Americans.

Joe McCarthy would’ve been proud of Senate Democrats for their Putin-like tactics.

Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin, the effects of the John Doe probe still linger. In that ordeal, conservative activists had their homes raided and possessions seized in an attempt by some in government to use the heavy hand of the law to intimidate their political opponents.

Hopefully 2017 brings a new era of toleration for ideas from all sides of the debate, even the ones liberal-progressive officials don’t agree with.

7. Overtime Rule Threatens to Crush Businesses and Taxpayers

The Obama Department of Labor tried to double the overtime threshold without a single vote of Congress. First you’ve heard of it? You wouldn’t be alone – aside from a handful of fawning headlines praising the change, this major policy change and the undemocratic way the administration tried to implement it went virtually unreported in the mainstream media.

The new rule would have doubled the salary threshold to $47,500. Anyone not earning more than that would have to be paid overtime. It doesn’t take an HR professional to see the real-world impact such a drastic change would have.

It’s a classic one-size-fits-all blanket regulation because it doesn’t consider differences in the cost of living from one region to another. A bag of groceries bought in downtown Mequon does not cost the same as one bought in midtown Manhattan. The rule change was widely opposed by private and public sector employers, and it could’ve cost Wisconsin taxpayers $200 million over two years, according to one estimate.

Fortunately a federal judge in Texas blocked the rule shortly before its December 1 implementation date. It’s also increasingly likely that President-elect Trump will stop the regulation in its tracks, making this yet another part of President Obama’s cherished legacy that will go nowhere.

Future presidents who want to use their phone and pen to bypass Congress and dictate rules and regulations to the entire country should take note.

6. Crime Waves Hit Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s antiquated Unfair Sales Act, also known as the minimum markup law, managed to escape serious scrutiny in 2016. The law makes deep discounts illegal in the Badger State and requires gasoline and other items to be marked up 9.18 percent above cost.

Last year, we warned Wisconsinites about an impending Black Friday crime wave and to be on the lookout for suspiciously low prices. In 2016, multiple crime waves hit Wisconsin once again thanks to the minimum markup law, no doubt keeping the Price Police busy tracking down illegal good deals.

We warned consumers about low prices on Amazon Prime Day (which would be better described as Amazon Crime Day in Wisconsin). We also renewed our unfortunate tradition of warning Black Friday Shoppers that they should be wary of really good deals when doing their Christmas shopping.

We’re hopeful the legislation repealing the minimum markup law will be dusted off and given a long-overdue public hearing in the next legislative session.

5. Obamacare Co-Ops Fall Like Dominoes

While it’s hard to argue that Obamacare itself – notably its sky-high premium and deductible increases – received too little scrutiny, the failures of the health insurance co-ops set up under the (Un)Affordable Care Act were hardly even an afterthought.

That might be because they’re going belly-up so fast it’s hard for the media to keep up. We started 2016 with just half of the original 23 co-ops dragging themselves into the new year. At the dawn of 2017, we’re down to just four after Maryland’s Evergreen Health co-op recently threw in the towel and stopped offering plans.

Among the four is Wisconsin’s Common Ground, which secured secret funding from an undisclosed source to stay alive for a while longer. However, earlier this year we reported on a study that showed Common Ground’s ugly fiscal situation.

When a co-op fails, the consequences are worthy of media attention. Often, tens of thousands of people are kicked off their plan and forced to find new coverage. So much for “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” Hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funded financing also went down the drain with the failed co-ops.

4. Milwaukee Public Schools: The Rest of the Story

It seems MPS has a remarkable ability to sweep unsavory stories under the rug.

While the media preferred to report on the public breakdown of the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (OSPP) and touted the flowery statements by MPS about their cherry-picked successes, the behind-the-scenes political maneuvering over OSPP went largely uncovered – as did the motives of MPS leadership in successfully stymying the turnaround plan.

From the very outset, the adults running MPS made a circus out of the turnaround plan, finally leading to the resignation of OSPP administrator Demond Means before any progress could be made. In the meantime, the children trapped in failing MPS schools continue to wait for the grown-ups to get their act together and finally tackle the shameful status quo at MPS.

Another under-reported story this year was the groundbreaking report on violence against teachers at MPS by WISN’s Dan O’Donnell. The report, entitled “Blood on the Blackboard,” revealed the shocking stories of teachers who endure violence in the classroom on an almost daily basis. O’Donnell told us the story behind the report here.

Needless to say, the public at large likely remains unaware of the true problems facing MPS thanks to the deafening silence of many in the media.

3. Welfare Reforms Help Wisconsinites Find Work

One of the great success stories of recent conservative reforms was virtually brushed aside this year, so it’s worthy of one more mention as 2016 becomes 2017.

Gov. Walker’s work and training requirements for the FoodShare program went into effect in 2015, and since then they’ve led to increased wages and hours worked for participants in the FoodShare Employment Training (FSET) program. More than 14,400 people found jobs between April 2015 and August 2016.

That positive trend continuedthrough the end of the year as nearly 18,000 people had found jobs, and wages and hours continued to increase over the previous three months.

The success of FSET is a win for taxpayers, but more importantly it’s also a win for the people who are moving off government dependence to independence, a well-paying job, and the dignity that comes with work.

2. Taxpayers Keep Winning, and the Budget Hasn’t Collapsed

For Wisconsin taxpayers, 2016 was a great year, but you might not know it if you rely on your morning newspaper or nightly news report. Not only did we see that the tax burden in Wisconsin has been moving in the right direction, but that the state’s revenues are increasing.

The MacIver Institute reported that over the course of six years and three biennial budgets, a wide variety of changes to Wisconsin tax laws generated total taxpayer savings of $4.756 billion, according to an estimate by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

In February, we also released a report highlighting more than $5 billion in taxpayer savings from Act 10 during the five years since the landmark law was enacted in 2011.

Despite the all-too-predicable cries that the billions in tax relief would put government in the poorhouse and destroy any ability to pay for basic services, the sky is still up there and the lights are still on at the Capitol. In fact, the Department of Revenue estimates steady revenue growth over the next biennial budget period – an increase of $343 million in revenue for the 2016-17 fiscal year, a $448 million increase for ’17-’18, and a $482 million increase in ’18-’19.

As has been demonstrated time after time, fiscal responsibility and lowering the tax burden is a recipe for economic revival and financial success.

1. National Debt

Last year, the national debt was our top under-reported story. Just 12 short months ago, the debt was $18.8 trillion, a staggering number. …

The nation will soon cross an ominous threshold: $20 trillion in debt, by far the most debt any country has ever held in the history of the world.

Yet, it seems even many in the conservative media have brushed the debt problem under the rug. Part of President-elect Trump’s stump speech was to spend an additional trillion dollars on infrastructure. It’s not entirely clear how he plans to pay for it. Some of his supporters have said much of the money will be recovered by reforming the tax code, revitalizing the economy, and re-patriating the enormous sums of money American companies have parked overseas.

Without specifics, it should concern Americans if the plan ends up being to put the new spending on the national credit card. However, there is hope. Trump’s plans to lower tax rates, reform the tax code, and pull back on regulations could spark an economic renaissance. Many of his cabinet picks also have the potential to actually reduce the size and scope of the federal government.

It was disheartening to see an entire presidential campaign go by with hardly a mention of the massive weight of the national debt. But we’re cautiously optimistic that the new political landscape will be an opportunity to finally turn the tide on rampant deficit spending by the federal government with a long-term debt reduction plan.

At least 2017 won’t have the damnable election. (Except for the next deluge of elections, such as state Supreme Court and superintendent of public instruction.)

As always, may your 2017 be better than your 2016.

Selling guns and Republicanism since 2009

Deroy Murdock:

Four faithless electors ditched Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College on Monday, double the number who dumped Donald J. Trump. For Democrats, this was yet another collapsed floor atop the pile of smoldering rubble beneath which they have been entombed since the 9.5-magnitude tremor that Trump unleashed November 8. Democrats can thank Obama for their plight.

As Obama concludes his reign of error, his party is smaller, weaker, and more rickety than it has been since at least the 1940s. Behold the tremendous power that Democrats have frittered away — from January 2009 through the aftermath of Election Day 2016 — thanks to Obama and his ideas:

  • Democrats surrendered the White House to political neophyte Donald J. Trump.
  • U.S. Senate seats slipped from 55 to 46, down 16 percent.
  • U.S. House seats slid from 256 to 194, down 24 percent.
  • Democrats ran the U.S. Senate and House in 2009. Next year, they will control neither.
  • Governorships fell from 28 to 16, down 43 percent.
  • State legislatures (both chambers) plunged from 27 to 14, down 48 percent.
  • Trifectas (states with Democratic governors and both legislative chambers) cratered from 17 to 6, down 65 percent.

Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, eight U.S. presidents have served at least two terms or bowed to their vice-presidents due to death or resignation. Among them, Obama ranks eighth in total state legislative seats that his party preserved during his tenure. Obama has supervised the net loss of 959 such Democratic positions, down 23.5 percent, according to Ballotpedia, which generated most of the data cited here. This far outpaces the 843 net seats that Republicans yielded under President Dwight David Eisenhower.

By this measure, Ronald Reagan is No. 1. While he was president, Republicans gained six statehouse seats.

In terms of boosting his party’s state-level strength, Obama is the worst president since World War II. Reagan is the best.

For even more shocking proof of Obama’s political toxicity across his entire tenure, compare the Democrats’ eight-year net loss of 959 statehouse seats (one post higher than in the graph above, thanks to a subsequently called race) with the Republicans’ net gain of 934 seats. Democrats can chant the soothing lie that this wholesale, multi-level rejection of their party stems from “structural racism,” the legacy of Jim Crow, the immortal tentacles of slavery, or whatever other analgesic excuse they can scrounge up. The same nation that they claim cannot outgrow its bigotry somehow elected and then reelected Obama, quite comfortably. Hillary Clinton is many things, but she is not black. “Racism” does not explain her defeat.

This deep-rooted repudiation is not of Obama himself, but of Obamaism, today’s Democratic gospel.

At home, Obamaism features economic stagnation, morbidly obese and equally dysfunctional government, racial and identity fetishism, and rampant political correctness. Overseas: Shame at American preeminence fuels flaccid “leadership from behind.”

All told, 1,043 federal and state-level Democrats lost or were denied power under Obama, largely because Americans grew disgusted by such outrages as a non-stimulating $831 billion “stimulus,” eight consecutive years of economic growth below 3 percent, an 88 percent increase in the national debt, the revocation of America’s triple-A bond rating, and Obamacare’s epic flop ($2.3 trillion to finance widespread insurance-policy cancellations, 20 bankruptcies among 24 state co-ops, early retirements for experienced but exasperated doctors, and much more). Also nauseating: federal nano-management of everything from dishwashers to third-grade lunches to a national school-shower policy.

Abroad, Obamaism spawned the birth of ISIS, the deaths of U.S. personnel at Benghazi, and Iran’s relentless humiliation of America — before, during, and after Obama’s delivery of some $100 billion in unfrozen assets, including at least $1.7 billion in laundered cash, literally flown in on private jets.

“My legacy’s on the ballot,” Obama said last September. “Make no mistake,” he declared in October 2014. “These policies are on the ballot.”

Voters repeatedly have judged Obama’s agenda since 2008, and Democrats have paid the ultimate price. The political cadavers of more than a thousand Democratic incumbents and nominees, from Hillary Clinton on down, confirm that Obama is poison at the polls.

Rather than enjoy a traditional, low-key post-presidency in Chicago, Obama plans to hunker down in Washington, D.C., comment on current events, and counsel his party’s candidates and officeholders. Democrats should find this as appetizing as a dinner cooked by Typhoid Mary.

Wisconsin (and other states), not Washington

Two people from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty write about Gov. Scott Walker’s letter to Donald Trump:

America owes President Barack Obama an enormous debt of gratitude for showing how truly dangerous the federal government can be when our Constitution’s checks and balances start failing. With the active collusion of congressional Democrats, President Obama’s presidency has been one long series of body blows to the separation of powers that has protected our democracy since the founding.
The results have been stark. Never has a president trampled so much on the prerogatives of Congress. Obama’s executive orders, suspending parts of our immigration laws and even his own prized Obamacare, have been sheer usurpations, going far beyond even the breathtaking delegations of legislative authority granted by the brief Democratic supermajority in Congress in 2009–10.

Sad to say, Obama’s trampling on the prerogatives of state governments has been even more unprecedented, and potentially far more damaging. His agencies’ “Dear Colleague” letters, addressing such sensitive issues as local school districts’ bathroom policies and the standards by which institutions of higher education review claims of sexual assault, have wrested away the core functions of state leaders, local boards, and even administrators.

The separation of state and federal authority is one of the most essential principles of our Constitution. It explains the Constitution’s structural allocation of powers as much as the division between legislative, executive, and judicial functions. If we lose the separate and independent existence of state governments, we will lose our Constitution.

Hence the potentially historic importance of the initiative just announced by Governor Scott Walker, under the heading “Wisconsin, Not Washington.” This morning Governor Walker sent a letter to President-elect Trump, asking for Trump’s help in restoring the federal structure of the Constitution.

Governor Walker’s letter opens (after congratulating Trump) with a paragraph framing the issue in a way similar to how the Founders might have done it:

The question is not what functions the federal government should give back to the states, but what functions should the federal government have in the first place. The federal government was originally created to be a small, central government of limited powers, with everything else left to the states. Through years of federal overreach, this model has been turned on its head, and now is the time to right the ship. Power flows from the people to the government, not the other way around.

With an eye toward “aggressively expand[ing] opportunities for those seeking family supporting jobs,” the letter calls on the incoming Trump administration to provide various block grants and waivers to state governments. Among other suggestions, the letter calls for an executive order “directing all federal agencies to consult and coordinate federal activities with their state counterparts and to truly delegate oversight of functions and activities without mandates or strings.” It suggests that federal agencies should be required to make permitting decisions in a timely manner, just as most state agencies are required to do. The letter specifically calls for flexibility in the administration of nutritional-assistance programs, Medicaid, and the management of the state’s gray-wolf population. It highlights the need for revisions to the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards. And it calls for giving Wisconsin more ability to manage federal timberland for the benefit of the resources, wildlife, and economy of Wisconsin, not the federal government.

The Supreme Court has many times insisted that states must remain “free and independent within their proper sphere of authority.” But the Court has given the federal government almost free rein to put coercive conditions on the funds it sends the states, and to require federal-agency “permission” for states to implement federal law.

These twin levers of “coercive federalism” have resulted in a situation where federal and state governments are more integrated with each other than many independent federal agencies are with the rest of the executive branch. Today the president has more control over how states run their Medicaid programs than he has over the Federal Communications Commission. There’s definitely something wrong with that.

Democrats who fear the exercise of unbridled power by a Republican president have as much reason to want state governments kept free from federal control as Republicans do for not wanting a repeat of Obama’s constitutional abuses. We can disagree about policy issues, but we should agree on the basic meaning of our Constitution.

It is urgent to return the states’ reserved powers and responsibilities to them, as the Tenth Amendment requires. But as we do so, it’s equally important to resist the temptation of letting states take over federal functions. One of the most invidious forms of federal control is “cooperative federalism,” whereby states assume responsibility for implementing federal programs.

Instead, the federal government should be forced to implement all federal regulations itself. Constituents who fear the EPA may prefer State Implementation Plans to Federal Implementation Plans under the Clean Air Act, but either way, it’s a shakedown.

If federal bureaucrats want to regulate everything, let’s make them do it all by themselves. If they want us to do it at the state level, then they should let us do it all by ourselves.

Governor Walker’s letter closes by noting that the suggested recalibration between the federal and state governments “should only be the beginning of our efforts to return authority closer to the people.” He is absolutely right that this conversion will not happen overnight, but it is a challenge that must be tackled immediately. The separation of powers between the federal government and state governments is as important as the separation of powers between the branches of the federal government. Restoring those checks and balances is a task for all the states, and all generations of Americans.

After Sykes

Brian Fraley summarizes the Wisconsin commercial talk radio lineup after Charlie Sykes’ retirement Monday:

Charlie Sykes has retired from his radio show, but he’s not dead. He’s still going to remain an active voice for common sense conservatism here and nationally. However, his voice will no longer be a daily presence on the Wisconsin airwaves.

But don’t think for a minute that Talk Radio is dead, or dying, here.  Not even close.

First, let’s be clear, Mark Belling was and remains the dean of conservative talkers in Wisconsin. This Marconi Award-winning broadcaster has been on Newstalk 1130 WISN for more than a quarter century. He regularly fills in for Rush Limbaugh on the most-listened to show in radio history. He has shown no indication that he plans to follow Sykes’ lead and retire early.

Belling is also the godfather of Wisconsin talkers. Sykes actually first honed his skills as a fill-in for Belling, as did Jeff Wagner, who now moves up three and a half hours to fill Sykes’ Midday slot on AM620 WTMJ. Belling helped bring Jay Weber to town, and Weber’s morning show is as strong, insightful and vibrant as it ever was.

In the Milwaukee market, iheartmedia’s WISN is now giving news anchor/reporter Dan O’Donnell his own show. This is part of the competitive jockeying taking place following Sykes’ departure.

This competition should see all the hosts move to up their games, be more attuned to their listeners and more keyed into current events. The birth of O’Donnell’s show is widely anticipated by his growing fan base here (of which I consider myself a charter member) and is having a ripple effect across the WISN programming schedule. O’Donnell’s show will start airing January 3rd in the 9-11am time slot. This means for the first time, Rush Limbaugh’s national show will air live on WISN from 11-2pm. Previously it had aired on a 1-hour delay. Jay Weber will now be on from 6-9 am, and Vicki McKenna’s morning show will be trimmed and moved to 2-3pm, leading into Mark Belling. McKenna’s Madison show continues to air from 3-6pm on iheart’s WIBA am 1310 but she will no longer have to work a split-shift five days a week. I believe this will make her Milwaukee and Madison shows even stronger as well.

As I noted, WTMJ had previously announced Jeff Wagner will be moving to Sykes’ 8:30 to noon time slot, but the station has not announced who will take Wagner’s spot from noon to three. While I fear that Scripps, WTMJ’s parent company, may move away from local conservative talk in that chunk of the day, I don’t believe this is the start of a trend. Even though neither of the two big news-talk stations in the biggest market in the state are locally-owned, they both remain committed to having local voices that address local issues. Don’t underestimate Wagner, by the way. A former federal prosecutor and GOP nominee for Attorney General he brings a real-world conservative perspective to his show, and while his approach is different than those of the other hosts, he connects with his audience. He has big shoes to fill, but with two decades of his own in the medium, he’s well-positioned to hit the ground running.

Jerry Bader continues to helm his show at WTAQ from 8:30 to 11am, but where he is now a freelancer and not a station employee. Bader recently announced he’d taken a position as Communications Director at Media Trackers. Bader’s show, which maintains a good blend of state and local topics,  remains simulcast on Wausau’s WSAU and Sheboygan’s WHBL.

Now, liberals who read this will complain “But what about a left-leaning show?”  Well, as we’re seeing with the market disruption caused by Sykes’ departure, the marketplace decides the winners and losers. If the left in Wisconsin could create an entertaining and informative liberal talk show that could grow and sustain an audience, it would survive. But, to date, such a show and such an audience have not materialized. Meanwhile emerging center-right voices like WHBY’s Josh Dukelow in Appleton continue to show some promise.

What makes conservative talk work, and why is it so impactful in Wisconsin? It starts with provocative and insightful hosts who do their homework and are willing to engage the audience. Lawmakers and opinion leaders help boost these shows by appearing on them and providing the hosts with news leaks and their own insight, because they recognize the importance of their audiences. Finally, audience engagement is key. Amen corner shows are boring and only serve to feed the ego of a host. When callers can bring their own perspective and engage the host in an honest-to-goodness dialogue and debate, these shows are at their entertaining and informative best. The intimacy of radio provides a great opportunity to establish a relationship with the audience.

Broadcasters who have done both radio and television know this to be true: People recognize you from television, but they know you from radio. As the career retrospective shows Sykes ran in his final weeks prove, these relationships are sincere and the connection runs deep.
As for the conservative presence online, Sykes informs me he will continue to publish RightWisconsin’s daily email newsletter and maintain the website, separate from Scripps. Media Trackers, Wisconsin Watchdog and the MacIver News Service will continue their efforts as well. I expect O’Donnell will do some great things on iheartradio.com and would fully expect other new entitities to emerge, too.

No more Midday

In one-half hour WTMJ radio’s Charlie Sykes will air his final “Midday with Charlie Sykes.”

Sykes wrote for the New York Times:

I’m not leaving because of the rise of Donald J. Trump (my reasons are personal), but I have to admit that the campaign has made my decision easier. The conservative media is broken and the conservative movement deeply compromised.

In April, after Mr. Trump decisively lost the Wisconsin Republican primary, I had hoped that we here in the Midwest would turn out to be a firewall of rationality. Our political culture was distinctly inhospitable to Mr. Trump’s divisive, pugilistic style; the conservatives who had been successful here had tended to be serious, reform-oriented and able to express their ideas in more than 140 characters. But in November, Wisconsin lined up with the rest of the Rust Belt to give the presidency to Mr. Trump.

How on earth did that happen?

Before this year, I thought I had a relatively solid grasp on what conservatism stood for and where it was going. Over the previous decade, I helped advance the careers of conservatives like House Speaker Paul D. Ryan; Gov. Scott Walker; Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee; and Senator Ron Johnson. In 2010, conservatives won big majorities in the Wisconsin State Legislature, and I openly supported many of their reforms, including changes to collective bargaining and expansions of school choice.

In short, I was under the impression that conservatives actually believed things about free trade, balanced budgets, character and respect for constitutional rights. Then along came this campaign.

On the surface, the explanations for Mr. Trump’s improbable win in Wisconsin are simple enough: He won big margins in rural, blue-collar counties and won the pivotal Green Bay area by double digits. But he underperformed Mitt Romney in the vote-rich Milwaukee suburbs and ended up getting fewer votes in victory than Mr. Romney received in his 2012 defeat. Hillary Clinton, however, got about 39,000 fewer votes in heavily Democratic Milwaukee County than President Obama did four years earlier. Democrats simply stayed home, though that is obviously not the whole story.

That is what I saw, and this is what it might mean for the future of conservatism. When I wrote in August 2015 that Mr. Trump was a cartoon version of every left-wing media stereotype of the reactionary, nativist, misogynist right, I thought that I was well within the mainstream of conservative thought — only to find conservative Trump critics denounced for apostasy by a right that decided that it was comfortable with embracing Trumpism. But in Wisconsin, conservative voters seemed to reject what Mr. Trump was selling, at least until after the convention.

To be sure, some of my callers embraced Mr. Trump’s suggestion for a ban on Muslims entering the country and voiced support for a proposal to deport all Muslims — even citizens. One caller compared American Muslims to rabid dogs. But right to the end, relatively few of my listeners bought into the crude nativism Mr. Trump was selling at his rallies.

What they did buy into was the argument that this was a “binary choice.” No matter how bad Mr. Trump was, my listeners argued, he could not possibly be as bad as Mrs. Clinton. You simply cannot overstate this as a factor in the final outcome. As our politics have become more polarized, the essential loyalties shift from ideas, to parties, to tribes, to individuals. Nothing else ultimately matters.

In this binary tribal world, where everything is at stake, everything is in play, there is no room for quibbles about character, or truth, or principles. If everything — the Supreme Court, the fate of Western civilization, the survival of the planet — depends on tribal victory, then neither individuals nor ideas can be determinative. I watched this play out in real time, as conservatives who fully understood the threat that Mr. Trump posed succumbed to the argument about the Supreme Court. As even Mr. Ryan discovered, neutrality was not acceptable; if you were not for Mr. Trump, then you were for Mrs. Clinton.

The state of our politics also explains why none of the revelations, outrages or gaffes seemed to dent Mr. Trump’s popularity.

In this political universe, voters accept that they must tolerate bizarre behavior, dishonesty, crudity and cruelty, because the other side is always worse; the stakes are such that no qualms can get in the way of the greater cause.

For many listeners, nothing was worse than Hillary Clinton. Two decades of vilification had taken their toll: Listeners whom I knew to be decent, thoughtful individuals began forwarding stories with conspiracy theories about President Obama and Mrs. Clinton — that he was a secret Muslim, that she ran a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor. When I tried to point out that such stories were demonstrably false, they generally refused to accept evidence that came from outside their bubble. The echo chamber had morphed into a full-blown alternate reality silo of conspiracy theories, fake news and propaganda.

And this is where it became painful. Even among Republicans who had no illusions about Mr. Trump’s character or judgment, the demands of that tribal loyalty took precedence. To resist was an act of betrayal.

And then, there was social media. Unless you have experienced it, it’s difficult to describe the virulence of the Twitter storms that were unleashed on Trump skeptics. In my timelines, I found myself called a “cuckservative,” a favorite gibe of white nationalists; and someone Photoshopped my face into a gas chamber. Under the withering fire of the trolls, one conservative commentator and Republican political leader after another fell in line.

How had we gotten here?

One staple of every radio talk show was, of course, the bias of the mainstream media. This was, indeed, a target-rich environment. But as we learned this year, we had succeeded in persuading our audiences to ignore and discount any information from the mainstream media. Over time, we’d succeeded in delegitimizing the media altogether — all the normal guideposts were down, the referees discredited.

That left a void that we conservatives failed to fill. For years, we ignored the birthers, the racists, the truthers and other conspiracy theorists who indulged fantasies of Mr. Obama’s secret Muslim plot to subvert Christendom, or who peddled baseless tales of Mrs. Clinton’s murder victims. Rather than confront the purveyors of such disinformation, we changed the channel because, after all, they were our allies, whose quirks could be allowed or at least ignored.

We destroyed our own immunity to fake news, while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right.

This was not mere naïveté. It was also a moral failure, one that now lies at the heart of the conservative movement even in its moment of apparent electoral triumph. Now that the election is over, don’t expect any profiles in courage from the Republican Party pushing back against those trends; the gravitational pull of our binary politics is too strong.

I’m only glad I’m not going to be a part of it anymore.

The Cap Times (formerly The Capital Times when it was a daily newspaper) wrote a profile of Sykes that includes obligatory smacking-around from liberals I won’t dignify with their response, and one “conservative” who should know better:

In a Nov. 16 email sent to a long list of politicians and media outlets, Republican activist and Wisconsin Conservative Digest publisher Bob Dohnal referred to Sykes and other “Never Trump” conservatives as “Judas goats” and “Benedict Arnolds.”

“Let them swing slowly, slowly in the wind,” Dohnal wrote. “Do not be scared of these clowns, call them, kick them in the knees or other places. They cannot use their radio shows to persecute, you the FCC and their owners do not like that and they do not like lawsuits. These clowns should not set the agenda for the Conservatives.”

I was unaware that conservatives lost our First Amendment rights with Trump’s election Nov. 8.

One non-conservative quoted:

Bill Lueders, longtime news editor for Madison’s Isthmus and now associate editor of The Progressive, wrote some pieces for Milwaukee Magazine during Sykes’ tenure there. He credits a letter of recommendation from Sykes for helping him land the Isthmus job in 1986. …

Lueders also notes Sykes’ defense of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, which Republicans targeted in the 2013-15 state budget. Lueders worked for WCIJ for four years.

“He wrote a piece in strong support of the Center, against this attack that was brought by the Legislature, not by the governor — in fact, it was Gov. Walker who vetoed it from the bill after lots of people, including Sykes, got up in arms about it,” Lueders says. …

Lueders says he enjoys watching Sykes on MSNBC.

“He’s always articulate and thoughtful,” Lueders says. “I think he makes conservatives look good and I think he makes Wisconsin look good. What’s not to like?”

Readers know that I occasionally appeared on “Sunday Insight with Charlie Sykes,” which I miss. I also occasionally butted heads with Lueders on Wisconsin Public Radio. (One segment might have been the most fractious in WPR’s history, but we were able to laugh about it once we met face to face some time later.) My opinion is that viewpoints aren’t really worth much if you’re not willing to debate them, including in potentially hostile environments.

The state deficit caused by excessive spending

Legislative Republicans are debating between themselves whether or not to raise the state gas tax and vehicle registration fees, opposed by Gov. Scott Walker, to fund new road construction.

Before they decide to do that, they may want to read Jerry Bader:

While Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature argue over whether a gas tax increase is needed to pay for road repair, one GOP lawmaker is making the case that millions of dollars can be saved at the State Department of Transportation. DOT secretary Mark Gottlieb was grilled by lawmakers on the Assembly Transportation committee on December 6 over Governor Scott Walker’s plan not to raise gas taxes or vehicle fees. Walker has instead proposed closing a two-year, one-billion-dollar budget gap through borrowing and project delays, a plan Gottlieb defended. But West Allis Republican State Representative Joe Sanfelippo said in an interview this week that tens of millions can be saved from DOT spending and that lawmakers should look there first before raising any taxes or fees.

Sanfelippo’s questions to Gottlieb on agency spending received sparse coverage in the media. But Sanfelippo has been examining DOT practices for years and he says cutting wasteful spending could save tens of millions of dollars. Sanfelippo says lawmakers don’t even know how much money they would need to raise in taxes and fees because no one is looking at the money the department has now and what they’re spending. He gives several examples:

  • Sanfelippo says in two major projects in the Milwaukee area, the Zoo Interchange reconstruction and the Hoan Bridge, the DOT chose to use stainless steel rebar in the concrete, as opposed to the epoxy coated iron rebar that is commonly used. Sanfelippo says the stainless-steel rebar costs 250% more than the iron rebar. Sanfelippo says Gottlieb told him the intent was to have the bridge deck last as long as the bridge structure. But Sanfelippo says the stainless steel will long outlive the concrete structures. He says between those two projects the difference was $28 million for an item Sanfelippo argues was unnecessary. Sanfelippo says he’s continuing to investigate to determine how many times the stainless-steel rebar has been used in projects around the state.
  • New traffic signals that the DOT claims are safer but Sanfelippo is dubious. He says the DOT is replacing the long-used “trombone arm” style traffic lights with large, costlier “monotubes.” Sanfelippo says the DOT spent $57.5 million more in the past five years on 1,100 of the monotube units than would have been needed for the traditional traffic lights. Sanfelippo says the DOT’s claims that the new design is safer go no further than claiming “studies show…” Sanfelippo says he’s asked to see those studies but has never been provided specifics.
  • Purchasing cards: Sanfelippo says hundreds of DOT employees have access to “purchasing cards,” which he describes as essentially being credit cards. Sanfelippo says employees can use the cards to make purchases that don’t go through the normal procurement process. Sanfelippo says tens of millions of dollars are being spent by employees using these cards with “no checks and balances. “There are individuals on this list spending three hundred thousand, four hundred thousand, five hundred thousand dollars annually on these purchasing cards.” Sanfelippo says when the cards were developed in the 1990’s they were intended for “small purchases.” He asks: “how can you have $500,000 a year, in small purchases, for just one year. Sanfelippo stresses that he is not alleging wrongdoing. But he wonders what auditing procedures are in place to “watch all this money going out the door” and to make sure it’s being used properly.

Sanfelippo says that the DOT, in effect, is spending money on top of the line items and then “at the same time they’re telling us they’re broke and they can’t afford to continue their road construction projects that we need done, it just doesn’t make sense.” Further, he believes the DOT needs to account for the money spent on the purchasing cards before any revue increases are approved by lawmakers. And Sanfelippo says these items are the tip of the iceberg, while already totaling well into the tens of millions of dollars.

And Sanfelippo says these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. “We’re not talking nickels and dimes here. Every one of these items are millions and millions of dollars.” Sanfelippo says he has binders full of other examples. And Sanfelippo says the legislature needs to examine those costs before starting any discussion on revenue increases.

You would think $86 million (the total in Sanfelippo’s three examples) would have been better used on road projects.

And speaking of WisDOT employees, Owen Robinson adds:

I wrote about this fact last May when this issue flared up again and it has not changed. A look at the Reason Foundation’s most recent 21st annual highway report shows Wisconsin is spending way more than comparable states.

For example, Wisconsin and Minnesota have almost the same number of highway miles at 11,766 and 11,833, respectively. They also have almost the same number of lane miles. They are both cold-weather states with a major metropolitan area. In terms of total spending on roads, Minnesota spends just over $132,000 per state-controlled mile. Wisconsin spends 72 percent more for a total of almost $227,000 per mile.

Breaking down the numbers is even more interesting. Wisconsin spends 25 percent more on administrative costs, but actually spends 38 percent less on maintenance. The big difference comes with construction. Wisconsin is spending 75 percent more than Minnesota for every new mile of road. In summary, Wisconsin spends a lot more money on administration and construction, but less on maintenance than Minnesota. That is a difference in priorities.

To think of it another way, if Wisconsin just lowered its spending to the same amount per mile as Minnesota and prioritized maintenance over construction, it would save Wisconsin $1.1 billion per year and solve the transportation budget problem overnight while leaving a surplus to return to the taxpayers.

Sanfelippo is not new to this subject. M.D. Kittle reports:

Before Republicans join Democrats in selling motorists tax and fee hikes for the privilege of driving on Wisconsin roads, one conservative lawmaker wants to detour the taxing conversation.

State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, said not every Republican is jumping on board the revenue-hike train to “fix” a transportation budget shortfall nearing $1 billion. He and other conservatives are calling for a thorough review of how the Badger State builds and pays for its transportation projects.

“There are so many things we can enact in transportation, from how we fund projects to how we finance them to how we build them,” the lawmaker said, insisting there are significant cost savings to be had. “This isn’t pie in the sky stuff. All we have to do is look at other states.”

Sanfelippo’s office has put together a white paper on alternative building and financing ideas, including telling the federal government what it can do with its strings-attached shared transportation funds. …

In his white paper, Sanfelippo proposes the state research the savings of a design-build-finance method in which the design-builder assumes responsibility for the brunt of the design work, all construction tasks, short-term financing and the risk of providing the suite of services for a fixed fee.

“The model takes advantage of the efficiencies of design-build and also allows the project sponsor to completely or partially defer financing during the construction phase,” the white paper states.

As of January, more than 40 states – including California and Texas – had “authorized broad use of design-build as a cost-savings technique,” according to the Albany, N.Y., Times Union.

The savings in New York through design-build have been remarkable, despite limited use to date.

“The Tappan Zee Bridge project has saved taxpayers $1.1 billion compared to the cost under the traditional design-bid-build model, according to the newspaper. ”The bridge will also be completed 18 months early, relieving taxpayers of the annual $100 million maintenance cost of the old bridge sooner.”

Sanfelippo’s white paper also recommends the Legislature explore keeping the federal fuel tax revenue marked for the federal highway account of the Highway Trust Fund. Wisconsin gets back just over a dollar on every dollar it sends to Washington, D.C., but the myriad strings attached to the “free money” drive up the cost of road projects, Sanfelippo said.

“Screw you, federal government. We’re not sending you that federal gas tax money. We’ll keep it here, fund our own projects and therefore we don’t have to jump through all of these stupid hoops,” the lawmaker said.

Waukesha County recently rebuilt County Highway L (Janesville Road) in the city of Muskego. Local funds paid for the first 1.2 miles of the project; the second 1.2 miles with 80 percent federal dollars.

Phase 1 cost $352,000 for construction management, and $5,928,000 for construction. Phase 2, completed with federal funding, cost $719,600 for construction management services, and the construction bill was $7,196,139. That’s a cost difference of more than $1.9 million.

Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, and Rep. Rob Brooks, also a Saukville Republican, are sponsoring legislation that would “swap” federal money currently in appropriation accounts for specified highway programs with state money. Not surprisingly, Waukesha County heartily supports the concept of the legislation.

“The states sold our souls to the devil a long time ago when we started taking this federal money,” Sanfelippo said. “Now we are addicted to it.”

“We’re not getting a gift from the federal government. It’s our own money.”

One of the federal strings attached is the requirement under the federal Davis–Bacon Act to use prevailing (that is, union) wages on projects funded with federal money. The state prevailing-wage law was repealed, but the federal law, as you can imagine, has much more impact. Perhaps Congress can be led by Wisconsin’s representatives in a repeal of Davis–Bacon.

 

In half the U.S., including here

Kyle Peterson notes the Nov. 8 election results:

In the war of ideas, a think tank is like a munitions factory, churning out the matériel to push the trench line a few miles forward. As luck would have it, Republican state lawmakers will be well equipped next year when they begin one of the largest conservative offensives in recent memory. Come January the GOP will hold “trifectas”—total control of both legislative chambers and the governorship—in 25 states, up from 10 in 2009.

If lawmakers have any questions about where to begin, one place with answers is the State Policy Network, a federation of 65 free-market think tanks ranging from Anchorage, Alaska, to San Juan, Puerto Rico. “At the end of the day, people want jobs. They want security. That’s our bread and butter,” says Tracie Sharp, the group’s president. “We feel like for such a time as this, we’ve built up this network. We need to really run. This is a state moment.”

She seems to mean that in two ways. The first is the obvious: What can conservatives get done in capitals nationwide, and how can her think tanks help? Ms. Sharp says that lawmakers, especially in small states, are hungry for economic analysis: “If I raise taxes, what, really, does it do? Does it create jobs or does it drive jobs out?”

That doesn’t necessarily mean producing dusty policy reports. “In the early days, there was a lot of ivory tower, highfalutin, white paper stuff,” Ms. Sharp says. “That is one way I think the network has really evolved in the last 10 years is to be able to communicate and message the ideas to the average American.”

Take Tennessee, where earlier this year the network’s Beacon Center led what its president called an “all-out siege” on the state’s Hall Tax, a 6% levy on investment income. Beacon made a football-themed video ad arguing that the tax hurt seniors and drove jobs to Florida. The think tank then used what’s called “geo-fencing” to serve the ad to cellphones only within a certain set of coordinates—the capitol building.

It did the trick. In May the governor signed legislation that will phase out the Hall Tax by 2022. When the network’s think tanks gathered in October to compare notes—what’s working in one place that could be adapted to another?—the Beacon Center presented an hour-long case study. “This Hall Tax,” Ms. Sharp says, “has got people inspired now.”

The second opportunity is that states could help untangle some of the legislative knots in Washington, D.C. As the new Congress contemplates repealing ObamaCare, perhaps the biggest challenge is how to avoid pulling the rug out from under Americans relying on it. “Whoever’s going to drive this has to give a very clear answer for that,” Ms. Sharp says. “You’re dealing with needy, chronically ill people that no one wants to see tossed out without insurance. They have to be taken care of.”

Here’s the kicker: “I think it can be best done locally, or state and locally.” The gist is that if Congress wants to send Medicaid back to the states through block grants, an idea floated in Paul Ryan’s “Better Way” agenda, Republican governors and legislatures will be ready. Ms. Sharp expresses similar sentiments about Donald Trump’s promised $1 trillion spending on roads, bridges and airports: “There are better ways to build infrastructure: Devolve.”

State think tanks are still relatively new, founded in earnest beginning in the late 1980s. But the network has sprawled since then, from 26 groups in 1991, to 54 in 2008, to 65 today with four more in the works. Combined revenues hit $80 million two years ago, and total staff has nearly doubled in the past six years to 525. “We have groups that are 20, 25, 30 years old, because we’ve built a durable infrastructure,” Ms. Sharp says.

“I think that is perhaps confounding to the left,” she adds. “They have been trying to launch state-based efforts over time. They usually are centrally controlled from a D.C. hub—this is my experience. They tend to have one or two donors. And then the tide changes, the donor changes their mind, and then it just doesn’t take root.”

Anyone wondering whether an advantage in the states truly matters should look at this year’s Electoral College map. In Wisconsin, union membership is down 133,000 since 2010, the year before Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 overhaul passed. Donald Trump’s margin of victory there? Less than 30,000. In Michigan, public-union membership is down 34,000 since 2012, the year before Gov. Rick Snyder’s right-to-work law kicked in. Mr. Trump’s margin? Only 11,000.

Ms. Sharp says she had always felt these two states were only “thinly blue,” and that the GOP has been put on better footing by the unions’ slide. “When you chip away at one of the power sources that also does a lot of get-out-the-vote,” she says, “I think that helps—for sure.”

So what can Republicans realistically accomplish in the next few years? A quick survey of think tankers in states where the GOP gained on Nov. 8 suggests that the mood averages somewhere between bullish and giddy. Visions of tax cuts and tort reforms are dancing in their heads.

Kentucky: “Republicans now control the Kentucky House of Representatives for the first time since 1921,” says Jim Waters, the president of the Bluegrass Institute. The GOP flipped 17 of the chamber’s 100 seats and defeated the sitting Democratic speaker. With all the levers of power in Republican hands, right-to-work legislation looks like a shoo-in.

Also likely, he thinks, is a law establishing charter schools. Kentucky is one of only a handful of states without charters. “The Republicans need to grab this opportunity,” Mr. Waters says. “Our biggest concern is that the Republican leadership will be too timid.” Somehow that seems unlikely: Gov. Matt Bevin has already suggested calling a special session in 2017 to revamp the tax code—and maybe even eliminate the income tax.

Missouri: A new Republican governor, Eric Greitens, will replace term-limited Democrat Jay Nixon. “I think that we’re going to see bills that have been vetoed in the past, like right to work, go through quickly,” says Brenda Talent, the CEO of the Show-Me Institute. Last year the Republican House tried to override Gov. Nixon’s right-to-work veto but fell short by 13 votes.

Expanding charter schools, Ms. Talent predicts, will be an “easy lift,” and tackling corporate welfare is a possibility. “To give you an idea of the magnitude of the problem,” she says, “you could eliminate the corporate income tax in the state simply by eliminating economic development tax credits.”

New Hampshire: With the election of the first GOP governor in 12 years, add this to the pile of potential right-to-work states. “The odds certainly are better than they’ve ever been,” says J. Scott Moody, the CEO of the Granite Institute. In 2011 the Democratic governor vetoed a right-to-work bill, and the House could not muster the votes to override.

Iowa: Republicans retook the Senate, defeated the incumbent Democratic majority leader, and regained full control for the first time since 1998. Don Racheter of the Public Interest Institute says flatter tax rates are likely, as is a goal long-sought by social conservatives: defunding Planned Parenthood. In April the Republican House passed a bill to block Medicaid dollars from flowing to groups that provide abortions, but the language was stripped out by the Democratic Senate two days later. “Now,” says Mr. Racheter, “I think that’ll happen.”

Pennsylvania: In October the GOP House fell three votes short on a bill to move newly hired public workers away from traditional pensions. As it happens, on Nov. 8 Republicans picked up three additional seats. “Every indication we have,” says Charles Mitchell,president of the Commonwealth Foundation, “is pension reform is coming back and it’s coming back soon.” The legislature may also put on the Democratic governor’s desk a “paycheck protection” bill, which would bar the government from collecting union political funds. “The dynamic has shifted considerably,” Mr. Mitchell says. “A lot of these issues were laughed out of the room, even under the last Republican governor.”

Minnesota: A gain of six seats in the Senate put the legislature under total GOP control. “We’ve got about a $1.4 billion budget surplus,” says John Hinderaker, president of the Center of the American Experiment. “I think our Republican legislators understand that if they don’t provide some tax relief people are going to say ‘Well, why the hell do we bother voting for Republicans?’ ”

The best targets for repeal, he suggests, are the state’s taxes on commercial property and on Social Security benefits. There’s also MNsure, the ObamaCare exchange. When open enrollment began Nov. 1, Minnesotans saw rate increases up to 67%. “Something is going to be done. Something’s got to be done,” Mr. Hinderaker says. “This is why the Republicans won the election, in large part.”

Illinois: Democrats kept the House but lost their supermajority, which will give Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s vetoes a bit more bite. It may also strengthen his hand in negotiations to end the 18-month budget stalemate. “You’re starting to get the liberal chattering class in Illinois saying ‘Come on Democrats, why don’t you just agree to one thing that he wants to do,’ ” says Diana Rickert, vice president of communications at the Illinois Policy Institute.

She adds that there is more grumbling than ever—even from fellow Democrats—about Michael Madigan, the powerful House speaker who has held that office, excluding a two-year hiatus, since 1983. “We’re trying to dismantle a political machine that’s been in place for 40 years,” Ms. Rickert says. “It takes time. But we are making a lot of progress.”

None of these victories is assured. “I want to be clear: Sure, a lot of Republicans got elected,” Ms. Sharp says. “That’s no guarantee that they’ll do the right thing. That’s where our work is so important.”

What imperils those efforts is Democratic zeal to force nonprofits like the network’s think tanks to turn over the names of their donors. “We expect no fewer than 20 states in this next cycle to put forth some sort of disclosure bill,” she says. This is pitched as transparency, but Ms. Sharp says few people realize how much harassment conservative groups receive.

In 2011, during a dispute over a subsidy for an NHL hockey team, the president of the Goldwater Institute in Arizona had her home vandalized. “Someone gutted a rabbit and smeared the entrails across her front steps,” Ms. Sharp says. A year later the network’s headquarters in Arlington, Va., were broken into and ransacked.

The political left—or at least the segment of it that wields power—hasn’t been very sympathetic. But if anything can convince liberals of the unwisdom of forced donor disclosure, perhaps it’s President Donald Trump. Consider this recent phone call: “An ACLU chapter in a state,” Ms. Sharp says, “called the state think tank and said, ‘Hey, things have changed—we really want to talk about donor privacy.’ ”

Notice that Wisconsin is not one of the states listed in potential policy innovations. That is a mistake, because this state needs to (1) figure out a way to fix the state’s roads without raising overall taxes, and (2) eliminate the minimum-markup law, which hurts consumers. Also, government is still too large, and government continues to spend too much and tax too much.

 

News from the People’s Republic of Madison

The UW–Madison Daily Communist — I mean, Daily Cardinal — reports:

Republican congressman Sean Duffy is facing criticism for describing Madison as a “communist community” when he attacked the ongoing presidential recount in Wisconsin Wednesday.

In a Fox News interview, Duffy, who represents northwestern Wisconsin, criticized Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s request for a recount of the state’s general election race.

“It’s a sad state of affairs for these Democrats who don’t believe in democracy and freedom and free elections,” Duffy said.

Duffy alleged that election officials in Dane County were stalling in order to miss the Dec. 13 deadline for certifying the vote, even though the county is on track to complete the recount on time.

Duffy’s comments drew a rebuke from numerous Wisconsin politicians.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., called for an apology from Duffy. Pocan represents Wisconsin’s second congressional district, including Dane County.

“His insinuation that my constituents are somehow un-American for exercising their political views is extremely alarming,” Pocan said in a release.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin also voiced his disapproval over Duffy’s comments, initially calling him a “moron.”

“I apologize to Congressman Duffy for referring to him as a moron. I should have said he is a liar and a charlatan,” Soglin said Thursday.

Duffy defended himself on Twitter, tweeting “The PC crowd is humorless. For those offended by my ‘communist’ comment, I’ll send a therapy dog to your ‘safe place’ of choice in Madison,” and questioned whether Pocan would “accept the results of the election and denounce the frivolous recount.”

In response, Pocan tweeted “Humorless is better than being senseless about Dane County providing 73% of new jobs in WI. Perhaps a $175K salary distorts your views.”

Interesting comment from Pocan, given that his salary is the same as Duffy’s.

I also fail to understand why Comrade Pocan believes economic growth is a good thing, given that Pocan and his ilk believe the only purpose of making money is to give it to Pocan and his ilk.

I’m not sure why a UW–Stevens Point professor felt the need to chime in, but, Wisconsin Public Radio reports …

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy’s comments that involved calling the Madison “communist” during a Fox News interview earlier this week are “simply irresponsible,” a UW-Stevens Point political science professor said.

“I mean, Duffy, besides being a member of Congress, is also part of the transition team and so, you just don’t say that,” professor Ed Miller said.

Duffy, who represents Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, made the comment during an interview about the state’s presidential recount on Tucker Carlson Tonight. …

Duffy went on to say that people working for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton are taking as much time as possible to contest ballots and “slow-walking” so that votes can’t get certified.

“If that doesn’t happen, to think of the state of Wisconsin who voted for Trump, the first time for a Republican since 1984, that our 10 electors would be disenfranchised for our state, is a sad state of affairs for these Democrats who don’t believe in Democracy and freedom and free elections,” Duffy also said. “They want to use politics to undermine the will of the voter.”

Miller said Duffy is essentially separating people by calling the Madison-area Communist. Miller added that Duffy’s comment is factually inaccurate, Dane County is not the only county hand counting the ballots.

“There’s a number of counties that are hand counting their ballots in Wisconsin,” Miller said. …

“His insinuation that my constituents are somehow un-American for exercising their political views is extremely alarming,” Pocan said in a statement. “At a time when our country stands divided, Congressman Duffy’s ‘Trumpizing’ of Wisconsin is the wrong direction for our state.”

Pocan also said he hopes the Wisconsin delegation will condemn Duffy’s comments.

Other responses to Duffy’s characterization of Wisconsin’s capitol included its mayor, Paul Soglin, who said, “For years I’ve been listening to morons like Representative Duffy, who are resentful of the fact that Madison is Wisconsin’s economic engine,” according to WSAU-TV.

The mayor released a statement Thursday addressing his earlier comments on Duffy.

“I apologize to Congressman Duffy for referring to him as a moron. I should have said he is a liar and a charlatan,” Soglin said.

And that’s a rich comment from Soglin given his being a buddy of the now-room-temperature Fidel Castro.

The Wisconsin State Journal unsurprisingly felt the need to chime in:

Have you no sense of decency, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy?

Madison is not a “progressive, liberal, communist community,” as you claimed on Fox Newsthe other night.

We’re a progressive, liberal, capitalist community. And our strong free-market economy is creating more private-sector jobs than any other part of the state.

That’s why Madison Mayor Paul Soglin took such offense this week to your commie dig, though most people understood it to be hyperbole (as was the first sentence in this editorial). …

Wisconsin has long struggled with an urban-rural divide. And that unfortunate rift has grown worse in the wake of last month’s election. Rural voters in Wisconsin and elsewhere played a big role in handing the presidency to a bombastic Donald Trump, which shocked many city dwellers.

But the election is now over, and even the big-talking Republican president-elect has toned down his rhetoric.

Sort of.

We all should be on the same side in Wisconsin when it comes to helping each other succeed across regions of the state. When southern Wisconsin does well, that’s good for northern Wisconsin, and vice versa. The insults don’t help.

I don’t know that the State Journal’s last claim is really the case. Certain parts of this state are emptying out as people move east, to, among other places, Madison. What does Southwest Wisconsin, for instance, get when someone from there moves to Madison?

There’s also this bit of historical revisionism:

Soglin gave Cuban dictator Fidel Castro a symbolic key to Madison four decades ago. But the mayor also has worked in the financial industry and at Epic Systems, one of the state’s fastest growing private companies.

Epic Systems is in Verona, not Madison. Soglin and Madison’s intransigence is why Epic is in Verona, not Madison. And Soglin’s private sector experience comes as an attorney who was hired by people to try to navigate the regulatory morass he created in his previous term as mayor.

Is Madison Communist like Cuba or China? Not economically, though perhaps in its lockstep ideology where non-liberal thoughts are not allowed to be expressed, let alone become law. Clearly Duffy was using a pejorative to describe my hometown and the left-wing jerks who live in it, two of which took Duffy’s bait. (Apparently Soglin doesn’t have enough things to do.) And the over-the-top reaction is certainly revealing, isn’t it? It’s like communism is a bad thing or something.

 

Maybe it’s Friday somewhere

Wisconsin Public Radio decided to have a Joy Cardin Week in Review in the middle of the week instead of (or maybe in addition to) its usual Friday Week in Review (which I guess makes it the Mid-Week in Review, or the Week in Mid-Review), and at 7 a.m. instead of 8 a.m.

Whatever day of the week it is, Joy and I can be heard on WLBL (930 AM) in Auburndale, WHID (88.1 FM) in Green Bay, WHWC (88.3 FM) in Menomonie, WRFW (88.7 FM) in River Falls, WEPS (88.9 FM) in Elgin, Ill., WHAA (89.1 FM) in Adams, WSSW (89.1 FM) in Platteville, WHBM (90.3 FM) in Park Falls, WHLA (90.3 FM) in La Crosse, WRST (90.3 FM) in Oshkosh, WHAD (90.7 FM) in Delafield, W215AQ (90.9 FM) in Middleton, KUWS (91.3 FM) in Superior, WHHI (91.3 FM) in Highland, WSHS (91.7 FM) in Sheboygan, WHDI (91.9 FM) in Sister Bay, WLBL (91.9 FM) in Wausau, W275AF (102.9 FM) in Ashland, W300BM (107.9 FM) in Madison, and of course online at www.wpr.org.

My opponent will be Dane County Sup. Jenni Dye of Fitchburg. We’ll probably agree on nothing.

 

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