Category: Wisconsin politics

Liberal introspection

Annalisa Merelli voted in an Italian referendum, and discovered something that doubtlessly applies to this nation and this state:

On Dec. 4, Italians went to the polls to decide on a reform referendum that would redefine the power of local governments and reduce the power of the senate. With a high turnout, my countrymen rejected the reform. In the press, the voters’ decision was described as an Italian Brexit, and a triumph of populism. Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement, arguably Europe’s largest populist party, celebrated with Matteo Salvini, leader of the xenophobic Northern League; Marine Le Pen sent congratulations via Twitter, claiming that Italians’ had disavowed not just their prime minister, but the entire European Union.

What had actually happened, however, was more nuanced. And yet, the disappointment amongst liberals—the majority of whom had supported the reforms—was palpable.

On Facebook, my heavily “blue feed” shared news and commentary that unanimously condemned the victory of the “no” camp. Many of these articles claimed the vote was yet another example of democracy failing progress: The misguided, misinformed people who had voted “no” were helping to stunt Italy’s growth or, worse, had fallen for the xenophobic promises and empty slogans of politicians like Grillo and Salvini.

Misguided, misinformed people like, me apparently.

I voted no, first and foremost because I disagreed with the reform. I didn’t do it because I want Italy to leave Europe, dislike immigrants, or because I despise career politicians. Quite the contrary, in fact. I, too, am worried that Italy might end up going backwards, closing borders, and limiting chances. But—after gathering as much information as I could on the reform and its likely consequences—I concluded that, amongst other issues, the proposed changes to the constitution would end up making a future populist government’s life unnecessarily easy and even more dangerous.

It was a difficult vote, and while I stand by it, I don’t discount the possibility that history may prove me wrong. So I was eager to hear the reasons why so many of my friends had voted “yes.” Before and after the vote, I wanted to understand their points, and I certainly respected their choices.

But they—the yes voters, whose opinions and commentary filled my social media platforms—didn’t seem to have the same respect for my reasoning. As an opinionated citizen with consistently liberal views, I am used to being attacked and insulted by conservatives for my choices and opinions. But the liberal critiques I read weren’t so much attacking my decision as they were questioning my intelligence and my ability to understand the issue.

For the first time in my life, I was on the outside of the so-called liberal bubble, looking in. And what I saw was not pretty. I watched as many of my highly educated friends and contacts addressed those who disagreed with them with contempt and arrogance, and an offensive air of intellectual superiority.

It was surprising and frustrating to find myself lumped in with political parties and ideologies I do not support. But it also provided some insight into why many liberals seem incapable of talking with those who hold different opinions. (This is, broadly speaking, not just a liberal problem.) In so much of what I read, there was a tone of odious condescension, the idea that us no voters were perhaps too simpleminded or too uninformed to really grasp the situation.

The majority of these arguments did not explain why my choice was wrong. And after reading piece after piece of snarky, bitter commentary, I too lost the desire to engage with my yes-voting peers.

There were exceptions, of course. I had a few fruitful debates that added to my perspective, but by and large I stayed away from yes voters entirely. And I certainly wasn’t persuaded by their argument.

The experience certainly made me wonder how many times I, too, may have been guilty of this kind of “libersplaining.” It’s easy to feel smug when you are living in an echo chamber. But now I truly understand how damaging that echo chamber can be: not only does it not win arguments, let alone votes, but it drives away those who might otherwise have been willing to change their minds.

I suspect that the sudden popularity of the term populism has led to a similar lack of respect and curiosity for opinions we disapprove of. It may even betray a fundamental belief, inadvertent or explicit, that the populus is somehow lesser—less critical, less acute, and easier to sway.

But it is not. Liberals may be heavily represented in the media, the centers of culture (popular, and otherwise), and in academia. But unless we are able to start learning how to talk to people unlike us, we’ll likely keep losing. It is not the only reason for the current political polarization—but it is one we can all work to address.

The right side of campus

The Wisconsin State Journal reports:

Conservative critics of higher education in Wisconsin have opened a new chapter of their long-running complaints about institutions such as UW-Madison, scrutinizing specific university courses and even a class reading they consider biased or inappropriate.

The shift is yet another sign of the divide between an increasingly conservative state government and a university system that houses programs, research and courses that some Republicans view as frivolous and liberally biased at best and hostile indoctrination at worst.

It could also foreshadow new legislation that seeks to change what many Republicans see as a lack of “intellectual diversity” on college campuses, by pushing institutions to invite more conservative speakers and hire more right-leaning faculty.

How, exactly, the Legislature would accomplish that goal remains to be seen, but the issue could emerge soon as lawmakers craft the state budget this spring and summer.

To proponents of academic freedom on and off campus, the push from state Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, and others to seek out bias in the operations of the university — and to use the prospect of budget cuts as a means to push for changes, as Nass has — is a troubling overreach.

“If you’re using the power of the purse to police certain courses, you’re really putting yourself in the position of managing the university in a way that I think elected officials should avoid,” said Donald Moynihan, director of UW-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs.

Republicans have countered that they are speaking on behalf of their constituents, and say universities have drifted far to the left of mainstream opinion.

“If we can’t comment on these issues, why are they coming to the taxpayers and saying, ‘You have to fund it’?” said Mike Mikalsen, a spokesman for Nass.

Long a critic of the University of Wisconsin System, Nass has made headlines over the past six months by deriding programs and curriculum at UW-Madison.

In July he raised concerns about a reading in a sociology course that explored the sexual preferences of men using gay dating apps, calling the essay “offensive.”

In December he and Rep. David Murphy, R-Greenville, criticized a course on white identity and racism titled “The Problem of Whiteness.”

And last week Nass told his colleagues that a program in which students discuss masculinity amounted to the university declaring a “war on men.”

“They’re preaching, they’re not teaching,” Mikalsen said of UW-Madison.

In each case Nass has invoked the UW System’s funding and called for lawmakers to reform the university.

UW officials are requesting $42.5 million in new funding in the 2017-19 state budget, after recent budgets have slashed its share of public money.

While Republicans and Democrats have long sought to reshape universities through their governing boards and other means, the extent to which Nass has delved into the specific details of courses and readings is new and troubling, said Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate secretary for the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance at the American Association of University Professors.

Democrats, faculty and others have joined in that criticism.

“The crux of the problem is Republican legislators, believing they can micromanage, attack free speech and use the budget as blackmail whenever the university espouses ideas that are even remotely challenging to conservative orthodoxy,” said Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison. “We are going down a very dangerous road when Republicans try to dictate what our university offers in terms of learning opportunities.”

UW-Madison officials have responded that the classes Nass has taken issue with are voluntary, and that having courses that explore controversial viewpoints is an important part of the open exchange of ideas in higher education.

Asked what message Nass wants to convey by drawing attention to courses and materials he finds objectionable, Mikalsen said he wants to show the “tremendous lack of balance” in how professors and administrators present ideas.

That has long been a Republican criticism of academic institutions, which many regard as ivory towers where overwhelmingly liberal faculty present conservative ideas unfairly or not at all.

In September Assembly Republicans identified “ideological diversity” as one of their priorities for the next session, writing that they planned to challenge UW to “ensure diverse perspectives are present and protected in our classrooms and faculty lounges.”

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who last year called for UW institutions to invite more conservative speakers, has indicated that he wants to see the System’s funding tied to the variety of voices on campus, as part of a package of performance metrics that Gov. Scott Walker said could determine new funding for universities.

“He would like to see a metric that advances free speech and intellectual diversity when it comes to the diversity of professors and speaker invitations,” said Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Vos, who did not elaborate on how that diversity would be measured.

Without knowing more specifics about Vos’ idea, a spokesman for UW-Madison declined to respond to it.

Moynihan said he supports having more conservative speakers on campus, and noted that his department has brought in right-leaning intellectuals as well as Republican lawmakers — including Vos and Murphy — to speak with classes and the public in the past.

But, Moynihan said, a “checked-box approach” that calls for hiring or inviting a certain numbers right-leaning people raised problems — starting with the question of whether legislators can or should spell out in law what makes someone conservative or liberal.

“It would be impossible,” Moynihan said. “Would you start looking at people’s voting registrations, or who they had donated money to? The degree to which this would be government intrusiveness on people’s lives would be mind-boggling.”

Murphy, the chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Colleges and Universities, said lawmakers want to “feel as if both sides of some of the stories are being told” at UW institutions.

“I don’t want to micromanage anything at the university, but I think lots of legislators feel like they would like to see a more diverse opinion at the university,” Murphy said.

“A university’s commitment to academic freedom and free speech is a commitment that allows all ideas to be presented and discussed,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote in a blog post Sunday.

“Ideas should be dismissed only after research and debate proves them inadequate, rather than being dismissed out of hand without debate because they challenge perceived wisdom or offend current beliefs.”

Asked what message Nass wants to convey by drawing attention to courses and materials he finds objectionable, Mikalsen said he wants to show the “tremendous lack of balance” in how professors and administrators present ideas.

That has long been a Republican criticism of academic institutions, which many regard as ivory towers where overwhelmingly liberal faculty present conservative ideas unfairly or not at all.

In September Assembly Republicans identified “ideological diversity” as one of their priorities for the next session, writing that they planned to challenge UW to “ensure diverse perspectives are present and protected in our classrooms and faculty lounges.”

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who last year called for UW institutions to invite more conservative speakers, has indicated that he wants to see the System’s funding tied to the variety of voices on campus, as part of a package of performance metrics that Gov. Scott Walker said could determine new funding for universities.

“He would like to see a metric that advances free speech and intellectual diversity when it comes to the diversity of professors and speaker invitations,” said Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Vos, who did not elaborate on how that diversity would be measured.

Without knowing more specifics about Vos’ idea, a spokesman for UW-Madison declined to respond to it.

Moynihan said he supports having more conservative speakers on campus, and noted that his department has brought in right-leaning intellectuals as well as Republican lawmakers — including Vos and Murphy — to speak with classes and the public in the past.

But, Moynihan said, a “checked-box approach” that calls for hiring or inviting a certain numbers right-leaning people raised problems — starting with the question of whether legislators can or should spell out in law what makes someone conservative or liberal.

“It would be impossible,” Moynihan said. “Would you start looking at people’s voting registrations, or who they had donated money to? The degree to which this would be government intrusiveness on people’s lives would be mind-boggling.”

Murphy, the chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Colleges and Universities, said lawmakers want to “feel as if both sides of some of the stories are being told” at UW institutions.

“I don’t want to micromanage anything at the university, but I think lots of legislators feel like they would like to see a more diverse opinion at the university,” Murphy said.

The first observation is the “Golden Rule” definition of former UW–Stevens Point chancellor Lee Sherman Dreyfus, who later became Gov. Lee Dreyfus: “He who has the gold makes the rules.” That would be the Legislature. The second comes from Thomas Sowell, who said, “The next time some academics tell you how important diversity is, ask how many Republicans there are in their sociology department.”

As with too many people in government, Moynihan wants to have it both ways. He wants the state to give the UW System as much money as the UW System wants with no strings attached at all. As Dreyfus could have told you, that’s not how the world works.

I went to UW in the 1980s. The number of professors I knew to be conservative totaled zero. (I found out after the fact in two cases.) The number of professors I knew to be liberal was more than that. Those professors, incidentally, didn’t disrespect non-liberal points of view when brought up in class, but that’s obviously not what Nass and Murphy are concerned about. (No one should use the term “libertarian” to describe the state GOP.)


The right-wing purity test

Mark Belling, the dean of Wisconsin conservative talk radio, wrote a strange column in the Waukesha Freeman that starts off fine …

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and staunch supporter of President-elect Trump, said on national TV over the weekend his biggest fear is that Trump and his administration will cave to the enormous blowback he’ll be getting from the left. Gingrich mentioned issues like school choice and environmental policy where liberals are likely to go ballistic if Trump follows through on his plans. Gingrich fears that Trump might step back and say, “Oh well, we tried,” and then back down.

Trump needs to learn about Wisconsin. Our state has proven the left’s bark is unbelievably loud but its bite is nonexistent. Democrats, activists, unions and the media went crazy when Governor Walker and the Republican Legislature moved forward with Act 10. But six years later, the Republicans have more power than ever in this state and the Democrats and the unions are in tatters. The key was in not backing down. Belligerent crybaby teachers made fools of themselves. Democrat state senators bugged out of the state. Activists seized control of the Capitol. Walker faced a recall. But in the end, Walker won and the Republicans have gained seats in the Legislature.

The same will happen nationally if Trump stands his ground. The backlash will be even more ferocious than what we saw in Wisconsin. Some Republican senators will no doubt wilt (Lindsay Graham is probably already wilting). But the Wisconsin experience is instructive. Walker and the GOP were rewarded for standing their ground. America, especially the millions of alienated citizens who flocked to Trump, is screaming out for strong leadership and will reward the Republicans and Trump for passing their agenda and not bowing to pressure.

Here’s what liberals don’t get: Most people don’t like them. Remember the “blue fist?” It was the symbol of the anti-Walker resistance. The day of the governor’s recall election lefties were standing along highway overpasses all over the state with blue fist banners. It’s not possible to more badly miscalculate. The Democrat goon squad was trying to bully voters into turning on Walker. What else would a fist represent? Walker became more popular than ever because ordinary citizens saw backing the governor as a way of standing up to thuggish elites trying to shove them around.

The same shoving will come against Trump. The tactics will be over the top. The left will overplay its hand. If Trump and the GOP stand firm, they will be backed by voters in the same way Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans were supported.

Six years after Act 10, it is apparent that none of the doom and gloom that was forecast has materialized. The only people upset about the reforms were the ones who were bawling six years ago. Nobody give’s a rat’s patriot that some teachers are kicking in for their pensions. The only remnants of the brutal fight are the hacked-up “RECALL WALKER” bumper stickers still half-sticking to some spoilsport unionista’s car. This will be America in 2021 if Trump and the GOP repeal the excesses of liberalism and refuse to cave to the thunderous opposition.

… and then jumps off the rails:

Wisconsin has been blessed in recent years with some wonderful think tanks and advocacy organizations that advanced conservatism. On the national level there is the Bradley Foundation. A partial list of groups with more of a state focus is: the MacIver Institute, Media Trackers, Wisconsin Institute For Law and Liberty, and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. But it’s time for conservatives to question if these groups are still worth supporting. It is not clear whose side they are on.

The organizations are the homes of every prominent conservative “Never Trumper” in the state. Egghead anti-Trumpers like James Wigderson, Christian Schneider, Jerry Bader, Charlie Sykes, Brian Fraley and a slew of others either work for or allied with these groups. This crowd is showing no sign of admitting it was wrong about Trump and is not celebrating the many positive conservative signals sent by Trump since the election.

With a new war coming over Trump’s Revolution, it is not clear that these groups will support a President that so many of their principles loathe. As was the case with Walker and Act 10, the first few months of Trump’s presidency will require the full support of all committed conservatives. Will these groups in Wisconsin, led by anti-Trumpers, ally themselves with the leftist opposition? Someone needs to serve as a watchdog on them.

If MacIver, WILL, WPRI and others allow themselves to be co-opted by spoilsport brats who hop in bed with the enemy, they are not only no longer needed in this state but will be counter-productive. I’m not suggesting a purge. I am clearly implying that treason against the new conservative cause is possible.

Charlie Sykes can go out and do his new MSNBC Trump-bashing thing. But if his fellow travelers in the “I Hate Trump Club” use Wisconsin organizations to fight against their own groups’ very mission, it is imperative that the organizations’ boards clean house. The fight we are embarking on is larger than the bruised egos of a bunch of faux intellectuals.

Belling, it should be pointed out, wrote a column upon Sykes’ departure from the radio by claiming:

Charlie has always wanted to be an insider and has relished his close access with people like Scott Walker, Paul Ryan and other Republican powerhouses. He often seemed like a cheerleader rather than a commentator. He criticized me when I ripped one of these Republicans as if I had some obligation to join him in shaking the pom-poms. It often seemed like he thought of himself as a spokesman for a cause rather than an independent analyst. Self-serving as this sounds, I feel my influence has always been greater than his because our audiences never considered me to be in the tank for any Republican.

No inflated self-importance there, hmmm? I admit to not listening to Belling’s show (which due to WISN radio’s lesser power has much less range than WTMJ), but what role did Belling have getting, say, Scott Walker elected governor, or Paul Ryan elected to Congress, or David Clarke elected Milwaukee County sheriff, or the GOP’s getting near-complete control of state government two years after the GOP controlled almost none of it? It’s also rather hypocritical for Belling to accuse Sykes of being in the tank for certain Republicans when Belling is totally in the tank for Trump.

Belling’s screed prompted this response from Bader …

Last year will be remembered as the year Donald Trump defied the laws of political physics and was elected President of the United States. It will also go down as the year it was revealed that there was no consensus among the conservative community as to what it meant to be a conservative.  Neither Trump’s history nor his behavior during the campaign indicated that he was what many of us considered to be conservative. Yet many voters, who consider themselves very conservative, branded as RINOs those of us who had the audacity to point out that Trump didn’t act like a conservative,  nor did he believe in things that have been generally accepted as conservative.

And it’s clear that some conservatives who supported Trump believe that those of us who did not should now fall in line, never uttering a discouraging word about the president-elect.

This brings me to an unseemly rant that Milwaukee talk show host Mark Belling published in the Waukesha Freeman. Belling questions whether Wisconsin conservatives should continue to support think tanks with a proud conservative heritage because, in hiring anti-Trump conservatives,  they dared to violate the Belling Conservative Purity Act of 2017. …

Belling also mentioned Media Trackers. In November, in addition to doing my radio show, I became Communications Director for Media Trackers. I’ll let the others Belling attempts to tar as traitors speak for themselves; I will speak for myself here.

First, Belling inaccurately states that I am “not celebrating the many positive conservative signals sent by Trump since the election.” On my radio show I have given Trump high praise for many of his cabinet selections. Specifically, retired General James Mattis as Defense Secretary; Tom Price at HHS; Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary; and Rick Perry as Energy Secretary are particularly impressive.  And if reports are true that Diane Sykes is at or near the top of his list for Supreme Court picks, that would be welcome news indeed. Those “positive conservative signals, as Belling calls them, do not, however, require me or anyone else to admit we were “wrong” about Trump.

First, we cannot be wrong about Trump before January 20. “Signals” do not a president make. If Trump impresses as president I will say so. Second, we weren’t wrong about his character. Winning doesn’t mean he’s not the person he demonstrated himself to be during the campaign.

It also doesn’t mean that we need to be comfortable with a “Twitter presidency.” It’s hardly traitorous to be deeply uncomfortable with the leader of the free world blurting out random thoughts to the globe in 140 characters or less, especially when those thoughts bully American corporations or antagonize nuclear powers. All of that said, most of my post-election criticism of Trump focuses on his shocking indifference to the security threat Russia poses to the United States.

I would ask Belling to imagine his own response to President Obama had the outgoing administration taken more seriously the espionage estimations of Julian Assange than he did those of the U.S. Intelligence community, as Trump did in a tweet Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Trump claimed a security briefing he was to receive on allegations of Russians hacking DNC emails was delayed. He suggested the intelligence community needed additional time to build its case. U.S. officials insisted there was no delay in the briefing. Anyone who considers himself a conservative should be deeply, deeply concerned about Trump’s bizarre behavior toward the Russian hack allegations. But that’s not the case with Belling; he believes that refusing to overlook Trump’s ongoing erratic behavior makes us the enemy. …

I trust Wisconsin conservatives to judge the work of all the above organizations on the merits. If Belling believes a McCarthyistic rant in a local paper will hold more sway with conservatives than the product our organizations deliver, perhaps iHeart Media should change the name of his show to CSI:Milwaukee (Completely Self-Important).

… and this response from Wigderson:

OK, I’m old enough to remember when Belling prided himself on his independence from the Republican Party. Now he’s abandoning conservative principles and insisting that I do the same just so we can support the team.

Yes, I was a “Never Trumper,” along with a number of other prominent movement conservatives whom Belling derides as “eggheads.” The reasons were spelled out on the pages of the Waukesha Freeman, at Right Wisconsin and at my website, and they remain unchallenged by Belling despite his demand to conform to the Trump Revolution.

Trump is not a conservative. Trump is personally unfit for public office. Trump’s erratic behavior actually makes him dangerous on foreign affairs. Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his use of the “bully pulpit” to attack free speech and bully companies should cause concern to anyone who believes in limited government. We can even add that his business interests are already compromising his administration. The only thing that has changed is that Trump, despite everyone’s predictions to the contrary, managed to win the election.

Trump deserves the same respect that is owed to any elected official. He should be treated like Gov. Scott Walker or President Barack Obama, praise when Trump does something right andcriticism when he does something wrong. Just because Trump ran with an “R” instead of a “D” or an “I”, it doesn’t mean he’s above criticism. He needs to be judged on his policies, his actions and his personal conduct, and we should resist the empty-headed scribbling of Ann Coulter who said she didn’t care if Trump allowed abortions in the Lincoln Bedroom.

So when Trump makes good Cabinet picks like Betsy DeVos at Education and Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency, hurrah! And when Trump announces his infrastructure spending plan or causes a company’s stock to crash because of a Twitter rant, then we’ll criticize him. It’s not treason, it’s the American way.

Let me take a moment to remind Belling, a Milwaukee east sider, the last time he sided with an erratic political figure: former Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima. Despite warnings to the contrary from people actually in the city of Waukesha, including me, Belling defended Scrima nearly to the end despite embarrassment after embarrassment. Belling should have learned not to become so personally invested in politicians.

It’s sad that Belling has adopted the attitude that unless we join “Trump’s Revolution,” we should all lose our heads. He even questioned whether the MacIver Institute, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute will be “counter-productive” if they continue to provide a home to conservatives that stand on the principles Belling once espoused but now mocks. These organizations are invaluable to the conservative renaissance in Wisconsin. Belling could find that out just by asking his Milwaukee east side neighbors what they think of the conservative organizations.

It’s ironic that many of those now being attacked by Belling stood up for him when he was being attacked by the left for remarks he made on-air about Hispanics and on other occasions. You would think that someone like Belling who demands so much team loyalty would show some gratitude and team loyalty of his own. Engage us on our ideas, not demand we be silenced. But that’s not the new Trump Revolution style.

Belling’s 180 on Trump is also interesting given that he wasn’t a fan of Trump’s during the primary campaign (in which talk radio helped defeat Trump in Wisconsin), and he called himself a “reluctant” supporter after Trump got the GOP nomination. Now he’s apparently drunk the Kool-Aid and wants a purge of those who don’t swear fealty to The Donald.

Politicians get policies into law, which means the ideas have to exist first. That also means the ideas are more important than those who support them. Cults of personality are pathetic from liberals (the Kennedys, the Clintons, Obama, Russ Feingold); they should not be taken up by conservatives.

Any politician, regardless of letter (or lack thereof) that follows his or her name, deserves support only to the extent that politician does his or her job correctly. (Which means, in my case, representing my views.) Elected officials are supposed to represent us; we do not work for them, and we owe no loyalty to them beyond what they earn for doing what they should be doing.

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.


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,, 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 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.


%d bloggers like this: