Category: Wisconsin politics

A job I’m not applying for

A Facebook Friend pointed out that the owner of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, Lee Enterprises, is looking for …

Reporter – State Government

News & Editorial  Madison, Wisconsin  Madison, Wisconsin

Position at Wisconsin State Journal

The Wisconsin State Journal, south-central Wisconsin’s leading news source, is seeking a smart and aggressive reporter to join its state government reporting team.

This is both the opportunity you’ve been looking for and the hardest job you’ll ever love. As one of two Capitol reporters, you’ll be expected to produce high-impact enterprise and watchdog stories amid the daily demands of reporting from a supercharged partisan environment. Coverage areas include all three branches of state government, politics and elections in a vibrant and constantly evolving political culture that is often in the national spotlight.

Experience in accountability reporting, aggressive use of public records laws, facility with data and an ability to develop sources and establish trust and credibility on both sides of the aisle is required. This position also demands an ability to report in real time for our online platforms and via social media, and an aptitude or desire to shoot video. At least five years of daily newspaper reporting experience is preferred. Past political coverage is desired, but a can-do attitude and demonstrated work ethic matter more.

To be considered for the position applicants must apply online at by June 10, 2019. Please include a cover letter and five samples of your work or links to five recent stories.

Capital Newspapers offers:

  • Competitive compensation
  • Great benefits package including medical, dental, vision, and life, insurances; matching 401k plan; paid maternity and paternity leaves; and regular paid time off
  • Culture of teamwork, professional work environment, and a focus on growth opportunities
  • Free print subscription to the Wisconsin State Journal and free digital subscription to for all employees

Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer:
The Capital Newspapers organization is an affirmative action employer. We are committed to maintaining a workforce that accurately reflects our audience and expands our voice.

Pre-employment background and drug screenings apply.

Once upon a time — say, 20 to 25 years ago — I would have jumped at this. Not anymore, and for several reasons, the least of which is that according to their requirements I’m not qualified, since my 7.5 months of (very strange) experience at a daily newspaper is short of their five years requirement. The idea that weekly reporters are unfamiliar with deadlines is ridiculous. I have written more stories the day of production at the various places I’ve worked because the news came up just that day. Anyone who has done web content that has to be done right now is not unfamiliar with daily deadlines. I’m probably more qualified than some daily reporters on that point.

The State Journal is, remember, the newspaper I started reading, according to my parents, when I was 2 years old. (I bet nobody on the WSJ staff can say that.) I’ve been in the State Journal a few times, including two city spelling bee wins and therefore two state spelling bee appearances.

Wisconsin State Journal, May 1, 1977. That’s the look on my face when a few wild guesses got me a city spelling bee title.

Eight years later I woke up one August Sunday morning and grabbed the State Journal to find out, to my surprise, I was pictured on the front page, because I sat next to a fellow UW Band member who had a Packers helmet-shaped umbrella, and the band had played at the previous day’s Packer preseason game. (A 33–0 loss to Washington, which was on its way to winning that season’s Super Bowl.)

Washington 33, Packers 0, which explains my disgusted look below the helmet umbrella. Note that this 1987 photo was taken by the same photographer who took my photo in 1977.

I also contributed to the State Journal’s state basketball tournament 100th-anniversary special section, giving an abridged version of my high school’s 1982 state champion team.

I am well qualified other than that five-year thing. I majored in journalism and political science, I’ve interviewed every governor since Tony Earl and more state legislators than I can count. I can count as one of my career highlights telling a Catholic bishop that he can’t throw out a reporter in a public building. (Similar to what I told a school board president less than a year into this silly line of work.) And to fit in this 21st-century media age of ours, I can be a political pundit, on radio and TV, literally worldwide.

Wisconsin is a fascinating state politically speaking, though less so than it used to be, given that both parties have purged themselves of their more moderate elements. (Time was when the GOP had remnants of the old Progressive Party as late as the 1980s, and I recall a state representative, a Democrat, who Republicans told me was more conservative than some Republicans.) This is, after all, the same state that brought the nation Fighting Bob La Follette and Joe McCarthy. (Who defeated Fighting Bob’s son in a U.S. Senate GOP primary.)

So why am I not applying? First, with 31 years of doing this (including this blog and its predecessor opinion blog), I am now more used to telling people what to do than being told what to do. (Though at present I don’t really have anyone to tell what to do in the day job.) I tell people I hate politicians, including the ones I vote for. “Hate” is sometimes a strong word, but I certainly assume they’re all in it for their own political power and are therefore not averse to not telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. (As for their sycophants and other supporters, I believe you are what you believe in.)

The State Journal has been, based on the reports of others, bled considerably by its owner because of its owner’s poor newspaper purchase decisions. Daily newspapers are as a whole doing worse than weeklies, comparatively speaking.

I am also really, really tired of the political bullshit, basically at every level of government. (A political reporter who hates politics? A government reporter who increasingly hates government?) I would say that Republicans are often wrong, but Democrats are nearly always wrong, and that “wrong” thing applies to nonpartisan politicians too. Beyond party and ideology, political reporters spend far too much time covering the horse race and stories of zero importance to real people (which I tried to point out, not always successfully, in my radio pundit days), and infinitely too much time copying and pasting the news releases that come into their mailboxes from politicians, would-be politicians and their supporters and opponents, and too little time answering the question that has been posted on top of my monitor for more than two decades: What does this story mean to the reader? That is particularly an important question to answer for political crap.

If the State Journal wanted some street cred with the political right of Wisconsin (who are more likely newspaper readers and subscribers than those on the left side), they would hire someone like me, but they won’t. Those who know my conservatarian bent who lack that in Madison would probably refuse to talk to me or call me rude names. (Of course, I could write a story about that.) It would be fun to, as I’ve been known to do at political meetings, sit in the audience at a meeting and glower at the participants. I bet Tony Evers would really, really love me.

And yet, the odious phrase “the personal is political” should be erased from our collective consciousness because it should not apply. The State Journal is looking for a reporter and not a columnist to tell the Madison lefties (who are presumably their readers) what a bunch of self-centered idiots they are. (Arguably repeatedly telling your readership they’re wrong is a subpar way to boost your business, particularly in this era in which the only acceptable views are views that agree with yours.) I believe that neither Wisconsin nor Madison is the center of the universe, and while visiting my hometown is sometimes fun, the vast majority of Madison’s people are not people I would choose to associate with, let alone have as neighbors. (As if anyone can afford Madison house prices.) I also suspect I’d have to give up my side sports broadcasting thing, which is more fun than my day job.

Being hated by various State Capitol types would be fun, or would have been fun, but that was then, and I prefer living with real people, not in the People’s Republic of Madison.



The GOP after 2018

James Wigderson wrote this before last weekend’s Wisconsin Republican Party convention:

The party is reeling from an audit that revealed Wisconsin Republicans spent far too much on Washington D.C. consultants, ran down the party treasury, and even skipped some payments to vendors. Despite spending like Democrats, the Republican Party actually lost every statewide office in 2018 even with a strong economy.

I didn’t need a report to tell me that Republicans are spending too much on D.C. consultants. As the editor here, I’ve been amazed at the articles sent to me by public relations firms in Washington that were supposedly written by Wisconsinites. The Republican Party could just send us the check with the article and cut out the middle man, except it’s obviously the middle men doing the writing.

Reading the report, there seems to be four reforms the party will undertake: be nicer to volunteers, more yard signs, use less expensive consultants, and pay the bills. Yes, despite the report saying we shouldn’t roll our eyes at “more yard signs,’ we should roll our eyes at “more yard signs.”

The report also mentions doing a better job of coordinating media responses and improving communications. That could start any day now since we weren’t even asked if we wanted to have a booth again at the convention. (You would think they would want our money.) Not one person at the party has reached out to see if we were coming to the convention. I only mention it because, if in theory we’re the likeminded side of the media, imagine how poor the communications must be with the rest of the media.

Missing from the report, however, is a real accounting of what is happening to the Republican Party. For example: while the report mentions the growing gender gap, it does not acknowledge that part of the problem is President Donald Trump’s unpopularity with suburban women. And while the report claims the Republican Party wants to reach out to Hispanic voters, perhaps somebody should have a conversation with the Waukesha Republican Party who hosted a “Build the Wall” gala.

But even before Trump’s election, a whole horde of grifters infiltrated the conservative movement, alienating voters who should be Republicans, motivating Democrats to turn out their voters, and feasting on the financial carcass of the elephant.

Ironically, the state party is bringing one of those alienating grifters, Candace Owens, to speak at the convention dinner Saturday night. What a long way the party has fallen when they’re so embarrassed by what Owens might say that the event is closed to the media. Are they afraid she is going to say more nice things about Adolf Hitler?

Sadly, the Owens event is “sold out,” demonstrating just how willing the grass roots of the party are willing to be fleeced by someone who is willing to tell them Trump and the GOP will win over minority voters before the 2020 election. But hey, she annoys all the right people, so let’s buy tickets, right? I don’t know which is worse, the party pandering to the least common denominator, or that it worked.

As for the changes to the party that have been made so far, it’s near unanimous among Republicans that bringing Mark Jefferson back to be the executive director was a good move. Hopefully, Jefferson can catch the party up to the Democrats in organizing the grass roots to turn out voters. As we learned from the special state senate elections in 2018 and the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, the Democrats are ahead in technology and organization, as well as motivation. The opposition research and messaging for the party could use a real upgrade, too.

Reactions are mixed about the appointment of Andrew Hitt as the party’s chairman. Hitt was the party treasurer when all of the financial problems occurred. This is like making the Titanic’s navigator the captain of another large passenger ship. And as the Chief Operating Officer of Michael Best Strategies, how many hidden conflicts of interest will there be as his government relations organization tries to work with the Evers administration? Hitt should be a very temporary employee until the party can find a full-time party chairman, one that isn’t trying to influence government policy for paying clients while trying to run a state party.

To be fair, the losses in 2018 can’t all be laid at the state party’s door. Democrats were motivated by Trump, Republicans less so. Judge Michael Screnock’s race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court ran into anti-Trump sentiment and didn’t have an effective media campaign. Former state Sen. Leah Vukmir had to fight an awful primary and ran an awful campaign at the same time. Gov. Scott Walker was defeated by complacency and one too many campaigns, not to mention the damage done (by Trump, too) during the 2016 campaign for president. Attorney General Brad Schimel nearly won, but was dragged down by forces beyond his control, including a national GOP Attorney General committee that is behind the Democrats’ organization.

However, the party needs to improve if it is going to win. The party needs to do a real job of reaching out to women and minority voters. It needs to do a better job of fighting the Democrats. And it needs to be smarter in how it turns out GOP voters.

The few Republican activists that show up at this year’s convention will have a good time. They’ll rub elbows with elected officials, they’ll enjoy the hospitality suites and they’ll probably celebrate, in the words for former Gov. Tommy Thompson, what a great day it is to be a Republican in Wisconsin. Perhaps someday it will be again, but only with a more honest examination of what is really wrong with the party.

Why Walker lost and Hagedorn won

Dan O’Donnell:

If Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice-Elect Brian Hagedorn’s upset win last month provided demonstrable proof that the state’s grassroots drive conservative success in this state, draft portions of the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s post-mortem of the 2018 midterm election should remove all doubt.

The documents obtained by the MacIver Institute paint a picture of a Party that had lost touch with its most loyal of supporters and as such lost every statewide election on the ballot in November. 

“Over time, the Republican Party of Wisconsin (RPW) drifted from its roots as a grassroots organization and became a top-down bureaucracy, disconnected from local activists, recklessly reliant on outside consultants and took for granted money that was raised to keep the Party functioning properly,” the post-mortem found.

Local Republican Party leaders repeatedly expressed this concern, but were rebuffed and, more troublingly, “there was an additional problem concealed from the grassroots leaders—cash flow concerns, debt, and financial morass.”

The latest quarterly financial reporting figures from the Federal Election Commission show the Republican Party with $220,680.46 in cash on hand as of March 31, but the Party also held outstanding debt of $142,437.12.

This reflects the top-down organizational structure that, party leaders are concerned, hampered Governor Walker’s re-election effort last year.

“In calendar year 2018, a small handful of consultants were paid well over a half of a million dollars,” the post-mortem continued. “Some of this group performed valuable and necessary functions appropriately contracted for externally.”

“However, some of the consultants were providing services that are appropriately and more economically performed in-house in other states. Still others had few, if any, discernible job responsibilities or expectations of deliveries.”

This didn’t just drain the Party’s resources; it also “prevented RPW from building [its] farm team of future staff and young party leaders.”

Whether the over-reliance on outside consultants led to the alienation of grassroots leaders and in-house RPW staff or the consultants were hired because the staff and grassroots were unable to perform their assigned duties is still open to debate.

“Whether a failure in training, or a simple preference for paying a consultant rather than hiring the right staff, the end result was overpaying for services,” the post-mortem concluded.

As the RPW grew more dependent upon consultants, it also isolated itself from the grassroots volunteers on whom it had relied far more heavily during the 2010, 2011 and 2012 recall, and 2014 election cycles.

Those volunteers told RPW staff compiling the post-mortem that the organization didn’t effectively communicate with them and that its staff was “sometimes unhelpful, unresponsive [and] even rude.” 

Additionally, they felt that the Party’s website was “cumbersome and not as useful as it should be.” 

Fissures within the RPW were not secret in the wake of losses by Governor Scott Walker, Attorney General Brad Schimel, Senate candidate Leah Vukmir as well as Republican candidates for Secretary of State and State Treasurer. In late February, Mark Morgan resigned as the Party’s Executive Director. A week later, Party Chairman Brad Courtney stepped down as well.

When Mark Jefferson returned to serve as Executive Director—a position he held from 2007 to 2011—he immediately pledged to return the RPW to the bottom-up structure with which he felt more comfortable.

“Everybody has their lane and the best lane that the Republican Party has is the grassroots activation,” he told News/Talk 1130 WISN at the time.  “We’re the one entity that can get people off the couch and knocking on doors and making phone calls.”  

Andrew Hitt, elected Party Chairman in the wake of Courtney’s departure, concurred, and the new leadership team’s recommitment paid nearly immediate dividends with Hagedorn’s win less than a month later.

“There’s more bang for the buck in investing in grassroots and volunteer mobilization,” Jefferson told the MacIver Institute this week. “Is the money better spent getting a few more advertisements or in training people and engaging with people all over the state? We think that the money put into boots on the ground is better dollar-for-dollar than anything else you can spend money on.”

Jefferson admits that the Party’s debt is still an issue, but a manageable one since it continues to raise money ahead of the 2020 presidential election cycle. 18 months out, he is hopeful that the Party learned from the mistakes of 2018 and can build on the momentum of the Supreme Court race. 

“There’s a renewed sense of enthusiasm on the ground because we have rededicated ourselves to building that enthusiasm and channeling it into action.”

Ongoing wasteful state spending

The RightWisconsin headline of this column from two state senators is “Wisconsin’s Hidden Debt.”

The debt may be hidden; the spending is not. Long-time readers have read here about the failings of the Knowles–Nelson Stewardship Program, which buys land that almost no one can use:

In Wisconsin, our natural resources are an essential part of who we are as a state. We value our outdoor traditions and the stewardship program has helped Wisconsinites preserve natural areas and expand access to recreational activities, all of which are beneficial.

Despite being well intentioned upon enactment in 1989, the stewardship program primarily allows the state to purchase land it cannot otherwise afford, through borrowing, pushing costs onto future generations. Initially authorized for a 10 year term, the program provided $250 million in total borrowing authority to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), but, in recent years, has grown exponentially in size and scope. Unfortunately, similar to many government programs, the stewardship fund has grown beyond its original intent, while leaving Wisconsin in a financial bind.

To the detriment of Wisconsinites, the stewardship program has accumulated far too much land, has incurred staggering debt, and has resulted in decreased funds for vital state needs. Currently, the DNR has either purchased or protected 1.8 million acres of land and the debt currently owed is $795 million. To put the land acquisition in perspective, that is more acreage than the entire state of Rhode Island or Delaware. Moreover, when land is owned by the state, it cannot be developed and is not on the tax rolls, impacting the ability of local communities to generate revenue. The program, in its current form, has run its course. The days of responsible borrowing are long gone.

It is incumbent upon the legislature and the budget writing committee to reform this program, to lower the risk to taxpayers, and to fund our top priorities. In 2015, lawmakers recognized the growing concern and required the DNR to sell 10,000 acres of land as a partial solution to rising costs. While a step in the right direction, further efforts are still needed to combat the excessive debt currently being incurred. The spending is so extreme that Wisconsin taxpayers are currently paying over a half a million dollars in interest every week on debt accumulated from the stewardship fund.

According to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the stewardship fund, since its creation, has cost Wisconsinites approximately $871 million. Should our colleagues propose to reauthorize the program for an additional 10 years in this budget, the program would need to borrow an additional $332 million, an estimate that does not include interest. In total, with borrowed interest, taxpayers would be on the hook for $533 million. To make matters worse, that figure does not include the current $795 million in existing stewardship debt.

To be clear, if reauthorized, stewardship costs will soar to $1.329 billion dollars. In a budget in which Wisconsin needs significant investment in our roads, we need to seriously evaluate how we prioritize our spending. We must ask ourselves when enough is enough.

Enough has been enough for a long time. The program buys land for “low-impact recreational activities,” which means that your tax dollars have been paying for decades for activities you can’t partake in — sometimes fishing, often hunting, and never anything that involved internal combustion engines — unless the DNR approves.

I wonder how many Wisconsinites are even aware that these land purchases have been made not through earmarked spending, but by debt.

Tax cuts and the economy

M.D. Kittle:

The booming economy of 2019 continues to be fueled in large part by the GOP Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. 

And Badger State companies and their employees continue to reap the rewards of tax relief. 

“Also, what may not be as immediate is (the tax savings) have allowed us to bank some cash…It’s a fact that there are going to be funds there for us to be able to put toward capital expenditures when the time is right,” Jung said.

U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), according to initial reports from the U.S. Commerce Department, grew by a whopping 3.2 percent in the first quarter, crushing estimates and soothing worries of a looming economic slowdown.

Companies like Pewaukee-based Trico Corp.have much to do with the U.S. economy’s impressive expansion. Bob Jung, CEO of the century-old industrial lubricants business, will tell you that the $1.5 billion tax relief package passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Trump continues to benefit businesses like his — and Trico’s employees. 

A year ago, Jung confirmed that, thanks to the tax cuts, Trico would provide $650 bonuses to its workforce, and the employer planned to increase contributions to employee 401(k) accounts. The company also expected to hire more full-time workers. Jung said Trico paid out those additional benefits earlier this year. 

The lower tax rates for S corporations like Trico have made a big difference to the bottom line. But the reform package also included beneficial accounting changes. Jung’s company was able to change from accrual to cash accounting, allowing Trico to recognize revenue and expenses only when money changes hands, not when revenue is earned and expenses are billed (but not paid) under accrual accounting. 

Jung said the tax cuts have helped the company expand products and services to customers. Trico sales are up 10 percent on the year, he said.

“Also, what may not be as immediate is (the tax savings) have allowed us to bank some cash,” the CEO said. “It’s a fact that there are going to be funds there for us to be able to put toward capital expenditures when the time is right, perhaps in the fourth quarter.” 

Such sentiment bodes well for economic expansion ahead. 

Economists’ consensus had pegged GDP growth at about 2.5 percent to start the year. Many are upping their full-year estimates following the latest numbers on top of a healthy 2.9 percent growth rate in 2018. On average, the U.S. economy has added 180,000 jobs in the first three months of the year, while the major markets continue to break records. 

Corporate America brought back nearly $670 billion in offshore profits to the U.S. last year, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

Grover Norquist, president and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, said the GOP tax reforms were designed to ramp up economic growth over the next three to four years. When you cut corporate income tax rates from 35 percent to 21 percent, however, that frees up a lot of capital to reinvest, Norquist said. And U.S. companies have done just that. 

Corporate America brought back nearly $670 billion in offshore profits to the U.S. last year, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. That’s a considerable amount, even as Bloomberg and other media outlets chortled that it was a far cry from the $4 trillion President Trump predicted would return post-tax reform. 

“We saw the growth immediately from the first year, so imagine what will happen over the next two, three, four or five, six years (with) the most powerful, pro-growth, pro-wage increase” tax reform law, Norquist told MacIver News Service in a recent edition of the MacIver NewsMakers podcast. 

U.S. businesses continue to pass along their tax savings to employees, to consumers, and to their communities. 

Americans for Tax Reform has tracked some 800 examples of new hires, pay raises, benefit increases, bonuses, facilities expansions, and utility rate reductions directly related to the tax cut package. This incomplete list, which only notes firms that have made public announcements, includes the largest corporations to the smallest shops — including dozens of Badger State companies, like Trico.  

And Madison-based Musicnotes, Inc. 

Last year, the worldwide leader in digital sheet music, announced it was giving 3 percent salary increases to its 55 employees, thanks to the corporate tax cuts. Tim Reiland, the company’s executive chairman, said Musicnotes intended to expand its workforce. 

“We definitely benefitted from the tax reform and we have passed some of that along and continue to do that,” Reiland said.

It has done that and more. 

“This is a really positive story for us and it continues,” Reiland told MacIver News last week. “We definitely benefitted from the tax reform and we have passed some of that along and continue to do that.” 

Musicnotes has added six positions, boosted salaries by an average of 10 percent, and expanded office space by about 15 percent since the beginning of 2018, Reiland said. He calls it the “virtuous circle.” 

A lot of the company’s growth has to do with its products and the people behind them, Reiland said, but a significantly lower corporate tax rate certainly helps. 

“It’s very real. It’s cash flow. That’s what you need to grow a business,” he said. “It has been a significant benefit to us, and we’ve shared, we’ve rewarded, we’ve plowed back and we continue to do that.” 

Beyond business expansion and employee bonuses, a lot of companies have used a portion of their tax savings to benefit their communities. Case in point, CUNA Mutual Group. The Madison-based mutual insurance provider was able to make the largest contribution ever — $20 million — to its philanthropic foundation, thanks in part to tax reform. 

“The reform benefit is helping us,” said CUNA Mutual spokesman Phil Tschudy. “The reason we did this is so we could ensure that our foundation is funded for years to come, regardless of economic situations.” The foundation turned 50 this year.

Consumers, too, continue to benefit from the 2017 tax reform law. 

State regulators announced last year that WE Energies’ electric customers would receive a one-time credit in July and a slight decrease in rates “from a portion of the savings from the company’s lower federal corporate tax rate.” The Milwaukee utility’s customers received a combined $374 million in refunds, through bill credits, in 2018, according to WE Energies spokesman Brendan Conway. 

“We have also lowered the amount of debt customers would have had to repay us $47.2 million,” he said in an email. 

On top of that, the utility’s recent filing with the state Public Service Commission proposes to use an additional $111.3 million in tax savings to lower customer costs in 2020 and 2021. 

Democrats, led by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the benefits delivered by the tax cuts “crumbs.” But employers and workers nationwide have been able to keep a lot more bread — and impressive economic growth shows the power unleashed when taxpayers are freed from the burdens of taxation.


Dan O’Donnell:

Nancy Pelosi is deathly afraid of impeachment. No, it’s not because of a sudden magnanimous surge of camaraderie. It’s because she understands what her fellow Democrats do not: Impeaching President Trump would be an unmitigated disaster.

Rank-and-file Democrats clearly believe that initiating impeachment proceedings in the Democrat-controlled House would sufficiently weaken Trump ahead of the 2020 presidential election, but they need only look to the ill-fated recall of former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to realize the folly of this assumption.

In early 2012, Walker seemed like (politically speaking) a dead man walking. His opponents had secured more than 900,000 signatures on a petition to recall him following his Act 10 public sector union reforms, and opposition to them brought 100,000 protestors to the Wisconsin Capitol just a year earlier.

No governor had ever survived a recall attempt, and the most recent to face one–California’s Gray Davis in 2003–was defeated overwhelmingly.

Yet stunningly, the effort to recall Walker backfired. Just a year after 100,000 protesters showed up to oppose him, he gained 200,000 votes from his 2010 election victory over the exact same opponent.

How did this happen? How did a politician so weakened by intense opposition manage to increase his margin of victory so significantly? The answer is as simple as it is seemingly difficult for Democrats to grasp: The overwhelming unity Republicans experienced in the wake of that opposition.

In other words, the hysterical overreaction to Act 10 galvanized support for Walker from both conservatives and independents who saw the effort to remove Walker for what it was–a political power play masquerading as an appeal to morality.

Walker’s commonsense calculation that overspending on public sector union benefits was bankrupting the state might not have been shared by an overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites, but the belief that Democrats overreacted to it sure was.

Voters, quite simply, couldn’t stomach removing a governor because of a disagreement on policy. In other words, Walker had already been tried in the court of public opinion and exonerated. Democrats, on the other hand, were judged to be sore losers simply bitter over their defeat in the 2010 election and the subsequent implementation of Republican legislation.

It’s almost impossible not to see the similarities in 2019. After two years, millions of dollars, tens of thousands of pages of documents, and hundreds of witnesses, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report found no evidence that the Trump campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia to swing the 2016 presidential election.

Trump had won it fair and square, just as Walker had six years earlier. Democrats, though, still haven’t accepted that and are still looking for something, anything that would essentially undo the results. It is impossible to see an impeachment movement through any other lens.

Pelosi understands this, and is trying desperately to tamp down her party’s rabid push for it. She recognizes that national Democrats face the same uphill battle that Wisconsin Democrats did in 2012 of convincing the voting public that policy and/or personal differences can justify removal from office.

Republicans learned their lesson 20 years ago, when their effort to impeach President Bill Clinton resulted in his public opinion polling hitting the highest point it did during his presidency at 73 percent. Did voters decide that they liked Clinton a lot better once it was revealed that he was a lying adulterer? Of course not. They decided that he was the victim of a Republican witch hunt.

Why do Democrats think that President Trump would fare any differently? He has been claiming for years that the investigations into him were politically motivated, and in drafting Articles of Impeachment against him, Democrats would prove him right.

For years, he has claimed that the national media was out to get him. In fanning the flames of impeachment and overtly pushing for it, they are and have been proving him right for months

Politics is, at its core, making one’s opponent as unsympathetic and unlikable as possible. President Trump is beloved by his supporters, sure, but is loathed by millions. Turning him into a victim by impeaching him with no rational grounds, would turn him–like Clinton and Walker before him–into a sympathetic and therefore far more likable figure.

Not only would he survive a Senate trial since the requisite two-thirds vote to convict is an all-but-impossible standard, but he would also likely win re-election next year in a landslide on a message that amounts to little more than “Make Democrats Sane Again.”

Pelosi, therefore, has ample reason to fear impeachment, as it would solidify conservative support for a President already backed by a record-high number of Republicans and convince fair-minded Democrat-leaning voters that the opposition to Trump simply hasn’t gotten over its 2016 loss.

This is a recipe for disaster in 2020–a suddenly sympathetic president presiding over a roaring economy facing an opponent whose message amounts to little more than “Don’t you hate this guy as much as I do?”

Nancy Pelosi sees it. Here’s hoping the rest of her party doesn’t.

A different pro-impeachment argument came from Gene Healy two years ago:

What’s really obscene is America’s record on presidential impeachments. We’ve made only three serious attempts in our entire constitutional history: Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998—both of whom were impeached but escaped removal—and Richard Nixon, who quit in 1974 before the House could vote on the issue. Given how many bastards and clowns we’ve been saddled with over the years, shouldn’t we manage the feat more than once a century?

A ‘National Inquest Into the Conduct of Public Men’

Impeachments “will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties,” Alexander Hamilton predicted in the Federalist. That’s how it played out during our last national debate on the subject, during the Monica Lewinsky imbroglio of the late ’90s.

The specter of Bill Clinton’s removal from office for perjury and obstruction of justice drove legal academia to new heights of creativity. Scads of concerned law professors strained to come up with a definition of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” narrow enough to let Bill slide. In a letter delivered to Congress as the impeachment debate began, over 430 of them warned that unless the House of Representatives wanted to “dangerously weaken the office of the presidency for the foreseeable future” (heaven forfend), the standard had to be “grossly heinous criminality or grossly derelict misuse of official power.”

Some of the academy’s leading lights, not previously known for devotion to original intent, proved themselves stricter than the strict constructionists and a good deal more original than the originalists. The impeachment remedy was so narrow, Cass Sunstein insisted, that if the president were to up and “murder someone simply because he does not like him,” it would make for a “hard case.” Quite so, echoed con-law superprof Laurence Tribe: An impeachable offense had to be “a grievous abuse of official power,” something that “severely threaten[s] the system of government.”

Just killing someone for sport might not count—after all, Tribe pointed out, when Vice President Aaron Burr left a gutshot Alexander Hamilton dying in Weehawken after their July 1804 duel, he got to serve the remaining months of his term without getting impeached. Still, Tribe generously allowed, in the modern era “there may well be room to argue” that a murdering president could be removed without grave damage to the Constitution.

In the unlikely event that Donald Trump orders one of his private bodyguards to whack Alec Baldwin, it’s a relief to know that Laurence Tribe will entertain the argument for impeachment. But does constitutional fidelity really require us to put up with anything short of “grievous,” “heinous,” existential threats to the body politic?

The Framers borrowed the mechanism from British practice, and there it wasn’t nearly so narrow. The first time the phrase appeared, apparently, was in the 1386 impeachment of the Earl of Suffolk, charged with misuse of public funds and negligence in “improvement of the realm.” The Nixon-era House Judiciary Committee staff report Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment described the English precedents as including “misapplication of funds, abuse of official power, neglect of duty, encroachment on Parliament’s prerogatives, [and] corruption and betrayal of trust.”

As Hamilton explained in the Federalist, “the true spirit of the institution” was “a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men,” the sort of inquiry that could “never be tied down by such strict rules…as in common cases serve to limit the discretion of courts.”

Among those testifying beside Sunstein and Tribe in 1998 was Northwestern’s John O. McGinnis, a genuine originalist, who argued that the Constitution’s impeachment provisions should be viewed in terms of the problem they were designed to address: “how to end the tenure of an officer whose conduct has seriously undermined his fitness for continued service and thus poses an unacceptable risk of injury to the republic.”

Contra Tribe, who’d compared impeachment to “capital punishment,” McGinnis pointed out that the constitutional penalties for unfitness—removal and possible disqualification from future office holding—went “just far enough,” and no further than necessary, “to remove the threat posed.” In light of the structure and purpose of impeachment, he argued, “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” should be understood, in modern lay language, roughly as “objective misconduct that seriously undermines the official’s fitness for office…measured by the risks, both practical and symbolic, that the officer poses to the republic.”

Today, even the president’s political enemies tend to set the bar far higher. Donald Trump has acted in a way that is “strategically incoherent,” “incompetent,” and “reckless,” Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi said in February, but “that is not grounds for impeachment.”

But incoherence, incompetence, and recklessness are evidence of unfitness, and when we’re talking about the nation’s most powerful office they can be as damaging as actual malice. It would be a pretty lousy constitutional architecture that only provided the means for ejecting the president if he’s a crook or a vegetable, but left us to muddle through anything in between.

Luckily, Pelosi is wrong: There is no constitutional barrier to impeaching a president who demonstrates gross incompetence or behavior that makes reasonable people worry about his proximity to nuclear weapons.

Impeachable Ineptitude

When Barack Obama was president, Trump once asked, “Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence?” Earlier this year, Daily Show viewers found that tweet funny enough to merit the “Greatest Trump Tweet of All Time” award. Still, it’s a valid question.

The conventional wisdom says no, largely on the basis of a snippet of legislative history from the Constitutional Convention. As James Madison’s notes recount, when Virginia’s George Mason moved to add “maladministration” to the Constitution’s impeachable offenses, Madison objected: “So vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate.” Mason yielded, substituting “other high crimes & misdemeanors.”

But the Convention debates were held in secret, and Madison’s notes weren’t published until half a century later. Furthermore, the language Mason substituted was understood from British practice to incorporate “maladministration.” Nor did Madison himself believe mismanagement and incompetence to be clearly off-limits, having described impeachment as the necessary remedy for “the incapacity, negligence, or perfidy of the chief Magistrate.” …

As the Comey story emerged, pundits and lawbloggers debated whether, on the known facts, the president’s behavior would support a federal felony charge for obstruction of justice. But that’s the wrong standard. As the Nixon Impeachment Inquiry staff report pointed out: “the purpose of impeachment is not personal punishment. Its purpose is primarily to maintain constitutional government.” Even if, to borrow a phrase from Comey, “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a charge of obstruction on these facts, the House is free to look at the president’s entire course of conduct and decide whether it reveals unfitness justifying impeachment.

A Rhetorical Question?

The Nixon report identified three categories of misconduct held to be impeachable offenses in American constitutional history: “exceeding the constitutional bounds” of the office’s powers, using the office for “personal gain,” and, most important here, “behaving in a manner grossly incompatible with the proper function and purpose of the office.”

When Trump does something to spark cries of “this is not normal,” the behavior in question often involves his Twitter feed. The first calls to impeach Trump over a tweet came up in March, when the president charged, apparently without evidence, that Obama had his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower.

The tweet was an “abuse of power,” “harmful to democracy,” and potentially impeachable, Harvard Law’s Noah Feldman proclaimed: “He’s threatening somebody with the possibility of prosecution.” Laurence Tribe, of all people, agreed. Murder may have been a hard case, but slander? Easy call. Trump’s charge qualified “as an impeachable offense whether via tweet or not.”

I confess it wasn’t the utterly speculative threat to Barack Obama that disturbed me about Trump’s Twitter feed that day in March; it was that a mere two hours after lobbing that grenade, Trump turned to razzing Arnold Schwarzenegger for his “pathetic” ratings as host of Celebrity Apprentice. The Watergate tapes exposed much more than a simple abuse of power. They revealed a fragile, petty, paranoid personality of the sort you’d be loath to entrust with the vast authority of the presidency. And Nixon didn’t imagine that the whole world would be listening. Trump’s Twitter feed is like having the Nixon tapes running in real time over social media, with the president desperate for an even bigger audience.

As it happens, there’s precedent for impeaching a president for bizarre behavior and “conduct unbecoming” in his public communications. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson gets a bad rap, in part because most of the charges against him really were bogus. The bulk of the articles of impeachment rested on Johnson’s violation of the Tenure of Office Act, a measure of dubious constitutionality that barred the president from removing Cabinet officers without Senate approval.

But the 10th article of impeachment against Johnson, based on different grounds, has gotten less coverage. It charged the president with “a high misdemeanor in office” based on a series of “intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues” against Congress. In a series of speeches in the summer of 1866, Johnson had accused Congress of, among other things, “undertak[ing] to poison the minds of the American people” and having “substantially planned” a race riot in New Orleans that July. Such remarks, according to Article X, were “peculiarly indecent and unbecoming in the Chief Magistrate” and brought his office “into contempt, ridicule and disgrace.”

‘Peculiar Indecencies’

From a 21st century vantage point, the idea of impeaching the president for insulting Congress seems odd, to say the least. But as Jeffrey Tulis explained in his seminal work The Rhetorical Presidency, “Johnson’s popular rhetoric violated virtually all of the nineteenth-century norms” surrounding presidential oratory. Johnson stood “as the stark exception to general practice in that century, so demagogic in his appeals to the people” that he resembled “a parody of popular leadership.” The charge, approved by the House but not voted on in the Senate, was controversial at the time, but besides skepticism about whether it reached the level of a high misdemeanor, “the only other argument offered by congressmen in Johnson’s defense was that he was not drunk when giving the speeches.”

It’s impressive that Trump—a teetotaler—manages to pull off his “peculiar indecencies” while stone cold sober. Since his election, Trump has used Twitter to rail against restaurant reviews, Saturday Night Live skits, “so-called judges,” and America’s nuclear-armed rivals. The month before his inauguration, apropos of nothing, Trump announced via the social network that the U.S. “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability,” following up the next day on Morning Joe with “we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

As Charles Fried, Reagan’s solicitor general, observed, “there are no lines for him…no notion of, this is inappropriate, this is indecent, this is unpresidential.” If the standard is “unacceptable risk of injury to the republic,” such behavior just may be impeachable. An impeachment on those grounds wouldn’t just remove a bad president from office; it would set a precedent that might keep future leaders in line.

Let’s sum up — Democrats most likely have the votes to impeach Trump, but not enough Senate votes to convict him. Impeaching Trump will anger Republicans to get them to show up at the polls next year. Impeaching Trump might make future presidents think twice about their bad conduct (too bad that can’t be retroactive in Obama’s case) and reduce the power of the presidency. Looks like a win–win–win–win to me.

Happy (?) Tax Freedom Day, Wistaxsin

Wisconsin has arrived at Tax Freedom Day, which according to the Tax Foundation is …

… the day when the nation as a whole has earned enough money to pay its total tax bill for the year. Tax Freedom Day takes all federal, state, and local taxes and divides them by the nation’s income. In 2019, Americans will pay $3.42 trillion in federal taxes and $1.86 trillion in state and local taxes, for a total tax bill of $5.29 trillion, or 29 percent of national income. This year, Tax Freedom Day falls on April 16, or 105 days into the year. …

… Since 2002, federal expenses have surpassed federal revenues, with the budget deficit exceeding $1 trillion annually from 2009 to 2012. In calendar year 2019, the deficit is expected to increase from $981 billion to $1.09 trillion. If we include this annual federal borrowing, which represents future taxes owed, Tax Freedom Day would occur on May 8, 22 days later. The latest ever deficit-inclusive Tax Freedom Day occurred during World War II, on May 25, 1945. …

The total tax burden borne by residents of different states varies considerably due to differing state tax policies and the progressivity of the federal tax system. This means that states with higher incomes and higher taxes celebrate TFD later: New York (May 3), New Jersey (April 30), and Connecticut (April 25). Residents of Alaska will bear the lowest average tax burden in 2019, with Tax Freedom Day arriving on March 25. Also early are Oklahoma (March 30), Florida (April 4), and Louisiana (April 4).

Put another way, Wisconsin has the 16th highest federal, state and local taxes in the U.S., up from 17th one year ago.

This blog follows Tax Freedom Day every year — April 12, 2010, April 16, 2011April 21, 2012April 20, 2013April 22, 2014April 25, 2015April 27, 2016, April 27, 2017, and April 19, 2018. The first eight years were under Democratic presidents, and Democrats raise taxes as often as the sun rises in the east. On the other hand, Republicans controlled the executive and legislative branches of state government from 2011 to 2018, and yet this state’s tax burden got worse, not better.

The difference between 2017 and 2018 is not, sadly, because of major tax cuts; it’s because of a difference in the Tax Foundation’s methodology. As it is, with a Democratic governor and a Legislature apparently hell-bent on increasing gas taxes despite a majority of the public not favoring gas tax increases, our 2020 Tax Freedom Day will probably be later than this year’s.

Given the reality of our overtaxation, this from Yahoo! Finance isn’t a surprise:

As the tax deadline nears, residents of some states are bearing the brunt of it more than others. …

WalletHub looked at four different types of taxation: Real-Estate Tax, Vehicle Property Tax, Income Tax, and Sales & Excise Tax.

Here’s a breakdown of each, based on WalletHub’s data:

Being a homeowner in New Jersey isn’t cheap at all — in fact, NJ residents see the highest effective real-estate tax (otherwise known as property tax) rate in the country, at 8.13%. Trailing behind are Illinois (7.71%), New Hampshire (7.33%), Connecticut (6.89%), and Wisconsin (6.47%). WalletHub calculated these rates by dividing the effective median real estate tax in that state to the median income. …

And if property taxes are an issue, note that Hawaii has the lowest rate at 0.90%. Alabama, Louisiana, D.C., and Colorado aren’t far behind, all under 2%.

In terms of taxing residents income states like Alaska, Florida, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming all have a 0% rate. Yet, in Kentucky, residents pay a 5.01% tax on their income. Maryland, Oregon, and Pennsylvania are pricey too, with tax rates above 4% on their residents.

That is, again, after eight years of Republican control of state government. The GOP and former Gov. Scott Walker deserve complete blame for failing to campaign into the state Constitution Taxpayer Bill of Rights-like permanent controls restricting spending and taxes.

Gov. Empty Suit

Dan O’Donnell:

In less than a week, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers will mark his hundredth day in office with far less fanfare than most heads of state. Since the famous First Hundred days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the milestone has been something of a media obsession. What signature legislation can a new president get through Congress? What policy initiatives can the new governor spearhead?

Devoid of any actual achievement during his first hundred days, Evers has instead settled for giving the appearance of diligence while doing absolutely nothing substantive.

In Governor Walker’s first hundred days, he stared down an angry mob to pass collective bargaining reforms that brought Wisconsin back from the brink of financial ruin and set the stage for the economic boom that continues to this day.

In Governor Evers’ first hundred days, he replaced a painting.

The highly publicized move to return “Wishes in the Wind” to the Governor’s Mansion serves as a perfect metaphor for the ultimately meaningless virtue signaling of the Evers Administration thus far. Devoid of any actual achievement during his first hundred days, Evers has instead settled for giving the appearance of diligence while doing absolutely nothing substantive.

Consider his very first executive actions, signed on the day of his inauguration. The first was to “recognize the valuable contributions of state employees, promote positive morale, and foster a collaborative work environment.”

How, exactly? That wasn’t Evers’ concern. His action merely let state employees know that he valued them. Unstated was the implied belief that they hadn’t been under the prior administration. Still, Evers’ action didn’t actually do anything; it only gave the appearance that he cares more than Scott Walker did.

A second order, signed the same day, required state agencies to “develop and implement policies preventing discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

This sounds noble enough, but such discrimination is already illegal under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act. Evers’ executive action essentially amounts to a request that state agencies enact policies to…obey the law.

A month later, Evers ordered 23 “Open for Business” placards taken down from the “Welcome to Wisconsin” signs on the state’s borders and replaced them with boards reading “Tony Evers, Governor.”

Apparently anticipating questions about the wastefulness of this move, Evers’ Department of Administration assured taxpayers that “the old signs would be cut in half with no material wasted.”

Fittingly, they were turned into “Detour” signs since the move served no other purpose than to signal a detour from the Walker Administration.

Evers, though, hasn’t been content to merely virtue signal his opposition to Walker-era slogans; he also used his office to symbolically lash out at the Trump Administration. Just two weeks after removing the “Open for Business” signs, Evers signed an executive order pulling Wisconsin’s National Guard troops from America’s southern border.

“There is simply not ample evidence to support the president’s contention of a national security crisis at our southwestern border,” he tweeted.

Nothing, however, could have possibly topped the pomp and circumstance with which Evers on Friday announced that he was…redecorating his living room.

The move had virtually no impact on President Trump’s mission at the southern border, as the 112 Wisconsin Guard members were simply replaced with the 3,750 active-duty troops the Pentagon had deployed in early February, but that didn’t matter: Evers had told Trump, hadn’t he?

A month later, just hours after Dane County Circuit Court Judge Richard Niess inexplicably ruled that the Wisconsin Legislature’s December extraordinary session was unconstitutional, Evers directed Attorney General Josh Kaul to file a motion allowing Wisconsin to withdraw from a federal lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act.

In the few days between Judge Niess’ laughably incorrect ruling and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision putting it on hold, Evers could have done anything. Instead, he did the one thing that had no practical effect whatsoever. Nearly 20 other states remain as plaintiffs in the case, which continues to make its way through the federal court system with or without Wisconsin’s involvement.

Again, though, Evers simply wanted to make a statement even if his action had no actual impact. This is the very definition of virtue signaling.

Nothing, however, could have possibly topped the pomp and circumstance with which Evers on Friday announced that he was…redecorating his living room.

Gone was the portrait of Old Abe—a Civil War painting put up as part of Walker’s 2011 commemoration the war’s 150th anniversary—and returned was a hyper-realistic picture of modern-day Milwaukee children playing with bubbles.

“Looking into their eyes should remind us of the responsibility we all share to work together to ensure a bright future for all kids in Wisconsin,” Evers said.

How exactly is the Governor working to ensure such a future? By holding a press conference to signal to Wisconsin that he cares more than Scott Walker ever did. You see, Walker even got rid of that painting so he wouldn’t have to look in those kids’ eyes. Well Evers is looking! See that, everybody? Evers is looking! Look at him looking and caring!

“Look-at-me” grandstanding is the last refuge of the ineffectual politician; a desperate attempt to pave the road to re-election with good intentions.  With his shameless virtue signaling, Evers is signaling nothing except his own ineptitude.

He is incapable of using sheer force of will and hard work to ram through legislation over the objections of a hostile legislature. He is incapable of using the power of persuasion to reach a compromise. He is incapable of using charm and charisma to convince the people of Wisconsin of the wisdom of his agenda.

He seems to be capable only of telling Wisconsin how good and virtuous he is—so much more so than his predecessor and his political opponents.

That isn’t public policy, it’s a Facebook post. And just like a Facebook post, the Evers agenda—such as it is—has been surprisingly easy to see, give a quick eyeroll, and ignore.

Maybe that’s why, Benjamin Yount observes …

Voters across Wisconsin are apparently souring on Governor Tony Evers.

The latest Marquette Law School Poll shows the governor’s disapproval rating jumped 15 percent since January.

Back then, 22 percent of people didn’t like the job that the governor was doing. This month, the poll said, 37 percent disapprove.

To be fair, Evers’ approval rating jumped as well. In January, 39 percent of people in Wisconsin approved of the governor. This month, the poll said, 47 percent approve.

The shift comes from more voters coming to a conclusion about Governor Evers.

In January, 38 percent of people didn’t have an opinion of the governor. This month, that number shrank to just 15 percent of people who don’t have an opinion.

In other words, most of the people who made up their minds about have decided that they don’t like the new governor.

Why? Because he is doing what he promised to do. He’s going to tax and spend.

It’s wonderful that the voters in Wisconsin are waking up. But wouldn’t it have been nice had people woken-up last November.

On Tax Day

Dan Mitchell:

There are some fortunate people (in the Cayman Islands, BermudaMonacoVanuatuAntigua and Barbuda, and a few other places) who don’t have to pay income taxes.

The United States used to be in that lucky club. The income tax did not become a permanent blight upon the nation until 1913 (there was a temporary income tax during the Civil War and an attempted income tax in 1894 – ruled unconstitutional in 1895).

Indeed, this odious tax is a relatively new invention for the entire world. If my memory is correct, the first income tax was a temporary measure imposed by the United Kingdom to finance the fight against Napoleon. And the U.K. also was the first country to impose a permanent income tax (ironically, to help offset lower taxes on international trade).

In every case, politicians followed the same script. Income taxes originally were supposed to have low rates and only apply to the rich.

But it was simply a matter of time before small taxes on the wealthy became punitive taxes on everybody.

Since today is tax filing today for Americans, let’s take the opportunity to highlight two specific unfortunate consequences of the income tax.

First, it enabled the modern welfare state. You can see from the chart that the explosion of redistribution spending only occurred after politicians obtained a new source of revenue (a problem that was exacerbated in Europe when politicians adopted value-added taxes and were able to further increase the burden of government spending).

Needless to say, this is a reason to oppose an energy tax, a wealth tax, or a financial transactions tax. Giving politicians a new source of revenue is like giving alcoholics the keys to a liquor store.

Second, the income tax enabled costly economic discrimination. Prior to income taxes, governments largely relied on trade taxes and excise taxes, and those levies did not create many opportunities for mischief.

An income tax, by contrast, allows the government to impose all sorts of special penalties – either with discriminatory tax rates or with extra layers of tax on saving and investment – on people who generate a lot of economic output.

And it’s worth mentioning that the income tax also allows politicians to create all sorts of special credits, exemptions, deduction, exclusion, and other preferences (about 75,000 pages of them) for politically well-connected interest groups.

These penalties and preferences are both morally troubling (rampant cronyism) and economically damaging (back-door methods of central planning).

Let’s wrap up today’s column with this helpful reminder that the income tax is basically a penalty on productive behavior.

P.S. Politicians can play games with other revenue sources (i.e., special VAT rates or differential tariff burdens), but the income tax stands apart because it is capable of generating large amounts of revenue while simultaneously giving politicians considerable ability to pick winners and losers.

The income tax was instituted in Wisconsin to reduce the property tax. Then the sales tax was instituted to reduce the property tax. The state sales tax is two-thirds larger than when originally instituted, and yet property taxes are still considered too high, but then again so are our other taxes in this overtaxed state.

Jeffre Tucker adds:

The income tax is enshrined into law but it is an idea that stands in total contradiction to the driving force behind the American Revolution and the idea of freedom itself. We desperately need a serious national movement to get rid of it – not reform it, not replace it, not flatten it or refocus its sting from this group to that. It just needs to go.

The great essayist Frank Chodorov once described the income tax as the root of all evil. His target was not the tax itself, but the principle behind it. Since its implementation in 1913, he wrote, “The government says to the citizen: ‘Your earnings are not exclusively your own; we have a claim on them, and our claim precedes yours; we will allow you to keep some of it, because we recognize your need, not your right; but whatever we grant you for yourself is for us to decide.”

He really does have a point. That’s evil. When Congress ratified the 16th Amendment on Feb. 3, 1913, there was a sense in which all private income in the U.S. was nationalized. What was not taxed from then on was a favor granted unto us, and continues to be so.

This is implied in the text of the amendment itself: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

Where are the limits? There weren’t any. There was some discussion about putting a limit on the tax, but it seemed unnecessary. Only 1% of the income earners would end up paying about 1% to the government. Everyone else was initially untouched. Who really cares that the rich have to pay a bit more, right? They can afford it.

This perspective totally misunderstands the true nature of government, which always wants more money and more power and will stop at nothing to get both. The 16th Amendment was more than a modern additive to an antique document. It was a new philosophy of the fiscal life of the entire country.

Today, the ruling elite no longer bothers with things like amendments. But back in the day, it was different. The amendment was made necessary because of previous court decisions that stated what was once considered a bottom-line presumption of the free society: Government cannot tax personal property. What you make is your own. You get to keep the product of your labors. Government can tax sales, perhaps, or raise money through tariffs on goods coming in and out of the country. But your bank account is off-limits.

The amendment changed that idea. In the beginning, it applied to very few people. This was one reason it passed. It was pitched as a replacement tax, not a new money raiser. After all the havoc caused by the divisive tariffs of the 19th century, this sounded like a great deal to many people, particularly Southerners and Westerners fed up with paying such high prices for manufactured goods while seeing their trading relations with foreign consumers disrupted.

People who supported it – and they were not so much the left but the right-wing populists of the time – imagined that the tax would hit the robber baron class of industrialists in the North. And that it did. Their fortunes began to dwindle, and their confidence in their ability to amass and retain intergenerational fortunes began to wane.

We all know the stories of how the grandchildren of the Gilded Age tycoons squandered their family heritage in the 1920s and failed to carry on the tradition. Well, it is hardly surprising. The government put a timetable and limit on accumulation. Private families and individuals would no longer be permitted to exist except in subjugation to the taxing state. The kids left their private estates to live in the cities, put off marriage, stopped bothering with all that hearth and home stuff. Time horizons shortened, and the Jazz Age began.

Class warfare was part of the deal from the beginning. The income tax turned the social fabric of the country into a giant lifetime boat, with everyone arguing about who had to be thrown overboard so that others might live.

The demon in the beginning was the rich. That remained true until the 1930s, when FDR changed the deal. Suddenly, the income would be collected, but taxed in a different way. It would be taken from everyone, but a portion would be given back late in life as a permanent income stream. Thus was the payroll tax born. This tax today is far more significant than the income tax.

The class warfare unleashed all those years ago continues today. One side wants to tax the rich. The other side finds it appalling that the percentage of people who pay no income tax has risen from 30% to nearly 50%. Now we see the appalling spectacle of Republicans regarding this as a disgrace that must change. They have joined the political classes that seek advancement by hurting people.

It’s extremely strange that the payroll tax is rarely considered in this debate. The poor, the middle class and the rich are all being hammered by payroll taxes that fund failed programs that provide no security and few benefits at all.

It’s impossible to take seriously the claims that the income tax doesn’t harm wealth creation. When Congress wants to discourage something – smoking, imports, selling stocks or whatever – they know what to do: Tax it. Tax income, and on the margin, you discourage people from earning it.

Tax debates are always about “reform” – which always means a slight shift in who pays what, with an eye to raising ever more money for the government. A far better solution would be to forget the whole thing and return to the original idea of a free society: You get to keep what you earn or inherit. That means nothing short of abolishing the great mistake of 1913.

Forget the flat tax. The only just solution is no tax on incomes ever.

But let’s say that one day we actually become safe from the income tax collectors and something like blessed peace arrives. There is still another problem that emerged in 1913. Congress created the Federal Reserve, which eventually developed the power to create all the money that government would ever need, even without taxing.

For the practical running of the affairs of the state, the Fed is far worse than the income tax. It creates the more-insidious tax because it is so sneaky. In a strange way, it has made all the debates about taxation superfluous. Denying the government revenue does nothing to curb its appetites for our liberties and property. The Fed has managed to make it impossible to starve the beast.

Chodorov was correct about the evil of the income tax. Its passage signaled the beginning of a century of despotism. Our property is no longer safe. Our income is not our own. We are legally obligated to turn over whatever our masters say we owe them. You can fudge this point: None of this is compatible with the old liberal idea of freedom.

You doubt it? Listen to Thomas Jefferson from his inaugural address of 1801. What he said then remains true today:”…what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one more thing, fellow citizens a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

An accidentally revealing look into the media

George Mitchell:

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice teed up an interesting Facebook exchange following Brian Hagedorn’s apparent victory. Bice provides insight into the newsroom’s mindset regarding Hagedorn’s traditional Christian views. It’s a reminder of how far the paper has drifted away from traditional journalistic standards.

(Disclosure:  I am decidedly not a fan of Bice. I argued here that resignation would be the honorable thing to do in light of his John Doe writings.)

Bice began his Facebook string by citing an excellent column by Rick Esenberg of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

Here’s Bice:

Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty chief Rick Esenberg argues in a column that Judge Hagedorn’s victory is a “vindication for religious tolerance.” Interesting spin on Hagedorn’s less-than-tolerant position on same-sex marriage and gay rights. Intolerance = tolerance.

Got that? Hagedorn is “less-than-tolerant” for adhering to a traditional Christian view, one that also is prominent in Hebrew and Muslim doctrines.

Bice thus passes judgement. Reporters are not supposed to do that. While a “columnist” is afforded leeway in expressing personal views, Bice’s writing in the recent campaign constituted a key part of the Journal Sentinel’s news coverage. It’s crystal clear here what he thought of Hagedorn’s beliefs while reporting on the campaign.

At a later point in the Facebook exchange, Bice adopts the classic Journal Sentinel pose of neutrality and objectivity:

I let people know that Hagedorn had written a number of controversial things on his blog. I also wrote about Neubauer’s family ties to Planned Parenthood. I didn’t ask either candidate to do anything in response. I let voters know about this info. They decided the merit of the info.

But other comments from Bice offer a much different perspective. Amazingly, at one point he includes opposition to same-sex marriage in a litany of bona fide historical American black marks. Check this out:

Religious people in American history have used their faith to argue for slavery, Prohibition, eugenics and against civil rights and same-sex marriage.

As Esenberg separately noted in the exchange, “…as recently as 10 years ago, Barack Obama would have been ineligible to be President” if opposition to same-sex marriage was a litmus test.

In a vintage Journal Sentinel style mastered by the paper’s editor, George Stanley, Bice also knocks down some straw men.

He says, for example, “Because people base their political positions on faith doesn’t mean those opinions are above scrutiny.”  I know of no one who said Hagedorn’s political positions are “above scrutiny.” The objection to the Journal Sentinel coverage was that is so obviously reflected a non-neutral assessment Hagedorn, i.e., he is “less-than-tolerant.”

Bice includes me in his straw men targets, to wit, “George Mitchell‘s point about religious tolerance is nothing more than an effort to shut down public debate — an odd position for a free speech advocate.” Yeah, I seek to “shut down public debate.”

Many factors, Craig’slist, for one, explain the precipitous demise in Journal Sentinel circulation. Other issues, notably the newsroom’s blinders when it comes to loss of objectivity, also are prominent. I, for one, thought the early 2019 hits on Hagedorn from Bice and Molly Beck doomed the Hagedorn campaign. Never have I been more encouraged to have been so wrong.

There is another dimension here of how the media (about whom I wrote here yesterday) might have contributed to Hagedorn’s win and with the slump in newspaper readership. My thesis is that most people in my line of work are out of touch with their readers.

In the shower the other day (where I do my best thinking) I came up with a five-part test for people in the media — is or are (insert journalist name here):

  1. Married?
  2. A parent?
  3. A homeowner? (Side question: Do you work in the same community where you live?)
  4. A regular church attendee?
  5. Someone who owns guns and uses them (i.e. hunting or target shooting)?

Notice there is no mention of the journalist’s political worldview, though the more No answers, the more likely someone is to be a liberal. The first three get to the subject of commitment, and questions two and three are about commitment where you are, not merely considering where you live to be your next stop on your career journey. Moving when you own a house is not a very snap decision.

Marriage (as opposed to living together) is making a public commitment to your spouse. (It also reflects on the ability of a journalist to remain in journalism given that many journalists are the smaller contributor to their household income.)

Being a parent only changes your entire life, and in ways you can’t predict when you find out a child is on the way. Being a parent means you become concerned about the state of the schools your children attend, but also how much they cost in terms of property taxes on your house. Property taxes fund other government services, so home ownership translates into interest in local government.

The last two relate to how the journalist relates to the dominant culture in “flyover country.” Media in at least the Madison and Milwaukee markets fail this test repeatedly. Maybe that’s why the Madison and Milwaukee media, at a minimum, guessed wrong about Donald Trump’s winning Wisconsin and the future Justice Hagedorn.