Thursday, March 31, 2005

The real story on DPI race

How can it be a surprise to anyone that WEAC is spending money independently to help re-elect Libby Burmaster as superintendent of public instruction?

Somehow, that became a page 1 Journal Sentinel story, even though WEAC , the state teachers union, has been involved in DPI races as long as anyone can remember, and has spent similar amounts on media to help its endorsed candidate in the past.

The real news is that the usual suspects on the other side, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Realtors, school choicers and others, are NOT spending money to try to help their candidate, Gregg Underheim.

That is a sure sign they have given up on Underheim's candidacy. It's over.

UPDATE: A reader reminds me that it's not just the WMC and other right-leaning "independent" groups who have bailed on Underheim. The Wisconsin Republican Party, which recruited Underheim to run and even hired felons to collect nomination papers to get him on the ballot, is MIA, too. Scott Jensen announced on TV awhile back that the DPI race would be THE test campaign for the GOP message on property taxes and education. Well, the party is spending tens of thousands of dollars on radio the week before the election -- but not for Underheim. It's going for ads about photo ID for voters. Underheim, meanwhile, is being hung out to dry.

Guarding the town halls

USA Today reported at the beginning of the two-week Congressional recess, now ending, that Republicans going home during the break were being urged not to have wide open town meetings on Social Security. Instead, it was suggested they talk to service clubs or other groups, or assemble panels of friendly experts to discuss the issue. The idea was to avoid the outpouring of disagreement and complaints they had heard earlier.

Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who held 35 town hall meetings during February, has been a high profile supporter of privatizing Social Security, and has been a talking head on many DC-based television programs to promote the idea.

Then there is Mark Green, another GOP Congressman, who has held no town meetings on the subject and doesn't ever intend to if he can avoid it. The difference: Green is running for governor, and being on the wrong side of a big issue could hurt his campaign, which hasn't even started yet. The public opposes the President and GOP on this issue by a big margin, so Green wants to duck.

Wisconsin Citizen Action, a feisty advocacy group, called Green out on the issue this week, asking him to sign a pledge to protect Social Security and only support changes to improve the system's solvency. No comment from Green. But it's an issue he won't be able to hide from forever -- and one which could derail his candidacy for governor. Release.

Meanwhile, the Bushies just throw anyone out who looks like he might not agree with the President.Story.

'GOP an arm of religious movement'

In a remarkable op ed column, Republican John Danforth, former U.S. Senator and ex-UN ambassador, says:

By a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians. The elements of this transformation have included advocacy of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, opposition to stem cell research involving both frozen embryos and human cells in petri dishes, and the extraordinary effort to keep Terri Schiavo hooked up to a feeding tube...

The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Roseleip to Reynolds

In days of yore, Wisconsin had a state senator named Gordon Roseleip, a candy store owner from southwestern Wisconsin sometimes had a way of saying too clearly what he thought -- and sometimes garbling it so badly no one was quite sure. A red-blooded, flag-waving conservative (he wasn't a neocon; would you call him an oldcon?), he often helped the other side more than his own by speaking out.

Now, in the tradition, comes State Sen. Tom Reynolds, a West Allis Republican who has mostly managed to fly under the media's radar since beating Peggy Rosenzweig in a primary in 2002, in the first purge of a GOP moderate from the Senate.

But Reynolds has started to speak up lately. As he gets going, it promises to be some fun.

On why he opposes raising the minimum wage, which has been at $5.15 since 1997: "As hard as it is to believe, the value of that labor is not worth it [the increased minimum wage]. It is hard to believe. The 200,000 Wisconsinites who work hard every day for minimum wage would certainly disagree with him. But Reynolds doesn't want to hear from them, or from the WMC, Restaurant Assn., Merchants Federation or Grocers Assn., all of whom support it. So he has refused to call a hearing of his committee, which has the bill.

On election law reform, when Reynolds chaired a hearing, Service Employees union members wore stickers saying, “Voting is a Right.” In one especially revealing exchange during the hearing, the SEIU reports, a witness declared that “voting is not a right, it’s a privilege.” In an unusual breech of Legislative etiquette, Senator Reynolds responded that this was an idea worthy of applause, and supporters of the bill reacted with an enthusiastic ovation .

Stay tuned. Reynolds is just getting warmed up. The 06 campaign could be some fun.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The free market at work

List of Schiavo Donors Will Be Sold by Direct-Marketing Firm

WASHINGTON, March 28 - The parents of Terri Schiavo have authorized a conservative direct-mailing firm to sell a list of their financial supporters, making it likely that thousands of strangers moved by her plight will receive a steady stream of solicitations from anti-abortion and conservative groups. NY Times story.

Monday, March 28, 2005

About that nuclear waste ...

A note on the anniversary of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident (March 28, 1979):

Echoing President Bush's call at the national level for more nuclear power, there's a move afoot in the Wisconsin Legislature to repeal a moratorium on new nuclear power plant construction. Story. The law, passed in 1983, requires that a federally licensed nuclear waste facility be available before the Public Service Commission can approve any new plants.

There was no plan to safely dispose of nuclear waste when the nuclear energy industry began building plants. And there is still none today, although the nukers have been promising us for decades that a solution is just around the corner.

It's not a small matter.

One of the byproducts of nuclear power, part of the waste, is Plutonium-239, so deadly that a particle the size of a grain of pollen can cause lung cancer. It decays very slowly, with a half life of about 25,000 years. In simple terms, that means we need to find a way to keep that waste safely stored and out of the environment for 250,000 years.

To put that in some perspective, just 10,000 years ago Wisconsin was covered by glaciers.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

FELONS VOTE!!! So what?

Is it just me who isn't terribly bothered by the screaming headlines saying 82 felons voted in Milwaukee?

The headlline is supposed to make you say, in horror, "How could that happen?"

It made me say, "Why can't felons vote, anyway? Who cares?"

Well, it is against the law in Wisconsin for a convicted felon to vote until he/she has completed serving a full sentence, including probation and parole.

But some of them have voted anyway. Scary, huh?

The search for a solution is underway -- and it is a nightmare.

Republican State Chairman Rick Graber had the same solution he always does: Make everyone show photo ID cards. But those felons were voting under their own names. It's hard to imagine that anyone impersonated a felon to vote. So a photo ID wouldn't help.

One idea is to identify all of the felons on the voter list and put a note next to their names saying they are felons and can't vote.

But that would only help for felons who are registered. A felon who is not registered to vote could register at the polls, on election day, showing a photo ID, and vote. (Apparently some felons registered at the polls in November.)

So, next idea: Put all of the felons on the voter list with a note next to their name, even if they haven't registered. That wouldn't really accomplish the Republican goals of both requiring photo IDs and ending same-day registration. But at least it would reduce the number of people voting (especially in Milwaukee), which is their real goal.

It is getting a little complicated and expensive, though, don't you think?

And for what?

Whether felons vote or not is up to each state. Some let them vote. Others ban them from voting for life. Those in the middle, like Wisconsin, let them vote after they have "paid their debts to society" and are no longer under state supervision.

So here's my idea: Let's not let felons vote while they're in prison. But let's allow them to vote once they get out.

What are we afraid of? That they will all come out in some February election, like the last one when the turnout percentage was in single digits, and elect a bunch of criminals to the school board? We could have used the turnout in my ward.

Want to know more about why states passed such laws to begin with? Here's a link to a semi-reliable source,The Straight Dope

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Make your own medical decisions

Unless you want Tom DeLay, F. James Sensenbrenner, George W. Bush, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia making your life-and-death medical decisions for you, this would be a good time to create an advance directive (also called a living will) and execute a health care power of attorney. It is easy to do. Here is a link to one of many sites that provide the information in Wisconsin. Power of attorney/living will.

NOTE TO SENS. KOHL AND FEINGOLD: I see that the Senate passed the Schiavo bill by unanimous consent, without a vote, with only 3 Senators on the floor. Now that the Congress has started to intervene in individual medical cases, I just want to request that when the bill comes up to keep me alive against my wishes that you come to the floor and object. Thank you.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Scooter for Speaker Again?

The State Supreme Court's ruling that corruption charges against five state legislators may proceed to trial could put a slight crimp in the Scott (Scooter) Jensen for Speaker campaign.

Jensen, former Assembly Speaker, is charged with misconduct in public office and misuse of the office for personal gain. Among other things, he is charged with putting someone on the state payroll whose full-time job was to raise campaign contributions for Assembly Republicans. One of Jensen's defenses -- no kidding -- is that getting Republicans elected was part of his job, so he has done nothing wrong.

The other indicted legislators -- Chuck Chvala, Steve Foti, Brian Burke, and Bonnie Ladwig -- all have had the good sense to leave office since the charges were filed.

Jensen, on the other hand, has successfully run for reelection to his Waukesha County Assembly seat, continues to operate behind the scenes as a GOP leader in the Assembly, and was named this year to the Joint Finance Committee.

With Speaker John Gard likely to run for Congress, there has been speculation that Jensen may return to the job next session. That's assuming his little legal troubles go away, of course.

Even if charges were miraculously dropped or a jury found him not guilty (by reason of arrogance?), Assembly Republicans would have to be nuts to make him Speaker. Legal technicalities aside -- and he's rapidly running out of them -- Jensen's behavior was shameful -- and he is shameless.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Newspapers scrap like old times

In olden times, before they got so cozy, The Capital Times and Wisconsin State Journal blistered each other in print. The editorials, in those days, gave you the impression they were not just competitors, but really didn't like each other.

Years of cohabitation, joint operating agreements, and profit-sharing have taken the edge off. So it has been fun to see a little spat develop lately, with The Capital Times reporting on what it sees as an ethical violation by its neighbor across the hall.

At issue: WSJ's new business publication offered $25,000 sponsorship packages which included a seat on the publication's advisory board, where members could hobnob with WSJ editors. That sounds like selling access, and a Cap Times story pointed that out, quoting ethicists and journalists. That prompted the WSJ publisher to write a memo to the staff defending the policy, saying there was no need for those sponsors to buy access since, " I see these people at meetings, functions and on the golf course frequently." That's comforting, isn't it?

Next, a group of activists protested the WSJ policy and met with the editor and publisher. The CT's coverage included an exchange with the WSJ editor calling the earlier CT story wrong and CT Managing Editor Phil Haslanger defending it. Kinda like old times. Here's the first story and the latest one. Some fun now, hey?

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Iraq: 2 Years and Counting

March 19 marks the two-year anniversary of "Shock and Awe." May 1 will mark the two-year anniversary of W's "Mission Accomplished" stunt on the flight deck.

At the two-year mark, 1,521 members of the American armed forces and 171 coalition forces have died in Iraq.

Since the "Mission Accomplished" photo op, 1,384 Americans have been killed in Iraq. Since the capture of Saddam, making the world safer for democracy, the number of Americans killed is 1,054. Since the transfer of power to the Iraqi government, 652. And since the recent election, 89. Current totals.

Those numbers do not begin to reflect the real toll. At least 11,000 more Americans have been wounded. Many will never recover. They have been permanently disfigured or scarred, lost limbs, or suffered lasting brain damage from head injuries.

Others come back with psychological scars that we can’t see, but which are just as real and painful. Already we are beginning to read and hear the stories of divorce, family crises, breakdowns, violence and mental anguish of returning veterans. Our society will live with those wounds and their aftermath for generations.

And then multiply that damage by 100 or 1000 and you will begin to have some idea of the magnitude of the damage we have inflicted on the people of Iraq.

More than 30 years after the last American troops left Vietnam, our veterans and our society are still paying that cost. There are more than 3.4 million Vietnam era vets who served in Southeast Asia, and 2.5 million (including me) were in Vietnam itself, although the maximum troop strength there was 540,000.

There will be hundreds of thousands of veterans of Iraq – perhaps a million -- before we are through. There are 150,000 US troops there now. Of course, unlike Vietnam, we keep recycling the same units, many of them Reserve and National Guard.

President Bush says our troops will remain there until we have trained the Iraquis to fight terrorism themselves. Remember Vietnamization? It is hard to see any light at the end of this tunnel.

As we begin a third year in Iraq, here is a tribute to those who have served and those who have fallen.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Blaming the Gov

Pretty Boy Floyd, they say, used to get blame or credit for every robbery in five states, whether he was anywhere near the scene or not.

Flip Wilson's character Geraldine always passed the blame for her transgressions, saying: "The devil made me do it."

Wisconsin Republicans have their own demon. Whatever happens, blame Jim Doyle.

When a campaign finance "reform" bill was brought to the State Senate floor prematurely, it was doomed to fail. Predictably, it did on a 20-13 vote, for a lot of reasons, some of them legitimate and some of them self-serving.

So who does State Sen. Mike Ellis, the Republican sponsor of the bill, blame for its defeat? The governor. "This is the long arm of Jim Doyle," Ellis said.

While it's true that only two of 14 Democrats voted for the bill, Ellis was only able to deliver 11 votes from his own Republican caucus. Eight GOPers voted against it.

Republicans have a solid majority in the Senate, as they demonstrate every time they want to pass some piece of political posturing for the sake of causing Doyle some grief. The GOP could have passed the bill all by itself with two votes to spare. In fact, with two Dems voting "aye" Ellis only needed 14 of the 19 Republicans to support it. He only got 11.

Do you think those Republicans were responding to secret, subliminal messages from Jim Doyle? Or do you think they killed the bill on its merits, or lack thereof?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Tommy Gives 170%

So Tommy Thompson, still treated by the media like the King of Wisconsin, finally decides to cash in and make some megabucks. He takes not one, but three jobs, two in Washington and one in Wisconsin. The Washington jobs will take about 70% of his time combined, he says. And his Wisconsin employer says he will be working full-time at that job (but later backs off and says he'll be in the state maybe 6 days a month.)

Athletes, it is said, give 110%. Tommy Thompson gives 170%. And he is still sorting through dozens of lucrative invitations for high-paying seats on various corporate boards. He's certainly raking in the cash. His admirers say it's well-deserved after his years of public service. But does the average person think the salaries he pulled down as governor or a cabinet secretary were a hardship? His income had been in six figures, plus plenty of perks, for many years -- as long as the minimum wage has been at $5.15. And he seemed to like those jobs pretty well, especially the governor gig.

OK, granted, he's a workaholic. But isn't there a little bit of hog-at-the-trough behavior going on here? Isn't there a time to say, "Enough?"

If Tommy won't say it, why won't someone else?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

No Election Problems Here

Hmmm. It turns out that 27% of the November election ballots cast in Medford, a city of 4,300 in Taylor County, were not counted. That's about 600 votes. That is a lot.

Had it happened in Milwaukee, the Republican Party and the Journal Sentinel would be all over it. They'd call it more evidence of abuse, fraud, mismanagement, incompetence or all of those things. Obvious solution? Photo ID cards for voters.

But nary a peep from the GOP or the newspaper on this one. Unless you read the
Wausau Daily Herald story you would never know it happened.

Why do you suppose that is?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

George Watts: A Class Act

I first met George Watts in 1999, the day he announced he would run against Mayor John Norquist. I was advising Norquist's campaign, and attended the Watts announcement at his downtown tea room. He welcomed me when I walked in, and even after I introduced myself invited me to take a seat and make myself comfortable.

He was, as his eulogies in the media and elsewhere have said, a gentleman who cared greatly about Milwaukee and about the way people were treated by society. He did what he could, on a personal basis, to right the wrongs he saw.

That said, there are a couple of things to go on the record. I keep reading that his 44% of the vote against Norquist was a surprise, even to Norquist, according to one editorial. I can assure you it was no surprise to Norquist or anyone in his campaign. We made an all-out effort from the word go and never took George Watts lightly.

However, in politics we still consider 55% a landslide victory. Norquist got 56% against Watts, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television.

And, yes, we criticized George Watts for (a) moving from suburban Ozaukee County into the city to run for mayor and (b) switching from the Republican to the Democratic party, since Milwaukee is a Democratic city. (I joked that if someone told him a woman had a better chance of being elected mayor, he'd have a sex change operation.) The editorial writers give him a pass, but after the election Watts (a) moved back out of the city and (b) rejoined the Republican party.

While we celebrate George Watts' life and contributions, his record and accomplishments stand on their own. There is no need to rewrite history.