Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Quote, unquote

"The original Patriot Act is a case study in the perils of speed, herd instinct and lack of vigilance when it comes to legislating in times of crisis. The Congress was stampeded, and the values of freedom, justice and equality received a trampling in the headlong rush."

-- Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WV, who says he wishes he had voted with Sen. Russ Feingold, who cast the only "no" vote on the original Act.

Hat tip: Think Progress.

And now, the good news from Iraq...

--Steve Sack, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, via Cagle.

Stacking the deck

If you wanted to get a reading on what the people of Wisconsin think about a constitutional amendment to limit government revenues and spending, where would you go?

Why, to the middle of Waukesha County, the hotbed of anti-tax, anti-government sentiment in the entire state.

The Republican leadership in the legislature, reluctantly, has decided to have an actual public hearing on Bride of TABOR, which they like to call the Taxpayer Protection Amendment, instead of having invitation-only "hearings" where they pick and choose the witnesses.

So they plunk the hearing down at the Country Springs Hotel on I-94, near Pewaukee, a favorite spot for Republican fundraisers, and a long ways from anyone who might actually want to testify against the amendment.

If that's not enough to insure an anti-tax mob, Wis. Manufacturers and Commmerce (one of those "shadowy" groups that doesn't disclose who's paying for the radio ads its running on the issue) is paying for auto calls from Republican radio's Charlie Sykes and others to tens of thousands of conservative voters in southeastern Wisconsin, urging them to attend, WisPolitics reports.

The hearing of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee will be at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. If you're going to testify against the amendment, consider wearing body armor.

UPDATE: We've established that Journal Broadcasting has no problem throwing its corporate support behind a political issue, ad evidenced by the free radio spots Sykes aired on school choice.

So this script, where he identifies himself as WTMJ's guy, should come as no surprise, I guess. But the line between corporate contributions, lobbying on an issue before the legislature, and issue advocacy by WMC has been totally erased now. It's not just Sykes who's a shameless shill for the right wing agenda; it's his employer, too. The script for autocalls to voters:

Hi, this is Charlie Sykes from WTMJ with an important taxpayer alert.

On Wednesday at 4 o'clock, the legislature is holding a hearing on Wisconsin Taxpayer Amendment at the Country Springs hotel on I 94 in Pewaukee.

You need to attend to counter the gloom and doom from the teachers' union and others.

The amendment caps taxes and will lower our tax burden. It's common sense, but the politicians need to hear from you.

Please, go the hearing, and tell the committee to vote yes on the Taxpayer Protection Amendment.

Wisconsin will only lower its tax burden if our citizens reclaim our government. I

If you can't attend the hearing, please call 800 362 9472 and tell your legislators to vote yes on the Wisconsin Taxpayer Protection Amendment.

Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: A message from the Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce.

Withdraw in 2006, troops in Iraq say

UPDATE: John Zogby, whose firm did the poll, writes: A letter from the troops.

Supporters of the war in Iraq always say we should ask the troops if we're in doubt about whether we should be there.

Someone has done that, and actually taken a poll, with some surprising results:

U.S. Troops in Iraq: 72% Say End War in 2006

Le Moyne College/Zogby Poll shows just one in five troops want to heed Bush call to stay “as long as they are needed”

While 58% say mission is clear, 42% say U.S. role is hazy

Plurality believes Iraqi insurgents are mostly homegrown

Almost 90% think war is retaliation for Saddam’s role in 9/11, most don’t blame Iraqi public for insurgent attacks

Majority of troops oppose use of harsh prisoner interrogation

Plurality of troops pleased with their armor and equipment
The poll is suspect for a number of reasons, including its sponsorship by a college Center for Peace and Global Studies, along with Zogby pollsters.

And there's this unusual methodology:
The survey included 944 military respondents interviewed at several undisclosed locations throughout Iraq. The names of the specific locations and specific personnel who conducted the survey are being withheld for security purposes. Surveys were conducted face-to-face using random sampling techniques. The margin of error for the survey, conducted Jan. 18 through Feb. 14, 2006, is +/- 3.3 percentage points.
But even if the margin of error is 33 points, instead of 3.3, there is strong support among the troops to end the war this year.

Hat tip: Political Wire.

Creepy thought

Is Karl Rove obsessed with Hillary Clinton?

She thinks so.

Let's hope he's not stalking her. It's probably not a "Fatal Attraction" thing. But it does make your skin crawl.

Green's denials less believable every day

The news for Rep. Mark Green just keeps getting worse, with a steady drip ... drip ... drip from the Scott Jensen trial. Green's denials that he had any idea what was happening get a little less believable every day.

The latest: Assembly staff, on state time, helped Green get elected to Congress in 1998.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports:

"Generally, Assembly Republican staffers were encouraged to work on any races throughout the state which were sympathetic to the party," former Assembly Republican Caucus (ARC) graphic designer Eric Grant told the State Journal...

...Grant told the State Journal that during his five years with the ARC, he also worked on the successful congressional campaign of U.S. Rep. Mark Green in 1998 and the failed bid for Congress in 1996 by David Prosser, who now is a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice. He said he also used the ARC office to produce campaign literature in 1998 for Dane County Board races, which are supposed to be non- partisan...

Grant testified that he used the ARC office and equipment to produce campaign literature for Green at the request of Green aide Mark Graul. In an interview, Grant also said he was present when Green's campaign organized state staffers to participate in a mass mailing of Green's congressional campaign literature at the ARC conference room in 1998.

Rob Vernon, the spokesman for Green's current campaign for governor, didn't deny that the mailing took place at the ARC but said, "As far as I know, there were no Green campaign staff that were present." He said the Republican congressman denies that he was aware of any illegal campaigning at the Capitol; Green was the Assembly's fifth-highest ranking Republican during four of his six years in the Legislature.

Green now is running against Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker for the Republican nomination for governor, and the two are vying to challenge incumbent Democrat Jim Doyle. Last week, Green's gubernatorial campaign said graphic design work by Grant was paid for separately by Green's campaign and that Green assumed Grant was working outside of the state office. Grant, however, said Graul communicated with him about the campaign at the ARC office.
It is hard to keep track of the players without a scorecard, but Mark Graul, who was a Green Assembly staffer, is now his campaign manager in the governor's race. He also has served as chief of staff in Green's Congressional office, where he was befriended by associates of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and accepted freebies to Abramoff's skybox.

The Democratic Party asks another pertinent question: Given testimony at Jensen's trial about Assembly staffers taking part-time leaves while working full-time on campaigns, is Graul one of those who did that? Their release offers some documentation that raises serious questions about it.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Bush's numbers too low to be in the toilet

As my drill instructor used to say, "You are lower than whale shit. And that's on the bottom of the ocean."

The latest CBS News poll finds President Bush's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 34 percent, while pessimism about the Iraq war has risen to a new high.

How many more?

Family says Marine from Superior killed in Iraq

SUPERIOR, Wis. (AP) -- A Marine from northern Wisconsin with only 15 days of active combat duty left in Iraq was killed by a roadside bomb there, a sister said Monday.

Adam VanAlstine, 21, of Superior, was killed Saturday in Ramadi outside of Baghdad, said his sister, Dawn Meyers of Cottage Grove, Minn.

The Marine, a 2003 graduate of Superior High School, left for Iraq in September and was scheduled to return in April, she said.
-- Wisconsin AP

Meet the threats to Wisconsin marriages

As the Republican-run Assembly gets ready to put a constitutional ban on gay marriages and civil unions on the ballot, it might be instructive to meet one of the couples who pose such a threat to marriage in Wisconsin that we need a constitutional amendment to stop them.

Meet Bill Hetland, a friend of mine of almost 40 years, a journalist's journalist who left his positive mark on a number of Midwestern newspapers before changing careers and working in the addiction prevention field.

The story of Hetland and his longtime partner, Phil Anderson, is inspirational. It's a lesson in loving, caring and commitment.

As you read it, think about just what kind of threat it is that they pose -- and to whom.
Bill wrote this op ed column for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in August 2004:
What threat to marriage?


As I gave my paralyzed life partner, Phil Anderson, a urinary tract flush on a recent Monday night, his catheter failed. Following two unsuccessful attempts to replace the catheter and a phone call to an emergency room nurse at the Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, we were able to correct his problem on the third try. I got to bed at 1 a.m. and was up at 4 a.m.

The following Wednesday night after I returned to our Kenosha home from making a work-related presentation at a courthouse in Waukegan, Ill., Phil had a temperature of 105 degrees. I slept on a couch so I could get up and put cold compresses on his head. He sleeps in a hospital bed in our sunroom because he has no access to the two bedrooms on our second floor. I had about two hours of sleep that night.

So, when I read columns and letters about gays wanting to get married so rice can be thrown at the ceremony and that loving couples like us are a threat to the "sanctity of marriage," I get angry. It isn't so much about having the same rights as straight couples - although that would be nice. Rather, I'm angry with those who demonize gays and think that loving gay couples like us somehow threaten that sanctity. We have been together for almost 16 years and have survived incredible challenges during the past three and one-half years.

Phil was paralyzed from the waist down in a February 2001 auto accident and has since been hospitalized for femur reconstruction, lung surgery, a stroke, gallbladder surgery, multiple seizures, chronic pain and numerous other health problems. Last September, during a celebration of our 15 years together, I presented Phil with a framed "Certificate of Survival" in recognition of his incredible courage.

I'm 60 and Phil will be 49 on Nov. 23. Yet somehow, loving gay couples like us are a threat.

We are fortunate that Phil, a Marine vet, received life-saving surgery at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital and that he gets good ongoing care from the spinal cord injury unit at the VA hospital. The medical staff, social workers, psychologists, therapists and other employees have been quick to respond to our needs. As far as I know, they don't consider loving gay couples like us as a threat to marriage's sanctity.

We are also grateful for the support and understanding of many friends - most of them straight. Those friends include my colleagues at the addictions prevention and treatment agency I work for in Illinois. And both Phil and I have been blessed to have members of the Anderson and Hetland families in our corner. Phil's brother-in-law and a brother, for example, directed the construction of a wheelchair ramp so that Phil could have easy access to our home. Before the ramp was built, I had to pull Phil up and down the front steps in his wheelchair.

Having the support of our families means a lot because there are too many smug and sanctimonious zealots out there who seem to think that loving gay couples like us are not only a threat to the sanctity of marriage, but also to the sanctity of the family structure.

Good heavens, we love our families. Phil has received some real morale-boosters by attending family events like the high school graduation of a niece last year in the Upper Peninsula and the wedding of another niece this June in Brown Deer.

Yet, despite our strong belief in the value of the family structure, there are still far too many individuals out there who perceive loving couples like us as a threat to society.

Like Phil, I'm a veteran, having served in Vietnam. We have both served our country honorably and have been honorable in our commitment to each other. Yet there are still folks who see gay couples like us as a threat to the sanctity of marriage.

Are we a threat to that sanctity? We are not.

from the Action Wisconsin website:
Bill Hetland & Phil Anderson, Kenosha

My life partner, Phil Anderson, and I have been in a loving, monogamous relationship for more than 17 years. Phil is a Marine Corps veteran and I served with the Army's 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam. Phil was featured in a Kenosha News article for enduring numerous physical and emotional challenges since his paralyzing accident on Feb. 19, 2001.

At a celebration of our 15th anniversary in our home in 2003, I presented Phil with a Certificate of Survival for his bravery in surviving “back surgery, femur reconstruction, broken ribs, lung surgery, gall bladder surgery, bladder infection, urinary tract infection, a stroke, excruciating chronic pain and two major seizures.”

In a feature article by Karen Gustafson of the Kenosha News, Karen noted: “It’s been a survival story as well for their partnership that has endured despite the physical, emotional and financial struggles. Theirs is a stronger relationship both say in spite of all the life-altering events that could have torn it apart.”

Considering what Phil and I have endured -- and survived -- I'm still almost amused at those who fear for the sanctity of marriage. It's amazing to us that there are so many people who assume that all gays are immoral and promiscuous. We certainly aren't "recruiting" people to our "lifestyle." It's also unsettling when we read about legislators and clergy who say they fear for the future of the family structure if gays are given additional rights. After all, we are so appreciative of the members of our families who have rallied to provide support in so many ways, including building a wheelchair ramp so Phil can get in and out of our home. We've attended weddings, graduations and funerals involving members of our families. It's hard to fathom why relationships like ours can be perceived as a threat to any family.

Republicans recycle garbage

In case you wonder whether Wisconsin Republicans think they are being damaged by Scott Jensen's caucus scandal trial, with its daily focus on illegal GOP activity, consider this desperate release.

The GOP is re-issuing the same phony charges that they made during the 2002 campaign against Jim Doyle, claiming that Doyle staffers did campaign work on state time, too.

They're handing out the same information from Doyle's schedules that they peddled to the media in 2002. That all got a thorough airing four years ago, and it turned out to be a lot more smoke than fire.

Several newspapers, pressed by the GOP to investigate, went through the claims in painstaking detail and came up with almost nothing. They found that in almost every case, Doyle staffers had taken leave to attend a political event, and that Doyle even used his own vehicle, not a state car.

Now, the GOP is recycling the same old garbage, hoping to distract attention from the Republicans who are being named every day in court, including their candidates for governor, Mark Green and Scott Walker. There's been testimony that key aides to both Walker and Green ordered, supervised, or engaged in campaign work on state time. Mark Green has been especially hard-hit by the trial coverage. Thus the attempt to muddy things up with some tired, worn-out claims about Doyle staffers.

The only thing new in the latest GOP releases are the names of the party staff. Instead of Chris Lato, there's a new flack, Bob Delaporte. But it's the same stream of garbage spewing out of party headquarters. The charges didn't hold water in 2002, and they won't in 2006.

Delaporte's best hope is that there are some new reporters on the beat, who weren't around in 2002, and who may think he's told them something new. Not likely, but worth a shot, I guess, if you are being pounded in the media every day and are looking at two more weeks of trial.

TABOR down the tube in Kansas

We in Wisconsin like to think that Kansas has a lot more red-state yahoos than we do, but here's some evidence to the contrary. The old Taxpayer Bill of Rights gambit is failing there, and even the Chamber of Commerce and parts of the business community are against it.

TABOR has become a dirty word, they say. It has in Wisconsin, too, so conservatives here just switched to a new name, the Taxpayers Protection Amendment.

The Wichita Capital-Journal reports:
Spending limits lose steam

Talk of adopting a constitutional amendment to limit state government spending fell to a whisper at the halfway mark of the 2006 session.

House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said Friday that broad-based opposition undercut momentum for an amendment to the Kansas Constitution known as the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights.

"There was a pretty significant pushback from various angles, including chambers of commerce and some sectors of the business community," Mays said. "I'm not picking up much appetite among House members, Republican or Democrat, to even talk about the bill this year."

If a TABOR measure passed the Legislature and was endorsed by Kansas voters, caps would be placed on state revenue growth and elections would be held to decide tax hikes.

Alan Cobb, state director of the anti-tax organization Americans for Prosperity, said House leadership should be held accountable for failing to help TABOR gain traction this session.

"What's dead is reform of our tax climate and business climate, and that's because of the lack of leadership," Cobb said. "You're part of the problem or part of the solution. We're not seeing a whole lot of solutions from leadership."

Cobb directed much of his ire at Mays.

"Unfortunately, Doug is listening to the establishment and the insiders -- not the public," Cobb said.

Mays said the Legislature had more pressing matters to consider than TABOR.

"We need to try to focus on those things that need to be addressed this year -- spend our time wisely -- and not spend a great deal of time and political capital pursuing things that have absolutely no chance of passing," the House speaker said.

A group of Kansas organizations, the Coalition for a Prosperous Kansas, formed last year to lobby against TABOR.

Gary Brunk, executive director of Kansas Action for Children, which is a coalition member, said conservatives would continue to press for TABOR in Kansas despite poor results elsewhere.

"The business community in Colorado came out against TABOR because the state was not investing enough in education and transportation to make Colorado competitive," Brunk said. "TABOR has become a bad word."

The view from DC doesn't include Walker

This line in a New York Times roundup of 2006 governor's races probably didn't sit too well with Scott Walker:
Republicans said they hoped to mount a strong challenge to Gov. James E. Doyle, a Wisconsin Democrat, with Representative Mark Green.
Walker can take some solace that it's the same kind of DC thinking that led Congressional Democrats to think Jim Moody would win a U.S. Senate primary and Tom Barrett would win one for governor. They have a hard time seeing beyond the Beltway. (Not that I think Walker will win, but he deserved a mention.)

Gard promised legislature would back deal

As the school choice deal teeters on the brink of losing in the legislature, the right-wing is lining up to blame -- who else? -- Gov. Jim Doyle, saying he didn't like the deal to begin with.

A reminder. When the deal was agreed upon and announced at a news conference, here's what Speaker John Gard had to say:
It's not an agreement between (just him) and I," Gard said. "It's going to pass the Legislature without a doubt."
Not between just Doyle and Gard, but between Doyle and the legislature. Gard, with big majorities in both houses, had no doubt he was speaking for the legislature. It's on him to deliver.

The Great Wall of Mexico

Here's an idea. F. Jim Sensenbrenner likes it, so that's good enough for me.
A proposal to build a double set of steel walls with floodlights, surveillance cameras and motion detectors along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border heads to the Senate next month after winning overwhelming support in the House.

The wall would be intended to prevent illegal immigrants and potential terrorists from hiking across the southern border into the United States. It would run along five segments of the 1,952-mile border that now experience the most illegal crossings.

The plan already has roiled diplomatic relations with Mexico. Leaders in American border communities are saying it will damage local economies and the environment. And immigration experts say that -- at a cost of at least $2.2 billion -- the 700-mile wall would be an expensive boondoggle.

The San Francisco Chronicle has more.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Tommy will never say never

"Never say never" is one of the most overworked cliches among politicians, but Tommy Thompson has taken it to extremes. He is simply unable to admit that his political career is over. Yes, he hates Jim Doyle, but we've known that for 15 years or so. Does he dislike Mark Green and Scott Walker, too?

Running for President? Please. Didn't we all have to live through that once?

Tomm's really going to keep flying around like a madman and pocket his corporate millions until he collapses or has his heart attack (which his friends fear.) But he won't say that. Sunday's story:

He muses about running for governor against incumbent Democrat Jim Doyle this year. His antipathy for Doyle is plain. He condemns his performance as "awful," spelling out the word for effect: "A-W-F-U-L." Or running for the U.S. Senate against another incumbent Democrat, Herb Kohl, also on the ballot in November. Or even seeking the GOP presidential nomination in 2008.

His closest political associates won't predict what he'll do, especially in the governor's race, what with two Republicans already gunning for Doyle's job. Thompson said he could throw his hat in the ring as late as June, when the state GOP holds its annual convention.

Xoff outs self; the mysterious Kate Falk

Before Charlie Sykes writes about how insightful he finds this post by his protege, Jessica McBride,

Spivak and Bice out Xoff, and Opine on Catch and Release Kate
let me make two small points:

1. The fact that I produced the radio spot in question wasn't exactly news, and I had even written about it myself.

2. Paul Bucher is the first person in history to call Kathleen Falk "Kate." Anyone who knows Falk will wonder who he's talking about. Katie Falk sells real estate in the Milwaukee area. Kathleen Falk, called Kathy by her friends, is the Dane County executive. Kate Falk? Never heard of her. In doubt? Google "Kate Falk."

Fun and games under the dome

Isn't this cute? Republican legislators and their staffs routinely broke the law, pretty much on a daily basis, by doing political work on state time. And State Rep. Scott Jensen, R-Brookfield, on trial for charges stemming from that illegal activity, trained the caucus director.

The story was written straight, but the headline writer apparently thought that kind of Capitol hi-jinks deserved a light trteatment. Hence the headline below. Caucus capers?

Jury is told of caucus capers
Man who campaigned on state time says he learned from Jensen


Madison - The former director of the Assembly Republican Caucus told jurors Friday that he learned how to do his job - which included campaigning on state time - from Scott Jensen, the former Assembly speaker accused of directing aides to campaign on the taxpayer's dime.

Before Jensen was elected to the state Assembly in 1992, he served as caucus director. Ray Carey said that when he was hired as caucus director in 1994, he learned much of the job from Jensen.

Often, that work consisted of campaigning on state time, Carey said, acknowledging that he drafted numerous campaign memos and a campaign handbook on state time, using state resources.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Walker should tread lightly on ethics

Is Scott Walker damning Mark Green with faint praise, or praising him with faint damning?

Whatever you call it, Walker's blog uses a radio commercial that I produced, raising questions about Green's blind spot on ethics violations, to take a slap at Green himself. Cute.

What Walker doesn't mention is that he also served in the Assembly Republican majority at the same time all of the illegal activities being discussed in Scott Jensen's trial were taking place.

And Walker, like Green, says he never had a clue that any staffers were doing anything wrong. (That's the two gov wannabes above, right, showing how they operated.)

And he neglected to mention this, from a Journal Sentinel story this week:

• Bruce Pfaff, on Jensen's staff during the 1998 elections and now Walker's campaign manager, was named on what Grant said was a work order for three campaign brochures.

On that work order were these notations: "Jensen wants to get these three (campaign) pieces out prior to our 9/28 poll" and "Bruce will pick up." Grant identified the "Bruce" as Pfaff.

Pfaff said Wednesday that he did not remember the incident, but that he did work on campaigns on weekends and evenings in 1998.

"Did I do things that somebody could construe as on-the-job campaigning? I don't know. Possibly," Pfaff said. "But I don't believe I did campaign work on state time."

Walker said he would review what was said in court.

Walker said that when he hired Pfaff as his campaign manager, he did not know that Pfaff had previously worked for Jensen. Walker and Jensen served in the Assembly together in the 1990s.

Walker's answer to the question of "What did he know and when did he know it" is "Nothing and never."

If I were Walker, I'd be careful about throwing stones at Green. There are two more weeks of the Jensen trial to come, too.

Referendums for nothing

James Widgerson wigs out in his first Waukesha Freeman column, over the idea that voters in some Wisconsin communities will have a chance to express themselves on the Iraq War in the April 4 election.

We're all for democracy in Iraq, of course. But if we asked the Iraqi people whether the US should withdraw its troops, 80% would say yes.

That's why we don't ask, except in public opinion polls.

Here, from the American Friends Service Committee, are 10 reasons why the U.S. must leave Iraq. Pay special attention to numbers 3 and 4.

Reynolds in the schoolhouse door?

Will Charlie Sykes be running free, corporate-produced commercials comparing State Sen. Tom Reynolds, R-West Allis, to George Wallace? That wouldn't be too big a stretch, and McSykes is saying Reynolds could be the key vote.

Endangered species shows sign of life

A liberal columnist has infiltrated the ranks of the Waukesha Freeman. And his first column, which runs alongside Mark Belling's, is -- gasp! -- in defense of the nanny state (from Belling's point of view).

He's Tim Schilke, author of a book, Growing Up Red,which is not about having Communist parents but about growing up in a red Republican suburb.

Hope he survives. Non-members of the Flat Earth Society have a short life expectancy in Waukesha County journalism. Witness Jessica McBride's unsuccesful (so far) campaign to have the Journal Sentinel replace Laurel Walker with her hero Charlie Sykes or Sykes Lite, Jeff Wagner, as a columnist. And Dennis Shook, for whatever reason, is gone from the Freeman.

Maybe Schilke can at least raise everyone's blood pressure a point or two. Well worth the effort.

Rs have their priorities straight

Republicans continue to block legislation to expand the state’s home heating assistance program and help 30,000 Wisconsin families keep their homes warm this winter. They have refused to act on the bill even though Gov. Jim Doyle called a special session to try to get their attention, and this week, on a party-line vote, the Rs all voted against pulling the bill from committee for a vote on the Senate floor.

Democrats knew they'd so that, of course, but it's always useful to get a roll call. If and when the bill gets scheduled is totally up to the Rs, who control both houses.

But how could they take up the heating bill when there was so much other important work to do in the final weeks of the session?

Why, just this week the Senate passed State Sen. Tom Reynolds' bill to bar lawsuits over obesity. It's not a problem yet (none have been filed in Wisconsin), but obviously the potential is there, if you look at how many fat cheeseheads there are. The Senate also voted 19-13 to pass a bill by State Sen. Alan Lasee, to exempt a Kewanuee County man from DNR rules and let him keep a shed on a wetland.

And let's not forget the Potluck Protection Act, which has passed, so it won't have to be considered as a constitutional amendment. (Yes, a D introduced it, but the Rs put it on the calendar.)

Work, work, work. No wonder there's no time to worry about poor people's heating bills.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Not letting the people decide

When they think it's in their interest, conservatives are all for "letting the people decide" on most anything -- banning gay marriage, passing an anti-tax amendment, whatever -- when they're confident things will go their way.

But when the people decide to do something sensible, like control handguns, it's a different story, as the people of San Francisco are discovering via an NRA lawsuit.

Jensen taking the team down with him

We've all heard about taking one for the team.

State Rep. Scott Jensen is doing the opposite, insisting on a messy trial that hurts his Republican colleagues more every day.

The Capital Times' headline on David Callender's story asks, "What price to save Jensen?" and says Republicans are furious about all of their dirty laundry being put on public view.

The thing is, it probably won't save Jensen anyway. It will just take everyone else down with him.

Hate to say it (actually love to say it), but I told you so.

--Joe Heller, Green Bay Press Gazette. (Click on cartoon to enlarge.)

Gunning for Doyle

When I started to read this Spivak and Bice column, I fully expected to find that the gun nuts were going to put Jim Doyle's face on the targets as they conducted their submachine gun fundraiser.

Doyle has had an NRA target on his back (or front) since he first ran for attorney general in 1990 as an advocate for the Brady Bill and a waiting period to buy a handgun. The relationship hasn't warmed up any since he became governor and twice vetoed concealed weapons bills. The NRA and its allies have tried hard to beat him four times now, and failed every time.

So this event seems like a natural. What a great way to vent some anger. Get all riled up about Doyle and squeeze off a burst.

Why was it canceled? All depends on whose story you believe. The Spice Boys offer several conflicting versions. Pick your favorite.

Green's caucus scandal connections

spotlighted in Jensen trial testimony

The headline says a lot, and it has to be Mark Green's worst nightmare. His old friend Scott Jensen has landed Green in the caucus scandal spotlight, and not in a good way.

The headline on today's Wisconsin State Journal story: Mark Green comes up in caucus trial.

Green has insisted he knew nothing about illegal activity by the caucus staff while he was in the legislature, but even some former colleagues have a hard time swallowing that.

The story includes a laundry list of Green's connections to illegal campaign work, making this radio commercial, which caused such ourtage from Green and the GOP when it started to air on Monday, seem a little tame.

The story:

In the past two days, the names of gubernatorial candidate Mark Green and two of his staffers have surfaced in the official misconduct trial of former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, adding fuel to the already heated debate over ethics in the governor's race.

Former Assembly Republican Caucus graphic artist Eric Grant testified Wednesday and Thursday that in the late 1990s he worked on campaign literature for Green while at his taxpayer-funded office, and documents introduced at trial show two staffers who now work for Green in Congress were involved in campaigning at the Legislature.

Despite this week's testimony and widespread, bipartisan acknowledgment that doing campaign work was common at the Capitol, Green says he knew nothing about state staffers doing campaign work on state time during his six years in the Assembly, including four as one of the highest ranking Republicans in the Assembly.

Green's campaign manager, Mark Graul, has labeled the Green Bay Republican "squeaky clean" when it comes to the scandal that resulted in fines and jail sentences after four of Green's former colleagues pleaded guilty to charges related to running private political campaigns at the Legislature. Jensen, R-Waukesha, is the only person charged in the scandal to go to trial.

"We had a strict rule: Nobody did campaign work on state time," said Green, 45, who is seeking to unseat Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle in November.

Green, an attorney, served in the Assembly from 1992 through 1998 and has served in Congress since then. He became the caucus chairman for Assembly Republicans, the party's fifth-highest ranking leader, two years after he was first elected, and he held that position until he left the Legislature.

Republican leaders above Green and more than two dozen Republican Assembly staffers are expected to testify in Jensen's trial that campaigning was common at the ARC when Green was there. Documents introduced in the trial and others obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal also suggest Green and two key aides, Graul and Chris Tuttle, were involved in campaign work at the Legislature.

Two legislators who served with Green questioned how the former leader could claim ignorance about the widespread campaign activity that has spawned the biggest political scandal in state history.

DuWayne Johnsrud, his former Republican Assembly colleague who retired in 2004 after 20 years in the Legislature, said everyone at the Capitol from lawmakers to staff to lobbyists and even reporters knew legislative and caucus staff were campaigning on state time.

"There are no angels in the Capitol on this issue," he said. "To say you didn't know what was going on - that's a big stretch." Referring to the old TV show "Hogan's Heroes," Johnsrud added, "To play Sgt. Schultz - 'I know nothing, I hear nothing, I see nothing' - come on. That doesn't seem very possible."

The issue of ethics is shaping up to be a large part of the governor's race, which pits incumbent Democrat Doyle against Republican challengers Green and Scott Walker, the Milwaukee County executive. Walker served in the Legislature from 1993 until 2002 and said through his spokesman, Bruce Pfaff, that he never participated in any campaign activity at the Capitol.

Doyle has been under fire for months over allegations that his administration awarded state contracts and a favorable regulatory decision in exchange for campaign cash. Both Green and Walker have tried to capitalize on the allegations, which Doyle has strongly denied.

Questions were also raised earlier this month after Jensen's attorney submitted previously secret investigative reports showing that Assembly Democrats, including Doyle's top campaign aide, Rich Judge, routinely worked on private political campaigns while at their state jobs. Judge was employed at the Legislature's Assembly Democratic Caucus at the time.

Grant also testified that when he worked for Jensen, Pfaff, who is now Walker's campaign manager, picked up campaign literature at the ARC office at 17 S. Fairchild St. Pfaff said he has no recollection of doing that.

Earlier this month, Green insisted that any campaign work he did occurred outside the Capitol and outside his congressional office, and that his staff in the Legislature and Congress always used leave or vacation time while on the campaign trail. State and federal laws prohibit campaigning on the taxpayers' dime.

Green also said he had nothing to do with running the now-shuttered ARC, a taxpayer-funded campaign machine whose operations resulted in criminal charges against Jensen and convictions for two other Assembly Republicans who served above Green.

In court documents, Jensen has acknowledged running political campaigns out of the Legislature, insisting that such work was a key part of his job when he was the top leader from 1997 until 2002. Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, who preceded Jensen as speaker, also acknowledged in a court document that during his seven years in leadership - 1989 until 1996 - state employees under his supervision often worked on private political campaigns at the Capitol.

Green, who served as a leader under both Prosser and Jensen, denied any knowledge of what went on at the ARC. Green said his duties were legislative, not campaign-related, including running meetings of Republican Assembly members and to plot strategy on legislation.

"I was not involved in the (Assembly Republican) Caucus operations," Green said. "That was not a function of the caucus chair."

But Marty Reynolds, a Democrat from Ladysmith who served with Green, said the fact that state staff and time were used for campaigns was known by virtually everyone in the Legislature.

"I can just say, if you didn't know what was going on, you weren't paying attention at all," said Reynolds, who served from 1990 until 2002. "And for someone in leadership to say they weren't paying attention is totally disingenuous."

The evidence

Documents obtained by the State Journal - and testimony and records from Grant over the past two days - indicate that Green's ties to the illegal campaigning were closer than he claims. According to the records:

Grant testified that while at the ARC, he designed campaign-related Packers and Badgers schedules for Green in 1997.

Grant also testified that he kept kept campaign materials on a separate disk from his official work. A handwritten log of work from one of the disks listed "Green stuff" that had been requested by Graul.

Green campaign spokesman Rob Vernon said Green's congressional campaign contracted separately with Grant for any campaign work, paying Grant $250 on Feb. 11, 1998, from Green's Assembly campaign and $50 on July 14, 1999, from Green's congressional campaign. Asked whether he knew Grant was using his state office, time and computer to produce the literature, Vernon said, "Mark Green did not know that."

Grant also testified that Tuttle, now chief of staff for Green in Washington, D.C., was one of three people at the ARC in charge of approving all campaign literature Grant produced. Tuttle also directed him to work on a special election in 1996, Grant said. Vernon said Tuttle didn't work for Green at the Legislature, and Green has said he never talked with Tuttle about the work Tuttle did at the ARC.

On March 13, 1996, Green had a fax line installed in his Capitol office, and his campaign committee, Green for Better Government, reimbursed the Assembly chief clerk's office $35.54 for the costs, Elections Board reports show.

Vernon said Green bought the machine for state business but paid for it with political contributions to get a nicer fax machine than was available through the Legislature. But Johnsrud said Assembly members at the time were allowed to have private phone lines installed in their Capitol offices for campaign work and personal business, and many did so.

A Republican Assembly group solicited volunteers for Green's 1998 congressional race in their taxpayer-funded offices, a possible violation of the state law that prohibits the solicitation of political donations or services on state property.

Two memos were distributed at the Capitol around Labor Day 1998 seeking volunteers for a "lit drop" for Green's congressional campaign. Green said he wasn't aware of any solicitation of volunteers at the Capitol on his behalf, but Johnsrud recalls Graul drumming up volunteers for Green's first congressional race at the Capitol.

Green was among the leaders thanking legislative staff for their work on campaigns in 1998 in a memo hand-delivered at the Capitol. The Nov. 5, 1998, memo thanks legislative staffers for entering "hundreds of thousands of records" into campaign databases, hand- addressing 20,000 envelopes and delivering campaign literature to "thousands of homes throughout the state."

The memo invited staffers to a party and to respond to the legislative office of Ladwig, who has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for using her office to run the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee. Green said his name was likely on the letter with the other Republican leaders only as a "courtesy" since all of his attention that year was focused on his own race for Congress.

A confidential memo said Graul was heavily involved in legislative races in 1996 while employed as Green's top legislative staffer.

The Feb. 17, 1997, memo from former ARC director Ray Carey described the taxpayer- funded agency's efforts in the 1996 campaigns, including the central role of Graul, who was named as one of the six regional coordinators overseeing races across Wisconsin that year. Graul said all of his campaign work took place on his free time or during leaves from his job at Green's legislative office. Records show he took a 50 percent leave that year, from Aug. 5 until Nov. 5.

However, the Carey memo said the duties of coordinators such as Graul "were primarily from April until after the September primary" - including roughly four months when Graul wasn't on leave. Carey singled out Graul as being "especially . . . very helpful" in recruiting candidates to run that year. Carey is scheduled to testify today in the Jensen trial.

Let the people decide?

Rich Eggleston complains that the fate of the constitutional amendment supporters call the Taxpayer Protection Amendment and opponents call Bride of TABOR may be decided by which side has the better marketing people -- or the most money. Just like we decide most things these days, by the way.

There is this, though: Amendment supporters use "Let the people decide" as a rallying cry. Eggleston notes:

WMC and AFP quote former Gov. Lee S. Dreyfus out of context. The slogan "Let the people decide" was Dreyfus' rallying cry against Bob Kasten, whom Dreyfus portrayed as the big money candidate in a primary that Dreyfus won. "Now WMC is reviving it as a slogan for the money," says Bill Kraus, a Common Cause activist who was the former governor's communications director. "How cruel."
Dreyfus hasn't spoken out publicly on the latest version of the amendment, but he strongly opposed the earlier version of TABOR when it was before the legislature in 2004. He even cut a radio commercial that said:
Our constitution gives the legislature all the power it needs to curb spending.

Amending the constitution is a terrible way to make public policy.

We just don't need the TABOR amendment.

We need legislators with the backbone to say no to wasteful spending.
Dreyfus doesn't own the "Let the people decide" slogan, of course, and certainly wasn't the first person ever to say it. But it's ironic that it has become the slogan to pass an amendment he probably would oppose.

It's also more than a little ironic that many of the same people who use that slogan oppose the effort to let citizens have a voice on the Iraq war in referenda on the ballot in about 20 Wisconsin communities next month. "The people" are paying for that war, too.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Keep your hands off my -- trash?

What's that saying?

"He who steals my purse steals trash ..."

But he who steals my trash could end up in the slammer.

Joel McNally has the story.

C-SPAN to air Prox service

C-SPAN will air the State Capitol memorial service for the late Sen. William Proxmire on Saturday at 8:20 and 11:20 p.m., as part of C-SPAN'S "American Perspectives" series.

The Feb. 10 service was broadcast by Wisconsin Public Television, which has provided C-SPAN with the tape.

Campaign finance reform pays

There must be something appealing to political donors about a candidate who keeps railing about how expensive campaigns are.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's "expose" on legislators raising a record $3.39-million last year, a non-election year, also contains this factoid:

The legislator sitting on the fattest warchest is none other than Mr. Campaign Finance Reform, the WDC's poster boy, State Sen. Michael Ellis, R-Neenah, with a cool $198,971.

Know the enemy

Who are the most vociferous backers of a state constitutional ban on gay marriages and civil unions? Meet the Wisconsin Marriage Defenders.

Jensen defense outs Jeff Wagner

the Scott Jensen trial gets better and better, and this is only the third day of a three-week circus.

The Associated Press story says the Republican Assembly caucus even did campaign work for Jeff Wagner, who lost the 1994 race for attorney general and as consolation prize calls his WTMJ radio show the "Department of Justice."

From the story, about the testimony of graphic artist Eric Grant, who testified he did almost nothing but campaign work on state time:

Jensen attorney Stephen Meyer tried to show during cross examination that caucus workers had been doing campaign work prior to 1997, when Jensen became the Assembly's top official.

Grant told Meyer that he found samples of game schedules for the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers that featured the names of some candidates. Caucus workers created them in 1994 for several campaigns, including then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, attorney general candidate Jeff Wagner and state Rep. Scott Gunderson. Grant said he used those designs to create new Packers and Badgers schedules for the campaigns of Rep. Rob Kreibich, Mary Ann Lippert and then-Rep. Mark Green, who is now running for the GOP nomination for governor.

Caucus web snares Green, Walker staffers

The plot thickens, the web gets a little more tangled, and Mark Green and Scott Walker go to new lengths to avoid talking to reporters.

We're talking, of course, about the caucus scandal, a subject on which Green and Walker have both taken "See no evil, hear no evil" approaches and claim they never suspected that illegal campaign activity was going on under their very noses -- or perhaps in their own offices.

Scott Jensen's decision to go to trial and drag it all out there is, despite denials from the right, already doing a lot more damage to Republicans than Democrats, simply because the case is focused on the Republican caucus, which Jensen ran. Mark Green was caucus chairman, but to hear him tell it that was some sort of honorary position and no one told him anything. (And he didn't ask.)

Today's Journal Sentinel story on the trial includes this:

Also Wednesday, the names of three senior aides or advisers to the two Republican candidates for governor - U.S. Rep. Mark Green of Green Bay and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker - surfaced in court in connection with campaign materials prepared on state time. Only one of those three worked for a GOP candidate - Green - then, however.

"Everything I used was property of the (Assembly Republican) caucus - state materials" that included computers, printers, fax machines and other items in an office rented by taxpayers, said Eric Grant, who worked as an Assembly Republican designer from August 1995 until April 2000...

The aides or advisers to Green and Walker mentioned in court Thursday were:

• Chris Tuttle, who worked as media director for the Assembly Republican caucus in 1998. Grant said Tuttle regularly approved campaign materials the designer prepared. Tuttle, whose signature or initials were on campaign-related work orders shown to jurors Wednesday, is now Green's chief of staff in Washington, D.C.

Tuttle worked in Green's Assembly office after his stint with the Assembly Republican Caucus and joined Green's congressional office shortly after the congressman's first term started in 1999.

Tuttle was not in the office Wednesday because he is on paternity leave. He did not return calls to his home.

[Chris Tuttle? Where have I heard that name before? Oh, right!]

Green has denied any knowledge of campaigning on state time while he was a member of the Assembly. Wednesday marked the second day in a row that Green did not take calls about the matter, and spokesman Rob Vernon said Green was traveling both days.

Green said in a statement: "Chris Tuttle was not my employee when he worked at the Assembly Republican Caucus. . . . It was and is my office policy that any campaign work done by my legislative staff was done on their own time."

• Bruce Pfaff, on Jensen's staff during the 1998 elections and now Walker's campaign manager, was named on what Grant said was a work order for three campaign brochures.

On that work order were these notations: "Jensen wants to get these three (campaign) pieces out prior to our 9/28 poll" and "Bruce will pick up." Grant identified the "Bruce" as Pfaff.

Pfaff said Wednesday that he did not remember the incident, but that he did work on campaigns on weekends and evenings in 1998.

"Did I do things that somebody could construe as on-the-job campaigning? I don't know. Possibly," Pfaff said. "But I don't believe I did campaign work on state time."

Walker said he would review what was said in court.

Walker said that when he hired Pfaff as his campaign manager, he did not know that Pfaff had previously worked for Jensen. Walker and Jensen served in the Assembly together in the 1990s.

• Grant identified as campaign materials a list that included this notation: "Graul - 7/10 - Green stuff." That was a reference to Mark Graul, Green's campaign manager and a Green aide in the Legislature.

Green campaign spokesman Vernon said Graul was not available for comment Wednesday night.

But in his 1998 campaign for Congress, Green contracted with Grant to do design work, the campaign spokesman said. But Vernon said Green assumed that Grant "did everything on his own time," because the designer was still on the Assembly payroll.
Mark Green continues to be the only gubernatorial candidate in America who consistently cannot be reached by telephone.

His campaign manager, Mark Graul, isn't talking about this issue any more. A new campaign spokesman has taken on that terrible job.

Green says in a statement that his office policy was that staff should not do campaign work on state time. That's everybody's "policy." What is at issue is what the practice was.

And Walker's campaign manager, Bruce Pfaff, takes the sort-of denial, "but maybe someone could think I did something wrong" approach. He "doesn't believe" he did campaign work on state time.

Is this a big deal? Is it relevant to the governor's race?

It all depends. Republicans think it's relevant that Jim Doyle's campaign manager, Rich Judge, was Assembly caucus director long before he ever worked for Doyle. It's all the noise they've made about Judge that have caused people to look at whether Walker and Green live in glass houses. It looks like we are getting that question answered -- as if we didn't know.

Walker to Green: Run for Senate

From the WisPolitics report on Charlie Sykes' "Insight" show with GOP candidates for governor:
In terms of experience, Walker at one point suggested Green should run for U.S. Senate against Herb Kohl. because of his work on federal issues. ``The fact is executive experience is what matters as governor,'' Walker said.
Walker does, indeed, have executive experience,although he's made a mess of Milwaukee County government. But he can always serve as a bad example.

Too late for Green to run for Senate. He had $1.3-million in federal campaign money, mostly from special interests who would never give to a governor's race, but he converted it all to a state campaign fund. And the feds don't allow transfers in the other direction.

How to expand talk radio's audience

From all reports, there were some interesting, lively and sharp debates on Charlie Sykes' annual "Insight" show on Wednesday, featuring a lineup of prominent guests who duked it out on everything from prison policy to ethanol to school choice.

Isn't it a shame that only happens once a year?

Think of how interesting it might be to hear both sides every day. Might even be good for ratings. Imagine if there were that kind of free-wheeling give and take on the air all of the time.

What am I saying? How silly of me.

No one wants to hear the other side, do they?

And WTMJ radio no doubt has the market research to support its decision to broadcast one-sided radio 364 days a year, where Sykes talks only to his producer or screened callers who agree with him.

But I'll bet there was a much bigger audience than usual on Wednesday. If this is really all about ratings, a regular back-and-forth could expand the audience.

That's my gratuituous advice for the day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Walker skips luxury suite plans

After too many bad questions were asked about plans to use a luxury suite at the Kohl Center as part of a political fundraiser, Scott Walker's campaign abandoned plans to use the suite. WKOW-TV in Madison reports:

Walker Ditches Luxury Suite

Wed 02/22/2006 -

Officials with Republican Scott Walker's campaign for Governor dropped plans to host political donors in a Kohl Center luxury suite during a Wisconsin men's basketball game after 27 News asked who was sponsoring the fundraising event.

"We did not use the suite for the event," campaign manager Bruce Pfaff told 27 News.

"It was an internal campaign decision," Pfaff said.

Pfaff denied the decision had anything to do with concerns raised over the possibility the halftime suite access at the Feb. 15 game amounted to an illegal, corporate campaign gift.

Records released to 27 News showed thirty five of the Kohl Center's thirty six luxury suites are leased to corporations.

Wisconsin election law prohibits corporations from making direct or indirect contributions to political candidates.
The whole story.

UPDATE: There goes Bruce Pfaff again, contradicting his candidate. To follow up on the WKOW report, Pfaff tells WKOW it was "an internal campaign decision" not to use the suite, but Scott Walker in his blog says that they were just having too much fun and didn't want to leave the action.

From the Walker blog:
Two supporters donated tickets and we had a fundraiser (tickets were face value and rest was donation to our campaign). Since the seats were so good and our supporters wanted to stay near the action, we never went to a suite (although I did buy a brat and a soda on the way in at one of the concession stands).

Willie Horton moves to Wisconsin

I thought it, but Carrie Lynch said it. Paul Bucher's campaign has brought Willie Horton to Wisconsin.

Heckuva job, Mikey!

The AP reports:

LOS ANGELES - Eight days after Hurricane Katrina hit, Michael Jackson announced he would release an all-star charity single within two weeks.

Nearly six months later, after questions about exactly who would be participating, the prince who has been hosting Jackson during his self-imposed exile in Bahrain says the song will come out by the end of this month.
With that kind of quick turnaround, there just might be a place for Michael Jackson in FEMA.

Dubya and Dubai

This is what would move George W. Bush to use his veto power for the first time? A plan to let Dubai take control of the port of New York (and a few others)?

That's the issue he'll go to the wall on, even when the Republican leaders in both houses of Congress express serious doubts?

What could this be about? Why do I suspect, when all of the facts come out, that it will be about some personal or business connection of the Bush family?

UPDATE: Bush aides have ties to Dubai firm.

I'll turn the rest over to the NY Times' Maureen Dowd:

GOP to W: You're Nuts!

It's enough to make you nostalgic for those gnarly union stevedores in "On the Waterfront," the ones who hung up rats on hooks and took away Marlon Brando's chance to be a contend-ah.

Maybe it's corporate racial profiling, but I don't want foreign companies, particularly ones with links to 9/11, running American ports.

What kind of empire are we if we have to outsource our coastline to a group of sheiks who don't recognize Israel, in a country where money was laundered for the 9/11 attacks? And that let A. Q. Kahn, the Pakistani nuclear scientist, smuggle nuclear components through its port to Libya, North Korea and Iran?

It's mind-boggling that President Bush ever agreed to let an alliance of seven emirs be in charge of six of our ports. Although, as usual, Incurious George didn't even know about it until after the fact. (Neither did Rummy, even though he heads one of the agencies that green-lighted the deal.)

Same old pattern: a stupid and counterproductive national security decision is made in secret, blowing off checks and balances, and the president's out of the loop.

Was W. too busy not calling Dick Cheney to find out why he shot a guy to not be involved in a critical decision about U.S. security? What is he waiting for — a presidential daily brief warning, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack U.S. Ports?"

Our ports are already nearly naked in terms of security. Only about 5 percent of the containers coming into the country are checked. And when the White House assures us that the Homeland Security Department will oversee security at the ports, is that supposed to make us sleep better? Not after the chuckleheaded Chertoff-and-Brownie show on Capitol Hill.

"Our borders are wide open," said Jan Gadiel of 9/11 Families for a Secure America. "We don't know who's in our country right now, not a clue. And now they're giving away our ports." The "trust us" routine of W. and Dick Cheney is threadbare.

The more W. warned that he would veto legislation stopping this deal, the more lawmakers held press conferences to oppose it — even conservatives who had loyally supported W. on Iraq, the Patriot Act, torture and warrantless snooping.

Mr. Bush is hoist on his own petard. For four years, the White House has accused anyone in Congress or the press who defended civil liberties or questioned anything about the Iraq war of being soft on terrorism. Now, as Congress and the press turn that accusation back on the White House, Mr. Bush acts mystified by the orgy of xenophobia.

Lawmakers, many up for re-election, have learned well from Karl Rove. Playing the terror card works.

A bristly Bush said yesterday that scotching the deal would send "a terrible signal" to a worthy ally. He equated the "Great British" with the U.A.E. Well, maybe Britain in the 12th century.

Besides, the American people can be forgiven if they're confused about what it means in the Arab world to be a U.S. ally. Is it a nation that helps us sometimes but also addicts us to oil and then jacks up the price, refuses to recognize Israel, denies women basic rights, tolerates radical anti-American clerics, looks the other way when its citizens burn down embassies and consulates over cartoons, and often turns a blind eye when it comes to hunting down terrorists in its midst?

In our past wars, America had specific countries to demonize. But now in the "global war on terror" — GWOT, as they call it — the enemy is a faceless commodity that the administration uses whenever it wants to win a political battle. When something like this happens, it's no wonder the public does its own face transplant.

One of the real problems here is that this administration has run up such huge trade and tax-cut-and-spend budget deficits that we're in hock to the Arabs and the Chinese to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. If they just converted their bonds into cash, they would own our ports and not have to merely rent them.

Just because the wealthy foreigners who own our debt can blackmail us with their economic leverage, does that mean we should expose our security assets to them as well?

As part of the lunatic White House defense, Dan Bartlett argued that "people are trying to drive wedges and make this to be a political issue." But as the New Republic editor Peter Beinart pointed out in a recent column, W. has made the war on terror "one vast wedge issue" to divide the country.

Now, however, the president has pulled us together. We all pretty much agree: mitts off our ports.

Beware 'solutions' from problem causers

Paul Soglin waxes eloquently on the false arguments offered by a consultant teying to sell the Bride of TABOR to Wisconsin.

Soglin says:
Wisconsin Neocons and their surrogates are advancing more deceptive and distorted arguments on behalf of the Bride of TABOR. Recall:

--the exterminator who offered you his services after letting a dozen mice into the house.

--the software manufacturer who offered you spam blockers after allowing the infection of your hard drive.

After destroying the fiscal integrity of Wisconsin over fifteen years, the Neocons, most of the influential Republicans in the legislature, are offering a fix that does not work.

Read the rest.

File under Promises Kept

The Associated Press reports:

Gov's plane use lower than predecessors'

By Ryan J. Foley
Associated Press

Gov. Jim Doyle has used state airplanes to travel far less than his predecessors during his first three years in office, records show.

Doyle, who during the 2002 campaign repeatedly criticized Gov. Scott McCallum's use of state planes, logged 28,900 miles in the year that ended June 30, 2005, according to records obtained by The Associated Press in an open records request.

That was slightly higher than Doyle's previous two years but less than the two Republicans who preceded him in the east wing, records show. McCallum flew almost twice as many miles in 2002, and Tommy Thompson traveled almost three times as much in 2000.

"I'm happy to see that's happening," Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, who has called for efficiencies in the state plane fleet, said of Doyle's reduced use...

Doyle wanted to limit plane use after criticizing McCallum on the issue, including McCallum's trip to take his son to a soccer tournament in Colorado, spokesman Dan Leistikow said...

Thompson and McCallum have defended their frequent flying.

"I viewed a large part of the job to represent people throughout the state," McCallum said. "It wasn't to be captive of what was going on inside the Capitol."

Leistikow said Doyle visits all parts of the state, but he has "spent a lot more time in the car and less time in the air."

Walker 'reforms' should be tested at home

Gov wannabe Scott Walker, the only member of the Assembly besides Mark Green who was shocked, shocked to hear that Republican staffers were illegal working on campaigns, has proposed a package of ethics reforms.

My favorite proposal is term limits for state officials. Talk about an idea whose time has come and gone. Even some of the Republicans who got elected to Congress as supporters of term limits decided, once they got their, that it was a bad idea.

A close second is a part-time legislature. Even if it were a good idea, what do you think the odds are that will ever happen?

Walker, the Milwaukee County executive, thinks we should have a part-time legislature but a full-time, 19-member County Board? (Actually, he wishes there were no county board and he could jujst rule by fiat, but he hasn't proposed that.)

Maybe he should give those ideas -- term limits and part-time legislators -- a test run at home before taking them statewide.

Of course, he knows those are proposals that will never go anywhere. But they might sound good to some voters, and serve as filler in his reform package.

But, clearly, as Bob Dylan would say, they ain't going nowhere.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Worst of the worst surveys

I used to think that the state convention straw polls were the worst indicators of how a primary would turn out.

But now there's an even worse one: a survey of county party chairs.

Based on responses from a whopping 20 of 72 Dem county chairs, it looks like AG Peg Lautenschlager has her primary wrapped up. Kathleen Falk should just quit now.

Likewise, 22 GOP chairs say they like Mark Green for gov and J. B. Van Hollen for AG.

Aside from the size of the sample, it should be noted that Milwaukee County and Florence County each have one vote in this survey.

But Scott Walker, Paul Bucher and Falk may just want to get out of the way of that county chair juggernaut. Or not. Or naught.

Quote, unquote

Like a laundry detergent that's advertised as "new and improved!" the failed Taxpayer Bill of Rights has been repackaged and given another name in the state Legislature.

But when you open the Taxpayer Protection Act and take a close look at it, you'll see that it has the same basic flaws as its earlier version.

New? Yeah. Improved? Some. But at its core, the proposed amendment to the state constitution remains an example of wrong-thinking government.

-- Appleton Post-Crescent editorial.

A modest proposal on poll workers

The City of Milwaukee is putting on a push to recruit 750 more poll workers, to be in place by September's primary.

It is no secret that there were many, many problems in the 2004 presidential election in Milwaukee. Not fraud, but bureaucracy run amok, with a shortage of trained poll workers compounding the problems caused by huge turnouts.

A Journal Sentinel editorial encourages people to volunteer, and that's good idea. (Call 286-3491.) The Election Commission is reaching out to ask businesses and organizations to encourage employees and members to work at the polls, and that's a good idea, too.

But why not go another step toward professionalizing the election system, by using people who already work for city government -- especially people in clerical or administrative jobs who are trained and efficient at handling paperwork.

Why not shut down city government on election day, or maintain a skeleton staff in most departments, and assign everyone else to a polling place?

City workers could get some training sessions during work hours, and you know they'd show up as scheduled on election day -- because that would be their jobs. Election day wouldn't be a holiday, just a day they worked at a different assignment.

Would this cost a little more in terms of lost time from work, versus the pittance the city pays poll workers as a stipend? Sure. But isn't running an efficient, fair election something the taxpayers should finance? It is the responsibility of city government, not the old lady down the street, to see that everyone eligible gets to vote and that our votes are properly counted.

Trying to anticipate the objections from the wingnuts: This should be a volunteer effort, 1000 Points of Light? Too many city workers are members of the public employees union, and probably Democrats? (The truth is that the right won't like anything that might shorten the lines or make it easier for people to vote in the city. Their goal is to lower turnout, not facilitate it.)

Worth a shot? After 2004, how could we do worse?

Bush's science fiction advisor

Now it's more understandable why President Bush doesn't think global warming is such a big deal. He doesn't have a science advisor. He has a science fiction advisor.

'I guess I have to say that I don't know how I do it'

A reader asks:

What’s with all the “I” talk coming from Scott Walker's campaign manager, Bruce Pfaff?

From Spivak & Bice:

Bruce Pfaff, Walker's campaign chief, said that until smart-aleck reporters called Wednesday, he didn't give the Saturday hunt, which Walker will attend, a second thought.

"I'm worried about getting money in the door and having enough to fund the game plan to defeat Mark Green and Jim Doyle," Pfaff said, referring to Walker's GOP primary opponent and the incumbent Democratic governor. "Humor doesn't come into it much in our days."

From the Capital Times:

Despite last weekend's hunting accident involving Vice President Dick Cheney, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker will go ahead with a $500-per-person pheasant hunt fundraiser on Saturday.

"I just can't cancel an event that's had invitations out for three weeks," said Walker's campaign manager Bruce Pfaff. "I need money in the bank, no matter whether I do it this weekend or a month from now."

Another Cap Times story:

Pfaff refused to confirm information about the event because "I am concerned about opponents learning details," he said.

He did say that Walker "usually" attends his fundraisers, and that the halftime event in a suite probably consisted of just stopping by to see a supporter.

Pfaff would not say who the supporter was or who leased that suite.

"My job is to raise money and report what I'm required to and beat my opponents," he said.
A very good question. When a campaign manager starts to talk about himself, instead of the campaign or the candidate, or even saying "we" instead of "I," it is usually a bad sign. Something bad is happening internally -- in the Walker campaign or in the manager's head.

Tommy's dog track take: $280,000 to $409,000

Stories always get better over time, at least in memory, I guess. After 16 years, my recollection was that Tommy Thompson had raised somewhere between a half-million and three-quarters of a million dollars from dog track interests in his 1990 campaign.

I stand corrected. The figure reported by the Milwaukee Journal in 1990 was "only" $280,000 from dog track interests.

The Tom Loftus campaign, which did its own research, set the amount at $409,000.

Whatever the number, it clearly is more than the Journal Sentinel reported on Sunday, when it claimed Thompson had received only $200,000 from gambling interests during 15 years as governor.

Here's the story, which features his young campaign manager, Scooter Jensen, defending Tommy:

Thompson has received $280,000 from donors linked to dog tracks

The Milwaukee Journal
September 16, 1990


The state's dog track industry has provided what appears to be the largest special-interest donations to any single state campaign in Wisconsin history, funneling more than $280,000 into Gov. Tommy G. Thompson's re-election treasury.

A review of Thompson's campaign finance reports, based on both public records and a computerized analysis of those records conducted by his opponent, Assembly Speaker Tom Loftus, shows contributions since 1987 from more than 200 racetrack owners, investors and others who stood to profit from the tracks.

Wisconsin's racing law, some of it shaped by Thompson's vetoes, gives the first-term Republican power to appoint members to the Racing Board and to appoint the board's executive director.

There is nothing illegal about the contributions. Until now, however, their full extent had not been measured. They form part of the $4.6 million Thompson has raised so far in his campaign against the Democrat from Sun Prairie.

To the governor, they suggest nothing improper, and are no more noteworthy than his opponent's acceptance of money from the state's powerful teachers union.

"I don't look at who sends in money. I never have. I couldn't tell you at all who the key financial supporters of Tommy Thompson are. I never look at the financial records, reports. There's no pressure whatsoever on people to send money to our campaign," the governor told a reporter recently.

But to Thompson's challenger, the infusion of tens of thousands of dollars in racetrack money represents a disturbing trend in the state's political scene.

"That is an amazing impact on Wisconsin politics," Loftus said. "And you can see that it won't take too many elections before they will be the major players, in the legislative races and governor's race.

"By far, they are the largest player ever in the history of Wisconsin, in any race, for any post."

Loftus, who has raised $740,000 for his campaign, said his treasury would not include contributions from anyone who fell under his sweeping definition of dog track interests. Some $2,700 that was received has been or will be returned, he said.

The Racing Board licensed tracks on May 19, 1989, in Kenosha, Delavan, Wisconsin Dells, Kaukauna and Hudson. The tracks began opening this spring, and all but the Hudson track, scheduled to open in June 1991, are up and running.

Racing industry experts expect the tracks to be cash cows, producing huge profits for owners. Dairyland Greyhound Park at Kenosha, the largest of the state's five tracks, is expected to pull in $350 million in bets and $20 million in profits annually.

Dog track money is scattered over thousands of pages of individual contributions in Thompson's campaign finance reports.

A Journal examination earlier this year, reported Aug. 5, found $97,050 in dog track contributions to Thompson, chiefly from major investors in those five tracks.

A new examination by The Journal puts the figure at $286,000. That represents new contributions from investors as well as contributions from non-owners who have a large financial stake in the tracks, such as J.P. Cullen, president of the firm that is the prime contractor on the $35 million Hudson track. Cullen contributed $3,450.

About half of Thompson's racetrack money, $140,599, came from track owners and close family members. The rest included in The Journal analysis came from track developers and builders.

Figures Differ

Loftus' aides come up with a higher amount they say is linked to dog tracks: $409,676.

The Journal's estimate was lower because it excluded contributors without clear and substantial ties to the tracks, and firms who had done minor work for the tracks but might have had several other reasons for giving to Thompson.

For instance, The Journal list includes $3,000 in donations from Tommy Bartlett, owner of several tourist attractions at the Wisconsin Dells and a part owner of Wisconsin Dells Greyhound Park. Loftus' list included additional contributions from employes of Bartlett.

Scott Jensen, Thompson's campaign director, argued that Bartlett, while a part owner, should not be counted among dog track interests because he had been a consistent and longtime contributor to Thompson.

Loftus has been particularly critical of Thompson's receipt of racetrack money from out-of-state track investors. About 25% of Thompson's track contributions, or $71,986, came from out-of-state sources.

Thompson recently returned $2,000 of that amount to three of the four Alabama investors in Dairyland Greyhound Park who were accused by the Racing Board of fraud.

The largest chunks of out-of- state money to Thompson came from Florida investors in the St. Croix Meadows dog track in Hudson and Illinois investors in the Geneva Lakes Kennel Club at Delavan.

For example, the Antoniou family, which holds a major share of the Delavan track, gave 28,700. Florida partners in the Hudson track gave $16,500.

Loftus Cites Power

In Loftus' view, Thompson's power to appoint the state's racing regulators makes him a magnet for racetrack interests. Loftus goes so far as to refer to a "shakedown" for dog track money by the Thompson campaign, saying the governor's campaign methodically targeted dog track interests for contributions. To bolster his charge, Loftus points to his staff's analysis that shows contributions from various track interests cluster around dates of particular fund-raisers.

While Thompson declined to be interviewed specifically for this story, Jensen, the campaign director, said there was no systematic effort to collect track money for Thompson, although Jensen said he wasn't fully aware of all of the governor's fund-raising efforts.

It was only logical that a collection of racetrack investors should show up at certain fund-raisers, Jensen said. They probably wanted to attend along with other business people in a particular community, he said.

"We invited the entire business community when we held a fund- raiser in a particular area," he said.

Jensen also said it wasn't fair to include some of the money being counted as racetrack money because it was given by people with varied business interests, not just racetracks.

"I think there is a definitional problem here," Jensen said.

"If he {Loftus} says people are tainted the minute they make a dog track investment, that's just not fair to people who have been good corporate citizens for many, many years," Jensen said.

Teachers Donate More

The biggest formal special interest group spending in Wisconsin politics has been by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest teachers union. WEAC gave $650,000 in 1987-'88, but it was divided among dozens of candidates. The figure comes from the State Elections Board's most recent biennial report.

Thus far, teachers have given $30,000 to Loftus for his gubernatorial race.

The board has not analyzed Thompson's money for dog track- related contributions, said Gail Shea, campaign finance administrator for the Elections Board.

Shea said she believed the method of analyzing Thompson's track money was legitimate. She warned, however, that "there is no fail-safe test that is going to completely define why people made a contribution."

. . .

Some Losing Firms Gave

Representatives of firms that lost bids for track licenses also gave to Thompson, Jensen said, arguing that showed that contributions to Thompson didn't matter when it came to awarding licenses.

Investors in a failed bid to win a license for a track in Beloit ruefully noted they made no contributions to Thompson and lost.

"They tried to be squeaky clean," a Legislative Audit Bureau investigative memo noted. The Beloit track investors told auditors "they suspect the principal owners of the Delavan {Geneva Lakes} track may have contributed to the Governor's Club," a fund-raising vehicle used by Thompson in which donors of $500 or more are given special access to and briefings by the

In fact, some Geneva Lakes investors gave many times the $500 it takes to get into Thompson's "Governor's Club." Andreas Antoniou gave $6,000, Anthony Antoniou gave $6,200 and three other Antoniou family members gave a total of $12,000.

Thompson campaign officials have argued that contributions made after the May 1989 track licenses were awarded couldn't possibly be construed as attempts to curry favor.

But Loftus said there were plenty of reasons. Thompson continues to play a key role in regulating tracks through his close working relationship with Racing Board Executive Director Terence Dunleavy, track licenses are subject to renewal, and those getting licenses have a vested interest in making sure nobody else receives one, Loftus said.

Investigator Aided Loftus

Along with the research Loftus campaign officials did on dog money, they also hired a private investigator from San Francisco to help them analyze racetrack records and make public records requests for them to the Racing Board.

Loftus consultant Michele Carrier said Saturday that the reason for having the investigator, David Fechheimer, make the records requests was that the Racing Board was not releasing all the documents it requested. Carrier said the campaign officials felt that if they were going to get cooperation from the board, the requests needed to come from someone who wasn't linked to Loftus.

Monday, February 20, 2006

State of the City: Too many guns

From Mayor Tom Barrett's State of the City speech today:

Our effort to reduce violence in Milwaukee starts with guns. Last week, within a twenty-four period, thugs with guns killed three people. One was a mother who got caught up in the crossfire resulting from an argument. Imagine if she was your mother.

A few weeks ago, an innocent nine year-old girl was shot and wounded on, of all places, a playground. The shot came from hundreds of feet away. A shot fired by a teenager in an argument - an 18 year-old with a gun. Imagine if she was your daughter.

I’m here to tell you that these Milwaukee residents are our mothers, they are our daughters, our sons and our fathers who are being murdered by people who have no business carrying and using guns. We must get illegal handguns and the criminals who use them off our streets!

In the last five years, police have confiscated over 11,000 guns. Despite a record number of guns taken off the streets, 95 people were killed by someone shooting a gun in Milwaukee last year. We need to do better.

Our state legislature needs to end its preoccupation with an NRA agenda that puts more guns on our streets and instead, enact laws to stem the flow of illegal guns into our neighborhoods.

-- Lloyd Dangle, Troubletown, via Cagle.

Vets' money transfer on fast track

UPDATE: Off the fast track?The Assembly Veterans Committee chaired by Rep. Gabe Loeffelholz, R-Platteville, took no action Tuesday on a plan to transfer millions of dollars from the vets'nursing home in King. AB 1034 that would allow the transfer of money - up to $16 million - that could be invested for the future at the King Home to the trust fund account was suspended in freeze frame while GOP legislative leaders decide what to do about the measure. No executive action was taken and no amendments are pending.

-- By Gary Fisher:

A high-speed transfer of $16 million from the vets' nursing home at King in Waupaca County to the account of the Veterans Trust Fund is set for a committee vote Tuesday.

The executive session takes place Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in the Veterans Affairs Committee chaired by Rep. Terry Musser, R-Black River Falls.

Just introduced and fast-tracked, Assembly Bill 1034 would allow the transfer of money that could be invested for the future at the King Home to the trust fund account. The original draft of the bill stated an amount of $16 million to be transferred.

The measure would have to pass in both houses and then be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs hasn't provided documents pertaining to the financial performance of King Home or the accounting reasons why the planned transfer of millions from the nursing home to the trust fund is such an urgent necessity. Nor has it provided documents to show why the King Home has a cash surplus to bail out the trust fund.

Whatever the reasons for the transfer, 23 senators and 89 representatives overwhelmingly support the legislation.

The bill would also exempt certain vets from UW System and technical college tuition and fees, ensure eligibility for reduced tuition fees for surviving spouses that haven't remarried, and the children of certain deceased veterans, and increase IT staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The committee is also set to act on SB 436, a college reenrollment and registration priority for those called into active military duty and AB 164 that would exempt a military death gratuity payment from taxation.

The Veterans Affairs Board meets Tuesday and Wednesday this week at the state Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Madison. On Tuesday it's Salute to the Legislature at Monona Terrace.

Meanwhile, board member holdout Kathy Marschman, whose term was over May 1, 2005, still blocks Rod Moen from succeeding her on the board, and Republican Senate Majority Leader Dale Schultz hasn't scheduled action for a floor vote on Moen's confirmation. Gov. Jim Doyle appointed Moen last year to serve a six-year term, but Marschman has refused to resign even though her term ended, so Moen can't take the seat until the Republican State Senate confirms him, which it seems unwilling to do.

Board member Don Heiliger's term on the board also ended at the same time as Marschman's last year, however, the governor has yet to appoint a replacement
for him.

Burning issue for Bush, Walker, Green

Wisconsin wingnuts and Republican radio hosts have decided, for whatever reason, that ethanol, like light rail, is the work of the devil. And now it appears George W. Bush has gone over to the dark side, WisPolitics reports:

During his visit to Milwaukee today, President George W. Bush pushed for increased use of ethanol as a way to ease the country's "addiction" to oil. [Maybe that explains why Walker and Green were doing their best to ignore him in the photo above.-- Xoff.]

"The more ethanol we use, the less crude oil we consume, and using ethanol has the added benefit of supporting our farmers," Bush said.
Gov wannabes Scott Walker and Mark Green have different views. Walker thinks whatever Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling tell him to think. Green has a more slippery nuanced view.

WisPolitics on a recent joint appearance:

Walker said he would not support an ethanol mandate and not sign one if it got to his desk as guv. Instead, he advocated expanded incentives for ethanol production. Green said he would only support the bill on the condition that the business community would not be adversely affected. He lashed out at Doyle for not getting enough independent research to decide on the implications of ethanol for Wisconsin’s businesses.
One post at Badger Blogger already suggests that will hurt Green among conservatives.

Who woulda thought it? Will ethanol decide the GOP primary? (No.)

UPDATE: Doyle rubs it in.

Jeff Stone hates taxes, not spending

Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, is one of those anti-tax Republicans who's all for TABOR, Bride of TABOR, whatever. He hates taxes.

He doesn't hate spending quite as much, though, especially when it's someone else's money.

Stone has been aggressively lobbying for a sewer expansion for Franklin that would open what is now a largely rural area to development.

Franklin officials have pitched the $42.5-million project to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, which would have to change its boundaries to take in the new area.

And Stone is beating the drums for it, even though he has been told that the project would push MMSD's capital budget increase into the 6% range -- about triple what would be allowed under Bride of TABOR. There's always the referendum option, of course, but it would be a very hard sell to get taxpayers in the rest of the district to pay for Franklin's growth.

When the issue came up at an MMSD committee meeting, Stone attended, although it is virtually unheard of for a legislator to show up to lobby on an issue. Stone did get up and express his support for the sewer expansion. Commissioners let him know that MMSD was going to pass a 2% budget increase, just as the Republicans in the legislature wanted, and that the Franklin project would put the budget well over that limit. Stone didn't offer any alternatives.

Jeannette Bell, West Allis mayor and MMSD commissioner:
"Generally, you create a TIF district or businesses pay for that," said Bell, whose community has used tax-incremental financing districts to fund West Allis' redevelopment. "I don't know if West Allis taxpayers will want to pay for a huge sewer out in Franklin when they've had to invest in their own economic development."
If a referendum won't fly, maybe Stone can get the legislature to amend Bride of TABOR to make an exception for pork supported by Republican lawmakers.