June 25, 2004
Is the Legislature too small?
By Bill Kraus
Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance executive director Todd Berry’s response to the increasing unresponsiveness of a Legislature that is increasingly the stamping ground of invincible incumbents is to expand it dramatically. This presents a few logistical problems, but it would have the offsetting advantages of bringing the candidates closer to the people and making campaigning personal instead of commercial. Running a television-commercial-based campaign to persuade 51 percent of the residents of a 50,000-person Assembly district would be foolish as well as uneconomic. It would also be harder to gerrymander small districts.
A UW-Madison professor would attack the invincible insularity problem somewhat differently. He suggests that every 5,000 voters vote not for a representative but for a surrogate (a new kind of elector) who would vote for one of the candidates for the Legislature.
In an era when something like only 10 of the 132 seats in the Wisconsin Legislature are competitive something should be done, maybe something this dramatic, to counter the widespread megalomania that is the undesirable byproduct of representing a safe district.
The irony is that neither of these ideas would be need to be floated or considered if the aforementioned invincible incumbents would pass meaningful campaign finance reform and agree to turn redistricting over to dispassionate, disinterested outsiders, which, of course, they won’t.
June 17, 2004
The Arena Phenomenon
By Bill Kraus
There is a time in sports at the end of the game when the adversaries, no matter how hard fought and bitter the contest, come together and congratulate and console one another. I think of this as the arena phenomenon. What it signifies is that the people in the arena, because they have gone through the game and everything that qualified them to be in the game, respect (and even like) each other more than they respect and like their fans. This phenomenon was once pervasive in politics, too.
Legislators who spent the day beating up on each other in the public forum would routinely adjourn to a watering hole and socialize. They did not agree on much, but they were a kind of band of brothers.
Recently these adversaries have become enemies, and enemies do not fraternize. The combatants retreat to their own corners as it were to plot the next day’s battle and lick the wounds from the battle just fought.
There are no freshmen (and women) breakfasts where the newcomers from both parties get to know each other and the business upon which they have embarked.
There are no mixers at the executive mansion where the partisans can break bread with each other and with the invited members of the executive branch.
There are things the political leaders could learn from the NFL, the NHL, and the world of sports in general, where competition is intense but civility and mutual respect are a part of what the participants get for having made it to the arena.
June 11, 2004
Begging to differ
By Bill Kraus
As we say goodbye to Ronald Reagan, the Washington Post and others give too much credit to Reagan for the demise of the moderate middle of the Republican Party. That was largely Nixon's doing.
Nixon gave us the southern strategy which led the Republicans down the road toward theocracy.
He also was responsible for the post-Watergate campaign reforms, which spawned the Political Action Committees and the era of big money in politics. These so-called reforms also had the unintended consequence of neutering the party itself. And, love it or hate it, the party had always been the moderates' route to power.
President Ford's pardon of Nixon (also Nixon-induced), which was great policy and lousy politics (can you imagine the class action suits?) doomed his own re-election chances.
So by the time 1980 came along, the moderates had no alternative to Reagan and no viable party organizational base from which to operate.
While Reagan was always a little too conservative for my tastes, I give him the credit he deserves for bankrupting the soviets, crushing runaway inflation, and restoring our national pride.
I do not give him credit (or, more to point, blame him) for greasing the slide into theocracy. Nixon did that.
June 4, 2004
A mild disagreement with the management
By Bill Kraus
The question is whether the rule that one should never argue with people who buy ink by the barrel carries over to the electronic age and proscribes arguing with people who run the web site.
We will see.
FightingBob.com editor and publisher Ed Garvey has taken issue with a suggestion I made in an Isthmus column a month or so ago. He thinks Tommy Thompson would (a) be a bad choice for president of the UW System and (b) would use that office, if he attained it, to turn the UW System into a private, instead of a public, institution.
A couple of minor clarifications first. The column suggested that what the UW needs is Tommy or Tom (Loftus) or, better yet, both of them. Loftus is a former speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly and the Democratic candidate for governor who ran against Tommy in 1990.
With the decline in public funding, state taxpayer support for the UW System is at something like 20 percent. It is, in effect, an 80 percent private institution already.
I haven’t asked Tommy, but anyone who hires him should, where he does stand on the decline in public tax support. Like me, Tommy was a beneficiary of UW when it was a mostly public institution. We didn’t pay the kind of tuition the late great John Wyngaard did of $50 a semester, but we didn’t pay much. Nor did thousands of Wisconsin students who, because it was a low cost public school, became much more than they might have become if they hadn’t lived here. I would bet Tommy knows this and would like to see that kind of opportunity restored for Wisconsin’s young people.
Tommy also knows (as does Tom, of course, and all of what I say should be taken as going double) that the UW System is one of the state’s major economic assets. We have built over the course of more than 150 years a stellar education factory that produces real income for the state.
And, most of all, Tommy knows how to handle the people on the other end of State Street who (a) do not have his vision on the place or (b) need the money that is currently going to the place for other priorities.
Governor Jim Doyle took a $250 million bite out of UW in his last budget. The Legislature fell over and played dead or, worse yet, aided and abetted this hijacking.
And this is why I recommended what I did. The main threat to the continued future of the UW System as one of the world’s great public education institutions is political. A politico (or two) is the best hope for countering that threat.