September 29, 2005
Let us now praise incrementalism
By Bill Kraus
One of the items on the short agenda of an organization (which shall remain nameless) to which I belong is legislative redistricting. The organization has from its beginnings strongly opposed the almost universal practice in this country of incumbent legislatures deciding (or proposing) where the boundaries of legislative districts shall be drawn.
The reason for this position is the obvious one that incumbents’ main objective in this process is often, if not always, to reduce the chances of a successful challenge to their re-elections (first) and the re-election of their peers.
The evidence that they are successful in achieving this objective is overwhelming. Increasing numbers of uncontested elections, infinitesimal numbers of legislative areas where a legitimate challenge from someone of the opposite persuasion can be mounted.
When the governor of the state of California indicated he, too, thought that the status quo was altogether too cozy, it was natural that the leaders and members of my organization rushed to his support almost as quickly as the incumbent members of the California congressional delegation asked the Federal Elections Commission to give them the fiscal heavy weapons they felt they needed to preserve the present system against this unwelcome and surprising attack on their electoral safety. The governor of California, to my knowledge, is the only governor in the country who is making any kind of a redistricting reform effort.
So far, so good.
The first stirrings of criticism of this somewhat unholy alliance (between my unnamed organization and the governor of California) came from within the organization to which I belong. The governor’s proposal did not give sufficient weight to minorities. The disinterested commission idea he proposed was imperfect. The idea of a referendum vote ratifying whatever the commission proposed was unnecessary. The redistricting shouldn’t be done immediately, but should wait until the next census was published in 2011. And perhaps the governor himself was not someone the organization would have chosen as a bedmate (one member of the organization went so far as to say “the governor is using us,” which elicited the perfectly reasonable reply “and vice versa.”)
You get the idea.
The proposal was not perfect.
God forbid that our organization would support something that was simply an improvement on the status quo (which is always a three touchdown favorite), and would settle for a half a loaf.
So far, the organization has decided to do just that. The vote to continue to support this radical redistricting change in California was not unanimous.
Incrementalism: 9. Perfectionism: 4.
I’ll take it.
September 25, 2005
How's our driving?
By Gail Lamberty
Just two short weeks ago many of you came to Baraboo to join us at Fighting Bob Fest. You listened, you laughed, you feasted and you "Fighting Bob" Fested. It appeared that you had a great time.
Representative John Conyers enjoyed himself so much he is pledging to bring busses from Detroit to Bob Fest V next year. Nancy Unger, author of Fighting Bob: The Righteous Reformer, gave us her views as a La Follette historian in "A history of making a difference." She observed the "spirit of constructive vitality that permeates a Fighting Bob Fest."
Most important, however, is your response. What do you think? Bob and Belle believed more than anything in the citizens of this state. The Bob Fest organizers started this event based on that same trust in you. You have not failed us; you have encouraged us to continue.
At the end of the Fest when folks are leaving I see the smiles and hear some of the comments: "great day"; " really exciting"; "I'm coming back next year and bringing friends"; and "breakouts weren't long enough". Repeat your comments, share your observations, tell us what you think, and give us your suggestions. We are waiting to hear from you at Comments@FightingBob.com.
(Gail Lamberty is one of "The Gang of 10" volunteers who have been bringing you Fighting Bob Fest for the past four years.)
September 24, 2005
Now vote for Dane 101
By Ms. Forward
A few days ago Ms. Forward encouraged you all to get out the vote for erstwhile blogger and FightingBob.com contributor Jay Bullock in the WTMJ-affiliated MKEonline blog contest.
Well, Bullock and his folkbum rambles and rants site are now onto the finals. And Dane 101, another progressive blog that was started by a couple of FightingBob.com contributors--Jesse Russell and Kristian Knutsen--and their friend Shane Wealti is also still in the running. A folkbum vs. Dane 101 final would be like Tammy Baldwin and Gwen Moore facing off in the presidential race; even if we lose we win.
So vote and vote often for Dane 101. Just because MKEonline belongs to a bunch of wingnuts doesn't mean we can't take it over.
September 23, 2005
Psst, George: here is a suggestion
By Bill Kraus
The sky may not be falling, but the fiscal one is coming close. There is Iraq, compounded by Katrina, and Rita lurks. And the people seem to be getting restive about spending money we don't have to take care of things that must be done.
A long series of Wisconsin governors have used an interesting device to bail themselves out of similar difficulties.
They imposed something called a temporary tax surcharge. Instead of going into debt (which was forbidden), instead of not doing the things that the people elected them to do, they asked the taxpayers to cough up a little more dough to get over several rough patches.
There was some grumbling, of course, led mostly by the public sector anarchists, but the need was there and the case was makeable and made.
A governor of my acquaintance (who Dick Cheney worked for at the time), who had been elected by 13,000 votes, did this presumably politically dangerous and unpopular thing. He won re-election a year or so later by more than 100,000 votes.
Try it. You'll like it.
And so will we.
September 21, 2005
Give it up for Folkbum
By Ms. Forward
Folkbum is the name of the blog maintained by frequent FightingBob.com contributor and Congressman-Jamie-Sensenbrenner-tracker Jay Bullock.
Folkbum is in the semi-finals of a blogging contest put on by a Web site called MKEonline.
MKEonline is run by WTMJ in Milwaukee, but as we learned here a few weeks ago progressives can win these online voting contests if we think strategically and coordinate our efforts. Let’s win this one for Folkbum.
Dem blogger Xoff Files is also in the semis and is graciously asking his readers to vote for Folkbum instead of him so that a winger does not prevail by splitting the progressive vote.
Bullock writes a great blog and is a Milwaukee public school teacher and a really nice guy to boot. Vote and vote often.
The mystery is how the people at MKEonline saw fit to leave GarveyBlog out of the competition....
September 16, 2005
Civil in the middle
By Bill Kraus
To the dismay of most of my Democratic friends, I thought that Joe Lieberman was their best hope in 2004. I still think so.
Not for what he is.
For what he isn't.
He is not a screamer.
The zealots and partisans of both major persuasions love the screamers.
The zealots and partisans have no place to go. They do not have to be courted.
The candidate who speaks to the civil middle, no matter which way it leans, can get those votes. The civil middle can win any election if it is turned on and turns out.
The charge for this advice is the same as the prospect that it will be taken.
September 15, 2005
One sign of the awakening
By Mike McCabe
Heading into last Saturday's fourth annual Fighting Bob Fest, I thought the crowd would be hard pressed to top 2004's audience.
Last year was an election year – a presidential election year at that – so politics were on people's minds. I figured it was to be expected that folks would not be so focused on affairs of state in 2005.
Was I ever wrong. The Bob Fest crowd was at least a thousand stronger than last year and noticeably more fired up emotionally.
What came through loud and clear on Saturday is that ordinary citizens are even more ticked off about the direction of the country now than they were last year.
No wonder. The governing philosophy of the ruling class – best articulated by rightwing guru Grover Norquist, famous for saying he wants to shrink government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub" – used to appear naively foolhardy. Now, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it is criminally negligent.
While leaders of both major parties remain seemingly blind, deaf and dumb to this revelation, it is prompting an awakening among common men and women. While both major parties remain parties of privilege, parties of the plutocracy, ordinary folks are plotting rebellion.
That is why Fighting Bob Fest is growing like a weed.
September 14, 2005
The other 364 days
By Meagan Yost
The dust has settled on the Sauk County Fairgrounds. The buildings and grandstand that pulsed with energy and enthusiasm all day Saturday are empty, closed and locked up. It looks like another Bob Fest has ended.
All of us who spent Saturday together know it isn’t so. We all know that Bob Fest is alive and well, still energetic and enthused in all the counties and communities in Wisconsin and beyond that had ambassadors of democracy at Fighting Bob Fest on September 10.
We all know that if we are to live out our political and civic heritage in this state and in our nation, Bob Fest cannot just be an annual single-day event. It is a small piece in a larger whole. It is the helium in the balloon that keeps our spirits buoyant. It is the forum that articulates our needs and our ideals and helps us focus for another year. Yes, it is a great party, but most importantly, Bob Fest inspires us and informs us. It gives us the means and the will to keep on keepin’ on.
That is our real work. And that is why we were there. Now we are all on the home ground, ready for another cycle of community building and focusing our state and nation on the big picture stuff: Peace. Justice. Prosperity. Equality.
Thank you each and every one of us!
I bow to all the many young people who joined Bob Fest on Saturday. You bring me tears of joy, relief and hope.
September 12, 2005
Getting some culture shock
By Wendy Handrich
(Editors' note: Wendy Handrich lives in Oconomowoc and is an educational consultant who works with children with special needs. These are her impressions of her first Fighting Bob Fest.)
Imagine the culture shock one would experience while attending Fighting Bob Fest if raised in DuPage County, Illinois (one of the largest GOP voting counties in the nation) and currently residing in Waukesha County (also no slouch in terms of GOP numbers). I left the Sauk County Fair Grounds late Saturday afternoon with far more than physical exhaustion from the heat and tan lines from the sun. Although the speakers touched on a variety of issues, the overriding theme of involvement left me with a sense of empowerment and a desire to make a difference.
Dante once said, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” There was no neutrality expressed from the podium or the audience on Saturday. The air was filled with excitement, commitment and the passion to collectively make a difference.
Saturday was the most positive culture shock experience imaginable. A special thank you to the organizers and volunteers for their hard work in making such a meaningful day possible. Count me in for the fifth annual Fighting Bob Fest in September of 2006!
September 7, 2005
Baraboo or bust
By Mike McCabe
I traveled recently to the West African nation of Mali, the land of the fabled city of Timbuktu, where I worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in what now seems like a previous life.
While renewing acquaintances, everyone from civil servants to subsistence farmers eagerly showed me their voting cards and proudly spoke of their participation in the nation's fledgling democracy.
Then they asked me a question. Why are Americans okay with America's current direction? More often than not, they could answer the question better than I.
One former teacher explained it this way: "You work, you eat, you play, you sleep." Put another way, you Yanks ain't paying attention.
As America's collective social conscience and moral standing in the world circle the drain, there is a sign here in the heartland that simultaneously shows how the ranks of the politically homeless are swelling and how the legions of the politically hopeful are multiplying.
Wisconsin's largest political convention – by far – is not the annual blueblood ball thrown by the Republicans or the triangulation congregation sponsored by the Democrats. It is Fighting Bob Fest, to be held for the fourth time this Saturday at the Sauk County Fairgrounds in Baraboo.
More than 4,500 people attended Bob Fest last year. Bob Fest 2005 will celebrate Fighting Bob La Follette's 150th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. It also will be a homecoming of the People's Legislature citizen assemblies held around the state and a launching pad for the next phase of the People's Legislature reform movement.
As we plot and plan and laugh and sing this Saturday, if anyone thinks rescuing American democracy and turning our nation around is too big a task, remember this: In one of the five poorest countries on earth, they threw out a military dictator and birthed a new democracy.
If they can do it in Timbuktu, why not Baraboo?
September 6, 2005
By Jason Haas
The latest shill in the voter ID scam comes not from the Republicans, who have made three attempts at passing voter ID bills, but from the Democrats, who have introduced their own.
In true "Republican Lite" style, Democratic legislators have introduced a voter ID bill that is "less strict" than the GOP's. Voters could show poll workers a document "proving" they reside at a certain address. The only change from today's system is that voters would write down the last four digits of their Social Security numbers and sign affidavits vowing that they are who they claim to be.
Would the last 4 digits be verified with any government agency? Could it be challenged in court? What about illegible handwriting, or bad memory, or a thousand other potential problems?
Those questions are as needless as this whole debate. There was not a vast conspiracy to commit voter fraud by the Republicans' phantom opponents in the 2004 election. Senator Lena Taylor has it right when she says "long lines, overwhelmed poll workers, untrained election officials" are the problem. Fix these problems, and the state would tremendously benefit.
September 2, 2005
When we used to like each other
By Bill Kraus
I participated in a golf outing recently with a large group of former inmates of the state Capitol, circa 1978-1983.
The refugees included former cabinet officers, former legislative leaders, staffers, reporters, lobbyists, and a couple of hangers on.
We were not all on the same side.
As a matter of fact, there were almost as many opinions represented on the golf course and at the bar after the golf game as there were participants.
The difference between then and now is that we liked each other then, we like each other now.
We were, probably still are, adversaries.
We were not, never will be, enemies.
What we all wanted was to make a government that worked. We just thought that we had better ways to make it work than they did and vice versa.
But in the end, what I have always thought of as “the arena phenomenon” was in play. You see it in sports all the time when after the game the combatants come together in the middle of the field as friends.
In politics the phenomenon, when it was operative, was not quite as obvious as it is at Lambeau Field. In a former era it took place, incongruously, at a watering hole called The Salad Bar.
It was revisited this week at a clubhouse in Sun Prairie.
Those were the good old days.
I want the good old days back.