June 30, 2006
By Bill Kraus
Tommy Thompson as governor was a quintessential activist, big tent, mostly moderate Republican.
His agenda was about policy, programs, ideas. He actively or tacitly marginalized the behavioral baloney that so intrigues his God, guns, gays, and flags successors.
In the last few months, however, he has been the man who wasn’t there.
When the TABOR idea was picking up steam, a long list of believers in representative government, which should have been led by the likes of Tommy, rallied to keep their jobs from being dictated by the Constitution, Tommy, when asked, is reported to have said, “thanks but no thanks.”
Surprising? No. Astonishing? Yes.
In the surprising category we have an unexpected silence from Elroy, Washington, Madison, or wherever he’s hiding, on stem cell research, the death penalty, and the proposed marriage amendment to the Constitution.
The real Tommy would have been the major propellant of the first and simply dismissed the other two.
Where did the real Tommy go?
June 23, 2006
Please go away
By Bill Kraus
Those of us who think the campaign financing system is corrupt and corrupting wonder why we are the only ones who think what we think.
I am beginning to accumulate some reasons.
The first and foremost, of course, is that the number of people who are actively anti-politics and anti-politician (“They are all crooks! They will never change! I am not wasting my time on money on them!) is large and growing.
This group is not listening.
For those who are still paying attention, they have to have something to pay attention to. There is a paucity of information on what is wrong and how it might be righted. A recent case is illustrative.
A group of prominent Democrats (ex-governor Tony Earl, current Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann, and sometime candidate and full time activist/publisher Ed Garvey) recently asked Governor Doyle to call the Legislature into special session to deal with the odor coming out of the state capitol.
Governor Doyle, passing up a slam dunk opportunity to make the Republicans look bad, declined, because “the Republicans wouldn’t deal with the issue.”
Mark Green, Doyle’s challenger, also passed up the slam dunk opportunity to make Governor Doyle look bad by saying nothing.
I can only conclude that neither of them wants the issue; they want it to go away.
And the press is helping them.
The story about this request appeared prominently in one issue of the Capital Times, on page three of the Metro section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and got two days worth of mentions on Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin’s only statewide medium whose audience is somewhat less than robust. There have been no sightings anywhere else in the state press that I know about.
Then, just as the incumbents and wannabes wanted, it went away.
The establishment has been heard from. Let’s hope the anti-establishment has something more to say.
June 17, 2006
Is 30 the new 12?
By Bill Kraus
Four important legislative leaders are in jail or at a stopover on the way to jail.
A mid-level bureaucrat takes a fall on a questionable state purchase of travel services and everyone in the hierarchy including and especially the governor does the Sergeant Schultz “I know nothing!” defense.
The editorial boards of every major newspaper in the state shout, “Do something!”
The Legislature goes home.
The governor does nothing.
And they are likely to get away with it.
I have a clue.
For reasons that are neither important nor relevant I had a chance to mingle with some smart, successful 30-somethings recently.
We got to talking about public financing of elections, which was clearly an idea that had never appeared on their radar screens.
“So if this was in place, I could run for office,” one of them opined.
“It depends to some extent on where you live and who you would have to run against.”
He had an answer to one half of that question. He knew where he lived. He had no idea who represented him in the Assembly, but he said that his neighbor, who was nearby and who “knew about politics” would know.
His neighbor gave him the name of someone who had lost the seat four years ago.
I am beginning to get a bead on the problem.
June 15, 2006
What's up in Oshkosh?
By Ms. Forward
Ms. Forward does not usually look to the Oshkosh Northwestern for a dose of progressive thinking, but perhaps she should start.
The Northwestern's editorial calling for ethics reform in the wake of the Georgia Thompson conviction echoes the Capital Times's, and their editorial calling for prison reform in the wake of the Taycheedah report is the best thing written on the topic outside of this Web site.
The only downside is that Northwestern articles only stay up for seven days, so here is the prison-reform piece as it ran:
Editorial: Call to action: Don’t neglect bad prison policies any longer
June 7, 2006
The gritty truth about Wisconsin’s prison policy has been out for a month. A Department of Justice investigation into abuses of mentally ill inmates at Taycheedah Correctional Institution in Fond du Lac County brought it to light.
What hasn’t been seen since the DOJ year-long investigation was announced should concern everyone. The state’s prison leadership hasn’t come forth with public pronouncements of what to do to correct the matter. Staying silent isn’t expected.
We all need to admit participation in creating the mess that led to the Taycheedah episodes. Taxpayers bought the lock-em-up mentality in the mid-1980s. Politicians told us to believe that everyone charged with a crime was bad. We discarded notions that some criminals could be rehabilitated into good citizens again.
A manageable prison system got out of control. Staff demands increased. Psychiatrists accepted unreasonable case loads. Inmate health care costs soared. A large population now faces aging issues – all at taxpayer expense.
And now the matters are on the DOJ radar screen with a message: correct these huge problems or face a federal lawsuit.
There is more than one flaw at work here. Gov. Jim Doyle needs to explain how he as a former attorney general attuned to prison issues didn’t know about a federal investigation for an entire year.
State legislators also need to admit wishy-washyness. Taking prison lobby dollars isn’t the same as overseeing prison issues.
DOJ has a credibility issue, too. There is a false charging authority in the complaint last month to Gov. Doyle by Wan J. Kim, assistant attorney general for the federal Civil Rights Division, when DOJ presently violates the civil rights of prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The weaker federal position on civil rights doesn’t excuse the need for action, however. Wisconsin still must defend prisoners who are abused or people who suspect abuse of inmates.
We should create an Office of the Public Intervenor within the Wisconsin Department of Justice. The office would have the authority to defend and, as necessary, prosecute on behalf of people hurt by prison policies.
Also, Gov. Doyle should convene a blue ribbon commission to write concrete rules to reform the state’s prison policies. Commission members should include a law school dean, social work expert, prison treatment advocate, state senator, state Assembly person and others with policy know-how. The commission also must have a firm deadline for its details.
Wisconsin, admittedly, is in a tough spot. The DOJ crisis of civil rights credibility makes it harder. But nothing will be achieved by trying to place blame on one party over another.
We’re all responsible for the mess at Taycheedah. The federal DOJ has given us license to improve. Now it’s time to act. And shame on our state if nothing happens after all of this.
The Final Thought: Gov. Jim Doyle should call for a blue ribbon commission to investigate the problems in the state’s prison system.
June 10, 2006
Third but not least
By Bill Kraus
All those who advocate of a 3rd party in U.S. politics have a very good chance of getting what they have wanted. But not what they wished for.
Almost 30 years ago Madison’s Ann Peckham (a one time officer of the Republican Party of Wisconsin) detected an unwelcome tilt to the right in her party of choice. To offset this unwanted development she organized something called The New Republican Conference to provide a home for moderate Republicans in the Walter Kohler, Jr. and Warren Knowles mold and tradition.
When Lee Dreyfus and Tommy Thompson won their elections, this idea became moot. Both of these men kept the Republican tent big and inclusive and relegated the single-issue zealots to the sideshows.
Since Tommy’s departure, Ann’s idea has gained both momentum and importance. In Wisconsin and nationally.
The clearest evidence of the need for what she had proposed is embodied in Resolution 25, which was adopted by the delegates to the Republican state convention this year. This resolution puts the former sideshows into the center ring, folds up the big tent, and banishes any candidates who don’t buy the entire conservative agenda to some other unnamed and unidentified place.
Not only does this resolution go against the Ed Koch dictum, “If you agree with me on 9 of the 12 ideas I am for, you should vote for me; if you agree with me on all 12, you should go see a psychiatrist,” it pushes the moderates to find another route to power.
And there is one. The 3rd party route is available. With a difference. The 3rd party that the moderates are turning to nationally and thinking about in Wisconsin will be a dissenting division of the Republican Party.
The interesting thing about this configuration is that its members, because they are not beholden to any pledges or platforms, will hold the balance of power. If their splinter group stays home, the Republicans win. If it strays, either the Republicans can’t assemble a majority or a competing proposal has a chance to win.
It remains to be seen whether this 3rd party attracts enough adherents to produce a top of the ticket winner.
If, as, and when it does, the big tent will be up again and open to all and the sideshows will be back on the margin where they can contribute, contend, even convince, but not control.
June 3, 2006
By Bill Kraus
The question that keeps arising with monotonous regularity is what the proper response should be to elected officials who break the law.
Actually the states have handled these situations with something approaching wisdom, okay, class.
Connecticut put their governor away. The flurry of indictments in Wisconsin has brought down all the accused, mostly by plea bargains, to the inevitable. The Speaker of the Massachusetts legislature is currently pondering going to court with the Sergeant Schultz (I know nothing!) Defense or pleading to the eminently provable pending charge of perjury. Governor Ryan of Illinois is being fitted for an orange suit after an unsuccessful (for him) court case.
The feds are a different matter.
Only the egregiously greedy California Congressman Duke Cunningham is headed for the pokey.
Everyone else is still standing, or wobbling. To the casual observer, the accused seem to be determined to defend themselves of activities that are at the very least morally indefensible.
Worse yet, Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson seems to be claiming that the fact that he is a member of Congress makes him immune to even a criminal investigation. This incredible idea is one that the esteemed Speaker and our own Jim Sensenbrenner are supporting.
The president is a special case. The only constitutional prescription for presidential lawbreaking is impeachment. This is like the death penalty for shoplifting given the recent accusations. Putting the Clinton foolishness and the equally foolish over-reaction to it aside, what about the unauthorized wiretapping? Okay, it’s illegal. Impeachable? Not really. How about Senator Feingold’s suggestion? Censure. The first reaction to this idea was not enthusiastic, but in the light of the contretemps about the cash in the freezer case, which seems to suggest that those who hold an elected office are somehow different, more special, than the rest of us, perhaps that idea may be worth revisiting.
It is still a country of laws isn’t it?