November 30, 2007
By Bill Kraus
The first rule of management is that responsibility, accountability, and authority are inextricably linked.
The manager who is to be held accountable for results must be given the authority to exercise that accountability.
The governor is responsible for governing the state and is accountable to the voters for the results achieved.
A proposal currently under consideration and being endorsed by people who should know better, including the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, does not relieve the governor of the responsibility for the activities of the Department of Natural Resources. What it does is insert a group of political appointees between the governor and the person this group appoints to manage that department.
This is the equivalent of turning the management of any department of the national government (state, defense, interior come to mind) over to a free standing board of some kind. Put aside how you feel about the current incumbent’s competence to run the country, that’s what he was elected to do. A board-appointed bureaucrat was not elected in either scenario, nor was the board that appoints the bureaucrat.
The proposal asserts in effect if not in fact that ecology somehow should be insulated from politics. That we need an appointed czar of some kind. This is what we had in Wisconsin 40 years ago. It worked. Les Voight ran what was then called the Conservation Commission. He was selected by a board of governors who were appointed by the governor but were inevitably co-opted by their appointee. As were the board members who “hired” Wilbur Schmidt to run the huge department which had the direct responsibility for everything to do with health, welfare and incarceration. Les and Wilbur were wonderful administrators and served several governors and the citizens of Wisconsin well. The only trouble was that they were not responsible to the people. If anything, they tended to cater to the function they supervised instead of the governor or the citizenry. This system of managing and governing reduced the governor’s power to do the job most people assumed they elected the governor to do.
This was a minus and an occasional plus for the governor. If something went wrong in these departments the governor inevitably took the rap. If, on the other hand, these departments did something unpopular that the governor wanted done, the governor could tell the people who objected that there was nothing he could do to reverse it; that the board was in charge.
Every governor I know preferred taking the responsibility to having this dodge available.
Every governor I know wanted the first rule of Management 101 to apply here as it does in most other kinds of enterprises.
Wouldn’t the editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s editorial page as well? Or does he want someone else to hire and manage the editorial employee who does the main research and writing on, say, natural resource issues?
November 24, 2007
By Bill Kraus
There are two spending reform strategies, or two main ones anyway. Both are aimed at taking the deleterious effects of money out of campaigns and the incumbencies that follow them.
The first and foremost strategy is taking steps to starve the beast. This consists of several measures designed to limit spending (and contributing). The idea is to put a lid on the amount of money candidates and everyone else can spend on a campaign. A parallel result is to reveal the sources of the money that is contributed to campaigns so the alert citizen can look for hidden motives if any.
The donor part is already heavily regulated, but there are large loopholes. The spending part is not.
The only constitutional way to get a limits on spending is to have candidates agree to them. To get candidates to do this is to provide an incentive in the form of public money donated to campaigns and to protect those candidates who agree to limits against opponents who do not and outsiders who in effect, if not in fact, hijack campaigns by injecting money and advertising about their causes or interests into campaigns without the candidates’ knowledge or permission.
Since these reform proposals are not greeted with anything approaching enthusiasm by either incumbents who have to enact them or the U.S. Supreme Court which has to approve them, a second strategy has been proposed.
Call it the recusal strategy. Recusal is, heretofore, a word associated with the judiciary. If a judge is thought to have an interest—-usually financial—-in the outcome of a case, the judge is expected to step aside when the case is heard and adjudicated.
At the moment a newly elected Supreme Court Justice is catching criticism for not having done that, and a retired justice has said that if he had known about a favor-seeking or favorable-ruling-expecting contribution to his campaign for that court he would have recused himself on a case about school choice which came before the court.
Let’s say that a reform proposal requiring recusal by legislators as well as judges on any matter that came before them which any contributor to their campaigns favored or disfavored was enacted.
We would soon find that recusal has long tentacles.
Every candidate whose campaign took money from a Political Action Committee would be suspect. Individual contributions would be harder to attach to legislative causes or judicial cases, but someone would figure out a way to connect the dots if the dots led anywhere.
The likely result of recusal-based reforms would be either inaction for lack of a quorum or paralysis.
At the very least this would drive candidates to nickel and dime contributions from ordinary citizens with no axes to grind except a fervent hope that the people they donated to would make this a better place.
So this could have one of two results: it could be entirely unworkable or it could totally rearrange the political fundraising system.
It might, probably would, reduce the amount of money coming into campaigns.
It might starve the beast.
A lot of “it mights” in this scenario.
Why not just go for the more straightforward starvation via public money solution?
Why not indeed.
November 16, 2007
By Bill Kraus
Are the independents rising?
I think the answer is yes…and no.
Despite the reluctance of those yellow dog Republicans, who think they lost seats in 2006 because they weren’t conservative enough, to face reality, it is pretty clear that there has been a serious defection by the moderates. Many of them have left quietly. Some who have been prominent party leaders for years have made no secret of the fact that they are now “independents.”
All well and good.
Independents, like moderates, like reformers, like other loose alliances who deplore the rush to the base by the almost invincible incumbents do not get attention these days.
What gets attention is money and militancy.
Local governments have learned this. The UW system and higher education in general has learned this. Even the once fearsome print press has been defanged by the likes of teachers, manufacturers, oldies, shooters, right to lifers, and the like.
Teachers and manufacturers (trial lawyers, realtors, the tribes as well?) get attention because they are sources of the basic need--campaign money in the TV era. The rest because they supply sure votes to those who pass their litmus tests.
The invincible incumbents are betting that the new independents will mostly opt out of the process out of disgust with the turn the parties have taken and the kinds of campaigns the hired guns are prescribing.
I think they are making a bad bet. I think in 2006 the former Republicans sent a message. But not unlike the messages sent by the UW alumni, by the thousands who send money and good wishes to do-good organizations, even by the people who have been elected to run our schools, cities and counties, the message is not being received.
Since these worthy folks are not going to be able to use money to overcome incumbent deafness they have to resort to militancy.
Republican incumbents know (or think they know) that if they come down in favor of gun control or stem cell research or even more stringent testing for drivers’ licenses for the elderly, all hell is likely to break loose.
Until and unless ignoring the need for election reform, for civility, for making the government work (even for passing a budget on time), for doing something to get the property tax monkey off the backs of local government, and for supporting education, the real engine of the Wisconsin economy, sets off that kind of organized, disciplined revolt, it is going to be safe to say, in effect if not in fact: “Go away, kid, you bother me.”
Politics was, is, and always will be lists. It ain’t rocket science. But the step from talk to action is a large one. The hired guns play to identifiable, activist wedges. The incumbents believe the hired guns. Until and unless they are proved wrong, becoming an identifiable, active wedge is the yellow brick road to attention at least and maybe even action.
November 13, 2007
The La Crosse Four
By Ms. Forward
Recent events in La Crosse may signal a shift in the influence that anti-war demonstrations are having on public officials, or they may just show that Congressman Ron Kind has a mess on his hands. Either way, it's a good thing.
As La Crosse City Judge Dennis Marcou found four anti-war protestors guilty of trespassing at Kind's office, some 60 protestors showed up for the proceedings and eight more staged a new sit-in at Kind's office.
Marcou fined Anita Zibton and Gail Vaughn $96 each. Two 12-year-old girls, Zoe Zipton and Katie Lamb, were found guilty but their fines waived.
While the four defendants were in court, the eight protestors at Kind's office refused to leave until Kind agreed to meet privately to talk about the upcoming War Appropriations Bill. Kind agreed to their demands after an hour or so, apparently wishing to avoid more media attention focusing on his hawkishness.
Ms. Forward can remember a time not too long ago when Kind and others were engaged in a fierce competition to one-up each others hawkishness. Progress? I guess so.
Kind has been critical of the war but nonetheless votes for authorization bills for ongoing funding of the war. The protestors want him to start putting their money where his mouth is.
The bill is tentatively scheduled for a vote in January 2008.
November 11, 2007
By Cynthia Laitman
Except for the heroic minority who voted “no” (Sens. Risser, Carpenter, Erpenbach, Jauch, Kreitlow, Lassa, Miller, Robson and Vinehout), the state Senate reached a new low in its disregard for the public interest by rushing to approve the corporate-backed cable bill. Promoted by AT&T and its industry allies, this bill guarantees decreased competition and higher prices for consumers -- the opposite of what its backers have so disingenuously claimed.
Far from lowering prices, we know from the experience of other states in which the same legislation passed that prices have steadily risen and that consumers who have not had a choice of provider before the bill’s passage are unlikely to have competition afterward. Furthermore, the bill will most certainly necessitate local tax increases because of significant cuts in local revenue.
These are just a few of the more obvious flaws in this atrocious bill, written by the telecommunications and cable industries for the benefit of their stockholders.
However, the final poison pill is the bill’s condition that franchises are awarded “forever,” and that current franchise holders will now have the right to sell, barter, or give away those franchises to anyone, anywhere in the world, and the state of Wisconsin will be prohibited from objecting. Will the legislators who voted for this shameful bill feel quite as enthusiastic when video and broadband services for Wisconsin’s towns and cities are sold to companies or individuals in, say, China or India or the Middle East?
When consumers realize they’ve been sold out, there will be a political price to pay for those legislators who have so carelessly given away our broadband future to private industry. Unless Governor Doyle vetoes at least the worst of this bill, it will be too late for the people of Wisconsin.
(Cynthia Laitman it the director of TeleTruth Wisconsin.)
November 9, 2007
The money problem
By Bill Kraus
State Senator Pat Kreitlow, who chairs the committee that deals with campaign legislation and who is solidly in the camp of those of us who wonder why spending limits, full disclosure of contributions, and other admirable ideas are stuck in neutral, gave the Common Cause board of directors a reminder recently that the main barrier to campaign finance reform is money.
We know that, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s myopic 1976 dictum, it is not possible to put limits on campaign spending until and unless public money is introduced into the process.
We know that it is going to take an infusion of public money to put an end to campaigns being hijacked by interest groups with money and causes of varying worthiness.
We know that the two states that have adopted full public funding of campaigns are getting for their money higher voter turnouts, more citizen participation in politics, more competitive races, and better legislators (they claim).
We know that voters can follow the dots in judicial elections and dislike the idea of lawyers funding candidates for, say, the Supreme Court.
What we tend to overlook is how compelling the slogan “public financing is welfare for politicians” is in an era when politics and politicians are viewed with something approaching disgust on several counts—not excluding the way they spend the money that comes into their campaigns.
We also dismiss the contention that disclosing the sources of campaign contributions to special interest organizations has a chilling effect on speech, which the Supreme Court reveres.
We naively downgrade the comment of the wise and witty former representative Johnsrud who, when asked to support a campaign reform proposal said, “Let me get this straight. What you want me to do is vote to give the state’s money to my opponent and to agree not to use the power that incumbency gives me to raise money for my own campaign. Why would I do that?”
We either haven’t noticed that the public support of the painless checkoff system which sends part of our tax obligation to the campaign finance pot is low, lower, and falling.
And, last but hardly least, we forget that incumbents from both parties have an almost pathological fear of increasing public spending.
So, as Senator Kreitlow (who expressed his support of the worthy campaign finance reform ideas currently languishing in various holding pens in the state capitol building) told us, it is not enough to register dissatisfaction with the current system, we have to avidly and convincingly support the idea of spending money to fix or replace it.
A harder sell. But we will get no place until we make it.
November 3, 2007
By Bill Kraus
While money has always been the mother's milk of politics, in the last 30 years it has become the milk, the meat, the potatoes, the dessert, and probably a couple of glasses of wine as well.
As the Watergate reforms went awry and the Supreme Court said money is not simply money it is speech as well, the flood from millionaires and well-to-do interests has overwhelmed voters, candidates, the system.
Lee Dreyfus told his ragtag organization in June 1978 that he was going to run for governor against the common wisdom and common sense and the advice of all the experts to show that people not money still ruled. He was right in 1978. Since then the golden rule of politics--them that has the money make the rules--has taken over to the point that the candidates' and incumbents' need for money drives the electoral system.
And, let's face it, those who have it would be stupid not to use it.
Let me be clear that these are not evil people nor are the items on their agendas anti-social. Self-serving? Empowered by a money driven system? Of course, but not evil. Here is what some of the major money players seem to want.
WEAC (the schoolteachers political organization) wants more money and better working conditions for teachers.
WMC (the dominant business political organization) wants lower taxes, less regulation, and a lid on what the trial lawyers want.
The Trial Lawyers want generous limits on their clients' pain and suffering and damage awards.
The Tribes want the freedom to exploit casino gambling, their new found gold mines.
The Environmentalists (those with money anyway) want the government to buy the state.
The Road Builders want the government to pave the state.
You get the idea.
To the extent that the interests have conflicting objectives the people who either have no specific objectives or simply want a government that works and that makes a serious stab at improving the human condition are not hurt by this power shift.
But "not being hurt" is a long way from being on the top of their representatives' agendas where Dreyfus was hoping to put them back in the last century.
And it isn't going to change until and unless the people rebel by expressing their dissatisfaction with a system that favors the interests, that values money over people, that diminishes democracy.
Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg that we had in this country a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
The government that I became a part of 90 years after Gettysburg was a government of the elite, by the bureaucracy, and for the people. And like baseball, one out of three wasn't bad.
What we have now is close to being a government of the money, by the mercenaries, for the interests.
Ready for a change? Me too.