May 27, 2007
By Bill Kraus
I recently lamented the loss of Ody Fish and the role he played in Wisconsin politics: that of the citizen politician. In his era the citizens ran the parties (from county organizations on up), recruited the candidates, raised the money for and ran the campaigns.
They did this out of a sense of civic responsibility of course, but they were something less than 100 percent altruistic. They had and wielded power. They made a difference.
What they didn’t get for this effort was paid.
They differed from today’s campaign industry in that respect, of course, but more importantly in where they came from and what they went back to. They came from the community, were responsive to the community, and went back to live in the community. They wanted to win, but win or lose they wanted their self respect.
Much like the farmers and lawyers who once dominated our part-time state Legislature, they had to make a living as well.
Joe Wineke, a latter day Ody Fish, makes his living as a lobbyist--an honorable, if abused, trade.
Some people seem to think that because he is also the citizen chairman of the state Democratic Party, this is inappropriate.
It would seem that they want their citizen politicians either to be rich enough not to have to work for pay or to take pay only that comes from apolitical sources, whatever that may be.
I think the good citizen politician, like the good legislator, will look beyond the narrow interests of the job and to the larger constituency—society as a whole.
Joe Wineke is a good citizen politician. We need more like him and like Ody Fish and the others who filled this crucially important role in our democracy and our political system.
May 17, 2007
Laird and Obey
By Bill Kraus
When Congressman Melvin Laird of Wisconsin's 7th District came to the Department of Defense in 1969, he promulgated two priorities: end the draft and get out of Vietnam.
Because he was a more formidable politician than his boss (Nixon) and his peer (Kissinger), and because he persisted against their opposition to the withdrawal, if not over their dead bodies, by the time he left office in 1972, our role in the Vietnamese civil war was over.
Thirty eight years later Congressman David Obey of Wisconsin's 7th District has proposed and started to propel an exit strategy from the equally ill considered war in Iraq. It was Obey who invented the idea of doling out the essential funding for the forces deployed there on a short schedule so that those who have done the deploying know that they will have to come back to the Congress with results in hands to get another appropriation.
This idea changes the subject from deadlines to results.
Those who object to it even though they may want an end to the Iraq adventure contend that this is a bad way to run a railroad, doling out money in small doses. What they ignore is that Congressman Obey like Secretary Laird before him is concerned about finding a way out of a bad war not about the management of niceties.
The presidential veto threat still looms, but it's important to note that Bush has dismounted from his high horse in the wake of the Obey proposal. It is also important to remember how long it took to disengage in Vietnam. What Obey's proposal does is what Laird's priorities did. It put a process in motion. If it isn't derailed, David Obey may accomplish what his predecessor accomplished in the last century.
It must be the water.
May 12, 2007
The way the game is played
By Bill Kraus
What AT&T offered the residents of Wisconsin is cable TV competition. This would seem to be a slam dunk. Most cable customers are rightly unhappy about the service they get from their designated provider. All cable customers are unhappy about the ever rising price of the service and the monopoly status enjoyed by their designated provider.
There was, however, one small catch. To make what AT&T offered available everywhere and expeditiously they proposed statewide instead of local regulation of the cable TV business.
The cities that have granted the cable franchises and negotiated more or less generous fees for the privilege would be cut out of the loop. The fees, which pay for local public service channels among other things, would disappear either immediately or over time, the cities’ advocates claimed.
The sponsoring legislators and the 80 legislators who signed on to the re-regulation bill did not seem to think this was a significant price to pay for the promised lower rates and better service which their constituents valued above what the cities themselves valued.
The AT&T bill was on the fast track.
It suffered a delay or a derailment when it came to light that to make sure it stayed on the fast track AT&T was advised to hire 16 (count ‘em 16) lobbyists and to make several significant contributions to the campaigns of the leaders’ campaign committees and to the governor as well.
So the bill is now on its way to the Joint Finance Committee because someone[s] got cold feet and listened to the cities that pointed out that state regulation meant the state would have to handle the complaints now being handled by the cities, and this would cost something.
The issue is no longer about the merits of the proposal. The issue is about the money, which is a legitimate issue, and the lobbyists, which isn’t.
The sad part of the story is that Wisconsin has come to this not so pretty pass.
Is AT&T the culprit? I don’t think so. To paraphrase something the Clinton campaign taught us 18 years ago: It’s the system, stupid.
May 11, 2007
Under the Astroturf
By Whitney Handrich
I first learned of TV4US from a giant postcard that read, “You Can Help Wisconsin Families Save Millions on Their Cable Bills.” Sounds great, but without knowing much about the Video Competition Act I called and sent an e-mail to the listed contact address.
The e-mail received no response and the phone number brought me to a machine prompt to leave a message for Wisconsin legislators. The phone numbers for both the Wisconsin and national offices on the TV4US Web site were no use either. Even with the trick of hitting '0' to reach an operator or switchboard I continued to reach the same message prompt.
On the Web site, TV4US describes itself as a non-profit, grassroots coalition, but missing was a list the board of directors or the inspiring story of those motivated to start the coalition. Rather than supplying other sources of information, the TV4US Web site only gave links to sign up and contact legislators, just like the phone numbers. There wasn’t even a link to the Assembly and Senate bill drafts. TV4US seems to share only some information through marketing techniques like the postcard and Web site, while there is little information about the coalition, the bill itself, or the opposing arguments.
TV4US says, “The Video Competition Act will provide us with more cable choices, which will lead to far better service and lower prices.” While there is no doubt that most people in Wisconsin would desire those benefits, TV4US isn’t telling us much more. We just get a postcard, Web site, and phone message that tells us to act and tell legislators to vote yes.
I don't know how much activity TV4US's marketing initiative is generating, but I suspect most of it is of the “I’m calling to tell you to vote 'yes' because a TV4US postcard told me to” variety. And maybe that doesn't count as "activity" at all. When we take the time to care and be active, we need to ask ourselves if we are acting based on information and not just being persuaded.
(Whitney Handrich is from Oconomowoc, attends Northeastern University in Boston, and is a Fighting Bob Fest VI intern.)
May 5, 2007
A problem and an opportunity
By Bill Kraus
Let’s face it, guys, unless the Dems snatch defeat from the jaws of victory 2008 is going to be their year. While I do not totally dismiss that possibility, and it’s worth keeping an eye on the chance that unpopular, obdurate Bush will pull several rabbits out of the hat, odds on a Republican victory are long.
And an opportunity.
The opportunity is to think anew, to make bold proposals, to define the party and the candidacies, to get the party of Lincoln out of the clutches of the God, gays, guns, and feeding tube nannies who are more interested in narrow behavioral matters than in the future of the country and the planet.
If you’re going to lose anyway, why not go down with all guns blazing?
Why not talk about the questionable notion of an interventionist foreign policy, as one of this week’s debaters did.
Or the fact that we have universal health care in this country only we have the most ad hoc, inefficient, costly variety imaginable.
Or the fact that in most state budgets incarceration gets more money than education.
Or the fact that this government is the largest enterprise on earth and it should get the most competent management by the most talented people.
Or any one of a number of things where we are so wedded to the status quo and entrenched interests that we cannot think creatively or don’t dare to for fear of being ostracized or worse.
What we need is a leader with guts and ideas who can take this country by the bootstraps and lift it to its full height.
It’s not impossible. Mayors have done this for their cities, governors have done this for their states, even presidents have done this for the country.
But they didn’t do it by pandering to the ideologues or tired ideologies.