August 31, 2007
The Republicans' Sykes problem
By Bill Kraus
Charlie Sykes has a daily radio show and a weekly TV show. In Milwaukee. Charlie has set up camp on the right edge of what passes as conservatism these days. He also never misses a chance to take a cheap or even a deserved shot at any politician who messes up or has an ideological persuasion not in accord with what Charlie believes.
And Charlie is a true believer.
Charlie not only defines Republicanism, he runs the admissions department. If you claim to be a Republican and do not accept the Sykes agenda in toto and to the letter, he brands you as a RINO (Republican in name only) or worse.
The question is not whether Charlie has the right to do this. The question is why the Republicans believe him and are deathly afraid of Charlie’s censure.
His audience is in southeast Wisconsin which is predominantly Democratic territory. His broadcasts are in the morning, when all good Republicans are or should be at work and out of range of Charlie’s daily vitriol.
We know that Republicans are scared to death of AARP and the golden oldies they claim to represent, of the NRA and the thousands of gun lovers who take their marching orders from them, from the tax oppressed residents of the northern suburbs of Milwaukee and of Waukesha County and, of course, from the theocrats of every persuasion.
But Charlie Sykes? Whatever is it about him that scares Republican legislators into foolishness like un-indexing the gas tax?
Politics, of course, is full of mysteries and absurdities.
And Charlie Sykes’ power is both.
August 25, 2007
State budget: late, schmate
By Bill Kraus
The fact that Wisconsin is sort of a national laughing stock, the fact that the local governments are going budget crazy, the fact that school boards are as well, the fact that several newspapers have editorialized about a legislature in failure, the fact that the UW regents have had to make tuition decisions in a vacuum, all of these and more add up to nothing to propel the budget through the conference committee.
No one with any clout is complaining.
None of the special interests give a rap. If the teachers’ union is annoyed, they aren’t being heard from, AARP doesn’t care, the NRA is unengaged, Right to Life ditto, as are the Trial Lawyers, the Realtors, even WMC doesn’t care if a budget gets passed, at least for now in some cases, ever in others.
The governor may be getting edgy, but if so, no one who reports on these things has said so. As a matter of fact, with the notable exception of Wispolitics.com, nobody who reports on this thing seems to be doing much reporting.
On a recent Friday, Wisconsin Public Radio, after discussing Iraq and other national issues, got around to the stalemate and gave it a few minutes. The same day, the Wisconsin State Journal had a front page story to report that nothing was happening but not why or what the prospects of progress might be. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel considers this whole business beneath notice, at least by them. The Capital Times in an article about a minor concession by the recalcitrant Republicans pointed out that the budget is in limbo and 54 days late.
The Conference Committee meets for a few hours once a week (how much urgency does once a week indicate?) so the Democrats can ventilate their concern for the items and people on the top of their short agenda and the Republicans can tell Charlie Sykes, Mark Belling, and anyone else who is listening that they do not like taxes or tax increases. And all the participants get a chance to make points on issues and subjects that either party thinks will resonate in the 2008 election, which the conference committee process is increasingly about.
Maybe by October some of the non-powerful who are really hurting and the governor who has his own, carefully hidden, agenda will get a new budget to add certainty to the lives of the former and to give the governor a chance to do his artful surgery on whatever the committee presents to him.
As a frustrated John Adams lamented to this legislature's predecessors who were dealing with putting this nation together in the late 1700s, “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?”
The answer in Wisconsin this year seems to be: not really.
August 22, 2007
It quacks like a duck
By Bob Menamin
The Wausau Daily Herald reported last week that Congressman Dave Obey believes the Bush administration has committed impeachable offenses: "Do I think they have committed impeachable offenses?" Obey said. "You're damn right I do. They have lied like hell to the country."
So Obey wants to start holding impeachment hearings then, right?
Uh, no. Obey also the Democrats would get nowhere if they pursue impeachment. "It's a question of what is a productive use of your of your time," he said.
This is D.C.-logic with upside-down thinking, and it is where Democrats blow it time and time again. It is like saying we know O.J. Simpson committed murder but we don't think we can get a conviction.
We all make impeachment too big of a deal. A hearing should be held to investigate, and if something substantial shows up we should impeach; if not we discontinue the hearings.
We are at the point where Democrats either show courage or cowardice. What will it be? Keep fear alive, or get some good old fashioned guts, ethics and integrity?
We must ask Congressman Obey how the Democrats have and will use their time more productively? Is not oversight part of Congress's responsibility?
August 17, 2007
Saving the GOP
By Bill Kraus
Dear Tommy Thompson:
Five years ago you had conversations with several people all over the state about your reservations about accepting the job in Washington. The reason you gave for your reluctance was Wisconsin. You told them you loved Wisconsin, and were loathe to leave it, even for this pretty sensational opportunity.
You went. You served honorably and well. And, as you feared, Wisconsin has been the worse for it. The Republican Party of Wisconsin in particular.
In your absence, your party has lost the governor's office, the Senate, will lose the Assembly, has disappeared.
The Milwaukee North Shore and Waukesha County anarchists have a death grip on the activists of which you were the last survivor. Taxophobia flourishes.
The short agenda is God, guns, gays, and feeding tubes.
The moderates who are mobile were marginalized by the rabid rightists. They, in turn, predictably declared their independence from this now unrecognizable party. This freed them to vote for Dems, which they did in large enough numbers to make them at least partially responsible for the 2006 losses.
If 2006 proves nothing else, it proves the party can’t win without the middle, the moderates.
What seems obvious to me, but eludes the true believers who think the reason they lost in 2006 is that they didn’t appeal strongly enough to the base, is that the base is not mobile. They are true yellow dog voters. They may stay home and not vote. They will not rove (small 'r').
Only you can put up the big tent and redefine the party of fiscal caution, mild libertarianism, competent management of legitimate public functions, less regulation, economic growth, and activism when and where needed.
Come home, Tommy, take over the Wisconsin GOP, and put our moderate, mildly progressive, activist Republican Party back together again.
August 11, 2007
Following the new money
By Bill Kraus
A chart in the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute report titled "Renewing the University of Wisconsin System" contains a chart which is a vivid reminder that if you want to find where the power lies, all you have to do is follow the money.
We know the rule is intact in politics where the Dreyfus dictum—-the golden rule of politics is that those who have the gold make the rules--prevails. Wisconsin is run by the three rainmakers who occupy the governor’s office, the speaker’s office, and the office of the leader of the majority of the state Senate.
The chart in the Institute Report is proof positive that following the way the government appropriates money is equally illuminating.
The chart tracks appropriations in five major areas: the University of Wisconsin System, local school aids, corrections, Medicaid, and shared revenues for local governments.
Medicaid’s share of the state budget grew 97 percent from 1975 to 2005. This is a federally mandated program and is insulated from the influence of outside money.
Corrections, where the appropriation allocation has ballooned by a staggering 281 percent, seems to me to be more fear driven than money driven. Incarceration is the cheapest (albeit enormously expensive) way to protect ourselves from the bad guys and druggies.
The ups and downs in the other three areas are indicators of very large shifts in political power.
School aids share of the budget have gone up 81 percent, clearly a beneficiary of the political activity of the teachers’ effective, persuasive, and scary union.
The University of Wisconsin’s share of the pot, on the other hand, has gone down by 39 percent. The excuse will be that the university has other funding sources—tuitions and fees—that other government sectors lack. The reason is that the university has somehow lost its iconic position in the state Legislature. Icons, which don’t come with money, get less love, affection, and resources than they used to.
And the biggest loser of all in the money chase are the local governments. Their shared revenues and property tax credits get a 69 percent smaller piece of the pie than they did when there were a lot more of their alums in the state Legislature and before money in the form of campaign contributions, which local governments have none of, got to the top of the priority list.
Want to find the political power?
Follow the money.
August 3, 2007
By Bill Kraus
I have been asked to serve on a mayor’s commission whose charge is to design a campaign system for the candidates running for offices to govern the city of Madison.
Like almost everyone who pays any attention to the sad state or our democracy would, I accepted with pleasure.
Something about answered prayers has come to mind in the wake of that hasty decision.
It is easy to identify and diagnose the flaws in our election system. Prescribing a workable treatment, however, is something different.
Putting the barriers to change (from the Supreme Court down to the newly elected member of a school board or city council) aside, it quickly becomes clear that those of us (especially me) who have been around the election system block may know too much. We can see all the symptoms without getting past them to the disease itself.
I, for one, tend to find myself confusing nostalgia with reform as I sort through all the ideas that would, say, make money less important and people more so.
I also have trouble thinking outside the box that I have operated in for almost 60 years.
Worse yet I do not count myself among those who know how politics can and should be played in and with the revolutionary new phenomenon the Internet, which is a confused jumble of problems and opportunities to me.
I keep believing that we need to think anew and hope that others, less constrained by their pasts, agree and are better at this than I seem to be.
With that hopeful thought in mind, send your ideas to FightingBob.com or send them directly to me. I can be found at email@example.com and am looking for new ideas—the more creative (radical?) the better.