April 25, 2011
By Bill Kraus
When something goes wrong in computerland, the complaint one files is rarely answered by a human being or is specifically responsive to the question asked. Instead it is referred to an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) website which almost always fails to have a solution to the problem posed.
I can only hope this political FAQ is not similarly faulty.
Q: Why are campaigns in the U.S. almost endless while in other places, like England, they are very short?
A: Because our campaigns are date-specific. Theirs are not. Theirs are triggered by unpredictable events or by occasionally whimsical party leaders. Since they don’t know when the election is coming there is no logical time to start campaigning without looking foolish.
Q: Why don’t we have free TV time on what are essentially public airwaves to replace the mind numbing-deluge of 30-second commercials that dominate the campaign communication system?
A: The incumbents who would have to put this idea into place have been convinced by the professionals who run the big campaigns that 30-second commercials are the yellow brick road of campaigning. The TV stations that rely on political advertising for their profits support this line of reasoning. The Supreme Court which views anything that might limit anyone’s right to a megaphone for the free speech we all revere would probably side with the professionals and the TV stations if it ever came to it.
Q: Why don’t we require the kind of source disclosure that is a standard part of the candidates’ advertising of everyone who runs ads during campaigns so viewers know who they are?
A: There are several organizations that produce this kind of advertising that get their money for these campaigns from people and organizations that are publicity shy. Business people worry about being boycotted. Some other organizations, notably Right To Life, tell the legislators who are the beneficiaries of their support and who would have to enact disclosure laws that their donors would go away if their names had to be disclosed. Without donors, no ads, no support.
Q: Why are the public unions under attack?
A: Public unions have long been the 500-pound gorillas in the room (“Correction,” one former Democratic officeholder says. “They are a 900 pound gorilla.”). When it comes to campaign financing they are said to own many legislators and terrify the rest. They also have nothing to fear from disclosure. Everyone knows where their money comes from. This is the only way to turn them into 90-pound weaklings.
Q: Why are there so few qualified, ambitious candidates for higher office coming out of the state Legislature and other public bodies that once were viewed as breeding grounds for high quality, highly motivated political leaders?
A: The empty pipeline phenomenon has several causes: The main one is that the relatively weak political parties no longer recruit, slate and fund candidates. The legislative leaders do. They are more interested in more passive, still electable, members of their caucuses than rambunctious, ambitious, potential challengers to their leadership and authority. The cost of campaigns, the abusiveness of talk radio and other demonizers, and a campaign season of political dinners and rubber chicken are all cited but subjective reasons as well.
Q: Why has partisanship risen and civility and legislators’ camaraderie diminished to the disappearing point?
A: See the answer to the role of the legislative leaders above. In this new paradigm, the leaders prefer enemies to hate not adversaries to debate.
Q: Why don’t we have a part-time Legislature?
A: This idea would have to be legislated by the current incumbents who are increasingly content to make these jobs a career for life and couldn't survive economically on the kind of pay a part timer would draw.
Q: What about term limits?
A: See the answer to the preceding question.
Q: Why don’t we have initiative and referendum possibilities to force these kinds of changes on a reluctant, too comfortable, too partisan Legislature?
A: Take a look at California.
Q: How about a third-party movement?
A: Take a look at Israel.
Q: Are we stuck with this status quo?
A: Not necessarily. A movement to bring impartial redistricting to Wisconsin which would be a small dent in the power that has devolved on the legislative leaders is underway. The dramatic rise of social media as an organizing and communication tool is going to stir the waters, although the law of unintended consequences looms. And if the tea party movement proves to be more than a one-dog pony which doesn’t go beyond tax anarchy, that unpredictable group which arrived promising “change” could rattle a few cages too.
April 17, 2011
The chosen many
By Bill Kraus
Anyone who has seen the process up close wants nothing more to do with drawing the lines for legislative districts. All turf battles bring out the worst in our political system, and redistricting is a virtual golf course.
And that’s only half of it.
When the opportunity to get a 10-year advantage rears its ugly head, really bad things happen.
This could be that kind of a year. And it’s not like the results achieved in prior decades by legislative fiat often adjusted by judicial revisions have been God’s gift to democracy.
The most recent re-arrangement of Wisconsin’s legislative districts created a map where only one of our eight congressional districts is demographically competitive, and informed sources tell me as few as nine of the 116 seats in the state Legislature that were on the ballot last year were considered “in play.” All the rest were considered “safe” for the candidates of one party or another.
This was not an accident. The maps are made by and for the incumbents. The leaders of these incumbents recruit, slate, fund and manage most of these campaigns. They do not have the unlimited funds needed to compete in all these races. Their motto is not broadly known but comes down to "the fewer toss up races the better."
The maps they have drawn if left alone or have submitted to the courts if not are not egregiously gerrymandered, but the result of these designs has created a democracy where some 82 percent of the voters who show up for the final vote in November did not have a real choice. The results of the elections they participated in were pretty much predetermined by the people who decided on the basis of how the people in the districts in their maps could be expected to vote.
In short, most of us do not choose our representatives. Our representatives choose us.
We are not at the table when the maps are drawn. We do not necessarily share the priorities of the people who are at the table. Most of us might, for example, like to have more rather than fewer contests that were more competitive.
This could be done. This is being done in other places. Right next door, for example, in Iowa, a disinterested state agency that doesn’t want to limit the number of competitive elections makes the map the Legislature ultimately approves.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s farewell gift to the voters of California was a mapping system similar to Iowa’s. A couple other states follow that path as well. And, astonishingly, in North Carolina, where the Republicans control both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office as well decided to turn over this fractious responsibility to non-partisans.
We could do that. It isn’t rocket science. We could turn the mapmaking over to some agency as dispassionate and fair minded as, say, the Government Accountability Board, where the responsibility for overseeing our elections already resides.
Why would the Legislature and the governor do this for us?
It would get a very distracting issue off the table in a contentious, issue-filled year.
It would save money. The legislative leaders wouldn’t have to hire expensive and otherwise worthy law firms to help them do the mapping.
And it would be the right thing to do in a year when finding a proposal that a very large bi-partisan majority of citizens might regard as praiseworthy, even in the general interest, is as rare as a robin in a Wisconsin spring.
I can guarantee that the the 82 percent of us who are geographically disenfranchised would cheer.
Anyone willing to wait until 2021 to do this? I didn’t think so.
April 13, 2011
Socialism for the rich and the free market for you and me
By Bob Menamin
Joel McNally notes in a recent FightingBob.com article that the premise of the school voucher program, "that poor children using tax vouchers to attend private schools are receiving a better education than students with a similiar background attending public schools," is a fraud.
It is a documented fact that children with vouchers attending private schools do not perform better on state achievement tests. And voucher results look even worse when you consider private schools routinely shun special needs students.
Charter schools add to the problem because they also often do not take special needs students and they drain resources away from the traditional public school system. In Verona, where I live, we have three charter schools.
It appears to me that there is an organized strategy to destroy public schools and replace them with them with subsidized private schools and charter schools. This falls into a pattern of privatizing everything that could be subjected to democratic accountability.
For instance, Governor Scott Walker and Congressman Paul Ryan are pushing the idea that Medicare and Medicaid should be privatized. This is based on the fallacy that pure unadulterated capitalism is the answer to our problems. The exception to this rule, of course, is that Wall Street banks, corporations and individual fat cats will continue to be subsidized with tax exemptions, tax loopholes and public grants.
If my analysis is wrong, could some education professional please explain to me what is going on?
April 10, 2011
Impartial Justice's future (if it has one)
By Bill Kraus
The Impartial Justice bill, which saw the light of day in a reform-averse Legislature only because all the sitting members of the state Supreme Court urged it on them, was supposed to be the poster child for full public funding. It was designed to get the candidates out of the demeaning money raising business and removing the taint of being beholden to their significant donors. It’s companion piece was intended to diminish the role of interest money in these campaigns as well.
The bill that passed was funded at a modest level which made it kind of good news/bad news for the incumbents. Potential challengers would no longer be daunted by the need to raise a large campaign fund to mount a respectable campaign which could open the floodgates. Advantage challengers. The low level of spending allowed by the candidates would make it very difficult for a challenger to produce and run the TV commercials which are widely considered necessary to get the name recognition they would need to be competitive. Advantage incumbents.
The companion piece which would have used the infusion of additional public money for candidates to offset and disincentivise outside spenders did not become law. It did get past the soon-to-be-dead body of the then-majority leader of the state Senate, but the brain dead or duplicitous also soon to be a dead body speaker of the Assembly put it in the trash can instead of to a vote. The Supreme Court by a 4-3 vote rejected an attempt to bring it in through a side door.
The poster child was still there, but less attractive.
The two survivors of the 2011 Supreme Court primary contest which would test public funding and run campaigns that made these campaigns shorter and maybe even sweeter. This, in turn, would prompt the great majority of voters who say they hate the tenor and cost and endlessness of the campaigns to demand an extension of full public funding to all elections. Full public funding ascendant.
A placid primary which looked like it would lead to an easy victory for the incumbent morphed into something unseen and unanticipated in judicial elections. The outsiders came in with all guns blazing. Some supported the candidates. Most did not. Trashing and demonization dominated the airwaves.
The candidates were outspent and overwhelmed but did their level best to dodge or refute the firestorm of false and exaggerated charges by the outside bomb throwers and stay--er--judicial.
Expectations for the future of Impartial Justice are cloudy at best. The good thing is that those of us who think the election system needs to be repaired are accustomed to celebrating small victories. Despite all the clatter both candidates were spared the indignity of raising the amount of money it would have taken to be financially competitive and the recusal requests that come with taking money from supplicant/donors who appear before the court.
Nonetheless the poster child is pretty banged up. The first clean up is a full disclosure treatment so that the voters know who the outsiders are. If they want to play they should be asked to put prominent upfront labels on the TV commercials that are their main--more like only--weapon, so voters know that these scurrilous outbursts are not coming from the candidates themselves. Those whose money sources or supporter biases are not easily evident (as unions, manufacturers, lawyers, realtors, etc. are) should also be asked to tell the voters where they get their money. They can put in as many chips as they want, but full disclosure should be the price of getting a seat at the table.
Even the freedom-of-speech-crazed-collateral-damage-blind-U.S. Supreme Court has indicated that those who want to play the game can’t do it anonymously. No more blindsiding.
The Legislature has to do its small bit as well and put the modest sum for full public funding that was available to this year’s candidates back in the budget from whence it disappeared. Another letter supporting Impartial Justice from a unanimous Supreme Court would probably make this easier.
By Ms. Forward
Fighting Bob Fest will not be the same without Tom Arbogast, who passed away April 6.
In addition for being a Bob Fest fixture, Tom was the founder of the Sauk Prairie Area Peace Council and a really, really good guy. You can read more about his exceptional life at the site for the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, another organization he helped create.
Services are next Saturday, April 16, in Reedsburg.
April 4, 2011
Please donate to FightingBob.com today
By Ms. Forward
FightingBob.com turned eight years old about six weeks ago, in the midst of the Capitol protests over Scott Walker's attempts to bust the state's unions. You might remember getting fundraising e-mail messages from FightingBob.com back then and reading donation requests on the site.
Walker's so-called budget repair bill was tearing the state apart, and the protests, the organizing that the democratic outpouring were building us back up again, stronger than we were before.
Many readers gave generously then and we greatly appreciate it. We were so busy keeping up with our website's increased traffic and the intensified interest in the issues that we have always covered that we did not say thank you and did not follow through on our whole fundraising plan. Frankly, we put it on hold.
We come back to you today to say thank you to those who gave and to ask those of you who did not to think about how important FightingBob.com has been to you throughout this unprecedented period in Wisconsin's history and throughout the last eight years.
When we started FightingBob.com on February 23, 2003, one promise we made was not to inundate you with fundraising requests or clutter up the site with advertising. Today, we are asking your financial support.
How about a $108 donation to celebrate our eighth birthday? Or how about $50 or $20 if that is what you can afford. Whatever you can give, please send a check for that amount to FightingBob.com, Post Office Box 6265, Monona, Wisconsin, 53716-0265, or donate online through our secure PayPal account.
FightingBob.com has been going strong and growing with volunteer writers and editors, but Web design, Web hosting, site maintenance, administrative assistance and professional copyediting cost money. That is why we are asking for your help in the form of a donation of whatever you can spare today. Our IRS non-profit status means your contribution is tax-free.
April 3, 2011
Our upended state
By Bill Kraus
A Supreme Court justice who was one of the court’s unanimous signers of a letter to the Legislature urging the passage of full public funding for elections to the court says he didn’t mean it and that the law was intended to cripple his election prospects. He said this even though he sailed through the pre-protest primary where the law got its first, unfettered test.
Another candidate for the Supreme Court takes a pass on a golden opportunity to trash the trashers who are demonizing everybody with their attack ads paid for with their anonymous money and who are undermining the Impartial Justice bill which has made her candidacy painless at least and maybe even possible.
A perfectly respectable, church-going, good neighbor family in rural Dane County with no evident dog in the current fight going on at the Capitol is accused of being responsible for telling 16 elected officials to put their affairs in order because they and their families will be killed.
A public union official warns the otherwise unengaged merchants of Union Grove that unless they put up signs supporting the public unions their businesses will be boycotted by the members of his union. He could have chosen a different locale for this action and not set off a counter movement claiming “The only union we support is Union Grove,” but the union president says he shouldn’t have done it at all, anywhere.
There is a run on a prominent bank because the officers of that institution have been revealed as donors to the campaign of the now-toxic new governor. The bank’s fortunes were not threatened by these withdrawals, but the well being of the bank’s employees was thought to be enough at risk to cause the doors to be shut for awhile. The bank, which, along with the rest of corporate America, had been thought to be itching to get into the political wars with all guns blazing, ran for cover repeating the Sergeant Schultz “I know nothing” disclaimer. This may or may not tell us just how threatening the much maligned Citizens United decision really is, but that’s another story.
The legislative leaders who are at the top of the power tower due to the weakened political parties and the retreat to outsourcing by the once politically active citizens who used to do the slating and funding of candidates that has now devolved on them turned out to be maybe not ready for prime time.
Those on one side of the aisle failed to follow their own laws and procedures so grievously that they are now in the toils of the slow moving court system or will have to do a reprise of what they did before to do what they want to do.
Their adversaries on the other side of the aisle abandoned their posts, emigrated to faraway Illinois, and, in effect, threw away the passports they would need to get home again. A one-way exit plan with no way to get back may not have been thoroughly thought through.
All the state senators who are eligible for recalls are threatened by them. At least five of them are said to be endangered by these threats. If this comes to pass, we will see in Wisconsin more legislative recalls this year than we have experienced in the preceding 163 years. If this process proves to be fruitful, it is predicted that in November a whole new wave of recalls will be launched against the rest of the senators who will then be susceptible to this ultimate weapon. The governor, who is already the subject of recall bumper strips, will presumably be at risk then as well. Government by recall may or may not loom, but democratic institutions are at risk.
And the most incredible development of all is that our local paper, the Wisconsin State Journal, even in its reporter-deprived state, now carries more vital and interesting news than the New York Times.
The world is upside down.
April 2, 2011
Let's break the record
By John Smart
I was in Stockholm on business 20 years ago, having dinner with some Swedish associates. The next day was Swedish Election Day and a national holiday, as it is in many other countries. One of my colleagues was concerned that the various campaigns had not raised enough interest or excitement with the Swedish electorate. "It's possible we might not get a 90% turnout," he said.
I felt like crawling under the table, for fear that they would ask me about election turnout in the United States. But I think they knew that even in the biggest elections the U.S. struggles to get half of the would-be voters to show up, and they graciously said nothing.
Here in Wisconsin, less than 24 percent of our electorate put Scott Walker in the governor's office in November 2010, Ron Johnson in Russ Feingold's place in the U.S. Senate, Sean Duffy in Dave Obey's seat in the House and Reid Ribble in Steve Kagen's. The vote total was under 49 percent statewide. The record for a mid-term election in Wisconsin is just under 52 percent, in 1962.
The election we have coming up on Tuesday, April 5, is the spring non-partisan election, when local boards for schools, counties, townships and other similar candidates are elected. That one gets even less attention. The so-called experts are predicting a 20 percent turnout.
There is one state-wide race on the ballot next Tuesday: State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser is trying to fend off a challenge from Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg.
This campaign has been very interesting, due, thanks in large part, to new judicial election reforms. Each candidate who qualifies received a set sum in state funds and cannot spend beyond that amount.
Nothing, however, prevents other organizations from spending on their behalf. The "Citizens United" decision of the U.S. Supreme Court just more than a year ago said corporations are the same as actual citizens in this regard, opening the floodgates for big business types like the infamous Koch Brothers to spend millions to influence our elections.
It is generally conceded that a low turnout will favor the incumbent, Prosser, while a large turnout will favor Kloppenburg, the challenger.
Prosser has a mountain of his own creation to surmount. He admits calling the highly respected Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a "bitch" and said he'd "get" her. His campaign manager said that he would be a "complement" to Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans in the Legislature (not something a supposedly impartial justice should be). And an old story reemerged from his days as the district attorney in Outagamie County, when he chose not to charge a priest accused of molesting two children. He has been saying ugly things about his opponent, things he could not realistically verify (he says that she has voted for Green Party candidates!). And so on.
Kloppenburg's challenge is based on her significant experience as an assistant attorney general since 1989, under four different attorneys general, two Democrats and two Republicans, which clearly enhances her reputation as an independent legal theorist.
I entertained Kloppenburg in my home several weeks ago, giving her a chance to "meet & greet" some local voters, and we found her to be very credible indeed. She is calm and self-assured. My friends and I were distinctly impressed.
What if we turn out - oh let's be wild and reckless - 25 percent of Wisconsin's eligible voters on Tuesday? Yes, Kloppenburg would be elected to our highest court, and, perhaps more importantly, we will have started up the hill towards full citizen participation in our beloved democracy.
April 1, 2011
More than a metaphor
By Bob Menamin
As I read the newspaper, I realize that Obama needs to send air cover and put boots on the ground in Wisconsin not Libya.
The citizens of Wisconsin (Walkerfitgeraldistan) are being subjected to a scorched earth blitzkrieg by Scott Walker and the Fitzgerald family. A list of the today's articles on warfare events: A search by the Walker gestapo for subversive emails sent by UW-Madison professor Bill Cronon; killing 100 wind turbines in Brown County with a huge negative impact; obliterating a huge dairy farm in the Fitzgeralds' district because they didn't like it; killing environmental regulations that are deemed not business friendly; David Prosser's admission in his campaign materials that he would aid Walker's efforts; WalkerFitz's willful defiance of Judge Maryann Sumi's cease & desist order to stop the destruction of collective bargaining; Walker asking for $150 million from the the federal government for a rail project after having turned down $810 million for a rail project; Biddy Martin working as a mole for Walker promoting a plan that is adverse to the whole university system in Wisconsin. There are more news items that reflect this warfare mentality, but I am exhausted in trying to recount them all.
This is all-out war on the citizens of Wisconsin by Walkerfitgeraldistan. This is no time to search for bipartisan agreement. The Walker/Fitzgerald machine must be destroyed.