July 31, 2011
Anarchy on the North Shore
By Bill Kraus
The non party tea party is not in the majority.
What it is or what its self-defining adherents are is a controlling minority.
Welcome to Israel.
Its non caucus is numerous enough to unravel the presumed GOP majority in Washington. The Fitzgeralds are not having Boehner’s problems in Wisconsin. This may be attributed to the fact that the GOP majority here is more like the tea party than it admits or cares to admit.
Whatever the names and alignments and difficulties this new third force is spawning it is fundamentally a new name for an old faction. This faction was generously described as libertarian, less generously as anarchistic. This tea party grandparent was something called The North Shore Republican Club. This was, may still be, a party within the party composed of residents of the northern suburbs of Milwaukee. The club was powerful enough to pick the delegates to the Republican Party State Conventions in the 1960s when being a delegate to the Republican Party State Convention was politically important.
One of its early victims was my estimable friend Harry Franke. Harry represented part of the North Shore Club’s domain in the Assembly and the State Senate in the mid century period when the Club held sway in his districts.
Ultimately the Club excommunicated Harry for, among other things, supporting a tax increase that then Governor Warren Knowles had proposed and passed and for being a prominent leader of the Joe Must Go Club which irreverently suggested that maybe Senator McCarthy might be more interested in getting re-elected after a lackluster first term in Washington than in thwarting an overthrow of our government by Soviet Russia.
The new incarnation of this party within the party still includes the “Don’t Tread On Me” zealots and the taxophobes from the 1960s. They have been joined by the interest groups who want more guns, fewer abortions, and a TSA-like process at the voting booth.
Viewed from a distance this seems to be an unholy alliance on the size, shape, and scale those worthies who brought us prohibition in the early part of the last century papered together.
Like its several predecessors this new phenomenon is causing a lot of trouble for those whose interest is providing a government that works and fulfills the obligations for which it is responsible.
The main differences between then and now is that the radicals are stronger, the moderates are weaker, and the citizen politicians are nowhere.
In the '60s, one of my assignments was to take the Republican Assembly Majority Leader out for a drink and convince him that the state government did have a legitimate role to play in our society. All I got out of this was a hangover.
Ody Fish, who was state GOP chairman at the time was more successful. He almost broke the arm of a state senator from Waukesha County in the process, but he got him to cast the decisive vote on one of Governor Knowles’ budgets. It was, incidentally, the only vote that senator ever cast for any budget during his long tenure. Sound familiar?
We happily didn’t have to deal with the malevolent presence of the talk radio gang, with the power of the moneyed interests to hijack campaigns and terrorize incumbents, or with the professionalization of politics in general and political campaigning in particular, the deleterious effects of which are on display on a television set near you during the current recall season.
We even got Harry Franke into the state convention over the dead bodies of the North Shore Republican delegation by giving him a Portage County badge.
July 24, 2011
By Bill Kraus
Once the disenfranchised majority learned that they were disenfranchised, they would rise up and demand reform.
The legislative leaders would want to give their endangered recallees something to talk about in these elections so they will be more winnable than a referendum on the governor might be.
The governor would like to get this contentious turf battle (all turf battles ultimately become both contentious and petty) off his agenda and desk.
A virtual organization in favor of the idea might not clutter the Capitol grounds but thousands of citizens would sign petitions in favor of taking the fox (the Legislature) out of the redistricting henhouse.
Legislators who have had a tough winter would flock to the cause and rush to sign on to the Iowa system bill to show they haven’t forgotten fairness and good government.
The press would jump on the issue as a news story and editorial issue and would cover every move every day to keep the attention and pressure levels high.
The disenfranchised majority either didn’t hear the wake up call or don’t mind being disenfranchised.
The legislative leaders not only are not interested in protecting their recalled sheep, they are asking them to take yet another tough vote on yet another issue that could play into these extraneous campaigns and further weaken the already diminished power of their incumbencies to hold their offices.
The governor proved to be focused on his own not-inconsequential agenda and not to be much interested in diversions on this issue or anything else for that matter.
The virtual organization which one would have expected to consist of the thousands of members of the several reform organizations at the very least finally consisted of less than 500 stalwarts for several unanticipated reasons including political sloth.
One Democratic freshman legislator was willing to introduce the Iowa plan bill at almost the last minute. No one in either party or either house joined him.
In the early going the “Make More Votes Count” organization sought widespread coverage of this obscure but important issue; the depleted press corps was otherwise engaged and overwhelmed by the other more urgent budgetary battles. The news holes were full to overflowing. No room was created for a drumbeat campaign calling daily attention to the impending gerrymandering which would further decrease the already low number of legislative districts where candidates from both parties have a chance to win. Several wonderful editorials and some great analytical news stories and columns plus pretty thorough coverage by public broadcasting proved insufficient to activate the “stop” button.
The It Ain't Over Till It's Over:
There are unsubstantiated and probably fanciful rumors that some of the items on the fantasy list are rattling a few cages and the redistricting bill is not really a done deal.
This would be attributable, if it’s true, to the effort of many people and many journalists to raise the profile of this inside-the-Capitol-Square issue and subject.
If this is not true, that same effort has spawned another route to redistricting. This can be categorized, for a lot of us, as planting a tree which will ever provide shade for us. The idea is to enact the dispassionate Iowa system now so it is in place for the next redistricting which will take place in 2021.
This has the virtue of being both farsighted and unthreatening to the current incumbents whose self interest would not be heavily engaged because few of them really expect to be around in 10 years.
July 17, 2011
Giving the people what they don't want
By Bill Kraus
The legislative leaders' chance to cap campaign spending ended when the Supreme Court opened the money floodgates to everybody, making campaigns both expensive and endless.
The people did not like this.
The legislative leaders who have succeeded to the jobs of slating, funding, and orchestrating campaigns from the eunuched parties responded to this costly, to them, development, by redistricting legislative districts to reduce the number of campaigns that are unpredictable enough to be worth contesting.
The people either didn't notice this or care enough to protest.
The result is that the hold on the political agenda by the money and the zealots increased, because both are inordinately important in the low-turnout primaries which have become the main battlegrounds for otherwise invincible incumbents.
The people who are wondering where their government that works went and where all these true believing zealots came from are not happy about this.
So the legislative leaders have won and lost. They still have the slating job the parties once had and enough money to fund the few contestable races that are left. The price they pay is dealing with caucuses of single-issue, unmanageable fanatics who have little or no interest in actually governing.
What the people want or think about this is no longer a concern. They have been relegated to seats in the stands for the power game which is governed to a large extent by the law of unintended consequences.
July 10, 2011
Football and baseball
By Bill Kraus
In the latest decision from the U.S. Supreme Court displaying that body’s obsession with free speech and indifference to collateral damage, the chief justice said “politics is not a game.”
That great Wisconsin political sage Charlie Davis introduced me to an adage coined by a long forgotten German philosopher.
Said German said: “Politics is the only game for adults. All other games are for children.”
The single biggest source of dysfunction in the political game is that the Supreme Court has come down in favor of funding the political game the way Major League Baseball is funded instead of the way the National Football League is funded.
Major League Baseball favors those teams in the large television markets by letting each team sign its own deal with television broadcasters.
This directly favors the likes of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The Milwaukees, Kansas Citys, etc. television contracts reflect the size and affluence of their audiences.
This tilts the game in favor of the teams in television’s richer markets because their big television contracts give them the money to buy what their owners regard as the better players. Anybody remember CC Sabathia? He made his name as a premier pitcher in Cleveland, solidified his reputation for a year in Milwaukee, and has been in New York ever since.
The National Football League, on the other hand, decided to split all the television revenues by team instead irrespective of any team’s market. This has had the result of making the teams in the league more competitive on the field and in the player marketplace.
The competition in football is determined by the skill of the players and coaches and the wisdom of the general managers.
None of those qualities are irrelevant in baseball, but the extra added benefit for the big market teams is that they have most of the money.
They also win most of the time, except on the northside of Chicago where winning has been more or less unnecessary for 111 years.
What money buys in these games is quality. What putting the baseball model in play in the game of politics has bought is money to buy favors, votes, and, more recently, judicial decisions.
The baseball model still works in baseball, but in politics we are getting gridlock, macho ideological rigidity and a model that is clearly awry.
Somebody should point this out to Chief Justice Roberts.
July 4, 2011
Pointing toward appointing
By Bill Kraus
Among the longest running lost causes in Wisconsin is the occasional attempt to move away from an elected judiciary to one of the several systems many other states use to appoint judges is the least likely to change.
Electing judges is in our Constitution.
Electing everybody is in our genes.
Former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor spoke to the annual meeting of the Wisconsin State Bar Association last year and urged that organization to urge the state’s political leaders to change the Constitution so the state could appoint instead of elect judges.
With the sole exception of the Wisconsin State Journal’s editorial page editor Scott Milfred, every other member of the panel picked to discuss this subject pretty much dismissed the prospect of this ever happening.
“We elect coroners,” one panelist pointed out.
“We elect people to offices which have no function or whose function has been usurped or diminished to the point of virtual inconsequence,” another said.
The consensus was not only that a change would go against 162 years of history and every bone in our collective bodies, but that we had kind of stumbled into the best possible system for electing judges.
We elect judges in non-partisan, low-turnout spring elections.
Candidates for these offices put together campaigns and campaign organizations that, irrespective of their histories in politics, are designed to convince the electorate that they will truly aspire to non-partisanship if elected.
It was impossible not to acknowledge that some outsiders had infiltrated the process and that partisan toxicity had raised its ugly head from time to time. Most of us on the panel figured this was an aberration and the recently enacted Impartial Justice Bill would stop this unseemly trend by removing candidates for the Supreme Court from the sordid business of raising money for their campaigns and raising the suspicion that they might have been bought or would have to recuse themselves from cases where their fiscal supporters' views were involved.
Then along came 2011, a year of high dudgeon, protests, a Supreme Court election where the main issue was not judicial competence but what judgment the candidates would likely take on highly partisan questions that might come before the court.
Personality and partisanship came to the fore and dispassionate judiciousness faded into the background.
This most deliberative elected body was further tainted by, of all things, an investigation of possible assault and battery.
In a few short, tumultuous months we have gone from “No way, Jose” to the possibility that appointing justices (and judges) in a highly partisan, high election-cost era may be not only the best but possibly the only route to a judicious judiciary.
Two respected state senators think so and will introduce a resolution which will be the first step in moving to that wholly un-Wisconsin-like system, and a large and surprising number of citizens are saying, “It’s about time.”
The side effect of this totally unexpected, unprecedented development is that it is a shot across the bow of those who are or think they are benefiting from the rise of polarized, partisan politics.
It may even give the all powerful legislative leaders pause about going full speed ahead in other areas where the citizens may be ready to react to excessive partisanship. Redistricting comes to mind.