March 28, 2012
Resolution of The People’s Legislature
By Sarah Lloyd and David Giffey
The work of The People’s Legislature (TPL) on March 25 in Madison concentrated on embracing people power and the Tin Cup Movement, to rid electoral politics of the corrupting influence of a rich minority. Two TPL breakout groups met and supported the general premises of a proposed resolution to TPL, and the groups separately suggested some additional ideas to the resolution. Below is language combining the proposed resolution (in boldface) with changes from the TPL groups:
A resolution of The People’s Legislature for true democracy and to remove the corruption of a rich minority’s control of electoral politics.
-Whereas the majority of campaign contributions to candidates for elective office come from less than 1 percent of the population; (Accepted by both groups)
-Whereas the money in politics amounts to legal bribery that makes elected officials hopelessly beholden to narrow, wealthy interests; (Accepted by both groups)
-Whereas elections are determined by vast monetary investments in media campaigns by wealthy interests rather than on the basis of substantive policy debate; (Accepted by both groups)
Be it resolved that The People’s Legislature calls on candidates for State of Wisconsin offices to renounce current election financing practices and to refuse to accept funds or support from political action committees, corporations, unions, or other organizations. (Accepted by consensus of Group 1)
(Group 2 did not reach consensus on not taking any union, PAC or corporate money, and added the following language.)
Be it resolved that The People’s Legislature calls on candidates for State of Wisconsin offices to renounce current election financial practices. In the short-term this means engaging and embracing the people power of the movement. We ask that the candidate makes a pledge to run on an alternative system. The candidate must spend resources teaching people to use low-cost communication technology, including digital social networking, but also old stand-bys like home made yard signs, which can act as Grassroots TV to react to the onslaught of expensive television ads. The candidate must understand that the Tin Cup Movement will provide support through talking to neighbors, putting up homemade yard signs, and creative expressions of our commitment to grassroots movement of, by, and for the people. The candidate must make efforts to register people to vote, to bring more voters, not fewer, to the table. In the long-term the candidate must pledge to introduce fundamental campaign finance reform as a top priority when elected to office. In addition the candidate must demand fair access to the public air waves through radio, television, satellite, and broadband.
Be it further resolved that candidates for State of Wisconsin offices join the Tin Cup Movement and accept monetary donations - $250 maximum per election* - only from individuals, basing their campaigns on the meaningful discussion of public policy, thus returning power to individual citizens and their votes. (Group 2 didn’t have consensus on the above, while Group 1 did reach consensus and added:) Candidates must support public financing of all elections.
(Group 1 also added the following) Be it further resolved that the People’s Legislature supports efforts to overturn Citizens United.
*Candidates will be allowed to accept $250 for a primary election and an additional $250 for a general election.
March 27, 2012
A letter to Wisconsin snow birds and expatriates
By Bill Kraus
Everyone knows about the recalls. What everyone doesn’t know, and what people who haven't been around lately might not know, is that they really aren’t recalls. They are what golfers call “mulligans” and what non-golfers know as “do overs.” In Wisconsin, if enough people are dissatisfied with any incumbent who has been in office for at least a year, they can circulate petitions seeking a new election, and if they get the requisite number of signatures, an election will be called.
No justification is necessary. This is not an impeachment. This is not a recall. This is a petition for a new election for any and all candidates who want to run including the person who thought he or she was elected for a fixed term.
The recall petition for the governor and lieutenant governor are the most prominent. The reason so many people signed it (more than 900,000) had to do with fixing the structural deficit the Democrats left behind and crafting a balanced budget for the next biennium.
The fixers were accused of excessiveness or worse to get this done. Thousands protested and a personalized “Recall Walker” movement ensued.
This spread to the legislative branch which had approved everything the governor had recommended. Step two of what would blossom into something like recall mania was intended to punish those who lived in reasonably vulnerable districts (a small minority) and who voted to punish the public unions for years of what their victims characterized as bullying. If this had succeeded, it would have put an end to one-party rule. It reduced the Republican majority in the Senate to one vote, but, all the spinning to the contrary notwithstanding, it didn’t succeed.
The Democrats contributed to the chaos by trying to stop the legislative process by leaving the state and denying the majority a quorum on crucial issues. This sparked another set of recalls, step three in the “recall” season, of Democrats this time. None of these succeeded. The next wave was another series of state Senate recalls of Republicans which were to be coterminous with the statewide recalls. If they succeed the Democrats in that body will become the majority.
The fourth stage of recall fever is threatened but not yet executed. It would be a return to punishing incumbents for their votes or, in this instance, non votes. There was no voting on the mining bill, and Senators Jauch and Schultz, who had fashioned a compromise which nobody voted on either, were threatened with recall for whatever it is they did or didn't do. This recall was distinguished from previous recalls because it was initiated by a special interest group. In effect, it opened up a whole new avenue of populist activity which is intended to influence legislation and legislators who are already under the gun of belligerent outsiders with money and/or rabid members.
All of this has led to little progress on the governor's agenda items, which are pretty much the only agenda items that have any prospect of being advanced.
The latest bit of mischief threatened to unravel the districting bill in which the Republicans used their dominant majorities to make more legislative districts (and two congressional districts) more favorable to one party (theirs usually) and to further the trend of downgrading the importance of the general elections in as many places as possible. One of the challenges to this legislation went before a panel of federal judges. They found that the redistricting was unacceptable in two small areas. The judges ruled that the Legislature would have to make the repairs the judges wanted before the redistricting act would get their blessing. They sent it back to the authors. The authors, who no longer had a majority in the state Senate due to an unexpected resignation by a Republican state senator, refused to go back into session to do the patch up the court wanted. The newly co-equal Democrats said they would do what the court wanted done and a lot more as well to undo the damage the districting law had done to the number of districts in which they had a chance to prevail.
Dysfunction metastasized into paralysis.
The court decided to do it themselves.
PS: If this isn’t depressing enough, those of you who have computers should go to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s website and read John Byrnes’ great Op-Ed piece of February 11 ("City leadership needs to be brushed back, businessman says") about what dysfunction, inattention, and other shortcomings are doing to Wisconsin’s economic future, and what Steve Walters had to say in "Recall-torn Senate looks undriveable" on March 24 about hardening of the positions and the arteries in the Capitol.
March 20, 2012
Two sets of books for school reform
By Bob Menamin
The recently concluded session of the Wisconsin Legislature highlighted that we are in a climate where public schools are getting more and more scrutiny for accountability standards.
Standardized testing and holding teachers responsible for student performance is increasingly demanded by state legislatures throughout the nation. Public education is under attack, with some conservatives believing that we should end public education as we know it. In the midst of this climate there is growing support for vouchers to be used in support of private schools, charter schools and home schooling. The irony is that as we demand more accountability and standardized testing for public schools, these same measures are much less emphasized or even non-existent when it comes to vouchers, charters and home-schoolers.
For instance, in Wisconsin the only requirement for home schooling is for parents to sign an avadavit indicating they are providing 875 hours of instruction and stipulate that they are not using home schooling as just a means to avoid having their child attend public school. The ability to teach by those providing home schooling goes unquestioned. There are no standardized tests. There are no curriculum requirements. The home schoolers basically get a blank check to do whatever it is they do. The number of home schooled children is increasing dramatically.
Critics decry the increasing ignorance level of the overall population and how unhealthy that is for sustaining a healthy democracy. Our response is to threaten the continued existence of public education with more demands and less funding. Meanwhile, we have far less accountability for the current alternatives. Something is radically wrong with this picture. Is the real agenda to transfer the cost of education from a tax base to that of the individual with no sincere concern about outcomes?
March 18, 2012
Desparately seeking solutions
By Bill Kraus
Facing the prospect of telling a class of college students about the state of electoral politics focuses the mind.
Everyone has a long list of the things that have gone wrong.
Everyone also has fingers to point in multiple directions at a long list of culprits who are responsible for the current state of dysfunction.
The students themselves know that the three 'P's--Polarization, Partisanship, even Populism--are wreaking havoc with the representative government we all think the founding fathers envisioned. That the system is broken.
What they expect to hear is how to fix it. I have a simple answer for them: I don’t know how.
There are many fixes to pick from and they cover the spectrum from the free market/libertarian right to the full public funding/fully regulated left.
There is no consensus. The people don’t agree. The parties don’t agree. The courts don’t agree. And above all the incumbents who we are taught to look to for solutions to public problems really don’t agree.
I take that back. Given the state of inaction and inattention by these same incumbents it is possible to conclude that most of them either don’t think there is a problem with the political processes or don’t think the problem is consequential enough to deserve a high place on their priority lists.
The reason we are immobilized then is the classic one of everyone agreeing that there is a problem until a solution is proposed at which time the solution becomes the problem.
Daniel Yankelovich (yes, that Daniel Yankelovich) told an audience in California recently that Americans have always had a strong practical streak that took over whenever the country faced a large, insurmountable problem. He expects it to kick in again. It hasn’t yet.
Wisconsin’s Bill Kellett used to tell us to keep our eye on the squirrel. The squirrel is political dysfunction. Until that is fixed, we can’t even get to the other squirrels.
These are/were optimistic people driven by old-time pragmatism, which is missing, and focus, which is as well.
It is time, to use Lincoln’s phrase, to think anew.
The students may not get what they came to class for. I am hoping I will get what I am coming to class for: new thinking, new ideas, heightened concerns. Even a route to a workable representative government for this incredibly diverse--and still creative--country?
March 11, 2012
Myths, phobias and fantasies
By Bill Kraus
Life in the public sector is complicated and made more so by a long series of myths that too many believe, phobias that too many suffer from, and fantasies that too many chase.
Among the most prominent are:
Government can and should be run like a business. There are a lot of reasons it can’t and won’t be. The most important are that business is a totalitarian organization and government is not. The second most important is that the business of government is conducted in public. Public companies in the private sector think they are. They are not. They will be as, if and when the press sits in on their board meetings.
There is a market solution for everything which is better than a regulatory solution for anything. Really? Regulation is unwelcome everywhere. Events of the recent past are all the evidence needed to convince most that an unrestrained free market with all its virtues can do a lot of damage. An officious regulatory bureaucracy can as well. Regulation of anything--including voting--is and should be both fluid and subject to change in search of the elusive middle ground between too much and too little.
Governments can create jobs. Governments are good at infrastructure and welfare. The failure rate of creating jobs in the private sector is intolerably high for government officials. Government-run operations are not perfect of course, but job creators bat around .300 at best. No elected government will stay elected at that level of success.
The tax system is full of loopholes. The tax system is full of incentives as well. The more they overlap with loopholes the less likely they are to be candidates for elimination. Home mortgage deductions, lower tax rates for couples and for life insurance and for lots of other stuff that those who govern think are good for the country are right up there with tax deductions for medical costs and charitable contributions as something close to untouchables, no matter what the anarchists say.
Big is better especially in the private sector. Big is bigger.
There should be a rainy day fund in the governments’ piggy banks. It rains everyday in the public sector where the demands for money run far ahead of the money available to meet them even in good times.
Elected officials like to vote. Elected officials like to propose. Voting less so. Voting is dangerous in a populist system where those offended by a vote can show their displeasure by running someone against whoever casts a vote that displeases them.
We will be safer from the inevitable criminal elements in our society if we are armed to protect ourselves. Really?
We have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We actually have a government of the elite, by the bureaucracy, and for the people--when it’s working. This means the people are batting .333, which, like in baseball, is Major League good. Lately the elite seem to have taken a pass and the “of” part of the equation has been taken over by the extremists who the elite used to marginalize. The “by” is still in the hands of the bureaucracy for better or worse, usually better. The competence of the public sector operatives has always been high in this country. The real trouble is the “for.” There are serious indications that the elected representatives are representing the people less and the money and the interests that are funding the representatives’ campaigns more.
March 4, 2012
By Bill Kraus
Representative government is an endangered species.
Many states--most of which are in the western and mountain time zones and are relative newcomers to what is now the United States--have long ago expressed their distrust in the idea of fully empowering the representatives they elect by incorporating the populist idea of initiative and referendum in their constitutions.
Other signs that states have misgivings about the idea are the enactment of term limits for representatives and/or by keeping the pay for them so low that only the super rich or super abstemious could keep body and soul together on their legislative stipends. These measures militate against lifelong and fulltime representation.
Wisconsin has joined the list of doubters by using its loose recall process to threaten its representatives with as little as one-year terms of office if they should happen to vote in ways that ignite a movement large enough to make them run for the office they had already won again, and again, and again.
The vision of representatives threatened or cowed by a mideast kind of street protest expressed by lots of people, with blessedly fewer firearms so far anyway, has been widespread recently.
The Tea Party and Occupy movements come from different places, but have in common a clearly expressed disdain for the people who claim to represent them.
Whatever else they want, and it is not entirely clear what that may be, it is obvious that they want the people they elected to pay attention to them.
If anyone has asked the participants in these leaderless movements who they think their so-called representatives are really representing I am not aware of any cohesive or even coherent response.
It is going to be difficult for representative government to function in a world with all this static and with an electorate whose mood can best be characterized as “throw all the rascals out.”
Governing was never simple. Governing with representatives who are widely viewed as no longer responsive or even legitimate or cannot be trusted with something as basic as funding the public sector through taxes is somewhere between unwieldy and impossible. Proposition 13 in California is the poster child for the “starving the beast” school of fiscal responsibility. TABOR, wherever it shows up, is another. The Wisconsin Legislature is being asked to enact a kind of “We trust you, but not really” constitutional amendment. These come in several flavors. Vanilla says that it takes more than a majority to rule on taxes. Chocolate says that neither a majority or a super majority can rule; that tax increases must be approved by the people in a referendum.
As for me, I’m in favor of representative government. I’m in favor of the people participating by recruiting and electing the best among them to deal fully with all the matters that have devolved to the public sector, including defining what those matters are and paying for them.
If the people they elected don’t do this or do this badly, the people can resort to the classic remedy embodied in the system of representative government. They can elect someone else at the next election.