Thursday, June 27, 2013

Private signing ceremony a transparent payback for Gov. Walker donors

Company hosting governor's budget signing gave him $40,000 in campaign cash

Gov. Scott Walker is set to sign the state’s budget on Sunday.

The governor plans on having a relatively low-key event. But it wasn’t enough for him just to have a simple signing ceremony: in keeping with his track record of creating controversy out of the simplest of things, Walker plans to sign the budget in a private gathering at a company where two executives gave him $40,000 in campaign donations.'s worth noting the fact that Catalyst Exhibits CEO Paul Stahlberg forked over $20,000 to help Walker win last year's recall election, and the company’s president, Tim Roberts, kicked in another $20,000, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's campaign finance database. Both Catalyst officials gave $5,000 to Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch as well.
Gov. Scott Walker plans to sign the budget this Sunday
Emphasis added.

It’s nice to see the governor branch out to other communities besides the Madison area to sign the budget. After all, the entire state is affected by the bill, and it’s important to highlight that fact.

But in choosing a site based on what appears to be campaign dollars given to him, Walker has made a terrible (and pretty transparent) choice. It may be that Walker thinks he is highlighting Wisconsin businesses in his ceremonial signing of the budget, but it’s also evident that this is “friendly territory” for the governor, one where those who are sponsoring the event happen to have made a pretty big investment.

That two principals of the company gave $50,000 to Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch only underscores the point that this event isn’t for the people of Wisconsin -- it’s for the corporate backers that have supported Walker in the past and likely in the future.

Which is much like the budget itself.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lunchtime musings: DOMA struck down

The Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional today, paving the way for states that recognize same-sex marriage to grant federal benefits to its citizens in such legal partnerships.

While the ruling is historic, it's far from being the last word on the debate over same-sex marriage. Recognition for gay and lesbian couples still remains out of reach for far too many across the country, and until the day comes when every couple has equal marriage rights, regardless of sexual orientation, the fight will still go on.

Still, the ruling today is worth celebrating. It's indicative of a changing society and an evolving populace on the issue of marriage rights for same-sex partners.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The voucher provision that Gov. Walker needs to veto

Disclosure allows parents to make informed choices, and voucher spending to be scrutinized

With the Republican state legislature passing the budget bill last week, it now heads to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk for his approval. Included in the budget were last-minute provisions prohibiting the state from releasing information on newly-expanded voucher schools, requiring such information to be made public simultaneously:
The amendment requires the Department of Public Instruction to release uniformly from all voucher schools the data on how well they are using that taxpayer money to educate students.
To the casual observer, this makes sense: to make things fair, the information should all come out at once.

Yet the amendment limits more than just when information is released, but also the data on individual voucher schools:
...the amendment also goes further, prohibiting the state education agency from releasing selective data on individual voucher schools unless the private schools agree.

That could prevent journalists, parents and researchers from getting an early look at student scores as well as potentially a number of other records such as how much money the schools have been paid, complaints that have been filed against them, lists of board members and financial audits.
This is sad news to say the least. Limiting what information is made public means we won't know what standards voucher schools are holding, or how well their students are doing in their halls.

What’s more, it violates the very argument that voucher proponents make in defending the program. Leaving it up to voucher schools to determine whether their data can be made public goes against the idea of “market-based education” -- in other words, the idea that parents can make an informative choice in their children’s schooling is completely scrubbed.

Beyond that, however, is the question of disclosure, of where taxpayer dollars are being spent, and how effective those funds are at educating students. It isn’t just parents who need to be concerned over how well voucher schools are performing -- the investment that taxpayers provide for these schools, too, deserves to be transparent.

Ideally, the entire voucher expansion included in this budget should be scrapped. There’s no evidence that students perform better in the schools where vouchers are being used, and in some studies there’s evidence that voucher students actually perform worse.

But it’s clear that Gov. Walker isn’t going to do the rational thing here. Walker fully endorses expanding the program, and he’s not about to disappoint his voucher school supporters by suddenly reversing his opinion on them.

Still, even a conservative like Walker should know better than to allow this amendment to pass. His veto pen should strike it out of the budget, and there should be no hesitation in his hand when he does it.

Lunchtime musings: affirmative action

The debate on affirmative action is a tricky topic to tackle. On the one hand, it makes sense that people should only be judged on the merits of their hard work.

Yet, opponents of affirmative action sometimes forget, purposely or otherwise, that people of color face other challenges that are daunting to say the least. Racism, whether overt or subtle, is not dead in America, and if two candidates for entrance into an institution for higher education are contending for the same spot, a person's race could be considered, given the challenges they have likely faced in their lives.

Race in and of itself shouldn't be a determinant in whether a person should be accepted -- these individuals should have to show they have earned a spot in whatever school they apply to, just as other applicants have. But disregarding a person's background underscores what they have overcome so far to get to this point, and shouldn't be ignored when it comes to the application process for college.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lunchtime musings: the budget process

There are many terrible things throughout the entire Republican-authored state budget. A tax plan that benefits the wealthy, the expansion of voucher schools, and many other items clearly demonstrate that the state GOP doesn't have the people's interests in their minds.

Yet one aspect of this whole budgeting process has stuck out: the purposeful and deliberate concealing of the process, of conservative lawmakers refusing to be transparent for the people to observe.

One thing is for certain... Whoever is in power next, whether it be Republicans or Democrats, the process needs a serious overhaul. The people should not be left in the dark, to go to bed understanding the budget one way and to wake up discovering new provisions the next morning.

We need to change the process, to allow the people of Wisconsin to know exactly what is going into their budget.

Rep. Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) is wrong: we are a republic AND a democracy

Republicans show their true colors when they insist we are a "republic" to stifle the people's voices

H/T to Monologues of Dissent, who posted the video from which quotations for this post are derived.

Wisconsin Assemblyman Gary Hebl, a Democrat, had had enough. After seeing spectators removed from the Assembly gallery -- including those that hadn’t caused any disturbances to the legislators on the floor below -- Hebl made an impassioned statement on the threat to democracy:

“And I do believe that it’s appropriate to talk about the guests that were here, and those who were removed.” he said. “Especially those that did not engage in any activity that was cause for them to be removed.

“And so, I do respect the institution greatly. I’m very proud to be here. But when we do not practice democracy, we give no warning to the members in the gallery, I believe we do a great disservice to democracy.”

His statements were followed by applause...and scorn from his Republican colleague, Rep. Bill Kramer, who at the time was acting as Speaker Pro Tem, who said:
I’m really sorry if you feel that hurts democracy. Luckily, we live in a Republic.
Ah, yes, the ever-present “we’re not a democracy” argument. Conservatives like to make this case often, reminding the people that we function as a republic...and so, shut up already with your “democracy” babble!

The argument goes like this: yes, politicians are elected to office. But they cannot be expected to respect the democratic wishes of the people once they’re there! We live in a republic, which to them means representatives act as safeguards, to halt the casualties of mob rule, and to impede the wishes of the people when necessary.

Which, is an extent. Republics do stifle the negative aspects of democracy, protecting against a direct democracy’s ability to limit the rights of certain groups and minorities who don’t find themselves among the majority.

But that doesn’t mean that our government is designed to ignore ALL aspects of democracy. And stifling the opinions of the people surely was not what the founders had intended when they set up a republic.

In fact, republics are just as capable of restricting people’s rights as democracies are, perhaps much more so. Keep in mind that a republic need not involve itself in the pesky little business of elections.

Such notable republics that existed in the past include Soviet Russia, Cuba, Communist get the idea. Without democracy thrown into the mix, republics are capable of being very dangerous to the rights of the people.

Those countries were established as republics -- that is, countries who have lawmakers who are meant to represent certain geographical areas. What made OUR republic different, however, was the infusion of democracy.

The right of the people to have a voice, to have certain rights, and yes, to even select their members of government, is what made America so unique in the late 18th century, and what made our nation the envy of the world, copied in several nations thereafter.

With that in mind, Gary Hebl’s comments are not to be brushed aside lightly. They make a great deal of sense, given that Republicans have tried every avenue possible to limit the people’s presence in the Capitol.

Bill Kramer’s simple statement -- “Luckily, we live in a republic” -- tries to marginalize Hebl’s concerns.

It’s not that Kramer is wrong to oppose the people every now and then (it’s clear the Republican Party of Wisconsin is doing that quite often these days). Representatives often have to chose between what’s best for their constituents and what do their constituents desire, and oftentimes the two are mutually exclusive of one another.

But Kramer’s characterization of our government implies that it carries NO respect for democracy whatsoever. And that’s a very dangerous assessment for a leader in our state legislature to make.

I’ve written on the “republic-versus-democracy” debate before. In that piece, I wrote, “We’re not a full-fledged democracy; but neither are we a republic that is detached from the people’s wishes and desires.”

But Bill Kramer seems to be advocating a disconnect from the people he and others are meant to represent. Yes, those who distract in ways that are inexcusable in the Assembly gallery should rightfully be removed. But silent protest, through a t-shirt, a button, a sign, or even duct tape, shouldn’t be hindered.

These are attacks on democratic tenets of our society, attacks on civil rights...and it seems to be precisely what these Republican lawmakers want to carry out.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Wisconsin Republicans must think women are dumb

Justification of abortion bill neglects current law that already informs women of the procedure

Do state Republicans think every woman in Wisconsin is stupid?

There’s no other plausible explanation for their recent behavior. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans obstructed debate and passed an incredibly intrusive bill, requiring women who are seeking abortions to receive an ultrasound at least 24 hours before the procedure.

That would include requiring transvaginal ultrasounds, which is considered the only way to receive a clear image 12 weeks or earlier into a pregnancy.

Last night, the Assembly approved the same bill. It now goes to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk, who has indicated he will sign it into law.

What is the purpose of the bill? For what reason does our state now require women seeking an abortion to be subjected to an unnecessary, possibly invasive procedure?

Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) enlightened us on Wednesday:
Women should not be going to facilities that do not provide them full information. An ultrasound that describes their child, their unborn child, their baby -- they have a full understanding of what they’re doing. And we should not be denying them that information.”


It’s time for women to know the facts. It’s time for them to know what they’re carrying in their womb and what they’re doing.


Any clinic that’s going to rush a woman through it and not going to give her an ultrasound? That’s a clinic quite frankly I don’t want in Wisconsin because they’re not providing information for women, they’re not making this world safe and healthy for women.
Emphases added.

That’s a bold justification, and one that’s very impassioned. It’s also inaccurate, and insulting to the intelligence of women.

Wisconsin law strictly mandates that women seeking abortions GET the information about the procedure.

Women must first receive counseling before an abortion. They must be told directly about what they are doing. They must then wait 24 hours, allowing the information to sink in after that counseling before they can get the procedure done.

If, after that 24 hour period is complete, and they still want an abortion, they can get one.

Women are already mandated to receive this information -- so even the least educated person who steps into a clinic will know what’s happens when they get their abortion.

And any clinic that “rushes” women through the procedure is operating illegally in the state of Wisconsin.

Current law also grants women the choice to see an ultrasound image if they so choose. Doctors are required to give this option to their patients before the procedure begins.

Still, Lazich claims the women who want this procedure performed don’t know any better. According to her, they just need to see firsthand, whether they want to or not, to make a “proper” decision. Requiring an ultrasound, in her mind, will better “inform” them.

The truth is, women aren’t making this decision lightly. And they aren’t making it without being informed. The law -- as it stands currently, before this atrocious bill was even proposed -- requires them to be told what happens, and encourages them to seek other options.

It’s not too extreme to assume that Wisconsin Republicans think that women are dumb. If Republicans can't trust women to make an informed choice after being counseled, waiting 24 hours, being offered an ultrasound, and generally being hounded by the issue, then it's no wonder why Mary Lazich and her colleagues think women need more information in the form of an invasive ultrasound.

Wisconsin women, however, aren’t dumb. And they have memories, too.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

#NotMyWisconsin -- lack of decorum at the Capitol demonstrates how low Republicans can go

Wisconsin GOP, under Gov. Walker's leadership, is sinking our state

"I've been in the Legislature over 50 years, through different majorities and different minorities...

... and I have never experienced the abuse of power by the majority party that I experienced today."

-State Sen. Fred Risser

Wisconsin, as we know it and love it, is falling apart.

Politically speaking, Wisconsin was once considered a wonderful place, where liberals and conservatives could be bitterly divided in the Capitol, yet still have time to put aside their differences for a beer across the street on the square.

Mike Ellis loses it as he refuses to allow debate
And while being divided on the floors of the legislature, Democrats and Republicans alike still had a sense of decorum, of understanding that our differences made our state stronger.

That changed with the inauguration of Gov. Scott Walker. His attack on workers signaled a drastic departure from respectful dialogue.

Instead of finding the middle ground, Walker refused to budge on the issue of collective bargaining for state employees, preferring instead for his friends in the legislature to pass the bill in the dead of night, violating procedural rules in the process.

A lot of good compromises were offered during the protests of 2011. None were considered -- not even an offer of dialogue proposed -- by Scott Walker and his Republican allies.

The attacks didn’t end there, and the methods of passing controversial bills without consideration for the rest of the state continued. In two short years, Wisconsin Republicans have attacked health care for the poor, tax credits for minimum wage-earners, funding for public education, access and ease of voting for the citizenry, and more recently intruding on the rights of women when it comes to their reproductive health.

That’s just the short list, an abbreviated version of what state Republicans, under the leadership of Scott Walker, have done. I could go on and on with a long story of how those actions have and will cause problems for Wisconsinites down the line.

But right now, I want to focus on what happened today. The actions of Republicans in the legislature today, of ending debate abruptly, of disregarding established norms and rules of legislating, highlights the problems and difficulties that we are at odds with.

Debate was cut short, and only two lawmakers were allowed to speak, before a vote on a controversial bill took place. Senate President Mike Ellis, who broke his gavel while trying to shout down Democratic legislators’ objections, made it clear: “Sit down, you’re not recognized!”

And that’s the point, isn’t it? The Republicans refuse to recognize objections. They refuse to listen to studies, to questions from citizens and analyses from experts alike, and have tossed all reasonable discourse out the window.

Is this the Wisconsin you voted for? Is this the Republican Party that a majority a minority of Wisconsinites put into power last fall?

This most certainly isn’t the kind of government we want for our state. A legislature that doesn’t listen to its constituents, much less its own members, is a failure. More importantly, it’s an affront to democracy, and an embarrassing depiction of how far our state has fallen since Gov. Walker and his ilk have taken office.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Survey of CEOs doesn't tell the whole story

Corporate leaders predict improvement, but do their opinions reflect realities for the rest of us in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) released a survey this weekend that showed business-owners in the organization think things are going in the right direction in Wisconsin.

That shouldn’t be surprising -- WMC is one of the largest contributors to the Republican Party in the state, and has donated millions of dollars to electing Scott Walker and other like-minded conservatives to office.

While some in the media have hyped up the WMC’s “findings,” the results of the survey couldn’t be more predictable. Why would WMC members say anything different? They support Walker and his “reforms” because they benefit from it personally.

But do survey results reflect what’s actually happening in Wisconsin?

The blunt answer: No.

Take, for example, what WMC members say about economic growth and jobs over the next year (PDF). While 53 percent of CEOs expect good to moderate growth in the next six months for the state, the same numbers are reportedly having trouble hiring new employees, and don't expect to do so next year. Their excuse? More than three-in-four say it’s because the state lacks qualified candidates.

But a recent study by the UW LaFollette School of Public Affairs demonstrates that the “skills gap” claim made by the CEOs is nothing but pure fiction. In fact, Wisconsin has enough skilled workers to qualify for jobs all the way to the year 2020!

Yet, for all the pessimism on the jobs outlook, a staggering 94 percent of WMC members say that Wisconsin is headed in the right direction.

Again, however, the views of the CEOs don’t match what economic studies are telling us. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve recently ranked Wisconsin’s economy as contracting over the next six months, predicting that we will fall to become the second worst state in the country economically speaking.

While critics contend that the Philadelphia Fed study is merely a forecast, they disregard the fact that such sour predictions are already happening in Wisconsin: we’ve already dropped to a ranking 44th in the nation in terms of job growth, and our state actually saw a “mini recession” over the first three months of 2013, in addition to the stagnant growth we’ve seen previously under this current governor.

The bottom line: surveys don’t always produce a real, trustworthy analysis of what’s going on. While CEOs are probably salivating over the corporate tax breaks and personal income increases they’re likely to see over the next few years, that “optimism” is hardly a marker of what’s really happening in the state.

What’s this survey really showing us? That CEOs are tickled pink over the huge gains they’re getting at the expense of you, the average Wisconsin taxpayer.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Strong message, not a candidate, is more important for Wisconsin Dems right now

Picking a candidate too soon could cause more damage than good for DPW

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate says we don’t need a candidate for governor quite yet.
Tate said it was good that his party had not yet put forth a candidate to run against Walker. “It does us no good to give him a target to shoot at one day sooner than we should,” Tate said.
Much as it’d be nice to have a definitive candidate to build up a full year and a half before the election, Tate is absolutely right. Having a gubernatorial candidate this early would provide nothing but fodder for Republicans.

That isn’t to say the Democrats don’t have great candidates ready to take on Scott Walker. There are a handful of progressives who’d be perfect for the job, highly capable of defeating the current governor and turning the state around.

But beginning the election season so early risks tiring out the electorate months before they’re set to vote.

It also provides a person for Walker -- and his campaign donors -- to tear down long before the average Wisconsinite is even thinking about the election.

At any rate, there’s something more important that Democrats need to consider, before even picking a candidate...and that’s their message.

What do Democrats stand for? What do they want the people of Wisconsin to think of when they hear the party’s name? The DPW consistently exposes Gov. Walker’s foibles and mismanagement of our state, but beyond that the public doesn’t know much of what Democrats would offer if they had control of the legislature and the governor’s office.

To be sure, Democratic lawmakers have offered alternatives at every step of the way. But the public hardly knows what these alternatives are, and focus is given primarily to why Walker’s vision is wrong for Wisconsin.

The message the party emanates has to be clear. The people of Wisconsin won’t respond to a campaign that simply says Walker is bad. Democrats need to point out, through specific ideas, how they’d change the state for the better while simultaneously showing the dangerous path that Walker’s ideas are leading us down.

We know that both Ron Kind and Tom Barrett won’t be running for governor. That leaves a handful of other possibilities that the Democrats could put up against Walker in 2014. But here’s a suggestion: let’s wait UNTIL January 2014 to start talking about who it should be.

In the meantime, Wisconsin Democrats need to hone their message. They need to point out why Walker’s plans will hurt the people overall, but at the same time explain what they’d do different.

When that message is crafted and perfected, then a candidate who espouses that message should be considered.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A rant on the JFC, and the WI-GOP's "laser" (lackluster) focus on jobs

Republicans in Wisconsin fail to focus on issues that matter to citizenry in latest budget (and other) proposals

In the dead of night early morning, the Joint Finance Committee Republicans passed many of the controversial provisions of the Walker budget.

They voted to expand a voucher system that has never been proven, in 20 years of existence, to improve student performance.

They chose to reject federal funds for Medicaid, opting for the Walker plan that calls on spending more state taxpayer dollars while insuring less Wisconsinites.

They pushed forward a tax cut in which 60 percent of the returns will go to 20 percent of the richest Wisconsinites.

Through it all, what was missing the most in last night’s spectacle was any indication on what the Wisconsin GOP plans to do on jobs.

In fact, I have yet to hear from Republicans what parts of the budget, if any, proposed by Gov. Scott Walker will spur job growth.

The laser-like focus on jobs that Walker called for early on in his gubernatorial term has indeed faded. What proposals the GOP have brought forth (re: billions of dollars in tax cuts for corporations) have done little to nothing in terms of job creation -- Wisconsin ranked 44th in jobs according to the most recent numbers (that the Walker administration touts as "progress"), and is projected to have an even grimmer economic future in the months to come.

And what else, pray tell, have Republicans come up with in the past few days? Perhaps a REAL jobs bill that would invest in Wisconsin’s workforce?

Nope. Instead, a restrictive bill requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions.

Welcome to Wississippi.

Monday, June 3, 2013

City of Monona to fine parents of bullies

City council hopes to curb bullying by bringing concerns to bullies' homes

The City of Monona has taken a stand against bullying that may actually work...

...fine the parents if their kids are persistent bullyers.

The Monona City Council passed the measure last month (PDF), which levies fines on parents of bullies if they continually harass their peers.

It’s an unprecedented move that, so far as anyone can tell, hasn’t been adopted anywhere else in the nation.

The law wouldn’t target parents of first-time bullyers, but rather those whose children are consistent offenders. Before receiving a ticket, parents would have to be informed of a bullying incident that had occurred within the past 90 days. If the child continued to bully after the initial warning, the parents could then be fined.

Parents would receive a ticket of $114 for the first violation (following the warning), and $177 for every violation thereafter for the next year.

Does this policy goes to far? Jason Burns of Equality Wisconsin thinks not. Speaking to the Wisconsin State Journal, Burns said “[i]t forces parents to be more involved in their child’s life, if they’re not already.”

That’s certainly true: parents would be less likely to overlook their child’s behavior when an officer comes to their door warning them they could face fines if their kid keeps bullying.

They’d be even more likely to do something about it if their child’s bullying ended up costing them hundreds of dollars.

The measure may seem a bit extreme to some, but the effects of bullying can be devastating on a developing child’s psyche. Indeed, the nation is facing a bullying crisis right now that can take place on the playground or in the lunch room, as well as on the internet.

Implementing the law will have its challenges, as there are many questions that aren’t addressed by the resolution. For example, what about kids who have behavioral disorders, who cause disruptions to their peers not on purpose but through a condition that’s not always manageable?

The statute seems to address that, though indirectly. Bullying is defined as “an intentional course of conduct which is reasonably likely to intimidate, emotionally abuse, slander, threaten or intimidate another person and which serves no other purpose.” Actions that stem from behavioral disorders are not always intentional, so that may allow some leeway for kids who can’t always control their emotions or actions.

Still, others may criticize the law for furthering the “nanny state,” a conservative idiom that implies there is already too much government intrusion in our lives. This municipal code does indeed hit close to home -- the police knocking at your door for the things your kid did or said to another kid at school that day would have many parents asking, “isn’t this a bit far?”

But to prevent constant bullying, to eliminate abuse of a child at the hands of one of their peers, is the underlying goal of this policy. Getting the parents involved will be a good step in the right direction. And if the parents refuse to get involved, they themselves will get punished for their inaction.

It may seem like much -- but it might also work.