Friday, February 28, 2014

Let's abolish the death penalty, once and for all

We should resist efforts to restore the death penalty in Wisconsin, and work to end it elsewhere

When it comes to the death penalty, Wisconsin has stood against it for over a century and a half. And rightfully so.

Evidence continues to surface that some felons who were put to death may have been wrongly convicted. Their innocence could have exonerated them in life, but once punished there is nothing that can be done to restore justice.

There have been a few attempts to bring the death penalty back to Wisconsin in recent years, which was abolished in 1853, our state being the second in the nation to end the practice.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Which Richard Nixon remedy will Gov. Walker choose?

Will Gov. Scott Walker have his "Checkers" moment, or will he treat emails like Watergate?

How will Gov. Walker handle the John Doe emails?
Gov. Scott Walker is avoiding answering any questions that have to do with the recent release of emails relating to the John Doe investigation (the first one).

He’s called the issue “old news,” despite the fact that the emails were just released last week. He refuses to answer any questions because he says it will lead to a “slippery slope” line of questioning: “Once you start on one thing, then there's hundreds of questions on each of those,” said Walker.

That’s sort of the point, however: there are a number questions that citizens of this state want answered. Whether Walker supplies an answer or not is up to him: but a “slippery slope” isn’t created by answering a few of the bigger questions, which are out there and remain unanswered either way.

The way I see it, Walker has two options to chose from, both of which are formulated from another Republican figure from generations ago: Richard Nixon.

In 1952, as he was running as a candidate for Vice President, Nixon was embroiled in a scandal involving improper use of campaign funds. He took to the television airwaves, and delivered what is known as the “Checkers speech.” He explained what he knew, when he knew it, and what he did about the improper actions of those who were involved in the controversy.

As president two decades later, Nixon was embroiled in the Watergate controversy. So troubled and so secretive was he about his knowledge on the issue that the mere mention of Nixon’s name (more than four decades later) remains synonymous with corruption and deceit.

Which type of “Nixon” Scott Walker chooses to be is up to him. In answering the questions, he has a chance to decently present his answers to our inquiries in a meaningful way, one that could satisfy a lot of people’s curiosities. Or, he can choose to ignore the issue altogether, comparing it to a political witch-hunt against him, disregarding legitimate concerns of the citizens of Wisconsin.

We deserve to hear from the governor himself what went on in his offices during his time as county executive. If he chooses to ignore us, he only has himself to blame for whatever political fallout is created.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Scott Walker and the Republican Governors Association hope you're stupid, gullible, or both

RGA trots out tired line in campaign ad that has been debunked several times over

Every time the Republicans of this state repeat a line about jobs lost under former Gov. Jim Doyle, they are hoping that your intelligence isn’t high enough to understand events from recent history.

You should know the line by now -- current Gov. Scott Walker and his surrogates have repeated it often enough that it would be impossible to have not heard it by now. It goes like this: under Doyle, we lost more than 130,000 jobs. On first hearing this tidbit of information, yes, that DOES sound troubling, and it immediately causes the listener to agree with the equation the Wisconsin GOP is trotting out:
Doyle laid out a liberal platform.
Wisconsin lost 130,000 jobs.
Therefore, liberal policies like Doyle’s = BAD BAD BAD!!!
The equation, of course, is flawed: it assumes wrongly that the 130,000 jobs lost were due to the policies Doyle enacted, when in actuality those losses came about at a time when there was a global economic catastrophe.

But here’s the kicker: in the last 12 months of Jim Doyle’s term in office, Wisconsin gained 33,658 jobs, a rate that is equivalent to what was Gov. Walker’s best December-to-December year gain.

So how is it that the “failed” policies of the Doyle administration turned out essentially the same outcomes as the “wildly successful” gains under Walker? How are Scott Walker's policies supposedly better when the policies of Jim Doyle created an equivalent recovery rate? The Wisconsin GOP has yet to provide a sufficient answer to that.

So they’ve come up with a better one: ignoring it completely, and focusing on the losses (but not the reasons) incurred during the previous administration.

Now, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) is airing an ad which, in part, repeats that same line -- only this time, they’re trying to link current gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke to the 130,000 jobs lost.

What’s crazy about this is that Burke, who was in the Doyle administration from February 2005 to November 2007, wasn’t even in office when the job losses occurred. In fact, during her time in office Wisconsin saw an increase of more than 72,000 employed citizens, and an increase of 48,400 jobs.

That doesn’t stop the RGA from stating, point blank, that “Burke was a senior member of the Doyle administration that left Wisconsin with 130,000 fewer jobs.” They even cite PolitiFact in their video as proof!

But here’s something worth noting: that same PolitiFact article that the RGA is citing rated the claim “Mostly False” since it disregarded the recession and recovery of the Doyle administration.In other words, the RGA is citing an article that disproves the very claim they're trying to make.

Here’s PolitiFact’s official rating (emphasis mine):

[Walker’s] correct about the number. But experts agree that Wisconsin’s economy was caught in the same economic crash that crippled the entire country -- the recession was deeper and more severe than any single state’s policies, including those of Doyle.

They note that Wisconsin actually fared somewhat better than the rest of the country [during the recession]. This leaves us with a statement that’s numerically true, but with scant evidence at best when it comes to blame. That’s Mostly False on our meter.
This leaves us to ponder: do they think we’re dumb? Do the Republicans of this state, and moreover the national Republican Governors Association, think we can’t piece together recent history to understand that these losses can’t be blamed on Burke, for not just one but two reasons (the recession, and her being out of office at the time)?

We can only assume that the RGA, the Wisconsin GOP, and Scott Walker are banking their re-election hopes on you being stupid, gullible, or both. It’s up to you to show them, at the ballot box this fall, that you’re smarter than they give you credit for.

Friday, February 14, 2014

This Valentine's Day, commit to supporting same-sex marriage rights in Wisconsin

Constitutional restrictions on marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples should be overturned

Several states, including many so-called “red” states, have recently had their bans on same-sex marriage overturned by federal lawsuits. Though many of these cases have appeals yet to be heard, it’s clear that the tide of change is trending towards acceptance and even celebration of marriage rights nationwide for gay and lesbian couples.

Wisconsin itself has a ban on same-sex marriage, passed by voters in 2006 in a constitutional referendum. Although 59 percent of the state approved of the ban (in a non-presidential election year), more than half of the state’s residents now support extending the right to marry for same-sex couples, according to polling done late last year.

Wisconsinites are starting to understand: there is no harm created in allowing these marriages to occur. The justifications against extending these rights to these couples are without merit, and to deny this recognition is truly an injustice that needs to be remedied.

This week, Democratic lawmakers sought to repeal the ban by introducing a proposal to repeal the 2006 constitutional amendment. They do so without much possibility of success: they are the minority party in the legislature, and Republicans have made no indication of wanting to change their platform to one of accepting gay and lesbian couples’ marriages as valid in the state. But on this Valentine’s Day, it’s still an important move to make.

Repeal of the constitutional ban will come one of two separate ways: either the law will be found unconstitutional by federal courts, or the state of Wisconsin itself can overturn the ban without the need for judicial intervention. For a state with a motto of “Forward,” it should be a no-brainer -- we shouldn’t have to wait for the courts to decide for us. We should decide for ourselves, repeal the ban, and allow same-sex marriages to occur within our borders.

The Republicans in the legislature should support a positive change to the state constitution. If they don’t, they should be rightly replaced with lawmakers who will.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Text of Mary Burke's speech to Dane County Democrats

Candidate for governor comes out swinging for minimum wage increase, restoration of funds for education, and relevant job growth for the state

Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke spoke at the Dane County Dems meeting last night. Below is a transcript of what she said. It was a very inspiring speech, and very progressive-leaning. It should cause many skeptics to reconsider their doubt of the candidate, and to support Burke in her quest to unseat Gov. Scott Walker.

Well thank you. It is my pleasure to be here and I appreciate you coming out on a cold night, although it seems almost balmy today for Wisconsin. (Laughter) I’m just going to take a little time to tell you who I am, what I believe in, and why I’m running.

Why I’m running is pretty simple: I love Wisconsin. We’re a great state, we have great people, and we have incredible potential. And we deserve a lot better. (Applause)

We deserve a better economy with more good paying jobs. If you look right next door in Minnesota, they’ve gotten back all of the jobs that they lost in 2008, and more. And yet, we’re still clawing our way back. We’re growing our economy at a rate that’s half the national average. So we deserve a better economy and more jobs.

We deserve a stronger commitment to public education. (Applause) All of us here know how important our K12 system, our technical college system, and our universities are. They are the fabric of our communities, and they are the foundation of our economy.

And we deserve better leadership. We deserve leadership that brings us together because that’s how we do our best work, and leadership that puts problem-solving ahead of the politics. I am deeply concerned about the direction that we’re headed, and I’m afraid if we have four more years of this partisan, divisive, politics-first type of leadership, I’m not going to recognize the state that I know and I love so deeply.

I’m a fourth-generation Wisconsinite. My great-grandparents were farmers. My grandfather was a mailman, and in fact 50 years ago he delivered the mail to the house that I live in today. My mom was the first in her family to go to college, and my dad started a business in a barn in Waterloo, Wisconsin: Trek Bicycles, which has become an international success. I’m really proud of the role that I played in Trek’s success. I have a 30-year track record of bringing people together to solve problems.

After graduating from college, I earned my MBA. I then started my own business. I then joined Trek Bicycle. My dad used to joke that he’d hire his kids because we’d work twice as hard and he’d pay us half as much. (Laughter) The only problem was that it wasn’t just a joke with him, that’s what he did! (Laughter)

The division that I ran at Trek, we increased sales from $3 million to over $50 million in a few short years. That was selling great Wisconsin products all over the world, which meant more good-paying jobs right here in Wisconsin.

After I left Trek, I led the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. We helped small businesses grow, helped entrepreneurs get started, and we stepped in when there were companies that were in trouble that would have affected the entire community.

One day I got a call from Park Falls. I was told the mill was closing, and anyone here who’s been to Park Falls knows what 300 jobs in the mill would do if they were lost. It was not only 300 families that would be affected, it was the city of Park Falls and that whole region.

So I brought together local business people, our city and county officials, people from the mill, our Commerce staff, and I said, ‘Let’s hammer out a plan that’s going to get that mill back up and running.’ And you know what? We did. (Applause)

That was seven years ago, and this summer I was driving through Park Falls, and I looked over at the mill, and I saw smoke coming out of the smoke stack, and it hit me pretty hard. Because I knew that those were 300 people that have been able to support their families, and make ends meet, because of the good work that we did when we brought people together to solve problems.

That’s the way we have to address the issues that we are facing here in Wisconsin. You know, when I was Commerce Secretary, we had tens of thousands of more jobs in Wisconsin than we have today. But we have a governor who is more concerned with advancing his own career than he is with putting people back to work. (Applause)

And he’s more concerned with destroying public education than with improving it. (Applause) After I left the Department of Commerce, I founded an education program. This was to open doors for teens for low-income families so that they would be able to graduate and go to college, many of them the first in their families to do that.

We now have over 650 teens in this program across all four Madison high schools, we’ve had our first graduating class in June, it was 85 students, and 92 percent of them entered college in the fall. (Applause) They were successful because they worked hard, they had people in the schools who believed in them, and we brought people together to provide the types of supports to overcome their barriers.

When we come together, we do our best work, and we can overcome the challenges. I call it the Wisconsin way.

I know what it takes to create jobs and I know how to improve education, and that’s how we’re going to get Wisconsin on the path to prosperity. As governor, I am going to fight every single day for what matters most to the people of Wisconsin, and put the common sense solutions ahead of the divisive politics and the special interests.

As governor, I will work to ensure women’s freedom to make their own health care choices (Applause) and to ensure all people’s freedom to marry who they choose. (Applause)

I will work to restore collective bargaining rights for our public sector employees (Applause) along with the respect they deserve for the job that they do every day. (Applause)

I will work to roll back the statewide voucher expansion and to hold all schools accountable. (Applause)

I will work to protect our natural resources, including our air and water, and not let mining companies write our environmental regulations. (Applause)

I will work to raise the minimum wage so people who work hard can support themselves. (Applause)

And I will work to ensure every child has access to quality, affordable, public education, and that our schools have the funding to thrive. (Applause)

There is a lot of work to do. But if we stand together, we can bring back the pride that we all feel so deeply in Wisconsin. I would not have gotten into this race if I did not have a game plan for winning. I know it won’t be easy, but I have put together a team that knows how to win. I’ve committed to raising the money that will be needed to win, and I know the people of Wisconsin who want a change in leadership are ready to work hard.

But we should not underestimate what it is going to take. Walker’s game plan is to raise tens of millions of dollars from out-of-state billionaires and to buy this governorship. They will throw at me every lie and every dirty trick in the book. But the tougher they get, the tougher I get. (Applause)

But I need each and every one of you to stand tough with me. It means boots on the ground to have the best non-presidential turnout year ever. (Applause) And it means every person who believes we need a change in leadership contributing what they can. That is more powerful than even the richest of Walker’s supporters. A hundred thousand people, each donating $10 a month from now until November, means $10 million. (Applause)

So I ask you tonight to go home, to go to, and sign up to do $10 per month -- or more if you can (Laughter) -- and then send emails to everyone you know, and get ten more people to sign up. Challenge your friends, your family, your coworkers to do the same. $10 a month is all it’s going to take.

The future of Wisconsin is at stake. This is a battle. It’s between those that believe that the goal is big corporate profits versus those that believe that the goal is a strong, growing middle class. Let’s show them who’s right. Thank you. (Applause)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Why the Walker/Burke campaign contributions reports may be good news for Dems

Mary Burke’s average monthly in-state contributions match Gov. Walker’s

The latest campaign finance reports are causing a bit of a stir. Upon closer inspection, however, looks can be deceiving.

Gov. Scott Walker walloped his Democratic rival, Mary Burke, by a margin of nearly $8.4 million to $1.8 million in campaign contributions for the year. That should give everyone on the left reason to feel uneasy, but let’s break it down a bit more.

The numbers are for the entirety of 2013. Burke wasn’t a candidate for office until October. So, her $1.8 million was for October, November, and December.

Walker, on the other hand, has been raising campaign funds for all twelve months. That $8.4 million, then, averages out to about $700,000 per month. Burke’s $1.8 million is about $600,000 per month.

It gets even better when you factor in the out-of-state versus in-state money. Gov. Walker received $4.4 million in out-of-state dollars in 2013 -- roughly 54 percent of his total fundraising, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Candidate Burke, on the other hand, received just $180,000 in out-of-state monies, just shy of ten percent.

Taking those amounts out of their totals brings both Walker and Burke to about $4 million and $1.6 million in in-state contributions, respectively. Remember, though, that Burke had contributed $400,000 of her own to her campaign, bringing her down to about $1.2 million from in-state contributors, not counting herself.

That still gives Walker a huge lead, but once again, let’s remember: his totals are over a twelve-month period. Burke’s on the other hand, are over a three-month period.

The outcome? The in-state contribution totals that Walker received in 2013 on average (per month) was approximately $333,333. Mary Burke’s in-state contribution totals for the three months in 2013 she was collecting averaged approximately $400,000. In short, Burke’s in-state monthly contribution average was higher than Walker’s.

There are many problems with our campaign finance system, and those need to be addressed. But this information should cause those on the left to breathe a small sigh of relief, knowing that more in-state contributions -- and thus, more financial support from real Wisconsinites -- went to Mary Burke, on average, versus Scott Walker, per month.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why the need for a lawsuit? Just repeal marriage ban already!

Governor and Attorney General set to waste taxpayers' time, money, defending a ridiculous law that nobody wants anymore

A group of same-sex couples in Wisconsin are suing to have their marriage rights recognized by the state (PDF). Citing the 14th Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses, the couples have made a reasonable argument for reversing the state constitutional amendment that bars same-sex marriages and unions substantially similar to marriage.

Previous efforts to sue on the matter have failed in state courts. This lawsuit differs from those earlier cases, however, because it moves the issue of Wisconsin’s marriage ban to federal courts.

But here’s an idea: instead of wasting taxpayer dollars defending the law, let’s just repeal the state ban altogether.

Polling numbers from October (PDF) show that a good majority of Wisconsinites (53 percent) support marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. Much more than that, another quarter of residents believe that these couples should at least be given civil union rights, a title that’s not as protective as marriage but still grants at least some of the benefits. Only 19 percent think there shouldn’t be any recognition of rights to gay and lesbian partners.

So while conservative lawmakers like Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen pledge to fight the lawsuit against the ban, the citizens of Wisconsin are steadfastly opposed to the ban itself by a rate of nearly 4-to-1.

But that’s not the sole reason to support repeal. The rights and privileges that gay and lesbian couples deserve to have is reason enough.

The same rationale that grants state couples the right to marry applies to same-sex couples: A loving couple, comprised of two individuals hoping to build a life together, wishes to enter a contractual agreement that bestows certain privileges to one another. The state recognizes this contract, and enforces it through the appropriate laws and regulations.

There’s nothing to say that the same type of recognition can’t be granted to same-sex partners. Where is the harm? Who is substantially hurt in granting marriage licenses to same-sex partners? It certainly isn’t the state, who would readily grant these same individuals marriage licenses if they had been born straight. And it’s certainly not other married couples, or those who are not yet married, who in no way are affected by the actions of others seeking recognition.

There is no reason why same-sex marriage should be banned in the first place. The constitutional ban in 2006 is now irrelevant, a stain on our state’s history, and an unpopular piece of policy in the minds of today’s citizens. We ought to work to repeal the law, and the first step in that process is to demand the legislature take up the issue today.