The Racine Judge and the Lincoln Hills Scandal:

Letter to editor: Judge to Walker ‘I wrote directly to you’:

Dear Governor,

Your enemies have turned the Lincoln Hills matter into a personal attack against you. You and I know my letter to you was written to highlight a most grievous system failure, to hopefully prompt a full inquiry and cause change. I was neither enraged nor angry but deeply concerned that the system, and Lincoln Hills in particular, had failed the young man from Racine.

It appeared that the victim had been punished, that a most-serious crime had been marginalized, that a so-what attitude prevailed. My inquires to the administration there were met with silence. And so I wrote directly to you, attaching the very thorough and detailed report, anticipating that my communication would be acted upon by, at the least, the Department of Corrections administrator.

It has taken some time, but I am pleased that it now appears things may change.

Respectfully,

Richard J. Kreul
Corpus Christi, Texas (formerly of Racine)

For anyone not familiar with this issue: click here

The State of Scott Walker’s State

Four quick hits from Saturday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel alone…where Mr. Unintimidated distances himself for his own administration:

Scott Walker insists his office follows open records law (well except when they tell staff not to)

Scott Walker defends handling of Lincoln Hills complaints (except nobody handled much of anything)

Scott Walker repays state for travel costs, larger bill to come (and who does the billing? Why Governor Walker’s Department of Administration!)

Problems with massive state IT project cause payments delays (I find it disturbing that the Walker administration did not share this information with the legislative oversight committee,” (Rep Peter) Barca said. “Legislators and taxpayers deserve to know about the problems and costs occurring in the STAR project implementation.”

What Are All Of Those Job Creators Doing With Their Tax Savings

Well they aren’t spending it on research and development or their companies’ futures or new job opportunities or anything of substance. As a matter of fact it seems that investment in research and development is heading for an all time low. Instead they think they can continue to cannibalize the market share of their competitors!

A new survey of manufacturers has found that almost a third of the companies spent less than 1% of sales on research and development for new products.

Nearly 40% of the 116 manufacturers surveyed across the nation viewed increased share in existing product markets as their top growth opportunity.

The survey from Sikich LLP, a Naperville, Ill.-based accounting and consulting firm, covered companies with annual revenue from $1 million to more than $100 million.

“Many manufacturers continue to adopt a cautious approach to growth. But while a focus on existing markets presents less risk, it won’t sustain manufacturers forever. Eventually, companies will need to become more aggressive and invest in new markets and products to drive differentiation and future success,” said Jim Wagner, the Milwaukee-based partner-in-charge of Sikich’s manufacturing and distribution practice.

Yeah, but I was told that all we needed to do was give more money to the ‘job creators’ and they would create jobs? What happened between the governor’s office and the shop floor?

Wisconsin GOP Legislators Are Totally Intimidated

Just think, the Republican legislature gets to go out on the road and present defend their proposed 2015 – 2017 budget. One of the sticking points in this budget is the $300 million cuts to the renowned University of Wisconsin System. And of course one of the places where they are holding public hearings on the budget is the City of Milwaukee, home of the states second largest campus, the one that educates more Wisconsin residents than any other in the system.

But those very same legislators, who talk a good game while they are in Madison, don’t talk so tough when they have to visit the big city. In fact they are doing absolutely everything in their power to avoid confrontation and actually meeting with those people most affected: the faculty, staff and students from UW-Milwaukee:

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee often takes second place to its big sister campus in Madison in research and academic status, despite having many excellent programs of its own.

But one place UWM doesn’t need to concede is resident enrollment. UWM enrolls more Wisconsin born-and-raised undergrads than even Madison, and many more than any other university in the state. UWM is the school that teaches more Wisconsin young adults than any other, and more of those graduates stay in Wisconsin, and live and work and pay taxes here.

So, as Gov. Scott Walker proposes $300 million in funding cuts across the University of Wisconsin System over the next two years, and the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is obliged to hold daylong regional hearings on his budget proposal, you might suppose that the faculty, staff and students of the largest undergraduate school in the state would have something to say.

I’m sure they do. But will they be able to?

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is holding four regional hearings across Wisconsin. For the Southeast Region, dominated by Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest city and its educational and economic engine of manufacturing and growth, that hearing will be held Friday, during work hours, at Alverno College, a Catholic women’s school, on the far south side, while UWM is on spring break.

Many faculty and staff and most students of UWM will not even be in town when this hearing is held. They will be vacationing or spending time with family or friends. If they don’t go on vacation, they will go home, which is what you do on spring break. Most don’t hang around a deserted campus for political purposes.

Way to go Joint Finance Committee…way to actually give the public voice a fair hearing. What a bunch of chicken shit nonsense.

Wisconsin Progressives Need To Make Up Their Mind

After Mary Burke announced her candidacy for governor in 2013, the pundits and progressives across the blogosphere and social media were heard weeping, whining and gnashing their teeth about the hand picked candidate of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Everyone wanted anyone but the anointed Ms. Burke.

Some of us suggested that those unhappy should recruit their own candidate. Dozens of names of other elected officials were bandied about in hopes they could be coaxed to run. Russ Feingold, Peter Barca, etc. Finally Brett Hulsey threw his hat and fake confederate uniform in the ring and a primary season circus was on.

And the progressives lamented that the party was preventing other candidates to enter the fray…and doing everything possible to clear the way for Ms. Burke. Maybe…maybe not. But my guess is most other elected officials didn’t want to get involved in the lost cause of unseating the incumbent, Governor Scott Walker. Probably a wise move…but I digress a bit.

Of course the loss to Governor Walker is wholly the fault of a forced candidate picked by the party.

And just over a week ago there was the meet and greet with a question and answer period for three of the four candidates for chair of the DPW. Zach posted a few comments about this event earlier.

During the event more than a few attendees complained that the party didn’t recruit enough qualified candidates across the state. That the 72 county strategy was a failure because the party didn’t recruit a democrat to oppose the GOP candidate every available race in 2014. Hmmmm.

So, first the candidate perceived to have been recruited by the party to run for governor was tainted because she was recruited by the party? But across the state the party didn’t recruit candidates? Recruit or not recruit?

Wisconsin progressives, you gotta make up your mind!

Don’t Blame The Voters? WTF?

A letter to the editor in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggested that the voters weren’t at fault for the gridlock in Madison or Washington. Really? Although some valid points are raised in the letter (see link above and full text below)…the fact that we are dissatisfied with our elected officials by a wide margin…14% approval rating for Congress?…we pretty much sent all of the incumbents back to both Washington and Madison…so we will reap what we as voters have sown. The overall dysfunction is squarely on our shoulders for how we voted and even more heavily on the shoulders of those of us who didn’t vote.

Editorial Page Editor David D. Haynes raises some interesting views on why our national and state political landscapes are so polarized (“Thoughts on a house divided,” Opinion, Jan. 2).

However, concluding that we, the electorate, should stop blaming politicians because they are “only holding a mirror up to us” seems unfair at best.

The electorate does not allow corporate interests to control our vote; care more about our own job security than the social and economic welfare of those we swear to represent; insist on party loyalty at the expense of sound public policy; limit the power of one-person/one-vote by gerrymandering ridiculous political districts while attempting to repress voters with draconian registration requirements; restrict economic options by refusing to tie the minimum wage to inflation; clog our prisons with severe mandatory sentencing laws that perpetuate a bloated, wasteful, criminal justice system and disproportionately incarcerate people of color and our most marginalized neighbors; prioritize repression over education; etc., etc., etc.

Might the electorate be more informed and less preoccupied with mindless diversions? Sure. But for any journalist to say we should not blame politicians more than ourselves for the divisiveness that dominates our legislative, judicial and executive branches is tantamount to insisting on a fair game of cards while continuing to allow the dealer to deal from the bottom of a stacked deck.

Philip Nero

Shorewood

Serving Wisconsin: Retiring Senators Offer Wisdom From Senator Vinehout

This email missive from State Senator Kathleen Vinehout arrived in my in box yesterday. It’s a little wisdom and maybe a bit of foreboding about our future under the dome in Madison. But as we turn another page on politics in Wisconsin, I thought it worth sharing with you!

“There is a yearning outside the Capitol for common sense, cooperation and compromise,” Senator Tim Cullen told his fellow Senators. “You all know how to do this if you’ve been married for more than 15 days.”

As 2014 comes to a close, so do the public careers of several extraordinary Senators. I listened carefully as these public servants delivered farewell speeches on the Senate floor. The wisdom shared by three great men comes from a cumulative 80 years of experience that spanned four decades.

“We came because we care,” Republican Senator Dale Schulz told his colleagues. “I ran for public office because I felt called.”

“We’re on this earth to help others,” said Democratic Senator Cullen who also served in Governor Thompson’s Republican administration as Secretary of Health.

“Our obligation is to empower the people; not to avoid them because they are of a different political persuasion,” said Democratic Senator Bob Jauch. “We are the caretakers of the public trust. We serve in the people’s place.”

Empower the people is certainly what Senator Jauch accomplished. This year the Pepin-based Flyway Film Festival presented the film Wisconsin’s Mining Standoff, which prominently features Senator Jauch and his work to empower local people and protect the natural resources of our state.

Senator Jauch joined Senators Cullen and Schulz in drafting an iron ore-mining bill that addressed the stated concerns of the mining company while respecting the local people’s wishes, the Native American tribes’ role and the federal regulator’s requirements. Although the carefully crafted bill didn’t pass, the work stands as one of the last great bipartisan achievements.

It’s not surprising as all three men retire, the lessons they share relate to the value of working together and the dangers of partisanship and ideology.

“[We should] lift up ideas, not ideology. Ideology stifles thought,” said Cullen.

“Our history is not written on partisanship, but on partnership,” said Jauch. “Politics ought to be the practice of solving problems.

“We have to quit asking ourselves which team we’re on. I’m on the people’s team,” shared Schultz. “Partisanship is a lens not a straightjacket. We’ve got to stop thinking of the other side as the enemy.”

Senator Schultz expanded on the idea of ‘who the real enemy is’ in a Wisconsin State Journal story:

“Here’s how I see the enemy. The enemy is poverty in a country and a state that has no business having kids and families go to sleep hungry at night or in their cars.”

“The enemy is unemployment and underemployment, because nobody asked an employer advertising a good job if they were R or Ds, they were just thankful to get a job that gave them worth and put food on the table.”

“The enemy is those who encourage an undereducated citizenry. Education is the key to helping give people a hand up and a better future.”

“The most dangerous enemy of all…is the enemy closest to us. It lives with us and within us. The real enemy is fear. We fear what we do not understand. We fear those who are different. We fear losing what we have.”

“When we take away our masks, and face each other…without judgment, fear of loss or recrimination, then we can begin to listen, we can begin to talk, and then we can begin to build a better future.”

All three Senators speak about the dangerous trend of allowing outside groups to take power that should be reserved for the people and about elected officials representing the people’s interests.

“’We the people’ has been substituted with ‘we the privileged,’” said Jauch.

“Be careful of accepting support from powerful groups,” warned Cullen. “You may think you have your hands in their pockets but in the end, they have their hands in your pockets. The best thing we can do is to say ‘no’ to our friends.”

Senator Schultz summed it up well, “When some think tank comes up with the legislation and tells you not to fool with it, why are you even a legislator anymore? You just sit there and take votes and you’re kind of a feudal serf for folks with a lot of money.”

Thank you for your service gentlemen. We are humbled in your shadow.

Right To Work In The Badger State

Anyone reading this blog won’t be surprised to hear that I am vehemently opposed to Right To Work legislation. Nor that I am not particularly happy about the events from the past week or so that have lead to this particular blog.

The first shot across the bows of Wisconsin labor came on Monday December 1st, when it was announced that Lorri Pickens, a former employee of various stripes for Americans for Prosperity, was organizing Wisconsin Right To Work. Ms. Pickens of course intends to lobby Madison lawmakers in support of right to work legislation in Wisconsin. During the recent campaign, the Republicans essentially took the position that Right To Work legislation wasn’t on their radar, so it is not wholly surprising that someone would want to lobby in favor.

And then before the ink is even dry on their letterhead, State Representative Chris Kapenga (R – Delafield) promised to introduce a right to work bill in the legislature.

And then, on Thursday December 4th, fearing the state senate might get left behind in right to work herohood, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R – Juneau) said there was no way that the topic could be avoided.

So essentially in a month’s time…from the November 4th election when Right to Work hadn’t crossed our mind…to December 4th when Right to Work legislation had become inevitable!

Fitzgerald first raised his proposal with conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes of WTMJ-AM (620), and then later Thursday discussed it with statehouse reporters. It was a complete shift from the rhetoric of Republicans who in the months leading up to the November election called the issue a distraction and insisted it was not a priority.

As bad as it is on the face of it, there are some really heinous activities within the right’s Right to Work discussions.

First is Senator Fitzgerald’s claim that the discussion is inevitable and that it should be taken up in the Senate before the Assembly…when there has been no movement in the Senate to introduce a bill and the assembly bill so far is still just a gleam in Representative Kapenga’s right eye.

“We can’t tiptoe through this session without addressing this,” Fitzgerald told Sykes on Thursday. “We’re not tackling this six months from now. We’re not tackling this a year from now. … There’s no way we avoid this issue. We have to deal with this issue right now.”

Fitzgerald said he would be willing to have the Senate vote first on the measure. Given that the backing for it is stronger in the state Assembly, the majority leader’s remarks signaled that support for the idea among conservative lawmakers could be too great to stop.

But I do find a bit of humor in this statement from the senator:

“It’s my opinion it has to come up early” in the session that begins in January, Fitzgerald told reporters. “I don’t know how we get through the session without having this debate.”

It seems to me that as Senate Majority Leader, Senator Fitzgerald should be able to quash just about any legislative initiative before it ever reaches the actual state senate for consideration…so when he says he doesn’t know how to avoid the debate he is either lying or…well he’s just lying.

But well and good…so far this is Republican politics in Madison as usual…the same sleight of hand that we’ve seen the past four years…distract and confuse…divide and conquer. We pretty much knew this was coming despite the Republican denials on the campaign trail.

But here’s where it really gets interesting. Just like the police and fire unions were left out of the betrayals of public employees built into Act 10…unions who supported Governor Walker in 2010…they are now looking for ways to insulate the private unions that supported them in 2014…divide and conquer at it’s most blatant…or maybe it’s another hand of pay to play?:

Nearly four years after mostly eliminating collective bargaining for public workers, Republicans are considering putting limits on most private-sector unions while giving an unprecedented exemption to the labor groups that support them politically.

One key impediment to passing such legislation has been the support Republicans have received from a few private-sector unions, including the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139, whose members run the heavy equipment used to build roads and other infrastructure.

Thursday, Fitzgerald said Republicans could exempt the operating engineers, pipe fitters and certain other trade unions from any bill. But he also conceded that this approach could make the law more vulnerable to a legal challenge.

“We don’t know yet what can or can’t be done. If you asked three attorneys — three labor attorneys — what would or wouldn’t work, you’d get three different answers,” he said.

So they want to punish those unions who opposed the election of Governor Walker and the Republicans in the legislature while rewarding the unions who provided them with support. And they are brazen enough to discuss it openly even when the most dullard among them think it might actually be illegal.

Meanwhile, across the rotunda, the governor is sticking to his position that Right To Work legislation isn’t a priority…in fact it’s a distraction:

A day after a top Republican lawmaker announced he wanted to take up so-called right-to-work legislation early next year, Gov. Scott Walker said the move would detract from his attempts to cut taxes and make schools more accountable.

“My position has been — it’s hasn’t changed — I think it’s a distraction,” the GOP governor told Capitol reporters.

Too late governor…it’s already a distraction…if you can’t rein in your cohorts I assume you are paying RTW lip service…and are not actually opposed to the idea!

Update: Correcting Rep. Kapenga’s home from Brookfield to Delafield>

DPW Chair Mike Tate Wants To Hear From You!

From the inbox comes this missive from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s Chairman, Mike Tate:

Thanks for your membership in the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and your work on behalf of Democratic candidates this fall. Even though the midterm elections were hard on Democrats in Wisconsin and around the country, we should all be proud of the work we put in. We fought hard and left it all out on the field.

Now that the dust has settled, I wanted to reach out for your feedback. I’m especially interested in hearing from members and activists like you – the backbone of this Party. Through constructive dialogue and analysis, I believe the Party will come out of this election stronger and more organized than ever before.

A committee has been formed to identify what worked well this campaign cycle and what can be improved for future elections. Our 2nd Vice Chair, Jeff Christensen, will head up this committee comprised of members, activists, county party leaders, and congressional district officers.

Jeff and the Election Review Committee would appreciate receiving feedback from as many people as possible. Please click here to complete a feedback form. All submissions will be sent to the committee for analysis.

Thank you for your continued support and dedication.

Forward,

Mike Tate
Chair, Democratic Party of Wisconsin

Although this letter is addressed to a party member, the questionnaire in the links asks if you are a party member or not…so if you have some CONSTRUCTIVE criticism for the party…please feel free to submit your ideas.

Dave Obey: Democrats’ problems more national than local

In an opinion piece published yesterday, former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey shared his view that the problems that led to the lackluster election results here in Wisconsin on November 4th were more a product of poor messaging on the part of the national Democratic Party, and not because of the failures of Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

There is no question that when a political party suffers losses of the magnitude experienced by the Democratic Party on Nov. 4 a serious review of events and operations is required.

But if we are to draw the right lessons from those losses, we first should heed the well-known physician’s warning: “first do no harm.” Such a review must be rooted in pragmatic analysis, not predictable scapegoating.

That is why I have significant concerns about a number of comments I have seen since the election that suggest the culprit is Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

I have no doubt that the mechanics of the state party effort need to be reviewed and analyzed. In fact, Tate will certify that I have been a long-term nag on that score. But it is essential to put things in perspective.

So let me ask several questions:

Does anyone seriously believe that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman has the slightest capacity to overcome the weaknesses of the national Democratic message on the central issue of sagging wages and expanding income disparity? In fact, week after week, the national Democratic Party was knocked off stride as numerous issues — the Islamic State group, immigration, Ebola — pushed the economy, wages and jobs into the back seat. If the White House and national party leadership could not regain focus on those issues, why is that the fault of any state party chair?

Having read the post-election thoughts of Dave Obey, John Nichols, and a host of others, I’ve come to realize that while I’m certainly angry and upset at the results of the 2014 elections here in Wisconsin, my blame of Mike Tate as the main culprit behind the lackluster results of the 2014 elections was misplaced. It’s clear there’s plenty of blame to be shared by Mike Tate, the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee (ADCC), the State Senate Democratic Committee (SSDC), and a host of other folks within the political establishment in Wisconsin.