Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
Another year is almost over. As in the past, we review the year by selecting 2014's political winners and losers. With the off-year elections, this has been a pretty eventful 12 months. After much heated debate among the Just Sayin' staff, here are our choices:
It took Scott Walker less than a month to repudiate everything that he ran on during his re-election campaign. It seems that he was willing to say and do anything to keep his job.
There has seldom been a more disgusting and craven exploitation of a tragedy than the 2-year GOP fixation with the Benghazi terrorist attack. Fox "News", echoed by the rest of the far-right media bubble, has fabricated lie after lie in a shamefully partisan attempt to discredit the US President and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
One of the big unknowns from the recent election is exactly what the Senate Republicans will do with their new and temporary majority. What laws will they pass? What will they do
to for America?
Last week, we saw the absolute worst in Wisconsin politics. In their desperation, the Scott Walker campaign hit a moral low that brings shame to our state. We got a close look at the kind of people Walker surrounds himself with. We saw the depths to which they will stoop in a desperate attempt to cling to power.
During Tuesday's election, you will choose the future of path of Wisconsin. You will select the person who will lead our state as Governor for the next four years (well, maybe just two) .The contrast between the two major party gubernatorial candidates has never been more stark and clear-cut.
A lot has happened in Wisconsin's gubernatorial race during the last week. Much of the news has been bad for the incumbent.
During Friday night's gubernatorial debate, Scott Walker mentioned Jim Doyle fully nine times and "the previous administration" many more. Walker blamed Doyle for everything from his own endless delay of the Kenosha casino decision to his own abysmal jobs record. I was just waiting for Doyle to get blamed for kicking Walker out of Marquette, for Walker's illegal campaign coordination with dark money groups, and for Walker cutting public education more than any other US governor.
School board elections matter. There have been several recent examples of what can happen to suburban schools when a group of far-right extremists takes over their board. In Jefferson County, Colorado, a 3-2 board majority tried to re-write the AP US History course to reflect their desired interpretation of reality. The board wanted to avoid lessons that discuss "civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law". They wanted to promote lessons that focus on the benefits of the free enterprise system, American exceptionalism, and respect for authority.
Actual American history is filled with stories of patriots who have questioned authority, stood up to injustice, and righted society's wrongs. After all, Elizabeth II is not our queen and Texas is not still part of Mexico. Women can now vote, and we no longer have separate water fountains or a 60-hour work week. Ironically, the board has somewhat backed-off on their plan to whitewash US history after widespread protests by students, teachers, and parents. Videos of the protesting high school students have given me renewed faith in today's youth.
Springboro, Ohio, is a suburban community much like Germantown. In that village, a far-right school board came to power and attempted to push the teaching of religion, under the guise of Creation "Science", in science classes. The board also sponsored a religion-based Constitution class. This blog has discussed the wake-up call that the fiasco generated in the community. Residents fought back. They organized, petitioned, and fielded candidates. Ultimately, they replaced the radicals and installed a board whose top priority is education rather than indoctrination.
There has also been a far-right take-over of the Germantown School Board. Last December, this group made the rash decision to drop our district out of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The rationale was that we would develop our own, more rigorous standards- a so-called "Germantown Way". Yet, little progress has been made on these new standards in the 10 months since dropping Common Core.
At an August Board meeting, the Ad Hoc Standards Committee chairman said, "Progress is a little slow...we are trying to define what a standard really is...It is going to be a long process". So while all other Wisconsin school districts are implementing their new standards and are going on to other issues, Germantown is busily debating what a standard is. However, the glacial progress of the committee may be a blessing in disguise. I worry about what District-wide turmoil may be on the horizon as the Board finally develops and attempts to implement their standards.
The Standards Committee consists of Superintendent Jeff Holmes, the Director of Teaching and Learning, and three School Board members. Who are the Board members? We pointed-out the far-right leanings of Chairman Brian Medved in an earlier article. Member Bruce Warnimont was highly vocal in the drive to abandon CCSS and gave our district brief national notoriety when he suggested not purchasing Chromebooks because some Google managers support the US President. Member Sarah Larson came to office in 2012 as part of the "Conservative" slate of three candidates that replaced less partisan members of the Board.
After dealing with the relatively non-controversial subjects of Math and English, the group plans to take-on the more politically-charged Social Studies and Science standards. Based on the unbalanced and far-right ideological make-up of the Standards Committee, it is entirely possible they will try to put their partisan slant on our curriculum. Germantown could well become the next Jefferson County or Springboro. Our community must be vigilant for that possibility. I hope I am wrong.
While we are on the subject of Common Core, you are probably wondering about the red octagonal "Stop Common Core" signs that have popped-up in a few Germantown yards. The Germantown School Board has already stopped Common Core in our district, so what gives? The signs are evidently being distributed by an anti-CCSS group, "Protect Your Child's Future" (PYCF).PYCF held an anti-Common Core rally on Sunday, October 5 at the Kennedy Middle School. This rally was advertised on many Tea Party websites. Speakers included Germantown School Board member and PYCF President Brian Medved, professional CCSS critic Sandra Stotsky, a speaker from the climate-change-denying Heartland Institute, and a speaker from the far-right Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.One wonders whether holding the anti-Common Core rally on District property amounts to a tacit endorsement of this organization. Granted, District policy does allow for use of facilities by outside groups, as long as that use "is harmonious with the purposes of this District ". I will leave it up to the reader to decide whether use of our facilities by heavily partisan and controversial groups such as "Protect Your Child's Future" is indeed harmonious with our purposes.
In one month, we will go to the polls to select our governor for the next four years. After much debate and thought, the staff at Just Sayin' has decided to endorse Mary Burke in this race. Why Mary Burke? There are many reasons for our selection, but here are our top five:
Our society greatly overuses the term "hero". We have a video game series, Guitar Hero. We often speak of sports heroes. Some slack-jawed Cro-Magnons even have "Scott Walker is my Hero" bumper stickers on the back of their pick-up trucks. But what is a real hero? What constitutes a true heroic deed?
There are many reasons for voting Scott Walker out of office this November- his abysmal jobs record, his assault on public education, his administration's corrupt pay-for-play culture, and his Mississippian social agenda. However, I believe the most important reason for rejecting Walker's bid for another term is the deep political divisions he has caused in our state.
Income inequality is a serious problem in the United States. By any objective measure, there is a much wider income gap today than at any time since 1929. For example, in 1944, the top 1% of earners collected 11.3% of all pre-tax income while the bottom 90% received 67.5%. By 2012 the top 1% received a full 22.5% of all pretax income, while the bottom 90% earned a paltry 49.6%.
New revelations surface daily concerning Scott "The Law Doesn't Apply to Me" Walker's legal and ethical troubles. However, the sordid tales of pay-for-play corruption and outright lawlessness are being adequately covered by the media. So I won't further expand on these continuing embarrassments to our state. Today, I want to discuss a perfectly legal, but bone-headed, decision by our state's chief executive.
Vice President Joe Biden frequently repeats the truism, "Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value.” A corollary to this sentiment is, "Don't tell me what you value. Show me what laws you passed and I'll tell you what you value."
I recently returned from a week-long vacation to London. I never fail to be impressed by the efficiency and convenience of that city's rail transit system. On the way home, our connecting flight was canceled due to storms and we had to spend a day in Philadelphia. Once again, we found ourselves in a city with a great rail transit system. Then we returned to Milwaukee.
Our state government should operate in a fully transparent way. We need to know what our elected officials are doing, how their decisions are being made, and how they are spending our money. On the other hand, private citizens should be granted a good deal of anonymity. We should be able to vote, express our opinions, and communicate with our representatives without our actions being widely publicized.
Several weeks ago, Just Sayin' examined the thirty-six year Congressional record of Jim Sensenbrenner. We concluded that the Congressman has not justified being re-elected to yet another two-year term. He is a senior member in the most do-nothing Congress in history. He played a major role in last year's pointless and shameful government shutdown. He has repeatedly voted to privatize Social Security and voucherize Medicare. Sensenbrenner has simply not represented us in Washington.
I often get into frank political discussions with people whose views are to the right of my own. If the conversation lasts long enough, they invariably tell me: "You libruls think that...." followed by some gross exaggeration such as "...you are entitled to all of my money !" or "...capitalism is bad !" or "...the gu'ment should run everything !"
When voting, we usually pick the candidate whose views most closely match our own. Often, we don't fully agree with either major party candidate, so we select the perceived lesser of two evils. Democracy might be better served if we had a wider selection of candidates, from across the ideological spectrum. For November's election, there will at least be a third viable option for Wisconsin voters. The Libertarian Party is running candidates in each of the five statewide races.
This year's race for Governor is a critical one for the future of Wisconsin. The contrast between candidates Mary Burke and Scott Walker could not be more stark. The personal ethics of Walker have recently dominated the discussion, but this race is about so much more.
"Unfortunately, we have a Governor and administration that condones unethical and illegal behavior. The people of Wisconsin deserve better."
Jim Sensenbrenner has been on the taxpayer payroll his entire working life. He was elected to the state Assembly in 1969, the year he graduated from law school. He served in the Wisconsin legislature until 1979, when he was elected to the US Congress-where he has sat ever since.
You may have heard rumors of an election this year. In November, Wisconsin voters will hire or re-hire many of our state public servants. Last Monday was the deadline for submitting candidate paperwork to get on both the primary and general election ballots. The stage is now set. What offices are up for election this year who has declared their candidacy?
Global warming has been in the news quite a bit over the last several months. By now, only the most anti-science partisans and general know-nothings cling to the myth that human-caused climate change is not happening. Last month, an important report was released by a panel of 300 respected climate scientists, covering in detail the toll global warming is having on our country.
I recently became aware of two websites that indicate the likelihood of a person's political affiliation based on their name. From Clarity Campaign Labs comes an application in which you type-in your first name and out pops the percent chance that you would lean Democratic or Republican. For example, the site indicated that someone named Paul is 52.4% likely to identify as Republican.
There have been several recent news stories about self-proclaimed "patriotic" Americans who do not have the interests of our country at heart. A few people who wrap themselves in our Constitution and flag are advocating secession, a military coup-d'etat, or even widespread armed rebellion.
I have a Facebook friend, "Manny", whose politics are very extreme. Manny idolizes the racist cowboy who stole a million dollars from US taxpayers. He has a pathological obsession with Benghazi. And he actually believes the silly "Obama-phone" myth to be true. I enjoy reading Manny's FB posts, just to see what the crazies are talking about.
In recent presidential elections, seniors have been one of the few groups that Republicans have been able to rely on. For example, in 2012, those over 65 voted for Mitt Romney by a 56-44 margin. The question is, why? Many of the policies followed by today's GOP run counter to the interests of our more mature citizens. Let's examine some of those policies.
Wisconsin has once again made the national news. Yet again, we are a national political laughingstock. A platform referendum affirming Wisconsin's right to secede from the United States has been proposed by GOP activists and will be voted on at the May 2-4 State Republican Party Convention.
I attended Wednesday evening's community forum on Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by the Germantown School Board. I left the meeting fearing for the education of our children. It seems that they are being treated as pawns in a cynical political game.
Today's Republican Party often takes policy positions that run counter to the wishes of the American people. Rather than working for the folks who pay their salaries, Republican politicians are taking most of their direction from powerful lobbyists, deep-pocketed donors, and their party's loony fringe. Below are just a few examples in which GOP politicians are standing in the way of popular reforms.
We frequently see the results of polls on American scientific literacy. One recent poll by the National Science Foundation (NSF), asked American adults a series of ten true/false questions about very basic physical and biological science concepts. The results were somewhat disappointing.
It was difficult to decide on a topic for this week, the 2nd anniversary of the beginning of Just Sayin'. There is a recent embarrassment of riches for us political wonks. Walker is still attempting his Jedi mind trick concerning the damning Rindfleisch e-mails (These are not the droids you are looking for. Move along). The House Republicans celebrated their Golden Jubilee vote to repeal the ACA. Some of the wing-nuttiest WI Assembly bills are being rejected by the state Senate. And the CPAC Presidential straw poll was won by
Vladimir Putin Rand Paul.
Last Thursday, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would greatly improve how America treats our veterans. Senate Bill 1982 (the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014) would have allowed better access to health care and educational opportunities for returning veterans.
The most important thing that happened in politics last week was the release of thousands of Kelly Rindfleisch e-mails. However, Walker's embarrassing ducking and dodging of media questions about the documents is well-covered, so I will not say anything further (at least this week) on the subject :)
The Wisconsin legislature is currently in session. With 769 Assembly Bills and 603 Senate Bills so far listed on the legislature's web site, it is hard to keep up. Many of the bills regulate some obscure area of commerce, such as shooting ranges, tattoo parlors, or mobile dentists. Some make good sense, such as increased penalties for drunk driving. Still other bills are evil, crazy, or downright silly. This blog lists just a few bills that we should all be aware of.
Last Thursday, I had the pleasure to hear gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke speak in West Bend. Mary was impressive in her talk to a packed house at the County Democratic Headquarters. Since she is the only major announced Democratic candidate, it appears that November's general election will be between Mary Burke and Scott Walker.
Last Tuesday, President Obama gave his annual State of the Union Speech. The major theme of the speech, "Opportunity for All", has been somewhat lost amid the subsequent media coverage of sideshow issues.
On Tuesday evening, President Obama will give his annual State of the Union Address. As usual, the networks will give air time for a rebuttal from the opposition party. Unlike the past, however, there will be a total of three separate rebuttal speeches. Representing the last remaining Corporate Republicans will be Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Citibank). Representing the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party will be Sen. Mike Lee (R-Ted Cruz). And representing the Rand Paul wing of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party will be Sen. Rand Paul (RWNJ-KY).
There are many great benefits resulting from the Affordable Care Act. For example, students up to 26 are covered on their parents insurance. There is no rejection of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. There is no lifetime cap on medical coverage. In states that care about their citizens, all people with income less than 138% of poverty level are covered under Medicaid. And individuals between that level and 400% of poverty who purchase insurance on the exchanges are eligible for income tax credits, making coverage more affordable.
Ron Johnson announced on Sunday that he was bringing a lawsuit against the federal Office of Personnel Management to stop health insurance subsidies for Congressional staffers. These Federal employees get their health insurance on the ACA exchanges. Although many workers in both the private and public sectors get some health insurance assistance from their employers, Johnson (with a net worth of at least $12 million) thinks that all staffers should pay for their own insurance in-full.
The Seventeenth Amendment to the US Constitution provides for the direct election of US Senators. Before the amendment was ratified in 1913, senators were appointed by the state legislatures. This was often a corrupt process. Political machines took over some legislatures and named their own puppet senators. And it was far cheaper to buy a Senate seat by bribing state legislators than to run a candidate for election by the people. Reformers, such as Wisconsin's own “Fighting Bob” La Follette were instrumental in America finally ending these abuses.
Last week, Scott Walker signed into law a bill which makes it much more difficult to get rid of racist and offensive school mascots. Before signing, he sent a letter to state Native American leaders, saying “I share many of your concerns about some of the mascots and nicknames used in Wisconsin and across America. If it were up to me personally, I would seek viable alternatives that were not offensive to Native Americans.” Walker further stated he said he would “assist in efforts to educate people on how Indian monikers can be offensive.”
Another year is almost over. Although not as politically eventful as 2012, this year certainly had its interesting moments. As our year-end retrospective, the staff here at Just Sayin' has determined our top 26 Political Winners and Losers of 2013:
Last week, this blog covered the continuing saga of the Germantown District School Board's attempts to exempt our schools from the widely-accepted Common Core State Standards (CCSS). At Monday night's meeting, the Board unanimously made the decision to drop the standards. Sort of. Kinda. Maybe.
Last week the book, Unintimidated was released. I read it this weekend and enjoyed it thoroughly. The book covers one manifestation of the awful Wisconsin political divisions which started in early 2011 and continue even today.
Our state legislature has just been too busy to pass laws that could improve Wisconsin's economic outlook. Instead, they have been laser-focused on critical legislation such as Assembly Bill 297, which will make it much easier for state schools to keep racially offensive team mascots. In their infinite wisdom, Wisconsin state lawmakers will make it much more difficult for members of ethnic groups to have a say over how their own image and culture is stereotyped and exploited.
It seems like every day there is a report of yet another Republican leaving their party to become a Democrat. The GOP's leaders are becoming increasingly loony and its policies increasingly fringe. The few remaining moderates are either voluntarily exiting or are being forced from office by primary challengers from Canis Major.
Last week, we compared Wisconsin's social and infrastructure policies to those of neighboring states. During Scott Walker's governorship, Wisconsin has become more politically backward as our neighbors have become more progressive. We have become an island of regressive government surrounded by a ring of forward-looking states. Today, let's do a different comparison. Let's compare our recent economic growth to that of our neighbors.
As reflected in our state motto, “Forward!”, Wisconsin has long been a paragon of Midwestern progressive values. Home of “Fighting Bob” La Follette, Gaylord Nelson, William Proxmire, and Russ Feingold, our state has led the country in forward-looking governance. However, we have recently turned our backs on our progressive roots. Our state is becoming increasingly backward. We are starting to resemble Mississippi more than Vermont; Tennessee more than Oregon.
Tonight, the House and Senate passed the bipartisan Senate plan to re-open the Federal government and to keep the US from defaulting on our debt. The largest economy and greatest country on earth has finally been freed from a small group of political extortionists.
The American people are fed-up. The titanic hissy-fit of the Republican government shutdown has entered its third week. This has gone on long enough. We are now heading for an even more damaging crisis-a default on our debts. The politician-caused crisis is costing the country at least $160 million/day. The shutdown is estimated to cut US economic growth by 20%. Government workers are not being paid. Critical government functions, from national security and food inspection to medical research and providing for veterans are left undone.
It is not clear what the House Republican Caucus wants to gain from their blatant attempts at extortion. With no one really in control, Congressional Republicans have floated a multitude of demands in exchange for their votes to re-open the government that they closed and to keep the country from defaulting on the debts that they incurred.
Well, we are in week two of the Republican House's shutdown of the United States Government. I hoped that I would not have to write another article on this national disgrace. I was hoping that the House would get its act together and re-open the government. My faith was misplaced. Not only is there no end in sight to re-start the government, but the fools in charge of Congress seem hellbent on running the US into default.
We elect our government officials through a secret ballot. Nobody knows how you vote when you enter the booth. Who you vote for is up to you. However, there is a heinous and growing trend of company managers trying to coerce the political behavior of their employees. For example:
By any quantitative measure, Wisconsin's job growth under Scott Walker has been anemic. In comparison to neighboring states and the rest of the country, our economy has woefully underperformed. The situation is so bad that the Governor recently started weaseling out of his central 2010 campaign promise to attract 250,000 jobs to the state.
In 2010, the activist majority on the Supreme Court drastically changed the face of US political campaigns. Their 5-4 Citizens United decision essentially stated that corporations have the same legal rights as people (corporations are people) and that spending on political campaigns is equivalent to free speech (money is speech). The decision opened up a Pandora's Box of unlimited cash from anonymous donors flowing into uncontrolled Super-PACS. According to FEC estimates, about $7 billion was spent during 2012 US elections, including more than $2 billion from outside groups.
Geographical political allegiances are in constant flux. Texas was once Democratic but is now heavily Republican. Colorado was recently a reliably GOP state. Long-time red Detroit suburban counties gave majorities to Obama. No area remains politically static forever. We should not expect Germantown to stay unchanged, either.
Tens of people anxiously await the publication of Scott Walker's new book, Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge. Ironically, Walker seems to be very intimidated by a small group of grandmas, grandpas, veterans, and others who get together in the state Capitol each weekday at noon to sing folk songs.
President Obama will make a major economic speech on Wednesday in Galesburg, Illinois. Much of the speech will focus on strengthening the middle class. A strong middle class is thought by most people to be essential for a strong and economically robust America.
The 4th of July holiday was a good time to reflect on our personal freedoms and how tenuous they really are. Much of human history has been a titanic struggle between people who strive for increased individual freedoms and those who would take those freedoms away. That internal struggle in the US is as intense today as it has been at any time since the Civil War.
With Scott Walker's continuing wars on women, public schools, Milwaukee, the environment, and the poor, Wisconsin voters are waking-up to his radical Tea Party agenda. Our part-time governor seems to spend more time on a personal quest for the presidency than he does working to boost our grossly under-performing state economy. It looks increasingly likely that Governor Ultrasound will lose his bid for reelection in 2014.
The last several weeks have been busy ones for legislators who promote the interference of Big Government in your private life. Three of Germantown's own elected representatives, State Rep. Dan Knodl, State Senator Alberta Darling, and US Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner have been at the forefront of this assault on your personal liberty.
This is a very busy time for the Wisconsin State Legislature. Regressive legislation is being crafted to let Madison politicians interfere in women's health decisions. Proposals have been unveiled to restrict voting. Bills have been submitted that usurp control of local governments. The legislation being proposed by state Republicans just keeps getting more extreme and more outlandish.
This is a very busy time for the Wisconsin State Legislature. The decisions that are made during the next several weeks will have long-lasting effects. Regressive legislation is being crafted to allow Madison politicians to interfere in women's health decisions. Negotiations are underway to expand the forced taxpayer funding of religious and for-profit schools. Bills are under consideration that will result in the state government usurping local control. Endorsement of Walker's career-driven decision to reject Medicaid expansion will result in the state taxpayers paying more for poorer coverage for fewer people.
There has been a great deal of recent far-right hysteria over the Common Core State education Standards being implemented in Wisconsin and 45 other states. These voluntary state standards were developed at the initiative of the National Governors' Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. They are supported by groups like the Business Roundtable.
Last week, the right's Benghazi conspiracy “scandal” continued to fizzle-out. After many cynical attempts to make political hay out of human tragedy, the Congressional Republicans again failed to gain any traction on the issue.
There is a never-ending stream of wacky conspiracy theories emanating from the extreme right media. Recent examples include birtherism, the “false flag” attack of the Boston bombings, Feds buying-up bullets, and the Benghazi cover-up. These loony tales have in common a desire to paint the President of the United States as not one of “us”- foreign born, a socialist, Muslim, or acting against the interests of our country.
Senator Herb Kohl self-funded his political campaigns. Since he was beholden to no contributors, he ran on the slogan, “Nobody's Senator But Yours”. During his own political career, Scott Walker has consistently behaved as an anti-Kohl, being beholden to any large contributor kind enough to throw money his way. Walker's pay-to-play policies are more blatant and rampant than those of any recent state politician. He is, in fact, “Everybody's Governor But Yours”.
America's scientific strength is second to none. A continuing robust American science effort is important for national security, public health, economic vitality, and national prestige. However, steps to undermine that strength have recently come from new Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX).
Wisconsin is one of 19 states which have a process to recall public officials. Introduced by progressive Republicans, a recall has been a part of the Wisconsin Constitution since 1926. The recall is designed as a way to keep our elected politicians accountable to those they serve.
The more "mature" of us remember Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) and his Golden Fleece Award, with which our former US senator pointed a spotlight at government waste and fraud. Attempting to initiate a similar tradition, Senator Ron Johnson (R-NRA) recently announced his Victims of Government video program in which he highlights people who have suffered due to the actions of the Federal Government.
A decision was made on Monday in the legal case of MacIver vs Erpenbach. In March 2011, Brian Fraley of the MacIver “Institute”, a far-right policy organization, filed an Open Records request with State Senator Jon Erpenbach for “Copies of all correspondence you have received or sent ... regarding the subject of changes to Wisconsin’s collective bargaining laws for public employees.”
I attended the first public hearing of the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee on Thursday in the Greenfield High School auditorium. These hearings are held every two years before finalizing the biennial budget. The sessions allow Wisconsin citizens to have input before the budget becomes law. The hearings ran from 10 AM to 6 PM, but my attention span only lasted for half of the eight hour session.
My cat, Ozzie, is a hunter. He constantly brings his “trophies” to our back porch. Headless mice, headless chipmunks, headless rats- we never know what will appear next. This morning, he brought me something that may be more valuable than five or six headless rodents. He brought several sheets of paper that seem to be a draft of a book manuscript.
The Governor of Wisconsin makes $144,423 per year. He gets a car and a rent-free home. He gets full benefits, a pension plan, a personal staff, and many other perks. While such compensation is not unduly high for the chief executive of a state, in return we expect someone who works full time on behalf of the people of Wisconsin.
In the upcoming April 2 election, there are two statewide races, both officially non-partisan. One is for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. In an earlier blog (Pridemore? Seriously?) we discussed this race, in which incumbent Tony Evers is running against Tea-Party favorite Don Pridemore. Pridemore's wacky ideas and statements are an embarrassment to Wisconsin. A loss by Evers would be a disaster to public education in our state.
Time flies when you are having fun. I started writing this column a year ago. A lot has happened in the political universe during that time, some good and some not so good. The Supreme Court declared Obamacare to be constitutional. Scott Walker survived an historic recall election. We reelected President Obama. Herb Kohl retired and Tammy Baldwin was elected as his successor. Gun violence continues to cause tragedy after tragedy. The Federal budget bounces from one manufactured crisis to another. We now vote in grossly gerrymandered state and national Congressional districts.
The deadline for action to replace the Sequester has come and gone. A self-inflicted wound, the Sequester requires $85 billion in budget cuts this year and $1.2 trillion over the next decade. These blanket cuts are the latest in a series of moves to reach a more sustainable Federal budget. The cuts come on top of $1.7 trillion in 2011 cuts and $600 billion in revenue from the conclusion of the Bush tax cuts on high income earners.
Every couple of months, some strange people set-up signs in front of the Germantown Post Office. One sign reads “Dump Obama”, and has a portrait of our President sporting a Hitler-style moustache. Another says “Pull Over to Impeach Obama”. Who are these weirdos and what do they want?
Governor John Kasich (R-OH) on Medicaid expansion- “Whenever federal resources are being distributed to the states then Ohioans shouldn’t be robbed of their fair share. I make no apologies for ever standing up for my state and any governor who would is in the wrong job.”
In my wildest imagination, I never dreamed that I would ever string together the five words of today's title. To go further beyond belief, I also agree with Senators Rand Paul, David Vitter, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz.
The process of governing is full of temptation for those involved. Large piles of campaign cash, high-stakes lobbying efforts, and chances to game the system create frequent opportunities for corrupt behavior. In response, states across the country have taken steps to clean-up their governments through tough ethics, campaign, and disclosure laws.
Being a political wonk, I decided to spend a few hours last Saturday attending one of Jim Sensenbrenner's Town Hall forums. Like most members of Congress, Sensenbrenner holds regular meetings around his district. This session took place at 1:00 PM in Oconomowoc. Appearing with Sensenbrenner was State Representative, Joel “Cranes are the Rib-Eyes of the Sky” Kleefisch.
The next big election year is 2014, when Democrats will attempt to replace Scott Walker and to regain both houses of the state legislature. Neither will be easy tasks, considering the huge out-of-state funding of Walker and the unconscionable partisan gerrymandering of state legislative districts.
Don Pridemore, current Republican State Assembly member from the 22nd District, is running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Pridemore is facing incumbent Tony Evers in the April 2nd election. The occupant of this non-partisan office is responsible for overseeing the public school system, including setting state curriculum standards, licensing teachers, and disbursing federal school aid.
Last night, the House of Representatives voted on a compromise reached in the Senate to avoid sending the economy off the “fiscal cliff”. The bill passed the House by a bipartisan 257-167 margin after passing the Senate by an overwhelming 89- 8. This was a temporary win for common sense. Failure to pass this bill would have had a devastating impact on our still-recovering economy. At the end of 2012, the Bush tax cuts were slated to end on everyone. That is, everyone's taxes went up at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. Passage of this bill revoked the tax increase for every taxpayer for their first $400,000 of annual income ($450,000 for married joint filers). A vote against the bill was a vote to raise taxes for every taxpayer in the country.
2012 was an exciting year in politics. We elected a President and US Senator, conducted state recall elections, and saw a great deal of activity in the legislative and judicial arenas. As a year-end retrospective, the staff at Just Sayin' has determined the Top 26 political winners and losers of 2012.
I did not want to write yet another story about the tragedy in Connecticut. However, something must be done about the rash of gun-massacres of innocents in our country. The Sandy Hook mass murder is only the tip of the iceberg. Over 30 people are murdered by guns each and every day in the US- sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.
In an upper Midwest state that is still recovering from the recession, the public desperately wants legislative action on jobs. However, the heavily Republican/Tea Party state legislature has other priorities. They introduce an unpopular anti-union bill that they did not campaign on. To placate police and firefighter unions which have supported them, the legislators exempt these groups from the changes. The bill is passed while brazenly ignoring the state's Open Meetings laws. Many of the more moderate Republican legislators are coerced into supporting the bill by threats of primary challenges from the right.
In October 2011, the White House introduced a new public communications tool. Americans can now generate on-line petitions to our Federal Government. The Obama Administration's website has a program called We the People which provides the petitioning mechanism and a way to funnel all serious requests to appropriate government officials for response.
The US has a fairly low rate of voter participation compared to other nations. A recent study found that only 48% of eligible voters participate in a typical US election, ranking 138th of 169 countries. In contrast, Canadian, Australian, and Italian elections draw 83%, 84%, and 92% of eligible citizens, respectively. However, there is a recent trend in many Republican-led states to discourage eligible voters from casting ballots and to drive our already mediocre election participation even lower.
The state Government Accountability Board, or GAB, oversees Wisconsin's election, campaign finance, ethics, and lobbying laws. The board consists of six nonpartisan retired judges who serve staggered six year terms. The board has been in existence since 2008, replacing a highly partisan Election Board and a fairly toothless Ethics Board. The GAB was established through an almost unanimous bipartisan vote to repair the prior dysfunctional system.
Political ideas are sold to the public in many of the same ways as hamburgers and soap. One of the most successful practitioners of this art is Republican pollster, Frank Luntz. Using focus groups, Luntz is expert at framing conservative positions by selecting the right words to evoke a desired opinion.
With Republican success during the 2010 midterm elections, the party found itself in control of many state legislatures and governorships. This was especially true across many of the formerly Democratic-leaning Great Lakes states. Politicians in these states soon activated a seemingly coordinated effort to secure their new-found power. Among the moves were attempts to weaken unions, a traditional base of Democratic support. Legislation such as voter ID and curtailed early voting was passed to suppress traditionally Democratic voting blocks. Advantage was taken of the required decennial redistricting process to lock-in as many Republican legislative seats as possible.
This week, I take a look at the Germantown results of the November 6 election. For this discussion, I combine the results of the village and the town of Germantown. The voter participation this year was very high. Of the 13,028 registered voters, 12,524 ballots were cast, for a 96 % turn-out. This is a typical Germantown turn-out for a presidential election. During the 2008 and 2004 Presidential elections, 85 % and 98 % of registered voters cast ballots.
Well, the election is finally over. We have reelected President Obama for four more years. We have a new Democratic Senator, joining a Democratic-controlled Senate. Republicans across the state and country are wondering, “What happened?” “Karl Rove told us that we were winning!” “ With the economy in bad shape, and that anti-American Islamic Kenyan in the White House, why did our party not just roll into Washington like a tidal wave?” “What should we have done differently?”
The opinion polls are looking more and more favorable for President Obama. However, we actually need to vote on Tuesday before declaring a winner. Our nation's selection of President for the next four years will greatly affect the future direction of our country and of your own life.
Newspapers across the country, including the LA Times, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Washington Post, and New York Times have endorsed Barack Obama for reelection. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel lacks the courage to make endorsements in either the Presidential or US Senate races, but we do not. After much debate, the staff at Just Sayin' has decided to endorse Barack Obama for reelection. Through his exemplary leadership, Obama has shown that he indeed deserves four more years.
On November 6, we will elect a President and a US Senator. We will also fill down-ballot offices such as our Representative for State Assembly. Germantown is in Assembly District 24, which includes all of Germantown, Brown Deer, River Hills, and parts of Glendale, Mequon, and Menomonee Falls. Running in our district are Dan Knodl and Shan Haqqi. For our representative in Madison, the good citizens of our district deserve a person whose character and ethics are beyond reproach. I was recently appalled when I looked into the background of one of the candidates for that office.
The American Legislative Exchange Council has been in the news quite a bit lately. ALEC is an organization which brings together corporations and state legislators from around the country. The group writes template legislation favoring its corporate members. The legislators then push versions of these bills, often word for word, through their state legislatures, turning them into laws. Although ALEC is for all intents and purposes a lobbying organization, it calls itself a 501(c)(3) “educational” organization, allowing corporate contributions to be tax deductible. As such, it is theoretically prohibited from engaging in political activities.
Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in March 2010, the Republican/Tea Party has fought tooth and nail against it. Right wing politicians have kept-up a steady and hypnotic mantra of “repeal and replace”. The basic tenets of the law were conceived in Republican think tanks, championed by Newt Gingrich, endorsed by Tommy Thompson, and first implemented by a Republican Governor. However, once the plan was embraced by President Obama, the Republican/Tea Party by necessity had to be against it. In their blind hatred of all things Obama, right wing politicians have rejected a law that solves many of the ills of the American health care system.
Wisconsin is one of the eight or nine battleground states in this Presidential election. We have certainly been getting our share of TV ads, robocalls, and candidate visits. I had the opportunity to go to a rally for President Obama last weekend. The President spoke at the BMO Harris Pavilion on the Summerfest grounds late Saturday afternoon.
We expect that elected representatives from a minority political party will fight for their beliefs. When faced with a pending bill or action that goes against their ideology, we expect them to work hard against it. That's what a “loyal opposition” party does. However, for the past four years, national Republican/Tea Party politicians have crossed the line. With the goal of gaining political advantage, the deeply partisan legislators have taken actions purposely aimed at hurting our country.
The party conventions are over and the Presidential campaigns are now in full swing. Hiding somewhere behind the inspiring oratory, the fact-checkers' fantasy speeches, and the old men talking to chairs, are the candidates' real views on a number of important issues. One area that is usually ignored during Presidential campaigns is Federal science policy. However, a strong American science effort is important for national security, public health, economic vitality, and national prestige.
The editorial staff of Just Sayin' recently met to come to a consensus on the Wisconsin Senate race. The two major candidates are US Representative Tammy Baldwin and former Governor Tommy Thompson. The contrast between the two could not be greater. After much heated debate, we have decided to endorse Tammy Baldwin.
Far right politicians often talk about American Exceptionalism. The way that the term is used implies that God has taken a special interest in the United States. That we are somehow more virtuous than everyone else. That we are responsible for most good in the world and it is our duty to impose our values on everyone else. That of all of the countries in the world, out of all of the peoples who inhabit this planet, Americans are somehow blessed far beyond all others. That kind of exceptionalism is difficult to verify, let alone to quantify. Today I would like to talk about a different kind of exceptionalism.
At an age at which many of us have long been retired, 70 year old Tommy Thompson is attempting to become the junior Senator from Wisconsin. Thompson's somewhat rambling Republican primary victory speech last Tuesday may have planted some questions about his ability to vigorously represent us during a demanding first Senate term.
As a Democrat, I could not be more pleased with the Romney decision to select Paul Ryan as his Vice Presidential running mate. There could not be a better candidate to clarify the differences between the two major parties. Recently, Mitt Romney endorsed Ryan's extremist “Path to Prosperity” manifesto, calling it “marvelous”. With Romney's selection of Ryan, Mitt has fully endorsed and embraced Ryan's views as his own. The Ryan/Romney plan increases the national debt, gives even more tax breaks to the rich, and takes a sledge hammer to the earned benefits that most Americans will rely on during retirement. This is exactly the opposite direction that most of us want to take our country.
The Tea Party has certainly kept politics interesting the last several years. The whack-a-doo members of the movement can always be counted on for a bizarre and newsworthy comment. For example, the Texas Tea Party succeeded in putting a statement in the state Republican platform condemning the teaching of “critical thinking skills” in schools. During an April town hall meeting, Representative Allan West (R-FL) stated that there are “about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party” in Congress. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) last week equated the mandate for insurance coverage of contraceptives to Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks. The birther and Sharia Law conspiracy activists are always good for a zany quote.
Last month, we examined Germantown's State Assembly District 24 and how it has changed since redistricting. Today, we look at the new, redistricted State Senate District 8, of which Germantown is a part.
Wisconsin Republican/Tea Party Senator Ron Johnson has had a busy July. There were two very important bills brought-up in the US Senate which he helped to block. Johnson's actions on these two bills call into question just who our junior Senator represents.
Reince Priebus is the current Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC). He is known for his shoot-from-the-hip comments during interviews. One of his latest tirades was during a July 8th appearance on Fox “News” Sunday, in which he said, “Mitt Romney has to win for the sake of the very idea of America. Mitt Romney has to win for liberty and freedom and we have to put an end to this Barack Obama presidency before it puts an end to our way of life in America.”
Humorist Will Rogers once said, “This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.” Throughout our history, there has seldom been a lot of respect for Congress. However, the polling numbers for confidence in Congress have dropped dramatically over the past several years.
The Supreme Court made the right decision last Thursday to uphold the Affordable Care Act. It has now passed through both houses of Congress, was signed by the President, and was given a stamp of constitutionality by the highest court in the land. The American people have won. We are now on our way to fix our broken health care system. No longer will an estimated 45,000 people die prematurely each year due to lack of access to medical care. No longer will a catastrophic illness also become an economic catastrophe. No longer will health insurance be unavailable at any price to those with pre-existing conditions.
The most powerful person in today's Republican/Tea Party is not Speaker of the House John Boehner. It is not one of the billionaires who bankroll the party, such as the Koch boys or Sheldon Adelson. It is certainly not presidential candidate Mitt Romney. It is not even the party Minister of Propaganda, Roger Ailes of Fox “News”. No, the most powerful person in the Republican/Tea Party today, one that has many of our elected officials bowing in obsequience, is an unelected Washington lobbyist named Grover Norquist.
During the last several election cycles, the Republican Party has sprinted to the extreme right in its views. Many of the party's ideas, if carried out, would take the country in directions that could prove ruinous. The Democratic Party and its goals provides a sharp contrast to the risky schemes of the new Republican/Tea Party. I am a Democrat. I am a Democrat because many of the party's tenets match my own. For example:
There are 99 seats in the Wisconsin State Assembly, three for each State Senate District. Germantown is in Assembly District 24. This has not changed with the 2011 redistricting, although the rest of the district has undergone a major redesign. The old assembly district was very Republican, with only 37.6% of the voters selecting Barack Obama in 2008. The old district included all of Germantown (35.9% for Obama), the southeast part of Richfield (28% for Obama), most of Menomonee Falls (except the southwest corner), (39.8% for Obama) and the town of Butler (43.7% for Obama). This made for a compact district, with similar demographics, economics, and political composition.
The editorial board of Just Sayin' recently met to discuss our policy on the June 5 gubernatorial recall election. After short deliberation, we have decided to recommend the recall of Scott Walker. To explain our position, we list the top five reasons for firing him. Considering his myriad major fails of the past 17 months, it was very difficult to decide on just five:
By any objective comparative measure (ACT scores, Advanced Placement, graduation rates, etc.), Wisconsin public schools are very good. When compared to the other Wisconsin schools, our Germantown schools are exceptional. In last month's Milwaukee Magazine multi-faceted ranking of metro area school districts, Germantown was in the top 4 of 33 K-12 districts.
Hardly a week passes without more revelations of wrong-doing, shady activity, and general malfeasance coming out of the John Doe investigation into Scott Walker's staff during his time as Milwaukee County Executive. It is like watching a slow-motion train wreck. The investigation, conducted by Milwaukee County DA John T. Chisholm, was launched in May 2010.
Wisconsin is blessed with pristine lakes, gorgeous wetlands, and beautiful woods. The people of our state take good advantage of these public assets through hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, boating, and swimming. The Wisconsin outdoors draws many visitors to our state, boosting the economy. Travelers in our state spend 12.3 billion dollars each year and one of nine state jobs depend on travel and tourism.
Wisconsin led the nation in job losses during 2011. We lost an estimated 4,300 private sector jobs in March 2012 alone. Our esteemed state lawmakers have been laser-focused on the problem in their recently-concluded 2011-12 session, passing such important job-producing bills as:
Primary elections are an important part of our democratic system. They allow the grass roots base of a political party to play a major role in selecting a candidate to represent them. Rather than having major power brokers choose a party's candidate in a proverbial "smoke filled room", a primary gives a much broader base of citizens a chance to shape the political debate. However, due to recent cynical actions by the Wisconsin GOP, the primary process may be coming to an effective end.
I have lived in Wisconsin for two decades. During that time, we have had both Republican and Democratic governors. I always knew that whoever occupied the governor's mansion, they acted in the best interests of the state. I knew that I could count on them to work with people of all political persuasions for the benefit of everyone. I hardly paid attention to state politics. I did not need to.
An interesting paper appeared this month in the journal American Sociological Review. The author examined the change in public trust in science over the period 1974-2010. In 1974, liberals and conservatives had about equal trust in science (about 47% had "a great deal of trust"). While the trust of liberals in science remained about the same over the 36 year period, the trust level of conservatives has eroded steadily until, in 2010, only 35% had "a great deal of trust" in science. There is now a large difference in the perception of science between the two ideological groups.
The Supreme Court has finished hearing arguments in a case attempting to have the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional. A decision will not be announced until early June. Even experts cannot predict which way the verdict will go, but the vote of the nine justices is expected to be close. The ultimate direction of one sixth of the US economy is at stake.
You can't go through a day without hearing yet another tale of extremist politicians and their talk radio allies involving themselves in women's health issues. From state laws imposing intrusive medical procedures and state-mandated lectures to national attempts to limit access to contraception, the assalts seem to have no end. However heinous the attacks on women's health, there is a second, quieter War on Women. It is a war on the ability of women to challenge cases of gender-based pay discrimination. This war, headed by many of our own elected officials, is the subject of today's column.