Archive for April, 2010

Politics Wednesday…

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 by Jim Rosenberg
“While there was no other candidate that was both from outside of Milwaukee and that held elective office in the race before, I could not in good conscience withdraw. This is no longer the case. Tom Nelson has both elective office experience and is not from Milwaukee. For those reasons I am withdrawing from the race for Lieutenant Governor,” Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinski.
Geeze, I’m not from Milwaukee and I have elective office experience. How could I, in good conscience stay out of this thing for so long? (Okay, so actually, I was born in Milwaukee, which makes me a Milwaukee native. That must be why…)

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And on the subject of Assembly Majority Leader Nelson, this from Rep. Snarlin’ Marlin Schneider and the longest-serving member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, in an e-mail to Isthmus:

“I warned Tom Nelson, oops, it’s now Thomas, a couple of years ago not to get too ambitious too fast but obviously he has not heeded that advice…. Mr. Nelson should step down as soon as the session is completed so that a new majority leader can look out for the interests of the caucus as a whole and not use this position as a fund-raising gimmick at the expense of everyone else.”

Other than, I suppose that they get along fine.

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I had a substantial conversation with a member of the Iowa City School District board on Sunday and on Tuesday, the announcement came that Wausau School District Superintendent Steve Murley was offered the job and is leaving to head that district. Doesn’t ANYONE ever listen to me? (Just kidding – and congratulations to Steve.) 😉

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I won’t say that designated smoking room legislation for bars to sidestep the looming statewide smoking ban in Wisconsin in July came up fast, but I would say it was half-fast.

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The GOP had better be careful about taking a stand to prevent any kind of meaningful reform to the financial system. You think Obama has low approval ratings? Check out Wall Street. This could be a suicide pact, if it continues.

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A chilly reception for former Doyle Administration Commerce Secretary from WTMJ’s conservative cheerleader Charlie Sykes, who doesn’t see a smooth or easy transition from that position to a GOP run for U.S. Senate vs. Sen. Russ Feingold. (The real question is what beer Democrats will be drinking this summer because it’s probably not going to be Leinenkugel.)

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Best quip of the week from 87th District Assembly candidate Dana Schultz (D-Athens):

“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the table.”

I keep asking people if they’ve heard it before and so far, nobody has.

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Think the media is tough on politicians?  Get a load of this pithy paragraph from the U.K.’s Guardian today:

“Were one of the news channels to represent the day’s sequence of events in graphic form – and forgive me if this has actually come to pass by the time you read this – they should depict an animated Gordon Brown laying a giant turd, upon which a biblical swarm of flies promptly descend. The flies represent the media – and yes, these very words are a dispatch from this pullulating stool, which drew feeders from slavering hacks to anguished publicists.”

Me:  Heck of a job there, Brownie.  God save the Queen!


Because I said so: Weston tells produce vendor to bag it

Posted in Uncategorized on April 17, 2010 by Jim Rosenberg

There’s an interesting story playing out in the Village of Weston. A fellow has been running a produce stand in the parking lot of Betty’s Lunch. We allow such stands in the City of Wausau, but Weston has an ordinance in place that prohibits them.

From following the coverage and the online chatter, it appears that the target of the restriction may have been the makeshift fireworks stands that crop up every summer leading up to Independence Day. Wausau allows those, too – not because we think they’re a great idea or anything, but just because we’ve been able to avoid needing restrictions. We limited rummage sales in recent history because some people were turning their yards into semi-permanent flea markets and it was driving their neighbors nuts. If you’re interfering with someone else’s rights and property value by exercising your own, then it’s something that needs to be reasonably arbitrated with everyone’s legitimate interests in mind.

Anyway, I have to tell you that even though it’s none of my business, this is about business and rights — and Weston would be better served if they re-opened their zoning ordinance to search for obvious unintended consequences, rather than to assume that they’ve already got things right. Looking at it from the outside, I don’t think that they do.

Years ago, I led a drive to change Wausau’s sign and sidewalk obstructions ordinance because we were flat-out too restrictive. It took the better part of two years to get it done, but now downtown businesses can again have overhanging signs, sandwich boards and café tables. They’re useful and people like them. More importantly, they work. The desire to “clean up the place” on the part of some shouldn’t supercede the need for people to conduct business.

I especially like farmers markets. I’ve studied them with the NeighborWorks organization and I’ve visited them all over the place on four continents and in more than a dozen countries. Markets and stands provide a low-barrier entry point into the economy for people. What got me especially interested was seeing that we had a lot of immigrants coming who had limited English skills, but they had great skills in growing things and displaying them for sale. There really aren’t requirements for a common language in markets. Everybody understands the concept of “You give me the money and I give you the stuff.” I’ve done this in many places where all that was necessary for the transaction to take place was a vendor pointing at a calculator.  Because of all of that, we should be far more interested in encouraging these enterprises than in making them more difficult.

Weston wants to move that produce stand to their designated farmers market area on the grounds of the Village Hall, where they will charge a $100 annual vendor fee. While that’s an accommodation, sometimes it’s better to just let business happen where it happens instead of trying to exert too much control. The Betty’s Lunch location looks like a good spot that is close to the customers. More importantly, the people actually involved think it’s a good place. It provides some synergy for the hosting business (something that won’t be true of the village hall grounds.) I don’t blame the village staff for enforcing the ordinance because that’s their job. But this is a call for policymakers to re-examine their philosophy.

This isn’t about whether some rule or ordinance might be a good idea because it covers every possible contingency or situation that could theoretically come up. The question is whether the public good really REQUIRES the restriction or whether it would be better to let people enjoy their rights with as little interference as possible. That’s something that I’m not so sure has always been our main policy goal, but it should be. I mean, the only reason this guy can’t run his produce stand is because a commission somewhere got together and decided he couldn’t, right? It’s not really a traffic safety hazard or an eyesore or a public health issue or anything else. The slippery slope argument is far more convincing to me in opposition to overbearing regulations than in support of them, in this case.

You don’t have to love things to keep them legal; you just have to put up with them and understand that by protecting the rights of others, you’re also protecting your own. Too often, government bodies seem to presume that they are in the business of doling out rights and privileges as if these things didn’t already exist unless ordained by them. That’s backwards. The burden should be on government to thoroughly justify its restrictions, instead of placing the onus on the individual to show why something ought to be allowed. And in a tossup of interests, it ought to go to the individual.



Tax and Titanic Day…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 15, 2010 by Jim Rosenberg

April 15 is Tax Day and that means the second annual “Tea Party” day across the country. And in Wausau, that means a couple of dueling events – one on the 400 Block around 3:30 p.m. being staged by the Dan Mielke contingent and another at the Rothschild Pavilion that looks to be the Americans for Prosperity branch of ‘people who say they are not the Republican Party.’ How do I know this? Because I listened to the radio yesterday as Republican Party of Marathon County 1st Vice Chairman (and 550 Radio host) Pat Snyder interviewed Tea Party organizer Meg Ellefson. (There is a John Ellefson who is Finance Chair of the RPMC, but I’m sure it’s just a coincidence and hey, maybe they’re not even related. I mean, there are lots of Ellefsons, right?) One of the speakers is RCMP Chair John Yackel (who was simply cited in the interview as a Wausau attorney, which I suppose is true as far as it goes…)

But the biggest kerfluffle over the Rothschild event came from a speaker who will not be showing up:
 Are People for the American Way non-partisan, too?
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Democratic Wisconsin governor candidate and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was in Wausau Tuesday and Wednesday. He almost seems like too nice of a guy to have to put up with all the garbage that this campaign will most certainly entail. On the other hand, his many years of experience as a state legislator, member of Congress and Milwaukee mayor mean that he is anything but naïve about political realities. He still does Dole handshakes as a result of serious injuries to his right hand in an altercation with a thug outside of the Milwaukee County fairgrounds last summer.
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I took the photo above at the Fairview Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where many of the people who perished in the Titanic disaster 98 years ago to day are buried. The story of the Titanic would be compelling enough, but the 1997 movie became the highest grossing film of all time until it was finally surpassed this year by Avatar.
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Speaking of trouble in the North Atlantic, many flights are grounded today as a cloud of smoke and ash rises over a volcano eruption in Iceland.  Heathrow Airport in London is closed.  Yowza.

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Tom Tiffany, two-time unsuccessful GOP candidate for the 12th Senate District against Roger Breske and then Jim Holperin, has now thrown his hat in the ring for the 35th Assembly District seat held by Rep Don Friske (R-Merrill) who will not seek re-election this fall.


Fear and loathing in the county GOP…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 12, 2010 by Jim Rosenberg

Well, maybe not, since Ed Marek is apparently not a member.  But the fellow who managed to pull more than 40 percent of the vote last Tuesday as a write-in candidate against a non-partisan, fairly plain vanilla city council representative in Wausau’s 6th District on the northeast side is not about to keep quiet about his dealings with the Republican Party of Marathon County.  It’s a long read, but well worth it: 

For better or worse, the RPMC — (I guess, because we don’t really know who wrote it and whether they represent the RPMC)  — has launched a counterblog: 

It’s certainly helpful to have additional light shed on this situation from a different point of view. What I don’t understand is why a response that reads like it is from the organization or its spokesperson would be posted anonymously.

Here is the leadership of the RPMC, as posted on the website.  (Of course, websites and leadership are subject to change and this one is no exception. The group has had a number of rifts over the past several years and Marek’s piece provides some insight into those):

So who are we hearing from here, as “Majestik Eleven?” Is it a unified position of the executive board? Is it several individual members of the party? Is it an individual?

For some — and you can include me among them — it would make a substantial difference whether I am hearing from Pat Snyder and Carl Kluz or Virginia Heinemann, Pam Galloway, Kevin Hermening, etc. 

Whatever else can be said about Mr. Marek, one has to concede that he is willing to stand by his words and be accountable for them. The countercase becomes far more difficult for people to weigh without the ability to “consider the source.”


The clammy hand of consistency has long rested on my shoulder…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 8, 2010 by Jim Rosenberg

I decided to clean off the top of my dresser. It’s a dusty, messy, multi-day process. Some interesting things turn up, like a ticket to a Buddhist temple in Bangkok, a San Francisco cable car ticket, boarding passes to god-knows-where, foreign coins, receipts from oddball places and cryptic notes that must have meant something at the time they were scrawled out.

And then there was a clipping of a letter to the editor that I wrote in March 1997 – a bit more than a year before I first ran and won a seat on the Wausau City Council. It was during the heady, rock-throwing days of the Wausau Century project – a hotel and convention center that would have been city-owned and that I opposed vigorously (along with about two-thirds of Wausau’s voters in two separate referendums.) Looking back on what has happened to travel since 9-11 and with the Great Recession, I am more convinced than ever that Wausau Century would have been a very bad idea.

Every time I run for re-election, I pull out a list of five things that made up my original platform in 1998 to see how the performance has matched the promise. While I’ve learned a lot over the past dozen years about economic development and we’ve enjoyed some great successes in that time, I’ve tried to stay grounded and consistent. Reading my letter to the editor from 13 years ago, I still feel the same way.

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Watch out for details of Century


Your series on Wausau Century was valuable, but your editorial endorsement of the entire project seemed premature. There are reams of confidential documents from closed meetings still tucked away to protect proprietary interests. If there is a devil in the details, you could be backing “Satan in a binder.”

The experiences in Oshkosh and Eau Claire should make us wary. These cities have some things going for them, including close proximity to significant markets and the supplementary boost that comes with four-year post-secondary schools. Stevens Point’s Holidome has this same resource to draw upon. LaCrosse, a successful convention center in your series, has two.

College campuses mean a lot in terms of visitors and a large, energetic, intelligent, attractive labor pool to support the hospitality trade. Even in bad times, these higher learning institutions provide a baseline of economic activity in their communities that wouldn’t be there without them. Our post-secondary institutions here are important assets, but they’re smaller and many of the students are local commuters who don’t generate the same kind of economic activity. Perhaps most importantly, college towns tend to engender a special kind of tolerant flexibility that sometimes seems to be missing here.

We’ve recently had city alcohol licensees being attacked with Carrie Nation-like vigor and a smoking ban proposed that was weird enough to make national news. After rushing to enact the steepest room tax possible, our city council attempted to remove funding from some of the most critical visitor and tourism-building services that we currently possess.

Do these sound like people who should be leading us into the entertainment and hospitality business? Have they found the Road to Damascus? Is Wausau ready to be adventurous and laid-back enough to be truly successful at this? That’s what we’ll be betting on.

For now, the city gets this taxpayer’s support for the proposed parking structure in conjunction with the development being put together by Mr. Johnson and Mr. McNutt. We should fund that river path, too. As for the rest of the grand plan, I’d love to see us revitalize downtown – primarily for ourselves, but also for visitors. Show me the money.


Sizing up the Wausau mid-term elections…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on April 7, 2010 by Jim Rosenberg

It’s been a busy time on the Blackberry since yesterday as people offer thoughts on the Wausau City Council and other non-partisan local races that took place yesterday. Overall, I have to say that it was about as good of a night as some of us could have hoped for and the new council looks very promising to me.

I’ll start with myself, since I’m in the 1st district anyway. I was pleased with the decent turnout of a bit more than 30 percent of registered voters and even more pleased to pick up 60 percent for the first time since I originally came into office in 1998. As the longest currently serving elected official in the City of Wausau, I have a group of strong supporters and a bit smaller (so far) group of committed detractors. It gets to the point where I know where a share of my opponents’ yard signs will show up each cycle. I’ve never used yard signs. I don’t have anything against them, but I’ve tried to adopt a Bill Proxmire approach of running a high profile in serving and a much lower profile in campaigning. It drives some of my strongest supporters nuts, but it has also worked (so far.)

Romey Wagner took the open seat in the 2nd and that is going to be a big change from having Deb Hadley on the council. Romey is the manager of the Wausau Business Development Center and he does interesting things like drilling wells for impoverished villages in Kenya. Although we disagreed on plenty of policy issues, I have to say that I enjoyed serving with Deb. In my view, her biggest political liability has always been her doctrinaire conservative, shoot-from-the-hip husband, Mark, who is well known in the community, for better or worse. If leaving the council on her own terms was a strategic decision to position for another try at the mayor’s office in 2012, it isn’t looking a good move this morning.

Third District: I don’t know Jonathan Havel, but I certainly would have voted for him. I’ve known his opponent, Chuck Szalewski, essentially all of my life. We played hockey, hunted and goofed off together with a group of kids on the southeast side. He’s not a policymaker, in my view. His mother, who lives next door to my daughter, had a sign up for my opponent for weeks. I guess she doesn’t like me as a policymaker, either.

District 4, 5, 6 and 7 had uncontested races for Jim Brezinski, Gary Gisselman, Gary Klingbeil and Lisa Rasmussen. Actually, that’s not quite true, since Klingbeil had an aggressive write-in challenger who managed to pick up 37 percent of the vote and that is a significant accomplishment.

District 8 saw a squeaker, with newcomer Chris Barr coming in six votes ahead of former council member Karen Kellbach. This may be the lone accomplishment for what has become popularly known as “the dark side” and it isn’t a gain because he replaces Tom Miller.

Matt Kaiser lost his bid for re-election in District 9 to Dave Overbeck, an architect and Main Street volunteer. This is pretty significant. Kaiser was the successor to Christine Van De Yacht so the 9th has provided a political home for some pretty interesting representation over the last dozen years.

Dave Nutting was elected to the 10th District seat over Dan McMullen. It was pretty clear when the appointment was being made to fill the remaining term of Steve Foley that McMullen was the choice for the infamous negative voting block on the council. They never said why and it was inexplicable to anyone who was seriously evaluating the three candidates that came forward at that time. Nutting was able to translate his solid win in the lightly attended February primary into a general election victory that was also fairly lightly attended.

Sherry Abitz turned back a challenge by District 11’s county board member Tom Wolfarht and also took his county board seat. This was not surprising, since Sherry has been doing a lot of work on the ground in that neighborhood.

Ed Gale retained his District 12 seat in another squeaker; this time by five votes. He ran a very close race in 2008, too. I like Ed and although we’ve had plenty of disagreements over the years on policy matters, we debate it out fairly and it’s never personal. Like me, he has built up a group of dedicated detractors over the years. He was running against a candidate who was joined at the hip with Matt Kaiser and you can read about their big bungle on campaign literature in my preceding blog entry. It is not difficult to believe that absent this incredibly ill-thought out strategy and the unbelievably lame, disingenuous explanation for it that followed, both the District 9 and District 12 races might have played out differently. Two people saying the exact same thing at the exact it time is more than interesting. What might be even more interesting than that would be to find out who actually came up with the words in the first place?