Archive for October, 2010

In Madison, it’s Green Tea…

Posted in Uncategorized on October 29, 2010 by Jim Rosenberg

With all the attention given to the political right in next week’s elections, there isn’t a lot of focus for things that are happening on the left.  But down in Madison’s 77th Assembly District, there is a race going on that many people might have thought would be over with the Democratic primary.  With firebrand progressive Democratic Rep. Spencer Black deciding not to run again after 26 years in the legislature, there was never much question that the 77th would not be a place for the GOP to look for a pickup.  Dane County Board Supervisor Brett Hulsey emerged as the winner in a 5-way Democratic Party in September, so game-set-match, right?  Well, no.

Challenging for the seat in the general election is Ben Manski of the Green Party.  Even where they exist, Green Party candidates are mostly just for fun in most places because a lot of people don’t even know their names until they see them on the ballot when they go to the polls.  That’s not the case in Madison this time around.  Manski has now picked up endorsements from the Daily Cardinal and the Capital Times.  Hulsey has picked up the endorsement of the Wisconsin State Journal, which may turn out to be a mixed blessing in this bastion of the left, which includes much of the resident UW-Madison student body. 

Hulsey is being beat up for some consulting work he’s done relating to a coal-fired power plant and Manski has picked up affirmative nods from some stalwarts of  the progressive wing of the party, including Ed Garvey, former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager and Secretary of State Doug LaFollette.  All are known for their aggressive approach to environmental issues and so is Manski.  While there are plenty of Democratic Party names that aren’t on Manski’s list, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re on Hulsey’s.  There was a brouhaha over claims of support by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, State Rep. Mark Pocan and State Senator Fred Risser when it turned out not to be the case, (as far as anyone could tell.) 

Hulsey did manage to pick up the endorsements of State Representatives Donna Seidel, Mike Sheridan and Peter Barca.  But what’s really telling is that Baldwin and Risser — who compete for the favor of the same voters Hulsey and Manski are fighting over — have both found that endorsing their own party’s candidate may not be their best move, so they haven’t. (Risser has reportedly said that he WOULD be endorsing Hulsey, but it’s getting awfully late in the game now, isn’t it?)  As for Spencer Black, he said he would vote for Hulsey; (some have said not very loudly.)

So on Wednesday morning, amidst the carnage of a right wing tsunami across the country that will almost certainly see the Republicans recapturing the U.S. House of Representatives and cutting deeply into the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, there will be a little story within the story: whether Democrat Brett Hulsey can prevail over an element of the voting public that is coming to the polls looking for something to the left of him.  Along with Lisa Murkowski’s write-in campaign in Alaska, it has the potential to be one of the more unusual situations in the 2010 midterm elections.


UPDATE – The Isthmus Daily Page reports:

Spencer Black denounces Hulsey campaign for misquote
Jack Craver on Saturday 10/30/2010 12:09 pm

Things just keep getting worse for Brett Hulsey. Today Rep. Spencer Black sent a statement to media outlets concerning a “made up” quote that was attributed to him on a Hulsey campaign flyer:

Voters in the 77th Assembly District received a mailing from the Brett Hulsey campaign on Friday. That mailing contains a prominent quote attributed to me.

The quote attributed to me in that mailing is not my quote. In fact, when Brett Hulsey asked if he could attribute that quote to me (one that I had never written or said) I made it clear he could not since it is not my words.

I am very disappointed that this made up quote was used despite my disapproval.

Ouch. Will he ever go so far as to rescind his endorsement?

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And this from the Cap Times, laying things out in greater detail: 

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Civility tour: it’s got my vote…

Posted in Uncategorized on October 26, 2010 by Jim Rosenberg


About a year ago, Jim Leach, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, embarked upon a 50-state “American Civility Tour.”  Last weekend, he was in Wausau for the opening of the new UW Center for Civic Engagement.  It could hardly have been a more appropriate setting for the man and his message.  It was a pleasure to meet and hear this interesting fellow.  (I couldn’t help but think of the famous theme song from The Man of La Mancha, a musical based on Don Quixote, which is appropriately titled “The Impossible Dream.”)

A former Republican Congressman from southeastern Iowa, Leach became Chairman of NEH in August, 2009 — a nominee of Democratic President Obama.  In a country filled with the vitriol of talk radio, Internet flaming from anonymous hacks, TEA party rhetoric and third party negative campaigns that practically drown out the voices of the candidates themselves, Leach has made civility and cross-cultural understanding the centerpieces of his chairmanship. 

“Little is more important for the world’s leading democracy in this change-intensive century than establishing an ethos of thoughtfulness and decency of expression in the public square,” said Leach in a Washington Post article on his effort. “If we don’t try to understand and respect others, how can we expect them to respect us, our values and our way of life?”

Bravo, Mr. Chairman.  If you can endow even a modicum of improvement to our humanity during your tenure, you will have accomplished something that seems to have become more elusive with each new term of our state and federal legislatures.  You’ve got my vote.


It’s the redistricting, stupid.

Posted in Uncategorized on October 17, 2010 by Jim Rosenberg

A lot of people are under the mistaken belief that the November election is mostly about the economy. Well, it might be for you and it surely is for most voters – but that isn’t why you’re seeing millions of dollars being dropped like a carpet bombing pattern across the U.S. It’s not about taxes, either. The tax cuts put in place at the federal level in the early years of the Bush Administration are still very much in place and more were added with the stimulus legislation, of which about 40 percent was tax cuts. (Everybody can see what they did to produce jobs, right?)  Not only are taxes simply not the problem right now, they’ve been lower for most people. Got that? Lower.

There are competing visions, to be sure. But the reason a national organization led by GOP political operative Karl Rove is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in Wisconsin’s 29th State Senate District isn’t really over a particular issue. It’s about redistricting. In short, it’s about ALL of their issues and philosophies over the next decade and beyond — some you don’t know about and some that even they don’t know about.  And it’s playing out in states and districts across the country. They use different hot buttons like jobs, debt, deficit, immigration, their opponent’s record on something-or-other, trade agreements, or whatever it takes. (Nobody’s even talking about the war.) But it’s about redistricting.

Here’s an example. According to filings at four Central Wisconsin television stations, the Republican State Leadership Committee of Alexandria, Virginia, has booked airtime for $318,150 in television attack ads against State Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker. They are also spending on a direct mail campaign, the cost of which does not have to be disclosed. The total amount of spending is several times more than will be spent by the candidates themselves. And it’s not about combined reporting for those who want to bring back multi-state tax dodging or putting Wisconsin on a better fiscal footing. It’s about redistricting.

The Republican State Leadership Committee is funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a number of large corporations, including Wal-Mart, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and others. We’re also seeing lots of “educational” advertising from Americans for Prosperity, a “movement” bankrolled by billionaire right winger David Koch. If you think Mr. Koch is about protecting middle class values, you would have to engage in some real mental gymnastics to arrive at that conclusion. (Here’s some good reading on that subject):

The legislators who hold the majorities in statehouses will be charged with redistricting their respective states using the data obtained in the 2010 Census. (You remember: that big conspiracy that people like Rep. Michele Bachmann warned you about):

“Take this into consideration. If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the Census Bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations at the request of President Roosevelt, and that’s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps. I’m not saying that that’s what the Administration is planning to do, but I am saying that private personal information that was given to the Census Bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up, in a violation of their constitutional rights, and put the Japanese in internment camps.” -Rep. Michele Bachmann, June 2009

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Now, do you think that if the Democrats have a chance to redraw Michele Bachmann’s district, it’s going to end up looking much like the one that currently keeps sending her back to Congress? A nip here and a tuck there and it will be bye-bye Michele – particularly if Minnesota ends up losing a Congressional seat. (Ironically, that’s something that is made even more likely if many people in the Gopher State followed through on her paranoid rhetoric and ended up not being counted.)

Here’s what the Minneapolis-Star Tribune said about that last year, as the state was gearing up for the Census:

“If Minnesota were slated to lose a seat, the Sixth Congressional District represented by Republican Michele Bachmann would be particularly vulnerable, said Steven Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

That’s because the Sixth, which includes eastern, northern and western suburbs, is an odd shape that would make it a likely candidate to carve up, he said. If so, it would likely force Bachmann, if she opted to stay in Congress, to run in a less conservative district.

However, if Republicans were to control the legislature and governor’s office they would likely try to carve up the First Congressional District represented by Democrat Tim Walz, Smith said.”

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And that, my friends is what the November 2010 mid-term election is all about. So turn off the ads and throw out the mailers.  In state-level races, this election is about redistricting.  Period.


UPDATE: In the Fall 2012 state legislative and congressional elections, more people voted for Democrats than Republicans. But thanks to a highly-partisan redistricting map, the GOP easily controls the Wisconsin State Assembly, the Wisconsin Senate and the majority of the Congressional delegation:



Transportation fund referendum: be careful what you wish for…

Posted in Uncategorized on October 12, 2010 by Jim Rosenberg

With all the campaign advertising we’ve been subjected to in Wisconsin over the past few months, it’s hard to believe that anybody has missed anything.

Well, they have. In 53 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, the following question will appear on the November ballot:

“Should the Wisconsin Constitution be amended to prohibit any further transfers or lapses from the segregated transportation fund?”

Well, who wouldn’t support that? The last several budget cycles in the State of Wisconsin have seen hundreds of millions of dollars taken from the transportation fund to balance the budget. A lot of people think that’s a bad move, but nobody more than the people who build roads – and they are the ones who had their people running around the state this year getting county boards to add the question to the ballot. Most of them obliged and the only reason that there aren’t 54 counties on the November list is that Racine County added the question to their September primary. It passed 18,748 to 6,676 – but the margin was actually 55.7 percent in favor to 19.8 percent opposed. Now, I realize that only adds up to 75.5 percent and not 100 percent. That’s known as an undervote.

One might presume that the nearly 25 percent of the electorate who left the question blank on their primary ballots might have done so for a reason and a likely reason might be that they had no background on the issue. Personally, I congratulate those people who showed up at the polls and thoughtfully decided not to vote on something that they knew little or nothing about — (if that’s what happened; I never checked to see if that was the case.)

The question will surely pass overwhelmingly in a few weeks, but it will be interesting to see how many people in the 53 counties will also walk away shaking their heads without responding because they aren’t prepared to respond with no background about the issue.

The coalition pushing for the ballot measure is impressive: 3M; AAA – Wisconsin; Aggregate Producers of Wisconsin; American Council of Engineering Companies of Wisconsin; American Petroleum Institute; Construction Business Group; Dairy Business Association; East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission; Forward Janesville, Inc.; Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association; Greater Brookfield Chamber of Commerce; Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce; International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 139; Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce; Midwest Food Processors Association; National Federation of Independent Business; Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce; Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin; Wisconsin Asphalt Pavement Association; Wisconsin Automobile & Truck Dealers Association; Wisconsin Automotive Aftermarket Association; Wisconsin Commercial Ports Association; Wisconsin Concrete Pavement Association; Wisconsin County Highway Association; Wisconsin Earth Movers Association; Wisconsin Economic Development Association; Wisconsin Grocers Association; Wisconsin Housing Alliance; Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council; Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce; Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association; Wisconsin Petroleum Council; Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association; Wisconsin Restaurant Association; Wisconsin Retail Council; Wisconsin Towns Association; Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association and the Wisconsin Urban & Rural Transit Association.

Now, I have nothing against these people and I’ve even been a member or lobbied with some of them in the past. But the question is designed to evoke a knee-jerk response and in a vacuum, I would certainly support the concept of protecting against bait & switch games with segregated funds, myself. But here’s the thing: transportation expenditures didn’t really take a hit. There were a lot of projects that were bonded (at historically low interest rates.) There were even more projects added via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. (Remember listening to talk radio blowhards telling you about how the stimulus didn’t do anything while you were driving through all those construction zones this year? You know, the same people who tout tax cuts as a way to improve employment all the time and leave out the fact that around 40 percent of that stimulus legislation they hate was in the form of tax cuts?)

But I digress. The reason that I’m not voting for the ballot measure is because I think it trivializes our state constitution and creates a sacred cow, when good policy would seem to require that everything be on the table in budget discussions. Protect transportation disproportionately and all of the pressure relieved in that realm will build in the areas of shared revenue, school aids, services to the needy, etc. It’s not a pretty picture and it creates a false priority by preventing comparison to other responsibilities and obligations that the state has.  Moreover, given reasonable interest rates, it is altogether appropriate to spread the cost of long-term infrastructure improvements over a reasonable period of time in order to more fairly apportion the costs to the people for whom the investment will be used and useful.  

If the transportation lobby truly wants to make sure transportation is adequately funded going forward, then a good first step would be to restore the gasoline tax indexing mechanism that was ended in 2006 as a futile, populist and poor policy gesture toward high gasoline prices at the time. But that referendum probably wouldn’t pass.  Instead, we’ve got a “Let’s Make a Deal” question and the majority of Wisconsinites are going to trade for what’s behind Curtain Number 1, without having any idea what it will be. 

And just for balance, here’s an opposing viewpoint: 


Oh Danny Boy!

Posted in Uncategorized on October 7, 2010 by Jim Rosenberg

Sometimes, there is no need to comment.  You can just put things side-by-side and they tell the story:

Headline:  Dan Mielke won’t start write-in campaign

By Cara Spoto • Stevens Point Journal staff • September 18, 2010 

Sustainable farmer Dan Mielke won’t launch a write-in campaign for the 7th Congressional District after his loss to former Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy.

On Friday the Rudolph resident, who lost the nomination to Duffy by less than 20,000 votes, said he was pulling back, not because he only won 34 percent of voters, but because launching an “aggressive write-in campaign” would not be in his or his family’s best interest.

Mielke said after Tuesday’s primary that he would consider running as a write-in if he received 45 percent of the vote.

“We have been in prayer and have talked to a lot of supporters and have decided that, at this point, it’s not really in our best interest,” he said. “Sometimes, you have to learn that it is not nice to fool with Mother Nature; well, the Republican Party is very similar.”

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Headline:  Dan Mielke launches write-in campaign

October 7, 2010 – Stevens Point Journal

Rudolph farmer Dan Mielke announced today that he is launching a write-in campaign for the U.S. 7th District Congressional seat.

 In an e-mail to supporters, Mielke said he decided not to endorse the Republican candidate Sean Duffy, whom he was defeated by in last month’s primary, because the former Ashland County District Attorney would not negotiate with him on “six areas of concern.”

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Joel Winnig making state Supreme Court run…

Posted in Uncategorized on October 7, 2010 by Jim Rosenberg

While running down a Tweet this evening, I ran across this tidbit from the Isthmus Daily Page last July:

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Madison lawyer Joel Winnig says he’s running for Wisconsin Supreme Court because a new law aimed at improving the integrity of the process makes it possible for him to win. The only problem: An old rule aimed at protecting the integrity of the process makes it impossible for him to run as he’d like.

The new law is Wisconsin’s Impartial Justice Act, which provides public financing of up to $100,000 in the primary and $300,000 in the spring election — and potentially much more to counter profligate spending by, or independent expenditures on behalf of, opposing candidates.

To qualify for this largess, candidates must raise between $5,000 and $15,000 from at least 1,000 state residents, in amounts between $5 to $100. But an existing Supreme Court rule that recently withstood legal challenge bars judicial candidates from asking anyone for money or directly accepting it. Others must do this for them.

There’s more and you can read it here:

Now, I knew Joel Winnig was in Madison, but he’s the same Joel Winnig that grew up in Wausau.  He’s a year or so older than me and during “The Great Liberal Experiment” of the 1970s, he held a student seat on the Wausau School Board.  He was an interesting fellow and smart.  And when he graduated from high school and wanted to get on with his life, I took over the seat.  (As heady as that might sound, I doubt that there was really much demand among the student body at Wausau East for the privilege of sitting through long, boring meetings — but in retrospect, it turned out to be a cool thing, if only for the ability to look back on it now.)

First, I have to tell you that it was a different time.  At the meetings, I sat next to Mr. Krause.  He was an accountant and he used to try to talk me into becoming a CPA.  He might has well have been trying to talk me into joining the French Foreign Legion or becoming a monk, for all I cared.  Just poring over those mind-numbing ledger pages in the meetings was enough to make me want to puke.

But here’s the funny part.  In those days, you could smoke at the meetings and they sure as heck weren’t televised.  It was literally the era of the “smoke-filled room.”   The School Board met in the Wausau City Council chambers in those days and once the meeting got going, Krause always liked to light up a stogie.  Better yet, he would sometimes offer one to me and I always took it when he did.

So there we sat at our desks in the City Hall, puffing on our cigars — old white-haired Krause and young long-haired me (and yes, I DID have hair and it was pretty long.)  But you know, the Indians knew something about smoking.  Old Krause and I probably had very little in common other than going to School Board meetings, but as I look back on it, he was doing his civic duty on behalf of the young people in our school system.  He was trying to make sure they got educated decently.  He gave a damn.

Of course, today nobody can  smoke in public meetings and on the balance, it’s probably a good thing.  And if a school board member gave a high school kid a cigar and they both lit them up and smoked them together — even outside in a designated smoking area — he’d probably be pilloried or recalled or at least he’d certainly lose the next election.

And speaking of up in smoke, I noticed that Joel Winnig, my student predecessor on the Wausau School Board and now Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate , was one of the speakers at last weekend’s 40th Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Festival.  It was a nice day and you can see his remarks on YouTube here:

So I wish him luck and I thank him for the chance to smoke stogies with Old Krause and learn something about people, politics and public service way back when.