Archive for July, 2011

Politics and the bus

Posted in Uncategorized on July 27, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

It’s a long and storied relationship between buses and politics.

Back in 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white person and it kicked off a boycott that lasted more than a year. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled that segregation on the bus system was unconstitutional and the rest, as they say, is history.

Throwing people under the bus is a time-honored political metaphor and there is almost always some of that going on.

Anyway, what got me thinking about this is that I noticed that Congressman Sean Duffy’s “mobile office” has gone a bit more anonymous lately. When it was originally rolled out, it featured his name and a House of Representatives seal displayed prominently on the side. Here’s a picture.

Now, the name and the congressional seal are gone. Of course, it’s still got the fancy paint job, which was something that I found kind of odd when I first saw it. Government vehicles tend to be rather generic looking and exclusive of any kind of ornamentation. This one is festooned with a scene of the U.S. Capitol, red white and blue flaggy-type stuff, etc. Take a look at the nameless version.

I’m not sure how I feel about this kind of thing. Duffy is a Member of Congress and so there is no point in trying to hide it. He holds the office to represent the people. On the other hand, I’m not sure if the taxpayers should be footing the bill for a traveling billboard. It might be fine if the campaign was doing that – and maybe that’s what is happening.

Still, how does one allocate the “official business” part from the campaigning part? The rollout announcement made no bones about this being a constituent service effort. If there is a crossover between campaigning and official business, it seems like one function or the other has to be getting a free ride, at least part of the time. It also opens the door for a lot of ambiguity about role and function — not just for the vehicle, but for the people riding around in it (for which there seems to be a lot more capacity than would normally ever be necessary.) I’m not sure where the idea for this thing came from, but if you like the motif, here’s an Americans for Prosperity van — a right-wing Koch-sponsored group headed by former Duffy staffer Matt Seaholm. (Appropriately, it’s a Mercedes.)

For whatever it’s worth, Duffy’s bus still has a “Dealer” plate on it – not “U.S. Government.” We’ll see how that ends up.

Duffy’s spokesperson at the time of the rollout pointed out that the lease of $1,350 per month was less than the cost of establishing a permanent office somewhere. Beyond the fact that the lease is only part of the cost – a vehicle of this type gets 9 to11 miles per gallon, for example — was that really the choice? Ever wonder why we phased out bookmobiles? Does anyone think that a vehicle of this sort would have been chosen as the most efficient way to get the job done if the traveling murals were prohibited?

What makes sense is to skip the dedicated tour bus with its custom paint job (or screen printed wrapper.) Hold office hours at town halls, public libraries, county offices or wherever – neutral, public facilities that feature handy things like restrooms, broadband access, places for conversations about personal situations without evacuating your bus and climate control that you don’t have to idle your engine to make work. Drive between these stops in something that gets decent gas mileage. Choosing a least-cost option is consistent with being a deficit hawk and voting for stuff like Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan (or just being cost-conscious, in general.) In the meantime, this choice gives a whole new meaning to the “Roll with Sean” campaign slogan.


A small tribute to Crazylegs

Posted in Uncategorized on July 25, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

It’s tough to leave much of a mark in this life, I’ve decided. One of our hometown heroes is Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch, a member of the NFL and College Football halls of fame who retired from the Los Angeles Rams in 1957 and served as athletic director for the University of Wisconsin from 1969 to 1987.

I’m not going to go through all of Elroy Hirsch’s storied accomplishments because it’s easy enough to find them, for anyone who is interested. His high school football coach was still coaching winning teams when I was a kid and I can remember meeting Hirsch a time or two while he was Badgers athletic director. In a lot of ways, he always seemed bigger than life. But the thing is, nobody is bigger than death.

Hirsch is buried within walking distance of my home. I’ve been to a lot of graves in a lot of different places. Some of them have been fairly ornate, such as those of Lincoln or Napoleon. Some are tasteful and not over the top, such as the Kennedy gravesite in Arlington or even Elvis Presley’s (in comparison to some other aspects of his life.) Some are really understated, like Jim Morrison of the Doors. The actual Jack Dawson who perished on the Titanic has a really small headstone in Halifax and there’s just a “J” for his first name, (but of course, that was before the movie with the fictional character that assumed his name played by Leonardo Di Caprio.) Then there are the anonymous stacks of bones in catacombs or people who have their ashes scattered to the four winds.

Personally, I don’t think any of it matters much, but it always struck me that for all of the accolades and fame that followed him through his life as a famous athlete, Elroy Hirsch’s final resting place is really very modest. Still, some thoughtful person dressed it up a little this year. It was the 30th year of the annual Crazylegs run in Madison this spring. It’s a really big deal, with more than 20,000 participants. And one of those people brought back the commemorative medallion that he or she received and hung it on its namesake’s headstone as a quiet little tribute. The neck ribbon has faded over the months and it’s hard to say how many or few people have noticed it since it was carefully placed there by its recipient, but I thought it was kind of a nice gesture.


This just in from the MacIvory Tower Institute! See? JOBS!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 21, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

I tried to test this on my B.S. meter earlier today, but it broke before I could enter the entire headline from the MacIver Institute:

“Wisconsin’s New Jobs Account for More than Half of Nation’s Net Gain for June”

“While Nation Sputters on Jobs, Wisconsin Economy Begins to Hum”

[Madison, Wisc…] Earlier this month, analysts were dismayed by the nation’s anemic job creation numbers. On Thursday, state officials were pleased as they released data that showed more than half of the net new jobs added in the US in June came from Wisconsin…

Using seasonally adjusted data, the 12,900 private-sector jobs created in June marks the largest one-month gain in Wisconsin since September 2003. The state’s net new job gain for June is 9,500 jobs, more than half of the nation’s net gain of 18,000 jobs…

* * *

Isn’t that fabulous? And just in time for the August recall elections! Oh, but hang on… Is that the humming of the economy we hear — or just somebody whistling past the graveyard?

* * *

Wisconsin’s seasonally adjusted June unemployment rate was 7.6 percent, up slightly from 7.4 percent in May… Without seasonal adjustment, Wisconsin’s June unemployment rate was 8.1 percent, up from 7.4 percent in May…

* * *

Oh, that’s different. Never mind!  (That’s the problem with job counting sometimes. We also don’t know much about what these jobs pay, whether they’re mostly seasonal, or a lot of other things.)

So just to make sure everyone understands, the unemployment rate last month is up (not down.) And if you’ve run out your unemployment – an issue that impacts on tens of thousands of Wisconsin people in families where that is the case – you can go pound sand. That $89 million worth of support from the federal government that our all-GOP legislature and executive branch still haven’t gotten around to approving – which has been available since April – is still hung up in procedures. But the one nice thing about Fitzwalkerstan is that when stuff like this happens, it’s very easy to figure where the blame lies (even while they’re busy trying to take credit for something that looks mighty suspect and diverting attention from other things that most certainly are.)

Going back to the jobs numbers, however, we have to be truly impressed with how the guv, GOP legislators, the MacIver Institute, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Area Chamber of Commerce and WMC all managed to have perfectly harmonized talking points ready to roll at the moment the report came out from the Department of Workforce Development. That’s really fast thinking! All boldly stood before God and this congregation to tell us, yes, little old Wisconsin is responsible for more than half of all the new net jobs in the entire country in June. They never blinked. That’s their story and they’re sticking to it. And if you extrapolate those numbers, it only takes a little more than 26 months to get the vaunted 250,000 jobs that Walker promised in his campaign. (Of course, the unemployment rate would also be approaching 13 percent, if you extrapolate that over the same period.)

It’s almost enough to make a person forget about gerrymandered redistricting, union-busting, tax cuts at the top, tax increases at the bottom, a crooked tort system, hundreds of millions in cuts to education and local governments, walking all over local control, shafting the craft brewers, knowing that the unemployment rate actually rose and all the rest.

Or maybe not.


Background on the MacIver Institute from Center for Media and Democracy: 

This American Life segment with Walker on job creation: 

This just in: Massachusetts claims growth of 10,000 jobs last month. (Gee, that doesn’t leave much for the rest of the Nation, does it?)

Whoops! Politifact rates GOP jobs claim as “False.”:

Politics Wednesday: GOP fumbles in Packerland

Posted in Uncategorized on July 20, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen won the first general recall election, capturing two thirds of the vote in Wisconsin’s 30th Senate District. Nobody expected Hansen’s opponent to win, but it was an indicator of just disorganized and unfocused the state’s “ruling” party really is right now. Republicans hold all three of the district’s Assembly seats. Their inability to field a credible challenge puts them in a less desirable situation going into the coming recall elections, in which the GOP will be trying to defend a half dozen seats in comparison to two for the Dems. Coming up, next door’s Republican Sen. Rob Cowles faces former Brown County Executive Nancy Nussbaum in another green and gold recall. Could be interesting (because at least the Democrats came up with a credible candidate.)

In the GOP’s most likely chance for a pickup, Kim Simac picked up 59 percent of the vote in the Republican primary in Jim Holperin’s 12th Senate District. This came on the strength of hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising. Lincoln County Board Chair Bob Lussow picked up 41 percent of the vote (after maybe spending his lunch money.) Look for this to be a big money race and for Simac to be well defined as a Tea Party extremist who has left a gold mine of intemperate quips along the way, along with background issues that could prove troublesome for her. It’s a decent district for a Republican to run in, with three GOP Assembly districts. That said, I still think Holperin will send Kim riding down the trail when it’s all said and done. Sen. Holperin has the unpleasant distinction of having faced (and won) a prior recall during the Chippewa treaty rights blowup, when he was in the Wisconsin State Assembly. He’s a solid moderate with an impressive resume in a place that sent Democrat Roger Breske back time after time.

In the 22nd Senate District, Chicagoland attorney Jonathan Steitz won the GOP primary for the right to face Democratic Sen. Bob Wirch. A telling indicator: far less people voted in the primary than signed the petitions to force the election in the first place. This one is clearly a very long shot for the Republicans and they will have far more pressing needs over the next few weeks than to flush too much money into what looks to be a loser for them.

So with eight recall elections coming featuring six GOP incumbents in the coming weeks, Wisconsin Republicans are now looking at a net loss of state senate seats and it’s really a question of how many – not “if.”


Still too soon to handicap a Walker recall bid

Posted in Uncategorized on July 18, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

MADISON (Reuters) – Wisconsin Democrats are increasingly confident that efforts to recall the state’s Republican governor in 2012 will succeed, a top official said on Wednesday, after the party scored an early win in its battle to unseat Republicans who backed a controversial anti-union law.

* * *

It seems a little early to be calling the outcome on Scott Walker, but suffice it to say that there is at least a possibility that his days of ruling in Fitzwalkerstan with impunity may be effectively shortened, in one way or another. A poll released within the last week shows that Walker has already far eclipsed predecessor Jim Doyle’s lowest approval ratings by a significant margin – quite an accomplishment, after just six months in office. A Walker visit to Gateway Technical College shows just what a disapproval rating approaching 60 percent can really look like:

Here’s Walker being booed out of a pubic event at Devil’s Lake State Park recently:

Scenes like this may explain why you don’t see him out marching in parades with his embattled enablers and why his events are most often open only to invited guests and “credentialed media.”

A round of recall primary elections this past Tuesday presented contests for which the dynamics are entirely different from anything we’ve ever seen. Bringing six Republicans to off-year recall elections was a feat in itself. Republicans responded by bringing three Democratic senators into recall contests, as well as by putting up “fake Democrats” in the six GOP recall districts – ostensibly to extend the time in which their incumbents could make their case to the voters. (During this extra “campaign time,” the Republicans are rolling out a highly partisan redistricting plan and they’re rushing to pass it before the possibility of losing their majority in the state senate comes into play.)

All of the “fake Democrats” lost in the primaries and that’s no surprise. It’s true that Republican voters in those districts had nothing better to do than to vote in the Democratic primaries in an effort to place the weakest possible competitor up against each Republican incumbent. The problem is that only about a third of voters in many districts tend to be hard partisans on each side and that leaves the outcomes up to the middle third.

As it turned out, voters have more integrity than the Republicans who cooked up the plan — a charade estimated to have cost taxpayers nearly half a million dollars. It takes a special kind of person to re-brand himself as a member of the opposition party and appear on a ballot as a registered hypocrite. It takes a special kind of a party to not only condone, but promote it. But trying to extrapolate these primary results over to general election possibilities seems premature because the question the voters answered last Tuesday was entirely different from the one that they will be asked in August.

All last Tuesday really told us is that voters want genuine candidates who are fit to serve. This Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen should coast to victory in the first general election of this recall season because even the red-leaning district he represents will have enough voters with enough integrity to realize that he is clearly the better alternative. Voters aren’t going to sit around and do political calculus with the Fitzgerald brothers on what this outcome means to the larger scenario. They just know that they would rather not be embarrassed by the rather sketchy-looking candidate who was left alone to carry the Republican flag when GOP Assembly Rep. John Nygren failed to turn in enough valid signatures to make the cut.

In the remaining eight recall races – two for Democrats and six for Republicans – I still can’t say that I see a slam dunk to come up with a net gain of three for the Democrats. I think Dan Kapanke in the 32nd is toast and that he will be taken out by 95th Assembly District Rep. Jennifer Shilling. The next most likely Republican to be ousted may be Randy Hopper, who carries plenty of personal baggage in a rematch of his 2008 race vs. Jessica King that wasn’t there when he took the seat by less than 200 votes.

Sheila Harsdorf’s 10th District doesn’t look all that competitive on paper. There are three Republican Assembly representatives and just across the river in Minnesota, voters keep sending Michele Bachmann back to the U.S. Congress. On the other hand, Joanne Kloppenburg ran decently in that region in the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court race and as a member of the Joint Finance Committee, Harsdorf may earn extra contempt for her support of the unpopular Walker agenda. The GOP worked its base in an unsuccessful bid to take out challenger Shelly Moore.

Next door to Green Bay’s Hansen recall next week, 2nd District Republican Senator Rob Cowles is facing a fairly well known Democratic challenger in former Brown County Executive Nancy Nussbaum. It should be an interesting race, but the district looks fairly red and has three GOP Assembly reps, so it would be an upset if Nussbaum took the general. Republican Senator Luther Olsen has a similar situation in the 14th, although there is one Democratic Assembly representative, Fred Clark, who is taking Olsen on in the recall. Olsen hasn’t had many good tests. Based on that district’s partisan patterns, he still looks to have an edge going in. If Clark wins, the GOP’s problems are huge.

GOP Sen. Alberta Darling will face 22nd Assembly District Rep. Sandy Pasch. The 8th District breaks 2-1 in Assembly representation for Republicans, but Darling won only narrowly with 51 percent of the vote in 2008. As the co-chair of Joint Finance, she has had great responsibility for advancing Walker’s agenda. A recent poll released by the Democrats put Pasch slightly ahead and this may even be the third most likely pickup for the Democrats. I received a fundraising letter from Rep. Paul Ryan for this race, in which he says Darling is trying to do the same thing at the state level that he’s trying to do at the federal level. (If the people of the 8th see it the same way, it may not be such a good thing.) I received another from Walker a couple of weeks ago on Darling’s behalf. Time will tell whether a strategy of linking up with two of the most polarizing figures in the GOP was a good idea.

I expect Democrat Bob Wirch to retain his seat in the 22nd Senate District in southeast Wisconsin. There’s a GOP primary tomorrow in that race which won’t matter. Sen. Jim Holperin in the sprawling 12th is likely a much closer race, pending a Republican primary next Tuesday that will select his opponent. The district has all-GOP Assembly representation and since it may be the Republicans’ only realistic chance to take a seat, resources have been pouring in. Right now, a lot of the focus is on the Aug. 12 general elections, but since the Wirch and Holperin generals won’t be held until Aug. 19, that may very well be when the winning basket is scored at the buzzer.

There are a lot of energized volunteers working on the recalls and weeks of campaigning still to go. Ironically, a three-seat pickup by the Democrats might tend to negate some of the urgency to remove the governor, since it would effectively place a check on his ability to advance his agenda. Recalls are rare for a reason and overall, citizens may not want to see them becoming a way of life. In the meantime, Wisconsin may well see $20 million being spent in nine state senate elections that nobody knew would be happening until a few months ago.

So here’s a question: If Russ Decker had voted to pass the state employee contracts in the lame duck session last December, what would we all be talking about right now?


Gov. Walker “welcomed” to an event at the Beloit Welcome Center July 18:

Politics and pints: something to Chatter about

Posted in Uncategorized on July 12, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg


The David Koch founded and funded Americans for Prosperity has kept Joe the Plumber’s 15 minutes of fame going for years by paying him to show up at conservative re-education mini-camps sometimes dubbed “Politics and Pints” — (even though his name isn’t Joe and he isn’t a plumber.) It doesn’t hurt to be inebriated as you evaluate some of the philosophical gymnastics required to assist people like the Kochs with their extreme right wing agenda, if you aren’t a gazillionaire, but alcohol and politics have always made a potent combination.

Politics and pints have taken on a new meaning in Wisconsin as the Tavern League of Wisconsin joined MillerCoors to promote an item in the state budget that will potentially stifle the growth of Wisconsin’s craft beer industry. It has to do with the distribution by small volume brewers and it was ostensibly done to keep Anheuser-Busch from buying up distributors and giving their product an unfair advantage.

Until the recent state budget was signed, Wisconsin was definitely “open for business” for small brewers. Although the overall beer market in the U.S. declined by one percent in 2010, it was up 12 percent for craft brewers and it’s not their first year of double-digit growth. Wisconsin has around 60 of these microbrewers and their growing market share in the state is now around five percent. The problem for the megabrands is pretty simple: they serve up a lot of comparative junk. It may be less filling, but really doesn’t taste great and more people have been figuring it out — just like comparing thin Folger’s in the church basement to a rich Starbucks will change your view of coffee.

With the repeal of Prohibition, a Holy Trinity was set up that dictated alcohol beverages must follow a specified path from the brewer to your lips. The proposal supported by MillerCoors, the Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association, lobbyists for grocers and convenience stores and (of course) the Tavern League, combines the brewer’s permit and wholesale and retail licenses given out by municipalities into one permit under state control. It bans brewers from purchasing distributors — something craft brewers say they might need later to avoid getting squeezed out of the market by large corporate brewers.

Like a lot of bad policy over the years, this Miller-Coors backed crapola was tacked on to the Wisconsin state budget bill, passed by the Republican legislature and duly signed by Governor Walker. (Wisconsin is open for business, except for trains, craft brewers, alternative energy and whoever else makes the list in coming months. Multi-national, foreign-owners brewers? You’re okay. See you at the fundraiser, okay?)

“Everything in this bill is designed to make it harder for small craft brewers to grow,” says Deb Carey, a co-owner of New Glarus Brewing and a member of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild that opposes Walker’s provision in a Cap Times piece that ran in June. “It is a slimy piece of legislation.”

The truth of the matter is that the Tavern League may support their customers’ rights when it suits them, but it’s always about their own interests and not necessarily those of their customers. This isn’t the first time they’ve supported anti-competitive legislation, either. In the late 1990s, the Tavern League successfully backed legislation to force municipalities to cut the number of liquor licenses they issued and charge $10,000 for the reserve licenses that remained. That puts them right in the same camp with Walker when it comes to issues like local control. (While many municipalities passed ordinances that effectively provided a workaround through a corresponding “economic development grant” for new license applicants, I tried unsuccessfully for years to get Wausau to pass such a measure.)

For an entertaining little take on what’s going on across the country, here’s a movie trailer for “Beer Wars” that will give you a rich, malty taste with hints of fermented barley and hops:

Great Dane and Vintage Brewing Company in Madison discontinued sales of MillerCoors in June to protest their legislative effort and now, a Wausau tavern – Chatterbox – has responded by ending sales of Wisconsin-owned and brewed New Glarus products.

“The Tavern League of Wisconsin leads the battle every day to protect your rights as a consumer of alcoholic beverages. It is our feeling that any organization that attacks and not applauds these efforts should not be supported,” says Chatterbox on their Facebook page.

Actually, the Tavern League was supporting a provision to prohibit brewers from operating pubs and restaurants – and no, I don’t applaud them for it. I like the Chatterbox and was happy to support their expansion a few years back. Now, I think they should support helping other Wisconsin small businesses to expand and I think they are exactly wrong to stand with MillerCoors and the Tavern League on this one. It makes about as much sense as Joe the Plumber standing with David Koch.

Seven Wisconsin legislators requested a veto by Walker on the craft brewing provision to no avail. Folks should be very wary about legislation when you have lawmakers as disparate in their views as Republican Senators Glenn Grothman and Pam Galloway agreeing with Democratic Senator Bob Jauch, along with Assembly Representatives Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) and Evan Wynn (R-Whitewater.) This is a bad deal. (Of course, it would have been nice and a lot more powerful a statement if the Republican senators would have come out before the budget was passed to demand that the provision be removed, but that didn’t happen.)

“Small businesses are the leaders of Wisconsin’s economic recovery, and micro-breweries are no different. They employ many Wisconsinites directly, and many more through their purchase of quality Wisconsin ingredients. Wisconsin should be moving in a business-friendly direction and not legislating more needless government regulation, ” said Rep. Wynn.

That sounds about right to me. And instead of standing with the Tavern League, Chatterbox would be better off standing with their customers – whether they want a Bud Lite or a Spotted Cow.


UPDATE: 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year says Walker is destroying small breweries and their  jobs in Wisconsin:

400 Block makeover — before and after

Posted in Uncategorized on July 8, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Somebody was wondering how there could be more area available for Chalkfest drawings on the 400 Block after the renovations in comparison to the block as things were in place last year.  The answer is in the fact that a lot of walkway around the perimeter that was formerly brick was replaced with concrete, which adds to the inventory of useable space. In addition, the interior walkways are a bit wider, there is a large west terrace and there are new walkways to the stage area that didn’t exist in the past.  But all of that aside, it’s kind of interesting to look at a head-to-head by before and after photos.  The post-renovation picture was taken June 29, 2011 and the pre-renovation picture was taken at a concert that was held during the fair in August 2010, so the crowd is a bit smaller.