Archive for August, 2011

Wausau mayor on parade snit: play nice or pay up

Posted in Uncategorized on August 30, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Wausau Mayor Jim Tipple released a statement Monday afternoon; probably after receiving a phone call or two about the Marathon County Central Labor Council’s decision to keep Republican legislators out of the annual Labor Day parade.  I suppose he will now be getting a few more:

“The City is a co-sponsor of the Labor Day parade event, because we provided the payment for the insurance premium for the event, and we agreed to erect a stage and provide city services at no cost to the Marathon County Central Labor Council.

“The banning of a political party from participation at any event co-sponsored by the City is against public policy and not in the best interest of all the citizens of the City of Wausau. And therefore, we encourage the event organizer to invite all interested parties, or reimburse the city for other costs.”

* * *

From the standpoint of the city, this position makes a lot of sense and it may even be the only correct answer. And while the mayor might be accused of taking sides by some, he really isn’t. In fact, it’s about the last thing he would want to do.

Municipal offices like mayor, city council member and county board supervisor in Wisconsin are all nonpartisan. Some make few bones about where they land,  but Mayor Tipple is about as nonpartisan as they come. I never even met him until the night he was elected in 2004 and I’ve been hanging around politics in this town since the early 1980s. Nevertheless, I found Jim Tipple easy to get along with and we worked together well. By 2008, I was working on his re-election campaign and I still can’t tell you which way he leans on a partisan basis.

We had a beer together Saturday and I don’t recall if the Labor Day topic even came up, but I think Tipple may be the best possible person to arbitrate a disagreement like the parade snit. That’s because beyond not being partisan, Tipple is not even very political. Neither fish nor fowl, he does a far better than average job of avoiding controversies and he’s not ego-driven. I would say that his philosophy is pretty much encapsulated by that famous Rodney King quote: “Please, can we all just get along here?”

So the fact that he made a statement on this matter pretty much says one thing: he had no choice.

And now that the mayor has provided a gracious way out of a potentially deteriorating situation for all parties involved, I would suggest that the Labor Day parade organizers take it. The alternative is to press on and pay significant charges to close off the activities to people who may well end up not attending anyway, in view of the events leading up to now. It just seems a little silly to cut the baby in half.

But for those who still have hard feelings, here’s a link to the “Duffy Get Your Own Damn Parade” page on Facebook, which was brought to my attention this evening and magically grew from eight to 97 members while I was writing this:!/pages/Duffy-Get-Your-Own-Damn-Parade/106639059440765

Failing that, there are several voluminous and growing collections of online comments on various local media sites, where people are flailing away at each other with reckless abandon to predictably little avail. We’ll just have to see how this thing goes between now and Monday.


Wausau Daily Herald editorial, 8-30-2011:|head

Labor Day Parade opened to GOP participation, 8-31-2011:


Poltics on parade for Labor Day 2011

Posted in Uncategorized on August 29, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

WAUSAU (WAOW) — Labor Day parade organizers confirm that no Republicans will be allowed to participate in this year’s Labor Day Parade.

Council president Randy Radtke says they choose not to invite elected officials who have “openly attacked workers’ rights” or did nothing when state public workers lost most of their right to collectively bargain.

The parade is sponsored by the Marathon County Labor Council. A Wausau city spokeswoman said the city does not contribute any money to the parade.

Rep. Sean Duffy’s chief of staff, Brandon Moody, released a statement to Newsline 9: “Having walked in this parade in past years, Congressman Duffy was hoping that for a moment, we could set our differences aside and simply have some fun in a family-friendly event.”

* * *

Well, this is an interesting turn of events that gave people something to talk about besides Hurricane Irene over the weekend and it’s causing quite a discussion. It made it onto the wire and it’s looking like it could have some real legs by the time they strike up the band next Monday afternoon.

The decision was made way back last March, I learned, although no announcement was made. It’s only boiling up now because when Republican Congressman Sean Duffy’s office finally got the message, they thought it might be a good idea to pass the word and play the victim card with the media. Whether Duffy marched in the parade in past years or not, this is his first Labor Day as a Member of Congress and there are all kinds of things GOP policies are being called within labor circles, but ‘fun’ and ‘family-friendly’ aren’t among them. It’s also not easy to sell the idea of innocence on the federal level with an all-out assault in the state capitol on the part of Wisconsin’s Republicans. Labor knows who their friends are and who they are not.

Personally, I don’t think that the labor folks should have let the Republicans off so cheaply. If the Republicans are still small enough to come, why not be big enough to let them? I mean, really, if you could get the guv to serve as grand marshal, the people who would show up for something like that would effectively pass along any message that needs to be delivered. So go ahead and invite Custer to the pow-wow and let him do the snubbing.

On the other hand, the Marathon County Central Labor Council has a right to invite or not invite anybody that they want to because it’s literally their parade. It’s also a fact that the Republican Party has advanced an agenda in 2011 that is the absolute antithesis of what the labor movement has been all about for the past century. There is nothing wrong with trying to make use of the opportunity to illustrate that issue on the only holiday specifically set aside to honor the social and economic achievements of workers. It’s more a question of the best way to do that.

For whatever reason, there have been a lot of Republican votes among the working class in Wisconsin. Barring representatives who were elected by a majority vote naturally risks alienating a lot of people. Now, some of their kids may not show up in the marching band and some families aren’t going to show up along the route, either. While it’s a strong statement and it’s certainly more than justified, it doesn’t sound like good politics and it probably won’t advance the agenda of workers. “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” was an admonishment from Vito Corleone in The Godfather, but it actually goes back to around 500 B.C. and Chinese general Sun Tzu in “The Art of War.” There is a reason that it has remained sound advice for thousands of years. And speaking of history, not inviting a few people to join a parade is pretty darned minor in the big picture of the labor movement (so it’s hardly worth much outrage from the right.)

I talked with Central Labor Council President Randy Radtke informally yesterday and he received a hero’s welcome at the Marathon County Democratic Party’s cookout, where — not surprisingly — there was plenty of support for the decision to keep the Republicans out of the parade. He doesn’t seem like a loose cannon or somebody that necessarily even enjoys the spotlight he now finds himself in, but his resolve is firm. I can respect that.

So after everything that’s happened this year, I would have to concede that having Republican lawmakers marching in a Labor Day parade seems a bit like having Santa Claus helping to emcee a bar mitzvah. Still, it’s painfully obvious who the hypocrites would be if they came and it isn’t the Marathon County Central Labor Council.

UPDATE: Mayor weighs in on the parade situation- 


Tommy Thompson’s new pal, Steve Kagen

Posted in Uncategorized on August 25, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

“I look forward to meeting with Tommy and debating whatever differences he and I may have,” says former 8th District Democratic Congressman Steve Kagen of former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson in the closing line of a news release yesterday titled “Dr. Steve Kagen and Tommy Thompson agree.”

Sounding like a candidate for Senate himself, Kagen chided conservative Republicans and the Club for Growth, which has rolled out an anti-Thompson ad and may be backing Mark Neumann’s potential bid for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Herb Kohl at the end of his term. While that could be true, the Club for Growth is probably more about trying to derail moderate Tommy than they are concerned with backing Neumann, at least at the moment. They would be just as happy if they could run somebody even further off the fringe (if that’s possible.) Remember, that Ron Johnson fellow didn’t show up at all until April 2010 and by November, he was able to unseat Russ Feingold. A fast start out of the blocks is nice, but it’s nothing that having a few million to throw at a candidacy can’t make up for and Kagen has that going for him, too.

“Although the 2012 general election is fifteen months away, some Republicans are already attacking Tommy Thompson, even though he has not announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate,” says Kagen.

Kagen’s news release comes just days after what was described in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as a “stinging letter” from Jim Klauser to Mark Neumann. The characterization seems accurate. This from the August 23 column by Don Walker:

 “While I initially was encouraged by your gubernatorial campaign, I withdrew my support for your candidacy because you were trashing, actually lying, about Scott Walker’s record as county executive,” Klauser wrote.

“Now, you and your ally, a right-wing Washington D.C. political group is doing the same… trashing, lying, about Tommy Thompson’s record. I understand that several of your former employees are well placed at the “Club”. Evidentially they don’t understand any better than you do Ronald Reagan’s commandment.”

* * *

(Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican,” was actually coined by California GOP Chairman Gaylord Parkinson during Reagan’s 1966 gubernatorial campaign.)

Klauser was Secretary of the Department of Administration for a decade while Tommy Thompson was governor and he has never been known as a shrinking violet. His parting with Neumann during Neumann’s failed 2010 gubernatorial campaign was equally public.

As for Kagen, he used the recent Wisconsin recall campaigns very well, making the rounds for weeks among Democratic activists. Like many, he felt that Russ Feingold would make a run for either governor in a Walker recall or choose a run for Kohl’s seat. In talking with Kagen prior to the Holperin recall election, he saw a Feingold candidacy as prohibitive for him and he would not have engaged in a primary with him, so he was lobbying for Feingold to go after Walker. With Russ Feingold’s announcement last week that he would not be a candidate for anything in 2012, Kagen was more than ready to kick it up a notch.

Of course, there are other potential Democratic contenders, including U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin of the 2nd District and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind in the 3rd District. There is an element of risk for either. Their districts are fairly safe for them. Baldwin has served in Congress since 1998. Kind was elected to the House in 1996 and if the redistricting plan already signed into law holds, his district will be even safer. Either would have to give up their situations for what is sure to be an expensive and bruising battle for the Senate in a statewide race. Both are said to be strongly considering running; especially T-Ball, with her powerful Madison base.

Kagen, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to lose by directly engaging the Republicans as he continues to test the waters for a statewide run. It should be no skin off anyone’s nose on his side of the partisan divide if he can throw a little gasoline on the already-burning blaze within the GOP. And while he lost his Congressional seat in the 2010 Republican tsunami, that was then and this is now.

One would have to believe that in the fight for the right, Thompson has to be a little chagrined at Kagen’s generous defense, but it’s a brilliant little piece of theater for Kagen to run up and look like he’s willing to hold hands with Tommy. With CFG already trying to position Tommy with Obama, it leverages Kagen’s opportunistic play to go ahead and pose in that picture. This may be a purple state, but the GOP isn’t a purple party. The further to the right the Republican candidate ends up having to go to get through a GOP primary, the sharper the contrast Kagen or any Democrat will be able to draw. And as for Neumann, well, he lost in 2010, too — reason enough for Kagan to prefer him as an opponent.

So maybe it means something for Klauser to be roughing up Neumann on Thompson’s behalf, but that’s also just the way it seems to be between Neumann and some of the old guard in Wisconsin’s GOP. I’ll believe Tommy’s actually running when Bill McCoshen is willing to stick his neck out one more time, after investing a lot of credibility in a Thompson Senate candidacy last year that ended up never happening. Kagen, on the other hand, may already be making his move.


Steve Kagen’s press release:

War of words breaks out between Thompson and Neumann, CFG: 

UPDATE: Neumann announces U.S. Senate bid:

Looking back a decade after September 11

Posted in Uncategorized on August 22, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Like the Kennedy assassination, for those who are old enough to remember it, most people probably remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC. My parents happened to be staying at the Sheraton National that day, which is the hotel I stayed at on my first visit to Washington DC, back in 1980. It literally overlooks the Pentagon and in fact, I walked over to visit someone I knew there because it was so close that it wasn’t even worth a cab ride.

My parents took a bus home and I’m not sure if my father ever got on an airplane again, but beyond grave concern for the larger situation in our country and the world, my personal response to the whole thing was to take to the air. It was odd to hear no jets flying overhead and to see no contrails in the sky for days, but by September 19, I found myself walking through O’Hare to board a plane. You could have fired a cannon down the concourse and not hit anyone, although you couldn’t have gotten a corkscrew through security, where there was no waiting. It was pretty much me, crew members and security people with dogs. Not many people wanted to fly. At my destination, there were few people at the hotel besides aircrews and we speculated together about what might lie ahead.

In the ensuing months, airlines were doing everything they could to get people back on the planes. Fares were cheap, upgrades were easy and I was flying around the globe for dirt, while collecting gazillions of bonus miles. Congress had bailed the airlines out to keep them flying and I sat in planes that often had excess elbow room as people kept mentally running that videotape of planes crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. In retrospect, I’m glad that I didn’t waste the opportunity because there may never be a time like that again. Many people had much taken away from them on September 11, 2001. Ironically and in a way, it literally gave me the world.

Of course, September 11 had a much greater impact, even for me. I had a chance to focus on it several weeks ago when I ran into a crew from Wisconsin Public Television interviewing people on the 400 Block in downtown Wausau for an upcoming PBS special:


I was happy to see that Herman Cain subsequently came to the realization that some of his comments about Muslims really don’t match up too well with the U.S. Constitution.

“While I stand by my opposition to the interference of Sharia law into the American legal system, I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends,” Cain said in a late July statement. “I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it.”

For what it’s worth, I would be opposed to the interference of Sharia law into the American legal system, too. The big difference is that I refuse to accept the notion that it is actually a significant issue. Last November, 70 percent of Oklahomans voted to ban the use of Sharia law in their state courts (as if that was happening.) Since 2009, the topic – moot as it may be – has come up in a couple of dozen states. Several GOP presidential candidates besides Cain have already felt compelled to play the Sharia law card as they troll for votes among the paranoid conspiracy theorists of the far right. The San Angelo, Texas Tea Party will be taking up the threat of Sharia law in the U.S. at their meeting this week.

So while I was happy to see bin Laden finally held accountable for his actions when he was killed this past May, I don’t think it’s any real answer to the complicated web of long-term factors that created the environment for the events of September 11, 2001. In some ways, we’re fanning the flames for the next horrific event, with plenty of people who ought to know better being more than happy to lead the way with inane, delusional, nationalistic pandering. In terms of creating a safer and more peaceful world, I truly hope that we can make a lot more progress over the next decade than we have over the last.


GOP says they were “victorious” while WMC says ‘let’s change the rules’

Posted in Uncategorized on August 17, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

The picture above is from Kim Simac’s election night party. For some reason, the balloons hadn’t dropped yet.

It’s always entertaining to peruse the “morning after” quotes of various players following an election. Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus wasted no time continuing to declare victory, after his team lost two recall bids to unseat Democratic senators in Wisconsin yesterday:

“With the union-orchestrated recall madness over, taxpayers can rest assured that Republicans were victorious, maintaining the majority in the Wisconsin Senate despite Democrat guarantees of victory. Now, Wisconsin Republicans can continue proactively addressing the real issues facing Wisconsinites by focusing on job creation and getting the state’s fiscal house in order.

“Democrats and the unions should take notice that recent polling shows the public disapproves of further recalls. Liberals should stop distracting voters with expensive recall elections and start helping Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans get Wisconsin back to work.”

Well, that’s kind of interesting, since yesterday’s recalls were certainly NOT union-orchestrated. And while recent polling did indicate a narrow advantage at the moment for the point of view that Governor Walker shouldn’t be recalled – a view that I happen to share, for reasons that are probably much different than Reince’s – it doesn’t really translate to support for Walker or his agenda.

In the never-ending game of political chess that we now find ourselves in, WMC, (the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Association), has now embarked upon a mission to change Wisconsin’s recall provisions – something that requires a constitutional amendment. It’s funny that they didn’t roll out this idea last week or maybe a few months ago. It’s equally interesting that after the assurance from Reince Priebus that “Republicans were victorious,” they don’t seem interested in any more victories like the one they are supposedly now enjoying, (which consisted of losing two GOP seats in the state senate.)

I’m guessing if those balloons had dropped for them last night, they might not have been quite so insistent about the need for change this morning. But they didn’t and so here are WMC’s recall reform talking points, (which they feel should gain bipartisan support:)

“Now that the Senate recall elections are done, it’s time for Wisconsin to get back to focusing on job creation. Wisconsin needs to support recall reform so we do not face destabilizing recall elections again in the future. Wisconsin needs to amend its Constitution to tighten the standards for recalls. Right now, an elected official can be recalled for NO cause if the required petitions are gathered. Wisconsin’s Constitution needs to include a well-defined standard of wrong-doing by an elected official in order to allow a recall drive to move forward.”

That would probably be something like “high crimes and misdemeanors,” I guess – certainly not simply promoting an extremist agenda that you never campaigned on and that most of your constituency disapproves of, for example. As for focusing on job creation, it’s abundantly clear that it means something entirely different to WMC than it does to most people in Wisconsin. Just check out the agenda from that early special session on job creation that whizzed through the legislature.

The bottom line is that no matter how messy and inconvenient the recall provision in Wisconsin’s constitution happens to be, it leaves the power exactly where it belongs: with voters — not with WMC and the Koch brothers. The problem these folks have is that for all of their money, negative advertising and gaming, it’s really difficult to masquerade as a majority when you clearly are not.

The WMC has been a part of destabilizing Wisconsin’s political climate by pouring millions of dollars into judicial, legislative and gubernatorial races for the past several cycles in support their special interest agenda. Now that the people are beginning to figure some of this out and see the results, WMC sees a desperate need to change the rules. The reason is pretty simple: having their acolytes subject to recall after only partial terms can really diminish the return on investment in comparison to full terms. And ROI is what these folks are all about.


Tea Party Express underscores Simac’s extremist bona fides

Posted in Uncategorized on August 14, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Perhaps 100 people or a few less showed up in Merrill last Sunday for the visit of the Tea Party Express. The bus is a Sacramento-based enterprise of GOP political consulting firm Russo, Marsh and Rogers. Stumping for Kim Simac, Tea Party Express co-founder Howard Kaloogian admitted he had never met her and he spoke from a set of generic Republican talking points about how great things were going under the Walker regime here in Wisconsin.

Simac didn’t show up for the event, which may have been a smart move or may have simply been an extension of what appears to be her most consistent quality throughout the race for the 12th District Senate seat held by veteran Democratic legislator Jim Holperin: not showing up.

As for the Tea Party Express, it has a spotty record of success that is primarily on the ultra-conservative end of the spectrum. They backed Joe Miller in Alaska, a fellow who took out incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary and then subsequently lost to her as a write-in candidate because Miller was too red for even that conservative state. Murkowski’s “unwillingness to adopt the shortsighted, scorched-earth approach of one wing of her party cost her the primary election,” said the Anchorage Daily News, as it endorsed her write-in candidacy.

Another  Tea Party Express pick was Sharon Angle, in Nevada, who ran unsuccesfully against Sen. Harry Reid, despite last year’s GOP tsunami: (“I’m tired of some people calling me wacky.”) Then there was Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, who opened her campaign for the general election to the state’s U.S. Senate with an ad that informed voters she was not a witch. (That’s nice to know, I guess.)

Michele Bachmann, winner of the weekend’s GOP presidential straw poll in Iowa, has appeared with the Tea Party Express as her backdrop and it’s a great way to appeal to those ‘short-sighted, scorched earth’ extremists who tend to play a big role Republican primaries.

Unfortunately for Simac, this is the general election and having extremists on your side against a flaming moderate like Jim Holperin may be something that reasonable people, who fall somewhere in the middle of the road to the right or left of center, might find a bit disconcerting.

Simac’s campaign has been working hard to scrub the web of some of her many intemperate quotes over the past few years. Despite that, the founder of the Northwoods Patriots tea party group, who led the effort to collect the recall signatures for the race in which is now running, still has some difficulty dodging the “extremist” label. There’s a reason for that and it is the very same reason that the Tea Party Express rolled into the Northwoods last week to support Simac’s candidacy. She’s an extremist.


The Hill: Tea Party’s heyday may be coming to an end:

Spinning aside, the GOP lost

Posted in Uncategorized on August 11, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

It’s been interesting to read the various post-mortems and comments after Tuesday’s recall elections in six Republican districts. There was some real hand-wringing going on among some on the Democratic side over the fact that they failed to win three seats and wrest the majority away from the GOP in the state Senate. While that would have been great, I always thought it was a lot to expect. There was also some interesting bravado and football spiking on the GOP side, which I found a bit curious. Of course, part of the fun is listening to the spin and for that, we need those different perspectives.

“I am pleased voters agreed that we are on the right path here in Wisconsin,” Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said. (Context: his brother, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, had just lost more than 10 percent of his delegation. If Jeff sees that as some kind of ringing endorsement, then that’s a little puzzling.)

“The Republican Party won a great victory over the Big Union bosses and Obama Democrats last night,” trumpeted Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. “The people have given their seal of approval to Republicans’ successful efforts to balance the budget and ensure a healthy economy…” (Really, Reince? Throwing two of your people out in the middle of their terms is a great victory? Since that’s the case, let me be the first to wish you another great victory in November 2012. Being able to duplicate Tuesday’s night’s triumph would mean losing one third of the races in which your incumbents up for re-election.)

My favorite take came from someone on Twitter: “The Republicans went to Las Vegas with $6,000 and came home with $4,000. That’s not beating the casinos.”

The Democrats always had an uphill climb and it all took place in Republican districts, but here’s how it stacks up, so far. In 2011 – a non-election year – the Republican majority in the Senate has dipped from 19-14 in January down to 17-16 in August. They’ve also lost an Assembly seat to the Democrats that was left vacant when former GOP Rep. Mike Huebsch left to become Secretary of the Dept. of Administration. They’ve spent tens of millions to successfully defend a Supreme Court justice who should have easily walked away with his race and four Republican Senators.

Two recall elections remain next Tuesday, but there is essentially no opportunity for the Republicans to break even and a very good chance they’ll get nothing back at all. So the Democrats have much more to show for their efforts and while incremental progress may require more patience than a lot of people have, it is still exactly that.

The Republicans want you to believe they brought home the win with a score of 4-2 on August 9, but the only thing they’ve won so far is the chance to defend seven Senate seats in November 2012 instead of nine. They lost. The score was 2-0 because they had no chance to score points. We can debate whether it was worth it, but not the body count.


Here’s an interesting analysis of a possible Walker recall based on Tuesday’s results. Note that subsequent to its posting, the Cowles margin has been determined to closer to 56 percent, rather than the 60 percent cited:

For the record, I would be very cautious about the idea of a Walker recall until the prospects for its success are far better known than they are right now. The $20 million or more that such an all-or-nothing bid could cost would go a long way in the legislative races already on the docket in 2012. Having Walker play the part of the villain for two more cycles instead of just one could have some value, too — but a miscue giving him a mid-term win could be more costly than the money.

* * *

John Nichols: Walker throws Kapanke and Hopper under the bus —