Saturday, April 11, 2015

Shirley Abrahamson gets the last laugh

I remember well from Trusts and Estates in law school a professor saying that you should make your worst enemy the personal representative (executor) of your estate because you would be getting the last laugh.

That pretty much sums up what happened this week when special interests spent big bucks engineering an essentially useless state constitutional amendment ostensibly aimed at dethroning Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The amendment, which is being challenged by Abrahamson in federal court, allows the justices to elect the chief justice instead of the title -- and responsibilities -- falling on the most senior jurist on the court.

The not-so-hidden agenda was to get back at Abrahamson who is considered to be the ringleader of the court's so-called liberal minority and to allow a more conservative member of the court to take her place.  

The problem is that the people pushing this had no idea what the chief justice really does.  Yes, the chief is the chief as such the presiding judge of the court and its most prominent public figure.  In reality, though, the chief justice gets an extra $8,000 a year to do largely administrative and almost exclusively nonpartisan work.  

In plain terms, it's like giving David Letterman $8,000 more a year to sign off on his show's payroll and purchase orders, approve the budget request and hiring of stage hands and negotiating with CBS at budget time.  In short, it's pretty much like making your worst enemy the personal representative of your estate -- a mundane task that has to be done.

Of course where it failed big is that Shirley Abrahamson, when and if the amendment is certified and she loses her title, is still a member of the court where the chief justice, whoever it is, only has one vote.  The philosophical makeup of the court hasn't changed and a change in the chief justice won't change that.

But, when the rubber hits the road, if I was one of the conservative majority I'd probably vote for Shirley to remain as chief justice.  Apart from any nonpartisan concerns about political incursion into judicial independence, she is the most qualified person for the job which is a deeply held conservative principle -- hiring should be based on qualifications.  Plus, given what the job really is, it's a lot like making your worst enemy your personal representative.

Friday, April 3, 2015

What it meant to be a Republican

An old-line unabashedly liberal congressman recently told me, "You expect us Democrats to be crazy but the Republicans were known to be the solid, sober capable managers.  Now they've gone insane and if you people want to do something patriotic they should join the Republican party and bring it back home."

That's one reason this Republican is so often critical of the real RINO's (Republicans in name only) who've hijacked the Grand Old Party and contorted it into a special interest advocacy forum out ot touch with the party's rich history.  In fact, as we get closer to another presidential election, we have a half dozen or so candidates vying to distinguish themselves as being further to the right than the next guy (no women in the mix).  They really seem to be a choice between which brand of razor blades with which to cut your throat.

And it's more of the same -- but worst.  John McCain in 2008 was flamed because he wasn't conservative enough (despite solid ratings from the American Conservative Union).  Four years later Mitt Romney twisted himself into a political pretzel to appease the right-wing that it became virtually impossible to know where he really stood.  (Ironically, the party that in 2004 accused Democrat John Kerry of being a "flip-flopper" fielded a candidate who was likewise inconsistent -- or worse.)

The Republican party hasn't always been so extreme.  Yes, we consistently advocated a strong defense, smaller government, lower  taxes and the benefits of private enterprise. 

But the GOP I grew up with supported organized labor as evidenced in the 1956 platform: "The protection of the right of workers to organize into unions and to bargain collectively is the firm and permanent policy of the Eisenhower Administration."  And four years later it said that the interests of labor and management were best reconciled in a "climate of free collective bargaining." Republicans also boasted of achieving "[u]pward revision in amount and extended coverage of the minimum wage to several million more workers" and "[s]trengthening the unemployment insurance system and extension of its benefits."  Instead of bashing unions, the 1968 platform of Richard Nixon said: "Organized labor has contributed greatly to the economic strength of our country and the well-being of its members. The Republican Party vigorously endorses its key role in our national life."

Civil rights?  The GOP was ahead of the curve.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would never have seen the light of day without the solid support of Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen and his fellow Republicans.  Ditto for the other major civil rights legislation of the 1960's.  Before that it was the Republican federal judges appointed by President Eisenhower that courageously took on Jim Crow.

The Republican platforms in  1952, 1956, 1960, 1972 and 1976 all endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment; in fact the first GOP support for the ERA came in 1940.

In the 1970's  arts and culture programs were considered national treasures worthy of taxpayer support.  In 1972 the GOP said the Arts Endowment "encouraged the creativity of individual artists and writers" and the Humanities Endowment was "fostering improved teaching and scholarship in history, literature, philosophy and ethics."  Four years later we again pledged funding for the two institutions, as well as for public broadcasting: "We favor continued federal assistance to public broadcasting which provides us with creative educational and cultural alternatives. We recognize that public broadcasting is supported mainly through private sector contributions and commend this policy as the best insurance against political interference."

This is the real Republican party -- the one that existed before the John Birch Society clones hijacked it.

Let's do something patriotic.  Let's purge the Republican Party of the real RINO's who have strayed so far from our heritage to the extent that they are the crazies.  We need to return to being the party of solid, sensible managers -- not extremist lunatics for sale to the highest bidders.

Saving the "Keno" could be a win-win if done right

The people trying to save the Keno Drive-In Theater on Sheridan Road have an uphill battle but, if done right, maybe there is potential "win-win" for the greater Kenosha community.

You'd have to living under a rock not to know that the property's owner is looking to develop and sell the land for other commercial use, possibly a Wal-Mart Supercenter.  The theater is old as is the outdated and soon-to-be-obsolete projection equipment which could cost up to $100,000 to upgrade. Plus theaters have been dying off in droves over the years although more recently some efforts to preserve old movie houses have been successful.  (Not the case in Kenosha where the efforts to revive the old Kenosha Theater have languished for decades, another case of Kenosha being "a day late and a dollar short.")

First, you can't and shouldn't fault the owner, Steve Mills of Bear Realty, from pursuing the maximum value for his property.  It's his right.  And while I am not necessarily thrilled at the prospect of a Wal-Mart Supercenter there, the fact is that it's become more difficult for communities to lawfully keep out so-called "big box" stores.  Plus, Wal-Mart has been scaling back the size of its stores for economic reasons.

Personally, if something else was going there, I'd rather see a Target because at least Target keeps up its property,  The Somers Wal-Mart began to look messy a month or so after it opened.  The Zion store is even worse. (On the other hand, most smaller Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market grocery stores I've seen have been much cleaner and nicer.  There'd probably be less angst among some people if the grocery store was what was being proposed, especially as the area is underserved.)

That said, what is to become of the Keno?  Some very interesting ideas have been tossed around in the past few days -- again, maybe "a day late and a dollar short" -- but they are worth considering.

One idea is relocating the theater elsewhere.  I don't think anyone has come up with a business plan that shows just how that could be accomplished and be successful but it's worth considering.  

Then there's the newly hatched ideas of maybe putting the relocated theater together with an auto industry living history type museum.  This is intriguing and is at least worthy of more exploration.  It will take money, vision and a place to host it.  What about the old Dairyland Greyhound Park?  It's off Interstate 94 and thus ostensibly could attract more people.  On the other hand, would it be too far away for the Keno's current clientele?  

The Dairyland property has been dormant too long.  The ill-fated casino project kept it from being considered for alternate development.  The theater and auto industry museum complex would probably only occupy a fraction of the available land there.  I've often thought that the Hard Rock folks could still have opened a hotel and entertainment venue there even without a casino.  There are many possibilities to discuss but is anyone seriously interested in having that conversation?  And, if so, are they going to have it and be prepared to act before Kenosha, again, is "a day late and a dollar short?"

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Daley not the right fit for Wisconsin Supreme Court

Next month Wisconsin voters will decide whether to keep Ann Walsh Bradley on the Wisconsin Supreme Court or replace her with James Daley, a circuit judge in Rock County.  

Both are qualified jurists.  And, frankly, sometimes Bradley's opinions can lean a bit more to the left than I like but in the judicial world agreement with another judge isn't a litmus test.  No two judges will always see the same facts and arguments in the same way.

Judge Daley is a former district attorney and had been a good circuit judge, engaging in such cutting-edge programs as treatment oriented courts.  But he has come under fire for imposing a very light sentence -- five years of probation with one year in jail -- on a convicted child abuser who severely beat two children.  Brandon Quinn was accused of hitting two children, ages seven and nine, with a hammer, spoon and spatula until they were bloody and unconscious and also striking the genitals of the seven-year-old boy,  That sentence outraged the children's mother and conservative talk show host Mark Belling said that alone makes Daley an unacceptable candidate.

Daley at sentencing noted that Quinn himself was an abused child and was repeating, as is so often the tragic case, the abuse he suffered.  

Since becoming a candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court Daley has been chanting a mantra that blasts Bradley because she would find parts of "Act 10" (which gutted collective bargaining rights for public employees) unconstitutional.  Not much of a surprise as Daley has received campaign support from the Republican Party of Wisconsin in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan race.

More troubling and curious is Daley's wholehearted support for requiring voters to produce photo identification at the polls, a highly partisan issue as well.  It's curious because it suggests that Daley, in exchange for Republican support, is committing himself to sustain positions that the party embraces.  This flies in the face of impartiality and judicial independence.  And that's what makes it troubling.

Judges do not live in caves shut off from the world.  It's unrealistic to expect that judges will not have personal opinions.  But there is a requirement that judges be impartial and avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

The voter ID issue is still wending its way through the courts.  It's entirely possible that it could wind up back in the hands of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Yet here we have Judge Daley being anything but impartial about an issue he may be called upon to decide.  That's wrong.

How would you feel if you were a litigant in the voter ID case appearing in front of a judge who has all but decided the case against you?  Would you feel that judge was being fair and impartial?

Had Judge Daley ran for the Wisconsin Supreme Court without selling his soul to partisan politics he might have the right stuff.  But he didn't and doesn't.  Judicial independence and impartiality are becoming increasingly scarce.  Regardless of what Mark Belling says -- and this time his opinion is worth considering -- Daley hasn't shown us that he meets even the most minimal requirements to be a supreme court justice.

I don't always agree with Bradley but she behaves as a judge should and she has earned another term.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Burke vs. Walker: Truth Serum Time

I think politicians must have hated history classes – or at least hope that voters did – because so often it seems that they bank on people not remembering what happened in the past.

So it seems with our current election battle in Wisconsin where incumbent Scott Walker is by inference and association blaming his challenger, Democrat Mary Burke, for the state budget deficit he inherited from Jim Doyle, for whom Burke worked as secretary of the Department of Commerce.

Walker's ads are correct – he did inherit a budget deficit from Doyle. But he left out that Doyle inherited a huge budget defecit from his predecessor, Acting Gov. Scott McCallum, a Republican, who in term was saddled with the shortfall left behind when his predecesor, Tommy Thompson, another Republican, fled Madison in 2001 to join President George W. Bush's cabinet.

Here's more truth serum – Thompson actually took office with a small budget surplus left behind by Gov. Tony Earl who unfortunately inherited a $500 million budget deficit left by the late Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus, my friend and mentor. That's an important piece of history.

Times were much better in 1978 when Dreyfus ran against Acting Gov. Marty Schreiber who racked up a huge budget surplus – so much so that Lee used it as signature campaign issue, vowing to give the cookie jar back to the taxpayers (remember the $40 checks we got after Lee took office?). Marty argued that some of the surplus should be retained as a “rainy day fund” for when times get tough. How prophetic he was – but wisdom seldom wins political arguments.

This is where it becomes even more interesting. When Tony Earl became governor in 1983 he addressed the shortfall by a politically risky move – a temporary income tax surcharge that was ended ahead of schedule when times got better. This happened without the hoopla and costly battles that Walker brought on but it was costly for Tony – he was a one-term governor labeled by Tommy as “Tony the taxer” in the 1986 election. Since then no governor or candidate for that office has ever risked being so candid with Wisconsin voters.

As for Walker's handling of the deficit, it wasn't rocket science. In essence, his plan was based on cutting employee salaries. Setting aside the allegations of union busting, Walker's strategy amounted to a significant pay cut for state workers. No magic there – especially since the law requires a balanced budget.

What about Mary Burke? No matter how you slice and dice it, the next governor will have financial mending to do. If anything, Marty Schreiber has the right idea – the state needs a “rainy day fund” – and so was Lee Drefyus – it has to be protected from politicians raiding it for pet projects. Burke's plans aren't as clearly defined but maybe she is correct that the focus needs to be on growing the state's economy with better paying jobs which, in turn, will produce the income and sales tax revenue needed to fund the state's budget.

Finally, Republicans don't have exclusive rights to a lapse of truth in political advertising. Marty's predecessor, the late Pat Lucey, once delivered what he billed as a “no tax increase budget.” In reality, he balanced his budget with a slew of new or increased user fees including technical college tuition.

My two cents: any plan to improve Wisconsin's economy must recognize the importance of an educated workforce as a key to a healthy and competitive economy. For a long time a high school diploma alone doesn't cut it in today's world market. I'd suggest considering a plan where the state would pick up most of the tab for the first two years of technical college – perhaps as a loan that would be forgiven upon graduation. A similar offering could be made for students attending the University of Wisconsin system – either do your first two years at a technical college or get that amount credited toward a UW degree. Want to help Wisconsin businesses? How about tax credits for hiring resident graduates of Wisconsin's technical colleges or the UW system?

Let the debate begin.

More on the budget deficit from a 2002 report by the conservative WPRI think-tank:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Was there a debate Friday night?

Friday night’s debate between Gov. Scott Walker and challenger Mary Burke pretty much ended with a Walker strike out and  Burke in the batter’s box with a full count.  Neither candidate sizzled but neither did they fizzle.

Walker scored the only strikeout when he gave an equivocal answer as to whether he’d commit to serving a full four-year term.  He said it was “his plan” to do so but, as we all know, plans can change.

Burke, if she wants to be governor, needs to connect with the people on the next bar stool.  She floated several key notions about how Walker’s tenure as governor failed Wisconsin but she failed to connect the dots and thus pretty much gave Walker a pass on much of his claims that Act 10 was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Perhaps Burke didn’t want to seem too assertive.  She could – and should – have said that Act 10 wasn’t rocket science but rather a pay cut superimposed on a strategy that made it virtually impossible for the losses to ever be recouped. 

Burke mentioned how Walker’s policies took money out of local economies while enriching his political cronies but she didn’t drive it home.  The average Wisconsin taxpayer scored a token reduction in taxes but the substantial pay cuts endured by thousands of workers coupled with the lack of promised job growth is a recipe for long-term economic disaster because it took money out of local economies that would have been spent on new cars, home improvements and the like – spending that on a good day sustains jobs.

Burke also gave Walker a light hit on education.  Even though she said the right things again she didn’t connect the dots.  Wisconsin workers aren’t going to make as many cars and boats as they did 50 years ago.  An educated workforce is one of our few bargaining chips but one that’s been undervalued in competition with other states. 

Burke correctly said we need hundreds of thousands of trained workers and affordable education must be available to make that happen.  Again she failed to point out that Walker’s shirt term “fixes” may be eroding one of the few major assets this state has and needs to develop.  Minnesota and Iowa got that memo long ago.  Wisconsin needs to train workers to compete in a high tech economy and that can’t be an afterthought.

Blasting Walker on failing to deliver on his promise of 250,000 new jobs in his term is getting worn.  It begs the question of what Burke would promise.  A valid point but there’s a bigger picture. 

Perhaps the biggest piece of ammunition left unused is the “pay to play” politics that’s become almost accepted in Madison in the last few years.  Pitting Wisconsinites against each other and selling our government to the highest bidders clearly run contrary to Wisconsin’s cherished heritage.  Burke has yet to connect with independent and disaffected Republican voters troubled by corruption.  In short, Walker may be the devil but he’s the one we know and if Burke want him booted out she needs to explain to the couple on the next bar stools what’s wrong and how she’ll fix it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cut J.B. Some Slack

The hue-and-cry over same-sex marriage is unfortunately following the same dysfunctional political pandering as so many other issues of the day in American society with Democrats calling for a repeal of laws prohibiting it and the right-wing, not unpredictably, opposing that. 
The left, of course, had its energy fueled by such events as U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb's decision striking down an amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution approved by voters less than eight years ago which declared that “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state."
Judge Crabb stayed her decision to allow the state to appeal which Atty. Gen. J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, promised to do.  That subjected Van Hollen to a barrage of attacks from the left which in large measure blindly call upon him to shirk his duty to defend the state constitution. 
The task of defending Wisconsin's recently enacted same-sex marriage ban is perhaps easier for Van Hollen because it coincides with his own thinking but even if it didn't he is still duty-bound to defend it.  Yes, he's a political animal and no doubt politics has some bearing on this, but the left, including our own Peter Barca, the Assembly minority leader, need to cool their jets and bombastic rhetoric and allow the legal process to proceed.  That's the way we're supposed to do things in  the country and to suggest otherwise is to move us closer to the throws of anarchy.
Regardless of how you feel about gay marriage the reality is that it is not only a divisive issue in this country but one that needs to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court, particularly because some lower courts, such as Judge Crabb's, have claimed that same-sex marriage prohibitions offend the United States Constitution.  In so doing they rely heavily on the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967) which invalidated a Virginia state statute prohibiting interracial marriage.
On its face, however, reliance on Loving may be flawed -- and that's precisely why Van Hollen must be allowed to do his job and, hopefully, the U.S. Supreme Court will rise to the occasion and resolve this. 
First, Loving involved the marriage of a man and a woman, not a same-sex marriage.  Although gay marriage supporters see that as a distinction without a difference there is credible legal precedent which holds otherwise.
The almost-forgotten 1972 case is Baker v. Nelson, a post-Loving appeal of a Minnesota Supreme Court decision which the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed in a one-sentence decision for lack of a substantial federal question.  That let stand the Minnesota Supreme Court's 1971 opinion that there is no constitutional right to marriage between persons of the same sex: "These constitutional challenges have in common the assertion that the right to marry without regard to the sex of the parties is a fundamental right of all persons and that restricting marriage to only couples of the opposite sex is irrational and invidiously discriminatory. We are not independently persuaded by these contentions and do not find support for them in any decisions of the United States Supreme Court. The institution of marriage as a union of man and woman, uniquely involving the procreation and rearing of children within a family, is as old as the book of Genesis."  Further, reliance on Loving was rejected: "Virginia's antimiscegenation statute, prohibiting interracial marriages, was invalidated solely on the grounds of its patent racial discrimination . . . [T]o deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Loving does indicate that not all state restrictions upon the right to marry are beyond reach of the Fourteenth Amendment. But in commonsense and in a constitutional sense, there is a clear distinction between a marital restriction based merely upon race and one based upon the fundamental difference in sex."
Baker v. Nelson remained "good law" but same-sex marriage was ultimately allowed in Minnesota because the state legislature in 2013 changed the statutes.  That can't happen in Wisconsin.
This discussion illustrates that Van Hollen is not just shooting off his mouth or shooting from the hip when he says he's doing his duty to defend Wisconsin's constitution.  His task is considerably different from our neighboring state.  In Minnesota, voters rejected a gay-marriage prohibition amendment to the state constitution so all it took to change course was a simple vote of the legislature.  Here Wisconsin voters amended the state constitution to outlaw same-sex marriages and thus our legislature's hands are effectively tied as is Van Hollen's.
Perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court will revisit Baker v. Nelson.  I think it should because either the decision needs to be reaffirmed or overturned.  No doubt Van Hollen's defense of the Wisconsin constitution pleases the political right and angers the left but regardless of politics at the end of the day he's just doing his job.

Gay marriage supporters need to stand down.  By appealing Judge Crabb's decision Van Hollen is doing them a favor. Although the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago is the next stop eventually the case may wind up where it needs to be -- before the U.S. Supreme Court.  If the Constitution is on their side as they claim it is, then those who support Judge Crabb's decision should welcome this with open arms.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ted Cruz a Canadian? Not if he can help it, eh?

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), a Harvard law graduate, has hired lawyers to help him out of his own immigration mess.  Seems the right-wing Tea Party darling, whose father is Cuban and mother American, was born in Calgary which is very much in Alberta which is very much in Canada.  Because he was born on Canadian soil Cruz is a Canadian citizen.  With an American mother he is an American citizen.
None of this seemed to bother Cruz until he began hearing "Hail to the Chief" in his dreams.  After all, right-wingers bang up on President Barack Obama over whether he was really born in Hawaii which is very much part of the United States. 

But now the Harvard-educated Cruz hired lawyers to fill out a four-page form to renounce his Canadian citizenship.  (Gosh, I'm not a Harvard-educated lawyer but I don't need to hire lawyers to fill out my passport renewal form. Is the form so complicated that he can't fill it out himself?)  In his defense (defence if you're Canadian) Cruz released his birth certificate to the Dallas Morning News months ago.  There really can't be a serious question over whether he is an American citizen -- he is -- although he spent the first four years of his life in Canada.
Why doesn't Cruz embrace his status instead of going goofy?  After all, Barack Obama isn't exactly a darling of Canadians.  As a candidate in 2008 Obama called for renegotiation of NAFTA without understanding that the free trade treaty also benefits the United States (like giving us dibs on the Alberta oil reserves).  He has done little, if anything, to strengthen ties with our Canadian cousins.
The United States and Canada share the world's longest undefended border.  We are each other's best trading partners.  American and Canadian troops fight and die side-by-side in Afghanistan and we have a mutual aerospace defense network. There is no reason to turn our backs, even if only symbolic.  If Cruz becomes president while also a Canadian citizen does anyone seriously think Ottawa is going to tell him what to do? 
Cruz is missing an important opportunity to embrace, not offend, our neighbors.  We need to strengthen regional ties in an increasingly competitive world market.  And Canada is not our enemy. There is no reason for Cruz to act like Chicken Little.
Well, maybe there is.  Cruz, as a Canadian, is covered by universal health insurance.  As a vehement critic of Obamacare Cruz might feel awkward in this situation.  If he renounces Canadian citizenship, Cruz will have to settle for the taxpayer-funded "gold card" health care he gets as a member of Congress, eh?

Monday, October 29, 2012


By now you would have to have been under a rock on a desert island not to have heard Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's debate gaffe that he solicited and obtained "binders full of women" as potential appointees after he was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002. 

To many, the comment was either sexist or unenlightened -- or at least politically incorrect -- or all of the above.  In reality, however, the hoopla over it probably overlooks a greater issue: whether it gives us insight into Romney's competence and, folks, whether he is competent to do the job is a huge issue in this election, especially for undecided voters.

Let's shun the emotions and politics for a moment and analyze Romney's remarks.  He had just been elected governor on the GOP ticket.  Presumably -- hopefully -- there were women of prominence and competence involved in his campaign.  Around the country there are scores of women in our state houses and my experience is that the Republican party is blessed with many of the best and the brightest.  In that sense Romney should have known who those women were off the top of his head.  Not to have demonstrated such knowledge in 2002 raises legitimate questions over his own competence.  And lest we forget, Romney succeeded Acting Governor Jane Swift -- a Republican.  He certainly didn't have very far to go if he needed counsel.

Certainly many people were taken aback by Romney's reference to his "binders full of women" but the real offensiveness of that comment lies far beyond the surface.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Disabled officers: time to rethink police staffing

The Chicago Sun-Times has been in a journalistic frenzy this week with its series about how some former Chicago city employees abuse disability retirement.  The series is incurring backlash from police officers and firefighters and has been widely discussed by one of the midwest's notable blogs Second City Cop which is an anonymous "no holds barred" forum run by and for Chicago's men and women in blue.

It would be naive and foolish to say that fraud doesn't exist -- even here in Kenosha -- in disability programs but our comrades at SCC have aptly noted that there are disabled officers who would like to continue to contribute but can't because of the lack of a light duty program.  That's silly.

Obviously we don't want injured officers driving or riding in patrol cars in high speed chases or rolling around with dirtbags in the mud, blood and beer.  But in modern law enforcement there are a growing number of tasks that could be ably handled by experienced officers who are either temporarily or permanently restricted from street duty.

At one time "light duty" was a generic term encompassing mundane nonaggressive law enforcement tasks ranging from clerical "desk" work to playing "palace guard" at the police station.  The changing nature of modern law enforcement suggests that the inside support role that these venerable servants could perform is much broader and more meaningful.

For example, there has been a huge uptick in financial crimes from Internet scams to credit card fraud and employees with their hands in the cash drawer and/or cooking the books.  Often the research necessary to prove these cases is lengthy and complex as is preparing the paperwork necessary for a successful prosecution.  These duties are far more meaningful than simply answering the phone or giving night parking permission.

While we don't have our own crime laboratory disabled officers could help package and process evidence at the station and transport it to and from the crime laboratory in Milwaukee.  They could conduct background checks on applicants and keep tabs on liquor licenses or cross-match reported stolen property with pawn shop records.

Disabled officers could monitor the Internet for sex predators and people fencing stolen property, assemble cases submitted by other officers for court, help draft and secure search warrants and subpoenas for documents, prepare lineups and photo identification arrays and even conduct interrogations at the station house.

All of this, of course, is subject to the limitations of the individual officer's disability.  For some it would be impossible or impractical and that's to be understood,  But others could contribute full-time (for regular wages) or part-time (for perhaps a combination of wages and disability pay).  This would be a meaningful way of recognizing the men and women who put themselves on the line for the community they serve and, I suspect, a few may even made more valuable contributions in these support roles than when they were front-line troops. 

Allowing (and in some cases requiring) appropriate disabled officers to work in a supporting role not only gives their departments the benefit of their years of knowledge and experience but it helps disabled officers remain relevant contributors to their communities.  In the end, that's probably what it's all about.

Rachael Scdoris, the legally blind young Oregon woman who competed in Alaska's grueling Iditarod sled dog race, bristles at the use of the word "disabled" because it's become synonymous with "unable" and, as she is quick to point out, "I am by no means unable."  We need to find ways of using the able talents of these officers with dignity.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Is Lori Compas for real?

It’s hard not to wonder if Lori Compas is for real – and if she is, will she stay that way if she succeeds in knocking out State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald or will she succumb to the very political special interests and shady politics she laments.

I suspect Lori Compas is for real and Wisconsin needs more of her ilk right now.

Politically inactive in the past, Compas, a Fort Atkinson mom and photographer, was outraged over her state senator’s conduct during the early days of the Walker administration’s efforts to strip most public employees of most collective bargaining rights. March 9, 2011 was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

That’s when Fitzgerald ignored the Open Meetings Law and posted notices on a bulletin board in the state capitol of a committee meeting on the controversial legislation less than two hours before it was scheduled to convene.

"I think a lot of people remember the outrage that they would break the law and Scott Fitzgerald himself would break the law," Compas said. "He broke the Open Meetings Law. When you break the law as Senate majority leader while acting in your official capacity, you've got to answer for that."

“I feel like he’s changed over the past years” she said. “He’s done things that really have divided the people of our state and polarized state government.”

Compas said that during the times of the protest, she saw actions by Fitzgerald that prompted her to promise herself to work for his recall. She originally was optimistic that someone else would file a petition for recalling the local senator.

Nobody else did. The state Democratic party was busy with other recalls. So political neophyte Compas took on the challenge and organized gathering far more than the 16,472 signatures needed to force Fitzgerald to face his voters next month.

With Scott Fitzgerald’s recall on the ballot it was déjà vu all over again. Who would run against him?

Again, nobody was chomping at the bit to become the Democrats’ sacrificial lamb. Compas somewhat reluctantly got into the race and put her newly acquired organizational skills to the test of getting enough signatures to get herself on the ballot. She did.

Instead of using the warmed-over Democratic mantras Compas held listening sessions across the district to formulate her platform. It blends main street pragmatism with moderate concerns and had the audacity to knock both the Walker and Doyle administrations for using gimmicks to address the state’s fiscal woes.

“I’m a small business owner who’s committed to job creation, education,

and open, honest government,” Compas said.

“No matter where we stand on the issues, we can all agree that our values — traditional Wisconsin values — include honesty, compassion, hard work and fairness,” she added.

In our modern day cynicism it’s difficult to believe this is for real. Madison politicians of all stripes excel at making it appear to their constituents that they really care while the end results are usually predetermined behind closed doors. Special interest dollars rule.

But giving her the benefit of the doubt we can only hope that she is for real and pray that more Davids are willing to take on the Goliaths, an increasingly impossible task. Lori Compas was in grade school the last time that was pulled off.

In 1978 outsider Lee Dreyfus ran a populist campaign and wrestled the Republican nomination for governor away from the anointed party favorite. He then rode his mantra of “Who runs this state – people or money?” to a victory in the general election, forbidding large donations in the process.

Wisconsin hasn’t seen populist politics since then which makes Compas’ candidacy interesting and refreshing. She may not win the election but her willingness to defy the odds will hopefully inspire other newcomers to work to take back our state from the corrupt special interests.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

CASTLE DOCTRINE -- DA MADE THE RIGHT CALL: Time for reason and common sense

The Washington County District Attorney declined to prosecute a Slinger homeowner who shot and killed a drunken young intruder who entered the enclosed porch of his home wearing dark clothing at 2 a.m.  The young man had a blood alcohol concentration of .19 -- seriously inebriated -- and had just left an underage drinking party.

The shooting and the District Attorney's decision not to prosecute the homeowner brought about a hue and cry over Wisconsin's "Castle Doctrine" -- a legislative expansion over the privilege to use deadly force.  Over the past week I've read comments from those who blame the homeowner and the law. 

I blame the intruder.  The prosecutor made the right call.

First, it's unfortunate that this young man died.  But who put him in harm's way?  It was his own conduct that did him in -- a fact sorely missed by those who seek to defend him and attack the new law.  What was the homeowner to do?  Wait until the intruder got inside?  Wait for the police who, when seconds count, often take minutes to get there?

This young man chose to go to an underage drinking party.  He chose to get drunk.  He not only broke the law but also chose to assume the risks associated with it.  The homeowner wasn't required to engage the intruder in a 2 a.m. debate over what his intentions were at the time.

I understand the homeowner's dilemma.  Recently a young man with a criminal past stole a vehicle and, when spotted by a sheriff's deputy, turned around and got into a chase that ended literally in front of my home when the thief bailed out of the moving stolen vehicle, which crashed against a tree, and ran away with the lone deputy in foot pursuit. 

The chase went past our bedroom window -- my wife could hear the commotion -- and when I called the police for help for the deputy, who was on a dark and isolated street, I literally was put "on hold" for a minute.  When I went outside to help there was now dead silence and it took several minutes for the furst backup officers to arrive on the scene.

Fortunately, the deputy caught the suspect and brought him back to the scene.  But what if the thief did something to the deputy?  What if he had broken into my home or endangered my family? 

Those who want to engage in Monday morning quarterbacking of that armed homeowner have probably never been in or close to the situation he was in.  It's easy to offer up theories and platitudes but reality isn't always so warm and fuzzy.  Further, we simply cannot rely on the police to be everywhere whenever they are needed.

Law enforcement isn't just the responsibility of law enforcement officers.  Everyone in Wisconsin has the right to make an arrest for a felony of misdemeanor breach of the peace (including drunken driving) in their presence.  This is a shared responsibility (and, in fact, I have been teaching this aspect of Wisconsin law to our officers for the past few years).  As much as I love our officers they can't do it all alone.

Would I have done exactly as the Slinger homeowner did?  Maybe ... maybe not.  But I wasn't there in his shoes at that precise moment.  I have, however, had to evaluate whether the use of deadly force was justifiable. 

For example, two armed robbers walked into a shop, having pulled their shirts up on the way in (not realizing they were already being video recorded, by the way).  They charged the shopkeeper who pulled out his gun and shot one of them.  The would-be robbers spun around and high-tailed it out of the store with the wounded one collapsing shortly thereafter.

The total time from when they pulled their shirts up, entered the store, charged the owner and left the store was less than four seconds.  The shopkeeper had even less time to evaluate the threat, draw his weapon and use it.

Those who have the luxury of debate can ponder this for hours.  The shopkeeper had a second or two at the most.

The Washington County District Attorney made the right call.  Those who sympathize with the dead intruder should first ask who put him in that position and the answer is that he alone put himself in harm's way.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Scott Walker supporting collective bargaining? Not a bombshell but more like a crack in the windshield...

Some say it's a bombshell.  Some are burying it beneath the obituaries.  But just before he was elected governor Scott Walker sat down with the editorial board of the Daily Northwestern in Oshkosh.  The interview was recorded.

A board member is heard saying, "Before, we were talking about state employees contributing to their plan, paying their share of the pension plan. Collective bargaining come into that?"

Walker: "Yep (nodding yes). Mmhm."

The questioner continues: "How do you get that negotiated and accepted by the state employee unions?"

Walker answers, "You still have to negotiate it." He went on to talk about how he handled negotiations as Milwaukee County executive and the use of furloughs as a backup plan, adding that he's "not locked in" to one particular strategy.

Walker critics said this is proof that as a candidate he was being dishonest with voters about his plans and reporters who followed Walker on the campaign trail claim no memory of him advocating all but ending collective bargaining for virually all public employees.

Is it a bombshell?  Probably not.  But more like a crack in the windshield that has the potential of growing until the windshield needs to be replaced.

Read more:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tommy! Herb! Wisconsin's calling.

Sigh. Another night of television disrupted by the annoying recall campaign ads. You know them by heart.

The special interest grounds that want Governor Walker and friends given the boot say that class sizes are burgeoning, academic programs are shrinking and education overall is suffering as a result of the Republican legislative agenda.

On the flip side, the Walker backers say the ends justify the means, saying that our state’s finances are hunky dory all because collective bargaining rights of public employees were curtailed and unspecified “abuses” ended without raising taxes.

All of these messages insult Wisconsin voters. None of the ads address the real issue that should be on the table: the integrity of Wisconsin government.

That’s because the politicians and special interests don’t want us to think about that. After all, we might want to hold them all accountable.

Let’s do some quick fact checking.

The GOP agenda failed to create the jobs it promised. The state’s budget wasn’t balanced and we’re facing another deficit. The numbers have been widely reported. They don’t lie. But politicians and special interests do.

According to the Walkerites, we needed to end collective bargaining for public employees because of abuses by public sector unions, largely the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), the largest teacher union.

In reality, the abuses were fairly narrow and easily cured without throwing the baby out with the water.

For example, school boards and taxpayers had a legitimate gripe over the insurance costs for teachers. The WEAC has its own insurance company, WEA Insurance Trust (WEAIT), and forced school districts to buy WEAIT insurance even if comparable (or better) coverage was available elsewhere at more favorable rates. This was wrong.

Also questionable was the practice of some prison guards who would call in sick and then work an overtime shift on the same day.

Where things got murky was when the Walkerites took aim on “making state employees pay their fair share of insurance and pension contributions.” Sounded good but was factually void.

About 50 years ago the state started trading wage increases for fringe benefits. In other words, instead of giving workers pay raises the state offered to apply that money toward insurance and pension costs. This benefited the state in several ways.

For example, had the state paid out higher wages, the state’s mandatory share of Social Security taxes would also go up. The state would lose the “float” on that money, reducing its cash flow and interest and investment earning capacity. And then the state would incur additional costs by giving the wage increases to workers and then immediately taking it back to pay for insurance and pension costs.

Forbes magazine is hardly the bastion of liberal thinking yet it correctly called the Walkerites out on this, saying what it really was is a wage cut. The suggestions that public employees were somehow getting a free ride were false as those benefits were part of the overall compensation package negotiated over decades.

In fact, Minnesota workers pay the contributions toward pension and insurance that Walker extracted. They also get higher wages.

Not only did Walker and friends unilaterally cut the pay of state workers but they made it virtually impossible for them to recoup the losses. No wonder why they’re infuriated.

WEAC and its friends also obfuscate the truth by confining their claims to the purported assault on education. True, many school districts are hurting, the university system and college students slammed and Wisconsin’s competitive edge in attracting industry weakened. On the other hand, some districts are faring better and school boards and taxpayers aren’t being held hostage by WEAIT.

Ironically, what the special interests on both sides aren't telling us is what the impact will be on Wisconsin’s future. Our neighbors in Iowa attracted a significant amount of clean high-technology industry and banking. Why? A big reason was a well-educated workforce. Reducing educational opportunities for young Wisconsinites, particularly at the college level, is simply not good for business and the state’s overall economic picture. And the insult on all Wisconsin voters is that we’re not hearing any serious debate on the real issues in the recall election.

Recalls are inherently extraordinary elections. Generally they’re used when it appears that an elected official has done something so serious that voters shouldn’t have to wait until the next regularly scheduled election to boot him or her out of office. You don’t go to a recall simply because you’re generally unhappy with an elected official or an isolated decision.

The real issues in this recall are the integrity of Wisconsin’s government, the tarnishing of our image and the need for voters to send a message to both parties that it’s time to pull in the reins on their abuses of power.

Reasonable people can disagree about the Walker agenda. The real issue is trying to derail 50 years of labor relations precedent in five days with limited public input. This was a significant abuse of the legislative process.

Now Republicans will say – and with some truth – that Democrats have done the same thing. Their claim isn’t entirely bogus – but the Democrats never went so far as to rewrite fundamental policy in a week. They rammed through a budget plan, not a rewrite of the system.

For Wisconsin voters, a state that once had an image for squeaky-clean government was blemished by such antics as influence peddling characterized by the famous spoof phone call revealing how Walker does business. Republicans will say that they didn’t start it – and they’re right. But if these abuses aren’t held in check now what will be Wisconsin’s future? Will this embolden future politicians to be even more insensitive to an open and honest legislative process?

While special interests will tout the virtues and lament the failures of the Walker agenda the real issue is the damage done to the integrity of the state’s government. A state legislature that holds local governments to a strict Open Meetings Law flaunts it at whim. This is not the Wisconsin we grew up with and, for me, not the one I want to live or die in. The real issue isn’t what the Walkerites did but rather how it was done and whether we want future politicians to do the same – or worse. Abuses of power are inherently appropriate reasons for a recall election.

Back in 1978 Wisconsin voters had a brief encounter with putting principle over party politics. The Democrats who controlled the state government at the time were labeled as “fat and arrogant” by none other than Miles McMillan, editor of the left-leaning Capital Times, who endorsed the rogue gubernatorial candidacy of Republican Lee Sherman Dreyfus.

Dreyfus, a rotund university chancellor, had the audacity to challenge the Republican establishment which had anointed Bob Kasten as its choice to run against Acting Governor Marty Schreiber. Shunned by the party establishment, Dreyfus took his populist campaign to the people in a rickety bus with the motto, “Let the people decide.”

And decide we did. Dreyfus not only won the Republican primary – without massive infusion of special interest dollars – but also the November election, temporarily breathing new life in the Wisconsin GOP.

Lee Drefyus is dead and many Wisconsinites have no connection to his stunning upsets but that’s exactly what’s needed now – an outsider who can come in and stir up the independent voice of Wisconsin voters.

That’s not likely to happen. Both sides would view a modern-day Dreyfus as a threat to their way of life – and they’d be right. So that’s why we’re stuck with the usual cast of characters – Walker on the right and folks like Kathleen Falk on the left. Falk has already been endorsed by the WEAC which was probably the biggest gift Walker’s going to get. A liberal Dane County Democrat with her own allegiance to special interests isn’t going to tap into the ethical spine of independent Wisconsin voters.

It’s too idealistic and unrealistic to expect that another Lee Sherman Dreyfus will surface but that’s not to say that others can’t rise to the occasion.

For example, “for the good of Wisconsin” Tommy Thompson could give up, or at least put on hold, his silly idea of being elected to the United States Senate. Tommy was hardly a populist and he had his own alliances with special interests that only served to fuel successor Jim Doyle’s enhancement of the pay-to-play format. But Tommy was able to forge legislative alliances and the state prospered during his long tenure as governor. We could do worse – and have.

Tommy has a fantastic opportunity here. His message is simple: I’m here to bring Wisconsin back to prosperity and sanity. For Republicans, it’s a huge win. They get to stay in power and Tommy’s election would give them the green light to rescind the most offensive parts of the Walker agenda.

I think if Tommy ran in the recall election he’d win in a New York minute. He may not be perfect but he’s the devil we know as opposed to the one we elected the last time around and didn’t.

The Democrats also have a chance to stand up to save Wisconsin. They have a powerful horse in their stable – retiring Senator Herb Kohl, a man who is too rich to be bought. Kohl will come off as a voice of moderation and reason coming from a beloved businessman who also understands what it takes to make a buck.

Wisconsin voters have a chance to do what they did in 1978: send a message to the special interests. But who will be the messenger(s)?

Tommy…Herb…are you listening? Wisconsin is calling.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Can we recall the ads?

sYou'd have to be living under a rock -- or as intelligent as one -- not to realize that Wisconsin has "Recall Fever" these days and even though there aren't yet enough signatures on petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker the hype is building. 

Funny thing but right now it's all hype and no substance.  If you listen to the opponents, the governor is a great savior who led us from the brink of fiscal disaster without raising taxes.  That's the "ends justify the means" approach.

Some of those favoring recall engage in the same logic but with a different twist.  They say classes are overcrowded and good teachers are leaving.  In other words, they're not sure the "ends" are anything to brag about.  Both miss the point.

Recalls are extraordinary elections, sparingly used and typically when there has been some abuse(s) so severe that the normal election cycle needs to be trumped.  Whether you like or dislike a particular incumbent and/or his or her performance isn't the appropriate issue.  Voters have the chance to express their approval or disgust at the next regular election.

It's only when the situation is irregular -- extraordinary, if you will -- that a recall should be seriously considered.  And because it's serious business the discussion should be serious.

To me, the real recall issues are whether the integrity of the office, the state or the legislative process was so compromised as to warrant removal from office.  This isn't an "ends" discussion but rather one that calls for a reflection on what and who we are in Wisconsin and what we expect from our elected officials.

The dialogue should be serious and not influenced by big and/or outside spenders who look to Wisconsin as some epicenter battle ground.  This is a Wisconsin thing and it's a time when we need sober debate and reflection -- not special interest groups trying to cloud the real issues.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chief Flynn needs to resign

At first it was hard not to like Milwaukee's Police Chief, Ed Flynn.  New strategies brought down the murder rate while officer morale significantly improved.  Most of the community embraced him so well that his romantic indiscretions with a married journalist resulted in little more than a yawn and he stayed on the job.

I long respected how Chief Flynn would fully, immediately and publicly back his officers when they were right.  It was the right thing to do.  So was his promise that, "If we mess up, we 'fess up."

But now the chief seems to have forgotten that promise.  Police response times are lagging, yet he offeres puffery and excuses.  A recent Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel series uncovered serious police discipline issues. 

With over 30 years of law enforcement experience behind my belt I can safely say it's proper to back officers when they're right but it's also necessary act decisely when their misconduct threatens public safety or erodes the respect due good officers.  Instead of discussing his department's performance with respect to weeding out the bad apples Chief Flynn declined to talk to the media.

The straw that broke the camel's back is the arrest of an openly credentialed newspaper photographer doing her job and not violating any laws.  Chief Flynn blindly backed the officer involved -- saying the officer didn't know se was a member of the working media -- and then tried to soft-pedal things when Mayor Tom Barrett publicly disagreed after seeing photographic evidence (see photo above) that the photographer's media pass was clearly visible.  Flynn suggested a meeting with media representative to discuss differences.  Not a bad idea but not enough.

The man who promised to "'fess up" when the police "mess up" failed to do that.  He's destroyed his own credibility and damaged that of his department.  He should resign.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Is there lunacy in the water at the State Capitol?

You have to wonder when you read about how the Senate Judicary Committee on a 3-2 vote put forward a bill that will allow people in Wisconsin to carry concealed weapons without a permit and without any training.  And one wacko from Wausau -- Pam Galloway -- even went so far to say that she wouldn't mind people being able to pack heat in the State Capitol.

Now I'm not opposed to sane concealed carry laws -- ones that require people to have proper training (including refresher training), a background check and periodic licensing.  Our law enforcement officers have to have this and more and may also subject to additional administrative oversight such as not carrying weapons when drinking. Law enforcement agencies from around the state have weighed in with legitimate fears about the mess virtually unrestricted concealed carry could cause.  They're the experts.  Legislators and the governor ought to listen to them.

Yes, there is some merit in the adage that "When guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns."  But our police chiefs and sheriffs aren't saying that guns should be outlawed but that there should be reasonable restrictions on who should be permitted to clandestinely carry them.  Law enforcement officers must meet strict standards just to carry their weapons out in the open.  Legislators would confirm their insanity if they vote to allow just about anyone to pack heat without any regulation. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Make the lawbreakers (literally) pay

The legislature has been grappling with how to financially support Wisconsin's justice system -- courts, police, prosecutors, public defenders, corrections and support agencies. 

The issues are lengthy and solutions few but here's a "no brainer" for your consideration: make the lawbreakers pay.

After all, scofflaws use the services and thus a greater user fee should be collected.  Simply stated, fines and costs haven't kept pace with inflation. 

A $37 speeding ticket in 1973 costs $176 today.  Adjusted for inflation that $37 should be $187 today.  There's no reason why those who break the law and use the services of the justice system shouldn't pay their fair share.

Trump fires himself

Donald Trump said today he's not a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. 

Too bad.

Granted, "The Donald" was far from politically correct and his unabashed views may have inspired fear and loathing among establishment Republicans and Democrats but that's precisely why a Trump candidacy may well benefit all Americans despite his limited chance of victory.

Like him or not, agree or not, Trump asked some questions that needed to be asked and if he remained in the race he essentially could be more than a "spolier" but rather someone who might help set the agenda for the debate. 

Trump is right to question our inability to control such things as gasoline prices and relationships with other nations that exploit us but give little in return.  His blunt attacks on the status quo may not always be accurate or welcome but probably quite necessary because nobody else is doing it.

Think about it.  Republicans clamor about lower taxes and less government spending but the Bush II administration ran up record defecits and spending.  The GOP hopefuls are essentially locked in an internal battle over who is the most to the right in the party hijacked by extreme special interests.

Democrats are no better.  The mantra of "health care and education" is hollow when you consider that when they had a majority in the Clinton administration that they did nothing substantive about either.  Despite the paucity of accomplishments the mantra continues.

At the end of the day Trump may have had a businessman's epiphany and decided that it's a money losing deal.  Probably true but nonetheless his voice was one that could have provided necessary direction to the national agenda.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fr. Pfleger pfull of hot air

Fr. Michael Pfleger is an archdiocesan priest in Chicago at odds with his bishop, Francis Cardinal George.

In brief, Cardinal George told Fr. Pleger he wanted him to leave his job as pastor of St. Sabina, a predominantly black Catholic parish on Chicago's south side, to head up St. Leo High School.

Pfleger balked at the reassignment, essentially telling his boss to stuff it.

Cardinal George responded by suspending Pfleger who responded by telling the Cardinal that unless he's reinstated by this weekend, he'll start preaching at other churches.

Say what?  You got it right -- Pfleger issued an ultimatum to Cardinal George. 

Now I am far from being an archconservative Catholic (like fellow blogger Dad29) but, folks, diocesan priests take vows of obedience.  Pfleger is a priest.  Cardinal George is his bishop.   Guess who's going to win this battle?

Pfleger's tantrums make it obvious that Cardinal George probably made the right call in suspending him -- and if Pfleger wants to preach in another church, the Cardinal should call his bluff with the response that he's free to do just that -- as long as it's not in a Catholic church.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Feds wrong to pass on Walker's request for rail aid

While putting the kabosh on more expensive rail projects, Gov. Scott Walker asked for a more responsible $150 million in federal transit aid to upgrade the Milwaukee-Chicago Amtrak Hiawatha train service -- six round trips daily supported by Wisconsin and Illinois taxpayers. 

The feds told Wisconsin to take a hike.   Big mistake.

The KRM rail debacle -- which has been documented here in the past -- ended (thankfully) with the change in administrations in Madison. This made upgrading the Hiawatha service even more compelling.

The Chicago-to-Milwaukee Hiawatha service operates on 79 mph track.  New stations were added a few years ago at Mitchell Field and Sturtevant.  Stations are needed in Kenosha and probably Caledonia.  In fact, Kenosha was promised an Amtrak station in 1990 as part of Dairyland Greyhound Park's license application.  We never got it.  It was a good idea then and an even better one now.

Gov. Walker has been a polarizing figure since he took office in January.  Nonetheless even a broken watch is correct twice a day and Walker's modest request -- probably too modest as it did not include stations in Kenosha and Caledonia -- should have been granted.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Howard J. Brown -- Another of "The Greatest Generation" gone

It is with deep sadness to write about the passing this morning of Howard J. Brown – friend for more than 46 years, benefactor, confidant and occasional intellectual sparring partner.
Officially, Kenosha’s “Uncle Howard” was for 40 years the publisher of the Kenosha News. He passed that title onto Ken Dowdell ten years ago but remained president of the parent company which owns television stations and other newspapers.

The Kenosha News, however, was his “baby” and the people of this community by and large his unofficial nieces and nephews.

There wouldn’t be enough space in the newspaper to list the many people, organizations and causes Howard supported – almost all privately. Yes, he was a trustee of Carthage College and the ringmaster for Kenosha Christmas Charities – the official name for what we know as Goodfellows. A rite of passage into adulthood for many business and professional people in our community was receiving the Goodfellows invitation from Howard.

Media owners like Howard do not exist today. He would work late hours and take delight not only in a good news story but being able to sell someone an ad in the paper. Reporters would not find it unusual for Howard to stop at their desks and provide his good counsel. Readers had a way of telling when Howard wrote an editorial. The preacher of brevity as the soul of wit seldom practiced it.

Howard was very loyal to Betsy – his “bride” – and virtually every adult conversation would inquire about your bride and children. Howard was also very proud of his girls, all of whom are independently successful women today.

On a very personal level, I would not be where I am in life without his support, guidance and advice which began when a precocious 12-year-old popped into his office and started a lifelong friendship.

Only two or three times did I ever see Howard emotional. The last was about when he held back tears to lament how he had to lay off employees and downsize due to the economy, something he dearly did not want to do. His sadness then was greater than at the death of his own father who lived well into his 90’s.

Last year at one of our lunches I told Howard how much he meant to me and said that the one lasting impression I had was his reverence for people and the dignity of work. It didn’t matter if you were a high roller, a public official or the man stocking the vending machines Howard respected you and made you feel that way.

For all the good that Howard has done for others and this community he only asked for one thing in return – that you “be of good cheer.”

Journal-Sentinel "fact checkers" pants are down

The "fact checkers" at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel created a gaffe of their own today in the story about state supreme court candidate Joanne Kloppenburg's statement: "There are legitimate and widespread anomalies, and widespread questions about the conduct of (the Wisconsin Supreme Court) election, most visibly in Waukesha County, but also in counties around the state."

The newspaper rated Kloppenburg's statement as "barely true" and at the end of the day they may well be right but we're not there yet.  A statewide recount of votes in the Kloppenburg's battle to unseat incumbent justice David Prosser is underway.  The recount process will be the arbiter of whether there were irregularities, widespread or otherwise.  We'll know more when that process is finished.  It isn't and the newspaper shouldn't have jumped the gun.

We can't rate the newspaper's claim "pants on fire" but more appropriately the Journal-Sentinel was caught with its pants down.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Trumped: Obama reveals birth certificate in hopes "The Donald" will go away

President Obama Wednesday took some wind out of Donald Trump's sails when he called the billionaire's bluff and released his birth certificate showing that the president was, after all, born in Hawaii.  Yawn.

Of course the Obama team hopes this will squelch Trump and like-minded people.  My take: it will end that debate and open the door to others.

Trump is the spolier Democrats and Republicans love to hate.  The "birther conspiracy" buffoonery is now sidelined -- as it should be -- and the nation can now focus on other issues and I don't see "The Donald" going away but rather he may just be getting warmed up/

Predictably unpredictable, brash and politically uncorrect Trump could be the spolier who either ruins the election for one candidate or else defines the race for everyone.  Don't sell him short.

Trump's two major talking points -- gasoline prices and a huge trade imbalance with China -- may well resonate with voters feeling the pain of $4+ a gallon gasoline and the loss of American jobs, both to seemingly deaf ears in both major political parties.  What will make life especially uncomfortable for the political elite is that Trump is basically right.  His issues are viable and voters may be swayed by straight talk from a businessman vs. same old, same old from a bunch of political hacks.

Ignoring Trump is something Democrats and Republicans should do at their own peril.  If you don't think an outsider can't get elected president, I have two words for you: Jesse Ventura.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Waukesha County: Get a new county clerk

Waukesha County needs a new county clerk.

Kathy Nickolaus -- who sat for more than a day on the news that she goofed in reporting votes from the City of Brookfield -- wisely pulled herself out of running the recount of votes in the hotly contested state supreme court election which originally had challenger Joanne Kloppenburg with a razor thin lead until the "missing" Brookfield votes were "found" and reported.

It appears that Nickolaus -- no stranger to controversy as observed here earlier this month -- had some prodding from state officials but nonetheless it was the right thing to do.

So why the "I have no comment" when asked tonight by a news reporter about the rationale for her decision to recuse herself?

The high road would have been to proudly say that "Given the history here I felt it was proper to avoid even the appearance that there might be impropriety in the process."

That would have been the high road.  Nickolaus didn't take it.  Even though I don't buy the notion that there was hanky-panky in her goof-up, sitting on disclosing the error and now giving evasive answers to what ought to be a simple answer should prompt Waukesha County voters to give her the boot.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Obama: Bush III???

The Republican'ts are gearing up their war machine and mud pie throwers to take on Barack Obama's reelection campaign -- and my guess is that just like Obama's shot at delivering the hope and change he promised, they'll fizzle.

That's because "inside the Beltway" advisers don't have a clue how angry and disillusioned voters are.  They'll overanalyze and miscue the skew but the simple truth is that it's the economy.

You'll recall that in 1992 George H.W. Bush blew a massive post-Desert Storm approval rating.  How?  He was insensitive to the economy (which was a lot better then than now).

Son George W. wasn't much better.  He got us into a bottomless pit of a war, draining our economy and wasting American lives.

So we got Barack Obama, a charismatic speaker but unable to make the leap from charismatic candidate to governance.  High unemployment, rising consumer prices and gasoline topping $4 per gallon hardly qualify as talking points for reelection -- and then there's the fact that Bush's war is now his and we keep wasting American lives in the bottomless pit of middle east conflicts.

Of course there's more ineptness to go around.  After all, Obama couldn't control his own party and the Demo, who had the chance at success, squandered it.  A laudable effort to deal with health care reform wound up with a horrendous law and no real reform (particularly cost containment) at a time when the Obama administration couldn't manage the economy.

The Repulican'ts, of course, will get mired up in Obamacare, the Ryan budget plan to nowhere and whether Obama has a legitimate Hawaiian birth certificate.  They may just do Obama a favor by deflecting attention away from Obama's major economic failures. 

It's not rocket science, folks.  They only need to recite two Ronald Reagan lines:  (1) Are you better off than you were four years ago?; and (2) Isn't it nice to see the gallons add up faster than the dollars?

Friday, April 22, 2011

A hat tip to a clean election

In the midst of the celebrated state supreme court race -- the surrogate referendum on rookie Gov. Scott Walker -- there was an election for mayor of Madison in which the incumbent, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, lost his bid for reelection to former Mayor Paul Soglin.

This election is not just as asterisk in Wisconsin history or a footnote about Soglin getting a third crack at serving as Madison's mayor.

It really is a study about how two men can conduct a gentlemanly, above the belt campaign for political office, a rarity today.

Soglin and "Mayor Dave" confined their rhetoric to who has the best vision for Madison and the best skill set to get there.  The voters chose Soglin but, as The Capital Times, which endorsed Soglin, noted, they had to choose one or the other and a vote for Soglin was not a vote against Mayor Dave who did an able job of running the city for eight years.

After the election Soglin praised Mayor Dave for his civility and cooperation in the transition.  These two men showed us that it's possible for politicians to disagree on some issues without being disagreeable or disgusting. For his part, Soglin says he's not going to reject the good things Cieslewicz did for Madison but intends to build on them.  And Mayor Dave left office without even a hint of "sour grapes" but, to the contrary, by an exemplary show of courtesy and cooperation.

We joke a lot about "the People's Republic of Madison" and it being "an isthmus surrounded by reality" but in reality Madison has generally been a well-run city.  Other communities could learn from its successes, especially how to have an election in which while one candidate had to lose, everyone still won.

Appointing judges doesn't stop political shenanigans

The Wisconsin State Journal editorially expressed growing discomfort with Wisconsin's elected judiciary which it feels does little to insulate judges from partisan politics, a scenario played out in recent state supreme court soap

The newspaper is right to voice concerns about judicial independence and freedom from partisan politics but abandoning electing judges won't necessarily solve the problem.  If you need proof, let's look at Iowa where judges from the local level to the supreme court are nominated and appointed but face retention elections where voters periodically decide whether to keep a particular judge in office.

After the Iowa Supreme Court ruled same sex marriages were protected by the state constitution three of the seven justices lost retention votes.  While their supporters cried foul that judicial independence was being attacked and outside groups were influencing the election the process nonetheless was followed according to law.  In short, like it or not, Iowa voters had the chance to express their oversight over the court.

Waiting for the next retention vote, however, isn't enough for some Iowa Republican legislators, five of whom have introduced impeachment bills against the other four justices who have yet to come up for their retention votes.

The four resolutions — one for each justice — argue Chief Justice Mark Cady, and justices David Wiggins, Daryl Hecht and Brent Appel, performed a function solely reserved for the legislature in making the ruling.  The court’s decision violated the state’s constitutional separation of powers, and created social disorder and unrest, the resolution said.

Not all Republicans are willing to go that far.  The resolution will move on to the House Judiciary Committee, where its chances of advancing are unlikely, said its chairman Rep. Rich Anderson, R-Clarinda.

The justices’ actions in issuing a ruling that in effect legalized same-sex marriage do not meet the standard for impeachment spelled out in the Iowa Constitution: misdemeanor or malfeasance in office, Anderson said. He believes the majority of House Republicans agree with him and that it’s unlikely that the resolutions will go anywhere.

Anderson is a lawyer who initially applied to fill one of the three seats left open after voters in November ousted three justices but later withdrew his name.
“Rendering an opinion or resolving a dispute, which is what judges and justices are charged with doing, that is not misconduct or wrongful or unlawful,” Anderson said. “As much as the sponsors of the resolution disagree with the opinion, I don’t think the legal standard is met.”

Anderson's assessment mixes Iowa law with Iowa common sense.  If the voters don't like the other for justices, they can give them the boot at the next election.

This process, however, is far from immune from politics.  Outgoing Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, could have appointed three replacements before he left office but yielded to calls that he allow his Republican successor, Terry Branstand, to make the appointments. 

In my view that gives a governor too much power and makes it easier to stockpile a court with partisan jurists.  In other words, six of one, a half dozen of another.

Bras and prostates -- television is the vast wasteland.

Nearly 50 years ago Newton Minow, then chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, feared that television was becoming a "vast wasteland."  How prophetic.

I just awoke to a half-hour paid program on WTMJ-TV about how to buy better fitting bras that show enough cleavage while not drooping.  This was followed by another prolonged infomercial on prostate health supplements.  They should have completed the circle by airing Povich and Springer.


Prosser vs.Kloppenburg: A most necessary unnecessary recount

It's hard not to have mixed feelings about Joanne Kloppenburg's legitimate demand for a recount of the votes in her battle to unseat David Prosser from the Wisconsin Supreme Court, a surrogate battle between two political parties in a supposedly nonpartisan race fueled by enormously disgraceful quantitues of special interest money and injudicious conduct by a sitting supreme court justice.

You'd have to be living under a rock not to be aware of the highlights of this soap opera -- little-known Kloppenburg at first claiming a razor-thin victory and then two days later the disclosure by the Waukesha County Clerk that she failed to tally thousands of votes from Brookfield, a Republican stronghold that eventually put Prosser more than seven thousand votes ahead of Kloppenburg.

If that wasn't bad enough, the particular county clerk not only had ties to Prosser but has had her election conduct questioned in the past and was involved in one of the premier legislative scandals when she was a Republican causcus staffer a few years ago.  If that wasn't enough of a cloud, the clerk waited more than a day to disclose discovery of her latest mistake.

Regardless of who you voted for, the Waukesha County fiasco raised very good questions about how we run elections in Wisconsin -- concerns unfortunately drowned out by the cacophony of spin cycles by the political camps and their financial supporters.  Let's try to cut through the many layers of crap and try to make some sense of this.

First, we need to get out of the way the obvious but still ignored truism that this is politics, folks.  Had thousands of uncounted votes favoring Kloppenburg turned up in Dane, Milwaukee or some other county the Prosser supporters would be crying bloody murder.  One day your're the bug, next day the windshield.  Neither side can claim purity.  It's like having two madams arguing over which one is the bigger whore. Get over it.

Next, there are quite a few folks distressed that Kloppenburg is demanding a recount.  They point out that while she's within the .5% difference in vote totals entitling her to ask for a free recount, the chances that she'll find enough votes to change the results of the election.  Ordinarly this point is not without merit but this isn't an ordinary election and the catcalls about Kloppenburg exercising her right are myopic and misguided.

Yes, there is an expense to a recount and, yes, it's not likely to change the result.  But integrity does not operate on a balance sheet or a profit and loss statement.  What these folks -- including the editorial board of the Racine Journal-Times -- are saying is that we're wasting money on a recount.  While that has some plausibility it also begs the question of whether we should place a dollar value on the exercise of our rights and say to people, "It's your right to challenge __________________ but you shouldn't because it'll cost us money for you to exercise your rights."  That's a slippery slope.

In a micro perspective we conduct a recount to come up with an accurate tally of a close election.  The larger view, which apparently is overlooked by many here, is that we also do this to ensure the integrity of the election process and here, where there have been plausible concerns about the conduct of some election officials, it's not blatantly improper to seek a recount not just to ensure the accuracy of the outcome but also the integrity of the election itself.  That oversight is necessary, proper and priceless.  To suggest otherwise is to cheapen the respect for the election process.  It's important that the public have confidence in the process, including the conduct of election officials and equally important that oversight be exercised to prevent potential future abuses.

This brings us to Prosser's cheap shot labeling Kloppenburg's call for a recount as "frivolous."  He should know better, especially since he's caught flak -- appropriately -- for his vulgar and sexist description of Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson as a "bitch." 

Allow me to illustrate why this latest manifestation of foot-in-mouth disease demonstrates legitimate concerns over Prosser's judicial temperment.

Several years ago I handled a case involving a fight between two Jewish businessmen which broke out after one called the other a "schmuck."  For most of us that term connotes someone who is somewhat like a blundering fool and/or just generally inept -- not the kind of stuff that should lead to fisticuffs.  An expert on Jewish culture, however, explained to me that in his culture the ostensibly benign epithet is actually much more offensive as it's the functional equivalent of calling someone a "cocksucker."

So, too, is the word "frivolous" in legal circles.  The general public may equate the term with "unnecessary" while in legal parlance it's a pretty significant slap when one attorney uses it against another.  Beyond the general implication of incompetence it's also used to slap up an attorney who claims either a nonexistent legal wrong or  legal right.

Here, Kloppenburg is well within her legal rights to demand a recount, even though the outcome of the election is not likely to change.  A recount may be costly and some may question its necessity but it's hardly "frivolous" and Prosser of all people should know better.  He owes Kloppenburg and the people of Wisconsin an apology. 

For those who decry the recount because it costs money and is unlikely to change the result, you need to chill out and remember it's not just about the "bottom line" of who won this election.  It's also to provide necessary oversight over a murky election.  You don't measure transparency and integrity in dollars and cents.

Many years ago a young reporter was lectured by Capt. John Weinandy of the Toledo Police who noted with approval the broad access local media enjoyed to the police station and adjacent city hall.  "One reason we don't have much corruption here," Capt. Weinandy explained, "Is that there are reporters everywhere and, unlike other cities where they try to hide things, we generally want the public to know what we're doing."

Capt. Weinandy is right.  The price of transparency is far cheaper than that of corruption.