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.