Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Scott Walker -- Swear By or Swear at? Are we at fault?

Our home-grown, newly-minted presidential hopeful, Scott Walker, is a guy you either swear by or swear at.

To his groupies, he's the conservative crusader.  To many others, our governor is the devil incarnate destroying Wisconsin, our heritage and our economic future.  They say he's a fraud -- and worse -- and that he got where he by deceiving people.  Walker's supporters obviously don't buy this.  Each side will cough up some tidbits to justify their position so I'm not going to jump into that quicksand. Statistics are not necessary here.  After all, you don't need a meteorologist to tell you it's raining. You can use your own noggin and some good common sense.  And maybe that's the problem as well as the solution.

Let's make this manageable and take his signature piece of legislation, Act 10 which, among other things, stripped most public employees of collective bargaining rights.  To sell this Walker and his minions did the Wizard of Oz thing and fanned the flames of angst and prejudice that public employees and their unions were evil, greedy thugs robbing the taxpayers blind.  The sky was falling and critical action was needed immediately.  

Depending on your own bend Walker was either a savior preaching the gospel truth or a sinning demagogue lying through his teeth.   How do we know -- definitively -- what the truth is?

If you take a few moments to think it over it's not that hard.

Now each side of this dispute will unleash at us a barrage of statistics, arguments and beliefs purportedly supporting that side.  Regardless of how you feel, let's assume for a moment that the public employees and their unions were overpaid with outrageous benefits.  For a moment let's assume Walker's mantra was spot on.

OK, are you ready?  Here's the indisputable truth.

No police officer, firefighter, teacher, prison guard, driver's license examiner, game warden, university professor or stock clerk ever fattened their own wallet or purse.  That's right.  They didn't raid the piggy bank.  Not once.  Never.  None of them ever had the power or authority to do any of that.  As a matter of fact and a matter of law that claim was purely false.  A lie.  

If any of these folks had been overpaid it wasn't their fault.  The school boards vote the salaries of teachers and their fringe benefits.  Neither the teachers or their union has any say.  Ditto for the county, town and village boards, city councils and even the state legislature.  Nobody got a dime without their approval.  Not a dime.

So, if you assume that these employees and their unions were hogging it up at the public trough, remember who was solely responsible: elected officials.  The unions have every right and duty to ask for the moon but it's elected officials who decide whether to give it to them.  If they did, who was at fault?  Where and when did we forget ninth grade civics?

So Walker lied.  He blamed the wrong people.  That makes me wonder who duped him?  It had to happen somehow.  When you peel away at the argument the fallacy is big enough to drive a train through.  Who sold Walker that bill of goods -- and why?  And why did Walker take the bait?

Now let's apply simple business management to this mess.  If your business is losing money because salesmen are "giving away the store" you don't blame the customers for negotiating good deals -- you fire the salesmen and managers who made them.  But if the store was given away Act 10 never held accountable any of those who did so.  In reality, the wrong "villains" were punished.  The governor said that Act 10 gave government employers the "tools" they needed to get things done.  Really?  Truth is they already had the ultimate took.  As Nancy Reagan so aptly said, "Just say no."

Now that we're on a roll the Walker mantra is that collective bargaining was the problem.  Really? Remember, it wasn't the bargaining that broke the bank, it was the elected officials who said yes.  Walker's solution? Take away collective bargaining rights regardless of whether it was necessary.  So now a nurse working for University Hospital has fewer rights than a nurse working at a local hospital.  Where is the wisdom and fairness in that?  The public employee shouldn't have more rights at the bargaining table but should he or she have less?  Rather than collective bargaining being the problem maybe it was the solution and one that was never tried.  So why?  Why the lies?  Why the inept actions that defy common sense, good management principles and fundamental fairness?  Who duped Walker?  And why did he give in?

And last (for now) but not least what's with selling out traditional conservative principles?  Things like local control and less government intrusion.  Now Big Brother in Madison is telling local governmental bodies what they can and can't provide to their employees.  Excuse me, but since when is that the state's business?  If the city councils and school, county, town and village boards gave away the store the voters already had the power to give them what they richly deserved: the boot at the next election.  Even a recall one.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I was a dumb___. And so is Governor Walker.

When I was a struggling young man trying to get an education and a good job I did a dumb thing: I withdrew my share of my Wisconsin Retirement Fund account.  I got something like $5,000.  It did help with some law school expenses.  But here's the thing.

Later it cost me $14,000 to buy back that service.  Heck, I could have borrowed $5,000 for less than my stupid mistake cost me in the end.

Our absentee governor makes similar mistakes.  

The state is in financial trouble.  Now we can finger point until the cows come home but it doesn't change the facts.  And it never ceases to amaze me how politicians are afraid to tell the people the truth: there is no free lunch.

Are the prices at Wal-Mart and Target the same as they were ten years ago?  Seldom will that be true. When it costs more for goods and services those costs are passed along.  I wish I could tell Wal-Mart that it seems wrong that they increased the price of my shaving cream 29% -- more than the rate of inflation.

Nobody likes paying taxes.  Even worse is when tax money is squandered.   But there's no free lunch and certainly it's stupid to play games and gimmicks with people.  The tax relief the average person got was a pittance compared to what high rollers raked in.  And it was false economy.

Taxes, at least on the local level, are like your condo association.  They figure out how much it'll cost to provide services for the common good and divide it.  If prices go up, well, you can plan on an increase in your association fees, like it or not.

The alternative, of course, is to defer what needs to be done until, guess what, it costs more!  Which would you rather have -- a $200 filling or a $1,000 crown?

There is only so much you can cut.  And what we've been doing is to avoid making the repairs and investments needed in our state.  In other words, we're buying $1,000 crowns -- maybe more expensive with inflation -- when we could have bought $200 fillings.  

Plus, there's an old adage, "You gotta spend money to make money."  Business 101.

Money this state doesn't put into education is money taken away from future economic growth and education, particularly at the post-secondary level (colleges and universities).  We don't spend money here, folks -- we invest it.

Our governor and the mindless bobbleheads in the Republican caucus don't get it.  They'll throw a few pennies at the masses but the cost down the road will be much more.  And the bobbleheads lack the spines to stand up and remind the governor that the legislature is a coequal branch of government and actually does share power.

Kicking the can down the road and short-term economic solutuons rarely produce long-term benefits.  We need to be buying $200 crowns in fixing our infrastructure.  And we need to be investing in the future.  And that might mean raising some taxes or, at a minimum, abandoning schemes to give out money we don't have.

I learned the hard way how much it costs when you make dumb___ economic decisions.  Our absentee governor perhaps demonstrates his disdain for education by rejecting his own.

Guest Commentary: Christian Schneider: Ozanne's Courageous Decision

When Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne met with media on Tuesday afternoon, he had the look of a man who carried the weight of black America on his shoulders. While announcing his decision not to charge white Madison officer Matt Kenny in the March shooting death of 19-year-old Tony Robinson, Ozanne spoke deliberately, often pausing to mop the sweat pouring off his forehead and neck.
It was an impossible situation for Ozanne, Wisconsin's first African-American district attorney. He was clearly aware that the national glare was on him; while his job was to determine whether the facts in this specific case warranted criminal charges, he knew he was doing so in an atmosphere in which his announcement could spark riots similar to those that had been seen in cities such as Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo. For Ozanne, the decision not to charge Kenny was a local criminal matter; to others, it would become one more example of the national trend of police getting away with murdering young black males.
But the facts of the case back Ozanne. According to the evidence he presented, Kenny was called after three 911 calls reported Robinson attacking people on the street, then wandering in and out of traffic. One caller said Robinson was "tweaking," and had ingested "shrooms."
According to Kenny, he followed Robinson into an apartment, where Kenny believed a struggle was occurring. When the officer entered the apartment, Robinson punched Kenny on the left side of his head, causing Kenny to hit the right side of his head on a wall. Kenny said that as he stumbled backward, he was afraid if he was struck again, Robinson would be able to take his gun — so he fired seven times, killing his alleged assailant.
But as has become the national trend, these facts have become casualties in the effort to paint the Robinson shooting as part of a national pattern. Some want desperately to take what happened in that cramped stairway and imbue it with a nationwide narrative, evidently believing that if the fist that hit Kenny's face had been white, the shooting never would have occurred.
It is these groups all over the country that Ozanne had to have in mind as he announced his decision Tuesday. During his news conference, Ozanne, who like Robinson is biracial, bolstered his credentials with the black community, even talking about his African-American mother's involvement in the civil rights movement.
And although the protests went on Tuesday and Wednesday, they were subdued. It appears the demonstrators were there more out of duty than out of genuine outrage — they knew the nation was watching them, so the paint-by-numbers protesting proceeded. (The provocateurs at the group Young Gifted and Black suggested the United Nations begin an investigation into the shooting, and Robinson's family has said they will be pursuing a civil suit against the city.)
Perhaps the protests didn't erupt into violence in Madison because the city doesn't have the sheer scope of poverty and criminality found in large cities such as Baltimore. Maybe even the city's African-Americans don't see Robinson as a particularly sympathetic figure. But Ozanne's emotional performance surely played a part in mitigating unrest, and his mere status as a black elected official may have lent more credibility to his decision.
Maybe Ozanne doesn't deserve as much credit as I think he deserves — district attorneys should not prosecute cases they can't win. But Tuesday was no doubt a torturous afternoon for him as he faced down the national media and became the latest face of police brutality against young black men.
On a street corner Wednesday morning, YGB co-founder Brandi Grayson questioned Ozanne's black credentials. "What happened when we had a black DA?" she yelled into a microphone. "Did we see justice?"
Groups such as Grayson's thought merely having a black district attorney would give them a more favorable outcome. But in an impossible situation, Ozanne, who was born in Madison, made the courageous decision. If justice is blind, Ozanne deserves praise for closing his eyes and listening to the evidence.
Christian Schneider is a Journal Sentinel columnist and blogger.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

National Police Week -- Law Enforcement Memorial Remarks

This is the draft of the address yesterday at the Law Enforcement Memorial Service in Kenosha.  The actual speech tracks the notes below but what you see is not 100% verbatim.

Good afternoon.  Thank you for this honor to visit today but today, it is you I honor. Each time I open court I say that the court belongs to the people and it is I who was honored to have been elected to preside over it. Today the honored dignitaries are every man and woman who wears or wore a badge and swore to put his or her life on the line for a public that may or may not appreciate it.  Some, as those we’ve honored today and in the past, made the ultimate sacrifice.

I come to you from an interesting perspective.  I spent more than three decades working with officers as a prosecutor and now as a judge.  Before that, though, I, too, wore a badge and took that oath.  I know what it’s like to stop a car at night and wonder if I have a good citizen with a little lead foot or someone who has just committed a crime and will stop at nothing to get away.  I know how it feels inside when you find an open door at three in the morning and hear a noise inside the building you’re checking, even if it turns out to be the furnace kicking in.  I’ve been in situations where I was invited to engage in anatomical impossibilities and in high-speed chases where I would pray that the driver of the car coming up to the stop sign on a side road does indeed stop and stay there.  I’ve seen the tears behind closed doors over the two year old boy who was beaten to death.

I’m happy to report that most of the time most of our officers do a very good job. They’re human.  They can and do make mistakes.  And as a prosecutor and judge I know the hurt feelings – and sometimes worse – when I kick out a case because despite the best efforts to make it the evidence wasn’t there and, in this great nation, the doubt goes to the accused.  Misconduct?  I’ve seen it.  I’ve prosecuted it.  I abhor it and so does every honorable officer – the vast majority – who would rather die than lie or dishonor the badge or defile their office.  The good news is that it doesn’t happen that often.  It recently did happen here in this community for reasons I, despite my experience, struggle to understand.  But I know from what I’ve heard from officers on the street that they, too, share this sense of indignity and insult to their honest, hard work.  When a few officers defile their oath they tarnish not only their badge but also the reputation of everyone who wears one.  Today, though, is not about the bad apples.  It’s about the good ones and indeed also about a society in which a growing number of misinformed people would not extend to a police officer seeking to protect them the same presumption of innocence we give to those who commit even the most heinous crimes. 

Thank God it wasn’t like that in 1919.  Before the days of police radios a dedicated Kenosha patrolman, Antonio Pingitore, was at a late night gas station, unaware that three dangerous hoodlums had just blown open a safe at American Brass and kidnapped a cab driver.  Stopping at the service station for directions the cab driver signaled the officer that the thugs were armed but it was too late.  One shot and killed Officer Pingitore.  This community rallied and gave his widow and their eight children a home.

Fast forward to May 16, 2007, almost eight years ago.  At 11:35 p.m. Deputy Sheriff Frank Fabiano was patrolling in Somers and stopped an erratic driver.  A University of Wisconsin-Parkside officer, Jimmy Spino, pulled up to assist.  Moments later shots were fired and Frank fell to the ground.  Officer Spino returned fire but the gunman escaped, only to be captured by a consortium of officers who came together to bring the murderer to justice.  This community came out in force to recognize Frank’s sacrifice on our behalf – an outpouring so moving that a Madison police officer that was at the funeral wrote the Kenosha News praising the people of Kenosha.

Almost forgotten in all of this was Officer Spino who witnessed this horror live and in person and was able to testify at the killer’s trial.  He easily could have had his name added to this monument.  Today, I ask all of you to join me in recognizing Officer Spino’s heroism in the face of deadly fire. 

And, thanks, too, to now retired Parkside Chancellor Jack Keating, the son of a Seattle police officer, who ended decades of misguided thinking by several predecessors who thought the campus would be safer if its police officers patrolled unarmed.

And then four years ago this community turned out to honor a hometown hero, Officer Craig Birkholz of the Fond du Lac Police Department, who survived military duty in Iraq and Afghanistan only to be fatally ambushed responding to a disturbance call at six o’clock on a Sunday morning. 

The reality, folks, is that every one of the officers you see here today could be the next Antonio Pingitore, Frank Fabiano or Craig Birkholz.  We’ve seen a chilling rise in the number of assaults on law enforcement officers just trying to do the job they swore to do and hopefully make it home safely to their families.  But that’s only part of the story.

Think about Officer Pingitore or Deputy Fabiano for a moment.  And then think of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.

Officer Wilson by all accounts was a pretty good cop who saw two young men walking in the street who should have been on the sidewalk.  When his commands to get on the sidewalk were ignored, laced with profanities, Officer Wilson approached  Michael Brown who struck Officer Wilson and grabbed for the officer’s gun and during the struggle for control of it shots rang out and then Brown fled with Officer Wilson in pursuit.  He commanded Brown to get on the ground but instead the much larger Brown came at the officer who fired the shots heard ‘round the world.

We all know what happened.  Thousands rushed to vilify Officer Wilson.  Ferguson endured many nights of demonstrations and riots.  The rule of law evaporated as businesses were burned to the ground and with them the livelihoods of the people who owned and worked in them.  Officer Wilson was forced into hiding and then out of his job because it was no longer safe for him to be in the community that he swore to protect and serve. 

Unlike even the most heinous criminals accused of a crime, Officer Wilson, for many, was presumed guilty by those who couldn’t wait for the facts, unwittingly aided and abetted by a news media that so often lives by the motto “if it bleeds, it leads.”  When the facts that came out during the grand jury investigation didn’t suit the fancy of those unwilling to hear anything other than what they wanted to believe the riots and protests continued along with calls for a federal investigation.

There the angry crowds were – perhaps reminiscent of those centuries ago demanding that Pilate turn over the innocent man – and this dragged out.

Weeks and months went by until that federal investigation justifiably lambasted a litany of questionable local law enforcement and judicial practices.  But, guess what?  It exonerated Officer Wilson.  With all of the pressure on the justice department to do something, do you honestly think for one moment that if there was a shred of guilt on the officer’s part that they wouldn’t have run with it?  But there wasn’t.  And not only were Ferguson and the good people of that city ruined but so was Officer Wilson.  Where does he go to get his civil rights restored?  The months of anguish, threats and injustice are a national shame.

This is not to defend bad police officers.  When officers act outside the law they deserve to be swiftly and promptly ferreted out and punished.  Not only does the law and public confidence in our justice system demand this but so does the good work of the honorable men and women who wear the badge.  Do you honestly think that any police officer starts his or her shift wishing that he or she could use fatal force?

The harsh reality, folks, is that if the circumstances were somewhat reversed, Antonio Pingitore, Frank Fabiano and any of the men and women in law enforcement today could easily become the next Darren Wilson.  I say this not to rehash the events in Missouri but to point out the fine line that officers walk every day – having to make decisions in a split second that will be second-guessed for weeks, months and years by people who have never pounded a beat, stopped a fleeing car, wrestled a drunk or had to make real world life-and-death decisions on the spot.

What do we do about this?  I don’t have all the answers nor do we have much time today.  Good, open communication and community relations is a start. There are no “civilians” in law enforcement – it is a team effort including the public for whom we work.  The late Chief Harold Breier of the Milwaukee Police Department had a good saying, “Every officer is a community relations officer.”  Public awareness needs to be ramped up.  It is not a one-sided conversation limited to a few select people.  It starts from the bottom up, not the top down.  In other words, it’s not up the chiefs and a few talking heads.  Chief Breier, a tough-as-nails cop, had it right: “Every officer is a community relations officer.” So, let’s start by forever banishing the word “civilian” from the law enforcement vocabulary.  Never forget that the people are the stockholders in governance and partners in the mission of making our community safer.  Mark my words:  if you don’t tell your story, someone else will – and they may not get it right.

40 years ago when I was in the police academy – yes, we had radios and computers then – we had shoot/don’t shoot training – simulated situations where an officer has to decide on the spot whether to use fatal force.  I recall one situation required a decision in a fraction of a second.  And across the nation I’ve seen journalists, judges and others who have participated in this training come away shaking their heads because they’ve either shot an innocent person or were blown away by an armed and dangerous one.  Reporters and others in the community should be invited to this training so that they can see first hand the conditions under which our officers must make life or death decisions.

When Frank Fabiano was murdered, Assistant District Attorney Dave Bayer and I had less than 48 hours to file charges against the accused killer.  No, the investigation was not complete, but we had to have enough in hand to make a decision.  On the flip side, when an officer is involved in a fatal use of force, why is it that he or she is left in the lurch of anxiety and suspicion for weeks and months?  I know that only on television are complex crimes investigated and prosecuted in 60 minutes minus time for commercials.  The law mandating an independent investigation of these incidents is sound but at the same time adequate resources must be provided for the investigators to do so with both accuracy and promptness.  The failure to do so is utterly inexcusable.  The public and the police both deserve justice, not delays which often serve to inflame the fires of misunderstanding and prolong needless anxiety.   

The Kenosha Police Association’s billboard thanking the citizens of this community for their support was flamed by our local newspaper which editorialized that it could be seen as trying to influence a pending investigation.  Fair enough.   But law enforcement officers who took an oath to protect the constitutional rights of others do not forfeit their own. And where…where…is the editorial taking to task the misinformed mobs, self-aggrandizing charlatans and self-appointed legal scholars who never had a day in law school but suddenly are experts on the law of arrest, search and seizure and use of force?  Why isn’t their inflammatory rush to judgment being taken to task? 

In closing, on this day when we honor those who paid the ultimate price to protect this community, I am reminded of a poster in an old, rickety Indiana police station of a dark and dangerous urban street.  The caption read like this:  “You wouldn’t go down this street for a million dollars.  We do it every day for a lot less.”

To all of you who do and did that for us, thank you.  May God bless you and keep you and your families safe.  Thank you.

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.