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?"