Tomorrow, voters in Wisconsin head to the polls to elect a new Supreme Court justice, to vote on a constitutional amendment to limit the governor’s veto power, and to vote for various local offices.
Much has been written about the Supreme Court race between Michael Gableman and Louis Butler, and the “nasty” tone that the race has taken. (Fortunately, Butler never figured out that Gableman’s middle name is “Hussein.”)* TV ad after TV ad, including a great deal of independent ads not sponsored by the candidates, hammer away at their respective opponents, accusing them of everything from being “soft on rapists and murderers” to “not recycling.” As a result of these ads, the two competitors have become ubiquitous in the last month.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the “Frankenstein Veto” constitutional amendment up for a vote, which would restrict the govenor’s ability to “stitch” together words from separate sentences of an appropriations bill to cobble together new laws never intended by the Legislature. Unless you’re a regular reader of the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper in Madison (who have made it their personal mission to get the change passed), you likely have little idea what this whole amendment does. Voters will likely go to the polls, read the question, and decide on the spot whether they approve of this broad veto power.
And why are people so less informed about this important constitutional change? Well, because there hasn’t been any television, radio, or print advertising. Frankenstein himself hasn’t been running any ads in favor of the veto power, and neither have groups opposing it. As a result, this crucial change to state government is flying under the radar. It’s hard to predict what the final outcome will be, since it’s hard to gauge how much people know about it.
On the other hand, voters are much more informed (or, misinformed, in some cases) about the Supreme Court race. Why? Because all these “scurrilous” ads actually have the effect of informing voters and heightening the profile of the race. In that respect, despite the unpleasantness of the ads themselves, it appears they do actually make voters more aware of the candidates.
As evidence, see the outstanding work of UW-Madison political science professor Ken Goldstein, who was featured in Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal:
Mudslinging is taken for granted in most political campaigns these days, and it ‘s a tactic that we love to hate.
But negative campaigns ads may be getting a bad rap, says UW-Madison political science professor Ken Goldstein.
Goldstein ‘s research suggests that, counter to what many may think, negative ads can enrich the political process by focusing vital attention on issues and the differences between candidates.
“Talking about people ‘s records and people ‘s weaknesses I think is perfectly fair game when we talk about the important things that are at stake in elections. It ‘s actually the very definition of a representative democracy, ” said Goldstein, co-author of the new book, “Campaign Advertising and American Democracy. ”
“You don ‘t always find positive effects from negative advertising, ” he added. “But you ‘re not likely at all to find negative effects. ”
Negative ads are more likely to be about policy issues, he said. They ‘re also more likely to be factually correct, perhaps because they can expect to face greater public and media scrutiny.
“People certainly like to complain about them, but the evidence also shows they learn from them, ” Goldstein said. “Everyone thinks negative ads are these mudslinging personal things. They are sometimes, but most of the time negative ads are about policy issues and so they ‘re verifiable claims. “
Contrast this to all the hand-wringing by good government types, whose tender sensibilities are so offended by negative advertising that they propose shutting them down altogether. Recently, the state’s Government Accountability Board voted to regulate third party campaign advertising, which is constitutionally questionable, given these groups’ free speech rights. The State Bar has attempted to set up a board to condemn what they believe to be misleading ads. Several bills in the Legislature seek to limit third party campaign spending, while funding campaigns with public money.
Yet, as Goldstein suggests, without both positive and negative advertising on behalf of candidates, nobody would know anything about what’s at stake in the campaigns being run. Supreme Court races would be determined by a smaller slice of voters, as ill-informed voters are less likely to show up to vote. If editorial boards and campaign reformers had their way, statewide races would look a lot more like the Frankenstein veto effort – barely informed voters not knowing what they’re voting on, or not showing up to the polls at all. Sadly, their “ideal” campaign is the biggest threat to true democracy that we face.
News has come down from on high: The newly-created Government Accountability Board has decided that they should be in charge of what people can and can’t say during elections. Apparently, they believe it is in the public’s best interest for an unelected board to limit political speech to save us all from democracy. Or, they just want to shut down Fairsley Foods:
When legislation authorizing the GAB was initially passed, there was concern that the Board’s powers may be too broad. It is now clear that those concerns were well-placed. Note the Board’s “duties” as described by the Legislative Council:
Act 1 creates two divisions in the GAB, each of which is under the direction and supervision of an administrator appointed by the GAB: the Ethics and Accountability Division and the Elections Division. The former has responsibility for administering campaign financing, lobbying, and ethics laws. The latter has responsibility for the administration of election laws.
The GAB is required to investigate violations of laws it administers and may prosecute, by its legal counsel or a special prosecutor, alleged civil violations of those laws. Alternatively, it may refer prosecution of alleged civil violations to the appropriate district attorney (which is the same prosecutor authorized to prosecute criminal violations).
Note anything missing there? Clearly, the GAB has the authority to prosecute existing laws that candidates violate, or ship them off to a district attorney for action. Yet the GAB has no authority to just make up new laws of their own to enforce. Those powers still rest with the Legislature, as explained in the article by Attorney Mike Wittenwyler:
Mike Wittenwyler, a lawyer who represents groups that sponsor issue ads, defended the ads as discussing public policy matters rather than candidates and said there ‘s no need to change the current rules. But he said that if the board makes changes, they must comply with state and federal court rulings.
Wittenwyler also questioned whether the board even has the authority to regulate issue ads, saying that ‘s the Legislature’s job.
Under the original bill, the GAB is allowed to issue advisory opinions, but states that “each advisory opinion issued by the board must be supported by specific legal authority under a statute or other law, or case or common law authority.” Needless to say, there is no current laws that deems the GAB the “speech police.”
Basically, the Board sees TV ads that they don’t like, and authority be damned, they want to do something about it. This smacks of the same outcome-based reading of the law that centers around the current Supreme Court race.
What’s even more troubling is how little credit this unelected board gives voters. They think that voters just must see these TV ads, not recognize them as typical attack ads, and swallow the whole thing hook line and sinker. They think the typical voter has just fallen off the proverbial turnip truck. (My apologies to anyone who actually has fallen off a turnip truck for the use of this insensitive metaphor.)
I will grant that these ads do have some effect. Otherwise, campaigns and third parties wouldn’t spend the kinds of dough they do to run them. But how much effect is really in question. It’s pretty clear that people who would most likely be affected by the message (those who know nothing about campaigns and politics) would be the least likely to vote. In some instances, voters might actually turn away from a candidate who runs an ad they deem to be inaccurate or repulsive. It’s impossible to measure the backlash.
Nobody likes negative campaign ads. But if the First Amendment exists for anything, it is to protect unpopular speech. Notice that nobody’s proposing a board to regulate praise of Brett Favre in Wisconsin. The only acceptable remedy for objectionable speech is more speech, not shutting it down altogether.
(Note: I see that Chris Lato makes a similar point today in this column.)
Filed under: Education — Christian Schneider @ 11:42 am
Despite high parental satisfaction with Milwaukee’s publicly-funded school choice program, other choice proposals around the country continue to face opposition from those who object to using public funds for private schools.
Necessity being the mother of invention, some other states have devised other ways of providing parents educational choices. For instance, Rhode Island instituted the “Rhode Island Corporate Scholarship Tax Credit Program,” which grants corporations tax credits for contributions they make to a private school scholarship fund. According to the Rhode Island Scholarship Alliance:
Initially open to C-Corporations, the program was expanded to include S-Corps, LLCs, and LLPs, who can receive a tax credit in return for scholarship contributions, and reached its total of $1 million in approved tax credits through fiscal year 2008. Any family with a household income of 250% or less of the federal poverty level is eligible to apply for tuition assistance at the 60 participating private schools. This year, over 250 families across the state received assistance through the program to attend schools of their choice, with scholarship awards averaging $2000 to $5000 per student, and have allowed a number of families to consider school choice options for the first time.
While the education establishment continues to push for pumping more money into the same substandard school system, other groups are coming up with creative ways to get kids the education they deserve.
Filed under: Reports — Christian Schneider @ 8:31 am
With governments all over the country figuring out how to handle their growing immigrant populations, WPRI thought it would be instructive to examine the economic effect immigrants have had on the City of Green Bay. The report attempts to quantify the costs and benefits of a large immigrant (both legal and illegal) population in a small city in Northeast Wisconsin. Among its findings:
If recent demographic trends continue, Hispanics will grow from 10.7 percent of the Green Bay population in 2006, to at least 17 percent in 2017, to nearly 30 percent in 2032. This last figure would put Green Bay’s Hispanic population on par with that of contemporary Arizona, which shares a border with Mexico.
Based on 2000 Census data, immigrant households in Brown County are estimated to have consumed somewhere between $4 million and $18 million more (in 2007 dollars) in state and local government services than they paid in state and local taxes. On the other hand, these same households most likely provided a partial subsidy of the federal programs and services that native Wisconsin taxpayers received. This is because immigrants (particularly illegal immigrants) make relatively large tax contributions to the federal government but are eligible for fewer benefits than the native-born population. At the state level, though, immigrant tax payments are relatively low, and the most expensive public service—K-12 public education—is available to the children of all immigrants, whether legal or illegal.
Though the available data are suggestive rather than conclusive, there is little indication that immigration to Green Bay has harmed job opportunities for native workers. Furthermore, though the impacts are difficult to measure, Green Bay immigrants clearly have benefited the local economy by starting businesses, saving and investing money, purchasing consumable goods, hiring employees, and creating the conditions for more efficient use of capital through the provision of their labor.
Data on the impact of immigration on wages in the Green Bay metro area are mixed and inconclusive. It seems unlikely, though, that any downward pressure on local wages due to immigration has been significant.
Filed under: Courts — Christian Schneider @ 10:17 am
Yesterday’s article about the infamous lead paint case here in Wisconsin (Thomas v. Mallet) provoked me to actually read Justice Butler’s majority decision, which upheld an individual’s right to sue paint companies whether or not he could actually prove it was their product that caused his sickness. The majority applied and expanded the “risk contribution theory” as previously applied in Collins v. Eli Lilly Co. This theory essentially holds that companies can be held liable for damages even if the plaintiff can’t prove if it was their product that caused them damages – since the mere presence of their product increased the “risk” that something bad would happen.
In any event, at one point in his decision, Butler expresses concern that landlords can escape liability for lead paint poisoning if they present tenants with a “certificate of lead-free status.” (at 117.) In proving how dangerous lead paint actually is, Butler cites another case that “equat(es) lead as a contaminant or pollutant ‘in the same way that a loaded pistol is a dangerous weapon, even when it is locked up in a gun case, and a mamba is a deadly poisonous snake, even when it is confined in a reptile house.’”
So there you have it – having lead paint on your walls is like having a “deadly poisonous snake” or a “dangerous weapon” in your house. No doubt, Butler probably enjoyed all those gangster movies where the mob would attack other organized crime families by painting their headquarters with lead paint.
In fact, Butler is likely a fan of last year’s big hit, “Semi-Gloss on a Plane:”
In recent weeks, I have adopted a Grandpa Simpson-esque persona, complaining bitterly about what the local media chooses to cover. I’ve especially been critical of papers who rail against about mudslinging in campaigns, then choose to cover nothing but mudslinging in campaigns.
A Ruling on Lead Paint Looms Over Wis. Justice’s Campaign
MADISON, Wis. (AP) No ruling in Justice Louis Butler’s tenure on the Wisconsin Supreme Court has generated more debate than one he wrote in 2005 on lead paint.
Butler ruled that a boy who ingested lead-based paint chips at two Milwaukee homes could sue several companies even though he could not prove which one made the product that left him with mental disabilities.
Companies were aware of the dangers of a lead pigment used in paint as far back as 1904 but continued marketing their products through the 1970s, he wrote for a 4-2 majority.
As a result, the entire industry can be sued for their role in polluting millions of U.S. homes with toxic paint. Otherwise, children like Steven Thomas, now 17, would have no way to seek remedies against the makers of the decades-old paint that gave them lifelong health problems, Butler reasoned.
The ruling, the first of its kind against the industry nationwide, set off a debate that continues to reverberate as Butler seeks a 10-year seat on the high court. He references the case on the campaign trail as he touts his record of holding big businesses accountable for wrongdoing.
(The link is to a Minneapolis TV station that ran the same article, but it did appear in the Local Section of the State Journal with a different title.)
Finally, we are starting to get reporting in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race that actually reflects what the judicial philosophies of the candidates might be, and how they might rule on future cases. So kudos to Ryan Foley at the Associated Press for putting this piece together. And for those who think I’m digging this article merely because it’s critical of Butler, I welcome any substantive criticism of Mike Gableman, as long as it pertains to his actual record.
Lo and behold, the State Journal also printed this article today:
Budget plans may dig bigger hole for future
The competing solutions to repair the state ‘s broken budget can be summed up in four words, an independent report has found: Spend now, pay later.
When the Legislature passed the two-year budget in October, fiscal analysts projected a gap between estimated revenues and expenses in the next budget of $896 million.
The faltering economy has since lowered projections of tax money the state will receive, forcing policymakers to revisit the current budget.
But two of the proposed fixes add to the problems down the road, according to the report by the Legislature ‘s nonpartisan budget office.
Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle ‘s plan increases the potential shortfall in the next budget by $520 million, to $1.42 billion, the report found. A plan by the Republican-controlled Assembly raises the deficit by $753 million, to $1.65 billion.
This article gets it exactly right – it exposes the fraud that both Governor Doyle and the Assembly are trying to perpetrate on the Wisconsin public with their respective budget bills.
So while the State Journal has deserved criticism in the past, it certainly merits praise when it gets it right. Here’s hoping they continue this winning streak.
(Writing letter:) Dear Mr. President, There are too many states nowadays. Please eliminate three.
P.S. I am not a crackpot.
Side Side note:
In discussing the lead paint issue, Butler draws the following comparison:
Butler said over-the-top attacks on the ruling by business interests have hurt Wisconsin’s economy while the ruling itself has not. He compares the case to 10 people putting poison in a water well. When someone gets sick after drinking the water, all of them say, ”Sure, our poison is in the well, you can’t prove mine hurt you.” But they all knowingly contributed to the risk to the public.
Actually, that’s a pretty dramatic misrepresentation of the opinion in Thomas v. Mallet, the lead paint case. Butler’s hypothetical presumes 10 people are all contributing poison to a well. Under the Court’s new “risk contribution” theory as described in Thomas, if only three of those people were pouring poison in the well, the other seven could be found liable whether or not they ever poured any poison in the well during the entire life of the well.
As extended in Thomas, “risk contribution” theory relieves the plaintiff of the requirement of proving causation, allowing recovery against manufacturers not because of any specific factual link to the plaintiff’s injury but because each contributed to a general risk. The burden is placed on the manufacturer to prove that it did not produce or market lead paint during the relevant time period or in the relevant geographic marketplace. As a factual matter, this manufacturer burden of exculpation is nearly impossible to carry because the court made it clear that the relevant time period is not the time period of the plaintiff’s exposure but the entire time period that the houses with lead paint existed—a period spanning nearly eight decades.
Filed under: Health Care — Christian Schneider @ 10:51 am
In my previous post dealing with how universal health care will make Wisconsin a magnet for the nation’s sick, I made a quick point that actually deserves more attention. As it turns out, people may not even need to move here to have Wisconsin taxpayers foot the bill for their health problems.
Under the “Healthy Wisconsin” bill, an individual is eligible for full benefits immediately if they are “gainfully employed” in the state. Once one person is “gainfully employed” (as defined by the Healthy Wisconsin plan’s board), “the person and the members of the person’s immediate family are eligible to participate in the plan.”
But wait – while there’s a catch. The bill requires an individual to live in the state for 12 months and have a “substantial presence” in Wisconsin (the time limit requirement would be legally questionable in court). However, once they’re “gainfully employed in this state,” those requirements disappear. So what is “gainfully employed” in Wisconsin? If someone lives in Arkansas but owns businesses in Wisconsin, are they gainfully employed in this state? Is an independent contractor who lives in Colorado but contracts with Wisconsin business gainfully employed in Wisconsin? Apparently, the board would have to decide.
What is clear, however, is that once a single individual in a family is eligible, everyone in that person’s immediate family is immediately eligible. And there are no residency requirements for family members. (I have verified this with legislative attorneys.)
As a result, a father of eight in Georgia could move to Wisconsin, get a job at a hot dog stand, and his wife and all of his children would immediately be eligible for taxpayer funded health care, paid for by Wisconsin residents. And the family wouldn’t have to move an inch. For any family in America facing expensive care for a child afflicted with autism or multiple sclerosis, their prayers would be answered just by having one immediate family member qualify in Wisconsin.
Anyone who thinks this isn’t incentive enough for people in South Carolina or Indiana to take advantage of this program are willfully deceiving themselves. As I previously mentioned, the health care crisis for people not already on Medicaid-based programs isn’t a Wisconsin problem – it’s a national problem. In fact, Wisconsin’s MA program, Badgercare, even has a residency requirement tougher than Healthy Wisconsin.
As a result, it makes sense that the other 49 states would beg Wisconsin to enact the program – it would alleviate them of all the health care costs they’re currently paying for their sickest individuals. Suddenly, Mississippi’s budget would look a lot better when we’re paying for their citizens’ health care.
Filed under: Health Care — Christian Schneider @ 8:42 pm
On Monday, the Senate Health committee went through with a hastily-called hearing on their “Healthy Wisconsin” government-run health care proposal. Why Senate Democrats would continue to ram through a $15.2 billion tax increase in a week with virtually no public input, thereby exposing their plan as the most expensive campaign talking point in American history, is puzzling.
During the hearing, one of the speakers laid out the entirely plausible scenario (heard here first), that Healthy Wisconsin would attract people needing free health care from all over America, leaving Wisconsin taxpayers to foot the bill.
The proposal’s lead (and only) author, Senator Jon Erpenbach, argued that other states have Medicaid programs, so undesirable poor people wouldn’t be flooding into Wisconsin to take advantage of the benefits. According to the authors, the proposal isn’t intended to take care of people already on Medicaid – its target is those who can’t afford increasing health premiums but don’t currently qualify for public health care. He snapped that Minnesota likely has “Gophercare” and Illinois likely has “Illinicare,” so those people would be covered in their home states.
Yet this explanation exposes a contradiction in the Democrats’ argument. Let’s take them at their word that there’s a crisis among people that make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough money to afford health care premiums. Or among people with pre-existing conditions that can’t get health care. Is this a problem that is unique to Wisconsin? Wouldn’t those desperate people be just the kind that would be moving to Wisconsin to take advantage of the Cadillac benefits in the new program?
On the one hand, they argue that the crisis among this group is severe enough to warrant a full government takeover of health care in the state. Yet they also argue that there is no crisis with regard to people in identical situations in other states, which would be enough for one family member to move to Wisconsin. Which is it? In fact, Wisconsin ranks near the top of the nation in the percentage of citizens insured – if anything, these people are likely in a lot more dire situations in places like Arkansas and Mississippi.
Add in the fact that A) any waiting period for people to get full health benefits will likely be struck down in court; and B) it appears that once one individual moves to Wisconsin, their whole immediate family is covered, whether they actually live in Wisconsin or not; and the migration theory becomes even more plausible.
Of course, this is only one small argument against a full government takeover of health care. All the others will surely be vetted in the 84 hours between introduction of the plan and passage on the floor of the Senate.
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 8:41 pm
Comedian Richard Pryor once famously observed that “cocaine is God’s way of telling you you’re making to much money.” Similarly, large deficits are government’s way of telling that they have too much money. Yet Wisconsin, despite running deficit after deficit during economic downturns, refuses to recognize it has a tax problem.
Even the simplest budget observer can understand why Wisconsin is always caught with its pants down when the economy goes bad. Most importantly, it doesn’t put away any money in reserve to help mediate budget downturns. Secondly, it fixes these budget downturns with budget tricks – money transfers, one-time funding, delayed payments, and the accumulation of more public debt.
Perhaps most confusingly, Wisconsin government has a history of trying to ameliorate downturns by raising taxes. Let’s think about why a deficit occurs – tax revenue to the state slows down because individuals are making less money. As a result, they pay less in income taxes, and buy fewer goods, which shrinks sales tax revenue. It would seem clear that raising taxes on these people would do nothing to correct their lowly situations – it only serves to maintain the bloated spending that the deficit is practically begging lawmakers to correct.
Predictably, Governor Jim Doyle’s budget deficit “fix” proposal introduced Monday combines all the worst of the above budget strategies. The centerpiece of the plan is Doyle’s proposal to implement a .7 percent taxes on hospitals, which would then presumably be matched with federal dollars. Doyle is so married to this proposal, he actually said “There is no good argument against taking this step.”
Naturally, this new tax would be passed on to health care consumers (sometimes known as “sick people.”) Ironically, Doyle recognized this phenomenon when he proposed his tax on oil company profits and included a “no-pass through” provision which prevented companies from passing the tax on to drivers. If Doyle didn’t think the tax would be passed on to consumers, there wouldn’t have been any need for the provision. The hospital tax is no different, and will serve to make health care more expensive – at a time when citizens list health care costs as their #1 concern.
Another problem with the hospital tax is its reliance on federal matching funds to plug the budget hole. The feds are often fickle when approving more federal funding to bail states out. This was in evidence in the 2003-05 budget, when Doyle wrote in hundreds of millions of dollars in Intragovernmental Transfer Program (IGT) funds to plug a Medicaid hole. As it turns out, Doyle’s number was pure fiction, as the money never materialized. Naturally, the state refinanced some debt (opting to pay more long-term in exchange for a few immediate bucks) rather than making any substantive budget changes.
Doyle’s plan also transfers $243 million out of the transportation fund and backfills that hole with – no surprise here – more debt. This is the same go-to maneuver Doyle and the Legislature utilized between 2003 and 2007, where they borrowed nearly $900 million to backfill the $1.1 billion transferred out of the transportation fund. When all the debt service on those bonds are paid off, taxpayers will have paid over $1 billion in interest – money they wouldn’t have had to pay had the deficits been dealt with in a more fiscally prudent manner.
Doyle hysterically claims that his budget “repair” bill doesn’t raise taxes. Yet consumers will be paying more for medical care, and drivers will be paying more in the future to pay off new debt incurred in the transportation fund. And government will continue to call plays from the same playbook that got us into this mess in the first place. The state’s unwillingness to deal with its overspending problem in the past is a primary reason it is looking at a deficit now. And Governor Doyle’s new budget “fix” bill will guarantee that the state will be staring at an even more severe problem the next time the economy dips.
Filed under: History — Christian Schneider @ 11:10 am
I was doing some research the other day, and ended up digging through a 1903 copy of the Wisconsin State Journal (don’t ask why). While somewhat tedious, it provides a fascinating look into life around the turn of the century, while Wisconsin was still feeling its way around as a state.
Of course, back then elected officials were as big as celebrities got. There weren’t any movie stars or nationwide sports stars that dominated the media like they do today. As a result, elected officials often served as pitchmen for certain products – a practice that seems inconceivable today.
Take, for example, the ad below for some bogus tonic called Pe-Ru-Na, which is supposed to cure all “Catarrhal Affections.” (A catarrhal affection is one that deals with “inflammation of a mucous membrane, especially of the respiratory tract, accompanied by excessive secretions.” In horses and sheep, it can cause “bluetongue.” Enjoy your lunch.) You can click on the image to see a bigger version:
As you can see, Congressman Zenor of Indiana isn’t alone in his enthusiasm for Pe-Ru-Na. Apparently, over 40 members of Congress also swore by this snake oil. The first paragraph reads:
“No other remedy invented by man has ever received so much praise from men of high station as Peruna. Over forty members of Congress have tried it and recommended it to suffering humanity. They use it themselves to guard against the effects of the intense strain of public life; to ward off the ill effects of the changeable climate of Washington. They keep it in their homes for family use. They recommend it to their neighbors, and they do not hesitate in public print to declare their appreciation and endorsement of this greatest of modern remedies.”
Well, I’m convinced.
In today’s world, when legislators’ financial interests are examined, observed, and taken apart, it seems inconceivable that any current elected official would appear in an ad for a common product. That’s what we have William Shatner for.
In order to show how jarring this practice would be today, imagine these:
Of course, that’s not where the oddities in the 1903 end.
In the event that anyone thinks the current legislature lacks seriousness, take note that in March of 1903, an unnamed legislator introduced a bill that sought to “repeal the law of gravitation.” (In those days, bills could be introduced without an author’s name attached.) The text of the bill was as follows:
Section 1. The law of gravitation, as discovered by one Isaac Newton, is hereby repealed, and the rule of “Stop, look, and listen!” as announced by the Supreme Court of the State of Wisconsin, is substituted therefor.
Section 2. The Act shall be in force from, and after the passage and publication of the “Woman Suffrage Act.”
Of course, women couldn’t vote in 1903, which is what made that such a joke. Essentially, they were saying the anti-gravity bill would take effect when hell freezes over (i.e. when women could vote.) In fact, 1903 was the first year any legislator in Wisconsin actually introduced a bill to give women the right to vote. But without question, introduction of this bill caused much laughter, rejoicing, mustache stroking, and gunplay in the Assembly chambers.
Among other bills considered in the 1903 session:
1. A bill making three years of insanity a cause for divorce;
2. A bill prohibiting kissing in public;
3. A bill barring marriage between whites and “mulattoes;”
4. A bill requiring banks to close at noon on Saturdays; and
5. A bill requiring “hospitals for the insane” to have departments to deal with “dipsomaniacs, inebriates, and those addicted to the excessive use of narcotics.”
If I could wish for anything, it might be the time and patience to go back and sift through these old papers. This stuff is just fascinating.