Filed under: Legislation — Christian Schneider @ 9:52 am
Having already solved all the state’s problems, the Wisconsin Legislature this week turns to the difficult chore of making up imaginary problems to fix.
The Wisconsin Senate is slated to take up a bill that would allow legislators to designate between three and seven “secret successors,” in the event all hell breaks loose and an “enemy attack” leaves the state with nine Senate vacancies or 25 open Assembly seats. One could argue that the most serious threat to the state is actually the Legislature itself, but it’s more fun to think about the state in total chaos. Come to think of it, would anyone really notice?
As long as we’re going to take a few hours on the floor coming up with possible scenarios, the Senate might as well amend the bill to capture all possibilities. What would be the protocol if the Capitol building suddenly became immersed in lime jello? What if jetpack-equipped alligators learned to type and seized control of state government via cyber-attack? What if Brett Favre throws four touchdowns against the Packers on October 5th? Half the state will have a heart attack, the rest will be set ablaze.
Fortunately, WisconsinEye was able to put together a training video on what to do in the event of the most likely threat to the State Capitol of all:
And how exactly does this secret “successor list” work? It’s supposed to be private, but does the person on the list even know they’re on it? They just get a call one day telling them they’ve been called up to duty to serve in the State Senate? More importantly, why does the list of successors go all the way up to seven? – what happens when Dawn Marie Sass runs out of family members?
I’m just laying down the marker here – I am entering my name into consideration for any elected official that wants to make me as one of their successors. Then I, along with the jetpack wearing alligators, will plot the destruction of state government, install myself as leader, then pass a law granting myself immunity from prosecution when everyone finds out my plot. It’s FOOLPROOF.
In all seriousness, nobody has confidence in the Legislature’s ability to solve the problems it can actually see. Does anyone believe they can fix the problems it can’t?
His interest in conspiracy theories is disquieting, as is his admiration for Ron Paul and his charges of American “imperialism.” (He is now talking about pulling troops out of Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, and elsewhere.) Some of Beck’s statements—for example, that President Obama has a “deep-seated hatred for white people”–are quite unfair and not good for the country. His argument that there is very little difference between the two parties is silly, and his contempt for parties in general is anti-Burkean (Burke himself was a great champion of political parties). And then there is his sometimes bizarre behavior, from tearingup to screamingat his callers. Beck seems to be a roiling mix of fear, resentment, and anger—the antithesis of Ronald Reagan.
At a time when we should aim for intellectual depth, for tough-minded and reasoned arguments, for good cheer and calm purpose, rather than erratic behavior, he is not the kind of figure conservatives should embrace or cheer on.
On a personal note, I find it hard to believe Beck is the “hottest” thing in conservatism right now, considering I haven’t seen a single one of his shows. I do understand, however, that he managed to scoop the traditional media outlets with his reporting on Obama’s green jobs czar and the ACORN undercover investigations.
Admittedly, there’s always been a tension within conservatism between the “Joe the Plumber” faction and the more “intellectual” base. The Friedman/Hayek wing considers their blue collar colleagues to be distant cousins that they appreciate being part of the family, but wouldn’t necessarily invite over for Thanksgiving dinner. They often times say things that are intemperate, they occasionally take conspiracy theories a little too far, and their spelling on Tea Party signs is a little hit and miss.
On the other hand, the snooty intellectuals don’t have to deal with conservatism on the ground level. Rarely do they have to stand out under a blazing sun for hours at Tea Party rallies to have their voices heard. They don’t have to raise kids while living paycheck to paycheck, watching the government take food out of the mouths of their children. To these people, conservatism isn’t about textbooks, it’s about survival – and it causes people to do things that may not be sanctioned by the elite cognoscenti. Plus, Peggy Noonan is one of them, and she makes me want to put my shoe through my television.
But in the end, the conservative movement needs both elements. It needs the bow-tie wearing eggheads to crank out the research and inform us how our liberties are being taken away. And it needs the plumbers out there to provide real-world examples of how excessive taxes and regulation stifle capitalism. (No matter how cringe-inducing these presentations may often be.) Without one or the other, conservatism will be relegated to a fringe concept, as government has the money to spend to promote its own interests.
What was the question again? Something about Glenn Beck?
In July, having completed the Herculean task of driving the state deeper into deficit, Wisconsin lawmakers sought respite in their home districts for the summer. Now they have returned, to take up much weightier issues, most notably figuring out who gets the run the Department of Natural Resources.
Currently, the DNR secretary is picked by the Governor to oversee the state’s environmental policy. This wasn’t always the case, as the DNR Board of Supervisors used to pick the secretary (George Meyer was the last board-appointed leader, until Governor Tommy Thompson signed a law giving himself the authority to pick.)
Now, with Democrats in full control of all branches of state government, environmentalists are applying a full court press to have the law changed back to board-controlled appointment power. They believe that if the board picks the secretary, somehow they will be less “political” than if the governor picks. Because, as we all know, the Sierra Club (who would essentially then control the board) is above politics.
Today, several environmental groups (Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Wisconsin Conservation Congress) issued a press release which proves the “public” supports granting the DNR board appointment authority. The list contains the names of 270 various conservation groups across the state who are supposedly on board with the law change (and as we know, the Legislature generally does whatever the Wisconsin Muzzleloaders Association asks.)
Of course, some would consider these groups attempting to influence state legislation to be “special interest groups.” But not campaign finance watchdog Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign – who has already come out in favor of the legislation. You see, the the WDC, “special interests” are merely “groups that push conservative legislation.” Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is a special interest – the Sierra Club is “the public.”
McCabe has spent years railing against groups who conceal their campaign donors and attempt to influence state legislation. Yet here we have a list of 270 such groups attempting to gain control of the DNR secretary, and you’ll hear deafening silence from the so-called “good government” groups. (It has been pointed out time and again on this blog that McCabe’s group itself is a special interest that conceals its donors and attempts to push state legislation – such as a single payer health program.)
So I anxiously await the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign press release decrying this special interest influence, and calling on the Wisconsin Sharptailed Grouse Society to open their books for public scrutiny. Holding my breath.
It just goes to show that this bill has nothing to do with saving the air, water, and fish, and has everything to do with which humans get to order us around. There’s a long way between appointment authority and cleaner water.
Americans are often ignorant about public policy, but they’re not stupid. They understand that if you want to extend health care to everyone, improve the system for people who already have coverage, and restrain costs over the long haul, somebody, somewhere, is going to have to give up something.
The Obama administration, however, has argued that the only people who really have to give up anything are the wealthy, who will pay somewhat higher taxes. Everybody else will only have to give up things that aren’t doing them any good anyway, or give up things with one hand but get a lot more back in the other.
As I said, the American people aren’t stupid, so they’re not buying this.
There’s a message, though, that the president hasn’t tried. It would go like this: “Here’s what you’ll have to give up. Here’s what you’ll get in return–but by ‘you’ I don’t just mean you personally, but you, your community, your kids and grandkids, the country as a whole. In other words, I really mean ‘we,’ or ‘us.’ Are you willing to make that trade-off, or are you only willing to give up something if you see a direct, personal benefit?”
The closest he came to trying this approach was when a reporter asked him if taxing the wealthy to pay for health care for the poor was not somehow un-American. Obama’s answer, paraphrased, went more or less like this: “No, I don’t think so. I think that if you’ve been fortunate enough to be among the top five percent of income earners in this country, you’re probably willing to share some of your good fortune with others. That’s what it means to be part of a community.”
Maybe he’s wrong about that “community” message. I hope not. I’d really like to find out, though.
More specifically, I’d like to see the president cast the health care issue in terms of individual sacrifice for collective purposes. I’d like to see him ask the AARP, for example, either figuratively or literally, “Would you be willing to see a small reduction in Medicare benefits in order to extend insurance coverage to everyone and secure the fiscal future of the country? Keep in mind, you wouldn’t be doing this alone. Everybody would have to give up something. Your part, though, would come out of what we spend on Medicare.”
If the AARP were to say, “No, we’re not willing to see our benefits cut in order to preserve the country’s fiscal future and extend coverage to the uninsured,” then I think we could declare health care reform dead, and the country essentially ungovernable.
When we get to the point that major groups, whether organized or not, are unwilling to relinquish a sliver of their self-interest in order to secure the collective good, then we’re pretty much back to the state of nature, the “war of all against all.” Then it’s time to knock down the civil structure we’ve built and start over again.
Footnote: Under this AARP scenario, though, I think you’d see dramatically increased enthusiasm for the end-of-life care provisions in the House legislation–maybe even for death panels!
Anklenote: I remember a while back that somebody proposed a hypothetical bargain to the head of one of the two teacher unions, either the AFT or the AEA. Here was the bargain: “If you guys will permit school choice, we’ll guarantee public funding of $15,000 per year for every student who remains in the public school system.” Here was the answer: “No.” Follow-up: “How about $20,000?” Answer: “No.” Follow-up: “How about $50,000?” Answer: “No.” Follow-up: “How about a million?” Answer: “No.”
Translation of all those “no” responses: “We are unwilling to accept any threat to our self-interest, even if it might result in a significant public good.” It seems ridiculous, but there it is.
I wonder, then, whether the AARP–and lots of other well-heeled, well-organized groups, not to mention the disorganized mass of average Americans–is prepared to say, “There are no circumstances under which we are willing to support a health care reform that requires any sacrifice from us.”
Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 11:52 am
It appears the Rod Kindler for Governor campaign has begun.
A couple of weeks ago, after Governor Doyle announced he wouldn’t be seeking a third term, I wrote a column handicapping the potential Democratic candidates. (A column, incidentally, in which all my observations were verified by Democrat friends of mine – their only complaint was that I wasn’t hard enough on Lt. Gov Barb Lawton.) In the column, I joked that Congressman Ron Kind is going to go the extra mile to make Wisconsinites forget that he ever served in Congress – including changing the name on his Congressional website to “Rod Kindler.”
Yesterday, Kind began his Don-Draper-style image makeover by releasing a statement almost as comical – although it’s unlikely it was intended to elicit laughs. From Wispolitics:
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind said the fact he hasn’t been part of the political process in Madison could be a strength for his potential guv run.
“Having a fresh perspective, a fresh pair of eyes taking a look at some of these issues can be very, very helpful I think in many instances,” he said.
Unless that “fresh perspective” happens to be voting for blowing trillions of taxpayer dollars on bank bailouts, auto takeovers, bogus stimulus funds, new cap and trade taxes…and the list goes on. Kind will likely answer questions about his tenure in Congress in much the same way that Black Bush answers questions about Iraq – by knocking over some pitchers of water and running out of the room. (Video NSFW, incidentally.)
Regardless of one’s physical proximity to Madison, doesn’t it actually matter what they’ve done while they’ve been nowhere near the city? The further you are from Madison, the fresher perspective you have?
By this logic, Kind would be even more qualified to be governor had he spent the last decade in a shack in Montana wrestling grizzly bears. Fishing salmon out of fresh water streams with his teeth would certainly give him a unique perspective on the Wisconsin state budget. But is it what we need?
It’s a nice try to change the subject away from his voting record in Congress, but will likely yield bitter fruit. Kind goes on, saying:
Gov. Jim Doyle’s decision not to run gives candidates the chance to run a “look forward campaign, not a look back campaign. A campaign that’s truly about the future of Wisconsin.”
(This is in stark contrast to the race I will run for governor one day, in which I will promise “a stronger five years ago.”)
Oh really? A politician wants to run a race talking about “the future?” How novel. I imagine if Eliot Spitzer ever runs another political campaign, he’ll probably insist on a similar standard.
I still maintain that Kind is the Democrats’ best shot. And it’s not like he has any option other than to pretend that this mystical, wonderous place known as “Congress” doesn’t exist. (I always thought that if Representatives rode unicorns to the U.S. Capitol, it would be pretty cool. And more likely than the stimulus turning the economy around.)
Oh, and by the way, if you want to see an actual video of a guy wrestling a grizzly bear, here it is. My favorite line is when the announcer accuses the bear of applying an “illegal” choke hold on the Destroyer – like the bear’s supposed to know the rules. And the bear puts him in a “bear hug.” Is there any other kind? Fortunately, he gets a coke at the end for his trouble. Take that, PETA.
(This video precipitated a lengthy discussion between me and my friend Jack, who claims he could wrestle a bear if it was muzzled and de-clawed. I told him he wasn’t accounting for Victor the Bear’s “swiping power,” which might end up being the name of my fantasy football team.)
Filed under: Taxes — Christian Schneider @ 10:39 am
Here in Wisconsin, we have dozens of laws regulating lobbyists. If you regularly lobby legislators, you have to register with the state as a lobbyist, report the bills and issues on which you lobby, how much time you spend on each, and how much money you spend lobbying legislators on individual issues. This all makes sense, as it helps the public’s right to know how much influence certain groups have on specific legislation that makes it through the process.
Of course, if you’re a regular citizen, you have a constitutional right to petition your government for the redress of grievances. Any individual constituent can call their legislator at any time and tell them what they think about certain topics, without having to register with the state or jump through bureaucratic hoops.
It appears, however, that one municipality has just figured out a way to circumvent the state lobbying law by signing up their entire city workforce as their team of lobbyists – none of which will be subject to the reporting requirements.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the tension between the state and local governments when it comes to funding. My solution was to give locals more power to raise revenue and set their own budgets, while reducing the state program that sends nearly $1 billion back to local governments per year (called “shared revenue.”) The shared revenue program has been a constant fight between the state and locals, especially as the level of aid has essentially been frozen for 12 years.
Rather than do what some municipalities do, which is to hire a lobbyist to plead for more money from Madison (you get the irony here – local governments spend taxpayer money on a lobbyist to go to the State Legislature to beg for more taxpayer money), the City of West Allis has gone one step further – they are proposing hiring their entire city workforce to serve as lobbyists.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, West Allis is proposing tying employee raises to, in part, increases in shared revenue from the state. This oddball arrangement immediately makes every state employee an instant lobbyist for their cause to pull down more money from Madison. One can imagine the phone lines between West Allis city employees and legislative offices in the Capitol are going to be burning up, demanding more money for raises. And it won’t cost city taxpayers a dime – it merely shifts city workers’ incentives.
Imagine if a private company offered its workers a contract that stipulated raises were based on how much aid that company could get from the state. Would anyone see this as a legitimate strategy? Having all their employees on their knees, begging for taxpayer money to get raises? Yet this is exactly what West Allis is proposing – having their employees becoming their lobbyists, as they haven’t been able to make their case for increased funding on their own.
In the Journal Sentinel article, a clueless political science professor at UW-Madison is quoted:
Donald Moynihan, associate professor of public affairs at the La Follette School of Public Affairs at UW-Madison, said employees might not like the proposal because their pay would be tied to factors they cannot control.
That’s the whole idea of the proposal. To get the employees to try to control the factors which will lead to increased wages. They are a built in lobbying corps – might as well use them.