Filed under: Media — Christian Schneider @ 3:24 pm
War, famine, health care, Tiger Woods’ marriage. These are the important things that we should spend our time thinking about. But I admit, I often spend inordinate amounts of time being irritated by things that don’t matter. Such as the fact that Noodles & Co. has spaghetti and meatballs on their “American Food” menu.
(In fact, I have an hour penciled in on my calendar every day that says “worry incessantly about trivial matters.” So I have sixty minutes to finish this post.)
But there’s one thing I came across last week that has been puzzling me. Perhaps you can help me out on this one.
Here in Madison, there’s a free publication (aren’t they all now?) called The Isthmus. Sometimes, it’s even good. But last week, the headline of a feature on Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s run for the Wisconsin governorship read as follows:
Scott Walker’s challenge
He thinks government is part of the problem, but wants to be governor
Here’s the actual picture from their website:
The key word in the subtitle is “but.” Inclusion of the word “but” implies that the second half of the sentence is somehow at odds with the first.
Now, there’s no doubt that they were high-fiving themselves silly over at The Isthmus when they thought up this apparent “contradiction.” ”Ha! We got him! A guy that hates government wants a government job! What a hypocrite! This should be on the freaking COVER!” (And it was.)
It seems strange, however, that before putting this on the cover, nobody stopped to mention the obvious: that it doesn’t actually make any sense.
Here you have a guy in Scott Walker who clearly thinks government is broken, and there’s too much of it. Is it somehow contradictory of him to seek the governorship to rectify the problems that he sees? Isn’t that how a conservative would most rationally go about affecting change? Would he be more ideologically pure if he stood on a street corner holding a sign that says “down with combined reporting?”
Somehow, I don’t think the Isthmus would see it that way. (On the flip side, it doesn’t make liberals’ public service any more noble because they push for higher taxes and more government employment.)
So while the whole “conservatives are hypocrites if they seek public office” angle might be popular among the liberati’s dinner parties in Madison, it doesn’t make any sense in practice. Although if we got rid of the state legislature altogether, that might be the one thing on which both ideologies can agree.
Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 10:12 am
Back in August, we profiled Dan Mielke, who is running against Sean Duffy for the Republican nomination to take on long-time Democratic Congressman Dave Obey in 2010. When we last left Mielke, he was discussing his qualifications for office:
Mr. Duffy is “more of a polished, celebrity-style politician,” Mr. Mielke said. “I’ve got a beard, and I’ve worked my whole life.”
With the issue of whether Mielke has a beard being settled, he’s now moved on to what he believes to be the “smoking gun” that’s going to take Duffy down: the issue of gay marriage. Over the weekend, Mielke posted the following video (unironically titled “Sean Duffy Exposed), which purports to be “evidence” that Duffy supports gays settlin’ down:
UPDATE: The original video was removed from YouTube for copyright infringement, as it included video from the original movie. It has been replaced by this interesting Mielke campaign video, in which he describes the scenes himself:
Now you may watch that and say, “that just looks like a guy being supportive of one of his gay friends.” And I think you’d be right. It seems to be a stretch to expect people to watch that video and come away with the impression that Duffy is somehow the Adam Lambert of Wisconsin politics.
In fact, Mielke may be accomplishing the opposite of his intention with this video. He might actually be strengthening Duffy’s position in the general election. (And make no mistake, Duffy is going to win this primary – despite being beardless.)
First of all, it seems that public opinion is going to eventually shift over to being in favor of some sort of legal recognition of same-sex unions. A recent WPRI poll found:
“42% of people 18 to 35 favored legalizing gay marriage, compared to 24% of 36-to-64-year-olds and 15% of those 65 and older. Civil unions, but not marriage, were favored by 29% in the younger group, 33% in the middle group and 34% in the older group. But 40% of the older group opposed either possibility, compared to 36% of 36-to-64-year-olds and just 28% of adults 35 and younger.”
As the older voters move on and younger voters show up more reliably at the polls, it seems likely that policies will eventually change at is applies to gay marriage.
But even beyond that – Mielke’s message is essentially “Sean Duffy is fair and open-minded.” And that’s the kind of endorsement that Duffy couldn’t pay enough money for in the general election. It’s almost as if Mielke is on his payroll. Maybe Mielke’s next move is to accuse Duffy of being too critical of the failed stimulus plan – or to hammer Duffy for being opposed to higher taxes. (In a bizarre section of his website, Mielke actually does criticize Duffy’s position on abortion. Apparently, properly recognizing that Congress can’t just pass a bill making abortion illegal makes Duffy a “RINO.”)
I’ve always thought that this is the next step in competitive campaigns – getting paper candidates to run for office that make the frontrunner look better. If you’re running a serious campaign, why not pay some guy to run against you and serve as your foil? It would actually be good practice for Congress, where Representatives spend all night in an empty chamber having fake “debates” with each other for the benefit of the C-Span cameras. (These usually involve two members of the same party asking each other questions like “Congressman, how is it possible that you can be so insightful about health care?”)
On a final note, I think it’s pretty classless that Mielke would use clips of Duffy’s wife to attack Duffy. That is all.
Today, WPRI released a report by Mike Nichols (with research assistance by me) that delves into the origin of public financing for campaigns in Wisconsin.
While the intent of using taxpayer dollars to run campaigns was noble – supporters thought it would lead to more competitive elections and reduced special interest influence – the actual effect has been just the opposite. In fact, often times politicians (77% of those that take the grant are Democrats) turn right around and funnel the public money to campaign purposes that are outside the intent of the law:
(State Representative Spencer) Black, for example, received $4,155 from the public fund on Sept. 30, 1996. This is the same year he gave a total of $4,775 in cash or in-kind contributions to other politicians or committees, including $1,200 to the Dane County Conservation Alliance-a special interest committee registered with the state.
On Sept. 30, 2004, state Rep. Mark Pocan accepted $5,574 from the public fund. According to his campaign reports, on that very same day he made a $1,000 contribution to the Unity Fund-the Democratic Party of Wisconsin campaign account that was used, at least in part that year, to support Democratic candidates at the national level.
Hintz received his most recent public funding, about $6,000, on Sept. 27, 2008. In the month that followed, he gave $1,000 to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
In September of 2002, Bob Jauch accepted 11,932 from the WECF. In November, he made a $5,000 contribution to the State Senate Democratic Committee. He won with 62.1% of the vote.
In September of 2006, Jauch accepted a $2,425 contribution from WECF. In November of 2006, he made a $1,000 contribution to the SSDC, and won with 62.3% of the vote.
On September 25, 2002, Russ Decker accepted a WECF grant of $11,932. During the same election, Decker spent $6,300 for a poll – for a race he won with 68% of the vote. In December, Decker transferred $1,000 to the SSDC.
In September of 2006, Joe Parisi accepted $5,263 from the WECF. In the same election cycle, he donated $1,000 to the Democratic Party of WI, en route to winning with 75.6% of the vote.
Furthermore, public financing hasn’t done anything to improve the “competitiveness” of state campaigns.
Of the 47 winners that took the grant, 38 (81%) were incumbents. Of the 9 winners that were not incumbents, 6 of them beat incumbents (Hines, Freese, Skindrud, Loeffelholz, Weber, and Kreibich) and 3 ran in open seats.
The average vote for the 47 winners who accepted a WECF grant: 63.4%
The average vote for the 126 losers who accepted a WECF grant: 39.3%
Of the 126 losing candidates, only 11 (8.7%) came within 5% of the winner. Only 24 (19%) came within 10% of the winner.
More from the article:
Politics in Wisconsin is, at the very least, not a game for outsiders. Spencer Black hasn’t received less than 87% of a vote since 1992 and now has more than $146,000 in his campaign account.
In 2002, Republican Steve Nass accepted $7,013 in public funding and went on to beat Leroy Watson 87% to 13%. In 2006, the Whitewater-area representative took $5,963 and beat a self-described “naturist,” Scott Woods, 66% to 34%.
If the fund helps anyone, it seems, it is incumbents, the legislators who have the power to make the laws and amend them. Or get rid of them, but don’t.
One byproduct of heavy favorites receiving the taxpayer funded grant is that they often use the grant to build their campaign accounts to levels that make them unbeatable. More on Spencer Black:
Spencer Black, the longtime Democratic representative from Madison, has repeatedly taken the public subsidy while building up big surpluses in his campaign account. First elected to the Assembly in 1984, Black has been reelected a dozen times. Up until 2000 (when opponents just gave up and stopped running against him), he applied for the tax dollars almost every time he ran.
Records from the first few elections have been lost by the state, but he was given more than $18,000 in taxpayer dollars in 1992, 1994 and 1996 alone, according to the Government Accountability Board (GAB). Those were years in which Black built his campaign fund up from a surplus of $39,000 in 1992 to more than $100,000 by 1997.
So the same fund that was supposed to make campaigns more competitive actually strengthens incumbents to the point where they can’t be beaten.
Finally, it’s important to point out that while the dollar amounts may not be large, there is a significant band of people urging the program be expanded. The article mentions Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign saying the program is failing because it’s not big enough. So this should serve as a lesson to those who think even more taxpayer money should be used for campaigns – something the public clearly opposes.
Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 1:02 pm
Dear Wisconsin Citizens:
An ill wind blows in America these days. People are fed up, and they want REAL CHANGE.
That is why, today, I am making it official: I am running for Congress in Wisconsin’s 10th District.
Trust me, I know the people of the 10th District. I have lived in this district every day of my life – or at least every day that I knew the district existed*. I feel the pain of the hardworking people in my district who are fed up with the job loss. The fine people of the 10th District deserve better representation than they’re getting, and I plan to knock on every door in the district over the next year.
We all remember earlier this year, when the economy was going in the toilet and George W. Bush stood by and did NOTHING. In fact, from the websites I read, he was nowhere near Washington D.C. at the time the wildly successful stimulus package was being carefully debated in April. He wasn’t there when I fought for the $120,000 grant to the 10th Congressional District when the bill was passed. And sure, it’s not as much as the $1.2 million the lucky bastards in Wisconsin’s 55th District got, or even the $202,000 received by the citizens of the 00th District, but I supported it all along. I should get all the credit. That’s me – kicking ass, saving jobs for the people of the 10th.
Now, I understand people will laugh. They may say things like “hey, aren’t all the things you’re running on complete and abject failures?” and “doesn’t Wisconsin only have eight congressional districts?” These may be true. But I’m sick and tired of the naysayers. It’s this kind of negativity that has brought our country down, and I will not be deterred.
As esteemed Mayor of Baltimore Tommy Carcetti once said, “let me double down on that.” Not only will I reject any suggestion that the 10th District might be imaginary (when I look out my window, I see houses – are those people imaginary, too?), I will feed off that negativity and become stronger. The Federal Office of Economic Recovery says the district exists, state law be damned.
In order to show I’m a serious candidate, I have sent my daughter’s boyfriend out to pose for Playgirl. I figure this will give me the elevated profile that I need to convince people that I’ve done my homework on foreign affairs and the economy. I have also enlisted ACORN to get my voters to the polls – their effort in getting an egg salad sandwich elected to Wisconsin’s 576th Congressional District last year shows they’re ready for the challenge.
Together, we can do this. Everyone knows that citizens of the 10th District RULE! (Especially since it’s common knowledge that people in the 3rd District kind of smell like halibut.) Go 10th!
Si se puede!,
Candidate, Wisconsin’s 10th Congressional District
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s entrance into the race for Wisconsin Governor means many things; but perhaps most importantly, it means the death of the plan to have the mayor take over the Milwaukee Public Schools.
Last year, Wisconsin Interest magazine editor Charlie Sykes noted Barrett’s reluctance to follow through on the plan:
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett continues to downplay his interest in a mayoral takeover, saying “I’m not interested in a power grab.” But his call for a privately-funded assessment of the district marked a new activism on the mayor’s part, reflecting the growing national movement toward putting mayors in charge of their city’s schools.
In the last decade and a half at least a dozen of the nation’s largest school districts have been handed over to mayoral control, most notably in Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. Philadelphia’s schools are run by a board jointly appointed by the mayor and the governor.
Supporters of mayoral control point to improvements in accountability and performance since the takeovers. In Chicago, for example, the mayor took control of the city’s schools in 1995: since then, reading and math scores have risen dramatically. Boston’s schools are frequently cited as a model of urban education after reforms implemented by Mayor Thomas Menino and his hand-picked superintendent, Thomas Payzant.
So is mayoral control the answer? Do mayors so a better job than school boards? The answer seems to be: It depends on the mayor. Strong mayors with a clear mandate for reform can turn around even the most dysfunctional systems. Weak mayors or mayors beholden to entrenched special interests, not so much.
Milwaukee’s incumbent school board has made it clear that it will fight any attempt to change the governance structure. Board President Blewett has publicly argued that mayoral control would erode the independence of an elected school board and “disenfranchise parents.”
Demonstrating a hitherto unappreciated sense of irony, Blewett said: “The one thing that we know about mayoral appointed boards is that there’s no accountability. We have a board that’s put more transparency into things.”
But the current board is neither accountable nor transparent. Nor is it responsive. Last fall, when as many as 1000 taxpayers turned out to plead with the board not to enact a double digit tax hike, board members waited until the middle of the night and then passed a budget without a single cent of spending cuts. (The board did reduce the tax hike somewhat by shifting some payments.)
Mayor Barrett clearly sees an opportunity. Last year, he took a chance by bringing in an outsider to be the city’s chief of police, and has enjoyed credit for the city’s remarkable turn around on violent crime.
Now the mayor has to decide whether he wants to do the same for the schools. It’s his move.
And now we know what his move was – to allow MPS to revert back to the same system that’s been failing kids for decades. Hope his campaign has an answer for that.