I’ve been following the current debt ceiling news somewhat schizophrenically – I’ve been obsessively reading everything the major newspapers puts out, then I get frustrated and try to pretend nothing’s out of the ordinary. Two seconds later I’m refreshing the New York Times webpage in hopes that they’ll have announced a surprise deal that everyone managed to keep secret. It hasn’t been a winning strategy on my part, I’ll admit.
Other people have been more productive. Stateline has a breakdown of how Wisconsin agencies may be impacted. It estimates that Medicaid, law enforcement training, and veterans’ benefits will be hardest hit. The Journal Sentinel reports that, according to a survey commissioned by Governor Walker, Wisconsin has enough funds to maintain its federal programs for about three months. After that, if the federal government is still in default, the state will have to re-prioritize fund allocation.
Even if the federal government somehow resolves this by Tuesday, there still may be some longer-term implications for Wisconsin government. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the GOP has introduced a bill requiring Wisconsin agencies to devise contingency plans if the federal government can’t meet its funding obligations to the state. Their rationale is that even if Congress raises the debt ceiling this year, the problem is not going to go away in years to come. What a depressing (but increasingly probable) idea.
Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 9:54 am
On Monday, I wrote about all the signatures the pro-public union group We Are Ohio collected in order to bring Governor John Kasich’s newly-minted collective bargaining bill up for a public vote. Despite the extremely low threshold of 231,147 signatures to subject the law to a referendum, We Are Ohio turned in 1.3 million signatures.
Last week, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced the collective bargaining law would appear on the November ballot, and released the results of the state’s signature validation process. Husted announced that “more than 915,000 of the signatures were valid.”
As Mike Antonucci points out at the Intercepts blog, while 915,000 is an impressive number, it falls well short of the 1.3 million signatures turned in. In fact, over 25% of all the signatures submitted by the unions (351,925 total) were found to be invalid. As Antonucci points out, some of Ohio’s largest counties had some of the highest percentages of invalid signatures:
Of the 159,946 signatures submitted from Franklin County, 48,972 were invalid (30.6%). In Lucas County, 34.4% of the signatures were invalid. In Cuyahoga County, 36.2% were invalid, and in Hamilton County 49.9% were invalid.
Most of the signatures that were tossed were because the person who signed the petition lived in a different county than the one in which the papers were circulated. Presumably, those 351,925 were easy to check. But what about the 915,000 that remain? If a petitioner has an error rate of 25% right off the bat (and about 50% in some counties), how much faith are we supposed to have in the signatures that haven’t been disqualified? If you had a friend who lied to you 25% of the time, wouldn’t you look askance at the 75% of things he swore to you were true?
It’s as if the unions are panning for signatures – just throw some giant rocks onto the secretary of state’s plate, and hope that when all the sand and gravel is sorted out (at great cost to the taxpayer), there’s enough gold there to force a referendum. There’s just no way any state department can sort though and validate 1.3 million signatures with any kind of accuracy in such a short time span.
In order to streamline the process, there should be a penalty for submitting hundreds of thousands of bad signatures. Make the petitioner reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of counting all the bogus signatures. Dock the unions one valid signature for every two invalid ones. Punish each circulator who turns in bad signatures with making them watch 10 hours of whatever Keith Olbermann’s show is now called (which would quadruple his audience, come to think of it.)
In any event, the current signature process in Ohio is like aiming a fire hose at the secretary of state’s staffers and asking them to catch the water with Dixie cups. If this process works for unions in Ohio, there’s no doubt it will be employed here in Wisconsin, where only around 500,000 signatures are required to force a recall of Governor Scott Walker in 2012.
Freshman House Republicans have promised to slash both the size and spending of the Federal Government, and they’ve certainly appeared to stick to their guns during the current budget showdown. But behind the scenes, reports the New York Times, many are still attempting to channel funds to their home states. As an example, the article mentions that Michele Bachmann and our own Representative Sean P. Duffy have been pushing for a new four-lane bridge over the St. Croix River.
“Opponents labeled the bridge an earmark, but Mr. Duffy and Mrs. Bachmann said the bridge was critical to handle increased traffic that an 80-year-old bridge nearby can no longer handle alone. They defend the spending by arguing that it was not an earmark since there were no specific costs listed in the bill itself, nor is it a financing bill. The legislation calls only for a bridge to be built.”
I don’t know much about the proposed project and can’t say whether or not it’s justified in this era of reduced spending. It caught my attention after reading about how Wisconsin taxpayers may end up paying more for existing train service between Milwaukee and Chicago than they would have with the jettisoned high-speed rail project. After all the controversy over the high-speed rail, I am skeptical of legislation that mandates the construction of a bridge without sorting out by whom, and how, the project will be funded.
Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 7:43 am
Tuesday night’s utterly predictable recall election win by Democratic State Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay followed the usual protocol: At about 9 p.m., Hansen strode to the podium at his victory party and predicted Democrats would take back the state senate when other recall elections are conducted in August.
But Hansen’s speech was followed with a bizarre appearance by – and this is not a joke - Jon “Bowzer” Bauman of the ‘70s faux-greaser doo wop group Sha Na Na, who congratulated the Democrat on his win and predicted more big wins by Democrats in future recall elections. Cashing in on Sha Na Na’s biggest hit, Bowzer eschewed any attempt at dip-dip-diplomacy, predicting Republican state senators would soon have to “get a job.” (If there was any question that everyone in America was on drugs in 1972, that last clip will put that doubt to rest.)
Under normal circumstances, such an appearance by a D-minus list celebrity would have been scary and a bit confusing. But since the Wisconsin collective bargaining fight broke out in February, Wisconsin has been flooded with once-notable celebrities whose name you thought would never pass your lips again.
On February 26th, a rally was held outside the state capitol featuring guest speaker Gabrielle Carteris, best known for her role in the early 1990s as high school virgin Andrea Zuckerman on Beverly Hills, 90210. (And best known to everyone under the age of 35 as “who?”) Carteris, who portrayed Zuckerman at the age of 30, has primarily been employed as a video game voice-over artist for the past decade. Apparently Luke Perry’s sideburns were booked and couldn’t make it. (Or, worse yet, they support Scott Walker.)
Following Carteris was Guiding Light actor Robert Newman, who is best known by people who mistakenly think he is Paul Newman. The event was emceed by former Billy Madison foil (and West Wing alumnus) Bradley Whitford, who actually is kind of a star, but hails from Wisconsin, so he shows up for every lefty rally in Madison. (Whitford would later disavow his role in Billy Madison, which is a considered a criminal offense by anyone who owns the first four Pearl Jam albums.)
A March rally featured Green Bay native and “Monk” star Tony Shalhoub, whose sister works as a public school teacher in Wisconsin. Shalhoub was joined by Susan Sarandon and the ubiquitous Jesse Jackson, who became as much a part of the protest scene as “Scott Walker is Hitler” signs. Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello showed up to rally the crowd, apparently undeterred by the crushing defeat I handed him in a Guitar Hero battle on Playstation two years ago.
In fact, Wisconsin is probably best known for its fictional celebrities. Large chunks of this summer’s Bridesmaids and Transformers 3 were filmed in Milwaukee. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Titanic supposedly hailed from Chippewa Falls. Fond du Lac was the fictional childhood home of There Will be Blood’s Daniel Plainview, who is best known for drinking other people’s milkshakes and clubbing them to death with bowling pins. And let’s not even get started on the Fonz, who is memorialized in downtown Milwaukee with his own bronze statue.
As for the recall elections, it’s not as if Senator Hansen needed the much-sought-after “1970s fake greaser doo wop band” voting bloc to come through for him. When Republican Assemblyman John Nygren failed to garner enough signatures to make it to the ballot, it left the GOP without a serious candidate to challenge him. The only Republican left running owed $25,000 in back property taxes and had been arrested four times on domestic violence charges. (His campaign slogan of “my wife is a crazy alcoholic” didn’t quite match “Yes We Can!” for inspirational value.)
Yet while spending weeks pointing out what a terrible candidate the GOP was running, now Democrats are crowing about Hansen’s re-election, as if it was some monumental triumph that signals momentum for the anti-Walker cause. It does not. It merely signals that voters prefer their state senators to dabble a little less in domestic violence.
The state now moves on to the remaining eight recall elections, in which six Republicans and two Democrats are in danger of losing their jobs. And as for celebrity sightings, voters will certainly be moved when Weezie shows up at the capitol arguing that fish don’t fry in the kitchen, but concedes that beans may, in fact, burn on the grill.
Primaries began for recall elections today in some districts. Nine senators are facing recall elections, an unprecedented number that has some questioning whether or not these recall attempts are justified. Among them are the editors at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“The Editorial Board will not recommend candidates in the recall elections. We believe policy arguments are best resolved on the floors of legislative bodies or at the ballot box during regular elections. Recalls should be used to punish gross malfeasance or corruption—something that cannot wait for the normal election cycle—not to overturn the results of an election or to dispute policy differences.
Advocates argue that the recalls hold politicians accountable. But these elections, arising from the heat generated by a single issue, risk further dividing the electorate and giving rise to a perpetual campaign. What’s the harm in waiting a few months? Each of these senators will face voters in regular elections next year. Hold them accountable then—after passions have cooled…
We won’t try to discourage voters from going to the polls in the coming days. The recall elections are a fact of life, and voters should do their duty. But we won’t encourage this misguided process by recommending candidates. And we’ll continue to hope that sometime sanity returns to Wisconsin politics and the distractions come to an end.”
Policy questions are ideally hashed out on the floor of the legislature. But one of the reasons why senators are facing recall elections is that, with the lack of compromise from Republicans and the flight of the Democrats, many voters feel that the process failed. Recalls elections are a way for the electorate to check the power of their representatives—if a senator wins the recall, she was probably acting on behalf of her constituents. If not, then maybe he was abusing his power. Of course it’s not a perfect system; democracy has always been messy. It has not, however, been a trivial thing to bring these recall efforts about. As long as legislators don’t face a recall election with every tough vote, the option to attempt a recall can be an important check on our representatives.
Ultimately, the fact that these elections are so historically unprecedented indicates that Wisconsin voters have not been abusing the recall process. Everything about the issues surrounding collective bargaining and the way they played out in the Legislature was fairly unprecedented. If recalls became an annual occurrence, additional restrictions may be necessary. As is, recalls are an important check for the electorate to curtail egregious claims from the Legislature that they are merely carrying out the people’s wishes. Hopefully when the elections are all said and done, we’ll have a better sense of what people in Wisconsin actually wanted their senators to do last March.