Thursday, February 26, 2009

Koschnick Double Talk and the AWOL Media

Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick has been talking out of both sides of his mouth on multiple issues. I’m not sure which is worse, that a candidate for the high court would repeatedly do this or that the traditional media would just run his talking points without questioning him on any of them.

Koschnick has made the main point of his entire candidacy a manufactured controversy over campaign donations to his opponent that represent only 3 percent of the total raised. He does this even though when he was running for judge in 1999, he accepted cash from lawyers that went on to have cases before him. Those donations to Koschnick represented about 40 percent of the total that he raised at that time. Unfortunately no one in the traditional media has asked him to square this circle so he just keeps talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Koschnick apparently can’t wait to repeatedly talk about “the bloody shirt” in the Knapp case, even though he himself threw out a pair of bloody shoes in the case. As many times as he has talked about this case, he has never explained why the defendant’s rights mattered with one piece of evidence and not the other. But then again, as far as I can tell, he has never been asked that question.

Koschnick talked in the last debate about not being partisan and repeatedly has accused his opponent of compromising her impartiality. He makes these repeated comments while at the same time appearing at just about every Republican event in the state. To their credit, at least the Wausau Daily Herald pointed out the double standard.

While Koschnick has been talking about clean campaign pledges, he has authorized fundraising letters that make the same old nasty attacks that we have come to expect. Reading the letter, one would think that his opponent was freeing all the criminals in the state and planning some sort of coup in Madison. It appeals only to the most paranoid on the right, yet he faces no accountability for it. The letter also takes a not so subtle swipe at the Chief Justice’s age, which I find particularly offensive. Is this what he means by a "clean campaign"? Perhaps someone should ask him to provide us with his definition.

Aside from the lead paragraph in the Wausau Daily Herald, the state’s media has largely given Koschnick a pass in all of these areas. Many times, they have gone well beyond just giving him a pass. At times they have printed his list of talking points and then acted as if that was legitimate news. Before April I certainly hope that more people start noticing the Koschnick double talk. You can’t act all sanctimonious about the state of our judicial elections and then do absolutely nothing to challenge this kind of behavior.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Massive Deficit of Republican Memory

I have bad news. Most Republicans have conveniently lost their short term memory. How else can one explain their sudden transformation into hard core deficit hawks? They have done nothing but railed against our new president for deficit spending while apparently forgetting their own role in bringing us to this point. They wildly attacked the stimulus package and I would expect them to go into attack mode after President Obama’s big speech tonight.

Perhaps, as a public service, someone should try to jog the collective right wing memory.

George W. Bush did not do all of this on his own because he had a faithful majority of rubber stamps in Congress from 2001 to 2006. No one in Congress was a bigger rubber stamp than Wisconsin’s own Paul Ryan. While he and his friends now complain about deficits and spending, they were certainly singing a different tune only a few years ago.

Call me a pessimist but somehow I don’t think that the likes of Paul Ryan will do the right thing tonight. I expect that we will hear more hypocrisy and sniping from the sidelines. While congressional Republicans are forgetting their recent past, the public can forget about hearing any real solutions from them.

Opposing Abortion by Causing More of Them?

The extreme right wing consistently has the same knee jerk reaction anytime the issue of publicly funded family planning services is broached. They howled so much over the funds designated for family planning services in the stimulus package that it was eventually taken out. When President Obama issued an executive order expanding family planning, it whipped the most extreme into an irrational frenzy. Quite simply, if they really cared about lowering the numbers of abortions, they would actually support expanded public funding of family planning services.

A new study released today by the Guttmacher Institute confirms what people in the “reality-based” community have been saying all along. Publicly funded family planning services actually reduces the number of abortions each year. Specifically, the study found that 810,000 abortions were prevented each year because of complete family planning services. If the right wing’s goal is really less abortion, then why would they constantly fight the efforts that have proven to greatly reduce them?

For the penny-pinching conservative that only cares about government spending, the study shows that $4 are saved for every one dollar invested in family planning services. The lead author of the study couldn’t be any more accurate in saying that, “the national family planning program is smart government at its best.”

If these publicly financed family planning programs accomplish these things, then why does the right wing fight such efforts at every single turn? Whether it is just an irrational knee jerk or blind ideology, they should be exposed for fighting the very things that they claim to care about most.

Friday, February 20, 2009

“Values Voters” that Don’t Value Honesty

How many more examples do we need to prove just how dishonest the “values” crowd is willing to be? Who can forget how they were pushing the anti-gay amendment in 2006 and saying that the second sentence wouldn’t endanger domestic partnerships and civil unions? At that time a poll was released showing that the majority of Wisconsinites did not have a problem with domestic partner-type benefits. Even some conservatives voiced their discomfort with the second sentence of the anti-gay amendment. Groups like Fair Wisconsin repeatedly warned that things like domestic partnerships would be attacked after the amendment’s passage.

Only a few months after enshrining discrimination into our state constitution, fringe Representative Steve Nass attacked the idea of domestic partner benefits for state employees. He used the anti-gay amendment as his main talking point. Now that Governor Doyle has made a proposal that would allow same-sex couples to form domestic partnerships, the extreme right wing is once again howling about the anti-gay amendment. This argument is being made even though many of the amendment’s supporters claimed that it wouldn’t endanger the possibility of domestic partnerships and civil unions.

In what appears to be some sort of a sick obsession, gay-hater Julaine Appling insists on injecting herself into the discussion. This recent proposal has her frothing again, and threatening to take legal action if the Governor’s proposal is enacted. Legal action based on the anti-gay amendment that supporters insisted would not prevent civil union and domestic partnership benefits. It should also be noted that during the debate on the anti-gay amendment, Appling actually commented, that "the language of the amendment is such that it will actually prevent the need for extensive litigation on the marriage issue." Yes, and naturally that is why she is now threatening legal action, right?

In 2008 the Michigan State Supreme Court ruled that their state universities and other state entities couldn’t offer domestic partnership benefits because of the anti-gay amendment that their voters had passed. If this good and decent proposal is challenged in court how sure can we be that it will survive? If it finds its way to our state Supreme Court, it will face a conservative majority. Thanks to a recent Capital Times story, we also know that Randy Koschnick holds these kinds of anti-gay and extreme views. Thanks to The Lost Albatross we also know that he actually called Appling’s organization (among others) from his courthouse phone. Did he talk to her? Was it about how he would rule on such matters?

Exactly what many on the right said would not happen as a result of the anti-gay amendment is exactly what seems to be coming to pass. Apparently dishonesty and deception is acceptable to them as long as they get the result that they want. In this process one thing has become clear. Many of these self described “values voters” apparently don’t put much of a value on honesty. At least not if it gets in the way of their extreme agenda.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nancy Mistele’s Missing Business

Nancy Mistele’s entire campaign for Dane County Executive seems to be built on only two things: the shameless misuse of a Dane County tragedy and her own self promotion as a savy businessperson. Regarding the later, we can only learn so much by going to her website. On the “About Nancy” page it lists several of her business ventures and affiliations. However, at least one business is curiously missing from that list.

In 1998 the business MBH Studio LLC was organized according to the Department of Financial Institutions. The registered agent of the business was Nancy Mistele. Based on information from a lease, it appears that this new business venture was associated with Mistele’s Signatures Salon. It appears that Mistele was using these related business entities to rent space to small business people that mostly worked in cosmetology.

Neither of these entities are mentioned very often by Mistele, her campaign or at all on her website. The obvious question is why? Some of the available public records may give us a few of the possible reasons. The Department of Financial Institutions shows that MBH Studio was dissolved only 6 years after it was created. In that short period of time the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access site shows at least 4 Small Claims actions involving its affiliated Signatures Salon. In all 4 cases Mistele was listed as the plaintiff and was suing small business persons that rented space from her. It is not clear how many “chairs” Mistele rented, but one can assume that the rate of legal action in such a short period must have been unacceptably high.

Two of the four cases ended in default judgments against the people that rented space. One was dismissed because the person was forced into filing for bankruptcy protection. But at least one of the people that rented from Nancy Mistele decided to fight the legal action. Documents that she filed in the case allege actions that are hardly flattering for anyone, and even less so for someone touting their business acumen.

Perhaps the most disturbing assertion by the defendant comes at the end of a letter to her landlord suggesting “discrimination.” The defendant repeatedly makes this charge but never specifies exactly what kind of “discrimination” that she is talking about, nor does she list her exact reason for making the accusation. Perhaps someone in the media should ask both the former tenant and Nancy Mistele a few questions about these charges. Perhaps there is absolutely nothing to them, but the public has a right to know before the April election.

The defendant in this case also filed a counter claim against Nancy Mistele, which she spells out in an itemized list to the court. The list alleges rent miscalculations and lost business due to repeatedly broken water heaters and a generally unprofessional atmosphere. In another attachment she continues spelling out other grievances and complaints. In a letter to the court commissioner the defendant also states that Nancy Mistele tracked down her new landlord to say bad things about the defendant. In the letter she reports that her new landlord described Mistele as “intimidating.”

Obviously there are two sides to every story, but that does not eliminate the public’s right to know more about someone that is asking for their vote. In the end, nothing of this nature should be hidden from voters. Just because information about a candidate may be missing from their own website, it does not mean that it should be absent from public scrutiny.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fake Outrage, Real Hypocrisy

The Koschnick Campaign and their right wing followers, have tried their best to manufacture controversy surrounding contributions from prominent lawyers to Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. The fake outrage stems specifically from contributions by lawyers working at firms that have a case scheduled to be heard before the high court. The first thing that the right wing fails to say is that the contributions are totally legal and that lawyers on both sides of the matter have given to the Chief Justice. Yet another set of facts that they fail to address is whether Koschnick has ever received campaign contributions from lawyers that eventually argued before him.

According to records from the Government Accountability Board, the last time that Judge Koschnick launched a fundraising effort was during his initial run for judge in 1999. Obviously the contribution totals in a small county judicial race is nowhere near the monetary level as it is in a statewide race for the high court. That being said, it still offers us a perspective of what Koschnick did the last time that he was in the situation that he is now finds himself critiquing.

The 1999 campaign finance documents identify at least 8 attorneys that donated to then-candidate for Jefferson County Judge, Randy Koschnick. Of those 8 attorneys, 6 of them went on to have cases before Koschnick after he won that election. Those attorneys are John Dade, Samuel Benedict, Steven Luchsinger, Lee Leverton, Ronald W. Ziwisky and John (Jack) Chavez. Koschnick’s contributions from just these 6 attorneys represent nearly 40 percent of money raised during that campaign. Did Koschnick give back the campaign cash before these cases came before him? Did he notify everyone involved in the cases that some were his donors? If he didn’t do these things, then exactly what is he complaining about now? If he is now suggesting that one cannot receive campaign contributions and still judge fairly, then is he admitting that he didn’t judge these cases fairly?

It also appears that at least one of the above attorneys also had cases before Koschnick in which he was listed as the plaintiff. Ronald W. Ziwisky had at least two eviction cases before Koschnick. In one of them Koschnick actually granted his donors motion for additional monetary judgment against the defendant. Using Judge Koschnick’s current standard, was this appropriate? Did he notify the other parties of the campaign contribution from Ziwisky?

Judge Koschnick and his supporters are exhibiting a good deal of fake outrage and are trying to stir up a manufactured controversy. They are asking all sorts of questions, none of which are directed at themselves or at their ever shifting standards.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Questionable Communications = Questionable Judgment

In recent weeks we have learned much more about Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick. First The Lost Albatross reported that he had used his courthouse desk phone to call extremist right wing groups like Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) and the rabidly anti-gay Wisconsin Family Council. That blog also revealed that he used his state email to contact WRTL, who eventually endorsed him in his run for the state Supreme Court. This week the Capital Times took an even deeper look at Koschnick, while also confirming much of The Lost Albatross report. These recent developments and Koschnick’s apparent extremist views have rightfully caused people to question his judgment. One thing that has not been explored as much has been whether he broke any rules in using official communications to contact people and groups that are clearly now the very core of his campaign’s support.

After all of the drama in Wisconsin regarding campaigning on state time with state resources, one would think that a public official would stay as far away from any such perception as possible. If I were a public official and planned on running a campaign for higher office, I would go out of my way to avoid any appearance of using taxpayer funded time and resources to promote that effort. Apparently judge Koschnick does not share those standards.

As has already been reported, leading up to his announcement to run for the state Supreme Court he used his official courthouse phone to call several organizations that have been politically active in our state. Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) regularly endorses the most right wing candidates for example. So just as he is planning his campaign for state Supreme Court, Judge Koschnick just happens to find a reason to repeatedly call his local WRTL contact from his official phone? Not only did Judge Koschnick use his official phone to call this political ally but he also used his state email to talk about how he would be introduced during one of their upcoming events. The WRTL contact suggests an intro including the fact that he is going to be running for state Supreme Court. Again, using his state email, Koschnick signs off on the proposed intro that some might consider a promotion of his upcoming campaign. As we now know, WRTL ended up officially endorsing Koschnick.

As if the above example isn’t enough, Koschnick again shows that he is particularly tone deaf when he signs up to receive Google Alerts for “Koschnick Supreme” to his state email account. Exactly how is this NOT campaign related? How is this an appropriate use of taxpayer funded time and resources?

At the very least Koschnick's use of these resources and taxpayer funded time is questionable. Surly any ethics expert would suggest that his behavior enters a gray area that should be avoided. Given the many ethics problems that have been raised over the last several cycles, do we really want someone added to the high court that is so comfortable dancing right up to the ethical line? The bottom line is that these communications are at least questionable and apparently so is Koschnick’s judgment.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

219 minus 3 equals Obstruction

Just a few weeks ago Republican Congressman Paul Ryan stepped up to a mic saying to a national audience that his party was not an opposition party but a proposition party. It was quite an expensive joke as they promptly voted in complete lock step against the stimulus plan. At the time I commented that if the Republicans were not an opposition party then that particular vote proved that they were certainly an obstructionist one. That point has been confirmed with the vote taken yesterday in the U.S. Senate. Only 3 Republicans, out of 41, voted for the greatly compromised stimulus plan in the Senate. I don’t know what definition Ryan and others use for “obstructionist” but I’d say that only 3 votes out of 219 Congressional Republicans fits almost anyone’s definition.

First they ran around falsely declaring that the plan was “full of pork” when they were largely only complaining about just over 2% of the spending in it. Their misinformation campaign was fairly successful for a short time as the media focused on that small percentage rather than on the 98 % that will help our ailing economy and create millions of new jobs. Having a good week of manipulating the media and obstructing during this economic emergency brings only limited political benefit while the downside could make their November loses look like child’s play. The public can and should be very fickle with politicians during such hard times. Hopefully the public will make Ryan and the other obstructionists in Congress pay a heavy price if they continue to play political games while there is so much crisis all around.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Big-Money Mobleys and Other Surprises

Last week campaign finance documents were filed with the Government Accountability Board. There were a few surprises but I can’t decide which of the following was the most unexpected.

  1. In the Department of Public Instruction race, conservative Van Mobley raised over $60,000, but perhaps the biggest surprise was that a full $46,000 of it was from people that share his last name. So far this looks like a wealthy family-funded affair, with Van giving his own campaign $5,000 and his wife pitching in $10,000. The remaining Mobley money came from folks living down south. Two donors from the same Alabama address gave a combined $20,000. Another couple from the same South Carolina address gave a combined $ 11,000. Without these maxed out donations from his apparently wealthy family, the Mobley Campaign would have only brought in just over $14,300. For a statewide campaign, I’m not sure that such support is much to write home about – or maybe it is.
  2. Apparently Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick is so busy communicating with right wing extremists that he has been unable to raise much cash. In his filing last week he only reported $14,595 raised, nearly $10k of which was from his own wallet.
  3. And then there is virtual schools advocate and DPI candidate Rose Fernandez. With all of her press releases, internet videos, and apparent support among the right wing blogging class, it was a little surprising that she was left with a big goose egg for fundraising. Technically, it appears that she did raise 50 bucks from somewhere but then spent it ending the year with a zero balance. Based on that number, one might suggest that her support is only virtual (sorry, couldn't resist).

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Koschnick Not Too Busy For the Extreme

During his first debate with Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick used an unusual strategy. Responding to a listing of cases where the court of appeals determined that he overstepped his authority and ignored statutes, he responded saying that he was just too darn busy to worry about using “magic words” and that is why he was reversed in those cases. When he said that he was too busy, who knew it was because he was chatting it up with some of the most extreme right wingers in the state?

The Lost Albatross blog was the first to report that Jefferson County phone records show that Judge Koschnick used his courthouse desk phone to call the Wisconsin Family Council. This is the same organization that led the charge to enshrine discrimination against gay Wisconsinites into our state constitution. The group is led by the wildly extreme Julaine Appling who just last year was demanding the prosecution of gay couples that got married in San Francisco and then came back home to Wisconsin. She also is well known for her comment that society has been very tolerant to gay couples by “allowing them to live wherever they choose.” Was Koschnick providing his legal analysis on such subjects to this group? Was he seeking the support/advice of the 501(c)(3) group while planning his run for state Supreme Court? Whatever the answers, someone in the media should be asking the questions.

Apparently the Wisconsin Family Council was not the only right wing group that Koschnick was calling from his courthouse phone. The Lost Albatross also reported that he had also placed a phone call and exchanged emails with the local contact for Wisconsin Right to Life. Incidentally, that group just endorsed his candidacy. What were these communications about and was it appropriate to use an official phone and a state email to have them? Isn’t he “too busy” to conduct such communications on the taxpayer’s dime?

Not only did Judge Koschnick say that he was “too busy for magic words” but he has also been very critical about one of his fellow judge’s use of time at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Koschnick attacked one fellow judge in an email complaining that the judge started hearing cases 30 minutes too late. It seems a little disingenuous when we now know that he may have spent more time than that talking to Appling's group. Even if he really is “too busy” we now know that Judge Koschnick is definitely not “too busy” to consult with some of the most extreme elements in Wisconsin.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

WPRI’s Vicious Attack on Itself

Right wing organization WPRI released its own commentary about the state budget and the deficits that it has faced over the last number of years. One of the big villains of the report is the act of filling budgetary holes with one-time revenues. This is truly an odd detail for WPRI to attack since the leader of the organization, George Lightbourn could be a poster child for that very technique.

George Lightbourn was the Secretary of Administration under two Republican governors. One was Governor Scott McCallum who presided over what was probably one of the worst budget crises in state history. Actually, at the time, Lightbourn admitted to reporters that the state budget “was in the worst shape that it had been in some twenty years.” They managed to accomplish that dubious distinction without having to manage anything like the current economic crisis that the entire globe is now facing.

In an attempt to partially fix their budgetary mess, Lightbourn and his boss thought it wise to do a one time quick fix, by raiding the tobacco settlement fund. Essentially they sold off the entire tobacco settlement for only pennies on the dollar. In short, Lightbourn and the administration that he helped run, did the very same thing that his conservative organization is now condemning. Is he hoping that everyone simply forgets his past role or is he just a glutton for punishment?