Friday, July 30, 2010

Attacking LGBT Families Nets Nothing for Walker

True to form Scott Walker has been pandering to the most extreme elements of the right wing. This kind of thing seems to happen every time that he approaches any election (especially one for governor). One of the groups that he apparently has been trying to court are those that have a sick obsession with gay people.

Last year Scott Walker vetoed an effort to treat the families of all Milwaukee County workers equally. Actually the measure sought to simply study the idea of allowing domestic partners to have access to the same benefits package as everyone else. Walker claimed that his veto was about money but everyone knew that it was really about blowing a right wing dog whistle. This year he also said that if he were elected governor he would oppose the state’s domestic partner registry and any benefits for the same-sex partners of state workers.

What has Walker's pandering on this issue really brought him? Well, in the middle of a heated primary, Walker's flirting with the gay-obsessed has done very little. Today the PAC for the loudest gay-hating group in Wisconsin issued their endorsement for governor. They endorsed both Scott Walker and Mark Neumann. Perhaps it is not a major surprise since Neumann did say that he wouldn't hire a gay person and if he were "elected God" homosexuality wouldn't be "permitted".

Appling and Co. must have not received the Walker/Republican Party of Wisconsin memo. They were supposed to fall in line and endorse the coronated candidate. Even after all of Walker's anti-gay extremes they still didn't pick him over his primary opponent. But I would guess that his running to the extreme right on this issue certainly hasn't helped his image with fair-minded independents. I would suggest that Walker's pandering on this hasn't just been a net loss but it has also turned into an epic FAIL.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Walker's Open Records Games are Costly

Today Dan Bice reported that Scott Walker's administration has charged Milwaukee Supervisor John Weishan $2,800 to fulfill and open records request. What did Weishan get for that price tag? Four meaningless sheets of paper and a list of Walker employees according to the report. What makes the open records obstruction even worse is the fact that Walker's office didn't really provide the supervisor with the actual records themselves. Apparently he was only given summaries of Internet surfing done by Walker and his underlings. Naturally that summery was also produced by Walker workers.

Scott Walker has a long history of obstructing open records requests from political opponents and other people that he perceives as adversaries. I have some personal knowledge of that fact. But more specifically, Walker has been caught before not giving the actual records requested but rather producing some doctored data instead.

Back in 2004 the David Riemer campaign submitted an open records request to the Walker administration. They were trying to learn if Walker had kept one of his original promises: having "at will" employees sign pension benefit waivers. When the Walker administration received this request and realized that they had failed to keep that promise, they ran around trying to get as many waiver signatures as possible. When they finally did send records, it was only a listing rather than copies of the actual waivers (which would have shown the dates of the last minute signatures). Quite simply it wasn't what Riemer asked for in his request. Riemer later filed an open records complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Justice who had some of the following choice words for the Walker administration's open records games:

"In sum, this episode evinces a case of how government officials ought not to do business...Nobody honored to serve in public office ought to manipulate public records in this fashion -- that is the opinion of this office."

As I concluded when I chronicled my own Walker open records odyssey several months ago: "Although Walker's policy positions change with the wind, it seems that his approach to open records has not changed at all." Walker's open records games are not just costly to the requester, but they are also costly to any sense of open government in Milwaukee County.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lessons from a ND Wind Farm

Last week I spent some time visiting friends in the Dakotas. One interesting thing that I enjoyed seeing first hand was the significant investment that North Dakota and its various partners have made in clean energy. Specifically they have developed multiple wind farms across the state to harness an asset of which they have an abundant supply.

Google took notice and in May announced that they were investing $38.8 million into two of these ND wind farms. Just those two alone are set to produce 169.5 megawatts of power which is enough to power some 55,000 homes. North Dakota's entire population is about 640,000. Add to those numbers the power currently coming from the other wind farms in the state and you have a wealth of clean power being generated. So much so that North Dakota actually exports some of this clean energy.

I got a close up look at the wind farm in Edgeley, ND. I had just a few general observations after having actually been near the 800 acre site. Although I didn't expect them to be small, I was a little surprised at just how large the turbines were (330 feet from top to bottom). Another interesting note was how the wind farm in Edgeley has apparently been accepted by the town. In fact, in 7 years it appears that they have become a big part of the town's identity.

As I was admiring North Dakota's use of wind power, I couldn't help but think back to my own state and similar efforts that are just getting off the ground . I wondered what lessons might be learned from the North Dakota wind farms that might benefit Wisconsin's pursuit of clean energy technology. I also couldn't help but hope that as this industry continues to expand that all of these wind farms will be serviced by the new turbine manufacturing company that will be locating in the City of Milwaukee's Menomonee Valley.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Walker was where we thought he'd be...

Three Cheers for the City of Milwaukee!

I was out of town last week (which is why there was no blogging) and the night before coming back home I heard about the deluge that was hitting Milwaukee. The first news that I got was from a relative that was watching my home while I was gone. They informed me that I had water in the basement. Later that evening there was a power outage at my home and I had difficulty communicating with that relative, which was maddening. (Thank goodness I didn't see this video until after I was home!)

Viewing the press conferences held by City of Milwaukee officials online was certainly encouraging. It was very clear that all aspects of city government from the Mayor's office to first responders, public works and health department officials had all risen to the occasion. In addition to online access, it was also helpful to get useful information from city officials doing interviews on national outlets such as the Weather Channel.

By the time I got back home and after the City sewer system was able to catch up, nearly all of the water in my basement had already gone down the floor drain. After cleaning out the basement and tossing things that had been damaged I called the City and their clean-up crews picked the stuff up only a handful of hours later.

Although there were certainly tragedies as a result of the flooding, there were also positives to take away from the experience. Neighbors helping neighbors and City of Milwaukee officials and workers showing that they are both ready and able to respond to emergencies in our community. Our tax dollars hard at work when we need it most.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Public Safety as a Photo Op

What you see in this photo is vintage Scott Walker. Always looking for a shameless photo op and always reading from the same shameless and politically calculated talking points. Unfortunately for him, anyone with the slightest desire for facts, will rightly roll their eyes at his gimmicks and reject his phony rhetoric. The latest example came yesterday at a press conference about public safety.

At the press conference Walker again read from the same old talking points. "I'm a crime fighting superhero". The only problem with Walker's posturing on public safety are the hard numbers that his administration has generated while he has been county executive. Once again the Walker rhetoric does not match the reality of his record.
Consider the following:

  • In the 2002 Budget there were 1,125.3 funded position equivalents for the Sheriff. In the 2009 budget that number was down to 952.9 (Walker’s recommended budget would have brought it down to 946.0)

  • In the 2002 Budget there were 638.1 funded position equivalents at the House of Correction. In the 2009 budget that number was down to 486.0 (Walker’s recommended budget would have brought it down to 482.0).

  • Even Walker's political ally Sheriff David Clarke described Walker's budget as a "patchwork" and promised that he would have to release 120 inmates and reduce freeway patrols.

  • Then there was Walker's privatization scheme which brought this guy to supervise security at the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

  • As Capper has repeatedly pointed out, Walker's disastrous policies at the Mental Health Complex have also generated problems for local municipalities and their police departments.

  • Who could forget Walker's screw up that ended in a full 8 days of furloughs for Milwaukee County public safety officers?
  • Line of the Week: Feingold Campaign

    “Ron Johnson doesn’t understand that when you’re in a hole, you stop drilling."

    -John Kraus, a senior strategist for the Feingold Campaign.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Why Didn't Johnson "Just Say No"?

    Even his fellow Republicans seem to be stumped over his vacillating positions on what should have been a clear cut issue.

    Maybe it had something to do with his Big Investment in BP and Big Oil in general.

    Saturday, July 10, 2010

    Suffering from Walker Whiplash?

    I'm officially diagnosing Scott Walker's most devoted followers with what must be a blinding case of Walker Whiplash. The condition is caused from watching Scott Walker quickly change his positions the moment that he thinks that it will benefit his endless campaign. The latest example is his pledging today to sign a repeal of the statewide smoking ban even though he said only four days ago that "it was too early to seek exemptions to it." What prompted this latest Walker equivocation? It was his Republican primary opponent Mark Neumann's declaring that he would work to repeal the new law. Neumann took a harder right wing position on the issue and suddenly Walker had to change his original position to match it.

    I know that my head is spinning from all of Walker's sudden changing of direction. What is worse is that they just keep coming faster and faster the closer that we get to the fall elections. I can't imagine what it must be like to be a hard core conservative that actually cares about right wing ideological purity only to be subjected to this Walker Whiplash. This is only the latest example of Walker changing positions depending on his political calculations. Consider this small sampling of his sudden flip-flops:

    • He said "no thanks" to federal stimulus funds but then used those same funds to plug multiple holes in his Milwaukee County budget for this year. With an even bolder level of hypocrisy he began trying to take credit for programs that were funded by the federal stimulus.
    • He supported concealed carry legislation but then voted against similar legislation just before running for Milwaukee County executive. Now that he is running for governor (again) he is suddenly for concealed carry again.
    • He originally surprised me by seeming to second guess Arizona's troubling new immigration law. But in less than 24 hours and after catching hell on his Facebook page, he changed direction on that issue.

    The only real way for the right wing to avoid a continual case of Walker Whiplash is to finally demand some consistency from him. It would be refreshing to see those that claim to admire absolutist stands on right wing issues to actually force him to take a position and actually stick with it. And I mean stick with it regardless of what his primary opponent does or how the political winds change. I hope that conservatives will finally hold him accountable for his continual policy and position changes. Such a self-correction would bring a welcome relief to all of us.

    Thursday, July 08, 2010

    Is Priebus Dilusional, Dishonest or Both?

    The last time we talked about RPW Chair Reince Priebus, we highlighted his email about the "total unity" around Michael Steele and how he was "kicking ass" in DC. We now know that his assessment on that dysfunctional situation was completely wrong. Earlier this week Reince decided to give us an encore performance of being embarrassingly wrong.

    On Tuesday the Republican Party of Wisconsin churned out a press release in which Reince falsely accused Senator Russ Feingold of being "silent" regarding the Bucyrus effort to obtain U.S. (big-government)Export-Import Bank approval on an important project. Had the RPW or Reince been the slightest bit interested in reality they would have known that Senator Feingold was very involved in advocating for Bucyrus. His involvement wasn't limited to gimmicks like running inaccurate political potshots in the paper. Maybe that is what threw Reince. Senator Feingold along with Governor Doyle, Mayor Barrett and most of Wisconsin's congressional delegation, did the actual work of advocating for Bucyrus.

    Reince and the RPW's dishonest/delusional (take your pick) attacks were so far off base that it brought about a public correction from the Bucyrus CEO, Tim Sullivan. Obviously even he felt the need to set straight the RPW falsehoods. In an open letter to Reince, Sullivan said some of the following:

    "Senator Feingold sent two separate letters to Chairman Hochberg of the U.S. Export-Import Bank in support of the loan guarantee...In addition, Senator Feingold reached out by phone...Bucyrus has been fortunate to have elected officials from both sides of the aisle, including Senator Feingold, working to persuade the U.S. Export-Import Bank to provide loan guarantees..."

    Wednesday, July 07, 2010

    About that Deficit...

    The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities produced the above chart to help show the major contributors to the current federal deficit. The chart accompanies the latest installment in their ongoing series, "Economic Recovery Watch". I certainly hope that those feigning sudden outrage over the federal deficit will be first in line to call for an end to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. After all, as far as contributors go, it is second only to the two wars.

    UPDATE: It looks like Ron Johnson has "no opinion" on the massive portion of the federal deficit that came at the hands of George W. Bush. Yet in his latest commercial he bemoans the idea of "unsustainable debt and spending". Which is it Ron? Or maybe your values vacillate depending on the political party of the president.

    ht: Daily Kos

    Tuesday, July 06, 2010

    Another Example of "Total Unity"

    In April I blogged about an email that a Wisconsin Republican sent to RPW Chair Reince Priebus. The email was an inquiry about his trip to Washington D.C. If you recall, his response to the email was the following:

    "Total unity and Steele kicking ass...Really no lie - I will send you the links"

    My April blog posting was a reaction to a rapid fire series of RNC controversies, which seems to be the hallmark of Michael Steele's tenure as RNC Chairman. Now only a couple of months later we have an entirely new example of what Priebus calls "total unity".

    Recently Steele was caught on tape blaming President Obama for the war in Afghanistan and essentially saying that it is a failure and that it should have never been fought in the first place. Not only has Michael Steele apparently forgotten who was president when the war was first launched but he has also ignored years of Republican declarations and positions about the war. His caught-on-tape moment has brought with it another round of Republican "total unity" dramatics.

    Here are just a handful of relevant "links" that spell out the current situation:

    Top Republicans Pile On Steele, Call for His Ouster
    McCain calls Steele's remarks on Afghan war 'wildly inaccurate'

    Liz Cheney joins calls for Steele to step down as leader of the RNC

    Republican Senators Denounce Steele’s Remarks

    Friday, July 02, 2010

    Happy Fourth (Unless You're Unemployed)

    Just before leaving town, two of Wisconsin's most extreme and out-of-touch representatives in Congress voted against extending unemployment benefits through November. Naturally those two were Paul Ryan and F. Jim Sensenbrenner. Two guys that have never had to seriously worry about how they were going pay their most basic bills and take care of their family.

    In an era when being Republican means party line votes and saying "no" to everything, it was actually quite remarkable that 29 of them actually voted "yes" to further help those that are struggling. This fact pushes Ryan and Sensenbrenner even further to the extreme corner that most of us already know that they occupy.

    Ryan and Sensenbrenner's votes not only show that they have zero interest in struggling Americans but it also reveals their tendency to put rigid ideology over actual results. A study from the Congressional Budget Office ranked unemployment insurance as the most effective form of economic stimulus.

    While they attend Fourth of July events, someone should remind them that there is nothing patriotic about sitting in the lap of luxury while causing further misery for a struggling working class.

    Thursday, July 01, 2010

    One-Time Exception or New Walker Policy?

    Although he appears to have been brought kicking and screaming, it looks like Scott Walker has decided to go forward with an emergency check of Milwaukee County buildings. The suggestion was first made by Milwaukee County Chairman Lee Holloway shortly after the tragedy at the O'Donnell Park parking structure last week. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this development is the apparent change in Walker policy on putting safety above cost.

    When commenting on the emergency plan to check the safety of Milwaukee County buildings, Walker admitted that he didn't know what it was going to cost to pay the private contractor that he plans on using. He remarked that "public safety must come first" and that "money can be moved around to insure that safety remains a priority." It is really too bad that it took a tragedy to convert Walker to such a preventative approach.

    He certainly didn't use that approach when he was warned about necessary maintenance at the courthouse. Ignoring those warnings thankfully didn't end in injury as limestone crashed down to the sidewalk. Walker also didn't apply this new safety before cost approach to Milwaukee County's Mental Health Complex. After years of cuts in funding and in staff, there is an entire menu of safety issues out there. The latest one involves an unexpected $15 million price tag for taxpayers.

    If Scott Walker would have exercised a safety-above-cost approach from the beginning perhaps he wouldn't be in this current unstable situation. Right now he doesn't know what the cost will be to have a private firm come in on an emergency basis to do these building inspections. Perhaps if he wouldn't have decimated the Architectural, Engineering and Environmental Services division in the first place, we could already be confident in the county's buildings or at least in the cost to properly inspect them. It would have largely been a built-in and already budgeted cost as opposed to the current expensive guessing game with a private contractor. Consider the following and how Walker's new approach may have changed things:

    • In the 2002 budget the Architectural, Engineering Environmental Services division had 70.4 full-time equivalent positions. In the 2010 budget there were only 36.4 such positions remaining.
    • Investments in that division have gone down from $7,339,513 in 2002 to $6,703,375 in 2010.
    • Both a Milwaukee County audit in December and a Public Policy Forum analysis last October offered some brief but important commentary on the divisions' staffing issues and its impact. I wonder if these reports have anything to do with Walker's apparent nervousness about audits?

    Considering his past policy and budgeting you can imagine a much different situation had he employed his new policy from the very beginning. There is no doubt that a long-term safety-before-cost approach would have provided some stability today. We would be talking about a solid public investment rather than an unknown private price tag after the fact. The only remaining question is whether the current Walker response is a one-time exception or if it is new Walker policy?