Monday, January 31, 2011

Jeff Stone's Alarming Lack of Moderation

In my most recent column in the Wisconsin Gazette, I presented a case that Representative Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) is not a moderate. He is all-too-often described as such but many of his positions and votes defy most definitions of a political "moderate". In the column I touched on a variety of issues but today the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reminded me of yet another less known example.

Monday's story in the Journal Sentinel reported on the new carbon monoxide law that takes effect on Tuesday. It requires that all one and two family homes install carbon monoxide alarms. This law was a common sense extension of the current requirement of having them in apartment buildings and hotels. When this legislation came up for a vote in the state Assembly a year ago, it was not only supported by the Professional Fire Fighters and the Hospital Association but also by the Wisconsin Builders Association and the Wisconsin Realtors Association.

With the broad base of groups that were lobbying in support for this bill one would think that it would be a public safety slam dunk for any self respecting moderate. And I guess that is the point, because Jeff Stone was one of only 27 in the state Assembly that voted against the legislation. A bipartisan list of groups and legislators helped to overwhelmingly pass the carbon monoxide legislation. Seventeen of the 69 Reps that voted for it were Republicans. Unfortunately none of those 17 were named Stone.

Rep. Jeff Stone didn't speak about his opposition to the bipartisan legislation but at least one of the 27 gave us a possible reason for the vote. Robin Vos declared the carbon monoxide requirement as part of some imagined "nanny state" agenda. I don't know if Jeff Stone is willing to own Vos' paranoid description but he certainly was willing to own the same vote.

The closer I look at Stone's actual record, the more that I discover an alarming lack of real moderation.

UPDATE: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote a very supportive editorial of the new carbon monoxide law.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Now Walker Picks Winners and Losers in Litigation

If you are paying attention you have got to be sensing a theme at this point. First Scott Walker chose winners and losers in the area of transporation alternatives. He killed the high speed rail project and all of the jobs and commerce connected to it. In that instance he picked his road building boosters as the big winners.

One minute he is harping about uneccesary regulations on business and the next minute he is overregulating and endangering the entire wind power industry in Wisconsin. His actions not only endanger this form of alternative clean energy but they also put turbine manufacturing and other related jobs at risk. In that instance he picked his supporters in the real estate industry as the big winners.

Although Walker talked about jobs being his number one priority, the very first bill that he is trying to push through the legislature is the wide ranging "tort reform" bill. There is no evidence that it will create a single job but it will signifigantly weaken the ability of regular people to sue businesses when they or their loved ones have been harmed or killed through neglegence or by faulty products. Looking at some of the more drastic changes to things like the rules of evidence, it makes you wonder if a plaintiff will ever be able to get a fair shake in a Walker Wisconsin. In this instance Scott Walker has picked his donors in big business as the big winners.

Again, I'm sensing a theme very early in Scott Walker's administration. He wants to use every tool of (big) government to pick the winners and losers not just in business and development but apparently also in the court room.

Also read IT's "Tort reform rammed down our throats"

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Walker Again Picks Winners and Losers in Business

When Scott Walker killed the high speed rail project, he essentially hand picked which businesses would be the winners and losers in Wisconsin. Road builders and other major donors to his campaign would get a blank (state) check and new and emerging businesses that don't fit Walker's backward model would be blocked. As I have said before, Scott Walker has clearly operated from a haves and have-nots list when it comes to making the state "open for business".

Walker is showing us yet another chapter in this most unfortunate approach. Even though he bemoaned state regulations he is now pushing his own regulations that will cost both jobs and investment. This is becoming a theme for businesses that he has apparently blacklisted. This new example involves his proposed regulations related to wind turbine siting. National observers have already said that if his sweeping regulations are enacted they will be some of the most extreme in the nation. One commented that "You're adding a new regulatory barrier and putting a 'closed for business' sign on Wisconsin for wind development."

It is estimated that Walker's government regulation of this emerging industry puts at least $500 million in wind turbine investment at risk. It is also concerning how such hostility toward a specific industry will negatively impact the new turbine factories in both Manitowoc and Milwaukee. Will this Walker position have the same chilling effect on these businesses as his position on high speed rail had on Talgo, its suppliers and its employees? In that unfortunate example we found out that Walker is perfectly willing to sacrifice certain businesses for the special interests of a few of his well connected donors. It appears that we can now add to Walker's "have-nots" list some of the following businesses:

  • TowerTech in Manitowoc
  • Ingeteam in Milwaukee
  • WPPI Energy in Sun Prairie
  • Organic Valley Cooperative and Gunderson Lutheran near La Crosse
  • WE Energies
  • Construction contractors like Wondra Construction in Dodge County

If we have learned anything from Walker's high speed rail debacle, we will not count on any of the elite business organizations to lift a finger to defend these businesses. Like Walker, these organizations pretend to oppose government regulation and interference but that only applies if you are an inside member of the politically connected club. Once again Walker and his major boosters in business want to use government to pick the winners and losers. That is hardly a "conservative" approach and it seems much closer to the kind of crony capitalism that some of us feared Walker would bring with him to Madison.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Stone Introduces the "Help Me Get Elected" Bill

Earlier this week Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) introduced legislation that would require Wisconsinites to present an official photo ID when voting at the polls. Even though Republicans said that their number one priority was jobs and the economy they certainly did rush this unrelated legislation out quick. Scott Walker admitted that they are trying to hurry this bill through before the April elections. Naturally it is an election where Jeff Stone is running to be a Walker clone in the office of the Milwaukee County executive.

Has anyone bothered to ask Jeff Stone about the self serving nature of him introducing this bill at this time? He is seeking a position in Milwaukee County while at the same time trying to rush through a bill that would make it more difficult for people in this county to vote. Specifically, the constituencies that are least likely to vote for him in Milwaukee County .

According the the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story there is some internal debate about whether the voter ID legislation should wait and be coupled with other Republican efforts to drive down turnout in Milwaukee County. Apparently Stone understands why some in his party want to couple his bill with their other suppression efforts but at the same time he thinks that his bill should stand alone. Yeah, of course he wants his bill to stand alone. That is the only hope that he has to rush it through the legislature and get it passed just in time for the April election.

Perhaps Jeff Stone should just be upfront with the people of Wisconsin and rename his voter ID legislation something more like the "help me get elected" bill.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Will Bad Walker Polls Get The Doyle Treatment?

Public Policy Polling has released the results of a favorability poll of Scott Walker. The results are certainly less than flattering as nearly half of the respondents have an unfavorable view of Walker. The Chief, the Brawler and others have already commented on the lousy Walker numbers in this poll and how they are fairly consistent with a recent right wing WPRI poll.

Such favorability polls were almost like crack for Journal Communications when they were focused on Governor Doyle. It didn't seem to matter who put the poll out or what their agenda might be, it was almost always given top tier treatment. So only days into Walker's administration where is the frenzied reporting on these pathetic numbers for Walker? The only place in all of the Journal Communications media monopoly that I can find the results of this poll is on its "Wisconsin Voter" blog.

There is no doubt that Governor Doyle's poll numbers were terrible in his last year but rarely have I read about them in the context of the millions of dollars that were spent attacking him (even though he was not on a single ballot) and without a response. The impact of the Great Bush Recession certainly took a toll on Doyle's approval ratings but if you ran millions of dollars of unanswered attack ads against anyone for a year plus chances are likely that their numbers wouldn't be pretty. But that context didn't stop the media in general or Journal Communications in particular. So will they give the same kind of treatment to every bad poll that comes out for Scott Walker?

After the attack ads on Governor Doyle were already well under way, the research and "policy mill for the state GOP" over at WPRI published a poll showing 43% favorable and 49% unfavorable. This current PPP poll of Scott Walker shows 41% favorable and 49% unfavorable while he is only a few days into his administration. He already has such high unfavorable numbers and he has not even decimated shared revenue, BadgerCare or Education yet! Will the media characterize this current poll (and the ones to come) in the same aggressive fashion that they did for Governor Doyle? We will find out the answer soon and perhaps it will give us a glimpse of the sorry state of Wisconsin's media giants.

Afterthought: In this poll Scott Walker's approval is even lower than Ron Johnson, which apparently means that if you make little to no news, you are still more popular than Walker.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Any New GAB Actions with the New Year?

Last year a number of ethics complaints were filed with the Government Accountability Board (GAB) and I'm wondering which of them might result in ethics fines (or more) this year. I'm not talking about every complaint that was filed because we all know of some (most of which were filed days before the November election) that were surly frivolous. But there are a few that seem very legitimate to me and I am wondering exactly how they will be resolved and will those resolutions have a larger impact?

The most cut and dry example is that of the perpetually troubled state Senator Dan Kapanke. It seems that every year he is facing an ethics probe or costing Wisconsin taxpayers money because of violations of open records laws.

As you may recall the Democratic Party of Wisconsin filed a complaint regarding Kapanke using money from his foundation to pay his own personal business debts. This was troubling on a number of levels but especially because he used his foundation to collect payments from businesses that employ lobbyists in Madison. In fact he himself made that point in one of his previous ethics cases back in 2007. At that time he suggested that the foundation would be used as a sort of ethical firewall because the money from special interests would go through it and toward local charities. At the time he said "I don't see any problem as long as the money isn't going to benefit me." [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/27/2007]

As it turns out foundation money did in fact go to directly benefit Kapanke. As we discovered last year, he used some $32,000 of it to help retire his own personal business debt. In fact, if you look at the grants that the foundation gave over the last couple of years, the largest "charity" appeared to involve paying down Kapanke's personal business debt. None of the other charities that received funds even came remotely close to his $32,000.

Shortly after this complaint was filed against him Dan Kapanke essentially admitted to the primary facts of the matter. The only real questions left in this specific example is what exactly does GAB plan to do about it and what precedent will those actions set?