Friday, April 27, 2012

Is the Ron Johnson Model the New Normal?

In 2010 a rich political newcomer won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin.  Ron Johnson went on to avoid tough questions from the media, preferring to instead preach his fundamentalist Ayn Rand Gospel to the already converted.  Johnson married into wealth and certainly used a part of his personal fortune to bankroll his campaign.  The only opportunity most Wisconsinites had to see this political unknown was in his many misleading TV ads.

Now that Johnson has undoubtedly proven himself to be a know-nothing ideologue, you have to wonder if he would have ever been elected had voters known more than what showed up on TV.  You don't have to take my personal assessment of him, check out what some of his own Republican colleagues recently said about him in Roll Call:
“He’s an interesting case study of someone who has talked more than he has listened, lectured more than he has developed relationships with his colleagues, and now he’s having a tough time because of that behavior in advancing his policy goals,” one senior GOP aide said. “It’s kind of like watching a temper tantrum by a 2-year-old in the middle of the grocery store.”
Now Wisconsin is preparing to vote for U.S. Senate again and we have yet another filthy rich political newcomer spending gobs of his own money to get the job.  Like Ron Johnson in 2010, Eric Hovde is using his own personal wealth to flood the airwaves with ads.  Just before Hovde officially launched his campaign it was reported that he would be able to tap his own wealth gained through family real estate holdings, banking and hedge fund management to the tune of $10 million.

Like Johnson, he has not been properly vetted by voters and if he continues using the Johnson model that may never happen.  Right now the only thing that most people know about Eric Hovde is that he keeps giving us the evil eye, wearing white pants and running up stairs. Call me old fashioned but I really think that voters should get the chance to actually know the candidates well beyond this kind of gimmicky TV ad persona.

Hovde's new bio ad tries to make it seem like he is just one of us regular folks. But is it really the "American Dream" to find yourself born into a wealthy lifestyle and then simply use that inherited leverage to add to that wealth? Despite the perception that Hovde's new ad tries to paint I don't know many people that fit his actual real life profile.
  • Growing up as a privileged son of a real estate developer that was also an official in the Reagan administration.
  • Hedge fund manager that has lived for decades in Washington D.C. before conveniently moving back to Wisconsin just in time to run for U.S. Senate.
  • In one 1980's media report he was described as a "Washington D.C.- based S&L industry consultant"
  • To this day he appears to buy banks like most of us buy groceries (including bailed out banks, even though he was allegedly against TARP)
Don't get me wrong, we've had many wealthy candidates that have lived privileged lives and some have done outstanding work in public office.  But the problem here is a combination of factors taken as a whole : 
  1. An unknown, untested, unvetted and unpredictable candidate 
  2. No real policy track record of any kind 
  3. Using vast personal wealth to create a fictional TV character. 
That was essentially the Ron Johnson Model to office and I don't want to see it repeated by anyone of any ideology or party.   The growth of this phenomenon should be concerning to everyone of every political stripe.  It may be good for a candidate's own ego, it may be good for their wealthy cronies or for their political party but it is certainly not good for the future of our electoral system or for the governance of our nation.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Walker Still Treats Public Safety as a Photo Op

Today the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Sheboygan County District Attorney Joe DeCecco called out Scott Walker for his hypocrisy on public safety issues.  While Walker is busy posing for pictures during National Victim Rights Week, his actual policies paint an entirely different picture.   The Sheboygan DA accused Walker of merely posturing on the topic. He specifically referenced the funds that the state cut for the victim/witness advocate programs around the state.
“This critical program, mandated by state statute to be provided by county government, and which provides safety, security and services to victims and witnesses of crimes, has had its state reimbursement fund cut by some $400,000, leaving counties holding the bag without the means to obtain the necessary funds to cover that gap,” DeCecco stated, referring to the ACT 10 prohibition against any county’s raising property taxes. “Once again,” DeCecco said, “county budgets providing state-mandated essential services are nothing but pawns in an Administration’s game of hypocrisy.”
This is certainly not the only public safety issue that Walker has undermined while he has been governor.  Here are just a few other curious actions that don't seem to comport with his PR driven public face on the subject:

None of this is a surprise to anyone that was paying attention to Walker's horrible record in Milwaukee County.  In fact I posted a blog in 2010 highlighting only some of those public safety blunders.  The title of that blog was "Public Safety as a Photo Op" and it is very clear that Walker is still treating things that way as a dysfunctional governor.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Walker's Inflated Numbers

Scott Walker and his unquestioning operatives are now touting phony numbers of "savings".  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel legitimized the claims by giving it the front page treatment although there was certainly a curious qualifier in that story.
"But the figures also included a significant amount of savings for local governments that could not be verified."
So it should be no surprise that as local governments and media outlets actually started looking at the numbers, they started finding problems.  The first local fact check that I saw was from the Sheboygan Press where they describe Walker's local numbers as "inflated".   This was the key passage from the report:
The $1 billion figure includes an estimated $1.3 million in savings in the City of Sheboygan, where city officials said the money saved under the budget bill was far less, totaling $420,000. City Administrator Jim Amodeo said the governor's estimate assumes Sheboygan employees weren't previously paying any money toward their health insurance when in fact most were paying 8 to 10 percent. "The savings wasn't everything the governor's office said it would be," Amodeo said.
I would assume that this was just bad research by the Walker administration but it is consistent with a long record of made-up estimates and cherry picked numbers.  Remember the initial Capitol clean-up estimates that the Walker administration claimed? What was it again? Eight zillion dollars? Some in the media dutifully reported the phony number without verifying it in any way. Later we learned that the Walker administration pulled the estimate directly out of their own nether regions. Why would people so willfully fall for a Walker estimate on anything ever again? This should be especially true during the heat of a high stakes election.

There were reports last year already showing the insufficiency of the Walker "tools" for local governments.  We should revisit some of those reports now that Walker is touting the new phony numbers. For example the La Crosse Tribune highlighted the negative (or at least lack of) impact of Walker's "tools" in that region.  Here are some of the highlights that remind me of the exact points made in the Sheboygan Press today:
  • The City of Onalaska lost $139,783 (10%) in state payments but they got no savings from the health care cost shift because employees already were paying 20 percent of their premiums.
  • In Holmen, employees were already paying a share of their health care premiums that met the state’s new requirement.  In the end the village was left with a $42,231 hole because of Walker's policies. 
  • West Salem's only union employees were in the police department and were thus exempted from Walker's "tools".  When comparing their very limited savings versus the loss of state aid, they also lost more than they gained. 
  • The Town of Onalaska had only 3 union employees but their contracts lasted until the end of 2012 and other employees worked without pension and health benefits. So Walker's "tools" didn't help them either. In fact they ended up with a net loss when you factor in Walker's drastic cuts to programs like shared revenue.
I think that it is a fairly safe assumption that the Walker propagandists did not drill down to these levels while generating their phony numbers.  I would suspect that these communities along with Sheboygan and many others across the state might also find Walker's made up numbers to be "inflated".

Monday, April 16, 2012

Paul Bucher Knows First Hand

It is clear that the right wing must be very fearful of the John Doe investigation involving Scott Walker. In recent weeks they have participated in a clearly coordinated smear campaign against the law enforcement professionals in the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office.

First the smear machine Media Trackers, with their horrible record in tow, complained that a number of employees in the DA's office exercised their constitutional rights by signing recall Walker petitions. It amounted to a few dozen employees out of hundreds of staff including support staff such as secretaries and others. Media Trackers employed their typical innuendo-based tactic, even though none of the people actually working on the John Doe participated in the recall effort. But as is always the case with this smear machine, it isn't about the truth or reality, it is about tainting the opposition at all costs.

Almost on cue came the ever-uptight former Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher. He picked up the Media Trackers smear and carried it further by requesting that the Republican Attorney General take over the John Doe investigation. Remember in the 2006 Republican primary for attorney general? Remember when J.B. Van Hollen told Bucher "you suck"? Well he must not feel much differently because he fairly quickly shot down the absurd Bucher demand.

Paul Bucher would know something about being a truly partisan district attorney.
  • While he was DA and starting his Republican run for state attorney general, some raised "serious questions about whether he is capable of separating his political ambitions from his prosecutorial duties". The questions were raised because former Democratic Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager sent him a routine offer of assistance in a case involving alleged illegal campaigning in Waukesha County by an aide to state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills. In response "Bucher freaked out" sending a "bitter rambling screed" to the AG. Apparently he was more concerned about partisan appearances and his political campaign than utilizing full state resources to investigate the incident. [Capital Times, "Bucher Blows Up", 10/5/05]
  • In 2006 an attorney for former Governor Jim Doyle contacted members of the Elections Board regarding a matter pending before them. It involved Doyle's Republican opponent for governor, Mark Green. Paul Bucher inserted himself into that situation by launching an "investigation" alleging possible open meetings violations. The same day that Bucher launched his dead end "investigation" the executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin admitted that he also contacted a Republican member of the Elections Board. But Bucher conveniently didn't express the same fake outrage over that development. [Capital Times, 9/23/06]
  • In 1996 a recall election was launched against former state Senator George Petak (R-Racine). The Republican Party of Wisconsin asked for an investigation into alleged "criminal wrongdoing" during the recall process (sounds familiar). Paul Bucher dutifully agreed to launch a phony "investigation" into the recall effort. Organizers of the recall described the Bucher "investigation" as a "total waste of taxpayer money." They proved to be correct about Bucher's "investigation". [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/15/96]
As you can see from these few examples, Paul Bucher certainly knows about (mis)using a district attorney's office for political purposes. Given his own history, he certainly seems like an odd character to serve as point man for attacking John Chisholm's office and his integrity.

Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm is the model example. He is a straight shooter and everyone knows it. As Xoff has already said, "He holds elected office as a Democrat, but is as close to non-partisan as anyone holding a partisan office". There are many examples of his independence including investigating and prosecuting numerous Democrats. I also remember his office taking part in J.B. Van Hollen's "Voter Fraud Task Force" in 2008. Hardly the act of a hard core Democratic partisan and it certainly didn't bring him praise with progressives at the time. But he did what he thought was right at the time, as he always does.

The bottom line: Paul Bucher's wild rhetoric seems to be a classic case of partisan projection.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Walker's Wrong Way at Revenue

Earlier this year the Institute for Wisconsin's Future released a study showing that there are more than $900 million in taxes legally owed to the state but they have not been collected. It also estimated that there are several hundred million more dollars that have not been collected due to misfilings and nonfilings. These figures show that Scott Walker has apparently decided to totally ignore these streams of revenue that are currently and legally owed to the state. He is doing so while at the same time proclaiming that "we're broke" and using that statement as a pretext to make drastic cuts to education, local transit, Badgercare and other critical programs.

When I first started reading this IWF report I assumed that the Walker administration was just simply inept in failing to collect revenues that were already legally owed to the state. However I forgot about the fact that his default positions are equally both short-term and politically motivated. In fact he often remains stuck in that position even if it brings large long-term losses for the government and pain for his average constituent.

The IWF report goes on to provide detailed information that seems to take this issue far beyond ordinary Walker incompetence. Consider some of the following data points:

  • Staffing was increased at the Department of Revenue in 2009 and it turned into more collected (already legally owed) revenue for the state in 2010.
  • Scott Walker's administration ordered a cutback on DOR's goals for collecting such unpaid taxes. In fact the Walker goal was 10% less than what was actually collected in 2010.
  • Under the current (Walker) state budget DOR lost some 52 staffers and a full 80 positions remain vacant.
  • In January Walker's administration announced additional budget cutbacks (known technically as "lapses") that will further deplete DOR resources.
Again this comes straight from the Scott Walker School of Politically Motivated Mismanagement. Broadly cut public employee staffing for short-term (largely political) gain. But in doing so, he puts off the longer-term consequences for those actions. In this case that includes hundreds of millions (if not billions) of dollars in uncollected funds that are already owed to the state. The bottom line is that paying for increased staff at the DOR is a smart investment. The additional staffing would not only pay for itself but could help offset other Walker-imposed cuts.

The premise behind the IWF report makes total real-world sense in nearly every way. Unfortunately we no longer live in the real world, we sadly reside in the dysfunctional kingdom of Fitzwalkerstan.

Paul the Butcher

By Matt Wuerker from the Cartoonist Group via Center for American Progress

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Media Distractors

The right wing Republican front group Media Trackers exists to unfairly taint the opposition and to distract an already tabloid-prone media. Based on everything that they have done in their relatively short existence, that much has been abundantly clear. It seems that some in the media are finally noticing the pattern of deception employed by Media Trackers while others still blindly promote their smears.

Legitimate news outlets should be referencing Media Trackers record before even considering mentioning them, much less amplifying their distractions. Frankly, their record is rather embarrassing and is filled with little more than innuendo, partisan rush to judgement and willfully negligent"research".

Here are some of their distractions that stand out to me and they should give at least a moment of pause to legitimate members of the media:

The Underage Girls that Weren't: Remember when Media Trackers promoted video of what they described as underage girls signing recall petitions? They even suggested that the African American girls were being compensated with cigarettes. The only thing that they had was video and their own wild speculation. Certain members of the more tabloid-prone media (WTMJ) quickly amplified the innuendo but the claims were quickly and easily proven to be false. Confirming the wild speculation would have only taken an extra layer of research but they were not interested in accuracy, only in distracting the larger media and attempting to taint the recall process.

Trying to Tarnish Senator Taylor: Late last year Media Trackers targeted a vocal Walker critic and major voice in the recall effort, Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee). Once again, the group found enough information to quickly publish a smear on Taylor but not enough to actually make a legitimate case against her. They targeted a property owned by Taylor but run by her mother as a ministry to the homeless. They suggested that there were illegalities because homeless people actually registered to vote and listed that shelter as their residence. They further embarrassed themselves after finding out that one of the residents had been convicted of a felony once upon a time. Again they quickly ran with blind allegations of a felon voting without bothering to check if he was still on paper (he wasn't and was perfectly eligible to vote).

Public Smears vs. Sworn Statements: Another Media Trackers failure was the debunked "BBQ for votes" nonsense. They claimed that a progressive coalition's get-out-the vote effort engaged in "illegal election behavior." They suggested that the coalition exchanged free BBQ for votes. Their star witness to these wild allegations was one of their own staff members. When questioned under oath, he was specifically asked if anyone told him that he had to sign up to vote to get the food. In spite of Media Trackers public statements and vile innuendo on the matter, their star witness under oath was forced to admit that they were essentially baseless. No one ever told him that he had to sign up to vote to get BBQ.

Judicial Commission FAIL: More recently Media Trackers has been engaged in a coordinated effort of intimidation that would have made Joseph McCarthy blush. They have been steadily trying to tarnish anyone that dared to sign recall petitions against Walker. Not long after the Judicial Commission filed an ethics complaint against angry partisan Justice David Prosser, the smear machine went desperately fishing for what they perceived to be dirt on commission members. Again the group rushed to judgement over-hyping what they thought that they found. The group claimed that a number of commission members signed Walker recall petitions and were thus overly-partisan (an absurd argument in its own right). However they wrongly identified one member and the others no longer even served on the commission.

Targeting Walkergate Investigators but with Faulty Aim(s): Now, with cult-like fervor, the smear machine is continuing to target more people that exercised their constitutional right by signing a recall Walker petition. This time they are spewing their vile brand of innuendo at the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office. Once again their efforts are so easily transparent. Something in the Walkergate investigation must have them and/or their funders worried. They have identified several dozen employees, out of the hundreds that work in the office, that signed the Walker recall petition. Some of the people that signed are support staff like secretaries and others. However not a single one of them are actually involved in the Walkergate investigation itself. The group's effort is clearly to taint the Walkergate investigation and the entire district attorney's office.

The pattern with this right-wing smear machine is abundantly clear. Why any member of the legitimate media would even consider citing this group is beyond me. They have repeatedly proven that they play fast an loose with the truth only to serve very narrow and nasty political aims. Apparently they are of the mind that the ends justifies the dishonest means. That kind of relativism is a peculiar approach for people that self-identify as being "conservative" and as having "traditional values".

They call themselves "Media Trackers" but their real goal is to simply be a media distractor.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Tom Barrett February 2011

I hate I said the other day, I have not even made up my own mind about which Democrat that I will be supporting in the primary for Governor. But these unfair smear attacks on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are just not right nor are they factual. You should be able to state your case without using these kinds of nasty tactics against another Democrat and a longtime ally.

Yesterday Mayor Barrett understandably criticized the misleading video being sent around about him. The video that provides only one portion of his comments to Charlie Sykes in 2011. It conveniently doesn't include the rest of the context, like when he clearly states that he fully supports the right to collectively bargain.

Reports indicate that AFSCME sent around the edited video and apparently they have sent around yet another email that isn't much better factually speaking. Here is one unfortunate example from that recent email:
“Ask yourself this: Why don’t I remember Tom Barrett’s role during those crucial weeks..."
If the people asking this question can't remember Tom Barrett's role during those crucial weeks, allow me to take you down memory lane.

Tom Barrett Comments on Collective Bargaining February 2011

"The budget adjustment bill pits general City of Milwaukee employees against the fire and police unions," - Tom Barrett [2/16/11]

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett voiced strong support Thursday for the state Senate boycott by fellow Democrats trying to save public employees' collective bargaining rights. [MJS 2/17/11]

"Instead of talking with teachers, nurses, and law enforcement personnel to work together on a solution to our budget crisis, Scott Walker is dividing Wisconsinites by attempting to end the collective bargaining rights Wisconsin public employees have had since 1959." - Tom Barrett [MJS, 2/22/11]

"I fundamentally disagree with the attack on the right to organize," - Tom Barrett [MJS, 2/22/11]

Barrett offered a budget-repair bill alternative that removed the attack on collective bargaining [MJS, 2/25/11]

"It's now clear to us that this is an ideological war, and it's a national ideological war, and the purpose of it is to take away the rights of people who work for the government" -Tom Barrett [MJS, 2/25/11]

"It is time we return to our Wisconsin, the Wisconsin where we can sit down at the table and work out our differences..." -Tom Barrett [MJS, 2/25/11]

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Win on the Merits

First let me say that I have genuinely not decided which Democrat I am personally voting for/supporting in the primary for Governor. We have outstanding candidates that have very different strengths, weaknesses and skill sets. All four of the announced candidates come from different situations that can often require different styles of governing. Obviously I will get behind whoever wins the primary 100% but I really don't like some of the tactics that I have been seeing from my own friends and allies this week.

It started with listening to Sly on Madison's WTDY earlier this week. I normally enjoy going to his show's blog and listening to segments of the show. This is especially true because in Milwaukee we have no real alternatives to the right wing madness traveling our airwaves. However this week Sly has been conducting what I view as unfair one-sided attacks on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

In several cases both Sly and his guests have rushed to conclusions that are frankly ridiculous. Tom Barrett = Scott Walker? Are you serious? Barrett is "cozying up to Charlie Sykes"?? Because he did an interview with him? Really? Then he and several of his guests reference a very selectively edited video to draw all kinds of absurd conclusions?

I'm not saying that people should not voice their criticisms of Tom Barrett or any other candidate but at least do so in a substantive way. If you want to spend all of your time renegotiating City of Milwaukee contracts, then feel free to focus on that one issue. But in my view this election is much broader in scope and there is far too much at stake for that approach. And if you are going to make that your primary focus, at some point someone should be offered a chance for a rebuttal.

But these over-the-top smears, out-of-context videos and charged hyperbole are really not necessary. Frankly this kind of an attack is something that I fully expect from Republicans. I don't expect it from friends and allies because it is counterproductive no matter who wins the Democratic primary.

By all means, enthusiastically get behind your favorite candidate! Feel free to make your case to everyone that will listen. But please do it on the merits of your case and not by acting like a Wisconsin Republican or by employing their kinds of tactics.