Sunday, March 31, 2013

AB 85: Who WAS in the room and who was NOT

Most observers already know that the Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC) has been plotting and planning for some time to undermine the Milwaukee County Board. Frankly the newly introduced AB 85 is another attempt to micromanage Milwaukee County from Madison via special interest legislation.  GMC has retained the services of a high profile PR firm, created a front group and hired a small army of lobbyists to push this special interest legislation through the state legislature.  But now thanks to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Dan Bice, we now know that those same GMC lobbyists were not just busy pushing this legislation but they were in fact literally in the room helping write it.

This isn't the first time that some of these same interests tried to do an end-run around local control and local government to get what they want.  Remember in 2006 when some of the same special interests paid for secret draft legislation to swipe control of Milwaukee County's successful airport?  During that effort they wanted to make Mitchell a regionally controlled airport rather than a Milwaukee County asset. Even worse they wanted to specifically and totally bypass Milwaukee County officials and even local voters. In 2006 they even used the same law/lobby firm to do the job that GMC is using now. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/18/06]

In 2006 while many of the same special interests were busy drafting the legislation they found the perfect guy that would introduce it in the state legislature.  In 2006 that role was played by Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) but today it is being played by Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis).

The fact that GMC's paid lobbyists were so deeply involved in writing this current bill tells us everything that we really needed to know about it.  But perhaps we can actually learn more based on who WAS NOT involved in the drafting of this special interest legislation.  As they furiously spin in the media and through their highly paid spokespeople they pretend that the beneficiary of this legislation is the public.  But they didn't involve the public in writing this legislation. They didn't include key members of the community or other direct stake holders. In keeping with the pattern they had their well paid lobbyists helping write it behind closed doors.

If you had any doubt about what this legislation is really all about  it should be totally cleared at this point. It was written by these special interests and for these special interests.  Right now they are simply trying to force the rest of us to come along for the ride.  Their highly paid PR firm and their phony front group will continue to spin that they really did it all for us. But the point remains, when it was time to actually draw up this legislation WE were not invited into the room.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Trying to Pull a "Gableman" on Fallone

Remember the well documented lies and sleazy tactics that Michael Gableman used against incumbent Justice Louis Butler in 2008?  Apparently some right wingers are trying once again to pull a "Gableman" but this time they are doing it to Supreme Court candidate Ed Fallone.

They tried to make Justice Butler, the state's first African American on the high court, own all of the horrible crimes of a former African American client. Apparently they are now trying to use the misdeeds of the former leader of the Latino Community Center against Fallone. Incidentally Fallone would be the state's first Latino justice on the high court if he is elected next month.

So it is a different race, with different circumstances but it appears that some of the same sleazy tactics are being employed now that were used back then.

The story in short: A former gang leader emerged from prison and by all early accounts tried to reform both himself and his community on Milwaukee's near south side.  In 1999 he created an LLC which eventually became the Latino Community Center.  It was initially so effective at reaching out to the youth of the area that he gained a very impressive amount of community support.  He also gained a very prominent list of board members including Ed Fallone.  Unfortunately the founder of that community center eventually lost his way and acted recklessly in many ways and with tragic consequences.

Apparently the right wing special interests in Wisconsin have been running a sleazy radio ad trying to make Ed Fallone own the tragic decisions of this former community center founder.  If you were to believe their opportunistic attacks you would think that Fallone himself was a criminal gang leader and perhaps that is the real point of the ad in the first place. However, at the time everyone knew about the background of the center's founder but they also believed in and thought that they were witnessing an amazing story in redemption. Who could possibly blame them or be against that?

So I'm assuming that the sleazy attacks stem from the misinformed idea that Fallone should have somehow earlier divined the founder's horrible personal decisions that came about in 2001.  But to think that you have to totally ignore the actual timeline of events along with a bit of reality.

From all accounts it wasn't until 2001 that the founder started going back in the wrong direction in his personal life.  One of those bad decisions included him developing an inappropriate personal relationship with a worker at the center. That worker ended up pregnant with twins and things went very quickly and tragically downhill from there.  On October 29, 2001 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a story detailing all of these horrible things and two days later the Latino Community Center board accepted the founders resignation.

So apparently critics are suggesting that 2 days was too long to fire the founder or they are upset that Fallone and the other board members failed to properly employ ESP or some other unconventional method to learn about his personal life and private activities. Even if they believe the latter it should be noted that most of the downhill slide of this situation happened very quickly over the course of months.  However I find both of the above options ridiculous and that is why I am convinced that the motivation isn't really so complicated.

The right wing is simply trying to misuse another horrible tragedy to pull a "Gableman" but this time they are trying to pull it on Ed Fallone.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sorry But City of Milwaukee Residents Do Matter

During the current Madison-based effort to undermine the Milwaukee County Board, I've repeatedly heard supporters using many of the exact same talking points.  One of the talking points that has repeatedly gotten under my skin is the touting of referendums in 10 suburbs. Supporters have used those votes to strongly suggest if not outright state that Milwaukee County voters support their agenda in a big way.  That particular use of the referendum results are totally disingenuous in my opinion. 

Let me be perfectly clear that the views of the voters in those 10 suburbs most certainly do matter.  But let me also be perfectly clear that the largest constituency in Milwaukee County (speaking strictly numerically) matters much more.  And that group of people would be City of Milwaukee residents. Yet you wouldn't know it based on some of the declarations that we hear from the professional spin machine that has been retained to push this special interest agenda.

Today the latest MU Law Poll was released.  In it they reported that folks in the City of Milwaukee favored a full-time County Board 54-37%.  That double digit level of support in what is obviously the most population dense portion of the county most certainly does matter.  It would be nice if supporters of the special interest legislation would acknowledge that simple fact before declaring victory. But perhaps they are cynically banking on the assumption that City of Milwaukee residents wont be engaged enough.

A few parting points:

  • I'd expect that the numbers in those referendums would have been much different if they included all of the broad and sweeping measures found in AB 85. However the supporters of AB 85 wont let Milwaukee County voters have a real say on the entirety of the bill before it is actually forced upon us. 
  • If you would have had a similar referendum in those same 10 suburbs asking about reducing just about any elected officials pay to a part-time level I suspect that you would have found support for it.  So to pretend that this is some damning piece of data against Milwaukee County supervisors in particular is again disingenuous at best. 
  • Not only has the 10 referendum talking point been repeatedly used but even extremely weak items like a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online poll has been circulated by supporters of AB 85. Here is an example from Sen. Lena Taylor's records. I suspect that it was sent to her from the GMC front group Smart Government Inc.  Please don't tell me that anyone is making a decision about this legislation based on such weak and worthless info.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why is my senator talking to Michael Grebe?

Last week I wrote about the fact that we need more light to shine down on this carefully coordinated effort to undercut and otherwise weaken the Milwaukee County Board.  In that blog posting I mentioned that I filed a number of open records requests with public officials that are pushing and supporting that agenda.  I noted that the only person that I had not heard from regarding those requests was my own state Senator Lena Taylor.  Within 24 hours of that blog posting I received notice second hand via Twitter that her office was sending the records that were responsive to my request.  I did in fact receive those records last Thursday and some of them are now prompting me to ask a few additional questions.

One of the records that I requested from Senator Taylor was her official calendar.  In that calendar there were a number of things that stood out including in the last days of January.  I've included a copy of that page HERE.

You will notice that on January 29th from 2:30-3:00 p.m. Senator Taylor was scheduled to participate in a conference call with Michael Greebe [sic].

Most readers probably know about Michael Grebe already but here is just a small amount of background:
  • Campaign co-chair for Scott Walker
  •  Past Chairman and current board member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee (the business group that is pushing the Milwaukee County legislation in Madison).
  • President and CEO of the mega right wing funding Bradley Foundation
  • Former Chairman and CEO of Foley & Lardner (GMC front group "Smart Government" currently employs lobbyists from this firm)
  • Former General Counsel to the Republican National Committee
  • Former Chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin
Our friends at One Wisconsin Now describe Grebe as the "Money Badger" in part because in his capacity at the Bradley Foundation he has helped to bankroll nearly every right wing outfit that exists in Wisconsin and across the nation.  Consider just some of the following:
  • Americans for Prosperity
  • The MacIver Institute
  • American Majority & Media Trackers
  • Helped fund the Einhorn Family Foundation (which purchased the voter suppression billboards that were erected all over Senator Taylor's district) 
  • Wisconsin Policy Research Institute
  • True the Vote
  • Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity 
Given this history, I as a constituent would like to know why on earth Senator Taylor would be on a conference call with Michael Grebe?  Secondly I would like to know more about her call with Governor Walker two days later.  Maybe there is a logical explanation but I certainly can't think of one on my own.
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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Shine More Light on Milwaukee County Legislation

Newly elected Representative Joe Sanfelippo had barely found his new state office and he was already announcing a list of fully formed legislative proposals to turn everything upside down on his former colleagues in Milwaukee County government.  Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and his various operatives rushed as if on cue to support the new Republican state legislator.  And surprising exactly no one it was quickly revealed that the elite business interests running the Greater Milwaukee Committee already had a small army of lobbyists, a front group and a spin machine in place.

Given the early and well coordinated effort it was no surprise that supporters began pushing all of the same talking points and reading from the exact same (sometimes very disingenuous) script. I don't personally have a problem with a real and actual discussion about policy in Milwaukee County but I don't like the outside meddling that seems to be built into the DNA of this latest effort.

Sorry but I'm just not a fan of the elaborate behind-the-scenes plotting and planning by big dollar benefactors and big business special interests. I'm not a fan of fully formed front groups being hatched out of nowhere and slick PR firms being retained to "educate the public" long before most of us even know exactly what is being proposed or the possible consequences.

So if we in Milwaukee County are going to be forced by Big (state) Government and others into having this discussion then it should at least be a full and an open one. We should not simply have to settle for carefully formulated talking points and the well funded efforts of a few elite special interests and individuals.

For my part, I want to understand more about what exactly may have brought us to this point.  What has been going on behind the scenes and who has been involved in all of this careful and expensive planning? What does that information tell us about the possible motives at the root of the effort itself?

To hopefully find some of these answers I've filed a number of open records requests with a variety of public officials that have publicly forced this issue in the first place.  Most of the officials have at least initially responded to my records requests and some with a notable and welcome amount of speed.  Time will tell, as I work with them to obtain various public records, exactly how open each elected official will be to such scrutiny.

After three full weeks only one public official has failed to even acknowledge receipt of my open records request and sadly that is my own state Senator Lena Taylor (See UPDATE Below). It is still a mystery to me as to why she was so quick to sign on to this legislation.  There certainly is no groundswell within her district for this legislation, so I am very interested in reviewing the public records that I've requested from her.  Some have already speculated about her quick support of this legislation but I am withholding judgement at this point.  However doing things like ignoring open records requests into the matter will only feed those kinds of theories.

Those that are pushing this Milwaukee County legislation the hardest should be the first to allow the sun to shine on all aspects of it.  Only then can we have the full and substantive discussion that Milwaukee County residents actually deserve.

UPDATE: I just was informed second hand via Twitter that Senator Taylor is putting the records responsive to my request in the mail today.  If this is true I appreciate it very much and look forward to getting them.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Micromanaging Milwaukee from Madison

The primary reason given for undercutting the Milwaukee County Board has been the oft repeated allegation about micromanagement.  I find it remarkable that Republicans and their allies complain about alleged micromanagement within the same local level of government while at the same time actively trying to micromanage the City and County of Milwaukee from Madison. 

Gone are the days of local control conservatives.  The crowd running things in the Capitol and their sugar daddies in big business have been very busy trying to micromanage local governments, especially and almost exclusively in Milwaukee. You can really take your pick of any number of examples:
  • Before Scott Walker even took office he threw away millions of dollars in investment made by the City of Milwaukee to develop the former Tower Automotive site. He did that when he essentially chased the anchor tenant of the development, Talgo, out of the state along with future jobs.  And NOW Scott Walker lectures about economic development in the city? He who was an absolutely horrible steward of Milwaukee County's biggest economic development prospects? 
  • Scott Walker, his allies and appointees have been trying their best to overrule and otherwise derail the City of Milwaukee's streetcar project.  There is no groundswell of real opposition to this project within the City of Milwaukee and the vast majority of Milwaukee's elected officials and many business leaders support it.  But these "local control" conservatives apparently think that they know better judging from their high seat in state government. At this point it appears that they will ironically try to use state government bureaucracy to kill it. If that fails don't be surprised to see more tailored legislative action that trumps local control in Milwaukee. 
  • Now they want to target policy involving the single largest item in the City of Milwaukee's budget - police and fire. Yes, those two things alone represent 60 percent of the city's expenses but apparently the state government doesn't trust the principle of "local control" enough to allow the city to decide its own policy on residency.  Scott Walker has political favors to continue to bestow for services rendered, so he and his allies have no interest in the long abandoned traditional tenants of their Republican faith. Apparently they don't mind replacing it with "the ends justifies the means."
  • Regarding the Madison-based decision to remove power from the Milwaukee County Board, the real intentions were made clear very early.  The micro-managers from Madison were originally planning to quickly ram through legislation to accomplish their goals and that of their special interest beneficiaries. Although they have since bobbed and weaved, there wasn't and there still isn't any real interest in an actual substantive local debate about this local issue.  They intend to force us to live with their big plans no matter how much money they have to spend on "educating the public" or dispatching armies of lobbyists.
So please kindly spare us your phony concern about alleged micromanagement and disputes within a local unit of government while you simultaneously attempt to micromanage nearly every major issue in both the City and County of Milwaukee.