Wisconsin GOP – no sense of irony

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At first glance so many of the partisan squabbles brought up at the state capitol seem so utterly meaningless politically. The lawsuit against Dan Kapanke because his staffer used a personal email for work; the Democrats’ objection to Justice Department officials lobbying against agency cuts; now the Republicans charge against Gov. Jim Doyle’s train contract, which was apparently not subject to a competitive bidding process. Every time you read the stories you’re waiting for the real story, the corruption, the juicy revelation of sexual misconduct…and you’re always disappointed.

Last month Gov. Jim Doyle announced the state would buy two trains from a Spanish manufacturer for $47.5 million without a competitive bidding process. The move was legal because state law exempts passenger rail contracts from normal bidding rules.

Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, said he wants to close that “loophole.”

“There is no way the governor should be able to negotiate and sign such a large contract without using a competitive bidding process,” Cowles said in a statement.

That’s the name of the game in state politics. Throw everything you can at your opponent and hope to God something sticks. Hope that the charge leaks down to those people who fashion themselves civically-minded enough to vote in a state election but don’t have the slightest idea what state legislators do. “I usually vote Democratic, but I heard something about Doyle giving out contracts to a Spanish company or something…it was sketchy.”

I remember the 2006 election, when, despite being doomed to lose from the beginning, the Dave Magnum campaign accused Tammy Baldwin of being “ineffective” because of some system of ranking that came out, which, among other things, included the amount of press coverage the member of Congress got. At the Herald it was practically accepted, despite the endorsements, that Baldwin was lazy or incompetent, largely because of very effective innuendos used by Republicans in 2006.

The thing about Doyle’s train loophole, which the State Journal could have used to make the story interesting but didn’t, is that it was invented by Tommy Thompson! It was Tommy who loved the railroads so much that he couldn’t bear to have them bogged down in a competitive bidding process (I’ll need verification for that bit of analysis). It was the REPUBLICANS that put this in and now they’re outraged that somebody would take advantage of it. Moreover, it seems Doyle might not have even exploited the loophole as viciously as Thompson would have wanted him to. There was no competitive bidding because the other train companies didn’t seem too interested in providing competition.

But Doyle and aides have defended the deal because only Talgo gave the state a formal response to a request for information and because the Spanish firm, Patentes Talgo, has committed to creating 80 jobs in Wisconsin.

I don’t necessarily buy Doyle’s story, but the irony is that if he wanted to, the governor could have flaunted the no-bid with pride – “I looked into the soul of that CEO…I knew he was one of the good guys. There was no point for competition.”
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