Archive for the ‘State Politics’ Category

Poor Steve Nass

March 3, 2010

Proposing to expel a guy who’s been caught drunk driving five times is about as easy as introducing a resolution supporting Wisconsin cheese. Even if you’re representing a people who loves drunk driving as much as the Sconnies do. Even if Jeff Wood’s calculations are correct, and the people of the Chippewa Falls  area don’t chase him out of office for his antics, Steve Nass has got nothing to lose by suggesting an early exit. But God forbid Nass do something uncontroversial.

Nass didn’t show up for Wednesday morning’s public hearing because he was concerned about the circus-like atmosphere created by Wood and Democratic partisan politics, his spokesman Mike Mikalsen said.

Committee chairwoman Mary Hubler, D-Rice Lake, said she would not yet schedule an executive session to vote on Wood because Nass didn’t show up Wednesday to testify or be cross-examined by Wood and his attorney.

Right, the Democrats want to use one of their members’ public humiliation and alcoholism to publicly ridicule and exploit Steve Nass.

Quote of the day

March 3, 2010

“I’ve worked for a lot of sleaze-balls. I’ve worked for some real dickheads. Scott Walker is not one of them.”

A Republican political consultant, in response to something a low-level member of the Walker campaign had told me. When I asked the person what Walker would do if he is elected, the person responded “What’s right.”

What is right, I asked. “Cut taxes.”

Russ Decker fights for Badger interests

March 2, 2010

Just in case you thought politics was nothing more than a futile game of buffoonery, punch lines and PG-rated cheap shots, the amendment offered by Sens. Russ Decker, Mark Miller, Julie Lassa and Pat Kreitlow to a bill allowing for a Marquette University license plate shows that UW students have a valuable voice at the Capitol:

Page 3, line 8: after “less” insert “Marquette University must establish that they finally have a football team.”

Page 4, line 11: insert “any vehicle with an MU license plate must have a horn that plays “On Wisconsin.”

Page 4, line 11: Any license plate supporting Marquette University are required to have the words “UW-Marquette.”

In other news, the legislature ignored calls from UW Chancellor Biddy Martin for additional funding, citing more important issues to address.

Tommy Thompson: It may happen

March 1, 2010

A weak Republican candidate and a weak Democratic year is looking more and more tempting to Tommy Thompson, according to Politico.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who served four terms as Wisconsin governor, is securing financial pledges and ramping up his outreach to longtime political aides in preparation for a possible campaign against Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.

Another longtime Thompson ally said the governor already has $200,000 in potential donations for a campaign that doesn’t yet exist.

“If you talked to me two weeks ago, I would have put it at a 50-50 shot. Now it’s at 70,” said the Thompson aide, who requested anonymity to avoid offending his friend. “He’s asking serious questions like, ‘Who would run the campaign? Who would do the fundraising? When would we announce? How much could we raise?’”

Avoid offending his friend? Give me a break –– this is a first class “leak” intended to get Republicans excited about a potential run. Politico is the first stage –– it gets the elites (contributors, consultants etc.) and politicos excited. The next stage will be the Wisconsin press, which will give the masses an opportunity to evaluate a Thompson bid.

Democrats cannot dismiss this story. People love Russ Feingold, but there is also a fair bit of nostalgia for Tommy Thompson. Popular governors are generally better-liked than popular senators, if for no better reason than more people come into contact with what they do and senators are derided as “Washington insiders.” The most recent poll shows Thompson slightly ahead of Feingold, while one done in November showed a solid lead for Feingold.

The standards for a senate race are not anywhere near as high as the ones Tommy clearly didn’t live up to during his short-lived presidential bid, but Feingold is a great candidate and a great debater, so Tommy will not be able to win on name recognition a lone. He’d have to bring it. No excuses about hearing aids or diarrhea.

Kagen proposes a change to Obamacare

February 26, 2010

Wow, I feel obnoxious using “Obamacare.” It’s been almost exclusively used for misinformation purposes, but you gotta give it to those crazy townhallers, it’s catchy.

Steve Kagen, a Democrat from Northeastern Wisconsin, is proposing an amendment to the health care bill that will require businesses selling health care products (pills etc.) to disclose all their prices on the internet.

Kagen said he first offered his proposal as an amendment to the health care bill the House passed in June. But House leadership barred amendments from being attached to the bill.

He introduced his measure Thursday as a stand-alone bill at the same time Obama was hosting a bipartisan summit on health care reform.

Kagen is a former doctor and a millionaire. He is also the most vulnerable member of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation. He won his first election 51-49 in a huge Democratic year. In his second election, which was another great year for Dems, Kagen got up to 54 percent.

Kagen’s lack of seniority is only one part of what makes the 8th district (wikipedia map of it) the best target for the GOP in November. The main population hubs are the Fox Cities and Green Bay. Traditionally Republican territory, many state politicos (mainly from the Dem side) are commenting that the “Fox Valley is changing.” Both Brown and Outagamie counties voted solidly for Obama in 2008, his margin of victory (10+) much more substantial than any margin Clinton enjoyed during the 90’s (The Fox Valley gave less support to Ross Perot than the nation).

Nevertheless, Kagen has some work to do if he wants to keep his seat. I do believe that health care reform is an issue close to his heart, but I also bet that this bill would be a great way for him to get some positive name recognition in his district. What he’s proposing is simple and popular. It’s very hard for the GOP to portray this as a government takeover of private business –– people understand and appreciate basic consumer protections. The voters of the 8th district may be right-leaning and somewhat distrustful of government, but there is not a meaningful enclave of Ayn Rand objectivists who will oppose making big pharmaceuticals post their prices online. Just in case you thought the Badger Herald editorial page was indicative of typical Wisconsin voters…

BadgerCare Basic approved

February 25, 2010

The legislature approved Badger Care Basic today, which will allow adults without dependent children to buy into a health care program for a $130 a month premium. Kathleen Vinehount (who has not responded to my email on a separate matter) was the only Democrat to vote against the bill, which passed by one vote.

Now, the program is not supposed to cost the state any money. It’s all supposed to come out of the premium. However, Republicans insist that the revenue generated from the premiums will not be enough to cover the costs of “a very sick population,” and that the state will inevitably be forced to chip in.

That may be true, but even if that is the case, it does not spell fiscal disaster. The program concerns less than 25,000 people. I will look into the numbers and try to get some stats on the average age etc. of the target population. I suspect there are quite a few young people in the program, many of whom are in good health.

What’s up with the DNR?

February 22, 2010

As the Assembly and Senate gear up to vote on overriding Doyle’s veto of a bill that will return the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources to a board (rather than being appointed by the guv), you’ve got to wonder what different forces are shaping this bizarre political debate.

On one side you’ve got the conservationists and most Democratic legislators (list of co-sponsors). On the other side you’ve got business groups, most Republicans and Doyle. As this Journal Sentinel article details, Doyle considers himself an environmentalist and boasts leadership on a number of environmental issues, including the tenuous climate change bill, but he apparently considers the political appointment of the DNR secretary so important that he switched his position on it last year.

He’s the outgoing governor. It really doesn’t benefit him anymore. Or does it? From whence did this flip-flop come? A political feud? A favor to a certain interest? An honest intellectual change of opinion (they’re rare but they do exist)?

The Republican position is a little easier to explain, but it’s nevertheless a meaningless political issue to them. They’re not going to score a lot of political points by bolstering the position of the unpopular Democratic governor. They’ll probably just do what the business interests tell them is best. The irony is that WMC and co. are coming out and saying “governors should have more direct oversight of the DNR” in justifying their position. What that really means is that some governors are anti-environment, and all governors are more open to political pressure (campaign contributions), which means that the bureaucrats they appoint will be less interested in doing their jobs than in doing what’s politically popular.

Therefore, I support the board-appointed DNR secretary for the exact opposite reason. Because I see the environment as perpetually threatened, and because I see the public as underestimating that threat, I would prefer a committee of professionals play a larger role in environmental and land-use policy in the state. If politicians wish to tinker with day-to-day policy, it’s a little bit harder.

Any thoughts?

Squeaky Clean Wisconsin strikes back

February 19, 2010

Political Science 203 — state government — freshman year. It was the last poli sci class I took until this semester (my last), when I decided to take a course on game theory to fulfill a math credit.

I remember Prof. Dennis Dresang starting his discussion of Wisconsin government by saying that the Badger State used to be called “Squeaky Clean Wisconsin.” Outsiders joked that only naive nimwits would construct a government so straight-laced and square as that found in Madison. Silly Sconnies.

Of course that all changed. At the time Dresang was giving that lecture the former Speaker of the Assembly had been convicted of misuse of state resources in what was part of a far-reaching scandal in state government. Dresang contrasted that with a “scandal” from his day: The son of a legislator making personal calls from his dad’s office phone. Misuse of state resources.

But you got a glimpse of squeaky clean ‘Sconzin yesterday, when the Department of Transportation announced that it was at fault for providing free food to residents at a town hall meeting on…nobody actually knows because the only people there came for the delicious fish fry.

By the way, it is Friday. There are fish fry deals a plenty all over town. The Orpheum, Nick’s, Wando’s –– those are just the ones I’ve seen in the last day.

What is really in the payday loan bill?

February 17, 2010

Democrats in the State Assembly just passed a bill that, with the signature of the governor, will finally drive capitalism out of the state of Wisconsin.  At least that’s how the Republicans and payday lenders want you to see it.

Here’s what it really consists of:

  • A requirement that payday lenders inform clients of the total cost of the loan, including fees and the annual percentage rate (APR).
  • A requirement that lenders give clients a brochure (written and provided by the Department of Banking) with basic information on payday loans and the consequences that result from a default.
  • A requirement that lenders inform customers that they have the right to rescind the loan by the end of the next business day.
  • Loans can no longer accrue interest after the loan maturity date.
  • Lenders cannot accept collateral that exceeds the principal of the loan plus the finance fee.

In some ways, it is a radical piece of legislation. Imposing any kind of regulation on an industry which has never faced any regulation in the past is rather significant. But these regulations are so intuitive that their passage signifies nothing more than the Democrats’ realization that the story about their leader’s relationship with a payday loan lobbyist had to be killed before average voters started to connect the dots.

Once upon a time, Mike Sheridan supported a 36 percent interest rate cap on payday loans. Then he decided it was a silly idea. Then he blamed payday loan lobbyists for rumors that his caucus was going to oust him. Then he announced he was dating a payday loan lobbyist.

Buy your salvia now

February 17, 2010

It looks like the state of Wisconsin is about to take a step backwards on drug policy. Yesterday the State Senate approved a ban on Salvia divinorum, a mild hallucinogen that many head shops sell. All that is left is Gov. Doyle’s signature.

The Senate passed a Democratic-authored bill that prohibits the manufacture and distribution of Salvia divinorum. Violators would face up to $10,000 in fines.

This just goes to show that ignorance on drugs will always lead to unnecessary and even harmful regulation. Salvia is the most innocuous drug on the market –– I would even argue that it could be beneficial in offering recreational drug users a briefer alternative to more time-consuming hallucinations. Although responses to Salvia differ, the hallucination rarely lasts more than about 10-15 minutes.

I will have more reporting on this in the near future. I am going to try to get a statement from the mayor (whether he wants to weigh in on state affairs or not) and try to talk to the chief sponsors of the bill.

For right now: Salvia is available at Knuckleheads on State St.