Turn Out the Vote For Tom Barrett in Wisconsin on June 5

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

(Update – 5/25/12 – Polls released since this post was initially written show that the Tom Barrett’s campaign for Governor is now a dead heat and Barrett made a compelling case in support of his campaign and against Scott Walker in the first debate on Friday evening.  At the same time, the “John Doe” probe of whether people in Scott Walker’s office when he was Milwaukee County Executive used taxpayer money to do political work appears to be getting closer to Walker himself.  All of this makes even clearer that turning out the progressive vote is the key to electing Barrett and recalling Walker on June 5).

On Tuesday, June 5, voters in Wisconsin will have the opportunity to elect as Governor Tom Barrett, the pro-jobs, pro-worker, pro-women’s rights, pro-public education, and pro-environment  Mayor of Milwaukee who fits in Wisconsin’s proud  tradition of honest, progressive government.  This opportunity comes after approximately 1 million Wisconsin voters signed a petition to recall the current GOP Governor, Scott Walker, whose divisive attacks on public employees, attempt to restrict voting rights, and cronyism triggered a groundswell of protest and opposition throughout the state.  The resulting recall efforts have already achieved a lot, including ending the conservative majority in the State Senate, but now is the time to restore Wisconsin’s progressive tradition by electing Barrett for Governor, Mahlon Mitchell for Lieutenant Governor, and the Democratic State Senate recall candidates.

Recent polls have suggested that Walker has a small, 50-45%, lead over Barrett.  But there are two important points that show that such small lead can be overcome by Barrett.  First, the polls have barely budged since March, despite Walker having a 25 to 1 funding advantage.  This suggests that the flood of mainly out-of-state money trying to prop up Walker can be defeated. Second is that Walker’s narrow lead results from not from higher overall support, but from a higher level of enthusiasm among Republicans than Democrats.  As explained recently in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

There are signs Walker is benefiting from an enthusiasm gap. In a new Marquette poll, 91% of Republicans said they were absolutely certain to vote in the June recall election, compared to 83% of Democrats. In Marquette’s last three polls, Republicans have expressed more certainty about voting in June than Democrats

Another clue about intensity can be found in the partisan makeup of voters in recent surveys. In a typical Wisconsin poll, Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans. But in a poll released Tuesday by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic survey firm, Republicans out-numbered Democrats 35% to 28% (with independents at 37%).

This helps explain Walker’s 50% to 45% lead over Barrett in the PPP poll taken May 11-13. Walker actually trailed Barrett slightly among independents in the poll (42% to 49%), but with Republicans outnumbering Democrats — and 90% of voters in both parties voting along party lines — Walker led overall.

What these numbers suggests is that the Barrett can win the recall election so long as our voters get as enthusiastic as the Republicans are.  In other words, now is the time to get fired up about sending a message that Walker’s divisive, Koch Brothers’ agenda is not going to prevail in Wisconsin.  Here are three reasons to get enthusiastic about voting for Tom Barrett to recall Scott Walker on June 5:

1. Barrett Would Restore Wisconsin’s Progressive Tradition – As John Nichols has explained at The Capitol Times:

Barrett’s congressional record was that of a progressive who voted against George Bush’s war with Iraq; who broke with his party leadership to oppose the Patriot Act; and who was a champion of public education and a defender of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. His record closely paralleled that of former Sen. Russ Feingold on those issues and on economic matters — especially free-trade votes, where he joined the Wisconsin Democrat in opposing wrongheaded agreements that were proposed by both Republican and Democratic presidents.

As the mayor of Milwaukee since 2004, he has built a record as a pragmatic urban leader. Some of his particular positions — with regard to control of the Milwaukee schools and union contract negotiations — have disappointed progressives. But his record is generally that of a humane and effective big-city executive. His recent battles with the Walker administration over the governor’s diversion of federal mortgage relief money away from hard-pressed neighborhoods showed Barrett at his best. In fact, it reminded a lot of Wisconsinites of why they wanted this guy to be their governor.

 

2. Scott Walker Has Promoted a Reactionary “Divide and Conquer” Agenda – Coming into office with the promise to create 250,000 new jobs, Wisconsin under Walker was instead the only state to have a statistically significant job loss with 23,900 jobs disappearing between March 2011 and March 2012. That poor performance is likely because Walker was too busy pushing an ideological agenda that is straight out of the right-wing playbook.  Walker’s tenure to date, in conjunction with a GOP-controlled General Assembly until recently, has led to, among other things, a voter ID law designed to suppress voting among students, the elderly, the poor, and others; repealed the Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which helped prevent gender wage discrimination; promoted and signed a budget cutting education funding by $1.85 billion while giving corporations another $137 million in tax cuts; and eliminated the right of public employees to collectively bargain over their wages, benefits, and working conditions.

 

It has recently been revealed that Walker’s initial attacks on public employee unions are just the first stage in his effort to turn Wisconsin into a right-to-work for less state through a “divide and conquer” strategy.  In a video of Walker speaking with billionaire Diana Hendricks (who later donated more than $500,000 to Walker), Walker made clear that this strategy was designed to both undermine unions and to turn Wisconsin into a red state.  It is also clear that Republicans in the state legislature want to go further and pass a right-to-work for less law.  If you think Walker has been bad his first two years in office, he would almost certainly be worse were he to win the recall election.

 

3. Scott Walker is Doing the Bidding of Out-of-State Billionaires and Millionaires – the agenda being pursued by Walker is similar to the reactionary agenda being pursued by GOP Governors in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and other states. And the reason for that is that these Governors are all being funded by folks like the Koch Brothers, and assisted by corporate right-wing groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”).  With regards to Walker, he has received 74% of his funding from out-of-state, including $1.3 million from attendees of a Koch Brother-organized summit of right-wing fundraisers, $250,000 from Sheldon Adelson, who was previously the primary financier of Newt Gingrich’s Presidential run, and $104,600 from Foster Friess, who became infamous when he explained that birth control should involved women holding aspirin between their knees.  In addition, the Koch-brother funded Americans for Prosperity has already spent $1.5 million on behalf of Walker, while the Republican Governor’s Association has spent $3 million trying to support Walker after receiving a $1 million check form David Koch. It is clear that Walker has and would continue to answer to out-of-state billionaires and millionaires, not Wisconsinites, if he were to win the recall.

 

The good news is that despite the meddling of out-of-state billionaires and millionaires, this election is winnable for Barrett. It is up to us progressives to put him over the top by getting involved.  If you live in Wisconsin, you can help out by signing up to volunteer, sending in a contribution, and writing a letter to your local newspaper editor.  And even if you don’t live in Wisconsin, you can help out by contributing to Barrett’s campaign, making sure that any friends or family you have in Wisconsin vote for Barrett on June 5, and by sharing this post with your social networks.

If I Had to Pick a Democratic Candidate for Wisconsin Governor

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

by Eric Brehm

Just over two weeks ago, it was announced that organizers in the state of Wisconsin had collected over 1 million signatures to force a recall election against incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker.  While those signatures are still being verified for authenticity, it seems quite likely that enough of them will be upheld to trigger that election.  For those of us on the left who have collected signatures and blogged and rallied and done what could be done to force a recall, you can imagine that this news was most welcome to our ears.

Still, there is more to be done.  The problem, of course, is that merely triggering a recall election for Scott Walker will not be enough – to truly put forth a Progressive voice in Wisconsin, another candidate has to beat Governor Walker in that election.  As you might imagine, a question on the minds of a variety of Progressives throughout Wisconsin is:  Who should that candidate be?

The truth is, the Wisconsin Progressive Legacy has been a bit tarnished of late.  Yes, we’re the state of Bob La Follette and William Proxmire, and of course we on the left have much of which we’re proud.  But lately,Wisconsin seems to be veering in a far more conservative direction – we’re now also the state of Scott Walker and Paul Ryan.  So is there a candidate out there who upholds that Progressive tradition?  And better still:  Can they win?

Four candidates are repeatedly mentioned as being potential opponents to Governor Walker, and the purpose of this post is to introduce you to those four.  As of this writing, not all of them have decided to run, and I’m quite certain that before all is said and done a few Democrats will decide to run that are not included on this list.  Still, we have to start somewhere, and so here they are.

It should be noted that for each of the four candidates listed here, a recent poll from Marquette University Law School suggests that Scott Walker has an advantage over every single one.  Personally, I am not always as enchanted by polls as some others seem to be, but in fairness I’ll report those poll findings so that the reader knows what they are.

I present them with what I view to be pros and cons, but I wish to stress that the pros and cons are often the byproduct of nothing more than my own opinions.  Based on the title of this post, you know that I have a favorite, but if you live in Wisconsin, please research any potential candidates for yourself, and make up your own minds.  Always remember:  There is nothing so dangerous to neo-conservatism as an educated voter.

Kathleen Falk, Former Dane County Executive                   

Pros:  As of this writing, Ms. Falk has the best chance of being the Democratic candidate for governor, simply because she is the only one who has declared her candidacy.  She is familiar with politics in Dane County (where Madison is located, for any readers that are out of state), having served as Dane County Executive from 1997 to 2010, when she resigned the position.  Prior to that, she worked in the Wisconsin Department of Justice, serving as Assistant Attorney General.  She was born in Milwaukee to a middle-class background and has worked successfully with unions in Dane County.  She also possesses one quality that I like in potential candidates, and that is she does not hold a current political position.  If she runs and wins, so be it; but if she runs and loses, she can fade quietly into the background without having that label hanging around her neck.

Cons:  While I give full credit to Ms. Falk in that she has often been elected to local Dane County positions, her record on winning state-wide elections is not the best.  In 2002, she became Wisconsin’s first female gubernatorial candidate from a major party, though she lost the primary to Jim Doyle.  In 2006 she defeated the incumbent Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager in the primary election, but ultimately lost the general election to current Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.  The Marquette University poll referenced above shows that Governor Walker currently leads Ms. Falk 49-42%, a spread of seven points, which is the second largest spread among the candidates (two others tied at six each).  However, the poll claims to have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8%, which means that Ms. Falk is within the margin of error (lower Governor Walker by 3.8 and raise Ms. Falk by 3.8, and she wins 45.8-45.2% — yes folks, it’s potentially going to be that close or closer).  My biggest con when it comes to Ms. Falk is that I just don’t think she can win.  The strike against her is that she is the stereotypical “Madison liberal” — that is, she is on the left in the left-most leaning part of Wisconsin.  She has done well in Dane County due to Madison’s liberalism, but my own personal opinion is that she will not be able to carry the whole state.  Sorry, Ms. Falk.

Tim Cullen, State Senator from Wisconsin’s 15th District

Pros:  Senator Cullen is a Democratic moderate who has now had two stints representing Wisconsin’s 15th District in the State Senate.  He has a record of bipartisanship, having been appointed to serve as Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services by former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson.  He gained some degree of notoriety as one of the “Wisconsin 14” – the Democratic State Senators who fled Wisconsin in order to delay passage of Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill.  He has stated an interest in running for the nomination, but has not filed to do so as of this writing.

Cons:  With all due respect to Senator Cullen, the question most often asked about him lately is:  ”Who?”  Mr. Cullen simply lacks statewide exposure – despite being one of the Wisconsin 14, he was certainly not the most vocal or outspoken member.  His district is in the extreme south, so much of the northern part of the state had never heard of him until this year.  To be fair, he has been asked about this, and he has responded that any candidate that opposes Governor Walker will very quickly gain exposure.  I believe that’s true, but I also believe that won’t be enough.  Others seem to agree with me — the Marquette poll shows Governor Walker beating Senator Cullen 50-40% in a head-to-head matchup, placing him outside of the margin of error.  That doesn’t mean he can’t win — if you looked at where Newt Gingrich polled a year ago, you would never believe he would be second in line for the GOP nomination.  But it does mean that he will have some significant ground to cover in a short amount of time, and I for one question whether he can do it.  Also, if he loses, he has to go back to the State Senate with that loss on his resume.  I for one hope that he decides not to file.

Tom Barrett, Mayor of Milwaukee

Pros:  Many consider Mayor Barrett to be the best candidate to oppose Governor Walker.  After all, Barrett squared off against Scott Walker in 2010, lost narrowly, and the idea is that a number of those who voted Scott Walker into office might like to have their vote over again.  A Public Policy Poll conducted January 17 showed that Barrett was the favorite among likely Democratic primary voters among the four potential candidates mentioned in this post.  Even other potential candidates have spoken highly of the Milwaukee mayor, and the truth is that in this writer’s opinion, he just seems like a nice guy.

Cons:  Despite the Public Policy Poll, Mayor Barrett already lost to Scott Walker once.  Yes, a few voters might like to change their votes, but I personally have to question if that’s enough to swing the election his way, especially when a lot more voters are going to be paying attention this time around.  The Marquette University poll has him losing to Governor Walker 50-44%, which is in within the margin of error, but doesn’t suggest a wave of remorse among the Wisconsin electorate.  As with the three other candidates listed so far, Mayor Barrett is also a candidate from the southern part of the state.  Thanks to his time in office, Governor Walker’s name recognition in the northern parts has skyrocketed, while Mayor Barrett’s most likely has not.  Also, if he loses, he becomes the guy with the record of losing to Scott Walker twice.

Dave Obey, Former U.S. Congressman

Before I get into the pros and cons of Dave Obey running, I have to reveal my own personal bias for him as a candidate.  The truth is, he’s my guy, and I will use this and other platforms to express my heartfelt wish that he would run.  I am partial to Dave Obey, and part of that is because he was my district’s representative in U.S. House of Representatives for many years.  At my own personal blog at Bang the Buckets, I wrote a piece extolling his virtues as a gubernatorial candidate way back on November 11 of last year, and I haven’t changed my mind much since then; indeed, much of the reasoning I shared there, I will share here.

Pros:  Dave Obey has a long-standing history of upholding Progressive values for Wisconsin.  He served in the U.S. House of Representatives for over 40 years, holding chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee on several occasions.  He retired from the House, and so doesn’t have the stigma that Mayor Barrett has when it comes to losing elections.  He’s a known name – he may not have the national recognition that Scott Walker has brought to himself, but he’s known in Wisconsin, most importantly because he is from the northern half of the state.  Mr. Obey’s former Congressional district stretched from Wausau to Superior, and that’s where the fight for the Governorship is going to be won.  We already know that whoever the Democrats nominate is going to do well in Madison and Milwaukee– we need a candidate that can reach people in other parts of the state.  They know Dave Obey up north.  They like him.  They voted for him to be their Congressman on 21 different occasions.  The upcoming election that I believe will be happening was triggered by recall efforts, and certain people will vote for anyone who isn’t Scott Walker.  But the election will hinge on moderates, and they won’t give a Democratic victory if it is merely a campaign against Scott Walker.  It also has to for someone, and in my humble opinion, Dave Obey should be that someone.  Like Ms. Falk, Congressman Obey is not a current officeholder — if it should come to pass that he loses, he can fade quietly back into retirement, knowing that he took one last stand for Progressive values.

Cons:  Yes, the cons exist, and the one that is mentioned most often is his age – Congressman Obey is currently in his early 70’s.  His critics say he retired knowing that he would be defeated due to his support for President Obama’s health care reforms.  And he also currently runs behind Governor Walker in the Marquette University poll, 49-43%, though like Mayor Barrett, that six percent gap is the closest of all candidates and within the margin of error.

Those cons notwithstanding, I still believe that Dave Obey is Wisconsin’s best chance to not only take back the Governorship, but also to reclaim its Progressive heritage.  If I had to pick a Democratic candidate for Governor of Wisconsin, I’d pick Dave Obey once each day and twice on Sunday.  And if any of this seems reasonable to you, I invite you to do the same.

The Walker Recall: A Victory for Democracy and Fighting Bob LaFollette

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

(By Joanne Boyer, cross-posted at Wisdom Voices)

I decided to drive from Minneapolis to Madison Tuesday to see for myself what the volunteers from United Wisconsin had really engineered with the Recall Walker efforts they began nearly a year ago. By Tuesday, it had become obvious more than the 540,000 signatures were garnered.  The question remained how many more and just how electric would Madison be on announcement day.  The forecast of snow showers couldn’t stop me.

The trip did not disappoint. As I stood in the midst of the more than 3,000 people gathered in the main meeting hall of Monona Terrace, it became obvious what the real story was.

I was treated to an incredible display of participatory democracy, grassroots organizing and individual citizen involvement at its best. Democracy is not dead.  It may have fallen asleep in the last 30 years, but the alarm clock has sounded. Yes, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will face a recall election, but even louder and stronger came the resonating sound that democracy is alive and breathing and has a chance for revival.

Before the official celebration began I talked with Bob Christofferson, who traveled from his home near Poynette to be part of the festivities.  He offered up the following:  What if there had not been a recall option open to Wisconsin citizens?

He recalled the deep anger that had risen in the early days of last February’s protests after Walker announced his union-busting legislation.  Then there was serious talk of a general strike.  Instead, the departure of the 14 Democratic state senators that denied a legislative quorum slowed the process down long enough for the talk of recall to enter the conversation.

Recall.  The incredible foresight of Wisconsin’s greatest progressive leader Robert M. (Fighting Bob) LaFollette had given Wisconsin citizens an option to stop the radical Walker agenda through a democratic, grass roots process that put power back in the hands of the citizens.  He was instrumental in getting the recall process amended into the state constitution in 1914.

Christofferson wondered:  “Without a recall process what would have happened?  Would teachers have left the classroom?  Would Teamsters have protested by driving two miles an hour down the highway?  Would a general strike have been called?”

Instead, he noted, the citizens of Wisconsin turned their anger into “The Wisconsin Way.”  Civility, dignity and respect were brought back into the conversation. A Citizens Movement was resurrected in honor of Fighting Bob.  It resulted in more than 1.9 millions signatures gathered for the recall of Walker, the lieutenant governor and four republican state senators.

Wisconsin native and national news correspondent John Nichols brought the crowd to a frenzy when he recalled LaFollette and his fight against the corporate robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th century. Nichols reminded the audience of their deep progressive roots, which were born in the rural communities over a century ago.  And, Nichols noted, it was the rural counties of Wisconsin which came through with volumes of signatures for the recall of Scott Walker.

Tuesday night they came from Oconto, River Falls, West Bend, Appleton, Oshkosh, Rhinelander, Burlington and Darlington.  For those not familiar with a Wisconsin map, I suggest you get one out and find those cities and towns.  One million signatures are not all Democrats, they are not all union members and they are not all Milwaukee and Madison signatures.

Nichols quoted liberally from LaFollette, including the following:

The recall enables the people to dismiss from public service those representatives who dishonor their commissions by betraying the public interest. These measures will prove so effective a check against unworthy representatives that it will rarely be found necessary to invoke them.

As Nichols pointed out, Walker was not recalled because he is a Republican; nor was he recalled because he is a conservative.

“There are honorable Republicans and honorable conservatives,” Nichols said.  “But no honorable official would take away collective bargaining rights.  No honorable official would take away voting rights.  No honorable official would divide a state as deeply for political purposes.  Scott Walker is being recalled because he dishonored his commission to the people of Wisconsin.  Bob LaFollette was right.”

To suggest that this recall effort was somehow driven by out-of-state influence or money, which is the right-wing talking point, is absurd.  It discredits the individual citizens who reclaimed their voices and the democratic process.  To a person, those I talked with Tuesday night expressed frustration with Walker that went far deeper than unions.

The cuts to education were high on the list from a Watertown man decked out in a cheesehead adorned with the state motto, Forward.  “I don’t belong to a union,” he said.  “But my mom was a lunch room helper in a public school and my younger sister was thinking about becoming a teacher until now.”

Others mentioned cuts to healthcare and yet others the no-bid contracts that went into place under Walker.  “What kind of money are we saving with no-bid contracts?” someone wondered.  “He’s taken money out of the hands of working class people.  They have less money to spend dining out, buying things.  And jobs are lost,” said yet another.

“Never Before,” one of the speakers boomed… “has a Wisconsin governor so compromised the economy of this state by slashing education and health care.”

“Never Again,” the crowd roared back.

The people of Wisconsin may have fallen asleep with the 2010 elections, but they woke up with a vengeance.  The question is, will the nation wake up and reclaim democracy over corporate control?

A Citizens Movement to combat Citizens United.  It remains our last great hope for our democracy.  It is the means for taking on corporate influence, special interest, money as speech.  If we as individual citizens do not unite in a national citizens movement to beat back the power of corporate control in our government, then our democracy will be lost and the prophetic words of Fighting Bob will have fallen on deaf ears.

There were no deaf ears in Madison on Tuesday. We as a nation need to follow Wisconsin’s example.

Scott Walker Needs Your Support!

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

(By Eric Brehm, cross-posted at Bang The Buckets)

I’m sure that for those outside of Wisconsin I’m beginning to sound like a broken record in my snarky comments regarding Governor Scott Walker and my reasons why he should be recalled. Maybe that’s the case for those inside Wisconsin at the moment, but I hope not — I hope that Wisconsinites are paying close enough attention to know that more attention needs to be paid.

The title of this post comes from a recent acquisition of mine. It’s a “friend of a friend of a friend” sort of thing, but someone brought me a copy of an e-mail sent by Republicans in Wisconsin in support of the governor. As I have picked on him rather mercilessly on this site, I thought it would perhaps be fair to show the views of the other side. Of course, since I have my own views, I couldn’t let them go without commenting on many of them.

What follows is a list of Republican talking points. As you might imagine, I disagree with many of them, cannot find evidence to support many of them, and think that some of them are outrageous. A lot of what happens next I attribute to the George W. Bush Administration and the handiwork of Karl Rove — the idea being that if you tell a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. Credit where credit is due: As someone who studies history, we have to admit that this happens quite frequently. We also have to admit that it is the job of responsible historians to raise questions, and so I shall.

The talking points forwarded by these Walker supporters are, following this paragraph, in normal print, or bolded when those who have forwarded the e-mail have bolded them. My own comments or concerns or questions about them with be parenthetically inserted in italics. Please make no mistake: This is not a joke, nor is it something that I am making up. This is an actual e-mail that was forwarded to a colleague of mine from those on the Republican side in Wisconsin.

The e-mail begins with a bold-print headline, which reads:

Wisconsin finally has a governor that’s getting things done correctly. He needs our support!

It continues:

If you see people asking for walkers RECALL signatures hand them a copy of this…(let’s choose to ignore the fact that Governor Walker’s name should be capitalized, and also ignore the lack of an apostrophe between the “R” and the “S” in “walkers.” I make typos many times myself, and may again before this post is done.)

EXAMPLES OF GOOD STUFF HAPPENING IN WISCONSIN:

Ashland School District – saved $378,000 on health insurance; (perhaps true, but undocumented, and how does this relate to the governor?)

Kimberly School District – saved $821,000 by dropping WEA Trust Insurance; (again, where’s your source? And again — did the Governor force the district to drop WEA? Can he be given credit for the savings?)

Edgerton School District – dropping WEA Trust, expecting to save at least $500,000;

Baraboo School District – dropping WEA Trust, expecting to save at least $660,000;

Dodgeland School District – dropping WEA Trust, expecting to save at least $260,000;

Elmbrook School District – changing health care provider, savings estimated at $878,000;

Mequon-Thiensville School District — saving $49,000 on dental insurance coverage;

Marshfield School District – saving $850,00 (sic – presume they meant $850,000) by dropping WEA Trust;

(The previous six entries are going to introduce a theme that will repeat throughout this e-mail, that is, that districts that shop around for better deals on health insurance actually find them. I have not verified these numbers — nor, may I add, has the sender of this e-mail — but it seems at least worthy of questioning just how Governor Walker managed to make it possible for districts to look for new health insurance providers. A lot of what has gone before, and a lot of what will follow, seems to be an attack on WEA Insurance Trust. But to my knowledge, there was nothing requiring a district to use WEA Trust as their insurance provider, unless you count the idea that it was negotiated into a contract, which School Boards across the state would have had to agree to in order to place it into the contract. If School Boards didn’t want WEA Trust, they could have bargained for other providers, but it seems as though they didn’t. Let’s not be too quick to blame Democrats for poor negotiations on the part of School Boards. Also: “Expecting” to save? That’s not evidence. I’m expecting to lose 40 pounds this year, but that’s exactly what I expected to do last year.)

City of Sheboygan — Mayor Bob Ryan says collective bargaining reforms will provide enough savings to make up for the reduction in state aid; (I don’t have the financials for this, and the writer does not mention the source, so this may be true. But looked at from another angle, what this says is that the state gutted funding for Sheboygan, but they managed to make ends meet by sticking it to their public sector employees.)

Wauwatosa School District — tax levy decreasing, no programs will be cut, class sizes won’t increase, thanks to the reforms in collective bargaining; (Looked at another way: Education funding decreased to the point that taxpayers see a mild decline in property tax, older teachers forces into retirement, younger and cheaper teachers mean that new hires will be asked to do more for less pay and class sizes won’t increase, thanks to Wisconsin Act 10.)

Manitowoc — Laid-off city workers may get their jobs back due to the wage/benefit reforms contained in Walker’s budget. Changes to overtime rules saving the county $100,000; (First of all: “May” get their jobs back? I “may” win the lottery if I buy a ticket, but that’s not the same thing as saying I “will” win the lottery if I buy a ticket. Secondly: Changes to overtime rules “may” mean that workers who go beyond 40 hours each week “may” no longer be paid time-and-a-half, so it “may” be possible that under Governor Walker’s “reforms” a city worker “may” be paid less for doing more work.)

Pittsville – will see a 9% decrease in the school portion of their property tax levy. “This is the first year we have not needed to short-term borrow,” stated Board President Strenn; (I have no idea if the School Board President of Pittsville is Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Strenn. But then, I have no idea if there really is a 9% decrease, nor do I know if Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Strenn actually said what was quoted in the e-mail. This is known as citing your sources, phantom e-mailer, and you failed to do so. This might be accurate, and it might not, but there is no way you have proved it to a discerning reader.)

Appleton School District – will save $3.1 million just in health insurance costs due to being able to bid out the coverage and being able to drop WEA Trust; (as previously mentioned, bidding for insurance is not uncommon, and could have feasibly happened before now; if the District failed to negotiate this in collective bargaining, that is on the District, not on the union. And again, as I will state often, any kind of source documenting these savings would be welcome.)

Racine County – inmates can now be used to perform tasks such as landscaping, painting and shoveling sidewalks. Executive Ladwig states this is a win/win for the inmates and the county. It frees up county employees for other tasks, gives the inmates a sense of value, and helps the county maintain property that has been neglected.” (The lack of a beginning quotation was in the original e-mail, and not an error in my typing. I don’t know when the quote begins, but AGAIN: A quote of this size should be cited with a source, people! Did you never have to write a research paper in high school? Even if Executive Ladwig said this, this whole entry can also be summed up as: “Yay! We get to fire county workers in order to use cheap prison labor!” If you haven’t seen The Shawshank Redemption, you should: This kind of thing can go horribly wrong.)

Believe it or not, there is still more to go in this e-mail, but my word-counter is telling me that I’m rapidly approaching 1500 words; this would turn into a behemoth if I don’t quit now, and really, what better way to take note of Governor Walker’s contributions to Wisconsin than to celebrate cheap prison labor? So I will bring you part two of this as quickly as I can. In the meantime, as the sender of this original e-mail stated, Scott Walker “Needs Our Support!” Please don’t ask why, or ask for source material, or ask any questions at all. Just do what you can to be a good Republican: Shut up and obey.

Lena Taylor – One of the Wisconsin 14 That Helped Start the Fight Against Gov. Walker’s Reactionary Agenda

Monday, January 9th, 2012

(By Joanne Boyer, cross-posted at Wisdom Voices)

It’s been almost a year since the state of Wisconsin mesmerized the nation and some say planted the seeds for what ultimately led to the Occupy Wall Street Movement that captured national headlines by the end of 2011.

In February 2011 newly elected Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker announced plans to push a union-stripping bill through the state legislature as part of his budget plan. The bill would have erased years of Wisconsin’s rich progressive political history with the stroke of a pen.  To counter this unprecedented move, 14 Wisconsin state senators made a bold and historic decision to leave the state and deny a legislative quorum.

The “Wisconsin 14” as they became known around the country – and the world – slowed down the legislative process long enough for people to better understand the significance of the bill and the huge impact it would have on many Wisconsinites. It also brought thousands of protesters to the streets, culminating in weekend rallies that topped 100,000 on several occasions.

Ultimately the legislation was passed, but the galvanizing energy generated by these Wisconsin senators is a key component that led to the Recall Walker efforts currently underway. The announcement of the recall is expected in mid January after the more than half a million needed signatures are tallied. The voice and action of “We the People” triumphed.

One of the most ardent of the state senators was and is Senator Lena Taylor, who represents Wisconsin’s 4th Senate District, which encompasses parts of Milwaukee, the state’s largest city.

“What gave me hope during that time, when (Senate minority leader) Mark Miller said we only have one option and that is to deny them a quorum, was to see the people of Wisconsin come to the Capitol…first by the tens, then the hundreds, then the thousands,” Taylor said in a recent interview.  “We stayed in Illinois and we looked at all those people and we said, ‘Oh my goodness.  We left to deny them a quorum and they have started a movement.’

“We watched in Egypt as they demonstrated, but then we watched people in Wisconsin who were saying: ‘We believe in the American dream. We believe in democracy, even in the work place.’  It was the people of Wisconsin who inspired us.

“I want to say this with as much humility as I can. I believe our leaving…it gave people an opportunity to see that we too must fight back like that – in America. I would never have thought that going to Illinois could generate that or that we would be and be a part of such a major event.”

Taylor derives her advocacy for social and economic justice from her middle class family roots in Milwaukee.  “Why do I have a passion to serve the way I do…the passion to support those who are the voiceless or the least among us?  It comes from my family, the foundation of how I grew up, learning to whom much is given, much will be required.

“It should be a given that you will help others…one shouldn’t ask if you should reach your hand out your hand to help. It’s what I was raised with and what I see everyday. My mom runs a ministry in which she helps those who are homeless. My father is an usher and actively involved in his church, and I’m happy to report that the next generation (my son) is coming up in the same mold.  We seem to have lost that over time to a sense of selfishness…It’s been too much just me, me, me…my, my, my.  I see that in the 1 percent and the 99 percent issues that we’re hearing about today. My favorite quote – from Gandhi is: You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Taylor has dedicated her life to contributing back to her community. After attaining a law degree from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, she practiced as a Public Defender for the people of Milwaukee and eventually opened Taylor and Associates Law Office, a general practice firm in her community.  Taylor still holds free legal clinics in conjunction with Greater New Birth Church in Milwaukee for those in need.

Taylor also frequently visits schools, youth development programs, and churches, spreading her message of responsible decision making, commitment to education, and ambitious pursuit of dreams.

“If you would have told me that I would be a part of such an historical event, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Taylor said recalling the flight to Illinois.  “And, if you would have told me the parallels between the fight and the struggles we are facing today to those efforts made 40 years ago with Martin Luther King and others were marching for workers’ rights, I would have said we would never be going backwards like that.  Or that we would be fighting for the same voter rights that Ezekiel Gillespie and others fought for, I would never have believed it.

“I would say my strength comes from my relationship with God. My prayer life and my faith in the people of Wisconsin is what I look to.  The people of this state have been phenomenal and relentless in their quest to say who we are. A half a million people have signed the recall petitions:  That’s not all Democrats. That’s not all people of color. That’s not all urban.

“As a woman of faith, there have been times I’ve been overwhelmed. I say to myself, I can’t believe they (the governor or the state legislature) did this or they did something else.  But what has motivated or encouraged me not to give up is realizing what the consequences of their choices would be if I chose to do nothing.  I didn’t want to be on the side of history that remained silent.”

Her hope for the future of her state and the nation goes far beyond the Recall Scott Walker efforts.  Although she cannot hide her enthusiasm at the thought of replacing the governor, she sees a bigger need to help heal the state and the country.

“What I hope for more than anything is a restoration of a bipartisan way…that we do things to get solutions to the problems we face today. Compromise is not a dirty word. It is an expectation that is demanded by the people…for the people…by their representatives.”

Promises Not Kept – Year One of Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI)

Friday, January 6th, 2012

(By Eric Brehm, cross-posted at Bang The Buckets)

It may have passed without notice for those tuned to the Iowa caucuses, but as of Tuesday, January 3, Governor Scott Walker had served as the duly-elected Governor of Wisconsin for a calendar year.

As I have said often, I don’t know the governor personally, but I don’t like some of his policies, I don’t like some of his tactics, and I don’t like the manner in which he bends his words to skew his messages. I also don’t like that a number of his supporters looks at his skewed messages as Gospel. So I’ve had it in my head to do a piece since before New Year’s about the governor’s record in the year just past.

Thankfully, because I ended up waiting for a couple of days, the governor’s office was able to help me out with this piece. Not personally — I didn’t talk to anyone there. But only two short days ago, they released “One Year on the Job” on the website for the Office of the Governor. According to the website, this shows the governor “did what he said he was going to do on a number of important items, including, but not limited to” . . . . It then provides a list of the governor’s promises and the actions taken to support those promises.

First, my thanks to the governor’s office for this article, which made this post a great deal easier. Second, I love the “Including, but not limited to” portion — what, did you run out of space? Were you thinking, “He’s done so many other things, but it’s a recall year, so we don’t want to brag.” Whatever — I’ll accept the website’s words. Governor Walker has done a lot of things, but he doesn’t want to talk about them all. If I were him, I wouldn’t either.

While I won’t address every item on the governor’s list, a few of them are worthy of comment. According to his own website, Governor Walker promised to:

Balance Wisconsin’s $3.6 billion budget deficit without increasing taxes or requiring massive public employee layoffs.

This was the first one on the list, of course. My instant, gut-check response to this statement probably shouldn’t be printed on this site, but let’s just say it rhymes with “bull spit.” Now, did the Governor’s policies require massive layoffs of public employees? Let’s be fair — no they didn’t, though he threatened that he would lay off as many as 15,000 workers if his demands were not met. What he did do was pass a bill so toxic that it forced a variety of public employees into retirement. This is purely semantics. Governor Walker didn’t lay off workers, but he got what he wanted — fewer public employees.

Then we come to the “not raising taxes” portion of things. I’m not sure this works, either. Any number of people in Wisconsin refer to his “Budget Repair Bill” as a “Teacher Tax,” but that’s not fair. In fairness, the bill also increased financial obligations on city workers, county workers, nurses, prison guards, and a host of other public employees who belonged to unions that did not endorse Governor Walker’s candidacy. Is that a tax? Again, semantics. Certain people in Wisconsin paid more in, and received less take-home pay, due to the governor’s policies — you can call it what you will.

At least one news outlet, writing about poor people in Wisconsin, called it raising taxes. The Post-Crescent stated that the governor and the legislature of Wisconsin raised taxes on Wisconsin’s poorest residents by passing legislation to reduce the amount of tax credits the poor can receive by about $56 million. The end result is that due to the governor’s legislation, poor people in Wisconsin will pay more in taxes this year than they did last year.

At the end of this first ‘promise’ comes a statement from Governor Walker himself. It states in part, “. . . it is the dream of every mother and father to leave their children a little better off, and that’s what our budget will do.” Not to quibble, but I’m sure a number of public employees would have been a little better off had they not lost an average of 8% of their take-home pay. And, if Wisconsin Act 10 (the Budget Repair Bill) is supposed to make everyone a little better off, I think it is fair to question why, when the bill passed in June, Wisconsin lost jobs every month for the five months thereafter.

In the third point on the Governor’s website, he promised to: Help the private sector create 250,000 new jobs by 2015.

Granted, this one is too soon to tell — the governor resorted to that sneaky Democratic tactic of setting a goal that will end during what would be his second term, if he lasts that long. The most telling way in which this perhaps sounds better than it is comes in the ‘Action’ portion of this entry, where it says: “After 3 years of net private sector job losses totaling 150,000, in the first 11 months of 2011 Wisconsin had a net increase of thousands of new jobs.” The ‘thousands’ in that statement is supposed to sound like a lot, of course. Now, again, let’s be fair: This is true. Statistics show that in the first 11 months of 2011, private sector jobs did increase by the thousands — by 16,300. Again, that figure takes into account private sector jobs only, and does not reflect public sector jobs lost due to the retirement of public employees who got squeezed by the governor’s Budget Repair Bill, as mentioned above.

But let’s look at the bad news. That net increase of 16,300 is certainly not one-quarter of the way to 250,000 — then again, he didn’t say he was going to help the private sector increase jobs by 62,500 per year, he said 250,000 by 2015, so he has time. Still, one of the main ways that the governor was going to do this was by enacting the Budget Repair Bill. Once again, as the link for ‘lost jobs’ above shows, jobs in Wisconsin went down every month for the first five months after the Budget Repair Bill passed. If that is a trend, that trend is disturbing.

Another promise listed on the Governor’s website is: Focus the state on the importance of literacy at a young age with the goal of every student reading at grade level by the end of the 3rd grade.

Now, is this true? Is it false? It’s neither. It’s one of those wonderful statements that politicians make that sound great, but deliver nothing. Please believe me — as an educator, I welcome any initiative that is going to get every student reading at grade level by the end of the third grade. But as an educator, I also understand better than many that this simply isn’t going to happen. It’s a worthy goal, but no task force in the world is going to accomplish this. The problem, of course, is “every” student. In the public schools, “every” student includes child prodigies who will be reading a sixth grade level at the end of third grade. But it also includes the cognitively disabled, children with learning disabilities, or emotional/behavioral disabilities. It includes children whose mothers were on drugs when they were pregnant. It includes children whose fathers are drunks who beat them for no reason. I won’t go on because I’m a bit too close to this issue, but “every” student will not achieve this, for the same reasons that “No Child Left Behind” left children behind.

The last point on the Governor’s website was this: Freeze property taxes. That alone seemed pretty straightforward, until you got to the ‘Action’ portion of the point, where it claimed, “For the first time in six years the school portion of the property tax levy went down one percent on average across the whole state.” It listed the website of the Department of Public Instruction as a source, so I will, too.

What the website doesn’t tell you is that Governor Walker slashed about $800 million from public education for each year of his biennial budget, or a total of $1.6 Billion. Now, it doesn’t take too much thought or imagination to suggest that if districts across the state are getting a total of $800 million less, OF COURSE the tax levy will go down. The issue is how you spin it. Do you spin it to celebrate the fact that taxes went down one percent for the school portion? You can. But you can also spin it to say that Governor Walker gutted funding to public education while increasing funding for charter schools, so that the majority of Wisconsin schoolchildren — and Wisconsin school teachers — are being asked to do more with less.

In the end, I will only say that a year with Governor Scott Walker has passed. You can look at his record and read of his accomplishments as much as you like. However, when those accomplishments are presented by the governor himself, please look at them with a grain of salt. In my opinion, if you’ll do that, you’ll find that many of them simply don’t ring true.