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“Extraordinary Session” Friday Night in Madison

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Monday, 09 November 2015
in Wisconsin

wisconsin_Speed and secrecy was the game plan Friday night in Madison as the Senate debated two bills that made significant changes to campaign finance laws and the election and ethics watchdog agency. The bills that finally passed in the wee hours of Saturday morning open the spigot for campaign money and rendered the watchdog toothless and blind.


MADISON - It was Friday night at 5:00 pm.

Most people were leaving work and looking forward to the weekend. Maybe they headed to see friends and family at the fish fry or watch the prep football playoffs.

At that same hour, Senators received details on two very important bills. Legislation that rewrote laws related to elections, campaign finance, lobbying and the ethics of elected officials.

Leaders kept details about changes to the bills secret until the last minute. Details we had not seen; the press had not read; no member of the public had an opportunity to provide comment.

By 7:00 pm, the Senate debate on the two bills began. Final Senate passage happened before the sun came up on Saturday morning. Most Wisconsinites did not hear the debate or see the vote. No TV news cameras observed the Senate. Most reporters had gone home. Senate galleries were mostly empty.

Few realized what happened and Senate Republican leaders wanted it that way.

GOP leaders called an “Extraordinary Session”: extraordinary because the regular fall floor period for final passage of legislation expired the day before.

Senators waited in Madison all week for details of which bills would be up for a vote and how those bills might be amended – changed – before the Senate vote. But, those details didn’t emerge until the sun went down, most of the press had gone home and Wisconsinites were enjoying the start to their week-end.

Big changes were on the way to campaigns and elections. Changes most people would not like – nastier, untruthful campaign ads, shadowy out-of-state groups buying more ads, and less sunlight on campaign donations. A newly created partisan, gridlocked commission would oversee ethics, lobbying and elections. More opportunity for secret deals in the dark.

Democracy needs sunshine. Wisconsin campaign laws should shine light on who donated to whom, when, how much and where that person worked. Groups that want to influence your vote should be required to say where they got their money and how they spent it. Elections must be fair and lobbying transparent.

Laws passed after dark keep voters in the dark. Legislation moving at warp-speed usually means something bad. Friday night in Madison there was certainly enough confusion among Senators about what the bills did and didn’t do which served as a warning that we didn’t know all the answers.

But, slowing things down to get answers and represent voters was not something on the mind of GOP leaders.

It was almost 11:30 pm.

“I didn’t hear a single word about what we’re going to do to help a voter cast a more informed vote,” said Senator Janet Bewley. “But, instead, they [voters] are going to be buffeted by a fire hose of bad information; too many campaign ads, mail, phone calls… This is madness. And it has nothing to do with voters.”

It was now after midnight. The Senate had only begun debating the dismantling of the Government Accountability Board (GAB) – the nonpartisan judges that oversee elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics.

Most of the press had gone home. All who remained was a political news service and a single reporter from the local college newspaper.

Supporters of the bill provided no hard evidence to justify dismantling nonpartisan oversight of elections, campaigns and ethics.

Exasperated, the longest serving state legislator in the United States, Senator Fred Risser stood up. He asked the bill’s author, “You just don’t like this agency?”

It was now almost 2:00 AM Saturday morning.

Senator Mark Miller implored the bill’s author. “GAB rose out of the ashes of one of the greatest political scandals our state has faced; created in an equally bipartisan bill. But this bill was created in the dark, brought forth at the last minute. How can we be sure this legislation has the interest of the public at heart?”

When you do not want the world to pay attention to legislation that is not in the public’s best interest, you pass it in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

Speed and secrecy: that was the game plan Friday night in Madison.

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What happened to the maverick spirit in Wisconsin politics?

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
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on Monday, 09 November 2015
in Wisconsin

WI RecoveryMADISON - The answer is asking the right questions.

I distinctly remember a strong independent streak. I remember when there were Republicans who supported abortion rights and Democrats who were anti-abortion. I remember a Republican in a red vest who signed the nation’s first statewide gay rights law more than 30 years ago. I remember a famously frugal Democrat who lampooned wasteful government spending. Now your average politician does whatever wealthy donors want for fear of losing their financial backing and whatever party leaders demand for fear of being punished with a primary election opponent.

How did so many of us come to see teachers as public enemies?Whenever a teacher told my parents I messed up in school, they always took the teacher’s word over mine. Always. Behind every story of a life well lived, there always seems to be the inspiration and guidance of a very special teacher or two. Whatever the war is, if teachers are the enemy, you are fighting for the wrong side.

How come we need so many gates and locks and walls? How’d so many scaredy cats take up residence in the home of the brave?Growing up on the farm, we didn’t have locks on our doors. After landing in Normandy on D-Day and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Remagen, my dad put down guns and swore he’d never pick one up again. If he heard sounds of trouble in the middle of the night, he’d grab a baseball bat and march into the darkness to restore order. Now we have gated communities with home security systems and video surveillance.

Why have we become so suspicious and fearful of strangers? My mom always had a fresh-baked cake or pie on hand in case someone came calling. Extending hospitality to strangers was a duty. I get why little children are told not to talk to strangers. I don’t get why so many adults think they shouldn’t either.

When and why did we become so quick to judge and eager to condemn others? We’re all human. We all make mistakes. But we grow less and less willing to cut anyone some slack. In his book One Summer: America, 1927 author Bill Bryson wrote there “may never have been another time in the nation’s history when more people disliked more other people from more directions and for less reason.” It’s starting to feel like the 1920s again in that regard.

What happened to neighbors helping neighbors? In my book Blue Jeans in High Places I write about a neighbor who put aside his own work to come to our aid as we struggled to harvest corn in muddy fields, mere weeks after his father hung himself from a rafter in a shed upon learning the bank was foreclosing on the family farm. That kind of manifestation of reverence for the common good seems increasingly hard to find in this age of greed and self-absorption.

How’d we let ourselves get so addicted to entertainment? As our collective hunger to be entertained continues to grow, our thirst for news and knowledge and human interaction is diminishing. For evidence, look no further than the evolution of television programming in America. TV feeds us what we are hungry for. Today’s menu is nothing if not an alarm bell.

What happened to saving for a rainy day, picking up after ourselves and putting things back where we found them? Somewhere along the line, a whole lot of us decided to reject those teachings from our childhood. We want it all, and we want it now. Buy today, pay tomorrow. At the same time, we are growing increasingly disconnected from the land. We don’t see ourselves as guests on this planet, we see ourselves as owners. That arrogance not only threatens Earth, it imperils the human species.

Why and how have so many of us come to feel so helpless in the face of political corruption and economic inequality, and somehow unworthy to be agents of change? Our country has faced impossibly difficult-to-solve problems and mammoth crises many times before, and past generations of Americans consistently rose to the occasion and came up with solutions and brought about a better day. They were less educated than we are, had less money than we do, and had far fewer means of communication. Yet they proved smart enough, showed themselves to be plenty enterprising, and found ways to make their voices heard. Time after time, through the sheer force of will, they made America a better country.

Why not us, why not here, and why not now?

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Republicans Open Wisconsin for Corruption

Posted by Peter Barca, Assembly Democratic Leader, District 64
Peter Barca, Assembly Democratic Leader, District 64
Representative Peter Barca is a lifelong citizen of Kenosha and Somers. He curre
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on Sunday, 08 November 2015
in Wisconsin

legislatureMADISON - When the legislature convenes an extraordinary session, it should be focused on urgent issues that will improve the lives of everyday citizens across Wisconsin.

Yet the Republican plan for their upcoming extraordinary session is to focus not on jobs, middle-class empowerment or any other issues that represent the top priorities of the people of our state, but on allowing more secretive money in politics, enabling more corporate influence over our government and increasing opportunities for political corruption.

Following this week’s announcement that Oscar Mayer is closing its plant in Madison and laying off more than 1,000 workers – and with Wisconsin stalled at 34th in the nation in private-sector job growth, dead last in new business start-ups and with a middle class shrinking faster than any other state – it is imperative that we focus our attention squarely on growing jobs. Republicans must reverse course and call for an extraordinary session to find solutions to Wisconsin’s jobs and lagging middle-class wage crisis instead of padding their campaign coffers.

When I speak to people around my district and across the state, they tell me they believe it is already far too easy for deep-pocketed individuals and wealthy special interests to buy elections in Wisconsin and control the agenda in Madison. I’m sure the public is outraged that Republicans would abuse their power to feather their own nests rather than working to create jobs or grow our economy.

Earlier this year, Assembly Democrats put forward our “15 Bills for 2015,” an Economic Opportunity Agenda designed to help create good-paying jobs, connect workers with available jobs, increase wages and rebuild Wisconsin’s middle class. Unfortunately, Republicans have refused to give any of them a committee vote or even a public hearing. The people of Wisconsin would be far better served by an extraordinary session that includes these bills or any other meaningful economic development initiatives.

While the Senate has passed their harmful campaign finance changes in extraordinary session, the Assembly has yet to act, so there is still time for your advocacy to make a difference. You can find out more about how to contact your legislator by visiting the legislative homepage at http://legis.wisconsin.gov/ or you can call the legislative hotline at 1-800-362-9472.

I strongly urge you to contact your state representatives and make your voices heard. Let the Republicans know these campaign finance proposals are wrong for Wisconsin and that we must instead take immediate bipartisan action to help create jobs and strengthen the finances of hardworking Wisconsin families.

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Strip Search Bill Strips Clothes and Dignity

Posted by Lena Taylor, State Senator, 4th District
Lena Taylor, State Senator, 4th District
Lena Taylor, State Senator, 4th District has not set their biography yet
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on Monday, 02 November 2015
in Wisconsin

handcuffsSenate Bill 248 removes the current requirement that a person be arrested or detained for at least twelve hours before they are strip searched. We have a strip search problem in Milwaukee. One attorney I spoke with has 14 cases of unlawful strip searches pending in federal court. Were their "crimes" worthy of this level of humiliation?


MILWAUKEE - Today, Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd and I held a press conference on Senate Bill 248, which will likely make its way to the Senate Floor soon. I opposed the bill when it was before me in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will continue to shine a light on the practice of strip searching non-violent temporary detainees.

This bill, as you might remember, removes the current requirement that a person be arrested or detained for at least twelve hours before they are strip searched. I absolutely hear what the Wisconsin State Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association and the Badger State Sheriffs Association are saying in support of SB-248.

I get that smaller communities have space challenges that make it difficult to hold a person in their own holding room or cell for twelve hours, and I agree that we must keep prisoners and jail staff safe. However, just as the current strip search regulations present challenges for smaller communities, SB-248 would create greater challenges in places like Milwaukee where the current regulations already create a climate full of full of abuse.

There is documented proof that we have a strip search problem in Milwaukee. In June 2013, Devin Raglan was a passenger in a car with two male friends. They were stopped by the police. When a bullet and marijuana were found on the driver, Raglan was also patted down. Next, however, Ragland was forced to drop his pants. An officer felt his testicles through his basketball shorts and when backup officers arrived, one pulled Ragland’s shorts and underwear away.

Ragland was arrested for being a minor with cigarettes—certainly a crime, but a crime worthy of this level of humiliation? I think not.

Ragland’s story is just one of many. A Milwaukee attorney I spoke with has 14 cases of unlawful strip searches pending in federal court. One involves a man who was strip searched in a Milwaukee jail. Officers thought he had drugs in his rectum so they made him attempt to defecate into a box on the floor to evacuate the drugs. I hate to spoil the ending for you, but this man had no drugs.

I understand that law enforcement in smaller and mid-sized communities feel current law is insufficient to protect them. But current law and SB-248 are insufficient to protect Milwaukeeans. I attempted unsuccessfully to amend the bill in committee and will continue to do my best to limit the likelihood you or someone you know may be unnecessarily subjected to this humiliating practice.

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Canada and Wisconsin: Friends and Partners

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Monday, 02 November 2015
in Wisconsin

canadaSen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about “Canada Day” in the Capitol. The Canadian General Consul visited with state legislators and shared information about the incredible partnership between Wisconsin and Canada.


MADISON - Did you know a third of everything Wisconsin sells to the world we sell to Canada? And more visitors come to Wisconsin from Canada than any other country?

Wisconsin recently celebrated Canada Day at the Capitol. We welcomed Canadian Consul General Roy Norton. He brought along a host of facts about Wisconsin’s relationship with Canada.

Many of us think the ideal summer vacation is going north – this summer my husband and son enjoyed a canoe trip in Canada. Fortunately, Canadians like to head south. Wisconsin welcomed over 300,000 Canadian visitors who spent $65 million last year.

Even Canadians who don’t venture to the Badger state help our economy. Canada is the largest buyer of Wisconsin products. Our state sells more to Canada than we sell to our next six foreign country markets combined. Wisconsin goods bound for Canada include paper, plastics, beverages (including alcohol), electric motors, engines and motor vehicle parts. Nearly 160,000 Wisconsin jobs depend on trade and investment with Canada.

In return, Wisconsin buys plastic, wood pulp and wood products, fertilizer, natural gas, cereals and live animals from Canada. Surprised by live animals? Spend a day at the World Dairy Expo and you will see the importance of Canadian cattle to Wisconsin. The story of dairy cattle breeding is one of Wisconsin ingenuity perfected by Canada and brought back to us.

Like Wisconsin, Canada has a long environmental history. Back in 1911, while the Wisconsin Legislature passed a host of progressive bills including workers compensation legislation and nonpartisan local elections, the Canadian Parliament created the world’s first national park system. Today Canada has a park system that would cover the landmass of the state of New Mexico.

Usually state lawmakers don’t do much by way of international relations, but a few years ago, my legislative colleagues and I worked to pass the Great Lakes Compact. This international agreement updated protections for our Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement added modern concerns including an international approach to controlling invasive species, like Asian Carp, efforts to prevent further loss of habitat and species, and efforts to consider climate change impacts on our shared Great Lakes resources.

Canada continues to do its part worldwide to slow global deforestation. Almost 30% of the world’s boreal – or coniferous- forests are in Canada. The forests absorb carbon dioxide helping to protect our planet from global climate change. Over 90% of forestland is under public stewardship for responsible habitat protection and timber management

Waterways also provide habitat. For nearly thirty years, the U.S and Canada have worked jointly to protect our waterfowl through an agreement known as the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Over the years, various partners conserved 13 million acres of wetlands and raised over $3 billion for conservation efforts

The Consul General came to Wisconsin with a message of shared democracy, gratitude, friendship and cooperation. But, he also reminded us of what Canada prefers in return.

He reminded us that half of Wisconsin’s gasoline comes from Canadian oil. His country contains the world’s third largest oil reserves. Canada would like to see the Keystone XL pipeline built. Mr. Norton told us the pipeline would take eight 100-car oil trains off the rail tracks every day.

Mr. Norton shared with us the importance of Wisconsin to Canadian railroads. Two major Canadian rail companies traverse Wisconsin every day. The lines run north to the Canadian border and then east and west across the Canadian countryside.

One popular Wisconsin program the Consul General did not like was “Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin”. He referred to this type of program as a barrier or preferences’ and said “Buy Wisconsin discriminates against your best customers. You must remember that Canada does not compete with Wisconsin on labor, health, and environmental standards. We value these as much as you.”

Mr. Norton told the Senators, “I think the ‘Buy Wisconsin’ might be aimed at the other country with a name that starts with ‘C’!”

I do not see Wisconsin stopping promotion of Wisconsin products anytime soon. But I did suggest that a “Buy Canadian” campaign might be successful in the Badger state. And I highly recommend buying Canadian winter gear.

Mr. Norton laughed and said, “Yes, we do know winter.”

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Changing How We Police Politicians Forever

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Thursday, 29 October 2015
in Wisconsin

russell-walkerWhen a political crime is committed, politicians should not have special privileges. Exempting politicians from the reach of John Doe investigations, making the GAB partisan and allowing unlimited corporate contributions are not “reforms” to make Wisconsin laws better.


MADISON - For Republicans in office right now, the John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 criminal investigations feel very personal. That’s because they involved their political leader Governor Walker and his former staff and groups that he coordinated campaign activity with. Those are undisputed facts. The reality though is that those investigations were not personal at all. They were not political at all. They were routine action taken against people that were believed to have broken the law. The case was made, by multiple judges, by multiple district attorneys of both parties to take action in these political crime probes.

As a gut reaction to these criminal investigations the Legislature is enacting a set of three bills that will change the rules for every politician forever. District attorney’s in this state have investigated and pursued criminal charges against politicians throughout our history. Recently both Democrats and Republicans were charged and convicted for political criminal activity.

When a political crime is believed to have been committed there should be equal treatment under the law, police, district attorneys and judges. Politicians should not have special privileges.

Exempting politicians from the reach of John Doe investigations, making the Government Accountability Board partisan and allowing unlimited corporate contributions is what the Legislature is enacting into law. It is not political to say that this is a Republican effort; not one Democrat has voted for these changes to the law. These are not “reforms” to make Wisconsin laws better, because if they were they would be bi-partisan. If there were a true interest in reforming the law it would be done with cooperation. People believe we don’t work together on anything, but in reality we do – almost every bill that gets enacted into law has support by both Democrats and Republicans.

It is only bills like these three; the ones that are true partisan agenda items that do not get broad support in the Legislature. Again I would offer I understand the knee jerk reaction to investigations of criminal activity against a leader, I think it is natural to defend someone you follow. But when we change the law, we change it forever. We change it for every politician that will sit on the Senate and Assembly floor in the years that stretch ahead, long after current political leaders are gone. These bills make it easier for political criminals to break the law and harder for district attorney’s to prosecute political crimes. That is simple fact. These bills leave fewer prosecutorial tools in the toolbox, partisan watchdogs rather than non-partisan policing and unlimited corporate contribution made legal.

These changes affect the political and prosecutorial process forever. For more information on any of these bills please contact my office at 608-266-66790 or 888-549-0027 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Open, clean government is good for everyone in Wisconsin

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator 32nd District
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator 32nd District
Jennifer Shilling serves as the Senate Democratic Leader and represents the 32nd
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on Thursday, 29 October 2015
in Wisconsin

walkerSen. Jennifer Shilling talks about Wisconsin’s historical bipartisan commitment to laws that protect citizen access, prevent political corruption and maintain high ethical standards in our government. In recent weeks, Republicans who control the State Legislature in Madison are pushing a package of bills that may bring this commitment to an end.


MADISON - Differences of opinion are inevitable in government. Disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over public investments, funding for schools or the fairness of our tax code are common.

Despite these differences, everyone can agree that an open, transparent and accessible government is essential to our democracy.

Throughout Wisconsin’s history, both Democrats and Republicans have supported laws to protect citizen access, prevent political corruption and maintain high ethical standards.

Unfortunately, this historical bipartisan agreement is nearing an end.

Republicans who control the State Legislature in Madison are pushing a package of bills that severely limit the ability of Wisconsin citizens to have their voices heard and hold elected officials accountable.

These bills follow the recent attempt by Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans to gut Wisconsin’s open record laws. These misguided efforts to limit disclosure of public documents were abandoned only after scores of newspapers, media outlets and citizens responded with overwhelming opposition.

Now, less than three months after the failed attempt to restrict open record access, Republicans are using an end-around tactic to rewrite long-standing campaign finance, ethics and anti-corruption laws.

The first of these bills, Senate Bill 43, was privately signed into law by Gov. Walker on October 23. This law makes it more difficult to prosecute political corruption by exempting politicians from Wisconsin’s John Doe criminal investigation laws.

A second bill completely rewrites Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws allowing corporations to contribute directly to political parties and eliminating important disclosure requirements. The sweeping changes in this bill go beyond the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision and will result in even more TV ads, robocalls and special interest attack mailers during campaign season.

Finally, a third Republican proposal dismantles the non-partisan Government Accountability Board which is tasked with overseeing state elections and ethics laws. The Board would be replaced with political appointees using a flawed model that encourages partisan bickering and gridlock rather than actual oversight.

Taken together, these bills make sweeping changes to many long-standing good government protections. This trio of bills is so troubling that one prominent government watchdog group recently called it “a massive, coordinated blitzkrieg on democracy and transparency.”

At a time when students, families and seniors across Wisconsin continue to face serious challenges, we should be focused on strengthening our state’s economy and improving financial security.

These misguided attacks on Wisconsin’s long-standing, bipartisan tradition of open and clean government are a threat to our democratic institutions and will only serve to further polarize Wisconsin’s political environment.

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Wisconsin Elections: "Don’t Kill the Referees"

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Tuesday, 27 October 2015
in Wisconsin

packers-seahawks-refs-blown-callBipartisan is not nonpartisan. When the Packers play the Vikings, we don’t want each side to appoint half the referees. Sen. Vinehout reflects on the bills in the Legislature that would change Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws, the Government Accountability Board and ‘John Doe’ process.


MADISON - “Just do the right thing,” my doctor told me. We were discussing politics. We just finished reviewing the x-rays of my new hip replacement. My doctor wanted to offer a little advice to my colleagues in the Senate.

“People want you to think of them,” he said. “They don’t want you to make decisions on what’s best for the party – whoever’s in power. They want you to make the best decision for the people.

“The problem,” I told him, “is that the interest groups are pulling the parties further and further apart. They don’t want to compromise. It’s very hard for the leaders of both parties to say ‘No’ to their favorite interest group.”

Republicans are struggling to round up enough votes to pass a bill that dissolves the Government Accountability Board (GAB) and places elections and ethics under the control of boards appointed by political party leaders. Nonpartisan judges now oversee Wisconsin’s elections, ethics and lobbying. Strongly GOP allied groups, like Americans for Prosperity and Wisconsin Manufactures and Commerce are pushing the change.

Conservative groups also support bills that open the door to political jobs in our civil service system, opt political crimes out of ‘John Doe’ criminal investigations and allow unfettered and undisclosed money in campaigns.

Nonpartisan does not mean bipartisan. When the Packers play the Vikings we don’t want half the referees appointed by the Vikings and half by the Packers. They would never agree on what was pass interference. It is the same with elections. We want the calls made by judges in pinstripes, not wearing the colors of the two teams.

‘Do the right thing’ means looking at the facts and acting to fix problems that are identified but not acting to advance one party over the other ‘just because we can’.

Nonpartisan audits did indicate lapses in the GAB’s performance. Seldom is there an audited agency that does not need improvement in performance. Even the best refs make some bad calls.

Wisconsin lived through extraordinary changes in elections in the past few years. The GAB was at the center of effecting these changes. Unprecedented recall elections happened in 2011 and 2012. During this time GAB oversaw a statewide recount; a redrawing of legislative boundaries that ended in court; an on-again, off-again voter ID that also ended in court and the enactment of 31 separate pieces of legislation affected the agency.

Overall, auditors identified a dozen problems in an agency with 154 separate responsibilities. Lawmakers themselves created some of these problems. For example, auditors pointed out the agency did not complete all the administrative rules related to the training of clerks. The GAB responded that the content of the training for clerks kept changing because of 31 new laws. When the GAB asked the legislature and Department of Administration officials for additional staff, they were told, “No”.

Wisconsin has a decentralized election process: 1,853 municipal clerks and 72 county clerks conduct elections. Keeping clerks supported takes time and staff. The GAB used federal grant money to hire staff. The grant is running out. Lawmakers in the majority on the budget writing committee did not extend the positions beyond the current budget – leaving many GAB staff to wonder about their future.

In other controversial legislation, we see a similar pattern: some problems exist, but rather than tweak the law to fix the problems, conservative interest groups are pushing lawmakers to use the opportunity to tilt the system in favor of partisan advantage.

A hundred years of civil service ought to tell us the system should not be disbanded in favor of opening the door to political positions. Wisconsin’s century and a half old “John Doe” process of investigating crimes may need tweaking. But not allowing investigations of political crimes opens the door to corruption. Couple the “John Doe” bill with unfettered, undisclosed money in campaigns – another bill waiting for Senate action- and Wisconsin will return to the big money heydays of the late nineteenth century.

No voter has told me they want that result.

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America’s True Conservatives

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
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on Monday, 26 October 2015
in Wisconsin

MADISON - Look up the word conservative. Webster’s says the word means “tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions.”

On today’s American political landscape, the people who best fit that definition are those who describe themselves as progressives or liberals. For quite a few decades now, the ones wearing those largely interchangeable labels have been principally devoted to maintaining the status quo. They’ve focused on keeping the 81-year-old Social Security program and 50-year-old Medicare system safe and sound. They’ve tried (quite unsuccessfully) to protect the worker rights established by the 80-year-old National Labor Relations Act and the 77-year-old Fair Labor Standards Act. They resisted changes to the 1933 Glass-Steagall Actregulating banking, only to see the law gutted in 1999, which they believe caused the collapse of the U.S. economy in 2007 and the ensuing Great Recession. Their calls to restore Glass-Steagall’s protective wall between commercial and investment banking have been ignored ever since.

Contemporary progressive or liberal thinking is firmly rooted in the 20th Century. Over the past several decades, the list of new ideas or policy innovations for the 21st Century coming from the left is a terribly short one. Even the signature Democratic policy reform in recent memory – the Affordable Care Act – was borrowed from the right-wing Heritage Foundation and was known as Romneycare in Massachusetts before it became Obamacare nationally.

This is not to say that self-proclaimed conservatives and progressives have swapped places, with conservative forces becoming the engine of innovation for the 21st Century. If today’s progressives seem stuck in the 20th Century, conservatives of this day and age seem bound and determined to return us to the 19th. They not only are intent on rolling back the New Deal reforms enacted on the heels of the Great Depression, but also are working in places like Wisconsin to demolish century-old laws ranging from civil service protections against cronyism and political patronage to prohibitions against corporate political spending that were inspired by the trauma of the economic depression in the 1890s brought on by the excesses of the Gilded Age.

A big problem in American politics today is the absence of true progressive impulses. We have conservatives who call themselves progressives, and retrogressives who call themselves conservatives. The right is determined to turn the clock all the way back to the 1800s in so many ways, and the onslaught-weary left is willing to settle for keeping us in the 1900s. Missing is a forward-looking vision for what America can and should become in the 21st Century and the drive to get us there.

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Vos Bill Opens The Door On “Dark Money” In Campaigns

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Monday, 19 October 2015
in Wisconsin

robinvosSen. Kathleen Vinehout focuses on the campaign finance bills currently moving through the Legislature that favor the rich and well-connected candidates, and open the door to “dark money” contributions where who wrote the check is unknown.


MADISON - “This bill strengthens democracy because it allows more citizens to participate,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told the Wisconsin State Journal. Vos is the lead author of a bill to overhaul the state’s campaign finance law.

Wisconsin was an early leader in campaign finance reforms of 1911 that limited money in campaigns and provided “rigorous penalties” including disqualifying candidates and sending them to prison. Ironically, the effort over 100 years ago was led by legislative Republicans.

Today’s Assembly leader may advocate for more democracy, but the bill he authored favors the rich and those well-connected candidates. I fear the bill’s effect will be more negative ads, less voter knowledge, more out-of-state contributions, more centralized control by legislative leaders, and an increasingly dispirited electorate.

The bill opens the door to so-called “dark money” or contributions not reported by who wrote the check. Loopholes created in the bill make it unclear which political action committees (PAC) or independent expenditure groups must report donors and campaign spending.

Unlimited campaign contributions are allowed in a host of new areas. Unlimited donations can be made to a PAC or to two new political committee types for a recall or a referendum. This makes me concerned more money and outside groups will try to affect local elections and referendum.

Corporations cannot contribute to candidate campaigns but corporations, labor unions and Native American Tribes can make unlimited contributions to independent expenditure groups, a referendum committee or a special fund for non-candidate contribution purposes run by a political party or a legislative committee (run by legislative leaders).

In addition, unlimited dollars can be moved from a political party or legislative campaign committee to a candidate. The latter increases the hold leaders have over legislative members. The former increases the power of the political party to pick candidates.

Donation limits to candidates’ campaigns are doubled. For example, the current limit for a single individual over a four-year Senate term is $1,000. This limit becomes $2,000 under Vos’ bill.

Who benefits from adding more money to campaigns? An analysis by Nick Heynen of the Wisconsin State Journal, shows that since 2008, $17.8 million in donations that reach the maximum limit were contributed to candidates for statewide office. Almost 60% of this money came from outside Wisconsin.

Donors would not be required to report their employer. This makes it difficult to track the relationship between a company that receives grants or tax credits from the state and donations of their employees to candidates.

Removed from the statute is the purpose of campaign finance laws: The legislature finds and declares that our democratic system of government can be maintained only if the electorate is informed. It further finds that excessive spending on campaigns for public office jeopardizes the integrity of elections….When the true source of support or extent of support is not fully disclosed, or when a candidate becomes overly dependent upon large private contributors, the democratic process is subject to a potential corrupting influence.

Perhaps Speaker Vos found his bill a bit in conflict with the real purpose of campaign finance laws. If he truly wants to improve democracy by increasing citizens’ participation in campaigns, I wonder if he’d join me in supporting an amendment to his bill suggested in the testimony of Matt Rothschild, the executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

In a March hearing, Mr. Rothschild cited one way to amplify the voice of small campaign donors was to use public financing to match – by five times – the donation of anyone who gave $175 or less to a candidate. This sounds like a great way to strengthen democracy.

I haven’t met a single voter who thinks we need more out of state or dark money in Wisconsin elections. Without regard to political affiliation, people think there is already too much influence on elections from outside Wisconsin.

Every donation to influence an election needs to be reported in a way citizens can see who is behind the nasty ads. Not only should groups disclose their donors, they should register every patriotic or feel good name used to influence elections.

We don’t need more dark money. We need more democracy and the best way to get that is to let the light shine in.

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Putting Political Parties Back in Charge of Elections and Ethics?

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Tuesday, 13 October 2015
in Wisconsin

republicanRepublican politicians in Madison want to replace the Government Accountability Board (GAB) with partisan appointed commissions. The GAB has received national recognition and needs to remain non-partisan. The legislation is rapidly moving through the Legislature.


MADISON - “Wisconsin is the only state with a truly nonpartisan board structure,” wrote Professor Daniel Tokaji in 2013. The Ohio State law professor hailed the Government Accountability Board as “America’s Top Model” of nonpartisan elections.

Clean elections and corruption free elected officials are goals most of us share. Yet few states have laws that truly create a nonpartisan watchdog to assure public confidence. Wisconsin is blessed to be a national leader.

“The United States is an outlier among democratic countries when it comes to the institutions charged with running our democratic elections,” Professor Tokaji wrote in the UC Irvine Law Review. He continued, “There is one conspicuous exception to the partisan character of state election administration: Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board (GAB).”

The GAB and its staff have received several awards and accolades.

In January of 2014 the Presidential Commission on Election Administration cited the GAB as a model for improving accessibility to polling places for the disabled. Their frequent and unannounced audits of polling places identified 10,488 issues for disabled voters during the study period April 2011 to April 2013 as reported in a 2014 Legislative Audit Bureau report.

In April of 2014 the PEW Charitable Trusts ranked Wisconsin third in the US for election performance. The nonpartisan group measured elections 17 different ways including ballots rejected, post-election audits, voter turnout, registration rate, waiting time to vote, online voter education materials. PEW researchers reported only Minnesota had a higher voter participation rate than Wisconsin in the 2012 presidential race. Researchers also reported Wisconsin had dramatically improved its data since 2008 – the year the GAB began operations.

These accolades are but a few received by the only nonpartisan state watchdog of elections in the United States. Adding further to the evidence of a well-run government accountability agency, the Legislative Audit Bureau recently released an analysis of complaints and investigations conducted by the GAB and found no major concerns with the activities of the agency. Auditors recommended a quicker resolution to complaints and the GAB responded with a new computer system to track complaints.

As a reward for excellent service to the people of the state, two western Wisconsin legislators, Representatives Dean Knutson and Kathy Bernier, introduced legislation to kill the watchdog and fire its long serving administrator. It is widely believed this legislation is partisan “payback” for investigations in which the GAB was involved.

The bill replaces the nonpartisan judges of the GAB with two partisan appointed commissions to control elections and ethics and creates a partisan confirmed administrator of the commissions.

Notably, the bill restricts the ability of the new commissions to initiate investigations including prohibiting any member of the commissions from submitting a sworn complaint to initiate an investigation. The bill limits money to conduct an investigation to that specified by the legislature – and makes no release of funds. The effect of curtailing access to money is to shut down investigations of illegal activities related to elections, ethics and lobbying.

Currently the GAB has access to funds needed to conduct an ethics or elections violation. The bill forces the commissions to come back to the legislature to beg for money needed to investigate – leaving the lawmakers holding the purse and, essentially, starving the watchdog.

Any current employee or investigation would be reviewed by the politically appointed Secretary of Administration who would direct the transition to the new system, deciding which employees, assets, contracts and other matters are transferred to which of the two new commissions.

The proposed law would be in place for the 2016 elections.

In less than a week the bill has gone from invitation for cosponsors to a full joint hearing – providing citizens with what is likely to be the only opportunity for testimony.

Professor Tokaji concluded his article saying, “the GAB’s experience therefore provides a ray of hope for those of us who believe that the United States should move away from its partisan system of election administration.”

The people of Wisconsin now appear to be the last ray of hope remaining to save the GAB. Please let lawmakers know you want to keep our nonpartisan system of elections and ethics. Our democracy is at stake!

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Republican Agenda in Madison Full of Misguided Priorities

Posted by Gordon Hintz, Rep. 54th Assembly District
Gordon Hintz, Rep. 54th Assembly District
Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh), State Representative 54th Assembly District, is a memb
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walkerMADISON - In August, the Marquette University Law School poll showed 60 percent of voters in Wisconsin think Governor Walker "doesn't care about people like them”. Based on the current Republican Legislature’s priorities, it is not hard to understand why.

The Legislature’s focus should always reflect challenges facing the people of our state. Based upon the Republicans’ fall agenda, those issues are 1) disbanding the Government Accountability Board, Wisconsin’s campaign finance and elections watchdog, 2) removing anti-corruption protections from civil service laws, and 3) criminalizing life-saving research that uses any cells derived from fetal tissue.

These self-serving power grabs and extreme ideology are not even on the radar of most Wisconsinites. Many of my constituents’ most common challenges have to do with insecurity over future opportunity for themselves and their families. They ask me to address the real problems that make it hard for them to get ahead. Problems such as stagnant wages, the overwhelming cost of child care, and out-of-control student loan debt.

Wisconsin’s job growth has lagged behind the nation over the past four and half years. To make things worse, many of the new jobs are in low wage positions. Low wages make it harder to afford housing, food, child care and higher education. Low wages also reduce consumer spending (one of the main drivers of the economy) and increase the need for government assistance.

Declining income is not a new or temporary problem in Wisconsin. But if many of our new jobs created are lower wage, it would make sense to consider a minimum wage increase. It has been six years since minimum wage earners got a raise in Wisconsin. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would increase wages for over half a million Wisconsin workers, the average age of which is 35 years old. Yet as many other states take action, our Republican led Legislature won’t even hold a public hearing on a bill to gradually increase the minimum wage to $10.10 over three years.

Another huge challenge for working families is affordable child care. The annual cost of infant care in Wisconsin is $10,775. This is significant considering that a single mother’s median income in Wisconsin is $23,568, while a two-parent family is $79,589. For families who depend on low and moderate-income jobs, the high cost of child care can wipe out their income to the point where it is cheaper just to stay home.

I am a co-sponsor of a bill that creates a tax credit for expenses for daycare services. Depending on income, the credit may be worth up to a maximum amount of $3,000/year if there is one qualifying individual and up to $6,000/year if there are two or more. This bill would make child care more affordable, allowing parents who want to get back to work to return to their jobs.

Student loan debt remains a massive obstacle for many former students and their families. The high cost of student loan debt has an impact on all of us. Wisconsin currently has over 800,000 people with outstanding student loan debt, which prevents many from buying a home or saving money for the future. There is a Democratic bill that would allow borrowers to refinance their student loans, providing some relief from this crushing debt. This should be a priority.

Many of the challenges facing people in our state do not have a simple answer. But these challenges deserve our attention and consideration. These issues should be priorities for our Legislature. Unfortunately, Republicans seem more interested in serving themselves than truly serving the public that elected them.

 

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New Economic Messaging Webinar Available

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
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walker-wedcMILWAUKEE - I am sure you are concerned as I am about the WEDC disaster and more broadly declining economic opportunity in Wisconsin.

I am writing to personally invite you to a special webinar to unveil Citizen Action of Wisconsin's new Economic Opportunity Agenda.

As I wrote recently in a column in the Capital Times: If we focus exclusively on the WEDC train wreck, we miss a more fundamental challenge: the lack of any serious strategy to reverse the ongoing decline of economic opportunity for working families in Wisconsin. The WEDC crackup is an opening to take a step back and consider the scope of Wisconsin’s economic challenges and solutions of the scale needed to put us back on the road to shared prosperity.

In the webinar I will discuss the depth of Wisconsin's economic crisis, and a bold new strategy to challenge the rigging of the economic system and to use our democracy to expand the middle class once again.

I hope you will join me for this critically important conversation. You can join us either by phone or webinar. We will host this event TWICE on Wednesday October 14th, once at noon and again at 6pm. Join whichever you can.

Click here to RSVP or learn more about the Wednesday Oct 14 noon webinar/conference call

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Badger Blueprint Focuses on Growth, Innovation and Opportunity

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator 32nd District
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator 32nd District
Jennifer Shilling serves as the Senate Democratic Leader and represents the 32nd
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capitol-domeMADISON - As the days get shorter and the leaves change colors, my Senate Democratic colleagues and I continue to visit with Wisconsin residents of all ages about the challenges facing our state. 

From Bayfield to Beloit, Milwaukee to La Crosse and the hundreds of communities in between – one message has been consistent: Wisconsinites want their elected officials to work together, be problem solvers and put an end to the politics of resentment. 

In response to these conversations, Senate Democrats have crafted the Badger Blueprint, a roadmap of common-sense solutions to encourage growth, drive innovation and increase opportunity. 

Education and infrastructure are critical for our state’s success in the modern, global economy. The Badger Blueprint features several new and innovative pro-growth solutions designed to expand access to quality education, invest in infrastructure improvements and improve local economic development efforts. 

We also continue to hear about the importance of business start-ups for our state’s economy. Unfortunately, Wisconsin was recently ranked the worst state in the nation for start-up activity and rate of new entrepreneurs by the Kauffman Foundation. To improve Wisconsin’s start-up business climate, Senate Democrats are committed to leveraging federal funding for entrepreneurs, partnering with private investors and increasing collaboration between schools, colleges, and the private sector to help Wisconsinites turn their ideas into successful businesses.

To improve workplace flexibility and help working families achieve financial security, the Badger Blueprint will also provide student loan debt relief, make it easier to find affordable childcare and end taxpayer subsidies to companies that outsource jobs.

It’s also time to address the needs of our rural communities and underserved urban neighborhoods that continue to struggle with high unemployment and limited job creation opportunities. Despite their geographic differences, many of these communities share common challenges. The Badger Blueprint would promote much-needed economic growth by expanding worker training and apprenticeship opportunities, improving broadband access and creating good-paying jobs through long overdue infrastructure investments. 

I’m optimistic about the future of our state because Wisconsinites are resilient and hardworking. The Badger Blueprint reflects this sense of optimism and our shared vision for a state that is ready to work together, be problem solvers and address the challenges before us. Together, we can build an economy that works for every Wisconsin resident and strengthens urban, suburban and rural communities alike.

You can learn more and share your ideas at wibadgerblueprint.com.

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Public Hearing to Gut Civil Service Just Another Show

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Tuesday, 06 October 2015
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workersMembers of Gov. Scott Walker's administration joined with the bill's sponsor as the only testifiers in support of the measure that is moving quickly through the Legislature. Proposal would eliminate objective civil service exams, replacing them with a review of "qualifications" by administration appointees, and cripple workplace protections for our state workers.


MADISON - Today, the Senate Labor and Government Reform Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 285 to change the state’s civil service system. It must have seemed like deja vu, from French literally "already seen", to state workers still smarting from Act 10 in 2011.

The bill comes four years after the Legislature passed Gov. Scott Walker's proposal, known as Act 10, that effectively eliminated collective bargaining for most public workers, including state employees. Walker said then that he wasn't interested in making changes to the civil service system.

Today's public hearing was nothing more than a parade of Walker’s political appointees pushing for gutting civil service protections and doubling down on politicizing our state workforce.

The proposal would eliminate objective civil service exams, replacing them with a subjective review of "qualifications" by administration appointees, and cripple workplace protections for our state’s civil servants. These changes open the door to hiring partisan political hacks and making party loyalty a qualification for a state job, the very hiring practices that civil service was established 110 years ago to root out.

A parade of State workers testified the Republican-backed bill that would make it easier to hire and fire public employees, saying the proposed overhaul of Wisconsin's 110-year-old civil service system would lead to political patronage and cronyism.

Members of Gov. Scott Walker's administration joined with the bill's sponsor as the only testifiers in support of the measure that is moving quickly through the Legislature. The Senate Labor and Government Reform Committee hearing came just one week after the bill was publicly released.

"The legislation's not needed and does not address problems that are alleged to exist," said Jim Thiel, a former 40-year state employee representing the Association of Career Employees, which advocates for maintaining the civil service system. "This will lead to a patronage system."

An appeal that fell upon deaf ears from the Republican majority.

chris_larsonDemocratic Sen. Chris Larson, of Milwaukee, said the bill would gut the current system and lead to buddies of politicians in power getting jobs whether they're qualified or not.

"What's to prevent patronage? What's the check? Right now we have a neutral exam to make sure that doesn't happen," said Larson, a member of the committee that held the hearing. "This is the elimination of good government. This is just another step in that."

In a statement released after the hearing, Sen. Larson went on to say:

“Make no mistake, Wisconsinites are not fooled by what Walker and the GOP are trying to do in our state – consolidate power and fast-track corruption. In fact, we already have proof of what happens when we throw out strong hiring standards and replace them with subjective evaluations by looking at the failed Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). The quasi-private state agency does not use the same civil service standards as other state agencies. As a result, corruption and high turnover has run rampant within WEDC since its creation.

“Walker’s Wisconsin already has the fastest shrinking middle class in the U.S., is last in the nation for new business startups, and lags in job creation. Wisconsin families face real challenges every day and are tired of the cronyism and political power grabs by Republican leaders who are focused on undermining our open records laws, eliminating government accountability, and shielding themselves from criminal investigations.

“My Democratic colleagues and I are listening to the hardworking neighbors in our communities. Rather than looking for ways to tear down Wisconsin workers, Democrats are focused on strengthening our middle class, boosting family wages, and ensuring greater retirement security.

“Unfortunately, this bill is more political Snake Oil being pushed at Walker’s carnival of corruption; it fails to remedy the employment problems created by this administration, and poisons our heritage of good government.”

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How Dismantling Civil Service in Wisconsin is Happening One Step at a Time

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Tuesday, 06 October 2015
in Wisconsin

employe-selectGov. Walker and GOP lawmakers in Madison want to change the state’s civil service system, eliminating objective civil service exams and replacing them with a subjective review of "qualifications" by their appointees. These changes open the door to hiring partisan political hacks and making party loyalty a qualification for a state job, the very hiring practices that civil service was established to root out.


MADISON - “Please do what you can to stop the dismantling of the civil service system,” Mary from Trempealeau County asked me.

Mary is a retired social worker. Her call is one of a number of contacts I received lately from residents unhappy with a bill that would change state employment. Residents expressed concern that government jobs will be filled with political friends and relatives of those in power and will fail to serve its citizens.

A newly introduced bill would do away with examinations for state jobs. Under the bill, every resume for filling 30,000 state positions would go to the behemoth state Department of Administration (DOA) and into the hands of political appointees. The bill would keep employees on probation for two years and use new vague language to fire state employees.

This language includes as grounds for firing “personal conduct” the boss “determines to be inadequate, unsuitable, or inferior”. This ambiguous rule could become a proxy for political retribution. Is recall petition signing “inadequate” for a social worker? Is singing union songs in the Capitol rotunda “unsuitable” activity for a scientist? How about a state employee attending a rally on off time?

The bill opens the door to an employee hiring process completely controlled by politically appointees hired by the Secretary of Administration.

But to understand the context of the newly proposed law, one must step back and look at changes to state employment – especially major changes made just this summer.

Governor Bob La Follette is credited with creation of Wisconsin’s civil service system. La Follette wrote in his 1912 autobiography that public service “has been democratized by a civil service law opening it to men and women on an equal footing independent of everything except qualification and fitness for office…There is no longer any political pull in Wisconsin.”

Major credit for modernizing the system that eliminated “political pull” should go to Democratic Governor Patrick Lucey and Republican Governor Lee Dreyfus.

In 1976, through executive order, Governor Lucey created the Governor’s Employment Relations Study Commission. The Commission recommended a distinct cabinet department, headed by a Secretary appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. The Commission reasoned that policies related to personnel must have “accountability to the executive office, protection from the possibility of manipulation and independence from the general bureaucratic structure.”

According to a paper written by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau “after extensive legislative debate” a new law was passed and signed by Governor Dreyfus creating the Department of Employment Relations. In 2003, the legislature made a number of changes to the department including changing its name to the Office of State Employee Relations (OSER).

The independence of a separate office lasted until this summer when Governor Walker’s budget became law. Tucked into the budget was a provision to eliminate OSER and bury its functions in the Department of Administration. I write ‘bury’ because DOA has a $2 billion budget and over 1,000 employees making the new employment process opaque to legislators and the people of the state.

Efforts to politicize employee relations by the current administration began in 2011 with Act 10. This law took 38 civil service positions and made them political appointments. The law also allowed bosses to turn “other managerial positions” into political appointments. Both the 2011-13 budget and the 2013-15 budget added more political appointment positions.

Changes made in 2011 signaled the intention of the administration. But few paid attention to the signs. As an example, here is what I wrote on March 19, 2011:

Yesterday I had in interview with a reporter, and I told her about what the Governor was doing to our civil service put in place by Bob La Follette - how three dozen civil service jobs were made political appointments; how the definition of a political appointment was made so broad the team leader who helps clean the Capitol could be a political appointment. The reporter had no idea this was in the bill.

That bill became Act 10 – known only for stripping public employees of their labor protections, not stripping the citizens of their good government. With the most recent legislation, intentions to politicize state government just became clearer.

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Senator Johnson is Wrong

Posted by Dr. Steve Kagen, M.D.
Dr. Steve Kagen, M.D.
Dr. Steve Kagen, M.D. is a physician and a former congressman from Appleton.
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on Friday, 02 October 2015
in Wisconsin

ron-johnson-speaksSen. Ron Johnson's comment "we got the $800 billion stimulus which basically went into the pockets of public unions"  at a Green Bay campaign stop last week is dead wrong. I was there in 2009 and we faced a $50 trillion hole in the economy, and unions did not cause the mess. It was the losing Republican ideas of "Trickle Down" economics, deregulation, borrow and spend budgeting, and our nation’s unnecessary involvement in wars overseas.


APPLETON, WI - Sen. Ron Johnson's comments last week about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 deserve our attention.

In wrongly stating "... we got the $800 billion stimulus which basically went into the pockets of public unions," Johnson suggests working class women and men caused our economic mess.

Johnson is wrong.

By 2008, our economy had been driven into the ditch by irresponsible Republican policies including trickle down economics, where money was supposed to trickle into pockets of working class families after rich people were given huge tax cuts. It failed miserably.

Johnson’s majority party also borrowed and spent money government did not have and deregulated banks on Wall Street, sinking us even deeper into debt.

These were not union ideas; they are Republican realities.

The fact is that without paying for any of it, Johnson’s party handed out tax cuts to billionaires, created massive federal budget deficits and wasted $3 trillion destroying Iraq where 4,488 American heroes gave their ultimate sacrifice.

Johnson is dead wrong.

I was there in 2009. We faced a $50 trillion hole in the economy from the housing market collapse; the stock market was crashing; 750,000 jobs across the nation were being lost each month; and our financial system was frozen — a combination not seen since the Great Depression.

There was a complete lack of confidence in capitalism itself. Banks would not loan money to anyone, for they were not certain they would be paid back. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson told me 75 percent of America’s assets were in 17 banks and these banks had no money: "They are bone dry."

Working together with Democrats Dave Obey, Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, I helped create the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the boldest action taken by government since the Depression. We brought back billions of our own tax dollars to Wisconsin to rebuild our schools, roads and bridges while delivering the biggest tax cut in American history.

Johnson just does not get it.

Unions did not cause this mess. It was the losing Republican ideas of Trickle Down economics, Deregulation of Wall Street, Borrow and Spend budgeting and our nation’s unnecessary involvement in never ending religious civil wars overseas.

Now more than ever we need elected officials who will think things all the way through; women and men who will enact laws to reward work instead of wealth as we begin to solve our differences in conversations not confrontations.

***

Appleton’s Dr. Steve Kagen is a former congressman who represented Wisconsin’s 8th District.

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Higher Ed Lower Debt Bill to Receive a Public Hearing

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Friday, 02 October 2015
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uwgb-studentPublic hearing on Higher Education Lower Debt Act authored by Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay and Rep. Cory Mason of Racine set for the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges on Wednesday, October 7 in the State Capitol.


MADISON - Legislation which could help thousands of student loan borrowers throughout Wisconsin refinance their debt will receive a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges on Wednesday, October 7 in the State Capitol.

Senate Bill 194, authored by Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine), is often referred to as the Higher Education Lower Debt Act. If enacted, it would create a state authority to help borrowers refinance their student loans, allow borrowers to deduct student loan payments on their state income taxes, and require borrowers to receive counseling about student loan debt prior to taking out loans.

dave-hansen“I am very pleased that the committee will be holding a hearing on this bill,” said Sen. Hansen. “Since this legislation was first introduced last session I have heard stories from people across the state who are struggling to pay back their loans.”

“These are not deadbeats, these are hard-working taxpayers who sought to pursue the American Dream by furthering their education and training. They only want a better future for themselves and their families. This legislation seeks to help them lessen the burden of paying for that education.”

The hearing will be held in room 300 Southeast of the State Capitol at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, October 7th. The hearing is open to the public and individuals are encouraged attend and testify.

***

Legislative Staffer Jay Wadd contributed to this story.

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Time to stand on thin ice

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
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in Wisconsin

money-behind-politicsThe Supreme Court has imposed a fictitious alternate reality on American democracy, telling us to think of property as part of “we, the people” and see massive sums of money spent on elections by large corporations as “free speech.” We, the people, need to stand up in defense of democracy.


MADISON - Much too much is made of red voters and blue voters and red states and blue states, as if they make up two separate Americas (they do not) and their differences are forever irreconcilable (they are not). But for the moment anyway, there is no denying that partisan divisions have intensified in recent years and that America is more politically polarized than at any time in the last two decades.

Against this backdrop, it can be a challenge to find values and attitudes that unite Americans of every political persuasion. But people of every imaginable stripe stand on common ground when it comes to the broadly shared exasperation with money’s dominion over democracy. Four out of five Republicans agree with four out of five Democrats and a supermajority of independents that the U.S. Supreme Court messed up bad when it ruled in 2010 that unlimited political spending is a constitutional right. Five years after the decision, it is as unpopular than ever. In fact, rather than slowly fading from memory the court’s decision in the Citizens United case is becoming the symbol of how the economy and the government have been rigged in favor of a privileged few at the expense of everyone else.

It’s helpful to remember that Supreme Court rulings come and Supreme Court rulings go. Our nation’s highest court once ruled that people could be property. It took not only a presidential proclamation but a bloody civil war and amendments to the Constitution to relegate that shameful decision to its rightful place in the trash bin of history. Today’s Supreme Court blesses oligarchy with the similarly warped logic that property can be entitled to the constitutional rights of a person. In time Citizens United will be tossed in the dumpster too.

Undoing the harm this ruling has done already and continues to do should not need to involve warfare but could very well require a constitutional amendment if the Supreme Court in the fairly near future does not come to its senses and overturn Citizens United before a 28th amendment is ratified. How this all plays out and how promptly this inevitable outcome is brought about largely depends on legal creativity bordering on hubris.

It’s been written that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declaring 3 million slaves free was “based on a highly contentious, thin-ice reading of the presidential war powers.” Ample evidence suggests Lincoln knowingly and dramatically exceeded his legal and constitutional authority, and the nation is so very fortunate that he did.

American democracy needs a modern-day equivalent of the Emancipation Proclamation. Whether in the form of an executive order, or an act of Congress, or measures enacted by states or local communities, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United must be defied. The constitutional right of unlimited political spending invented by the court in its Citizens United decision must be exposed for what it truly is – the legalization of bribery.

Elected representatives of the people anywhere and everywhere should knowingly and dramatically exceed what the Supreme Court says is the limit of their legal authority and declare our government free from its current state of indentured servitude to billionaires and corporations. Whenever justices dictate injustice, legal ingenuity is required. Executive orders should be issued and laws should be passed declaring that giving more than $200 to anyone holding or pursuing public office or any group helping to elect a politician is a bribe and therefore a felony.

In throwing down this gauntlet, the Supreme Court’s warped logic in Citizens United is countered with this alternative reasoning: If you wish to demonstrate your support for politicians, their parties or surrogates, giving $200 is demonstration enough. Giving $200 or less does not distinguish you much from your many fellow citizens who are likewise giving small amounts or the much larger number who give nothing at all. But go past the $200 threshold and that puts you in the top one-quarter of 1% of the population. That makes you stand out, separates you from the crowd, and makes it start looking like you might want more than just the honor of participating in a democracy.

Lincoln-style hubris is needed because we are beyond the pointwhere campaign financing can be reformed. It can’t be reformed because we no longer have campaign finance in America. We have legal bribery and there’s no reforming bribery. It has to be outlawed.

All laws and respect for the rule of law in general are demeaned and ultimately undermined when any law ceases to be rooted in reality. The reality is that Americans – Republicans, Democrats and independents alike – see big political donations for what they are, namely bribes. The law of this land needs to reflect that reality. Instead, the Supreme Court has imposed a fictitious alternate reality on us, ordering us to think of property as part of “we, the people” and see massive sums of money spent on elections as “free speech.” Just as a past court ordered all Americans, including President Lincoln, to accept that people could be regarded as property.

Lincoln defied that court. He was said to be on thin ice legally when he did. The ground held beneath his feet.

In defense of democracy in our time, we need to be willing to stand on what we’re told is thin ice. Two hundred dollars is plenty. Anything more is a bribe.

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Nationally Lauded Audit Bureau Turns 50, and Governor Calls for its Demise

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Monday, 28 September 2015
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lab-wiThis week, Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the award winning work of Wisconsin's nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau as it completes 50 years of exceptional work serving as “the steward of the people’s money.”


MADISON - “Fix the broken programs, get rid of the ones that don’t work and fund those that are working.” There’s not a state candidate around that would disagree with this statement.

Yet there are some in the Legislature that would eliminate the very source of information on which programs are a waste of taxpayer dollars and where the broken programs need fixing.

For fifty years, auditors at the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) have assisted legislators and the people of Wisconsin in answering questions about dollars spent. Questions like, “Did we get our money’s worth out of that program?”

Skilled public sector auditors perform financial audits on various funds in state government, like the lottery or the Patient’s Compensation Fund. They examine federal dollars to assure the state is compliant with federal law in the annual Single Audit. Auditors also review state operations in the LAB review of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Audit released near the end of the year.

The National State Auditors Association recently awarded the highest rating possible to the LAB’s financial audit division. Very experienced auditors put the LAB’s programs and policies through a rigorous review. These examinations are conducted every three years. Wisconsin’s LAB has consistently received the highest ratings possible.

But financial audits are only half of the award winning work done by the LAB. Program evaluations, answering questions like did this program meet its goals, is the other half of the work of the Audit Bureau.

While the work of the financial division seldom makes headlines, the program evaluation auditors often find their work under the spotlight. Recently a GOP Assembly proposal called for eliminating the LAB. Capitol rumors said elimination was in retaliation for the embarrassing failures made public in three audits over the past three years of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

But far from cause for elimination of the nonpartisan watchdog, the program auditors of the Legislative Audit Bureau were rewarded with national recognition for their work on WEDC and similar critically important program audits.

The National Legislative Program Evaluation Society recognized the work of the LAB with its distinguished Certificate of Impact for the 2013 FoodShare audit; the 2014 Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation audit; and the 2015 Supervised Release Placement and Expenditure audit. The recent national accolades should reassure voters and lawmakers of the LAB’s stellar work.

Too often lawmakers say they want to know which programs work and which do not, but their actions tell us otherwise. Recent actions such as cutting funding for an outside evaluation for the Drug Court (Treatment Alternative Diversion) program. Or by budget action creating four or five alternative tests for students in publically funded private school programs, making accurate comparisons between public and private school student achievement extremely difficult.

Facts matter. Facts lead us to conclusions that might are may not always be popular politically. That’s exactly why we need the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau. If we truly care about creating a well-run state government no one should shy away from the facts nonpartisan auditors present to us – regardless of political implications.

This summer the Beloit Daily News editorialized about the importance of independent agencies in state government. The editorial lauded the LAB saying the agency “has earned a strong reputation for impartiality and independence from partisan political influence.”

Nonpartisan agencies like the Audit Bureau, the Fiscal Bureau and the Government Accountability Board play a key role in a well-functioning state government. The Beloit Daily News warns us:

“TAXPAYERS, TAKE NOTE. Agencies like the GAB, the Audit Bureau and the Fiscal Bureau exist under a mandate to serve truth, not politics. That’s in the best interest of the people, if not the politicians.

“Understandably, the powerful object to any outfit they can’t control. But government watchdogs must not be muzzled and broken to the partisan leash.”

Instead, let us laud the work of our nonpartisan agencies. Join me in congratulating the LAB on excellent accomplishments and national recognition.

And wish the agency another 50 years of exceptional work serving as “the steward of the people’s money.”

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