Friday, December 31, 2010

The Full 2005 DOJ Letter to Scott Walker

I've written an opinion piece regarding Scott Walker and his promises of open government. In it I reference a scolding that he and his Milwaukee County administration got from the Wisconsin Department of Justice back in 2005. It was related to their obstruction of an open records request by a political opponent. Since my piece was run earlier today I've received many questions about the referenced DOJ letter. So I am including the full four page letter here. The part that I referenced is what I believe is the "money quote" in the last paragraph.

If you want to read more on the events surrounding the situation, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did run a story about it at the time. You can also read this 2005 blog item by Xoff which fills in even more of the details (notice the appropriate title).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Wisconsin Department of Crony Capitalism

We already knew that Scott Walker operates from a "haves and have-nots" list when it comes to business in Wisconsin. He showed those true colors when he killed the high speed rail project. That act undercut jobs, development, and the business interests of those apparently black listed by Walker. As we move closer to his coronation inauguration we are getting a more troubling and vivid view of his actual agenda for commerce in Wisconsin.

Not only is Walker attempting a power-grab from other lawfully elected officials but he has now announced plans to eliminate the Department of Commerce (especially those pesky regulatory duties) and replace it with something that could become more of an incubator for corruption than for real commerce.

There is still much to learn about Walker's plans to replace the Department of Commerce but what we do know is that he wants to semi-privatize this taxpayer financed entity. He also wants to appoint a board of which he (surprise!) is the chairman. Who will be on the board and how will they be chosen? As chairman of this board does Walker have the ultimate authority? Are there going to be any substantive systems in place to prevent total corruption of this body (and I'm talking about something more than just Walker's own word)? Who will be empowered to monitor such things and exactly how will they do it?

I fully expect the new Republican-controlled legislature to forfeit their own power to Walker and simply serve as rubber stamp on any issue of consequence. So who will be left to ask for the important details that are involved in such radical changes? Will the public be able to rely on the corporate media to ask the hard questions? Even if the usual suspects do ask the important questions will it come before Walker's plans are fully in place or will they only bemoan things after the fact?

If Scott Walker's time as Milwaukee County executive shows us anything it is that he has a propensity for appointing political friends and cronies to positions of public authority. All too often possible conflicts, bad appearances or even simple competence don't seem to matter much to him. So will he continue this practice by extending it to his cronies and campaign contributors among the business elite? We will soon find out the ultimate answers to these and other questions. Only then will we find out if the Wisconsin Department of Commerce is being replaced by the Wisconsin Department of Crony Capitalism.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Little More Equality for Christmas

I joined the Army National Guard when they still did "ask" and I served for 7 years under "Don't Ask Don't Tell" which wasn't much better. However, I am still proud of my own service and I am very proud that all will now be able to finally serve openly and honestly. Once again the US Military leads the way for the rest of our society. Now we can all enjoy just a little more equality for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Will Van Hollen Cede Power to Walker?

Scott Walker's proposed regulatory changes have already been properly panned by both Jim Rowen and Xoff as an unprecedented power grab. It is bad enough that the new state legislature will lose some of its own power under Walker's plan but he even wants to grab it away from two other statewide elected officials.

It has been reported that Walker's proposal would cover all state agencies, including the departments of Justice and Public Instruction, even though those are led by constitutional officers separately elected by voters. Today Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers openly questioned this specific part of Walker's power grab.

Now I'm waiting for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to render his opinion on Walker's unprecedented power grab. Will Van Hollen fall into line behind a newly elected governor from his own political party or will he stand firmly on a reasoning based on the law? Will Van Hollen so easily cede his own power to Walker or will he honor the will of the voters that (to my chagrin)twice elected him to be the head of the Department of Justice?

Superintendent Tony Evers has already expressed his concern over the Walker power grab, when will we hear from J.B. Van Hollen on this issue?

ht: Political Environment for the above image

UPDATE: Now check out Rep. Gary Hebl's myth-busting of Walker's rules proposal

Friday, December 17, 2010

MMAC Membership: The Haves and the Have-Nots

Last month I wrote that Wisconsin businesses were soon going to be put on a list of haves and have-nots. Scott Walker clearly has a list of his business favorites that he will do anything to support as well as a black list of businesses that he will endlessly undermine. But what is perhaps more tragic is the fact that entities which purport to represent businesses in Wisconsin seem to be adopting that same Walker approach.

The best example of the business elite using Walker's "haves and have-nots" approach comes from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC). Originally MMAC encouraged Talgo to locate in Milwaukee and even attended a welcoming press conference for them. But when it was most important and when businesses and jobs were on the line, MMAC stood mute as Scott Walker killed high speed rail and all of the commerce, development and jobs that went with it.

However, this lack of real representation by MMAC gets even worse and goes beyond one individual company. As James Rowen revealed on his blog, MMAC members were evenly split on the issue of high speed rail in Wisconsin. In an act that seems to verify their timidity, MMAC didn't release the results until well after they were largely irrelevant.

A full 214 MMAC members (50%) that answered their survey said that they supported the high speed rail project. Some of the supportive comments that came with the survey sound as if they could have been taken directly from the most fervent high speed rail supporters. But MMAC chose to ignore half of their own membership. In addition a combined 54% of their surveyed members considered the high speed rail issue "important", "very important" and "critically important". But MMAC still stood mute on the subject as the opportunity eventually died.

This entire episode makes me wonder if MMAC has adopted a "haves and have-nots" priority list not just in general but even within its own membership? Based on the information that is public, this sure seems to be the case. I further wonder if the MMAC members that are internal "have-nots" feel that they are getting their money's worth? Why would they waste precious resources simply to be ignored when it matters most?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Stone Cold Sell Out to Special Interests

Republican State Representative Jeff Stone is formally announcing a run for Milwaukee County Executive on Wednesday morning. Sadly I won't be there myself, but I hope that some member of the media asks him some of the questions that I have for him. For example, does he still support taking the airport away from the county? Will Stone continue to have special interests developing major county policy in secret for him?

All of the questions that I would have for Stone are related and they are based on a series of events in 2005 and 2006. During that time Jeff Stone trotted out the horrible idea of taking away Milwaukee County's successfully-run airport and handing it over to some newly created regional layer of government. Stone then attempted an end-run around Milwaukee County entirely by proposing legislation in Madison. That Stone effort was to enact the plan without so much as a vote from either the Milwaukee County Board or from the public (via referendum).

Later it was learned that the horrible plan was actually conceived by special interests and the business elites. That included both the Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC) and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC). In fact the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that the actual draft legislation that Stone was pushing was literally written in secret by some of those special interests and their lawyers.

So is this the way that he intends to lead Milwaukee County? Can we expect these special interests to literally write his county budgets and his legislative proposals as well? Does he still think it is a good idea to give away Milwaukee County's most valuable assets without even a vote from the board or from Milwaukee County taxpayers themselves? I would certainly be interested in knowing his answers and I really do hope that a member of the media plans to ask him. Answers will let us know if Jeff Stone still plans to sell out Milwaukee County to his special interest friends.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Why I Support Mike Tate

Last week Mike Tate, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, announced that he was running for another two-year term. I supported him when he ran for his first term and I still support him now.

I was as outraged as anyone after the November election but I’ve tried to channel that outrage into something productive rather than simply finding someone to blame. Frankly it was a national wave election and many of the normal rules simply don’t apply. I don’t think it is particularly useful or fair to judge ultimate performance based only on electoral wins and losses in such an unusual cycle. I personally believe that these circumstances especially require a more substantive look at the track record.

Here are just a handful of the facts that I simply can't ignore:

  • $5.4 million were raised for the coordinated campaign

  • 2.4 million phone calls were made and 1.3 million doors were knocked on by party volunteers. In fact Wisconsin Democrats filled more shifts this fall than any other state party in the nation.

  • 214 Full-time staff were on the payroll and were working in 54 offices statewide.

  • Outreach to students was successful as they made up 15.5% of the electorate in Wisconsin and that was the highest number in the country.

  • DPW has ZERO DEBT coming out of this mid-term election.

  • The number of paid party members is quickly approaching its highest level in 20 years.

  • Membership revenue has increased by 81.75% from 2009.

  • Democrats certainly have experienced a painful election this year but everything does not begin and end with this one election cycle. It is also very important to remember that there is a big picture to take into consideration. It is with that big picture in mind and because of the above listed successes, that I once again support Mike Tate to continue as the chairman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Business that Walker is Willing to Sacrifice

    Apparently when Scott Walker said that Wisconsin was "open for business" he only meant for certain kinds of businesses. As I have mentioned previously, there appears to be a new "haves and have-nots" approach to business in Wisconsin. Scott Walker not only refused a $810 million return on Wisconsin taxpayer's federal investment but he also took opportunity and income from a long list of businesses and their employees. Below is a list of businesses that could likley lose out because of Walker's irrational ideology.

    There are those that have been reported more broadly in the media:

    Talgo its employees and all of its local suppliers.
    Edward Kraemer & Sons Inc
    Major Developers like Grunau

    Then there is this partial list as was reported on Wisconsin's recovery website:

    Aerocon Photogrammetric Services, Inc
    Aero-Metric, Inc
    Aon Risk Services Inc of WI
    Ayres Associates Inc
    Continental Mapping Consultant
    Daar Engineering Inc
    HNTB Corp
    Insight Public Sector
    Natural Resources Consulting
    Patrick Engineering, Inc
    Teng & Associates Inc
    Transmart Technologies Inc
    Woolpert Inc

    Then finally there are those that are not listed on the recovery site but were notified in the November 4th "stop work" email from the state DOT:

    Kapur & Associates
    Gabes Construction
    WE Energies
    Wisconsin & Southern Railroad
    Canadian Pacific Railway
    Michels Corporation
    WPPI Energy
    DAAR Engineering, Inc

    Thursday, December 09, 2010

    Prosser Flies His Partisan Flag Early

    David Prosser's campaign didn't waste any time flying their partisan flag. On Wednesday the campaign said in a press release that Prosser would act as a "complement to both the new (Republican) administration and Legislature." Since when is it the goal of a sitting justice to be an activist for the other two branches of government? However this isn't only a separation of powers issue but it also seems to be a partisan one. After all, where was Prosser's "compliment" to the other two branches before Republicans took them over? Maybe the results of the November election caused Prosser to accidentially default back into his past role as a Republican politician.

    Maybe some assume that this was just a badly worded press release but those words were certainly backed up quickly with his immediate actions. On Wednesday he sent out the partisan press release and on Thursday he promptly met with the Wisconsin Federation of Republican Women. I wonder if Prosser took the opportunity to further explain his comments to the already partisan crowd? I sure hope that there was a reporter at the event, or at least one that will ask for a copy or for a recording of his speech. I think that we deserve to know exactly how partisan our justices plan to be on the bench.

    Wednesday, December 08, 2010

    The Only Thing that Matters is the Next Election

    One thing about Scott Walker that has become abundantly clear is that there is nothing more important to him than the next election. Unfortunately for Milwaukee County this has brought eight years of short-term politically motivated thinking that has translated into terrible policy in just about every area of the county.

  • Constant deferred maintenance leading to horrible and often dangerous structures. (parks, courthouse, transit building)

  • Drastic cuts in staffing levels that lead to record overtime costs, overburdened staff and resulting state and federal intervention (House of Correction and the Mental Health Complex)

  • Raising bus fares and cutting service now only to suffer ridership loses later.

  • Frankly, the examples of Walker's short-term self-centered approach to policy seem endless. One example that crystallizes this point for me can be found in a 2002 email discussion about Walker, the county grounds and flood control efforts in Wauwatosa.

    At that time Walker had just come into office and it was clear that blind ideology and the next election were the most important things to both Walker and his cronies. After some very serious flooding issues in Wauwatosa in the late 1990's MMSD, local businesses, the community and the county worked hard on a solution to prevent a repeat. That solution included putting detention basins at strategic points on the nearby county grounds. Shortly after Walker came in he and his cronies clearly tried to at least slow the process if not kill it altogether.

    This and other discussions at the time make it clear that Walker and company were constantly obstructing the hard work of others involved in this important project. But the part of the email that stands out the most to me is the following observation:

    "Dennik and Walker have also stressed to Luigi that they don't
    want any bulldozers on the County Grounds project until after the 2004

    My translation: Although preventing flood risk was a critical issue for the community, the only thing that really mattered to Walker was the next election.

    (There are other telling observations in the email so I am providing the full text of it here.)

    Monday, December 06, 2010

    Nothing Defines "Unity" Like a Stab in the Back

    On two occasions I've pointed to Reince Priebus' unusual definition of "unity". I based the observations on an email that he sent to another Wisconsin Republican back in May of 2009. At that time, Priebus was in DC apparently helping incoming Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele. During that time he wrote a brief email bragging that there was, "Total unity and Steele kicking ass..." It only took a few months after his "unity" and "kicking ass" declaration for all hell to start breaking loose at the RNC.

    Now we have news that Reince Priebus has officially announced his plan to challenge Michael Steele as RNC chair. Because nothing defines the word "unity" like a stab in the back from a friend.

    UPDATE: The above referenced email just got a shout out on Politico.

    Friday, December 03, 2010

    Walker's "Lone Star" Vision for Wisconsin

    Earlier this week Scott Walker addressed the Dairy Business Association. According to a report by Wispolitics, he spoke about tort reform. During those comments he said, "I told (Gov.) Rick Perry down in Texas 'Look out, we're coming after you.'" Although he was specifically talking about tort reform here, it is well known that Wisconsin Republicans have long wanted to model Wisconsin after many of the southern states. So if Texas is going to be our big aspiration, I thought that I would take a look at what we might expect.

    Wisconsin faces an approximate $2.2 - $3.3 billion deficit (depending on which numbers you accept). Walker's role model Texas Governor Rick Perry is presiding over a budget deficit of $25 billion. To his credit, Walker certainly intends to drive up Wisconsin's deficit with irresponsible tax cuts for the rich and his big corporate boosters.

    When conservatives bring up tort reform it is often in the context of health care. They usually recite the same talking points about malpractice lawsuits and that they are allegedly chasing doctors out of the state. According to U.S. Census figures Wisconsin has 259.1 doctors per 100,000 residents (ranked 22). Texas has 214.2 and is ranked at 41 in the nation. Look out Gov. Perry, here we come!

    Walker claims that the drastic cuts t0 come, will spare public safety (even though he didn't practice that as county executive). But after he cuts or eliminates shared revenue to local governments, you can bet that public safety funding will in fact suffer. The "good news" for Walker is that it just might help us catch up to the Texas violent crime rate. U.S. Census figures show that Wisconsin has 291 violent crimes per 100,000 residents (ranked 34) while Texas has 511 and is ranked 14.

    We already know that Scott Walker is no fan of social programs and they are not a priority for him. So perhaps this is another area where we can catch up to Texas' "boot strap" approach to poverty. U.S. Census figures show that Wisconsin has 10.4% of its population living below the poverty level (ranked 38). Texas on the other hand has 15.8% of its population living below the poverty level (ranked 8).

    The home ownership rate in Wisconsin is about 70.4% (ranked 26) based Census data. Texas stands at 65.5% (ranked 45th in the nation). While we are talking about housing, lets talk about mobile homes being a percentage of total housing units. Texas ranks 22nd with 7.4% and Wisconsin ranks 40th with 3.8%.

    We already know that we can brace for severe Walker cuts in things like Badgercare. Perhaps that kind of heartless approach can also move us closer to Walker's "lone star vision" for Wisconsin. The percentage of children 17 years and below that don't have health insurance in Texas is 19% while in Wisconsin it is 5% (this is only through 2008, so because of the efforts of Governor Doyle in this area, that Wisconsin rate is likely much smaller now).

    We also know that education funding will be on the chopping block next year, so what can we "look forward" to in that department? A new national report on education recently came out and listed Wisconsin as having nearly a 90% graduation rate in 2008. That same report shows Texas with only a 73.1% graduation rate (which is below the national average of 74.9%).

    UPDATE: A new report was released on the U.S. cities with the most/least "brainpower". Madison made the top ten (out of 200) while three of the bottom ten were from guess where? I'm just saying...

    Thursday, December 02, 2010

    Pratt's bitterness tour was an epic FAIL

    Former City of Milwaukee alderman/mayor, Marvin Pratt raised many eyebrows when he endorsed Scott Walker for governor. It didn't take long for most people to realize that this was probably due to some lingering bitterness over his loss to Tom Barrett in the 2004 mayoral election. Others speculated that he was angling for a job with Walker. His reasons are almost irrelevant at this point because his efforts ended up being hugely unsuccessful.

    When reports surfaced that Pratt was escorting Walker to Milwaukee churches, people assumed that it might help Walker make a dent in the African American vote. Those early assumptions clearly underestimated the savvy of the actual voters. Not only did Mayor Barrett command Milwaukee County (62% to 38%) but his strongest 47 wards statewide were in Milwaukee's African American majority neighborhoods. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Craig Gilbert reported today that Scott Walker had almost "zero support" in these wards. Here are some of the details that he provides:

    In city ward 175, Barrett got 244 votes and Walker got one. In city ward 99, Barrett got 478 votes and Walker got two. Barrett got more than 99% of the vote in four Milwaukee wards, and 97% or more in 33 wards.
    The bottom line is that voters in communities like mine were not fooled. They were all too familiar with Scott Walker's miserable record in Milwaukee County in general and for the African American community in particular (county layoffs of largely AA workers, mismanaged assistance programs, the destruction of public transit, repeatedly trying to close the MLK Community Center...etc). Marvin Pratt running around with Walker to local churches clearly did not change that reality. In fact Mayor Barrett's margins in many of these wards couldn't have numerically been much higher. It looks like Marvin Pratt's last second bitterness tour ended up being more of an epic FAIL.