Let ‘Em Have A Say

The advisory referendum is mostly a tactic liberals use to drum up turnout, which they did in November’s elections in the name of sending a message. But faced with referenda of substance that might sink a new tax or stop a gaudy new government building, liberals on the SS Principle scramble to jump ship.

Local governments around the state used this trick in last November’s election in an effort to drive up turnout in some of the state’s more reliable storeholds of liberal votes. Advisory referenda popped up in lefty bastions like Dane, Milwaukee, and La Crosse counties on whether to raise the minimum wage and accept Medicaid expansion money from the feds via Obamacare.

Both were facets of the Democrats’ messaging strategy and were added to local ballots as part of a concerted statewide strategy that several county board supervisors (and anyone who knows how it works) say used language that was copy-pasted out of an SEIU memo.

Their flag being carried by a ho-hum corporate Democrat who inspired the excitement of a log bobbing in a creek, The Left needed to pull out all the stops. You can’t blame them – Mary Burke was simply a dud, and they knew it. Of course the tactic failed and Scott Walker won re-election, but both ballot questions passed with heavy support, demonstrating the inconsistent and moralistic Wisconsin voter theory we’ve talked about at length.

Democrats get all excited about allowing the public to weight in, but only when it benefits the righteous cause of liberalism.

Prior to the election, Democrats mostly commented on the supposed merits of the questions rather than the motives of the referenda itself. WPR quoted La Crosse County supervisor Monica Kruse, a retired teacher who droned on and on about how hard it is to make a career out of burger flipping. This article quotes a “former minimum wage worker.”

(If that’s the criteria for being an expert on the economic issue of price floors, interview me. I flipped burgers throughout high school and college.)

But HuffPo wrung the real reason for the ballot items out of Jennifer Epps-Addison, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now, the ad hoc organization set up to use the wage question to drive turnout among The Left. “This is a really close race, and what we think will happen is that it will force the issue to become a more central theme in both of the candidates’ campaigns,” JE-A said.

JE-A also praised the merits of placing the items on ballots. “…They (the people) want to have their voice heard on this issue, which is largely being ignored in our state legislature,” she said.

Those two ballot questions are now moot, but today in La Crosse, liberals led by Rep. Steve Doyle (who double dips at the taxpayer trough by retaining his seat on the county board) have done an amazingly obvious about-face on the issue of giving voters a say. The question at hand now is a new county “Wheel Tax.”

After squandering the county’s transportation fund by dipping into it to pay the debt service on a new jail built in 1996, the Doyle brigade is now whining about a shortage in the county’s transportation fund. The issue is the local element to the statewide debate on how to replenish a tattered transportation fund reeling after years of raids by Jim Doyle. That sounds familiar.

La Crosse County Board liberals are now proposing the “Wheel Tax,” which substantially hikes the cost of vehicle registration by $20, to generate a couple million a year to pay off the unions fund road repairs.

(I wonder if any of this plan’s supporters oppose the proposed “Prius surcharge.“)

As if to demonstrate their proclivity for eschewing principled governance and giving in to their subsurface disdain for rank-and-file voters, Doyle and his allies are lining up against putting the Wheel Tax to a referendum, a proposition that would almost certainly be rejected in spectacular fashion akin to when the train exploded at the end of Back to the Future Part III.

County Administrator Steve O’Malley offered a flaccid defense of the proposal: “…This would be poor precedent to hold a referendum on a single revenue source,” he said. O’Malley would be a logical point person for defending the proposal, which would amount to being thrown under the bus because no one will ever cast a ballot in his name.

The referendum’s sponsor, supervisor Ray Ebert, part of the growing rebellion of conservative and moderate board members, snapped back, saying O’Malley “should stay out of policy decisions,” and leave it to the board.

The referendum battle is just heating up – whether we’ll have one will be decided in February, which will be a real test for the insurgent anti-Doyle group.

This isn’t the first time the La Crosse County Board’s liberal leadership has balked at principle. While denouncing GOP efforts to institute voter ID as a voter suppression tactic, Doyle and his majority bloc on the board walked in lockstep rejecting a plan to hold a special election for a seat that was vacated by a Doyle ally just days after his re-election. (Supervisor Andrew Londre had purchased a new house outside the district months before the election but opted to stay on the ballot so his replacement could be appointed after the election).

Instead of giving voters in the district the chance to cast a ballot, Doyle’s hand-picked successor as board chairman, Tara Johnson, bypassed two very qualified candidates – one who once held the seat, and another who nearly won the seat in 2012, both of whom have earned a large number of votes in the district in past elections – and instead appointed a liberal teacher with no experience and for whom no one in the district has ever cast a ballot.

It was one of many dirty deals in the Doyle/Johnson tenure that Doyle has used to consolidate power and keep the board loyal to him – all while not just suppressing voter turnout, but denying them the ability to vote at all. Principle be damned, Doyle has his toadie.

Conservatives and moderates can and should oppose the Wheel Tax. The board just passed a budget that increases spending by $30 million, an opportunity to point out the listless and reckless fiscal direction of the county. They should also discuss the merits of the the referendum on the same grounds used by Democrats in November, because the referendum can be a valuable tool – especially when it’s conducted fairly and when it’s binding.

About the results of the Medicaid expansion question, Kruse told the La Crosse Tribune, “They (Republicans) ignore it at their own peril…Even though it is just advisory, it can be a mandate showing it is very important for Wisconsin voters.” Indeed.

Conservatives must be relentless in exposing liberals’ self-serving motives and relentless hypocrisy. It starts with local government.

Update: After this story posted, the La Crosse County Board voted to table the Wheel Tax “indefinitely.” Word is they’ll try to sneak it into next year’s budget, in which case a budget battle will be set up.

About the writer: Chris Rochester has worked in communications and finance for a state Senate and congressional campaign, consulted on numerous Assembly and local races, and has held leadership roles in his local Republican Party. He's communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.
  • jamesahill

    Very well said. Liberals and loud mouth progressives need to be called out and you did a good job doing so. I for one as a true American and one that does believe in the ethics values and standards which this Country was based on and which made it great. Things like this that the hypocritical left only seeks to undermine all of that. Seeking to make people dependent on the Government, and then complaining about the diversity due to things like poverty and race. Things they feed on. Keep getting the word out.