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Wisconsin Democrats are showing how desperate they are to raise money and find some way – any way – to bend over backwards to oppose commonsense GOP-championed legislation fighting scourges recognized on both sides of the aisle.

In a debate over bipartisan legislation to combat the opioid epidemic championed by Rep. John Nygren, Democrats used the opportunity to launch fundraising efforts advocating Medicaid expansion under Obamacare as the silver bullet to the problem, ostensibly portraying the GOP measures as somehow half-asked.

As if Democrats think signing up for BadgerCare will cause heroin addicts to see the light, quit the habit, and go frolic through the nearest dew covered meadow newly freed from the hell of addition. Really? Either Dems’ worship of bloated government programs is delusionally messianic, or they are using the issue to pander.

Forget that Medicaid actually produces worse outcomes for patients, saddles taxpayers with an increasing burden, and traps people in the quiet desperation of government dependency with a low, hard, government imposed ceiling on their economic potential. Also, just ignore the tangible benefits of and desperate need for Nygren’s legislation that no serious person would deny.

The very fact that there’s a debate over Nygren’s admirable and necessary HOPE legislation serves as a measurement of the depth of the morass of absurdity that Wisconsin’s Democrats have descended into. When Rep. Ron Kind and other liberal activist groups joined them in using the opportunity to demand Medicaid expansion, the sad stratagem became clear.

At the height of its severity, the crack cocaine epidemic killed 1.5 people per 100,000. By contrast, the opioid and heroin epidemic – the worst drug scourge in American history – kills between 10 and 30 people per 100,000. And the Democrats are using the issue to push a divisive, partisan political agenda that would do zilch to alleviate addiction.

They know there is a precisely zero percent probability that the Obamacare Medicaid expansion will happen under Walker and the Republicans – who have torched Democrats mercilessly at the polls for six straight years, all the while opposing Obamacare and refusing the Medicaid expansion. Knowing this, the Democrats’ ploy is clearly intended strictly to raise money.

It’s sickening, and it demonstrates the bottomless capacity of Democrats to exploit an opportunity, morality be damned. It also reveals the depth of desperation that their party is mired in. Their bench is thinner than Japanese Mulberry paper and, evidently, they need to lay in the ditch to collect whatever dollar bills might float by on the way to the sewer.

It doesn’t stop there. Amid debate over a similarly heralded effort to combat homelessness, Democrats denounced the measures as “appalling” and a merely “cosmetic solution.” I didn’t see in the LRB analysis that the GOP wanted to deliver makeup and lipstick to the needy. Again, the Democrats are trying to transmogrify a bipartisan plan into political hay.

This, by the way, was from the Democrat lawmaker who once proposed state government provide free tampons at all state buildings and parks. If that’s what passes for serious policy ideas for Wisconsin, the Democrats might as well give up on politics.

Without the money funnel that depended on forcing people into unions and stealing dues money of their pockets, apparently this is all Democrats have left. So devoid of values and intellectual consistency, it’s no wonder their party has struggled to survive (let alone compete!) on a level playing field.

State Rep. and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke took his frustration to Facebook:

To my liberal friends: Democrats in Madison are not serving you well. Two sad instances in the last week.

Last Tuesday we were in session debating broad bipartisan bills that addressed the opioid epidemic. During the debate, the Democrats hijacked the conversation to make political points while simultaneously sending out a fundraising email using that floor debate as a tool to raise the cash.

Now this week I, along with a few colleagues, introduced a package of bills aimed at combatting homelessness in WI. This package was developed in coordination with homeless advocates who called the initiatives “a huge step forward”. The response from state democrats? They called the dollars allocated and the reforms themselves “a cosmetic solution”

This is what your dollars, your volunteer hours, and your votes are getting you my friends.

Democrats are desperate, and will use any hook to galvanize their base. That, I suppose, is what politics can devolve into. Steineke’s message to liberals will fall on the deaf ears of a hyper partisan left-wing base, but that’s the very definition of a party in the bunker. To save its heart, the Democrat Party appears willing to amputate what’s left of its atrophied limbs.

These bills are thoroughly bipartisan, a fact hardcore liberals may not be aware of in the din of partisan hyperbole. They are serious efforts by a serious governing majority to address serious problems in the state of Wisconsin. Indeed, the opioid problem is as serious a problem as Wisconsin has faced. And to those in the grips of homelessness, there could be no more serious an issue than living under cellophane on a park bench.

To prove how un-serious they are, and how unfit they are to return to governing Wisconsin, Democrats have chosen these issues as a rallying cry to their most rabid supporters in the far-left bastions of the state in downtown Madison and Milwaukee.

As if to scream out to Wisconsin voters just how profoundly not serious their party is, Assembly Democrats actually played bingo as Gov. Walker gave his State of the State speech in January. Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling added the exclamation point when she said the Republicans “own this legislature” and the transportation funding debate was the GOP’s problem. We are paying these people a salary? 

It’s really quite sad.

At this rate, the Assembly Democrat caucus will have all the appeal to mainstream voters as a screeching vulture. Like the Senate Democrat caucus, perhaps in the near future the Assembly Dems will also be able to fit into a pair of minivans and flee for Illinois…for good.

But hey, they can always blame gerrymandering.

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Over at the MacIver Institute, I write about Federalism and how Wisconsin leaders are embracing it:

The long-embattled concept of Federalism has new life after the November elections put Republicans in control of Congress and the White House. Judging by President Trump’s cabinet nominees, his team will eagerly embrace restoring a proper balance in the state-federal relationship – and Wisconsin is ready.

Federalism, especially in America, is the idea that federal powers are strictly limited by the Constitution. This seemingly forgotten concept is specifically enshrined in the United States Constitution – the Tenth Amendment states that, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

In other words, other than the narrow and specific list of powers and duties enumerated in the Constitution, all other powers of government belong to the states and the people. However, America has gradually but definitely drifted away from this model and completely ignored the Tenth Amendment in the process.

That’s why the goal of Federalism today is to restore the balance of power by shrinking the scope of the federal government to its core Constitutional duties, scaling back federal mandates imposed on the states (unfunded and otherwise), and giving states more flexibility to administer programs like Medicaid, education, and other responsibilities that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly give to Congress.

In Wisconsin, leaders in both houses of the legislature are already preparing for new responsibilities in anticipation of Washington finally remembering that the states created the federal government, not the other way around. In fact, both the Assembly and Senate now have standing committees dealing with Federalism – the Assembly Committee on Federalism and Interstate Relations, and the Senate Committee on Financial Services, Constitution and Federalism, both created in December.

Read the whole thing here, including specific ideas by the legislature for scaling back federal overreach.

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A large number of school districts appear to be swindling their local property tax payers, and using school choice as an excuse.

More than 100 school districts last year were able to avoid losing any money to the state’s new school choice law. In fact, 115 actually skimmed a profit by levying property taxes higher than what they lost. All the while, many districts were telling the public that school choice would spell doom for their bottom lines, with some even blaming their tax hikes on school choice.

It’s all thanks to an interpretation of the law’s language that’s hard to pin down.

Over at the MacIver Institute, I write:

A questionable interpretation about how much public school districts can raise local property taxes to cover their “losses” from the expansion of the school choice program allowed more than a hundred school districts to net a profit from the program, according to a Jan. 28 memo from the Legislative Fiscal bureau (LFB).

The 115 school districts that raised local property taxes more than the amount they lost to choice schools levied taxes by a total of $19.8 million statewide. According to the memo, requested by Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac), this $19.8 million levy is $3.7 million more than the districts lost in state aid.

I continue:

In the 2015-2016 school year, 142 public school districts were impacted by students choosing to use the Racine or statewide school choice program. Of those 142 districts, 115 raised taxes beyond what they lost to school choice. Of those that raised taxes, 106 districts levied the maximum amount allowed under the revenue limit exemption, the memo states.

The Racine Unified School District (RUSD), one of the 106 to levy the maximum amount, raised local property taxes the most. The Racine school board chose to raise taxes by $5,580,980 in 2015, while its state aid was reduced by only $4,164,500, according to the memo. That netted the district $1,416,480 more than it lost in state aid, by far the most of any district.

The school funding formula is such a mess that few understand it. Suffice to say that some experts believe the law doesn’t allow districts to raise taxes at all. In fact, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s budget summary, school districts “could not levy to backfill the aid reduction.” Seems like pretty plain language in what’s otherwise a morass of legalese.

Others contend the intent of the law was to allow districts to raise local tax levies by just what they lost, which is tied to the amount of the private school voucher – smaller than state aid that’s provided on a per-student basis.

One thing is certain: this story isn’t going away any time soon.

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“This cause is a bipartisan cause…it’s not something that liberals like and conservatives don’t.” It’s in everyone’s interest that government operates in the maximum amount of openness, Bill Lueders told Greg Neumann on today’s Capitol City Sunday.

He was talking about the question of transparency in government and the possibility of updating Wisconsin’s open records law, which was last updated in 1982.

“Technology is changing so rapidly, that I don’t know that it can really address all the issues we have regarding these text messages,” Neumann asked.

Technology like the use of personal emails for government business and the transitory nature of text messaging between government officials are among the concerns that the law is unclear on. Some relevant questions:

  • Why conduct government business over personal email? It’s not difficult to keep the two separate. Most phones allow you to choose which email account you’re using.
  • Why conduct government business via text? Sure, it’s convenient. But these days, email is almost as fast. There are also plenty of cloud storage options so text messages can be stored in bulk for future reference.

The state’s open records law needs an Internet-era update.

“I do think there is a need for some updating. It would be good if there were some clearer rules regarding how long we need to retain certain kinds of records, and whether the systems you have in place for archiving records so that they can be obtained later,” Lueders said. He’s the president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.

Lueders says politicians on both sides of the aisle have a problematic interest in keeping certain communications in the dark.

On the flip side, the media also has a responsibility to not take advantage to pounce on juicy stories in the interest of advancing a narrative. A recent FOIC story by Dee Hall did not adequately question the motives of former Walker administration officials in accusing former DOA secretary Mike Huebsch of instructing them to cover up their communications while he was part of the administration.

In an email exchange published by Right Wisconsin, Huebsch debunked the former officials’ accusations point-by-point. But he rightly did not question the motives of the former officials – which would’ve exacerbated the story into a destructive he-said-he-said among former Walker administration officials.

“While you may use a portion of my response to confirm your pre-determined narrative, you will never allow the new set of facts that I may present to alter your opinion or the focus of your story,” Huebsch said in a scathing email to Hall.

Huebsch also told Hall he doesn’t believe the reporter had done due diligence prior to contacting him. “At no point do you ask whether or not that actually occurred. You have accepted it as fact. You have already written the story,” he wrote.

Former official Peter Bildsten “resigned under pressure,” Hall wrote. Pressure from who? Huebsch, perhaps? Hall also writes that the other former official, Paul Jadin, “said he does not recall a specific directive” from Huebsch, but was left with an impression of some sort after those initial meetings with Huebsch.

Not asking further questions about these officials’ motives is actually counter-productive to the cause of open government. It creates an odor of drama that leaves readers with questions and undercuts the believability of future reporting on the matter.

The gist of the matter is this: open and transparent government is crucial, and the media plays a key role in keeping the heat on a select few legislators who want to circumvent it. But in that endeavor, the media’s credibility is an indispensable asset. Hall’s story appears to be exactly what Huebsch believed: a set of paragraphs fitting a certain narrative, into which Huebsch’s quotes were copy/pasted prior to publication. Under questioning following Huebsch’s response, both accusing officials’ accounts wilted.

Dubious accusations against Huebsch aside, there’s no question that open records have come under fire – and that certain members of the state’s leadership have lost credibility on the issue.

Lueders expressed doubt that the current legislature could be entrusted with making the proper changes, which is entirely understandable. Earlier this year, misguided Republicans tried inserting Nth-hour language in the state budget (of all vehicles) drastically changing the state’s open records laws. That move scuttled the current leadership’s credibility on open records, Lueders said.

forcefully objected to those changes, as did many right-wing activists and groups. The changes were rapidly withdrawn.

So Lueders has solid ground to stand on. But the chicanery of some in 2015 shouldn’t stop concerned caucuses on both sides of the aisle from pushing for changes in 2016 that are long overdue.

Lueders warned against a “full flowering” of a culture of contempt for the public’s right to know what’s going on inside state government. “That’s something we can’t allow to happen in Wisconsin…we need to regard [transparency] as something important that we have to protect as a state,” Lueders said.

The state Senate will take up GAB and campaign finance reform this week. Plus, trouble at DPW headquarters!

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The Democrats and their allies in the media were quick to pile on when a few Republicans misguidedly tried to drastically change the state’s open records laws earlier this year. But as the legislature considers another matter of clean government – much-needed reforms to the GAB – The Left has shown its hand.

Over at Right Wisconsin today, I wrote about the subject:

During the fiasco over the open records language, Jon Erpenbach claimed that “just the fact that they even tried to do this in the first place should bother everybody in this state.” Erpenbach was right – Wisconsinites ought to have been bothered by those changes, which would’ve endangered freedom of speech in Wisconsin and allowed government to create its own definition of ethics.

But the people of Wisconsin should be bothered for the same reasons when it comes to the GAB. First, the bureaucracy tasked with defining ethics in our elections unconstitutionally persecuted (using police) outspoken conservatives and Republican donors. Second, people should be bothered by the Democrats’ eagerness to prop up the GAB despite its blatant violations.

The open records and CCAP changes set heads spinning across the conservative grassroots, media, and much of its establishment because those changes were wrong and would have damaged the integrity of Wisconsin’s government.

Reforming the GAB, which the Republicans created, by the way, is imperative to open government. The media likes to refer to the GAB as a “non-partisan” panel. Such a panel is like a Yeti: often talked about, and it’d be cool if they really existed. But they don’t, and never will.

Proposed reforms to the GAB reflect the reality that everything has to do with politics, and a lethargic panel of geriatric old judges can’t and won’t control a staff of lifelong liberal bureaucrats with agendas.

The reform creates a bi-partisan panel – which dispenses with the imaginary unicorn of a non-partisan entity.

Whole thing here.

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Republicans have dominated the Wisconsin legislature with abandon this year. It’s fun to watch in the same way watching Aaron Rodgers lead the Packers on an 80-yard, twelve minute scoring drive is satisfying and enjoyable.

In the same way, it’s amusing to watch Pete Carroll throw his headset on the ground and berate a referee because his team can’t stop the Packers offense — an image conjured last night on the Assembly floor by Democrat Rep. Peter Barca.

Indulging in an ostensible technicality quickly proven to be nonsense, Democrats across the board recused themselves from the vote on campaign finance law reform, reasoning that because their campaign committees would be affected, they could not in good conscience cast a vote. Some were more quiet than others. As Brian Sikma reports at Media Trackers,

The most eloquent critique of the campaign finance legislation came from state Rep. LaTonya Johnson, a Milwaukee Democrat, who was quoted by WisPolitics saying, “This bill sucks.”

(Sikma also very effectively and pointedly lays out four reasons “the collective Assembly Democratic temper tantrum was stupid. Read it here.)

The Democrat machine was buttoned up; each legislator used a similarly and carefully-worded statement of recusal, invoking Statute 19.46, along the lines of “I must recuse myself because of the self interest this bill provides for me and members of this body,” or some variation thereof.

Recusal means not casting a vote and not participating in the debate.

This caused a problem when Barca interrupted Speaker Robin Vos’ floor speech. (Vos, by the way, gave a magnificent and sassy performance as the party’s leader in the Assembly last night.) When you recuse yourself, that’s it, you’re done. Finito. Vos casually made this point to Barca, who didn’t stop there.

Minutes later, Barca barked his anger at Speaker Pro Tem Tyler August for not yielding to his lunatic ravings.

“You ask somebody to yield to a question, you recognize them,” he declared (I think … the part before “yield to a question” was mumbled). “So don’t pull that on me again! I have every right to stand up when a member is speaking and ask him to yield to a question.” It was childish and embarrassing, characteristic only of a leader in liberal circles, where vein-popping faux-outrage rules the day.

Barca is the master of overwrought hyperbole, the portrait of bleeding-heartism, and the perfect leader for Democrat legislators in Wisconsin right now. In his book, any conservative reform or advancement is, to borrow a phrase, a traveshamockery.

It’s one thing for a fringe, rogue member of the party to maybe take a principled stand, the kind of thing Russ Feingold would do here and there in the US Senate. When the party leader spearheads the initiative, something has gone terribly wrong in the process of representative government. Yet it’s always Democrats accusing Republicans of tyranny.

Barca makes for a good attack dog in liberal circles, but he’s useless as an elected representative. His leadership speaks to the state of politics in this state and the Democrat Party of Wisconsin’s manifest inability to accomplish anything meaningful when they can’t ram it through without opposition. No wonder they hate Scott Walker so much: he’s smarter than they are at just about everything. Perhaps their Republican counterparts would take them more seriously if they didn’t pull impish stunts like refusing to vote or fleeing the state to avoid doing their jobs.

It’s a good thing the Packers have a bye this week. The entertainment value otherwise might’ve been overwhelming.

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Republican leader Julian Bradley joined a chorus of opposition on the right opposing provisions in the state budget that make drastic changes to Wisconsin’s open records laws.

“We have to have transparent and open government…I don’t know where the idea came from, but I certainly don’t support it,” Bradley said on Wisconsin Public Radio this morning.

Bradley also called on Governor Walker to veto the changes if they make it through the legislature. “Hopefully it won’t make it all the way out” of the legislature, he said.

Bradley is the first representative of the actual Republican Party that I’m aware of to publicly oppose the provisions.

This is not a right versus left issue, host Joy Cardin pointed out. Leading conservative pundits and operatives join people like Bradley, Brad Schimel, and the conservative MacIver Institute, Citizens for Responsible Government and others in vocally opposing the move.

The vice chairman of the 3rd District Republican Party and popular speaker is often asked to share his perspective on the Cardin show and in other venues.

I also lambasted the proposals, calling the changes “Darkness Provisions” earlier today.

These Darkness Provisions strip Wisconsin taxpayers of their right to see legislative records that belong to them. It’s time to fix this.

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Attorney General Brad Schimel came out swinging against an abominable budget provision that shuts the blinds on access to information that belongs to the public. The AG took to Twitter making it clear he does not support the changes to our state’s Open Records laws.

He didn’t stop at one.

Schimel also used his office’s Twitter feed to make an official two-part statement lambasting the “Darkness Provision” (as I call it).

The Darkness Provision was included – perhaps in a lame attempt to keep it secret, or something – in the state budget that passed the Joint Finance Committee. The State Journal reports here.

The Republican members of the committee disclaim any knowledge of how the language got in the budget, ostensibly meaning none of them are particularly married to it.

While nobody thinks the media is fair in its treatment of Republicans versus Democrats, members of the media are rightly shocked.

“This is the single most sweeping and outrageous affront to Wisconsin’s tradition of open government that I have seen in my quarter-century of involvement with the (Wisconsin) Freedom of Information Council,” council president Bill Lueders said.

Lueders, like the vast majority of the media doubtlessly a liberal, has a solid case. Unlike most statements from adherents of The Leftist cause, this one isn’t outrageously hyperbolic – it’s justifiably hyperbolic.

Democrat Senator Jon Erpenbach commented, “Deals will be done in secret…Corruption will happen. And nobody’s going to know about it.” Rep. Chris Taylor said, “It’s in the cloak of darkness that you want more darkness.”

It’s painful to admit: Taylor and Erpenbach are right. Worse, the GOP put the Democrats in their Suburban, drove them to the high ground, and dropped them off. It’s an obscene and a terrible mistake.

So what does the Darkness Provision actually do? According to the State Journal report, it:

  • Exempts from the definition of public records “communications and other materials, including opinions, analyses, briefings, background information, recommendations, suggestions, drafts, correspondence about drafts, and notes, created or prepared in the process of reaching a decision concerning a policy or course of action.” So everything except press releases?
  • Gives legislators “legal privilege” which amounts to broad discretion in what records can and should be released. “Wow, that’s embarrassing…I’m deciding the public doesn’t have to see it.”
  • Requires the Legislative Reference Bureau to keep “drafting files” confidential and lifts a requirement to retain files from previous legislative sessions that are often used to research the birth of legislation, including the intent behind the introduction of a bill. Water under the bridge…nothing to see here…fire up the shredder.
  • Similarly, “The motion also eliminates the requirement that the LRB maintain all drafting files for legislation during the current legislative session and release those files for public view once the Legislature adjourns.” Mind=blown.

Schimel isn’t the only person on the right to oppose the Darkness Provisions. Orville Seymer of Citizens for Responsible Government, which typically leans conservative, said the provisions “are just terrible,” according to the WSJ.

If every Joint Finance Republican was so quick to disown the Darkness Provisions, ditching them should be a cinch.

But if Republicans in the legislature have suddenly morphed from reform-minded crusaders on behalf of taxpayers to a hoard of power-hungry dictators in the tradition of Barack Obama and they pass the budget with these provision included, then Gov. Scott Walker will need to use his line-item veto. If he doesn’t, he’s become a coward.

(Interest-of-fairness statement: On the other side of the rift, if members of the media are truly interested in openness and transparency to hold accountable more than just Republicans, then they will surely begin a systematic campaign to make the public aware of just how the Obama Administration is the least transparent administration since Nixon, and maybe worse…but I’m not going to hold my breath and wait for that to happen).

Its hypocrisy aside, the old ivory towers of mainstream media are still the arbiters of public opinion and therefore their concerns – the concerns of openness of information that belongs to the people of Wisconsin – are legitimate.

The Democratic Party in Wisconsin at the moment does not present much of a threat to Republican control. The election of a virtual noob to chair their party won’t lead to a renaissance, and their bench consists of a very lonely Jennifer Shilling. Therefore, the biggest threat to GOP control is…

The GOP itself. And the hubris that comes with power and that inevitably leads to decline, defeat, and humiliation.

Ironically, leading Republicans like Assembly Speaker Robin Vos bent over backwards to backpedal on important legislation like the repeal of Prevailing Wage, the Bucks Arena, and road funding, perhaps believing moderating a reform agenda is the way to avert a rough election cycle in 2016.

The “Darkness Provision” is a shift from thoughtful and courageous reform to cowardly wagon-circling. It must be removed, or I fear the Republican Party will pay a price far greater than the market value of being legally able to reply to an open records request with a middle finger and a smarmy grin.

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UPDATE #4 11:42 a.m.: Senate office says it’s her personal account. Working  on getting a statement now.

 


UPDATE #3: 11:35 a.m.: Evidently I called the wrong number. Trying again now.


UPDATE #2: 11:01 a.m.: Testin reports Portage County account has been blocked again. Not making this up.


UPDATE #1: 11:01 a.m.: Testin reports Portage County account has been unblocked.


I’ve been blocked on Twitter by Sen. Julie Lassa, who represents the Stevens Point area, ostensibly for this observation I made yesterday during her floor debate.

Portage County GOP Chair Patrick Testin also reports that the senator has blocked the county party’s twitter account.

No names were called, no slurs tossed; I made a counter argument, and she blocked me for it. This comes a day after co-boob Chris Larson and other Democrats spent more than 90 minutes bawling about Republicans not taking the time to hear everyone’s opinion.

Since I’ve been blocked, I might as well earn that distinction after the fact: Julie Lassa is a small-minded, non-talent, party-line-toeing hack whose toxic brand of liberalism is responsible for the fixes that Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans have been implementing these last four years.

Up your game, Jules. I understand weeding out the trolls to keep the discourse civil. But blocking someone who makes a counterargument, trying to silence the opposition, just after a debate about the importance of hearing everyone’s opinion? Who do you think you are, Idi Amin?

A request for comment from Lassa’s office went to voicemail. I will update with any new information.