On March 5, I appeared on the live half hour “JS on Politics” show. We talked primarily about Gov. Walker’s presumptive presidential race – check it out here:
Well look at that – it’s album of the year time again already. My full discussion of these picks will soon be up at our podcast website, but here’s a quick look at my list.
10. Grouper – Ruins
9. Beck – Morning Phase
8. Ex Hex – Rips
7. Jeremy Messersmith – Heart Murmurs
6. Alvvays – Alvvays
5. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
4. Wye Oak – Shriek
3. Real Estate – Atlas
2. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
1. Ty Segall – Manipulator
As part of a potential work project, I’ve been going through some old newspapers from 1916. Of course, there are plenty of odd anachronisms that catch one’s eye while reading papers from a century ago. But this story, which is absolutely true, really caught my eye. It’s from the February 11, 1916 Milwaukee Sentinel.
According to the article, Milwaukee police detectives Jacob Laubenheimer and Harry Ridenour were paging through the newspaper one day when they saw the following advertisement:
“Wanted: Strong, husky young men as private detectives. Opportunity to travel all over the world. Apply at Asiatic Pacific Detective agency, Room 713, Majestic Building.”
Thinking the ad was a bit too good to be true, Laubenheimer and Ridenour headed down to the agency to pose as potential enrollees. There they met Brightley Severinghaus, who claimed to be the head of the agency. “You look like a detective and where it usually takes us a month to train candidates for our private force, I think I can get you through in about three weeks,” Severinghaus told Laubenheimer.
“Fine,” said Laubenheimer. “When do I get my first lesson?”
“You will have to put up $5 and then the same amount every week,” said Severinghaus.
Laubenheimer fumbled around and found $2 in his pocket – Ridenour fronted him the remaining $3. Laubenheimer then paid Severinghaus, and after receiving a receipt, put him under arrest.
“I thought you would make a good detective when I first saw you,” said Severinghaus.
Later, a court sent him to an emergency room to have his sanity tested.
For some reason, this made me laugh for a good couple of hours. I’m sure Laubenheimer felt good about passing Severinghaus’ class so quickly.
Every two years, the Wisconsin Assembly issues an activity book for schoolchildren. The book includes a cartoon called “How a Bill Becomes a Law,” which details the happy life of an ebullient piece of legislation named Bill.
Bill leads a simple life — all he wants to do is one day earn the governor’s signature on his belly and become law. The cartoon follows his traditional journey, from hearings held on his merits, to committees voting him out, to both houses of the Legislature passing him before sending him to the governor to become law.
Such has been the legislative process since Wisconsin’s inception in 1848. Yet in recent years, Bill’s celebration upon being signed by the governor would be a bit premature. Having lost control of the Legislature and the governorship, Wisconsin Democrats have added another step: To become law, Bill must first pay a visit to the Dane County Circuit Court.
Dane County has the distinction of not only being the home of state government; it is also indisputably one of the most politically liberal counties in America. And despite being only one of Wisconsin’s 69 state circuit courts, it has essentially become a second legislature.
Our friend Bill may have earned the imprimatur of legislators elected from all over the state and the signature of a governor elected by a majority of Wisconsin voters, but a single Dane County judge can derail Bill’s attempt to find a cozy home within the pages of the state’s statute books.
This is a problem not just for poor Bill, but also for the unfortunate citizens around Wisconsin who elect Republicans to the state Assembly, Senate and governorship. The ballots of millions are counteracted by the vote of one robed master elected by a strongly progressive electorate, whose elevated position is not earned by any specific legal skill or expertise, but instead his or her proximity to State Street. In fact, until recently, any lawsuit against the state of Wisconsin had to be filed in Dane County, giving its Circuit Court an elevated importance over any other local court in the state.
And thus, the Dane County Circuit Court has become a legal ATM for the state’s progressives: Insert a court challenge, and out comes a favorable opinion that will cost your opponents buckets of cash to appeal.
So-called “venue shopping” like this isn’t all that new. For instance, the federal court in Marshall, Texas, has been traditionally known to be friendly to those seeking money for patent infringements, and large companies from around the nation typically end up in this small Texas town. Quick trials and plaintiff-friendly juries are the norm in Marshall (as is its annual Fire Ant Festival), making it a popular vacation spot for lawyers.
Of course, picking a friendly federal appeals court is tricky, given that you have to predict what the lower courts are going to do. But those looking for anti-business outcomes are generally served well by filing cases in the jurisdiction of the notoriously liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers nine western states. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court either reversed or vacated 19 of the 26 cases it reviewed from the 9th Circuit; two years earlier, the supremes shot down 94 percent of its cases.
The Dane County Circuit Court has proven itself another great haven for liberal venue shoppers. In March 2011, it found itself in the middle of a national controversy when Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne filed a lawsuit attempting to block implementation of Gov. Scott Walker’s new law restricting public sector collective bargaining. Unable to prevail legislatively, Democrats attempted to sink the bill in the courts. And they found a very sympathetic ear in Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi.
It was important that Democrats get a lawsuit moving quickly; on April 5, Supreme Court Justice David Prosser was up for election in a race that would decide the high court’s ideological balance. Having a case pending in a state court would bolster the impression that the Prosser election was really an election about whether Walker’s broadside to the public unions would stand.
On March 16, seven days after the Wisconsin Senate passed the collective bargaining bill, Ozanne filed a lawsuit seeking not to overturn the law, but to prevent it from being published in the first place. Two days later, Sumi heard one day’s worth of testimony, issued a temporary restraining order stopping publication of the law and quickly left town on a weeklong family vacation.
On his blog, Marquette University law professor Rick Esenberg said he was “astonished” at Sumi’s ruling, noting that in 1943, the state Supreme Court held that judges may not enjoin the publication of a law on the basis that it is or might be unconstitutional. “A bill, in the court’s view, is not enacted until it is published such that publication is part of the legislative process with which courts may not interfere,” noted Esenberg.
On April 5, Prosser narrowly defeated his liberal challenger, JoAnne Kloppenburg. On May 25, attorneys at the state Department of Justice sent Sumi a letter indicating that they might seek her recusal. The very next day, Sumi issued her opinion striking down the law in its entirety.
Within months, the state Supreme Court assumed its role as the state’s legal janitor and cleaned up the mess Sumi had made. (She ruled that the state Senate violated the open-meetings law, but failed to acknowledge the pertinent exemption for legislative actions.) In a contentious decision that led to accusations of justices choking each other, Prosser excoriated Sumi, writing, “In turbulent times, courts are expected to act with fairness and objectivity. They should serve as the impartial arbiters of legitimate legal issues. They should not insert themselves into controversies or exacerbate existing tensions.”
While the Supreme Court vacated Sumi’s decision, the pro-union litigants were not done. On Sept. 14, Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas once again struck down Walker’s law, this time based on a challenge from Madison schoolteachers and Milwaukee city employees. The ruling blocked the law from being applied to school and local government workers, but it remains in effect for state workers and employees of the University of Wisconsin System. The case is being appealed.
Yet another case of “Walker nullification” took place when Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan, who had signed the recall petition against Walker, struck down a Walker-approved law requiring photo identification to vote. Inexplicably, Flanagan did not disclose that he had signed the petition.
While the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar voter-identification law in Indiana, Flanagan ruled that his opinion should effectively trump the Supreme Court because the Indiana law allows a voter 10 days after casting a provisional ballot to produce identification, while the Wisconsin law allows only three days.
The fact that Dane County always got the first crack at adjudicating lawsuits against the state clearly irritated Republicans, who in 2011 passed a law allowing plaintiffs suing the state to pick venues other than Dane County. Legislative Republicans took advantage of this new law during the Walker recall process, when they sued the state Government Accountability Board in Waukesha County, which they considered a friendlier venue.
This new law, however, does nothing to stop liberal groups from filing suits in Dane County. Esenberg noted that constitutional challenges to enacted legislation are “nothing new,” and that challenges aren’t always illegitimate. But he notes that cases filed by Democrats in Dane County have become uniquely problematic, given that Dane is a “company town.”
“You have exceptionally politically charged cases being brought in a county which has this sort of this toxic combination of being both politically homogeneous and politically aroused,” said Esenberg. “You had these pieces of legislation coming before elected judges in a county where people were marching in the streets, pretty much all in opposition to these things, which raises questions about the political pressures that may be brought to bear on a judge who finds himself or herself in that situation.”
And while the ability of circuit courts to strike down state laws is not new, the recent hyper-partisan way in which the courts are being asked to function will have long-lasting impacts on Wisconsin law. Scott Walker and the GOP Legislature may only be with Wisconsin for the span of a few years; the precedent of litigating everything as a political weapon may be with the state forever.
Those ideological pressures placed on circuit courts will likely boil up again now that the Legislature has passed a much-discussed bill to allow an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin. Environmental groups are expected to file suit at some point to block the mine. And that move for an injunction will almost certainly be filed in Dane County.
Some judicial observers have argued that it doesn’t matter where cases like this begin, as long as the Supreme Court is there to serve as a backstop to Dane County. For conservatives, this reasoning is problematic.
First, while the makeup of the court currently leans conservative, the court is usually only one April election away from switching ideologies. Liberals need but a single seat, in other words, to turn the court from a stop sign to a green light for Dane County opinions.
One thing is certain — the more the lower courts are seen as mere political arms, the worse it is for the reputation of the Supreme Court. Some conservatives have grown frustrated that the Supreme Court hasn’t yanked jurisdiction away from the appellate courts and struck down Flanagan’s photo identification ruling, for example.
But as one justice told me, that’s not at all how the Supreme Court should work. The court, instead, should almost always let the process work itself out. Setting a precedent of clutching politically expedient cases away from appellate courts could be terrible for the right, especially if liberals regain control of the Supreme Court.
In the wake of the recent Dane County decisions, the Republican Legislature has also proposed changes to how cases are handled. One proposal, for instance, would have prevented circuit courts from blocking duly enacted laws. Esenberg believes this would be a mistake, not only given that some laws should be invalidated, but also because politics are cyclical, and one day Republicans will need lower courts to block the actions of a Democratic governor.
Esenberg proposed a potential remedy for over-politicization of the courts: If a circuit court wants to issue an injunction to block a state statute, the party opposing the injunction has 10 days to appeal.
According to Esenberg’s proposal, if the ruling isn’t appealed in 10 days, the stay is lifted and the injunction is effective. If the ruling is appealed, the stay would remain in place, and the appeals court would have to lift it. If both the appeals court and circuit court agree on the injunction, then it stays in place.
But regardless of what reforms might pass, Republicans will not be able to legislate Dane County out of existence. Challengers to Scott Walker’s agenda will continue to look to the Dane County courts to block the will of the people. And liberal judges will continue to garner awards like Sumi’s for being the State Bar of Wisconsin’s “2011 Judge of the Year.”
And this will be bad news for our good friend Bill, who will have to routinely pack his bags for Dane County. Maybe the state can get him some Badger football tickets to make his frequent stays more pleasant.
Every now and then, two major talents emerge in close proximity. In 2011, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers finished first and third, respectively, in the National League’s Most Valuable Player voting. Twelve times, two actors (including, in one case, three) from the same movie have been nominated for Oscars for Best Actor. (The most recent was 1984, when F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce were both nominated for “Amadeus.” Abraham won.)
In politics, Wisconsin is experiencing such an embarrassment of talent. Virtually every other part of the country is honored to have one elected official with the chops to be considered presidential material. Yet in the Dairy State, the only debate is over which of its two top Republican stars would make a better commander in chief.
So who has the better chance? Gov. Scott Walker or Congressman Paul Ryan?
Walker and Ryan grew up within a car drive of one another. Ryan lived in Janesville, while Walker was raised 20 miles away in Delavan. Each considers Ronald Reagan a key figure in his political development. And both dominated national news in 2012 on their way to becoming national GOP stars.
Ryan, of course, had his taste of a presidential run, having served as Mitt Romney’s capable vice presidential sidekick. While the party faithful initially worried about how Ryan’s aggressive plans to scale back Medicare and Social Security would play with voters, it appears that Ryan may have been a net boost to the Romney campaign. While Romney lost the election by a wide margin of electoral votes, his slim margins of defeat in key states like Ohio, Virginia and Florida show those states ended up being closer than the polls indicated before the Ryan pick. He most certainly didn’t harm his status with the party faithful, who now know Ryan can stand up to the pressures of a nationwide campaign.
Yet with congressional Republicans faring so poorly nationwide, many party faithful think it is time to look for a governor like Walker. He’s taken his licks and won a recall election by a larger margin than he won his first gubernatorial contest; his toughness is appealing to a party that currently lacks it.
Of the two, Ryan is the better public speaker. His 14 years in Congress have honed his skills; he can speak knowledgeably and extemporaneously, no matter how arcane the topic. Walker has improved as a speaker, but he is cautious and more reserved than Ryan. His appeal is immense with Republicans, but he still makes progressives scream at their televisions.
Walker has history on his side. The only president elected directly from the House to the presidency was James Garfield in 1880 — a singular event that solidified Garfield’s status as either the best campaigner or worst president of all time, depending on one’s perspective. Governors, on the other hand, routinely ascend to the presidency, as voters appear to see their executive experience on the state level as a plausible dry run.
Of the two, Walker also appears to be the more ambitious. Following the November election, Walker went on an aggressive speaking tour around the country and has coyly avoided ruling out a run in 2016 (assuming he is re-elected in 2014).
Conversely, despite being a key player in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, Ryan has disappeared from the public eye and has uniformly downplayed his desire for higher office. He genuinely seems to enjoy policy over politics.
For Wisconsin Republicans, it is an impossible choice. Eventually, it may be up to the other 49 states to decide for them.
Naturally, our favorite podcast of every year is the one where we reveal our “Top 10” albums of the year. Here’s my list for this year:
1. The Men – Open Your Heart
2. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Alleluljah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
3. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
4. Best Coast – The Only Place
5. Mount Carmel – Real Women
6. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse
7. Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory
9. Sonny & the Sunsets – Longtime Companion
10. Tennis – Young & Old
You can listen to the podcast here:
Or download it directly here.
As you can see above, The Men’s “Open Your Heart” topped my list. Here’s a live performance of theirs from Seattle earlier this year:
Following the 2012 presidential election, pundits of all stripes began appealing to retroactive prescience to explain what cost Mitt Romney the presidency. Whatever their pet issue, it suddenly became the reason Romney blew it — the Republican “war on women,” climate change denial, etc. Members of the Star Wars fan club thought Romneygot hammered because he didn’t take up the cause of Ewok independence.
But the most cited reason for Republican failure was the fact that Hispanic voters continue to drift away from the GOP. According to exit polls, Mitt Romney received 27 percent of the Latino vote, down from the 31 percent John McCain received in 2008 and down even farther from the 44.1 percent George W. Bush garnered in 2004.
In recent years, Republicans have tried to appeal to Latinos by stressing the similarities of their core beliefs: Hispanics are industrious and family-oriented, and their religious convictions make them a natural constituency for the GOP.
Earlier this year, I sat down with Gov. Scott Walker, and he explained that if Republicans stuck to a message of freedom and lower taxes, Hispanics would become allies. “The vast majority of Latino voters I know in Milwaukee County and statewide are very much driven by the small-business, entrepreneurial, hard-work mindset, and they really don’t want the government in their way.”
“I try not to ‘silo’ voters. I try to listen to what their concerns are,” he said. “I’ve actually spent a lot of time with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and… I realized that their members care about barriers to growth in small business — excessive regulations, excessive litigation, property taxes are too high, the sorts of things that I talk to everyone about. So I don’t say, ‘Here, my Latino message is going to be different than my message anywhere else out there,’ and I think voters appreciate that.”
But as Hispanics continue to jump ship, Republican campaigns become less about persuasion and more about simple math. There just aren’t enough white voters to maintain the GOP’s slim margins of victory in swing districts.
Still, as Walker’s statements indicate, it is simply not in the Republican DNA to start slicing up voters by race. Democrats are the ones who see voters in groups and tailor their message accordingly. Republicans see voters as individuals and expect their messages of liberty and self-sufficiency to have broad appeal. For Republicans, appealing to minority voters is like speaking a second language.
But it is something they have to do.
There is a small, fairly well-reasoned contingent of conservatives who would support modifying the Republican hardline stance on immigration. Despite the left’s dismissal of George W. Bush as a right-wing ideologue, he proposed the “guest worker” plan in 2004, accurately recognizing, I think, that we’re not just going to pack up 12 million illegals and ship them home. That plan was burned to the ground by his own party.
Republicans would be wise to follow the Jack Kemp “bleeding-heart conservative” blueprint. Kemp and his Empower America cohort Bill Bennett were outspoken proponents of immigration, calling immigrants “a blessing, not a curse.” In 1994, Kemp and Bennett opposed California ballot Proposition 187, a measure to bar illegal immigrants from obtaining public services.
Some Republicans think putting a Hispanic conservative on the ballot will bring Latinos home — as if Marco Rubio alone is the answer. But the record shows that Hispanics will vote against other Hispanics if they don’t reflect the interests of the group as a whole.
For Republicans, a lot is at stake: Without Hispanics, they may become a permanent minority themselves.
I was looking at restaurant reviews on Google and ran across this one, in which a frequent diner at the “Crab Trap” in Amelia Island, Florida, calmly lays out his case for for the restaurant’s superiority:
OK YOU KNOW WHAT!!!!! ALL YOU RICH SNOBBY PEOPLE OUT THERE THAT ARE HATING ON THE CRAB TRAP NEED TO CHILL OUT BECAUSE THE CRAB TRAP HAS ALL FRESH STUFF AND FOR YOUR INFORMATION THE SHRIMP YOU EAT WHERE YOU LIVE ARE ALL FROZEN AND HOW I KNOW THAT IS BECAUSE FERNANDINA BEACH FL IS THE BIRTH PLACE OF THE MODERN SHRIMPING ENDISTRY AND PEOPLE IN TI LAND AND CHINI ARE BUILDING SALT WATER PONDS AND GROWING SHRIMP WITH STEROIDS AND SHIPPING THEM ALL OVER THE WORLD AND I GUARANTEE THAT THE CRAB TRAP GETS THERE SHRIMP FROM THE BACK OF A SHRIMP BOAT RIGHT AFTER THE SHRIMP ARE CAUGHT……… IM TIRED OF ALL YOU SNOBBY PEOPLE OUT THERE THAT CANT ENJOY ANYTHING MY NAME IS LOGAN VOORHEES AND I LIVE IN FERNANDINA BEACH FL AND GO TO THE CRAB TRAP EVERYNIGHT….. IT IS THE BEST SEAFOOD RESTAURANT AND IT DOESNT MATTER WHAT ALL YOU LOSERS SAY SO JUST CHILL OUT AND GIVE IT A TRY AND ATLEAST TRY TO ENJOY IT…….. OH!!! AND BY THE WAY THE HOLES IN THE FREAKIN TABLES ARE TRASH CANS IDIOT!!!!!! AND THE REASON SERVICE WAS SLOW IS BECAUSE PEOPLE LOVE THE CRAB TRAP AND THERE IS A LINE FROM THE PALACE ALL THE WAY TO IT SSO…. GET IT STRAIGHT!!!!!!!!! AND FOR THE THING THAT SAYS OVERPRICED ITS BECAUSE AGAIN!!! IT IS ALL FRESH UNLIKE THE SHRIMP IN DIFFERENT PLACES AND MAYPORT HASNT BEEN OPEN IN FREAKIN 4 YEARS!!!!!!!!!! AND THE ISLAND GIRL IS THE SHRIMP BOAT THAT THE CRAB TRAP GETS IT FROM AND IF YOU DONT BELIEVE ME ITS DOWN THE ROAD BY ALL THE SHRIMP BOATS GO ASK FOR YOUR FREAKIN SELF………………… AND IT IS SOPPOSED TO LOOK FREAKIN OLD THATS WHY IT GETS A FREAKIN AAAAAAAA ON ALL ITS INSPECTIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IDIOTSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It’s a simple illustration of how candidates are free to write their own narrative, no matter the facts. As George Armstrong Custer once said, his goal was “to make my narrative as truthful as possible.” Candidates are free to accentuate the things that make them look good, even if doing so provides a window into what they really think.
For instance, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde began his campaign this year by emphasizing his ties to Wisconsin. In one of his early TV ads, he proudly announces that he was born in the state and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Surely, any candidate wants to show voters he’s one of them, but Hovde has a special challenge: He hasn’t actually lived in Wisconsin in a quarter of a century. Hovde’s job as a hedge fund manager took him to Washington, D.C.; consequently, he’s ready to don a cheesehead, paint his chest green and gold, and change his two daughters’ names to “Harley” and “Davidson.”
Certainly this isn’t dishonest, but it’s clearly an attempt to make Hovde’s “narrative as truthful as possible.” Messaging misdirection is as endemic to politics as noodles are to lasagna. They go together like “beef” and “stroganoff” or “cole” and “slaw.” (Side note: Is there any other kind of slaw? Can we drop the “cole,” or is there a “Citizens for Cole” interest group out there keeping it alive?)
On May 17, the state Department of Workforce Development issued a press release announcing new statewide jobs numbers. The new Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers were of particular interest, as the gubernatorial recall candidates were sparring over different sets of employment numbers. Gov. Scott Walker’s numbers showed the state was gaining jobs, while Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett relied on a BLS report indicating that Wisconsin was last in the nation in job creation over the past year.
The headline of the DWD release said it all: “Wisconsin April unemployment rate declines to 6.7 percent.” I read it and immediately thought: “Oh, no, the state lost jobs.” Because if the state had gained jobs, that would have been the headline. When the BLS numbers show the state losing jobs, the unemployment rate is the last refuge for a positive headline. Sure enough, there in the last paragraph, on the second page, was the number: The BLS estimated a loss of 6,800 in the previous month.
Barrett himself wasn’t above shifting the topic. In fact, the whole recall election was a change in subject, as Barrett was loathe to mention public-sector collective bargaining even though it was the overwhelming reason why the recall petition got traction in the first place.
At one point, Barrett issued a memo showing his campaign “gaining momentum” in the polls. Translation: “I am losing this race.”
Regular people understand how ridiculous some efforts to control the narrative can be. Imagine your spouse joyously telling you that you can spend more time together… because Ryan Braun just got eaten by a leopard that ran out on the baseball field. Or picture your wife telling you the “great news” that you can finally go buy that Harley-Davidson that you always wanted… because she’s moving to Sweden with Sven, her personal trainer.
This isn’t simply reading between the lines — it’s reading outside the lines. So watch political ads very closely; generally, candidates will emphasize an area where they feel weakest. By trying to tell you nothing, they will often tell you everything.