In order to run a house of the state legislature, party discipline is a must. Certain members of your caucus aren’t going to agree with leadership on everything, but a lot of them will go along for the ride to achieve a greater goal.
In the Wisconsin State Senate, Democratic leadership is pushing for a smoking ban in virtually every business in the state. They cite the ban as a health issue, and have the backing of groups like Smoke Free Wisconsin and the American Cancer Society.
Until this point, Democratic Senator Roger Breske has been playing good soldier and working on a compromise bill for his caucus. Breske represents a district full of local taverns that just want government to leave them alone and make their own choices about what’s best for their businesses. As a result, Senator Breske is skeptical of the long arm of government reaching up into the north woods to micromanage the property rights of his constituents.
This week, Senate Democrats held a press conference to announce their economic “stimulus” package. During the question and answer period, Breske was asked about the smoking ban. He stammered a little, describing the process up to this point, and the fact that no agreement had been reached. Senate Majority Decker stepped in immediately to reiterate the caucus position that a smoking ban is needed.
Breske was then asked a follow-up question, at which point he dropped the “consensus builder” charade and told it like it is. He pointed out the fact that these taverns are often all the owners have in terms of investments, and a smoking ban could shut them down (a point Decker conceded in his comments.) He then bemoaned government “sticking its nose” in everyone’s business, saying, “why does the government have to tell everyone what to do all the time?”
At this point, the Senate Democrats behind him begin shifting nervously, their eyes darting around the room. Senator John Lehman cracked a smile.
Breske went on: “I just can’t believe this is what we’re here for. We should be doing something decent… instead of trying to put people out of business. I know that they say this is the greatest thing in the world, that it’s going to solve all the health problems in the country, but that’s hogwash. I was born and raised in a barn since I was that high, and I was tending bar since I was that high (holding hand four feet above the ground.) And there was only one light bulb in the bar. There was no fans, and everyone smoked. It was blue in there. Come on, I’m still alive, and I’m 69 years old. It’s sickening.”
(If you’re keeping score that would be Breske 1, science 0.)
Needless to say, Breske’s remarks are likely not going to make their way into the Democrats’ talking points when they eventually pass a smoking ban. While the media love nothing more than covering Republicans that criticize other Republicans, here’s an independent Democrat who deserves credit for exposing the wrongheadedness of a statewide smoking ban. Kudos to him.
Video of the press conference can be seen at the WisconsinEye website here. Breske begins at the 17:30 mark, but begins his breathtaking tirade at 20:00.