Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Breske Tells Big Government to “Butt Out”

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.


  1. Finally a Wisconsin Democrat legislator willing to tell politicians to keep their noses out of the peoples business. The very idea of banning a legal substance in privately owned establishments is wrong. I question the constitutionality of smoking bans on private property. Furthermore if there is a market for smoke free bars private citizens will open smoke free bars. Our freedom loving founding fathers must be rolling over in their graves.
    There is price to pay for taking away freedoms through regulation.
    This month a Chief Executive magazine survey of (605) top corporate executives rated the business climates of our 50 states.
    Texas was rated No. 1, California is No. 50. Wiscosnsin was No. 33 in 2006 but in this survey fell to No. 44.
    And the “meat” of the suvey is this comment by Ed Kopko, CEO of Chief Executive magazine
    “Overall, the message CEOs are sending is that over-taxed and over-regulated states are not conducive to the health of their businesses”.
    If Wisconsin legislators want to help the citizens of this state (and the bar owners in Northern Wisconsin) get our business climate out of the bottom 10 (No. 44) and into the top 10.

  2. Despite Roger’s dubious votes on damn near everything else, I must give him some credit for his stance on this issue. Of course, Roger is a former tavern owner and former president of the Tavern League of Wisconsin, so I am not entirely convinced that this is a case of a rogue angel dem bucking the caucus for the greater good. BTW, the current TLW president happens to reside and own an establishment in Roger’s district, coincidentally the same restaurant/bar that was Roger’s choice for dinner and drinks last Thursday night.

  3. Randy "Spider" Webb

    April 20, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    I can’t help but to comment on this double sided blade these politicians are throwing at the general public. First they want to sue the Tobacco industry for putting toxic ingredients in cigarettes. Then they want to Ban all public smoking, now they turn around and pass laws that puts the same ingredient in tobacco that carpet glue has in it. DUH, Hello, we put people in jail for sniffing glue. The best part is, ask your state Reps just how much money the State makes from the sale of Tobacca products. The way I look at it, if you can’t smoke it in Public, then why is it being sold if it’s a banned product. If it’s then a BANNED product, the State doesn’t have the right to collect taxes on it. PERIOD! If the citizens cannot use in public what is sold openly in public, then it should be illegal for the state to gain from the sale of that product. By the way, in all these writings, have you or anybody else ever seen where a Politician has requested a pay cut for themselves to help Balance anything. Just a thought since they ask the people to do it every time a crunch hits. Just my thoughts though.

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