Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Category: Elections (page 1 of 5)

Panning for Signatures in Ohio

On Monday, I wrote about all the signatures the pro-public union group We Are Ohio collected in order to bring Governor John Kasich’s newly-minted collective bargaining bill up for a public vote.  Despite the extremely low threshold of 231,147 signatures to subject the law to a referendum, We Are Ohio turned in 1.3 million signatures.

Last week, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced the collective bargaining law would appear on the November ballot, and released the results of the state’s signature validation process. Husted announced that “more than 915,000 of the signatures were valid.”

As Mike Antonucci points out at the Intercepts blog, while 915,000 is an impressive number, it falls well short of the 1.3 million signatures turned in.  In fact, over 25% of all the signatures submitted by the unions (351,925 total) were found to be invalid.  As Antonucci points out, some of Ohio’s largest counties had some of the highest percentages of invalid signatures:

Of the 159,946 signatures submitted from Franklin County, 48,972 were invalid (30.6%). In Lucas County, 34.4% of the signatures were invalid. In Cuyahoga County, 36.2% were invalid, and in Hamilton County 49.9% were invalid.

Most of the signatures that were tossed were because the person who signed the petition lived in a different county than the one in which the papers were circulated.  Presumably, those 351,925 were easy to check.  But what about the 915,000 that remain?  If a petitioner has an error rate of 25% right off the bat (and about 50% in some counties), how much faith are we supposed to have in the signatures that haven’t been disqualified?  If you had a friend who lied to you 25% of the time, wouldn’t you look askance at the 75% of things he swore to you were true?

It’s as if the unions are panning for signatures – just throw some giant rocks onto the secretary of state’s plate, and hope that when all the sand and gravel is sorted out (at great cost to the taxpayer), there’s enough gold there to force a referendum.  There’s just no way any state department can sort though and validate 1.3 million signatures with any kind of accuracy in such a short time span.

In order to streamline the process, there should be a penalty for submitting hundreds of thousands of bad signatures.  Make the petitioner reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of counting all the bogus signatures.  Dock the unions one valid signature for every two invalid ones.  Punish each circulator who turns in bad signatures with making them watch 10 hours of whatever Keith Olbermann’s show is now called (which would quadruple his audience, come to think of it.)

In any event, the current signature process in Ohio is like aiming a fire hose at the secretary of state’s staffers and asking them to catch the water with Dixie cups.  If this process works for unions in Ohio, there’s no doubt it will be employed here in Wisconsin, where only around 500,000 signatures are required to force a recall of Governor Scott Walker in 2012.

Wisconsin Flexes Its Star Power

Tuesday night’s utterly predictable recall election win by Democratic State Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay followed the usual protocol:  At about 9 p.m., Hansen strode to the podium at his victory party and predicted Democrats would take back the state senate when other recall elections are conducted in August.

But Hansen’s speech was followed with a bizarre appearance by – and this is not a joke –  Jon “Bowzer” Bauman of the ‘70s faux-greaser doo wop group Sha Na Na, who congratulated the Democrat on his win and predicted more big wins by Democrats in future recall elections.  Cashing in on Sha Na Na’s biggest hit, Bowzer eschewed any attempt at dip-dip-diplomacy, predicting Republican state senators would soon have to “get a job.”  (If there was any question that everyone in America was on drugs in 1972, that last clip will put that doubt to rest.)

Under normal circumstances, such an appearance by a D-minus list celebrity would have been scary and a bit confusing.  But since the Wisconsin collective bargaining fight broke out in February, Wisconsin has been flooded with once-notable celebrities whose name you thought would never pass your lips again.

On February 26th, a rally was held outside the state capitol featuring guest speaker Gabrielle Carteris, best known for her role in the early 1990s as high school virgin Andrea Zuckerman on Beverly Hills, 90210.  (And best known to everyone under the age of 35 as “who?”)  Carteris, who portrayed Zuckerman at the age of 30, has primarily been employed as a video game voice-over artist for the past decade.  Apparently Luke Perry’s sideburns were booked and couldn’t make it.  (Or, worse yet, they support Scott Walker.)

Following Carteris was Guiding Light actor Robert Newman, who is best known by people who mistakenly think he is Paul Newman.  The event was emceed by former Billy Madison foil (and West Wing alumnus) Bradley Whitford, who actually is kind of a star, but hails from Wisconsin, so he shows up for every lefty rally in Madison.  (Whitford would later disavow his role in Billy Madison, which is a considered a criminal offense by anyone who owns the first four Pearl Jam albums.)

A March rally featured Green Bay native and “Monk” star Tony Shalhoub, whose sister works as a public school teacher in Wisconsin.  Shalhoub was joined by Susan Sarandon and the ubiquitous Jesse Jackson, who became as much a part of the protest scene as “Scott Walker is Hitler” signs.  Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello showed up to rally the crowd, apparently undeterred by the crushing defeat I handed him in a Guitar Hero battle on Playstation two years ago.

In fact, Wisconsin is probably best known for its fictional celebrities.  Large chunks of this summer’s Bridesmaids and Transformers 3 were filmed in Milwaukee.  Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Titanic supposedly hailed from Chippewa Falls.  Fond du Lac was the fictional childhood home of There Will be Blood’s Daniel Plainview, who is best known for drinking other people’s milkshakes and clubbing them to death with bowling pins.  And let’s not even get started on the Fonz, who is memorialized in downtown Milwaukee with his own bronze statue.

As for the recall elections, it’s not as if Senator Hansen needed the much-sought-after “1970s fake greaser doo wop band” voting bloc to come through for him.  When Republican Assemblyman John Nygren failed to garner enough signatures to make it to the ballot, it left the GOP without a serious candidate to challenge him.  The only Republican left running owed $25,000 in back property taxes and had been arrested four times on domestic violence charges.  (His campaign slogan of “my wife is a crazy alcoholic” didn’t quite match “Yes We Can!” for inspirational value.)

Yet while spending weeks pointing out what a terrible candidate the GOP was running, now Democrats are crowing about Hansen’s re-election, as if it was some monumental triumph that signals momentum for the anti-Walker cause.  It does not.  It merely signals that voters prefer their state senators to dabble a little less in domestic violence.

The state now moves on to the remaining eight recall elections, in which six Republicans and two Democrats are in danger of losing their jobs.  And as for celebrity sightings, voters will certainly be moved when Weezie shows up at the capitol arguing that fish don’t fry in the kitchen, but concedes that beans may, in fact, burn on the grill.

Fact Check: Scott Walker on Mammograms

While there are a few websites out there dedicated to fact-checking Wisconsin political ads (including Charlie Sykes’ “Politicrap,” to which I have contributed), it’s hard to catch all the ads that are circling the airwaves.  In fact, a good campaign will keep the accusations flying, so that by the time someone can actually test their veracity, it seems like old news.

But there’s one accusation that caught my eye in the past few days that needs some attention.  An ad run by the Greater Wisconsin Committee (funded with $1 million of Governor Jim Doyle’s campaign money) claims that Scott Walker once voted to “deny women mammograms,” and to “cancel” their policies.


The source cited by the ad is Assembly Amendment 15 to Assembly Amendment 2 to Assembly Substitute Amendment 1 to Assembly Bill 133, which is the state budget bill from 1999.  (Technically, Walker voted to “table,” the Amendment, not against it – but that’s neither here nor there.)

This vote was part of the kabuki dance that goes on with every state budget.  A caucus (in this case, Assembly Republicans) gets together and agrees to their version of the budget.  When their negotiated agreement comes to the floor, the minority party (in this case, Assembly Democrats) offers dozens, if not hundreds, of amendments to the budget package – knowing full well that none of them will pass.  The purpose of offering them is solely for campaign season, so they can use them against members of the majority party.  (Who knew they’d keep this one in their back pocket for 11 years to use against Walker?)  Oddly, nobody in the state media considers the hours they spend taking these votes to be “campaign activity,” when, in fact, these votes exist only to hammer lawmakers in political ads.

To show this is a bipartisan phenomenon, take the 2009-11 budget bill deliberations.  When 2009 AB 75 (the budget bill) came to the floor, Republicans offered over 120 amendments.  One by one, the Democratic majority tabled them.  So each Democrat voted “against” those amendments in the same way Scott Walker voted “against” mammograms.

As someone who’s run campaigns in the past, I know there’s a hierarchy of attacks you can make against an opponent – if you have something really good, you use it the best way you can.  If you have something that’s semi-good, you twist it to make it as good as you can.  And if you have nothing on your opponent, you use one of these obscure, castoff budget votes.

But let’s look at what Scott Walker voted “against.”

In the 1999 budget, Assembly Republicans sought to include a provision that would have helped small businesses purchase affordable health care for their employees (see page 128 of the amendment here.)  The “Private Employer Health Care Purchasing Alliance,” as it was called, would have had the Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner solicit bids from plans that wanted to take part in the program.  If an employer took part in the program, the employer was required to offer health insurance to any employee that worked more than 30 hours per week – and pay for between 50% to 100% of those employees’ health care premiums.

However, in order to provide more flexible plans to keep costs down, some of the plans were allowed exemptions from state-imposed mandates.  For instance, every health plan in Wisconsin must carry coverage for chiropractic service – which adds cost to health plans.  Mammograms are another state mandate, and health plans were allowed to take part that did not cover them.

However – and this is important – plans offered by employers had to include at least one plan with the full complement of state mandates.  From page 132 of the bill, line 22:

The department shall ensure that at least one health care coverage plan includes all of the coverages specified in subd. 2. (the list of mandates.)

What the bill attempted to do was to keep costs down by offering flexibility within plans.  If you are a young, healthy, male, you wouldn’t be forced to buy a plan that makes you pay for mammograms.  If you’re a female who’s never taken a drink of alcohol, you wouldn’t be forced to pay extra for a plan that covers services for alcoholism.  And if you didn’t want to pay for a chiropractor, you wouldn’t have to.  Although legislative Democrats purport to want to keep health costs down, every mandate they add raises the cost of health insurance.

However, the bill ensured that if you did want coverage for all these things, there would be a plan available to you through your employer.  (If your employer didn’t take part in the program, you’d have to purchase health care just like you do now – but with the full complement of expensive mandates.)  The amendment Walker voted to table would have moved many of these procedures back into the “mandated” category – but his vote didn’t deny mammogram coverage to a single woman in Wisconsin.  In fact, if the program were to be administered correctly, it would ensure that many more women received better health care through their employer for a lower price.

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that the final budget that year was such a horrifying document, it passed by an overwhelmingly bipartisan margin – 82 to 17 in the Assembly.  And it did include a version of the Private Employer Health Care Coverage Plan.

Please Vote Against This Cantaloupe

You’ve already heard 2010 is going to be a terrible year for incumbents.  Due to the disastrous policies of the Bush administration (and not Congress, where I have sat for 18 years, the last two with my party in complete control), the American public is upset.

And despite my best efforts to pass a law keeping produce from running against me, here I am – stuck with a melon beating me in the polls.

Just look at it – it looks like the kind of cantaloupe that would support the same policies as NEWT GINGRICH and SARAH PALIN.  Rumor has it this cantaloupe’s name has even been mentioned by the likes of GLENN BECK and RUSH LIMBAUGH.  And if I think of any other unpopular names that I can mention in the same sentence with the cantaloupe, I’ll get back to you.

In fact, it was just a few months ago that Kentucky senate candidate Rand Paul mentioned that he’d like to roll back elements of the Civil Rights Act.  And the cantaloupe just STOOD BY and said NOTHING.  In fact, I can’t remember this melon explicitly saying anything supporting the Civil Rights Act, which of course was passed 45 years ago.

Come to think of it, I never recall the cantaloupe ever saying explicitly he opposed drilling for oil in the great lakes.  And since my campaign is desperate enough to spend millions of dollars on ads decrying things the melon didn’t say, I should accuse it of wanting a BP-style oil spill on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Why even stop there?  I never heard the cantaloupe say it opposed ripping up your kitchen floor and drilling for oil there.  That’ll be a real vote mover.

Part two of my strategy will be to hurl epithets at the cantaloupe, knowing that most press outfits will dutifully start incorporating them into their stories if I say them enough.  If I repeatedly call the cantaloupe an “out of touch millionaire,” the Associated Press will begin referring to the melon in that manner.  (After making a salary of over $150,000 for 18 years, I am only worth $165,000, which I think actually makes people more likely to want me manage their tax money.) If I falsely accuse the cantaloupe of benefiting from a government agriculture subsidy, the media will run with it – even after some television stations ask me to pull a misleading ad I’m running using their footage.

Who knows – maybe I can go on national television and accuse the cantaloupe of being a communist sympathizer.  (This would be particularly ironic if I currently held the seat of the Senate’s most notorious red-baiter.) Who’s going to stop me?  The press?  They’re the ones trying to use the cantaloupe as a springboard to get their own names on the national news wires.  If I got caught buying a bag of crack in the inner city, they’d write a glowing article about how I’m getting drugs off the streets.

There are dozens of time-tested strategies I can use.  I can offer to debate the cantaloupe 24 times (a common trick of candidates behind in the polls), then express outrage when it agrees to any number less than the one I have capriciously picked.  I can express outrage any time the cantaloupe mentions my name in an ad, saying it’s “mudslinging.”  I can try to tie the cantaloupe to any intemperate thing said by any member of an organization that normally supports produce.

Clearly, the cantaloupe has picked up momentum by merely not being me.  And that hurts my feelings.  So I will continue to run a dual campaign – on the one hand, trying to convince people I have the dignity associated with an 18-year veteran of the Senate, while also making mind-numbing charges that even the cast members of “Jersey Shore” would consider beneath them.

And, of course, if the cantaloupe doesn’t respond, it means it is probably a communist.

Ieshuh Griffin Unveils Her New Slogan

Wisconsin political legend Ieshuh Griffin showed up on The Daily Show last night to unveil her new campaign slogan:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Slogan’s Hero
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Clearly, her new slogan was inspired by Ron Johnson’s “No Old Booty” campaign against Russ Feingold.

Doyle’s Charitable Sleaze

So we now know Governor Jim Doyle has shifted $1 million of his now-defunct campaign fund over to the Greater Wisconsin Committee, a political group intending to run television ads to smear Republicans in the upcoming fall election.

Perhaps as interesting as the fact that Doyle chose to use $1 million of his own money to trash either Scott Walker or Mark Neumann is the potential other options he had at his disposal.

Wisconsin Statute 11.19(1) governs how “residual” campaign funds can be spent:

Residual funds may be used for any political purpose not prohibited by law, returned to the donors in an amount not exceeding the original contribution, or donated to a charitable organization or the common school fund.

There you go – you can use the money for campaign stuff, give it back to the donors, give it to charity, or give it to schools.  Given that list, you can easily see where Doyle’s priorities lie.  Certainly can’t think of any charities that need help in a bad economy.

Remember when Doyle was so irate about the federal government not sending “Race to the Top” money to Wisconsin’s schools?  Remember all his indignation about how desperately the state’s educational system needed an infusion of cash?  Well, when given the chance to help out the common school fund, Jim Doyle turned his back on them and decided instead to spend his money on ads accusing Scott Walker of wanting women to get breast cancer.

On the bright side, school kids will still be using Wisconsin history books that were written before Doyle took office.  Now they won’t be able to read about the time he chose partisan sleaze over hiring teachers.

Oh, and one last thing – up until now, the links between Doyle and Barrett have been circumstantial.  (Obviously, Barrett has been pretending that he thinks this “Jim Doyle” is a character on “Jersey Shore.”)   Think there’s a pretty direct link now?

Cheapskating to Victory

Wisconsin’s own Stephen Hayes takes a look at Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker in the most recent Weekly Standard.  Much of it will be familiar to those in Wisconsin who have been following the race  – but an exchange Hayes had with Graeme Zielinski of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is most telling:

Graeme Zielinski, a former political reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who left his job earlier this year to become the spokesman for the Wisconsin Democratic party, wants me to know that Walker’s candidacy is based on lies and half-truths. “Generally, it’s our position that Scott Walker isn’t truthful about his record on just about anything.”

“When Scott Walker was in the legislature, he voted several times for budgets that included studies on high speed rail,” Zielinski explained. “If he was such an opponent of high speed rail, he wouldn’t have been in a tough election fight before he brought it up. He’s been a Johnny-come-lately to this.”

As it happens, I’d just read the transcript of an editorial board meeting with the Journal Sentinel from 2002 featuring Walker and his first opponent for the county executive seat, Jim Ryan. The two men agreed on many of the urgent issues facing the county, but one major area of disagreement concerned infrastructure. Ryan favored funding for a rail-based system in Milwaukee County. Walker did not.

He made two arguments against it—priorities and costs. “There are an incredibly large number of other infrastructure-based projects on the table that directly tie in the economic development that far outweighs the seriousness of just this rail-based system.” Walker was worried that federal subsidies would not cover the entire cost of the project and would, in any case, leave the county responsible for operating costs it could not afford. He makes exactly the same arguments today about high-speed rail.

So I pressed Zielinski about Walker’s supposed votes for high-speed rail.

“Was that one of those situations where he cast the vote for a huge budget so you can’t separate it out?”

“Yeah,” he acknowledged. “Absolutely.”

“So is it your view that the principled thing to do would have been to vote ‘no’ on the overall budget because it included studies on high-speed rail?”

“Well, he—he took some affirmative votes in committee that allowed—procedurally allowed those studies to go forward.”

That didn’t sound like a big deal to me, but if the spokesman for the Democratic party thought enough of it to make it his leading critique of Walker, I wanted to know more. Zielinski said he would send me details about those votes and then shifted to a broader critique, attacking Walker from the right.

“On spending, he’s increased spending by $380 million—more than any candidate in this race. On taxes, he raised taxes by 40 million bucks while he’s been here.”

I asked him about that number. “He raised taxes by 40 million bucks. The tax levy has gone up by $40 million.”

Of course, those are two different claims. The first one is false; the second one is true. The tax levy has indeed increased, but only because the county board repeatedly raised taxes over Walker’s veto. I pointed that out to Zielinski.

“He signed those budgets. He signed those budgets.”

“But they were passed over his veto.”

A four-second pause and then:

“Spending went up by 380 million bucks. And if his argument is ‘I couldn’t do anything,’ then how can he do something about high-speed rail? ‘Well, I was helpless about increasing spending by 35 percent but I’m not helpless on high-speed rail.’ That doesn’t square.”

Zielinski then warmed to the theme of making Milwaukee County sound something like Rome, or at least Detroit. “The parks are in ruins. The county buildings are in ruins. Services are in ruins.”

Of course, when things go wrong in Milwaukee County, it’s Scott Walker’s fault.  When things go wrong in the City of Milwaukee, it’s never Tom Barrett’s fault.

Read the whole thing here.

Feingold Approved This Nonsense

So Ron Johnson has a new ad out.  Here it is:

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Pretty straightforward, nothing earth-shattering.

But I always get a kick out of the part of Johnson’s ads where he has to say “I approved this message.”  As we know, the only reason Johnson has to waste those four seconds is because of Russ Feingold.

The “I approved this message” provision was passed as a part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law in 2002.  In fact, it is one of the few portions of Feingold’s signature piece of legislation that hasn’t been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Court has, on at least three occasions, struck down major pieces of Feingold’s bill as unconstitutional restrictions of free political speech.

But the obnoxious “stand by your ad” provision remains.  As if, for some reason, we couldn’t figure out that an ad featuring Ron Johnson standing in front of a camera talking to us, with the words “Paid For By Ron Johnson for Senate, Inc., Approved by Ron Johnson” at the bottom of the screen, was, in fact, approved by Ron Johnson.  Has a candidate ever spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an ad for which he only partially approved?  Imagine seeing an ad that began, “I’m Ron Johnson, and I’m pretty sure I approve of at least half of this message.

Of course, McCain-Feingold was supposed to root out corruption from the political system.  I challenge anyone to explain to me how costing a challenger four seconds of his political ad to state the obvious has prevented a single act of corruption or underhandedness in politics.  (Didn’t anyone tell Congressman Charlie Rangel that Feingold meant business?)

If I were running Johnson’s campaign, I would make this a point of one of my ads.  Begin an ad by saying “I’m Ron Johnson, and I approve of this message.”  Then go on to mention that you have to say that disclaimer because Russ Feingold was too busy worrying about micromanaging what is said in political ads and not worried enough about all the jobs Wisconsin has been hemorrhaging.  Then pivot to the economic talking points of your choosing.  Easy as that.

And if I were Russ Feingold, I would work a little harder to find at least one living person who has benefited from the stimulus plan to put in my ads.  At least, thanks to his own law,  we now know he approves of creating jobs for fictional people.

The Crazy World of Independent Candidates

Since the recent news cycle has birthed us the gift of Ieshuh Griffin (aka, “Not the whiteman’s bitch), I thought I’d pass on a magazine piece I wrote about some of Wisconsin’s other more colorful independent candidates.

Read it here.

An excerpt:

[Ed] Thompson was also joined as a third party gubernatorial candidate by Mike Mangan, who campaigned wearing a gorilla suit. Mangan, a self-employed energy consultant from Waukesha, waged what he called a “guerilla attack against state spending.” Mangan criticized the state’s “King Kong deficit,” which is quite a coincidence since he happened to own a gorilla mask. (Fortunately for Mangan, the deficit wasn’t the size of a turtle, as he would have had to scramble for a new costume.) Mangan was actually a fan of Ed Thompson’s run, seeing it as a breakthrough for third parties in future races, saying, “I think he’s opening doors.”

These independent candidates represent only a small sliver of the colorful history of third party politicians in Wisconsin. In 1974, flamboyant West Milwaukee used car dealer James Groh legally changed his name to “Crazy Jim” to run for governor as an independent. Crazy Jim was a staunch advocate of legalized gambling, and frequently spun a tale of how he once played cards with Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas. At the time, the concept of legal gambling in Wisconsin seemed to be far-fetched—yet Crazy Jim turned out to be a visionary, as Wisconsin adopted a state lottery and welcomed almost unlimited Indian casino gambling by the 1990s. Crazy Jim lost to incumbent Patrick Lucey 629,000 votes to 12,100; but his family said he took solace throughout his life in the fact that he carried Waushara County. (Although he did not—records show he only garnered 47 votes in Waushara County, which placed him a distant fifth.) Crazy Jim died in 2002 of a heart attack.

In Madison, self-described “futurist” Richard H. Anderson has run for numerous offices, including state assembly, mayor, and city council. Anderson routinely ran on an “anti-mind control” platform, believing the government had planted a cybernetic chip in his brain. A self-described bisexual, Anderson fought for better treatment of minorities and, as a surprise to exactly no one, for legalized marijuana. “Just because I’m a pot head doesn’t mean I’m not qualified to hold office,” he once said. Unfortunately, the government rarely used mind control to direct voters to vote for him, as he once mustered a scant six votes in a race for the state Assembly against now-Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin. Naturally, the Progressive Capital Times newspaper said Anderson had “made a good impression.”

(One has to wonder what a debate between a “pro-mind control” and “anti-mind control” candidate is like. Presumably, the “anti” candidate would get up to speak, the “pro” candidate would glare and point his finger at them, and the “anti” candidate would sheepishly sit back down without saying a word.)

Read more here.

As a bonus gift, here’s proof that Tennessee is in good hands, courtesy of gubernatorial candidate Basil Marceaux:

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What Should Be Allowed on your F#$@ing Ballot?

People that know me well know that I love nothing more than fringe candidates.  So when I saw that today a woman was testifying in front of the state Government Accountability Board (GAB) in order to have the words “Not the whiteman’s bitch” placed under her name on the ballot, well…. DOUBLE RAINBOW.

Ieshuh Griffin, independent candidate for the 10th Assembly district, was an impressive witness.  As an independent candidate, she is entitled to have a “Statement of Principle” of up to five words placed under her name on the ballot.  It is assumed that people generally know what “Republican” and “Democrat” mean, but “Independent” could mean anything – so independent candidates are allowed to briefly clarify their platforms.

Obviously, the GAB argued that Griffin’s proposed statement of interest was obscene.  Griffin appealed to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to affirm her free speech rights.  She attempted to debunk the idea that “bitch” is an offensive word, pointing out that it refers to a female dog.  And she was able to quote the GAB rules, chapter and verse.  Obviously, she’s a smart woman, and knows exactly what she’s doing by challenging the GAB’s authority to censor her statement. (In fact, I’d probably vote for her – how can she be any worse than any of the other Milwaukee legislators?)

During the debate, it appeared the GAB panel of ex-judges was sympathetic to Ms. Griffin’s free speech argument.  (Of course, if some independent candidate had put “keep out illegals” as their statement, they would have been thrown off the ballot within seconds.)  An attorney for the GAB said candidate statements have been stricken from the ballot for saying things like “cut taxes,” which seems preposterous.

In the end, Ms. Griffin got a majority of the GAB board to side with her by a 3 to 2 vote.  Unfortunately, she needed four votes to win her petition, so her statement will be removed from the ballot (she said she will appeal.)

But given that her position was shot down by a group of old white guys, it makes her statement of purpose a little ironic, no?

(I’ll post the WisconsinEye video when it’s available.)

In other news, the GAB declined a GOP effort to have Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (or, “T-Ball” as she is known amongst the youngsters) removed from the ballot for having an insufficient address on her nomination papers.  Baldwin apparently listed an office address on her papers, not her actual voting address.  Her campaign claims she was granted a security exemption, given that she is a lesbian.

Let’s back up there.  I have no knowledge of whether any threats have been made against Tammy Baldwin, and I can imagine they’re pretty horrifying.

But really?  In Madison? Of all the places on the planet you’d think would care the least about her orientation, Madison would be at the top of the list.  I’m certainly not saying her security fears are unwarranted – it’s just weird that it still happens in the most progressive town in America.

We Wuz Right On Obey

Back in May, I expressed some skepticism at Congressman Dave Obey’s stated reason for retiring from the House of Representatives after 41 years of service.  Obey said he was “bone tired,” and that he decided long ago to retire after the big health care bill passed.

The media lapped this all up, running with the “old liberal lion retires on his own terms” talking point.  But as I pointed out, this all didn’t add up, as Obey continued to raise money and conduct polls well after the health care bill passed.  At the time, I mentioned that Obey’s next finance report would truly be telling.

Well, we have it – and it confirms my suspicions.  According to’s “DC Wrap:”

Retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Obey paid more than $30,000 on polling just eight days before announcing his retirement, according to the longtime congressman’s latest filing with the FEC.

Obey announced his retirement May 5 after more than four decades in the House, saying he wanted to see health care reform passed and was simply “bone tired.” But insiders in both parties questioned the abrupt announcement during a tough election year, and Republicans suggested he may not have wanted to fight against a GOP tide and then-Ashland Co. DA Sean Duffy.

That $30,000 he spent was on top of another $30,000 he spent in the previous reporting period.  So you’re telling me Dave Obey, having already decided he was going to retire, spent $60,000 in polls for no reason?  What kinds of questions was Obey asking people in this $30,000 poll if it had NO bearing on whether he retired?

  • “In a head to head matchup: Team Edward or Team Jacob?”
  • All things being equal, who can do more push-ups: President Obama or the Green Lantern?
  • “Got any good salmon recipes?”
  • “Do you think your neighbor smells like Indian food?
  • “Would it creep you out if you knew I was conducting this poll in my bathrobe?”

Of course, Obey’s retirement is no longer newsworthy, and nobody’s going to report anything that makes them look like fools in retrospect.  But let the history books show – the voters decided they didn’t want Dave Obey – not the other way around.

Stabbed by a Poll

A few weeknights ago, I was sitting comfortably at home, enjoying some commercials for the A-Team movie, which were occasionally interrupted by some NBA playoff basketball. The phone rang, and I do what I normally do – swear for 30 seconds, then I got off the couch to answer it. (It is never for me.)

At the other end of the line was a pleasant young Indian woman telling me she was conducting a poll. For some reason, I’m on a giant master polling list, because I get calls like these at least once a week. I asked her who commissioned the poll, and she said if she told me, she’d have to cancel the call, as it would bias the results.

Seeing as how our group does polling for a living, I decided to go through with it, to see if I could guess who was conducting the poll. Plus, whenever I answer a telephone poll, I feel like I’m doing my civic duty. Like I should receive some sort of cash award. (Now that I mention it, public, you owe me $13.24 for my time. An invoice is on the way.)

But here’s the thing about polls – often times, complicated issues are boiled down to “yes” or “no” answers – and I feel an obligation to give an answer, so I might be a little more… shall we say… forthcoming in my answers. It’s for science, right?

For example, one of the questions in this poll was, “Do you support or oppose gay marriage?” This is an issue on which I’m genuinely conflicted. I don’t buy that gay and lesbian couples getting married affects my own marriage in any way. (In fact, the 6 month-long NBA playoffs has done far more damage to my marriage than “the gays” ever will. If Kobe Bryant married another man, I might have to get divorced on the spot.)

But this wasn’t the only question I was supposed to boil down into a one word answer. Imagine getting a question like, “do you support deporting all the illegal immigrants in America?” Obviously, it’s a complicated issue. And answering either “yes” or “no” can’t possibly reflect any complicated underlying issues.

About halfway in, I was asked some questions about my congressional representative, Tammy Baldwin. “Do you think Tammy Baldwin spends too much time on gay and lesbian issues?” was one of them. “Do you think Tammy Baldwin has done enough to keep and create jobs in America?” was another.

It was at this point that I realized it was Baldwin’s campaign that was conducting the poll. (And don’t think the irony was lost on me that a woman on a headset in India, hired by the Tammy Baldwin campaign, was asking me if Baldwin has done enough to keep jobs in America.)

Conservative candidates don’t waste valuable poll questions asking about gay and lesbian issues – generally, because they’re not really a vote mover. (In 2006, the constitutional amendment passed 60-40, but Republicans were trounced in elections all across Wisconsin.) It’s only a liberal fantasy that conservative voters sit around their house, wringing their hands about the gay conspiracy taking over the world. We’re actually too busy going to work and watching Glenn Beck.

But then it occurred to me – here I was, trying to be a stand-up citizen and give one-word answers to all these complicated questions, and now Tammy Baldwin has all my answers at the tip of her fingers. I was trying to be as honest as possible, but clearly some of my answers to the questions as they were asked would need further explanation to be publicly palatable.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, I wanted to enter a life of crime – and run for Congress. (This will not happen, incidentally, as I plan to marry Kobe Bryant and move to the Bahamas.) Now Baldwin has all my simple answers to her questions – asked the way her campaign wanted to ask them – which she could use to make me look like an idiot. (More so than I normally do myself.)

This is an awesome strategy future campaigns should use. Once you get yourself elected, pick out who your most likely challengers will be in your next election. Then do some phony poll that only calls those people, and get them on the record with “yes” and “no” answers on some controversial issues. You’ll probably find that they’ll give you more honest answers, as they feel like they’re doing their civic duty. Then, when they run, you can hammer them with their own positions. As Gill the Fish says in Finding Nemo, IT’S FOOLPROOF.


(Incidentally, if your campaign does use this strategy, you are violating my intellectual property. I accept payment in Jamba Juice.)

Feingold’s Catching the Vapors

If you see a bead of sweat forming on Russ Feingold’s brow these days, don’t blame the late June Wisconsin humidity. It’s far more likely that his flop sweat is the result of early summer poll results trickling in.

Yesterday, Rasmussen issued a poll showing Feingold in a statistical dead heat with challenger Ron Johnson, with Feingold ahead by a slim 46% to 45% margin. It is stunning that an 18-year incumbent would be virtually dead even with a newcomer who has been in the race for about sixty seconds. But Johnson, a businessman from Oshkosh, is clearly riding a wave of discontent with Feingold and Congress.

Yet even with the polls telling us what we already know, Feingold has been signaling his desperation with a number of odd public statements over the past few days. He continues to take some puzzling shots at Johnson, indicating that he knows he’s in serious danger of losing his job.

For instance, at a candidate debate between Johnson and GOP primary opponent Dave Westlake yesterday, the issue of the BP oil spill came up. According to, Johnson said he believed “BP must be held accountable,” although he had questions about the manner in which their $20 billion victim’s fund was created and would be distributed by President Obama. Hardly groundbreaking stuff.

But Feingold’s attack machine pounced, almost as if they wrote Feingold’s statement before the debate even took place: “The fact that both Republican candidates came out in opposition to holding BP accountable for the worst environmental disaster in our country’s history shows just how addicted the GOP is to big oil special interests and how out of touch they are with Wisconsin.”

Of course, this is a demonstrable lie, which Feingold knows won’t be followed up on by any reporter in Wisconsin. Apparently, Feingold knows that he can’t win points against Johnson by debating what he actually says, so he just has to make things up.

Even more puzzling was Feingold’s next attack. On Tuesday night of this week, Johnson attended some meetings in Washington, D.C., including a meet and greet with lobbyists. Again, Feingold’s attack dogs went on offense:

“By going out to Washington, D.C., to meet with lobbyists and special interests Ron Johnson makes it pretty clear whose side he’s on.”

Ironically, just a few days ago, Feingold criticized Johnson for being a millionaire. Wouldn’t that mean that Johnson isn’t beholden to special interest money? Apparently, according to Feingold, Johnson is “corrupted” either by his own money or other peoples’ money, depending on what week it is.

Furthermore, it only took about three mouse clicks to find this list of political action committee contributions Feingold has accepted during his time in the Senate. The total tally of special interest contributions collected by Feingold: 1,096 lobbyist contributions totaling $1,868,908. This from the self-professed King of Campaign Finance Reform. Seems to be working out well for him.

Among Feingold’s contributors:

  • Goldman-Sachs
  • American Dental Association
  • American Federation of Government Employees
  • American Postal Worker’s Union
  • Armenian American PAC
  • Automobile Club of Michigan
  • Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen
  • California PAC
  • Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County
  • Engineers Union
  • Florida Congressional Committee
  • Georgia Peach PAC
  • International Brotherhood of Boilermakers
  • Land O’ Lakes
  • Maryland Association of Concerned Citizens
  • National Education Association
  • The Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball

And on and on it goes – 1,096 contributions and $1.8 million long. And yet, according to Feingold, it is Ron Johnson, who’s been back in Oshkosh building his business from scratch, who is beholden to lobbyists. (Of course, Feingold will never be asked what the Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County have to do with creating jobs in Wisconsin.)

Even more ridiculous is this press release from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, which ends with this paragraph:

The Bellwether Group raised money for Congressman Tom Feeney, who lost his seat after he became engulfed in the largest Washington D.C. lobbying scandal in history. Feeney accepted a Scottish golf trip from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and was named one of the most corrupt members of Congress four times by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Got that? It’s not the Senator who’s spent 18 years in Washington that’s connected to Jack Abramoff – it’s the guy who’s never had anything to do with the corrupt political machine in D.C. for the entirety of his life. This is like saying that since Prince Fielder plays in Milwaukee, he must eat people like Jeffrey Dahmer.

You have to wonder if they have a giant flow chart on the wall at the Democratic Party – the “Six Degrees of Jack Abramoff” chart. If somehow, you fall within five degrees, then suddenly you’re corrupt. It appears asking the Dem Party to have at least a fifth grade level of sophistication is asking too much.

Of course, there aren’t any media members who will ever point out how desperate Feingold actually is. Saint Russ the Maverick will continue to get a free pass until election day. In fact, for this reason, a candidate against Feingold almost necessarily has to be a millionaire, in order to counteract all the positive press Feingold will get throughout the campaign.

This is perhaps the greatest irony in all these mistruths spun by Feingold – he champions restricting political speech because of all the damage it supposedly does to democracy; yet it’s the blatant lies told by candidates themselves that do the most to coarsen the public’s perception of their elected officials.  Obviously, he knows he can’t win on his own likeability – he has to tear down a good man to sneak past the finish line.  Somehow, I don’t think we’ll see a new law regulating that.

Don’t You Just Want to Pinch Mark Neumann’s Cheeks?

As a father, I’ve figured out that nothing – nothing – is more adorable than when little kids use big words that they don’t understand.

In fact, when I was a little kid, my parents used to take me to their favorite seafood restaurant.  Sometimes, my mother would get a buttered lobster.  I would stare at the red lobster shell, enthralled by the claws and eyes.  Finally, in the loudest voice I could muster, I blurted out:

“Mom, are you going to eat the testicles?”

Of course, I meant tentacles.  The restaurant stopped and looked at our table.  My mother covered her face in horror.  I don’t remember us ever going back.

As it turns out, in the Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial primary, we’re seeing one of the candidates misuse a word – and it’s adorable.  Seems that Mark Neumann is claiming to be a “conservative,” without really knowing what the word means.  And you just want to pat him on the head and pinch his little cheeks.

While crashing the Democratic convention last week, Neumann, a former congressman who has repeatedly claimed to be the “only conservative” in the race for governor, was asked a question regarding what he thought about the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision.  The decision, handed down several months ago, affirmed the right of third party organizations to run advertisements during campaigns.  The ruling struck down a portion of the McCain/Feingold campaign finance law that banned issue advertisements close to election day.  In effect, the Court limited the government’s ability to regulate the timing and content of political speech.

But when asked about Citizens United, Mark Neumann bristled.  Here’s a video of his response:

[flv: 480 360]

You heard that right.  Said Neumann:

“I think they should shut down every outside source of information in this campaign except the candidates themselves…”

“Whether that’s not constitutional so we obviously can’t do that. But if Mark Neumann got to have what he wished, that’s what would happen, sir.”

Neumann would actually support governmental censorship of political speech – if only that pesky Constitution didn’t get in the way.  He would trust the government to determine what is and isn’t a political ad, and allow it to ban whatever it believes to be objectionable.

There isn’t a “conservative” alive that would trust the federal government with that much power to abridge the First Amendment.  At least none with a fundamental understanding of what conservatism means.

What would the effect of Neumann’s ban on political speech be?  Studies have shown that in races where third parties buy advertising, voters know more about the candidates, and vote in greater numbers.  Apparently Neumann would like less informed voters who don’t bother to vote as often.

Strict campaign finance regulations also heavily benefit incumbents.  Elected officials already in office build themselves huge advantages using taxpayer resources.  Often times, challengers need help from third party groups to bring issues to the forefront that aid them in overcoming this natural incumbent advantage.  Shutting down political speech insulates incumbents from much of the criticism they’ve earned during their tenure.

Of course, if individual citizens are prohibited from engaging in political speech, it always favors candidates with boatloads of personal money who are willing to spend it.  Candidates exactly like Mark Neumann, who appears to be spending millions of his own dollars without getting much bang for his buck.

By condemning free campaign speech, Neumann is casting his lot with liberal boobs like Ed Garvey, who actually claimed the Citizens United decision was worse than Pearl Harbor.  (Do not adjust your computer – he actually said it.)  Mike McCabe of the left wing Wisconsin Democracy Campaign claimed the decision was worse than Dred Scott.  And if he had heard of any other Supreme Court cases, he’d totally think it was as bad as them, too.  (Incidentally, the Citizens United decision clearly hasn’t meant the end of democracy, as liberals predicted.  For dozens more posts about the folly of campaign finance reform, go here.)

I had a friend in college who was terrible with directions.  He thought what ever way his car was pointed was north.  It seems like Neumann is working off the same plan – “I’m a conservative, so whatever I say must be conservative, too.” Only it’s not.

So while it does make you want to mess up his hair and buy him an orange push-up, Neumann’s claim that he’s the “conservative” in the race for governor has now lost all meaning.  Republicans now don’t have to worry about whether there’s any validity to his claim, as Neumann clearly himself doesn’t know what the term means.

[Note: WPRI does not endorse candidates – it’s up to you to decide who you support.  But we will discuss candidates when they pitch goofball ideas.]

Tea Parties – The Universal Excuse

In the wake of Dick Leinenkugel dropping out of the Wisconsin Republican U.S. Senate primary race, editorials like this from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and this from my friend Emily Mills were so predictable, I actually predicted them.*  (Now I’m kicking myself for not doing so publicly – if only there were some kind of program where you could broadcast proclamations to hundreds of people at once, preferably using 140 characters or less.  Someone get on that.)

Now Dick Leinenkugel seems like a really nice guy.  His only problem was, he wasn’t a Republican.  Generally, that helps when running in a Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

But the MJS and Mills both believe that it was the fault of the Tea Parties for running Leinenkugel out of the primary.  They cite the old tried and true talking point that somehow the Republican Party is getting too “extreme,” and not welcoming moderates.  Sayeth Mills:

Talk radio and the Tea Party elements of the party had all been hammering away at the fact that Leinenkugel had dared work as Commerce Secretary for a brief period under Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. These days, the so-called Republican base seems to treat any and all bipartisanship (or even mixed employment) like touching a leper. “Leinenkugel also said ‘reasonable people’ understand why a conservative businessman would go to work for government, even with Democrats running it.” Trouble is the new Republican base isn’t big on reason.

Sure.  There’s to “reasonable” explanation as to why a guy who has spent his life supporting Democrats might be looked at skeptically by the Republican Party.

And I’m certain that if a Bush Administration official suddenly decided they were a Democrat and sought the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate at the last minute, Democrats would be perfectly fine with that.  If Condoleezza Rice moved to Wisconsin and ran in a Democratic primary, certainly she would be welcomed with open arms by liberals.  In fact, she’d not only be booed during intra-party debates, she’d have a lot of trouble leaving without being covered in tomatoes.

In fact, wasn’t it just the Democratic Party last week that purged Arlen Specter from its ranks?  Who do we blame for that?  ACORN?  Didn’t Dave Obey just single-handedly purge about five would-be Democrat successors to his seat from a primary?  Wasn’t it the Democrats that gave Joe Lieberman the boot a couple years ago for daring to support the war effort in Iraq?  I guess the Democrats in Connecticut were standing on “principle.”

Now, if Leinenkugel were the only guy running in the primary and the party didn’t give him a chance, it would be one thing.  But when tried-and-true Republicans have the opportunity to choose guys like Terrence Wall or Ron Johnson over a guy with zero GOP street cred, it only makes sense.  In fact, rather than proving Republican voters are sheep, it shows they’re actually tuned in and paying attention.

Dick Leinenkugel may have a future in the Wisconsin GOP yet.  He gained a lot of goodwill by recognizing his lack of credibility with primary voters and stepping aside. (Although my Democrat friends told me they secretly wished he was the guy running as a Democrat to replace Dave Obey in the 7th Congressional District right now.)  Of course, by then, editorial boards will have moved on to blaming the Tea Parties for oil spills, or the gout, or halitosis.

* In fairness, I predicted the editorial would come from the Capital Times, Madison’s steamiest online political chat room for singles.

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