Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Category: Legislation (page 2 of 2)

Handicapping the Wisconsin Legislature

Wouldn’t it be great if life were a lot more like golf? We’d all benefit from the thrill of competition, we’d learn good sportsmanship, and we’d all get to enjoy the great outdoors on a daily basis. (In my case, I get to enjoy nature more than most, as I’m usually hitting out of a bird’s nest.) And best yet, if you’re a terrible golfer, you get a “handicap,” which levels the playing field by letting you shave strokes off your final score.

(Perhaps most importantly, any situation where it’s acceptable to wear plaid pants in public is okay in my book.)

The whole concept of making things fair by allowing for a handicap would be welcome in real life. All your friends would be uglier than you, so you’d look better by comparison. People would only be allowed to talk about books you have read, so you could dazzle them with your insight. You could walk right into your new job, declare yourself a substandard worker, and thus be allowed to do half the work of your colleagues. (One of the ironclad rules of the workplace – never do anything well the first time, because if you do, you’ll get stuck doing it forever.)

Apparently, Democrats in the Wisconsin State Legislature feel the same way about “leveling” the playing field in elections. Or at least they pretend to – in actuality, their plan for “fairness” in legislative redistricting is a naked attempt to provide themselves with a redistricting handicap, which would guarantee Democrat majorities for the foreseeable future.

The whole idea of fairness in redistricting and creating competitive districts has become a hot topic among “good government” groups, who are displeased with the idea of allowing legislators to set the boundaries of their own districts. Groups like the League of Women Voters and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign have lobbied for legislation to set up an independent panel to set legislative districts. In 2006, the League of Women Voters issued a survey for candidates that asked this question:

4. YES OR NO: Do you support and would you vote for legislative measures making electoral competitiveness a legal or constitutional standard that must be applied by the Legislature and the courts in establishing state legislative and congressional district boundaries?

Clearly, they are dissatisfied with the current makeup of the State Legislature and think there’s a better way to draw legislative districts. They think that the districts are rigged by the incumbent lawmakers that redraw them every decade. They think that somehow, the state Constitution should be rewritten to make “electoral competitiveness” the standard when drawing new districts.

In the 2007 session, they got their wish – Democratic Representatives Fred Kessler of Milwaukee and Spencer Black of Madison introduced a constitutional amendment (AJR 63) that sets up an independent board to write new districts and creates a standard of “fairness” that most districts will have to reflect.

So making all the districts in the state competitive sounds like a good idea, right? Then, more races will be contested, and democracy will flourish, correct? There’s only one problem with this theory: The Voting Rights Act.

In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote for all citizens. The Act was a response to Southern separatists, who responded to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by making it more difficult for blacks to vote.

For the past 40 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has continued to mold the meaning of the Civil Rights Act. One of the problems encountered by the courts has been that of “vote dilution,” used by segregationists to lessen the influence of black voters. These segregationist lawmakers would gerrymander districts to make sure only a sliver of black voters were present in each district, which guaranteed no minorities could be elected to office, and would “dilute” the efficacy of minority votes.

To address this nefarious tactic, the courts have ruled that wherever possible, minority representation must be present. The goal in redistricting has to be keeping minority voters together as a community. To that end, where there are majority-minority populations, there must be an opportunity to elect a minority to office. Of course, minorities, especially African-Americans, disproportionately vote for Democrats. Thus, in heavily black areas of Milwaukee, you find a lot of black Democrats that hold office. Here’s a map of downtown Milwaukee Assembly districts:

Of the inner city Milwaukee districts, look at the solid block that are represented by African Americans or other minorities: the 16th (Leon Young), 18th (Tamara Grigsby), 10th (Polly Williams), 17th (Barbara Toles), 8th (Pedro Colon), and 11th (Jason Fields). Additionally, these districts are represented by African-Americans Spencer Coggs and Lena Taylor in the State Senate. Of course, all of these minority representatives are Democrats, and represent heavily Democratic districts.

Now try to imagine drawing a map where each of these districts are “electorally competitive.” Think of how you could take these 90% Democratic districts and gerrymander them so they are each 50% Republican. You would essentially have about ten to fifteen districts made up primarily of the suburbs that pick off just a little sliver of inner city Milwaukee. The effect of this type of gerrymandering? Vote dilution.

Trying to make these districts “electorally competitive” would fracture the African-American community into little sections, where it would be increasingly more difficult to elect black representatives. I’m not willing to say that any of the current African-American representatives couldn’t be elected in majority white districts, but Wisconsin has yet to elect a minority in any district without a strong minority presence (Bob Turner from Racine, for instance). So the end result of the League of Women Voters’ plan to equalize districts would actually be to end minority representation in the state.

Not only would this be unlawful (as determined by the courts) it wouldn’t pass the test of public decency. Of course, what the League really wants to do is make heavily Republican districts more competitive. But in order to do that, you have to move the Republicans somewhere, and they would have to go into districts that cause problems with equal rights case law. Since Republicans continue to win seats in both state houses, they figure something must be wrong with the process of drawing districts – it’s obviously rigged.

Enter the Kessler/Black constitutional amendment, which makes an exception for majority-minority districts. The bill says:

[Article IV] Section 3 (2) Within 120 days after receipt of the final census report of the population count by census block, the legislative technology services bureau shall submit to the state redistricting board 3 apportionment proposals providing for competitive elections, all meeting the following criteria:


(b) African−Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and members of any other demographic group protected by the laws of the United States shall be the voting age majority in the number of assembly and senate districts in proportion to the percentage of the population in counties or groups of counties having a sufficient geographic concentration of their members.

Translation: All districts have to be competitive, except for the ones that are majority-minority, which (rightfully) can’t be touched. If you consider the six Assembly districts currently represented by minorities, then add in a couple more that could very easily be represented by minorities, you’re essentially giving Assembly Democrats an eight-seat handicap going into every election. (Kessler’s district probably should have a minority representative, but he was helped by his guest spot on rapper Jay-Z’s last album.) The bill does nothing but rig elections to favor Democrats, pure and simple.

This is just another example of interest groups either not thinking through the implications of their policy positions, or making a blatant power grab, engineered by the state constitution. Who ever thought the League of Women Voters would advocate undermining the Voting Rights Act? Someone call Tiger Woods.

Madison to Bums: Drink Up!

In an effort to pretend like they\’re doing something to alleviate the city\’s homeless problem, the Madison City Council last night voted to ban the sale of certain quantities of liquor in some downtown stores.  Basically, they won\’t be able to sell less than a six pack of beer or malt liquor (except imports or microbrews), fortified wine and less than a pint of liquor.  This is an attempt to make it more difficult for the transients downtown to get cheap liquor.

In effect, all it will do is make sure that when the bums get enough money, they\’ll just have to buy more liquor at one time.  It will do nothing to stop the harassing behavior they inflict on the residents downtown.  It will also make it more of a hassle for non-alcoholics to purchase liquor, as downtown residents will have to buy in larger quantities.  They will also have to pay more to procure their fine fortified wines, such as Wild Irish Rose and Thunderbird.  (For a full listing of the finest fortified wines, visit

Of course, the council doesn\’t have the guts to do anything serious about the homeless in Madison, even after high profile murders have been linked to the transient population.  The State Journal article about last night\’s ban spells it out:

On Tuesday, Scott Thornton appealed to the council to extend the ban into his 6th District, where he said intoxicated people disturb and scare residents, leave cans strewn on the sidewalks, urinate in public and even threw up on his Christmas wreath last winter.

Hey, here\’s an idea – how about you start arresting people? Does anyone actually believe making bums buy extra liquor at one time is going to solve any of these problems?

So thank you, government, for making my life better by increasing the cost of things I buy.  You\’ve done such a good job with gas prices, it only makes sense to keep going from there.

Frankenstein Meets Godwin’s Law

Today’s Capital Times features an editorial from Madison attorney Fred Wade, a long time proponent of moving Wisconsin to an “item” veto.  Currently, Wisconsin has a “partial” veto, which allows governors to take individual words from sentences and “stitch” them together to form sentences (and thus new laws) which the legislature never intended.  Hence,  the practice has been termed the “Frankenstein Veto.”

Wade would rather see an item veto, which would require governors to veto an entire “item” from an appropriation bill.  In other words, a governor would have to approve or deny an entire section or concept, rather than having the ability to eliminate words or write down appropriations.  Wade correctly points out that the current situation is an affront to the “separation of powers” concept.

What’s curious, however, is that Wade thinks the legislature should reject the current constitutional amendment because it doesn’t go far enough in correcting the problem.  Keep in mind that constitutional amendments must pass two consecutive legislatures and be approved by the voters.  Voting this amendment down would set the process back four years.  So while  this amendment solves a significant problem, Wade apparently thinks bad government should go on unabated until he gets everything that he wants.

Instead of urging failure of an amendment that moves the constitution much closer to his preference, Wade could simply begin lobbying for improvements following passage.  It is true that governors would still be able to veto certain words from within sentences to change the sentence’s meaning.  He should go on pointing that out.  But it’s crazy to say that we should start from scratch, which would leave us with the current system.  Who knows if the legislature will ever get this close to agreement on this issue again.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Wade throws in a reference to Nazis, to boot.  He says:

In contrast, Adolf Hitler was frank when he wrote in “Mein Kampf” that the executive ought to “possess the authority and right to command” and that the Legislature ought to be reduced to “an advisory, but never a determining voice.”

In the final analysis, the “Frankenstein veto” is another chapter in the struggle between freedom, democracy and representative self-government on one side, and the alternative of one-man rule that was embodied in the divine right of kings, the “democratic centralism” of the Stalin era, and the “fuhrer principle” of Adolf Hitler.

So, apparently, if you support the current incarnation of the veto amendment, you also support Hitler’s “fuhrer principle.”

In the 1990s, the term “Godwin’s Law” was coined.  It refers to the concept that the longer an argument goes on, the probability that someone will be compared to Hitler or called a Nazi increases exponentially. This is an almost unfailing occurence on internet message boards, where semi-literate interlocutors reach for the most offensive accusation to make without really having to consider what they’re actually saying. (Otherwise known as reductio ad Hitlerum.)

Many in the internet community have adopted a simple maxim: First to call someone a Nazi loses the argument.  In this case, that is perfectly appropriate.  If Wade wants to argue that the state would be better off for four more years without any constitutional change to the governor’s veto authority, he is welcome to do so.  But invoking the Fuhrer in doing so is beneath him, and only serves to undermine his argument and personal reputation.

SIDE NOTE: If Wade thinks the legislature would go along with a full “item” veto, he’s kidding himself. Democrats had to be dragged kicking and screaming to agree to this minor check on Governor Doyle’s power.  Taking away more of his authority would be inconceivable.  Even with this change, Doyle would retain the most powerful veto pen in the nation – a point not lost on legislative Democrats.

Cable Competition – Politicians Chase the Dot

One of my favorite things to do with my dog used to be playing \”chase the dot.\” We had a laser pointer which would project a little red dot on the floor, which Booker tried to bite. As you moved the dot around, he\’d chase it around the house, almost jumping through cabinets trying to devour his elusive target.

This week, the Wisconsin State Senate will take up a bill that purports to provide competition to government-mandated cable television monopolies in the state. Yet somehow, the debate over the bill has morphed into some ridiculous side issues meant to appeal to the broadest common denominator. These side issues have all the philosophical underpinnings and intellectual weight of my dog chasing his red dot. They make one long for the level-headed debates during the recent budget impasse.

Several senators have suggested that an amendment to the bill should mandate that cable companies and new video providers carry the NFL Network and the Big Ten Network, both of which are caught up in acrimonious contract negotiations with cable companies. (For the most part, these are senators who will give long-winded lectures about the sanctity of labor negotiations.) These networks are carried by most satellite dish providers, but no cable providers in Wisconsin. Thus, if people want to see their beloved Green Bay Packers play the Dallas Cowboys this season, they either need to get a dish, go to a bar, or purchase an expanded package.

In steps your state government, to save you from the injustice of leaving your couch to watch the game. Naturally, mandating these networks be shown on a video provider will raise rates on consumers – that\’s what the whole impasse is about. So when state government mandates higher cable rates on everyone in the state, you can look forward to follow-up legislation to cap video provider rates for the people that can no longer afford video service. In effect, mandating new networks could counteract the whole purpose of the bill – to save consumers money by providing effective competition.

Furthermore, how exactly is it that the NFL Network and Big Ten Network are so important that they merit legislative action? I pay extra to my satellite company to get the NBA Network. I occasionally watch the Golf Channel. That\’s kind of how it works – if something is important enough to a consumer, they usually pay extra for it. But now apparently, whether you have a constitutional right to watch a certain sport depends on the shape of the ball.

And what about other non-sport channels? I enjoy watching \”The Wire\” as much as anyone – and I consider it to be must-see viewing for everyone. Should we mandate HBO, too? There are actually psychiatric procedures administered to child sex offenders that provide them with \”appropriate fantasy material\” (and yes, I understand that \”appropriate porn\” is an oxymoron) in order to steer them away from fantasizing about children. On that basis, it could be rationally argued that mandating the Spice Channel serves more of a real public service than the NFL Network. (I\’m trying, guys.)

In fact, defending Wisconsinites\’ constitutional right to watch the Badgers choke like dogs has become a veritable cottage industry at the Legislature. Bills are being introduced to provide binding arbitration for cable company negotiations with these networks. Essentially, it would be up to one arbiter to mandate higher cable bills in the state. In introducing their \”Fair Access to Networks\” (FAN – get it?) legislation, the bill\’s authors wrote this unintententionally hilarious press release, which contains lines like:

\”There is no reason that all Wisconsin fans should not be able to see the Wisconsin-Ohio State game or the Packers-Cowboys game in November….\”

As it currently stands, cable-subscribing football fans living outside the Green Bay and Milwaukee media markets will not be able to watch the Packers play the Dallas Cowboys on November 29th unless of course they subscribe to AT&;T, DirecTV, Dish Network or a similar provider that has reached agreements with the NFL Network.

Incidentally, plenty of fans did miss the Wisconsin-Ohio State game this weekend, and for some reason, the earth didn\’t open up and swallow us all. In fact, the game was well worth missing, given the final result. I actually couldn\’t stay awake during the game, so I may ask legislators to provide me with caffeine pills to guarantee that I don\’t miss the next one – since seeing the game live is apparently my right as a U.S. Citizen.

And you can see they even concede that there are, in fact, other ways to see the game. That\’s called competition. If you want to see the games, get a dish. There\’s a reason DirecTV pays the going rate for the NFL Network – because it drags people away from cable.

Following the partisan acrimony during the budget, it\’s good to see that there\’s a terrible issue that can embarrass members of both parties equally. It appears, however, that there\’s enough of a bipartisan coalition to thwart these changes. As it turns out, the whole issue was summed up best by Democratic Senator Pat Kreitlow of Eau Claire, who said:

\”Personally, I don\’t think there is necessarily a legislative role… I\’m a supply-and-demand person. If (cable companies) would like a better supply of customers, they need to work on a price.\”

In the mean time, Kreitlow\’s colleagues will continue to chase the red dot wherever it takes them, regardless of principle or philosophy. If a state government thinks it needs to legislate entertainment, then it literally believes it has a role in every aspect of our lives. Not a comforting thought.

League of Confusion

Despite their supposed \”nonpartisan\” affiliation, the League of Women Voters has traditionally been a solid supporter of liberal causes.  A trip to their own website reveals their positions supporting universal health care and gun control, opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge, and on and on.

This week, the Wisconsin State Senate held a hearing on the so-called \”Frankenstein Veto,\” which would prohibit governors from abusing their veto power by stitching together two or more sentences to make an entirely new law that the legislature never intended. In the previous budget, 750 individual words were vetoed out of the bill to come up with a single sentence that transferred $427 million out of the transportation fund and into the general fund – something the legislature never considered in their deliberation of the budget.

Supporters of the bill tend to be the good-government types. Testifying in opposition were groups like WEAC, the state teachers\’ union, who benefited the most from the aforementioned use of the Frankenstein Veto. (One wonders how they would have been testifying had the creative veto authority been used to cut their funding, rather than increasing it.)

The League of Women Voters testified \”for information only,\” in language that can best be described as confusing.

Their testimony said:

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin is committed to representative government as established by the constitutions of the United States and the State of Wisconsin.  For this reason, we register our concern with AJR1 and SJR5.  While the proposed amendment purports to ban the partial veto of an appropriations bill, it fails to solve the basic problem of whether or not the Governor has the ability to change the intent of appropriations passed by the Legislature.

The current amendment continues to allow for deleting parts of a single sentence.  Furthermore, it would permit governors to delete larger portions of an enrolled bill as long as they do not \”create a new sentence by combining parts of 2 or more sentences of the enrolled bill.\”

Our concern about the partial veto is not a partisan one.  Governors of both parties have used the partial veto extensively.  The laws that result from the exercise of the partial veto frequently contain new taxation or new programs that have not been considered or enacted by the Legislature.  Whether or not we agree with the results of these vetoes, the fact remains that the people of the State of Wisconsin, represented in the Senate and Assembly, are denied participation in the process.This particular amendment attempts to address that failing.  However, as written it would not eliminate the Governor\’s ability to create new taxation or programs through a partial veto in the final step of the budget process.


So they are for representative government, and think the governor\’s current veto authority violates that principle.  But they oppose any action to rein it in, because it doesn\’t go far enough?  They say that the proposed amendment would allow governors to veto large sections of the bill – is this something they oppose?  This is similar to the item veto virtually every other state has.  Do they think the governor should only be able to veto the whole budget?

The more likely scenario is that they wanted to oppose the bill to side with the governor, but they couldn\’t be on the wrong side of a good government issue.  So they used the tactic of saying the bill doesn\’t go far enough – which puts them in the strange position of having to argue how Wisconsin is better off if the legislature doesn\’t pass an amendment that gets closer to their stated goal of \”representative government.\”

Govs Enjoy Quirky Veto Power today published this story about the unique veto authority Wisconsin gives its governors. It also has some useful information about veto authority in other states.

Voter Fraud – The Silent Killer?

Yesterday, the Wisconsin Elections Board produced a list of 82 felons believed to have voted in the November 7th election (it is against the law for felons to vote in Wisconsin).  The names are being forwarded to various district attorneys around the state for prosecution – apparently, some criminals believe a \”buy one felony, get one free\” policy applies.

Republicans have long sought to require photo identification at the polls to verify voter identities.  Democrats, of course, insist that no vote fraud problem really exists.  A quote from Democratic State Senator Jon Erpenbach in today\’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Erpenbach said the push for photo ID was a matter of people looking for a problem that doesn\’t exist.

\”Wisconsin elections, for the most part, there\’s never really been fraud or a problem,\” he said.

A reader e-mails:

\”This nonsense that voter fraud isn\’t happening because there haven\’t been a lot of convictions is silly.  Try using the Dems\’ logic on another crime: graffiti.  Like voter fraud, its awfully tough to catch people in the act.  Unlike voter fraud, the results are easy to see.  But if a lot of people aren\’t getting busted, then it must not be happening, right?  The reason it\’s tough to catch the frauds is because our election laws are so lax (same day registration, no photo ID requirement, letting people vouch for others, etc.)\”

Well said.

Another Downside of Smoking Bans…

…You might start to realize that the people you\’ve been drinking with actually stink.

From our friends in Scotland:

\"\" A PUB regular has been barred from his favourite Dunfermline boozer  for indiscriminate wind breaking.

Management at the bar say Stewart Laidlaw \”revels\” in his bouts of flatulence and other punters have almost been sick after exposure to the foul smells.

Mr Laidlaw (35), who is furious at the ban by Thirsty Kirsty\’s, is thought to be the first person in West Fife to be barred for breaking wind.

The James Street pub\’s owner says the stench has become unbearable since Scotland\’s smoking ban came in last year but suspects drinkers could have been breathing in the waft for years before without noticing it.

Is there any question this is the next thing to be banned in our bars and restaurants?  Think of the employees!

Incidentally, this is more reporting than any state newspaper has done on a real issue in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race.

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