Who Wants Chinese Cucumbers?

People always have the impression of Wisconsin farms as being family-owned, where mom and pop toil away for decades to make ends meet.  It’s not very often that you hear farms thrown into the illegal immigrant debate – yet without migrant labor, Wisconsin farms could be facing tough times.

Thus, agriculture groups are lining up to oppose a mandate for an “E-Verify” system at the federal level. Under the legislation, which has already gotten a hearing in the U.S. House, all employers would be mandated to check immigration status of their workers using a system that has a questionable track record, and face consequences if it doesn’t work.

Farmers are questioning the ramifications of this type of legislation because without broader immigration reform, a federal mandate to implement E-Verify would push some laborers to work for cash outside the tax system or ship agriculture jobs overseas.  If that were the case, the U.S. would almost certainly have to import more of its food supply, and food costs would rise.

Everyone already knows China owns most of our debt – do they need to supply all of our cucumbers now, too?

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.

Oh Yeah, I Totally Have a Blog

You know, I almost forgot I actually had my own blog.  Given everything that’s been happening in Wisconsin over the past few months, I’ve been writing for just about everyone else but my own website.  If “Giraffe Harmonica Aficionado Magazine” asked me to write a Wisconsin article for them, I would have.

Mostly, I’ve been writing stuff over at National Review Online, and harassing everyone I know to go read all of it.  So just to make it complete, GO OVER AND READ IT.  You can find a link to all 40-ish columns here.  (And yes, the headshot they use makes me look like Mayor McCheese – I need a new one badly.  Preferably of someone else.)

Oh, and late last week, Isthmus published my column on the Wisconsin recalls – I spent a good deal of time amongst dusty books and microfilm at the State Historical Society to write it, so I expect extra credit.  Yet apparently, I didn’t get the benefit of the doubt from this commenter, whose comment was quickly deleted:

“Chris Schneider is a liar who propagandizes for multinational corporations in Wisconsin. His front group provides cover for billionaire industry lobbyists and hard right wingers to push their corporate distopia on the citizens of this state.

We should treat Christian Schneider and his anti-Wisconsin ilk like the criminals they are.”

It seems likely he’s talking about my dance moves, which are so lethal, they’ve been deemed criminal by lawmakers.

What the Supreme Court Election Means for School Funding in Wisconsin

chalkOn April 5th, Wisconsin will choose a new Supreme Court justice. While elections to the Court are normally nonpartisan affairs, this election is drenched in political bickering between Republicans, Democrats, and public employee unions.

Public union supporters argue that if incumbent conservative Justice David Prosser is defeated by liberal challenger Joanne Kloppenburg, the Court would then be fertile soil for a lawsuit overturning Scott Walker’s recent law limiting collective bargaining for government employees. They argue that the law was passed improperly, given the last-minute maneuvers by Senate Republicans to vote on the collective bargaining bill without three-fifths of the Senate members in attendance.

While the individuals thinking the law can be overturned in the courts are well-meaning, their chances are a longshot. The law paving the way for passage of the bill could not be more explicit. Pushing for the Court to take on Walker’s law might be a good fundraising ploy, but it most likely will fall short.

There is, however, a more serious potential court challenge Walker should fear, and it could rest entirely on the vote of Justice Prosser. Every few years, Wisconsinites can count on certain recurring events like clockwork – the Beatles will become fashionable again, citizens will be shocked to find out that eating right and exercising are the key to being skinny, and the state’s school aid formula will be challenged in court.

The last time Wisconsin’s $10 billion annual school funding framework was seriously challenged was in 2000, in the case of Vincent v. Voight. The case, brought by the state’s largest teachers’ union (WEAC), argued that Wisconsin’s school funding system did not adequately equalize funding among both “rich” and “poor” districts, as required by the state constitution. According to Article X, Section 3 of the Wisconsin Constitution, “district schools” had to be “as nearly uniform as practicable.”

By a slim majority, the Court held in Vincent that the current school equalization formula met the standard set forth in the state constitution. (Prosser, while in the majority, dissented in part because he thought the majority opinion favored the petitioners too much. He wrote that the majority opinion granted a heightened standard of equality not found in the Constitution – which he deemed “Equality Plus.”)

But the K-12 funding framework, while still in place, was hanging by a thin reed. Justice Crooks’ majority opinion almost openly invited further litigation.

For instance, Crooks wrote that one of the reasons the equalization formula was allowed to stand was due to the large funding increase the state had offered several years earlier:

“So long as the legislature is providing sufficient resources so that school districts offer students the equal opportunity for a sound basic education as required by the constitution, the state school finance system will pass constitutional muster.”

Scott Walker’s 2011-13 biennial budget necessarily reduces state funding to local school districts by over $900 million (much of which will be made up by increased pension and health care contributions from teachers). If the constitutionality of school funding formula hinges on the state providing “sufficient resources,” how will Walker’s budget affect the Court’s stated precedent?

The Vincent case arose at the same time a national movement pushing school funding “adequacy” was taking to state courts throughout the country. State Supreme Courts routinely mandated more school spending, in some cases increasing state spending by 20% simply through judicial fiat.

In November of 2006, New York’s highest court ordered the state to pay an additional $1.93 billion in the name of educational funding “equity.” In 2005, Kansas’ Supreme Court ordered the state to pay $148.4 million as a result of an “adequacy” lawsuit. That year alone, school finance systems in Texas, South Carolina, Idaho, Arkansas, and Kansas were deemed unconstitutional. Just this week, a judge in New Jersey found Governor Chris Christie’s education cuts failed to provide a “thorough and efficient” education for that state’s schoolchildren.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court could easily be one vote away from not only dismantling the current equalization formula, but overriding Scott Walker’s proposed funding shift to local school districts. With teachers’ unions having lost their ability to collect compulsory dues from their members, their power now shifts to the courts, which could mandate higher salaries and benefits in the name of “adequacy.”

And while she has been coy in many of her pre-election interviews, there is a reason they will be supporting Joanne Kloppenburg.

April 1, 2011

That Presidential Look: The 2012 GOP Presidential Crowd Gets a Makeover

combOn Nov. 2, Marco Rubio hadn’t yet been declared the winner of his Florida Senate race before the pundits began speculating on his move up the political ladder.

Some penciled him in as a vice presidential candidate in 2012; others thought he could actually be the GOP’s presidential nominee. The Fox News commentators fumed that it was an injustice that a new coin hadn’t already been released featuring the new senator’s visage. (Coming soon — the 15-cent Rubio.)

What would warrant Rubio’s instantaneous inclusion on a list of presidential candidates?

A look at the GOP’s presumed 2012 challengers gives us a hint. For one, this is one darn good-looking crowd. Close your eyes and think of the 2008 Republican presidential debates. The stage closely resembled the cantina in Star Wars. (“Sen. Greedo, the next question is for you.”)

The Republican stage in 2012 will look a lot better. Supernova Sarah Palin is the best example of the GOP’s aesthetic upgrade. Her folksiness has struck a chord with people who feel they’ve been left out of politics, but she’s also given voice to all those smoking-hot women who, tragically, have been ignored by society. (Thanks to Palin, you’re likely to hear questions like, “Sen. Brown, we know you have a sound deficit reduction plan, but have you ever wrestled a grizzly bear?”)

Mitt Romney will be back, he of the chin forged of a futuristic titanium alloy. It seems America could send Romney’s chin alone into Afghanistan and it would come back with Osama bin Laden in handcuffs.

And then there are the GOP’s up-and-comers — Thune, Bobby Jindal and Tim Pawlenty. All are under 50, fit and energetic. (Rumor has it Julian Assange was going to post a picture of Pawlenty’s former mullet, but figured it was just too embarrassing for the guy.)

Mike Huckabee will be in the mix, and granted, he’s not going to be named “Sexiest Man Alive” anytime soon. (Or even “Sexiest Ex-Arkansas governor.”) But even Huckabee recognized that he had to lose about 100 pounds — about two Pelosis — to be a plausible candidate in 2008.

Of course, it seems silly to pick our presidents based so heavily on superficial qualities. Yet as any student of history knows, characteristics unrelated to governing — looks, charisma, erudition — often play important roles in elections.

John Kennedy rode his movie-star looks to the White House. Even before he was elected, Ronald Reagan looked like he should be on Mount Rushmore. And who can forget the molten hot sexuality of Warren G. Harding?

In fact, only two years ago we witnessed what happens when aesthetics trumps qualifications. With only two years’ experience, the handsome Sen. Barack Obama descended from the mount to run for president. He spoke in a buttery baritone that exuded reassurance and seemed worthy, journalists thought, of being inscribed on scrolls made from the pulp of redwood trees.

Yet even with the stern voter rebuke of Obama’s first two years in office last November, the messianic fervor for the president continued unabated.

On Nov. 22, Newsweek portrayed Barack Obama as the six-armed Hindu god Shiva, deeming the president the “God of All Things.” They neglected to show his seventh arm, which would have been in your back pocket stealing all your Rubios.

Unfortunately, somewhere in America there’s a candidate who will never get a chance because he’s too fat, too swarthy or has a bad comb-over. Or maybe she’s a Mama Grizzly who actually resembles a mama grizzly.

Someday, we’ll elect someone cranky and irascible, who has a terrible hairpiece or bulbous nose, but a brilliant vision for America.

Until then, the GOP will have to make do with candidates who could easily be in the “Men and Women of Sound Monetary Policy 2012” calendar. Perhaps for aesthetic reasons alone, it’s best that neither the scrawny Paul Ryan nor the Rubenesque Chris Christie has any intention of running for president. (Standing on a stage together, they’d form the number 10.)

In the first debate, one can already anticipate Jim Lehrer’s opening questions:

“What is your policy regarding North Korea?”

“What needs to be done to keep Social Security solvent?”

“Can I touch your abs?”

Podcast: Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute

As action on Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill wound down last week, I discussed the future of education in Wisconsin with Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute.

Listen here:

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Podcast: National Review’s Rich Lowry on the Wisconsin Controversy

On March 1, Rich Lowry of the National Review published an article called “Wisconsin is About Breaking Up the Union Racket.”  He joins me for a quick talk about the national perception of the Wisconsin controversy, the inherent conflict of interest in public employee unions, and the 2012 presidential field.

Listen here:

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The Wisconsin Public Union Protest Dictionary

dictionaryAs is the case with any extended crisis, the Wisconsin stalemate has begun to create its own vernacular. Previously familiar terms and phrases are used in foreign contexts. Words garner new meaning.

So when listening to politicians debate Governor Scott Walker’s plan to force greater public sector union contributions to their own health and pension benefits, it may be getting hard to understand – and not just because of the funny Wisconsin accents.

So as a service to the nation, here is a dictionary of many of the terms you are likely to hear as the Wisconsin showdown enters its third week:

“Workers” – Refers to any one of the 356,284 individuals in the state who receives a paycheck from any level of government. When a Democrat refers to the “workers” of Wisconsin, it is these people they are referencing. The remaining 86.6% of the Wisconsin population is to be met with suspicion, and is likely employed by the Koch brothers. (See also, “worker, hard.”)

“Democracy” – Traditionally described the process of people electing individuals to office, and those officials voting on their constituents’ behalf in the state legislature. Now refers to elected officials fleeing the state in order to avoid voting.

In order to test the veracity of this new definition, you are encouraged to sit on your couch all weekend with a sign that says “this is what mowing the lawn looks like.” If your wife agrees, she is likely in the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda holding up a sign.

“Hosni Mubarak” – Little known dictator of some country somewhere in the Middle East. But his thugs beat up Anderson Cooper just a couple of weeks ago, so that’s probably enough to compare him to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

“Debate” – The process by which people who disagree get together, voice their differences, and compare each other to Hitler while wearing fanny packs. Wisconsin protesters have drawn inspiration from the historical Lincoln-Douglas debates, when Lincoln famously dressed up like a gorilla and banged a drum for eleven days to annoy Douglas into submission.

“Attacking” – Asking state and local employees to pay more of their health insurance premiums and to begin paying into their own pension accounts, which they will then recoup upon retirement. However, if the cost of government increases and taxpayers are forced to pay more, it is impermissible to consider it an “attack.” (See also: assaulting, strangling, pummeling, mauling, decapitating, disemboweling.)

“Interest Group” – Any collection of individuals that uses their own money to influence a public debate is known as an “interest group.” But be careful – if a similar group uses taxpayer money boosted through dues to do the same thing, it is known as a “grassroots organization.”

“Free Speech” – Commonly afforded individuals to express their political beliefs, “free speech” is now afforded to anyone who doesn’t work for Fox News, is interviewed by Fox News, has ever watched Fox News, or has ever admired the work of Michael J. Fox.

“Dictator” – Refers to either a genocidal despot or a duly elected governor acting in concert with elected members of two houses to affect changes in the law. The two are interchangeable.

“Middle Class” –Walker’s budget repair bill is a concerted effort to destroy Wisconsin’s middle class, as it is comprised entirely of individuals who work for government. Needless to say, it will be devastating to the state’s economy to ask more of the middle class – most notably, University of Wisconsin Madison professors who make $111,000 for working nine months out of the year.

“Stifling Debate” – The parliamentary procedure of allowing testimony of 900 citizens over the span of 17 hours, then letting the minority party members that haven’t fled the state talk for over 60 hours straight in order to hold up a bill’s passage.

“Doctor” – Traditionally, a “doctor” examined a patient, made a diagnosis, and treated their malady. In Wisconsin, that process is deemed unnecessary as long as the patient is beset by a rapidly growing pension contribution. (Common side effect: chanting “Hey Hey, Ho Ho” for four straight days.)

“God-Given Right” – Any law change beneficial to Wisconsin government workers granted after 1959. In most cases, these rights are not granted to federal workers living in Wisconsin, so it appears many of them need to spend more time in church.

Unfortunately, the one term nobody will be using any time soon in the state senate is “the ayes have it.” As a result, a lot of government workers will soon be learning what “unemployment compensation” is.

-February 28, 2011

The WPRI Podcast Returns: Interview with Steven Malanga

Earlier today, I had a chance to talk with Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute to get his thoughts on the current events in Wisconsin.  Just yesterday, Malanga wrote this article for the Wall Street Journal, called “The Showdown Over Public Union Power.”

Listen to the my discussion with Malanga here:

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WPRI In the News Today

Today, I have a column on the National Review Online.  It’s called “Of Course It’s About the Money:”

“We are prepared to implement the financial concessions proposed to help bring our state’s budget into balance, but we will not be denied our God-given right to join a real union. . . . We will not — I repeat we will not — be denied our rights to collectively bargain,” Beil said on February 18. Wisconsin was the first state in the U.S. to allow collective bargaining for public employees in 1959 (when, apparently, God deemed it a right.)

The protesters quickly picked up on Beil’s meme, and It’s not about the money! became a talking point among the teachers, students, firefighters, and bureaucrats lined up around Capitol Square. Walker, who needs to find $3.6 billion to close the state’s two-year budget deficit, had posited the issue as one of economics. The unions saw it as one of “rights.”

But to say these protests are merely about collective-bargaining rights is to say The Godfather is a movie about Italian food.

At ConservativeHome, WPRI president George Lightbourn says Scott Walker is bringing Wisconsin back to fiscal sanity:

Vince Lombardi, perhaps the most famous of all Wisconsin sons, ran his football team to reflect his own personality. He relished it when the opposition knew what play was coming and still they could not stop it. Lombardi teams were uncomplicated, determined and ultimately successful

Those same traits define Governor Scott Walker. He ran for governor on a simple platform that included restoring honest budgeting to state government, one that required cutting spending rather than increasing taxes or borrowing money. Those who do not know Scott Walker might have dismissed his plan as so much political chatter. They had no clue that this man actually meant what he said.

A New Reason to Protest

Amid the union worker protests taking place at the Wisconsin State Capitol, demonstrators saw an odd sight on Monday.  The Daily Show with Jon Stewart enlisted a camel for a report being filed by John Oliver – only it appears things went very wrong, as evidenced by these videos taken by Jack Craver from the Isthmus:

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That’s Oliver at the end telling Craver to stop filming.

In a strange twist, when PETA shows up to start protesting The Daily Show, they may actually seem like the reasonable ones.

The Wisconsin Government Worker Protest Update

With history unfolding in Madison, Wisconsin over the past few days, I’ve written a number of articles describing the scene.

Here’s an op-ed I wrote for the New York Times giving a basic breakdown of the issue:

So far, Walker’s plans have been fiscally modest, but politically bold. Public employee unions will continue to protest, even though the governor is the first politician who has told them the truth in ages. If government workers continue to call his bluff, their protests will likely be much smaller in the future.

Here’s a column I wrote for the National Review Online discussing teachers’ use of their students in the protests:

In the meantime, the capitol was packed with thousands of government employees, many of whom had staged a “sleep-in” the night before. One sign-wielding protester approached a tie-wearing GOP staffer and sneered, “You must be a Republican.” He turned and asked, “Because I’m working?”

The raucous, drum-beating crowd was mostly made up of teachers, high-school kids, and University of Wisconsin students. On Thursday, school districts all over the state began canceling classes as their teachers called in sick en masse — government-employee strikes are illegal in Wisconsin — and teachers continued to bring their students to protest with them.

I wrote this column for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that ran on Thursday:

Yet if you tell Democratic legislators that a vote against Walker’s plan is a vote to cut government jobs, they likely will look at you as if you just tried to stuff a live halibut into their mouths. They will tell you that there are many options available to balance the budget – options that are so popular, they enacted exactly zero of them in the last budget, when they had full control of state government. Their deficit-reduction plan consisted of hoping the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl, so people didn’t notice the giant hole in the state’s finances. (They got half their wish.)

In the Isthmus last week, I wrote about Wisconsin union leaders’ tendency to call people “whores.”

So, for the record, it appears Beil’s hierarchy of insults runs the gamut between “whore” (the worst), “prostitute” (not quite as bad) and “purveyor of the world’s oldest profession.” Yet some might even be tempted to include “paid union lobbyist” in their “pyramid of prostitution.” It’s a wonder Charlie Sheen hasn’t given Beil a call to go party in a hotel room.

And, of course, there are the updates I’ve written for WPRI – my column on Monday here and a blog post from last Friday here.

Stay tuned for more – should be more exciting developments to come.  And we’ll be there.

Prosser Dominates “Fairest Election Ever”

For years, so-called “good government” groups had been fighting to “level” the playing field in judicial elections.  They always believed that public financing of elections virtually eliminated advantages for certain candidates.  Last session, such a framework was passed into law.  (Perhaps not-so-ironically, this occurred when conservatives were elected to a majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Democrats controlled the Legislature and Governorship.)

Liberals celebrated the new “fairness” in Court elections.  In last week’s Isthmus newspaper (to which I contribute a column), editor Bill Lueders asked aloud whether this month’s Supreme Court primary was the “fairest election ever.”

Said Lueders:

That means the Feb. 15 primary will occur on a relatively level playing field, with each contender having roughly equal resources. (Whether this will hold true for the general election is unclear, as court challenges or the GOP Legislature could yet kill public financing.)

On Tuesday night, we saw the results of the “fairest election ever.”  Incumbent Justice David Prosser dominated his opponents, receiving 55% of the vote in a four-way primary.  Prosser will now face his closest challenger, JoAnne Kloppenburg, who received 25% of the vote, in the spring general election.

So why did Prosser win by such a large margin in a primary election in which spending was equal?  Perhaps it was due to Wisconsin residents’ preference for conservatives on the Supreme Court.  But it likely had a lot to do with Prosser’s status as an incumbent.

And this is how, as argued on this blog previously, public financing harms challengers.  If spending is level, races will almost always favor the incumbent, as being in office had enormous advantages.  Incumbents have name recognition, voter contacts, and a record on which to run.

In order to overcome that advantage, challengers often need to spend more money to get their message out.  But when each candidate has only a $100,000 grant to spend, it is much more difficult to overcome the natural advantages of incumbency.

So while liberals may have thought the Supreme Court election was “fair,” it was anything but.  The most equitable way to conduct elections is to allow fundraising that translates into increased political speech.  Otherwise, voters will be inclined to support the guy they know.