So it seems the entirety of Wisconsin’s press corps (pronounced “core” for aspiring presidential candidates) is interested in where Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan has been privately introducing his motions. When initially asked by reporters whether he was dating a lobbyist with pending interests before the Legislature, Sheridan denied it, saying the two were just “friends.” A day later, Sheridan conceded that, in fact, the two were dating – but the damage had been done. He lied to the media – and once you do that, you’re like a mouse dropped into a snake pit. Reporters around the state are now digging around Sheridan’s campaign finance reports to see whether he was wining and dining his ladyfriend with his campaign funds. Had he come clean at the time, this would be a two day story – instead, he’s hemorrhaging political capital.
I haven’t written anything about this yet, because I just figured Sheridan’s dating habits weren’t really my business. Generally, these workplace rules about who two grown adults can or can’t date are nonsense. They essentially just mean “don’t get caught.” (Incidentally, there could have been a state law mandating someone from my workplace date me, and I wouldn’t have been able to find someone to go out with.)
Furthermore, I guess I was just willing to give the Legislature the benefit of the doubt and say they weren’t passing this payday loan bill because it’s a terrible bill. (After all, Shanna Wycoff’s love couldn’t have been so powerful that it kept the Democrat-controlled Senate from passing a bill, too? OR COULD IT?)
But it is interesting how the issue has been portrayed in the press since Sheridan came clean about the relationship. Here there was a bill to regulate businesses – that actually occasionally throw a lifeline to people with credit so bad they can’t even get a checking account. (Full disclosure: I actually used one of these payday loan places during college, when my credit was abysmal. Banks would actually send goons out front to tackle me before I even walked in the front door.)
But, of course, here comes a bill to stop people from freely engaging in contracts to which they happily agreed. And because the bill was stopped cold, reporters and good government groups immediately blamed it on Sheridan’s conflict of interest. Our favorite good government lefty immediately chimed in:
“There’s no way the public will ever buy his argument that his relationship will have no effect on his handling of the payday loan legislation,” said Mike McCabe, executive director of government watchdog Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Now, however, because of Sheridan’s conflict of interest, the Assembly feels like they have to pass the bill, to counter allegations that they’re corrupt. Assembly Democrats claim that it’s pure coincidence that this bill is now moving like a cheetah on ice skates, after being a corpse two weeks ago. (Again, pronounced “corpse.”) Now, suddenly, the will of the people is being served – and forget about why that may be. Nothing to see here.
So in case you’re keeping track at home: Holding up a liberal bill because the Speaker of the Assembly has a girlfriend is corruption. Passing the same liberal bill because the Speaker of the Assembly has a girlfriend is just GOOD GOVERNMENT.
Naturally, now that the bill is moving, you won’t hear a word from any of these co-called “corruption watchdogs,” despite the bill only seeing action for the same reason it didn’t see any action before. Their level of outrage is directly commensurate to the amount they agree with the legislation being held up. Today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on the bill passing through a committee is curiously lacking any good government group quotes.
So while I generally give Sheridan a pass, it is worth noting that he tends to be the kiss of death wherever he goes. He was a union leader at the General Motors plant in Janesville, which is now defunct. Then he took over the speakership of the Assembly, which immediately took a bad budget and made it worse. And if he stays on as Speaker, it almost seems likely that the Assembly will flip back into Republican hands under his watch. So while this “scandal” may not be that big of a deal to some, it could end up costing him his political career if reporters start to come back with actionable intelligence on his nationwide trysts.