On Messrs. Walker, Fitzgerald and Vos … and Ford and Leopold

On December 14, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker did indeed sign the package of “Lame Duck” bills, presented to him by the Wisconsin Legislature under the leadership of State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Voss, designed to limit the ability of incoming Governor Tony Evers and other Democrats to take the actions upon which they had victoriously campaigned and to suppress the future turnout of Democrat-leaning eligible voters.  It was a disappointing display of the mean-spirited petty partisanship that characterized the past eight years of state Republican leadership.

I speculated in an earlier post that given the national negative attention that the Republican measures had drawn, Mr. Walker might be feeling conflicted between the prospects of leaving office labeled a Sore Loser if he signed the bills, and incurring the wrath of his core supporters if he didn’t.  If he did feel any such tension – and it appears that he may have, given his delay in signing the bills, the pains he took to downplay their impact, and his protestations regarding his legacy — he clearly determined that his own political future was better served by doing what his supporters wanted him to do, presumably recognizing that those most offended by his final official actions would never vote for him anyway.  From a political handicapping standpoint, it’s hard to question his calculation.

Although it’s exhilarating to use – as I have – the word, “execrable,” to describe the Republicans’ recent actions, and the word, “outrage,” to describe one’s frustration at the manner in which they’ve thwarted the will of the majority of Wisconsin citizens, now that the storm has passed, I find myself more nettled than angered.  While the Republican actions currently cast an unsavory air over Wisconsin and will for a time slow the state’s return to what I believe is its natural heritage, the state was able to overcome the national stigma that it must have endured following the downfall of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s; compared to that, the fallout here is seemingly of little account.

I very much enjoy leafing through “The New York Times Front Pages 1851 – 2012,” given me a while back by our daughter and son-in-law.  On its front page of January 8, 1914, the Times reported that Henry Ford had just announced that Ford Motor Company was going to dispense $10 million of its 1914 profits to its employees, and that it was establishing a minimum pay scale of $5 per day for all employees.  Treasurer Henry Couzens is quoted as saying, “Believing as we do, that a division of our earnings between capital and labor is unequal, we sought a plan of relief suitable for our business.  We do not feel sure that it is the best, but we have felt impelled to make a start, and make it now.”

In the late 1940’s, the renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote A Sand County Almanac, describing life in and around the farm he owned in the 1930’s and ‘40’s along the Wisconsin River near Baraboo, Wisconsin.  Among his depictions of central Wisconsin wildlife, fauna, and evolution, Mr. Leopold at times ventured further.  At one point he observed, “We classify ourselves into vocations, each of which either wields some particular tool, or sells it, or repairs it, or sharpens it, or dispenses advice on how to do so … But there is one vocation – philosophy – which knows that all men, by what they think about and wish for, in effect wield all tools.  It knows that men thus determine, by their manner of thinking and wishing, whether it is worth while [sic] to wield any.”

Those that cling to outmoded ways disappear with them.  Whose thinking will be relevant in 50 years?  That of Messrs. Walker, Fitzgerald and Vos?  Or of Messrs. Ford and Leopold?  Considering that tempers my frustration …

Border Wall Bewilderment

As President Trump and Congressional Democrats are skirmishing over the level of U.S. tax dollars that should be allocated to build Mr. Trump’s border wall, and the President is threatening a shutdown if he doesn’t get the level of funding he seeks, I confess that I’m a bit … baffled.  Recognizing that I’m primarily preaching to the choir:

Don’t border security experts pretty unanimously agree that there are many approaches we can take that will enhance our border security more effectively than a physical wall?

Since the shutdown is projected to occur on December 21, and the Republicans control the entire federal government until January 1, how can any failure to secure the border wall funding that the President seeks be considered … the Democrats’ fault?

Isn’t Mexico supposed to be paying for the wall?

I admit that there is no original insight here; I just couldn’t resist.

The Horns of Governor Walker’s Dilemma

As all of you are aware, on December 5, in an “Extraordinary Session,” Wisconsin Republicans passed a number of measures designed to provide the state GOP future political advantage and/or limit incoming Democrats’ ability to take steps upon which they victoriously campaigned.  These “Lame Duck” actions have received national notoriety and been criticized not only by Democrats but also by some prominent state Republican donors and politicians (including former Republican Governor Scott McCallum).  On December 9, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that as of Friday, December 7, the bills had not yet been formally sent to Governor Scott Walker for action, and that they will not be formally sent to him until December 20 unless he asks for their formal tender.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on December 8, “Walker can sign the bills into law, veto them, or exercise his partial veto authority to strike certain provisions before signing them.”

It is certainly not a stretch to suggest that that these bills were constructed in a spasm of Republican partisanship and indignation arising immediately following the Governor’s close defeat, in an attempt to hold onto policy directions forged by Republicans over the last eight years that incoming Governor Tony Evers has pledged to modify.  ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­During debate on the bills – which were, according to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, crafted in close consultation with Mr. Walker’s office — Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos stated, in urging their passage:  “… [W]e are going to have a very liberal governor that is going to enact policies that are in a direct contrast to what many of us believe in.”

Any number of pundits have commented on the effects that the Republicans’ actions will have upon the reputation of the State of Wisconsin if these measures are enacted, and I certainly have my impressions, but those can await the final disposition of the bills by the Governor.  What I find intriguing at present is the fact that the Republicans don’t appear to have anticipated the amount of high-profile notoriety and ridicule their actions would bring upon themselves and the state.  Perhaps most intriguing are the horns of the dilemma that Mr. Walker seems to be personally confronting as he determines how to act upon these measures – horns that he may now appreciate if he has not yet called for the bills to be sent to him.

Mr. Walker is a career politician.  Running for and holding office has been his life.  If he signs these bills — which already have his fingerprints all over them — he’ll be branded within Wisconsin and across the nation as a Sore Loser who was determined to thwart the will of the majority of the 2018 Wisconsin voters – a label that I would submit could be much more detrimental to any future political aspirations he might have than his narrow loss.  On the other hand, if he vetoes or materially modifies the measures, he’ll presumably be viewed as a traitor by his Wisconsin Republican legislative allies (who have already reaped and will continue to incur derision for their passage of these measures) and the core supporters that would form the bedrock of any future run he might wish to undertake for Wisconsin statewide office.

I have wondered whether there might be a third avenue – a way for the Governor to have his cake and eat it, too.  Will the bills become law if Mr. Walker simply does nothing?  Article V, Section 3 of the Wisconsin State Constitution provides:

“Any bill not returned by the governor within 6 days … after it shall have been presented to the governor shall be law unless the legislature, by final adjournment, prevents the bill’s return, in which case it shall not be law. [Emphasis Added].”

Numerous accounts of the Extraordinary Session have indicated that the Legislature “adjourned” after passing the controversial measures.  With zero background in the nuances of Wisconsin legislative practice, I’m assuming that this adjournment would be considered “final” in the constitutional sense.  If so, any failure by Mr. Walker to act will cause the bills to expire without becoming law – which, I suspect, would cause him to incur the same level of wrath from his supporters as would an outright veto.

Clearly more to come.  Something I wonder, but will never know:  whether at this point, Mr. Walker wishes, from his own personal perspective, that he had simply graciously accepted his defeat …

Wisconsin Republican Lame Duck Session: Undermining Democracy

For those of you not already aware, set forth at the bottom of this note is a link to a Wisconsin Public Radio News account describing proposals that the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature is reported to be considering in a lame-duck session this week.  Although there is no point to regurgitating the information provided through the link, a few of the proposals on the table include:

  • Limiting incoming Governor Tony Evers’ ability to modify Wisconsin’s Voter ID law, change state work requirements for food stamps, authorize Wisconsin to leave a federal lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, or make changes to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (which Mr. Evers indicated, during his campaign against Republican Gov. Scott Walker, that he would like to eliminate).

 

  • Reducing the in-person early voting period from that currently allowed by law. (Early voters have generally favored Democrats.  To state the obvious:  to the extent that this law suppresses voter turnout, it serves to disenfranchise legally-authorized voters.)

 

  • Moving the Wisconsin 2020 Presidential Primary from the current April date to March – which can be expected to reduce turnout in the April elections, clearly to the benefit of conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly. (In addition to the blatant political nature of the measure, the Clerks of several counties have already expressed concern about the practical logistics of such a change, and there are estimates that the additional statewide cost of the switch may approach $7 million.)

 

I recently had refreshers with a close friend, a lifelong Wisconsin Republican, who indicated in passing that he had been angered by the recall vote against Mr. Walker in 2012, because he felt that those that had lost in 2010 “were trying to take away my vote.”

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal contains a piece by Lance Morrow, “America is Addicted to Outrage.  Is There a Cure?”, in which Mr. Morrow suggests that we, no matter where we stand on the political spectrum, can’t go on being outraged by everything; we are exhausting ourselves by blowing everything out of proportion.

I understand my friend’s indignation at the 2012 recall effort.  I also find Mr. Morrow’s piece thoughtful and persuasive.  That said, since the most welcome outcome of the 2018 elections for me was Gov. Scott Walker’s defeat, I can’t – try as I might – feel anything but frustration – indeed, outrage – at what the Republicans are reportedly intending to do.  They lost every statewide race in 2018.  It is clear that the majority of Wisconsin citizens do not agree with the direction that Republicans have taken the state.  They nonetheless appear intent on imposing their will of the majority of the state’s citizens.

Democrats are obviously vociferously denouncing the Republicans’ actions.  I note with interest that State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, in defending the actions the Republicans intend to take, has issued a statement which provides in part:

“The legislature is the most representative branch in government and we will not stop being a strong voice for our constituents.”

Any resident of this state over the age of 18 will recall the 2011 dispute over and demonstrations against Act 10, the Wisconsin statute that adversely affected the collective bargaining, compensation, retirement, health insurance, and sick leave rights and benefits for most Wisconsin public sector employees, and will probably also recall that prior to the law’s enactment, Wisconsin Senate Democrats staged a boycott in an vain attempt to prevent Act 10’s passage.

During the standoff, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that Democratic State Senator Spencer Coggs defended the boycott:  “We’re doing our job of making sure the people have an opportunity to have their voices heard.”  The Journal-Sentinel included Sen. Fitzgerald’s response:  “That’s not democracy. That’s not what this chamber is about. [My emphasis].”

The efforts listed in the linked account are unquestionably intended to hamper incoming Gov. Tony Evers and thwart the will of the majority of the citizens that voted in 2018.  State Republicans are resorting to these efforts because they clearly understand that the greater the percentage of legally-qualified Wisconsin citizens that vote, the more likely they are to lose elections and influence.  What they apparently intend is not — to cite Sen. Fitzgerald — democracy. What they intend is execrable.

I really did find Mr. Morrow’s piece compelling.  I really do intend to work on controlling my outrage.  It would help, however, if Wisconsin state Republicans claiming to represent me – as a resident of the state of Wisconsin – had the slightest respect for our democratic form of government and for fair play.

https://www.wpr.org/gop-state-lawmakers-look-limit-early-voting-lame-duck-session

On the Passing of George H. W. Bush

President Bush himself perhaps provided the most insightful assessment of his presidency in a comment to historian Jon Meacham:

“I am lost between the glory of Ronald Reagan — monuments everywhere, trumpets, the great hero — and the trials and tribulations of my sons.”

Even so, I now look back on his life of service and his decency … and realize what our current political climate has lost, and the standard to which we need to aspire and return.  Mr. Bush’s agreement during his term to raise taxes – despite his earlier campaign pledge, and with the understanding that it could (as it did) cost him a second term – because he felt it was the right thing to do – is in stark contrast to the craven focus on self-interest of politicians of both parties that we suffer with today.

I would submit that what can be said of President Bush can’t be said of many presidents:  that his years in the White House were simply a part of the tapestry of a larger life that in its entirety consisted of integrity, honor, duty, devotion to his wife, his family, and his friends, and dedication to his nation.  Although there are good biographies available about him, I recommend that anyone having the opportunity instead read All the Best – George Bush, a compilation of the President’s correspondence over a lifetime.  It demonstrates in his own words, more clearly than any historian, eulogizer or commentator has or will, what a fine man he was.

Playing Chess in the Sea of Asov

A rare [and brief ;)] second note on the same day – hearkening back to Part I of the 2020 GOP Tea Leaves post, in which I suggested that President Trump may face long odds in any quest for a second term …

For any not conversant with the Russians’ hostile actions on November 25 against Ukrainian vessels seeking to enter the Sea of Asov, a link is provided below.  The Russians’ activities clearly indicate an attempt to seal off Ukraine’s use of a waterway that it shares with Russia.  These actions have been condemned by the international community.  This Russian effort is possible only because of its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-46386160

Russians are renowned for their ability at chess.  I would guess that President Putin is an above-average chess player, and I am confident that he well understands his place on the board.  (I would also assume that he fully appreciates the adage, “Possession is nine tenths of the law.”)  If Mr. Putin has determined, based upon the 2018 election results, that President Trump is unlikely either to seek or win a second term – and further surmised that Mr. Trump’s conduct of his office is likely to be constrained if not crippled during the next two years – he may have concluded that this is the time to begin moving aggressively to advance his position on the world board …

2020 GOP Presidential Tea Leaves, Part II: Musing about Nikki Haley

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there  😉.

As I indicated in the first part of this note, there may be a basis to suppose that President Trump will ultimately choose not to run for a second term, and if that occurs, there will be a free-for-all for the GOP presidential nomination similar to that now beginning to unfold on the Democratic side.  The challenge faced by any Republican candidate could be more daunting than that faced by a Democratic aspirant, because it might be argued that given Mr. Trump’s legacy, we now have three political parties, not two:  Democrats; and two groups sharing the Republican mantle — the “Reaganites” (“traditional” Republicans) and the “Trumpers” (those drawn to Mr. Trump’s proclaimed nationalism that view America as a homogeneous community with specific cultural mores and maintain a visceral distaste for “political correctness” and mainstream media).  It would seem that any Republican wishing to succeed Mr. Trump will need to gain significant support from both groups.  Since the two groups have fundamental policy and philosophic differences submerged by the Trump tsunami, this will be no small challenge.

The one person coming to mind that has departed the Trump Administration with an enhanced political standing is U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.  A close friend recently told me that he felt that Amb. Haley currently has the best chance to be our first woman President, and it’s hard to disagree.  She’s bright, knowledgeable, articulate, and attractive; she projects both toughness and femininity; she’s had executive experience as a Governor; she’s Indian-American, the child of immigrants; she was born and raised in the South, but as Governor removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state grounds; she has established foreign policy bona fides by representing us at the U.N.; she has fiscal policy views that appeal to traditional conservatives; her husband serves in the armed forces, and she has what appears to be a beautiful family; she identifies as Christian, but has a Sikh background; and while with the Administration, she managed to walk the fine line of supporting while sometimes maintaining a position independent of President Trump, who clearly has high regard for her.  In short, a deep and balanced resume of a deft politician with crossover potential.

I would offer that Amb. Haley’s departure from the Administration will enable her to avoid the fallout from the investigations into the Trump campaign and Administration that seem destined to dominate the remainder of the President’s current term.  Although she has pledged not to run against Mr. Trump in 2020, I’d be very surprised if she and her close advisors don’t already have draft plans for a run in 2020 if the President is either driven from office or chooses not to seek re-election.  2020 could be her year, in the way that 1960 belonged to John Kennedy, 1976 to Jimmy Carter, 2008 to Barack Obama, and 2016 to Donald Trump.

If the President doesn’t seek re-election in 2020, other Republican aspirants will obviously emerge.  Vice President Pence is clearly attempting position himself to succeed Mr. Trump, but I find it hard to believe that any voter of any political stripe will be interested in a bootlicker with charisma akin to a damp dishrag.  I admire outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich, but it’s difficult to imagine that he can garner sufficient support from the Trumpers.  Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has perhaps too blatantly waffled as he attempts to keep a foot in both camps, and may have been too indelibly labeled as diminutive by Mr. Trump.  Outgoing Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake seems to be viewed as a turncoat by Reaganites and with antipathy by Trumpers.  Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ transparent antics in preparation for the 2016 election cycle and the way he debased himself before Mr. Trump during the last two years to keep his Senate seat (which, for a red state, he won only narrowly) have made him an anathema to Reaganites while appearing to gain little credence with Trumpers.  Ms. Haley’s odds seem favorable against any of them.

This was simply musing – a handicapping exercise.  While it now feels, based upon her statements at the U.N., that I’m in general alignment with Amb. Haley on most foreign policy issues, she and I have little common ground on domestic issues.  She would nonetheless bring certain attributes to the presidency that, given our current state, I would find helpful.  There would be the possibility that certain taboos might – finally — be laid to rest for additional segments of our populace if those of our people that are “Republicans First” had their woman, their person of color, their person one generation away from immigrants, their person with a flavor of a non-Christian background, in the White House.  If Ms. Haley proved to be generally truthful in the conduct of the presidency (“fudging” is okay — all politicians “fudge” — but President Trump has taken us way beyond “fudging”), governed based upon facts (not alternative facts), showed respect for the press and the First Amendment, and considered those that didn’t agree with her as “adversaries,” not “enemies,” I would, given the toxic environment we now have, consider her a step in the right direction.  (If we could at least regain our footing regarding truth and decency, we could argue about domestic issues in the next election).

I concede that Mr. Trump has dramatically lowered my expectations for the presidency of the United States.

Enough musin’ for now!