On the Foxconn Unraveling and Related Reflections

This supplements earlier references in these pages to Wisconsin’s relationship with Foxconn: a transaction that is now becoming almost undisputedly recognized as a fiasco. Despite Foxconn’s recent declaration – after jawboning by President Trump – that the facility will include manufacturing capability, upon hearing of the Foxconn statement, I had the same thought as set forth by Charlie Sykes in The Bulwark article linked below:

“[The Foxconn statement about maintaining manufacturing at the Wisconsin facility] seemed driven more by a desire to kiss the president’s ring than by business realities. So what will Foxconn do? Short term, they are likely to maintain a sort of Trumpian Potemkin village in Wisconsin to keep up the appearance that the company is doing Trump’s bidding. [My emphasis].”

https://thebulwark.com/the-foxconn-boondoggle-was-even-worse-than-we-thought/

Mr. Sykes clearly implies that he believes that Foxconn simply intends to wait out Mr. Trump. If the President’s political fortunes continue to slide, it would seem likely that Foxconn will ultimately quietly scuttle its Racine manufacturing plans with no real fear of U. S. reprisal … but with possibly significant consequences for Mr. Trump’s potentially-pivotal 2020 Wisconsin electoral prospects.

Mr. Sykes’ comment reminded me of a reference in a recent Wall Street Journal piece about current U.S. – E.U. trade negotiations, which suggested that in the face of aggressive U.S. demands, one of the E.U.’s strategies may be simply … to wait out the Trump Administration.  As recently as last Friday, the Journal similarly reported that in current U.S.-China trade negotiations, “…Chinese officials seem confident of a deal because they believe Mr. Trump needs the political boost … The Chinese team came [to the negotiating table the week of January 28] with very few new proposals … Instead, the officials largely reiterated [past Chinese] pledges ….”

If the President’s political standing doesn’t improve, Mr. Trump and his team may find that over the next two years, delay and retrenchment become favored tactics across a wide spectrum of those from whom the Administration is seeking concessions.

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 …

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

Wisconsin’s $4.1 Billion Foxconn … Speculation ;)

As I suspect that everyone that reads these pages is aware, I rarely see eye to eye with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  With that caveat, attached is a link to an article called to my attention by a very close friend (who is not a resident of Wisconsin).  The piece describes how the Foxconn initiative has evolved since first advocated by Mr. Walker through and since its enactment into law by his signature just under a year ago.

https://www.theverge.com/2018/10/29/18027032/foxconn-wisconsin-plant-jobs-deal-subsidy-governor-scott-walker

On Polls of Wisconsin Governorship and U.S. Senate Races

I am more than a little puzzled by the discrepancy between the respective margins that I’ve seen polling organizations recently report in the races for the Wisconsin U.S. Senate seat and the Wisconsin Governorship.  I understand that pollsters are currently finding that Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin leads her opponent, Republican State Senator Leah Vukmir, by perhaps as many as 15 points, while Republican Governor Scott Walker is indicated to be trailing his opponent, Democratic Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, by only a few points – either at or within the margin of error.

While incumbency has always been a distinct advantage in American electoral politics, in the hyper-partisan, polarized environment currently existing both within the country and the State of Wisconsin, it’s hard for me to believe (as one seemingly should, if the polls are to be credited) that up to ten percent of the Wisconsin electorate will split their tickets to retain both Sen. Baldwin and Gov. Walker.

Although voter sentiment could swing heavily one way or the other in the ten days remaining before Election Day – those with longer memories will recall that the Carter-Reagan Presidential race was razor-thin until the electorate split heavily for then-Candidate Reagan in the weekend before the 1980 Election Day – it seems to me that the reported narrow margin between Gov. Walker and Superintendent Evers is closer to the existing state of our Wisconsin political climate than the wide margin reported to exist between Sen. Baldwin and State Sen. Vukmir.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see both races decided (either way) by fairly narrow margins.

Harvard Analysis of WRS

The latest Wisconsin Retirement System newsletter reports that a recent Harvard University report on a stress test analysis of the largest public pension plans in 10 states cited Wisconsin as an example of how “strong funding policies can help to ensure that the public pension systems are sustainable and secure.”  The WRS’ strong financial standing is a source of comfort for all those that receive pension benefits through it; its effective management, sound investment approaches and performance, and benefits formulae will hopefully continue to escape any effort by the Governor to try to “improve” it.  [Perhaps he’ll be wise enough to stay away from the plan in order avoid having the hijinks that he has visited on so many other parts of Wisconsin government adversely affect his own pension ;)].