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 ;)].   

Letter to U.S. Rep. Pocan, re: His bill to Abolish ICE

A letter I’ve just mailed [I cling to the old hard copy approach 🙂 ] to Mr. Pocan, the U.S.  Representative for Wisconsin’s Second Congressional District:

Dear Representative Pocan:

I am writing to express my deep disappointment at your ill-considered introduction of a bill to terminate the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).  While I abhor both the policy under which we separated parents and children at the border and our apparent treatment of many of those reaching our border as rabble rather than human beings, the fact remains that we need enforcement of our immigration laws.  I’m confident that ICE agents undertake dangerous and difficult responsibilities on a daily basis that those of us in our ivory towers prefer not to think about.  Your meat-axe approach seems to lack any substantive solution to the immigration enforcement challenges we face.  I assume that you are feeling suitable embarrassment if, as The Wall Street Journal reports, you intend to vote against your own bill if the House Republican leadership submits it for a vote.

On a less important level, liberals seem determined to be their own worst political enemies.  Our state and a number of other states and districts are closely divided.  Judging by the President’s polling numbers, he’s lost support during his time in office.  Today, it seems likely that few of those that voted for Secretary Clinton would vote Republican, while a significantly higher number of the more centrist voters that ultimately voted for the President rue their vote.  Right now, Democrats are on the Republican side of the 50-yard line.  While it may be exhilarating to strike a gesture for a party’s most ardent supporters by taking actions like you did, it’s not the way to win elections.  There’s no need to stoke the enthusiasm of Democratic loyalists; their fervor against the President and Republican policies is so strong that they’ll come out and vote.  What you and other Democratic office holders should do – if you wish to win, and not simply feel exhilaration — is focus on earning the confidence of those 2016 Republican voters that have developed misgivings about the Republican actions over the last 18 months.  Many of these voters fear that their values no longer have a place in our country, have the impression that our immigration policies are too lax, fear crime, etc., etc.  To vote for Democrats, they must be assured that their justifiable concerns will be taken seriously by Democratic office holders.  If Democratic Party strategists advise that providing these sorts of assurances will require the party to renounce the societal openness it also champions … then the party needs new strategists.

In an early chapter in his book, The Best and The Brightest, David Halberstam wrote the following about John F. Kennedy’s assessment of his chances for winning the Democratic Party nomination in 1960:

“[The liberal intellectual wing of the party was] not only dubious of [Kennedy] but staunchly loyal to Adlai Stevenson after those two gallant and exhilarating defeats.  That very exhilaration had left the Kennedys, particularly Robert Kennedy, with a vague suspicion that liberals would rather lose gallantly than win pragmatically, that they valued the irony and charm of Stevenson’s election-night concessions more than they valued the power and patronage of victory.  [My emphasis].”

Although it is unusual for me to align with House Speaker Paul Ryan on domestic issues, I agree with his comment quoted in this weekend’s Journal:  “[Democrats advocating abolishing ICE] are tripping over themselves to move too far to the left.”

Will it be exhilaration or pragmatism?  Has the party learned anything over the last 60 years?

Chatting in the Face of Cyber War

Two related items that shouldn’t be lost in the flurry of the holiday:  The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s issuance of findings on the Intelligence Community’s January, 2017, Assessment of Russian interference in our election process (the ICA) and … a trip currently being taken to Russia by a U.S. Senate delegation.

On July 3, the bipartisan Senate Committee issued a set of its findings on the reliability of the ICA.  The findings are worth reading in their entirety — only 7 pages and readily found through an internet search.  Although many are aware, it’s worth noting that this Committee contains one more Republican than Democrat, and that at least three of the Republicans on the Committee – Sens. Lankford, Cotton, and Cornyn – have been strong supporters of President Trump in other contexts.

First a recap of some of the ICA referred to in the Committee’s report:

  • That Russia executed a “significant escalation” in its attempt to interfere in U.S. domestic politics in the run-up to the 2016 elections through multi-faceted cyber espionage and cyber-driven messaging via Russian-controlled propaganda platforms.
  • That Russia’s activities were in furtherance of its longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order.
  • That Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election, intended to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.
  • That President Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for then-candidate Donald Trump.
  • That President Putin and the Russian Government aspired when possible to help Candidate Trump win by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.

The Senate Committee’s findings regarding the reliability of the ICA include the following:

  • That the ICA was a “sound intelligence product.”
  • That the ICA was supported by evidence reviewed by the Senate Committee.
  • That the intelligence analysts that prepared the ICA were under no politically-motivated pressure to reach any conclusions.
  • That the disagreement among intelligence analysts was reasonable, transparent, and openly debated, with analysts on both sides of the confidence level articulately justifying their positions.
  • That the [Steele] [D]ossier did not in any way inform the analysis in the ICA.

Meanwhile, during the same days that the Senate Select Intelligence Committee was issuing these findings, we have a Senate delegation visiting Russia and conferring with President Putin and Russian officials.  This group – entirely Republican – apparently includes Sens. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Steve Daines (R-MT), John Kennedy (R-LA), John Thune (R-S.D.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), and … Wisconsin’s own Ron Johnson.  Sen. Shelby has been quoted as saying during the trip, “[The United States and Russia] have a strained relationship, but we could have a better relationship between the U.S. and Russia because there’s some common interests around the world that we could hopefully work together on.”

While Sen. Shelby – for whom, along with Sen. Kennedy, I had a fair measure of respect before this episode – is literally correct – there are indeed areas in which we have common interests with Russia (e.g., the ISIS conflict) — his comment is largely akin to saying that you have a common interest in weed control with a neighbor trying to burn your house down.

I remain an unabashed Richard Nixon – Ronald Reagan follower in the foreign policy sphere.  It is inconceivable that either of those Presidents, given the clear evidence of Russia’s interference in our election process – which Dick Cheney noted last year some would consider “an act of war” — would believe cozy conversations with the Russians at this time to be in America’s best interest.  Both Presidents made clear, publicly and privately, that they understood that the Russians of their day – and Mr. Putin, cut from the cloth of the Cold War, is of their day — respond to strength and resolve, not amiable chatting.  I would suggest that this delegation’s activities are at best well-intended blundering, and arguably a disappointing dereliction of their sworn duty to “… defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic …”