Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Money Doesn't Talk, It Screams

By Tom Frazier

As a registered lobbyist for almost 27 years and an unpaid, volunteer lobbyist for the last seven years, I have witnessed some major political changes, most of them not good.

One such change is obvious and that is the ever increasing influence of money in political decision-making. This influence was growing already when I retired at the end of 2009, but then the Supreme Court ruling in January 2010 in the Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for that influence. This 5-4 decision said that money was free speech and allowed for-profit corporations, non-profit corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns, including ads favoring one candidate over another.

The recent attempt by Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump to pass the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) is an example of how bad the influence of money has become. The replacement, the American Health Care Act, contained a $1 trillion tax cut, primarily for the benefit of the wealthy, funded largely by a cut of $880 billion in Medicaid funding. This was an intentional strategy on the part of Ryan to make it easier to provide even larger tax cuts to businesses when Congress and the President moved on to tax reform. In an interview with Fox Business News on March 15, 2017, Ryan said:
“A trillion dollars…that’s 10 percentage points on rates for businesses. It takes the corporate rate from 35 to 20 [%]. That’s why doing this [health care] first makes tax reform that much easier to accomplish.”
Providing large tax cuts to those who don’t need them at the expense of huge cuts in health care for the most vulnerable (elderly, disabled, and children) is, I believe, cynical bordering on unconscionable.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Gerrymandering: Unconstitutional and Unaffordable

By Tom Frazier

“Gerrymander” is defined as: “To divide (an area) into political units to give special advantage to one group.” It was named after Elbridge Gerry, Governor of Massachusetts, who in 1812 signed a law redistricting state election districts. One district in Essex County was described as looking like a salamander, thus the word “Gerrymander” was created by combining the names.

Wisconsin has one of the worst cases in the country of using gerrymandering to give “special advantage to one group” – in this case Republicans in the state legislature. But gerrymandering is a bi-partisan problem according to Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. The two worst Democratic states are Rhode Island and Maryland, while Wisconsin and North Carolina comprise the two worst Republican states Heck reports. The big difference is that Wisconsin is the first such state to have a three-judge federal appeals panel rule that Wisconsin’s redistricting law “constitutes an unconstitutional political gerrymander.” The panel voted 2-1 to direct the state to develop a new redistricting plan and have it in place by November 1, 2017 for the 2018 elections.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Wisconsin Legislature is a Vastly Changed Institution

By Cal Potter

After having served a total of approximately 24 years in the Wisconsin Assembly and State Senate, I often hear commentary that the political
atmosphere during my 1975-1998 service is in major contrast in agenda, behavior, and the reason for serving in political office to that found today. The same observation is being made by those who have served in Congress over a number of decades.

I have not been a part of the Legislature for about the last 18 years, and thus cannot provide a first hand account of internal operations today, but I am told by those who are still there after many years that things are very different. I do have vivid recollections of the makeup of the Assembly during my early years, and particularly impressions of my first year, 1975. The most vivid image I have is the number of members who were of a more mature age, and had (or still did) served in local government as town, county, or school board members, or in some other unit of local government. The presence of those with that background had them be very task oriented, and not strongly partisan agenda driven. Their local government experience gave them a real worldview that government was to serve the people, and to try to address the problems we face, in spite of our differing political philosophies. So, while there were partisan differences on what should be done, and how much spent on the effort, no one felt a need to stall government for any valid reason. The state budget, in some form, needed to be passed as there were local units of government waiting for printouts as to what school aid, shared revenue, or road aid levels were to be expected so they could in turn prepare their budgets.