Monday, April 14, 2014

A Sad Farewell to a Unique Political Reformer

By Jay Heck

The sudden speed with which it knocked him out of Wisconsin politics after 44 years in the Legislature was shocking enough.

But the content of the conversation contained in the secret video taken of longtime State Senator Michael Ellis, filmed without his knowledge at a bar on the Capitol Square, hit me like a blindside kick in the stomach.

His discussion about setting up a “hypothetical" outside spending group, funded by wealthy long-time Ellis supporters, to attack his Democratic opponent, State Representative Penny Bernard Schaber, seemed absolutely inconceivable to me.

It’s an illegal scheme, of course. But that’s not what was most shocking to me. What really hurt was that he would even conceive of doing something like that.

I first met Mike Ellis in 1988 when I moved to Madison from Washington, D.C. to work in the Capitol for the Senate Majority Leader at that time – State Senator Joe Strohl, a Democrat from Racine. Ellis was the assistant Republican Senate Leader, and it was quickly evident that he was among the smartest in a State Senate that had a lot of very smart people back then, counting among its members: Russ Feingold, Joe Leean, Lynn Adelman, Brian Rude, Chuck Chvala, Margaret Farrow, Gary George, Mordecai Lee and others. Bright, intelligent lawmakers.

Mike Ellis

By Bill Kraus

My relationship with Mike Ellis got off to a serendipitous start in 1978.

That was the year that Mike and Lee Dreyfus crossed paths for the first time. They liked each other. Their political lives were idea driven. They both wanted the government that they had been elected to serve to work better in many ways for as many of us as possible.

The tragic, too early death of 6th District Congressman Bill Steiger in the fall of 1978 set off a chain of events that worked to Mike's advantage. Almost all of the members of the Assembly who had a better call on leadership there and who lived in the 6th District, including the formidable Tommy Thompson, jumped into the special election race to succeed Steiger.

While they were otherwise engaged, the Assembly met and organized for business. One of the choice openings in that arcane, surreptitious process was choosing Assembly members for the always powerful Joint Finance Committee. Dreyfus and his minions suggested Mike for the job.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Not all bad news is all bad

By Bill Kraus

My sainted mother once told me that I could find something good to say about anyone even if it’s, “He’s a good bad example.”

The same can be said about what looked like bad campaign regulation news recently.

The U.S. Supreme Court, as predicted, found a way to open the door for money getting into campaigns even wider than what most already thought was wide open. The court ruled to allow those with more money than they knew what to do with to spend it on as many campaigns as they want to.

For those of us who thought that political spending was already egregiously excessive, this sounded like bad news.