Thursday, March 29, 2012

A letter to Wisconsin snow birds and expatriates

By Bill Kraus

Everyone knows about the recalls. What everyone doesn’t know, and what people who haven't been around lately might not know, is that they really aren’t recalls. They are what golfers call “mulligans” and what non-golfers know as “do overs.” In Wisconsin, if enough people are dissatisfied with any incumbent who has been in office for at least a year, they can circulate petitions seeking a new election, and if they get the requisite number of signatures, an election will be called.

No justification is necessary. This is not an impeachment. This is not a recall. This is a petition for a new election for any and all candidates who want to run including the person who thought he or she was elected for a fixed term.

The recall petition for the governor and lieutenant governor are the most prominent. The reason so many people signed it (more than 900,000) had to do with fixing the structural deficit the Democrats left behind and crafting a balanced budget for the next biennium.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Desperately seeking solutions

By Bill Kraus

Facing the prospect of telling a class of college students about the state of electoral politics focuses the mind.

Everyone has a long list of the things that have gone wrong.

Everyone also has fingers to point in multiple directions at a long list of culprits who are responsible for the current state of dysfunction.

The students themselves know that the three 'P's--Polarization, Partisanship, even Populism--are wreaking havoc with the representative government we all think the founding fathers envisioned. That the system is broken.

What they expect to hear is how to fix it. I have a simple answer for them: I don’t know how.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Myths, phobias and fantasies

By Bill Kraus

Life in the public sector is complicated and made more so by a long series of myths that too many believe, phobias that too many suffer from, and fantasies that too many chase.

Among the most prominent are:

Government can and should be run like a business. There are a lot of reasons it can’t and won’t be. The most important are that business is a totalitarian organization and government is not. The second most important is that the business of government is conducted in public. Public companies in the private sector think they are. They are not. They will be as, if and when the press sits in on their board meetings.

There is a market solution for everything which is better than a regulatory solution for anything. Really? Regulation is unwelcome everywhere. Events of the recent past are all the evidence needed to convince most that an unrestrained free market with all its virtues can do a lot of damage. An officious regulatory bureaucracy can as well. Regulation of anything--including voting--is and should be both fluid and subject to change in search of the elusive middle ground between too much and too little.

Monday, March 5, 2012


By Bill Kraus

Representative government is an endangered species.

Many states--most of which are in the western and mountain time zones and are relative newcomers to what is now the United States--have long ago expressed their distrust in the idea of fully empowering the representatives they elect by incorporating the populist idea of initiative and referendum in their constitutions.

Other signs that states have misgivings about the idea are the enactment of term limits for representatives and/or by keeping the pay for them so low that only the super rich or super abstemious could keep body and soul together on their legislative stipends. These measures militate against lifelong and fulltime representation.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Shut out again

By Sandra Miller

Did you hear that?

It was certainly loud and most definitely clear, that disturbingly familiar sound of yet another door slamming shut on the people of Wisconsin.

On Monday, our State Supreme Court voted 4-3 to move their conferences on administrative matters behind closed doors, hidden from public scrutiny or input.

So why should we care about this decision by the Court? After all, it’s only discussions on “administrative matters” we’re talking about here... can’t be anything more than minor procedural stuff.

Probably just a waste of our time and attention, right?

Uh.... Wrong.

These administrative policies help determine how our state’s highest court operates. Slated for one of these now closed-door conferences is a proposal by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. The topic?

“Civility and Public Trust and Confidence.”

Yes. Really.