Monday, December 30, 2013

Gerrymandering: the movie

By Bill Kraus

It is probably fitting, maybe masochistic, that I end the year watching a movie entitled Gerrymandering.

It is not new. It is not playing at a theater near you. It is a colorful summation of the purposes and results of gerrymandering over the years in many places.

The stars of the movie are Texas and California. The movie was made before the respective Democratic and Republican legislative majorities and their complicit governors had their way with the supine voters of Illinois and Wisconsin respectively.

The formidable Tom Delay re-mapped the state of Texas to give the Republicans six more sure seats in the U.S. Congress. In California the then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger led the fight for a referendum which removed the power to redistrict from the incumbent legislators who were, he pointed out, addicted to the power to gain advantage and preserve incumbencies.

The 77-minute documentary makes the points we are now familiar with with some interesting embellishments.

The embellishments first.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The good news

By Bill Kraus

1. It’s different than the former California Speaker Jesse Unruh’s dictum, “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, take their money and vote against them, you don’t belong in this business,” and John Boehner’s scolding is directed at the dreaded third parties who want to dictate elections from the outside, but it is a huge step in a welcome direction nonetheless.

It is important to remind everyone that power still resides in those in office not those who think the money they spend on their screeds put them in office. This seems to be a revelation to those who prefer buying votes and voters to getting into the trenches and fighting for the right to rule.

It is also a reassurance to those of us who contribute only votes, that we still count more than the idiot billionaires and the cult organization with their benign labels and questionable agendas.

Who knows what might happen next. Following the Supreme Court’s suggestion and the Boehner lead, we might even be told who it is exactly who is funding and running these organizations that want to run the game from the bleachers.

Let the people decide? What a novel idea.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bad answers, wrong questions

By Bill Kraus

When Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tells a credulous Rotary Club that the present system used for redistricting is working just fine and that the Iowa system being proposed to replace it doesn’t work and is unconstitutional to boot, it is time to reload and remind in case any of us ever gets a chance to refute and clarify.

The present system is working just fine in one way. It is working just fine for those incumbents who Speaker Vos favors.

Through a combination of collusion, artful mapmaking, and imaginative computer manipulation the system has produced eight sure-to-be-re-elected members of Congress and a solid majority of Republicans in the state Assembly in a state where the Democrats outpolled the Republicans by some 200,000 votes in the last statewide election.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Forcing politicians to think

By Bill Kraus

Before you pick a candidate or vote for one, you must ask that person whether they have read Thinking, Fast and Slow.

If they have not, offer to buy them the book. If they do not accept your offer, vote for someone else.

The book was written by a Nobel Prize winning economist and tells us things about the way our brains work that are startling, revealing and scary.

The book introduces you to that stranger in you, which may be in control of much of what you do, although you rarely have a glimpse of it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Looney Tunes in the sausage factory


By Bill Kraus

In Wisconsin as in D.C. we are experiencing a kind of minority rule. The political system is expected to protect minority rights, but a couple of developments have expanded this concept.

The Legislature has abandoned partisan floor debates in favor of rule-by-caucus. The way this works is the majority caucus won’t let anything go to the floor for “debate” until a majority of the caucus has approved it. This almost inevitably means a minority of the entire body is deciding what legislation advances. Part of this deal is that all of the members of the caucus agree to vote for whatever has advanced. The minority party then will vote unanimously against the proposition.

This long series of party-line votes gives the not-unjustified impression that this is kind of a lemming legislature. Does any member, with the possible exception of Senator Dale Schultz, have a mind of his or her own?

Think of the time and rancor that could be saved and avoided by simply eliminating the faux debates and floor sessions altogether and mailing in the preordained results straight from caucuses.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Richard Milhouse Walker


By Bill Kraus

The Watergate fiasco was only the most prominent reminder of the dangers posed to the powerful when they try to coverup their missteps. The almost inevitable result is a loss of office and the power attached to it.

Overreaching is also to be avoided.

A very large, very loud collection of citizens spent a lot of time out in the cold weather to accuse the Walker administration of overreaching when it enacted Act 10 and pulled the fangs of the public employees’ and teachers' unions.

The reason that this radical move did not bring down the Walker administration is that a majority of the people characterized this as a battle of the 500-pound gorillas. The unions representing these groups had for a very long time terrified their opponents and intimidated their “friends.” The administration was terrifying the unions.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Favoring the indefensible


By Bill Kraus

The leaders of the majority party in both houses of the state Legislature have made a couple of things very clear:

They do not want to give up their right to gerrymander, which includes the right to protect their favorite incumbents in all years and their right to manufacture unbeatable majorities in the years they have majorities in both houses and a compatriot in the governor’s office.

The other thing they have made clear is they are not interested in having hearings in either house on the bills that would end gerrymandering on the obvious but unstated grounds that hearings would require them to defend the indefensible and answer the hard-to-avoid question: “Do you favor gerrymandering?”

The majority leader has accomplished this in his domain by extracting a pledge from most members of his caucus which prohibits them from breaking ranks on this question whenever and wherever it might arise.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

All the news that's fit to buy


By Bill Kraus

On the top of my list of intractables ahead, even of restoring civility and mutual respect, is what Francis Fukuyama says is essential to self government:

“A universal communication system which takes messages to and from the leaders and informs almost everyone more or less simultaneously and equally.”

To reduce this to a nostalgic anecdote, what I would like to reincarnate is a world where the morning paper sets the agenda for those in power. This was not because the morning paper was omniscient or even half right half of the time. This was not even because the people in power read it. This was because everyone read it.

The morning paper has been eviscerated by the Internet. Not because the Internet is a better way to deliver what remains of the news gathered by a diminished group of reporters but because the Internet has proven to be a more efficient medium for advertisers than the morning paper could ever hope to be.

Thursday, October 24, 2013



By Bill Kraus

The day that it was announced that Governor Scott Walker’s book Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge was about to be available at your local book store (if any) or online, a prescient column by Todd Robert Murphy appeared in the Waukesha Freeman.

The column articulated what many of us have suspected for some time.

It is not that we suspect the governor has an eye on the White House and plans to contend in 2016. This is pretty much certain.

What we suspect is that, because of this overriding ambition, he will not run for re-election as governor in 2014.

There are two reasons for this course of action.

The road to the White House does not run through Wisconsin. Too many potholes.

Friday, October 18, 2013

How a bill becomes a loss


By Bill Kraus

What you learned in your civics course back when civics courses were offered in our public schools was how a bill became a law.

A bill was introduced.

If it merited further attention, the bill was assigned to a legislative committee.

The committee held public hearings on the bill and passed it on to the Legislature as whole.

The Legislature debated the bill, and if it got a majority of votes, sent it on to the governor for approval or veto.

If approved or if a veto was overridden by the Legislature, the bill became law.

This process is no longer followed on bills which are controversial or partisanized.

Let’s take a couple of bills that fall into one of these categories.

The bills to reform the redistricting system have been sent to the appropriate (or less appropriate in one case) committees. The chairs of those committees have on their own initiatives or under orders announced there will be no hearings.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

John Dean


By Bill Kraus

He was booked for the UW Law School's annual Robert Kastenmeier lecture series which honors the former congressman and is usually held in a large classroom in the law school building. The site was moved to a very large hall in another building on campus to accommodate the crowd.

Dean is now 75 years old and what remains of his hair is white. He is a forceful and amusing speaker.

His talk, "Crossing the Line: Watergate, The Criminal Law and Ethics," was mostly about a forthcoming book and was particularly appropriate for an audience larded with lawyers, law students, and judges.

His publisher urged him to do this book to take advantage of the release of the White House tapes and papers. Much of this material--1,000 Nixon conversations, and 150,000 uncatalogued documents--was new to him. As he said, “I may have been in the room for a meeting, but what I hadn’t been privy to till now was what others talked about before and after the meeting.”

Interesting tidbits included the clip from the Senate hearing where freshman Senator Fred Thompson, with his full, abundant head of hair asked the question that elicited Dean’s response about the cancer growing on the presidency with which he is most frequently identified.

Monday, September 30, 2013

"This Town" and our town


By Bill Kraus

Everbody told me, “You gotta read this book.” I have always been leery about “inside” books that are written by outsiders. The only people who really know what goes on in a campaign or a government are those who are in the campaign or the government. Outsiders get leaks, snippets, gripes, lots of questionably motivated stuff. Outsiders then tend to dress this up with melodrama to pump book sales.

I have not changed my mind since reading Mark Leibovich’s This Town even though the writer is as close to being an insider as an outsider is likely to get.

The book is gossipy. A lot like People magazine on steroids. Lots of name dropping where the great majority of names dropped are of people the rest of the world never heard of. All of them earn a lot of money and reputably have a lot of influence.

I should not have been surprised by this.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The money is the message


By Bill Kraus

I think there are three things most can agree on. The first is that money is much too important in politics. The second is that there is too much money in politics. Lastly, there is no known way to limit the amount of money that is flowing into politics.


Certainly there is no way to stem the flow by regulating from above as it were.

Perhaps it can be controlled from the bottom up.

All that candidates have to do is stop spending so much money on the persuasive devices that motivate workers and inspire voters.

Why would they do that?

Because they are in a position to do it if they are convinced that spending more buys less than spending less does.

The excesses of recent years surely have gotten us close to a tipping point where voters are beginning to wonder what and who is being bought by all this money.

Voters are beginning to ask, “Who is contributing all this money?” And, more importantly, since they are not fools, “What or who or both are they buying with it?”

Monday, September 16, 2013

Treating the disease of partisanship


By Bill Kraus

The first step is admitting it is incurable. But it can be treated, ameliorated, contained. For most. Not all. The yellow dogs are beyond treatment and have no interest in being treated. They are addicted and wallow in their addiction. The anarchists have a different disease altogether. They think the government can and should simply go away.

The yellow dogs want their opponents to go away and take their “wrong-headed” ideas with them. They reduce policy and decisions to their basics: who proposed them. If Scott Walker or Peter Barca promised a second coming and eternal life, the yellow dogs of the Republican or Democratic persuasions can be counted on to be against both.

The yellow dogs want to partisanize everything and will reject the second step of my treatment program which is to clean up the definition. There are many politically explosive issues that are not politically partisan.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013



By Bill Kraus

The good news is that almost everyone who is planning to run for office in 2014 has said that he or she will focus on one issue: jobs.

Does this mean that we will be spared the personal demonization and negative attack advertising that has become a staple of 21st century political campaigning? Nobody is promising that, but we can hope.

In any event the subject of this discourse is jobs not smash mouth politics, and the good news is not as good as one may hoped.

Jobs were on everyone's short agenda in 2012 and 2010.

I quickly concluded that talk about jobs was just that. Talk.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fixing the unfixable


By Bill Kraus

My list has three categories. None of them are easy. Too many are impossible.


Gerrymandering. The maps reveal everything about the Legislature’s over-reaching to make more and more legislative districts safe. Legislatures in some 20 states have passed laws which are the equivalent of “stop me before I do this again.” Iowa’s law is the best. All that needs to be done is to overcome the opposition of the Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader to do what Iowa has done. Hard.

Disclosure. The theory is that if the voters know who pays for the ads run by third parties for and against candidates, the ads would be less effective. That’s the theory. It might be more than a theory if those running the ads had to identify their organizations or causes up front the way candidates do. The legislators who would have to pass a law to force disclosure are safe enough to be almost fearless, except they are afraid of or beholden to the big money sources who prefer not to be revealed. Hard.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Whatever were they thinking?


By Bill Kraus

I am assembling stories from near and far for "Whatever Were They Thinking? Awards" along the lines of the Darwin Awards.

There will be no strict rules, but I expect the entries will be about serious missteps (or over-reaching) by those in power who are important enough to attract press attention.

The antics of the likes of New York City’s Andrew Wiener and Madison’s Brett Hulsey, which seem to me to be in a different category--Not Thinking perhaps--will not be eligible.

A few examples of what I consider eligible follow.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Flunking the Fukuyama test


By Bill Kraus

What Francis Fukuyama’s erudite and thorough book The Origins of Political Order concludes is that, while never fault-free and always subject to the preferences of those who hold power, there is and always has been a best political system or order.

It gets trampled from time to time as despots, totalitarians, and the dreaded “Man on a white horse” assume and abuse power, but it keeps coming back.

It’s known as democracy, and it comes in various shapes and sizes and with different names in different places.

The best of the breed has four characteristics.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A big mouth with no teeth


By Bill Kraus

The chair of the national Republican Party, Reince Priebus, recently declared that the party embraces life, marriage, and one sovereign God.

The big tent party of my youth that Tommy Thompson and his Wisconsin Republican predecessors understood embraced things like frugality, a manageable public sector agenda, competence, and inclusion.

If they embraced the things that Chair Preibus extols, they did so quietly. Their party accepted those who disliked abortion as much as anyone, but preferred to leave that decision to patients and doctors. Their party was willing to extend whatever rights their government granted to heterosexual couples to gay couples as well without questioning the right of any church to sanctify whatever marriages they liked. And all gods or none were considered private matters as well, which they found consistent with their strong preference for the separation of church and state.

The good news is that today’s party is a shadow of its former self.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lighten up and open up


By Bill Kraus

Almost all the things people say they dislike about politics and politicians--and the reason both get approval ratings in the low teens--are driven by secrecy and seriousness.

A couple of examples will suffice.

The blitzkrieg on the public unions that had long terrified their political enemies and intimidated their political friends was neither promised or predicted and was devastatingly effective.

The resulting demise or decline of the 600-pound gorillas has gone pretty much unmourned quietly by their presumed friends and celebrated exuberantly by their enemies. I would expect the same sort of reception to the overreaching of the billionaires who have their own sets of terrifieds and intimindateds as, if, and when the reaction to their excesses occurs as it surely must.

The Capitol's newly newsworthy Solidarity Singers are the public manifestation of those who don’t know that the battle has shifted, that they are prolonging the fighting in a war that is over. What they have set off is an equally ridiculous opposite response by the always questionable forces of law and order who are in a modest way replicating the unlearned lessons of Mayor Daley’s fiasco of 1968.

Lighten up, everybody.

And open up.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Transparency Illusion


By Bill Kraus

One of the precepts underlying our democracy is that those who run the place will be accountable to an informed electorate.

This is not holding up well.

More and more, those who run the place do not share the information about what they are doing and why as freely as expected. Those in power quickly learn that information is power and tend to hold onto it for that reason alone.

Worse yet the electorate is less and less interested in how the place is run and has become addicted to outsourcing. Outsourcing is a synonym for “not interested.”

Added to these weaknesses is the fact that the undesirable side effect of the awesome internet is that it took away the advertisers who provided most of the money needed to pay for a wide ranging, well staffed, news-gathering system that reported fully, even fairly in most cases, on who is running the place and how.

The informed electorate is more and more uninformed.

This disturbing conclusion can be validated by asking questions.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Rule of three


By Bill Kraus

There are at least three categories of anarchists at work in the halls of state capitols and in Washington, maybe more.

The most extreme and smallest are the pure anarchists. Their goal is to have governments simply go away. A surprising advocate of this idea was Karl Marx, who is best known as the founder of what we call communism. His theory was that full public ownership of everything would eliminate the need for a ruling body known as government. He allowed as how the route to this utopian objective would have to go through totalitarianism which would eradicate private property. As we all know, no one has gotten through this transitory phase, and now pure anarchy is in the hands of people on the other side of the spectrum. They are not making a lot of noise about where they want to go. They are not making a lot of progress either. What they are making is a lot of trouble.

In a recent column about the rocky road to immigration reform, the NY Times's David Brooks pointed out that those who oppose it will destroy the Republicans' chances of ever coming back into power. Pure anarchists don’t care. In their world all avenues to power, including the parties, are expendable.

Monday, July 8, 2013

And not as I do


By Bill Kraus

President Obama on a recent visit to Tanzania complimented that country on its move toward democracy but added an admonition that indicated they had not completed the job. He told them that they would not have a true democracy until “everyone feels their government is truly responsive and their voices are being heard.”

Like ours?


This may just be the manifestation of the great U.S. conceit of giving advice to others which implies we are doing in our country what we are telling them to do in theirs.

There are, of course, organizations mostly and a few people in this country who think those running our “democracy” are responsive and that their voices are being heard. I do not happen to be one of them.

But I am not a member of the National Rifle Association or the Catholic Church or any organization that wants to turn this country into a gated community.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The internet's lost opportunity


By Bill Kraus

At a symposium in California the participants were asked what was the most significant invention in their lifetimes. The vote for the internet was almost unanimous. One deviant suggested “the pill.” I offered “TV” and was immediately labeled an old fogey by an audience that has no recollection of a TV-free existence.

I’m sticking to my answer. The reason goes back to Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum--the medium is the message--which baffled me when I first heard it. No longer.

The effects of TV on politics and governing and participation in both connects directly to McLuhan. Politics is particularly affected. Before TV, political conventions were a social event and people were the main communication medium. A picture in my office of a group that gathered on a cold October Saturday morning in the middle of the last century says it all. Men, women, kids from all walks of life [from the chairman of the largest company in town down to working stiffs and housewives] were picking up the literature that promoted the candidacies of their favored candidates which they would deliver door to door throughout their city.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Store from Hell


By Bill Kraus

There is more to tending the public store than delivering merchandise. The store itself has to be seen to.

We have all seen the recent legislative products on the political store’s shelves and have decided whether we are buying them or not.

What is increasingly obvious is that the store itself, the system which delivers the product, is falling apart.

The writer George Packer says that the nation’s leaders have “abandoned their posts.”

They are not dealing with the flaws in the political system. They are not tending the store.

I could start with something as basic as the distrust and disdain that 90 percent of those polled say they have for the people who they have elected to public office.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Thinking about thinking


By Bill Kraus

The book is Thinking, Fast and Slow. Those are the only options other than not thinking at all. It was written by a man named Daniel Kahneman who is a Nobel prize winning economist.

It is scholarly. It is informative. It is a bit of a slog, but worth it.

The book describes the two kinds of thinking. The shortcut example how we think when asked, “What is 2 times 2?” and “What is 23 times 17?”

To the first one we respond to quickly and easily. The second not so fast.

These are the ways we respond to all questions. The elaborations on this go on for several hundred pages and make several cogent points.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What's the word?


By Bill Kraus

The stages of disaffection from and disgust with politics and government are large and growing. Everyone knows about the dismal approval rating. Untouchability is also widespread, particularly among the disgusted.

But the only words to classify this late blooming phenomenon are libertarianism and anarchy. What needs to be defined is something between those two words, with a dose of conspiracy theoryism (which is not a word) to properly illustrate what is going on here.

Putting aside the taxophobia and anti-spending movements which carry the tea party label, there are identifiable feelings evident in the behavior and statements of and from the more thoughtful self-described “victims” of our government.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Toxicity Index


By Bill Kraus

The toxicity level in the state capitol has never been low, but its recent rise may be unprecedented.

It started on its upward course during the bellicose years when the two tough, smart, uncompromising leaders Scott Jensen in the Assembly and Chuck Chvala in the Senate ordered an end to the casual camaraderie that had characterized those two bodies for years.

The public show in both houses had been somewhere between bitter and vitriolic, but the after hours was where the deals were made and the rhetoric toned down. The watering holes were off the record and populated by seemingly irreconcilable partisans from both sides. Breaking bread together was common, neither encouraged nor frowned upon.

The respect for the trade and its practitioners was evident despite the disputatious nature of the institutions.

In the winter of 2011 and the recall rants that followed camaraderie was out the window and the toxicity level went ballistic. The issues that were the worthy subjects of debate and disagreement became personal. “He said, she said,” escalated to, “If he [or she] is for it, I’m against it.”

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Help wanted


By Bill Kraus

Due to the unhappy, unexpected, too early demise of Common Cause’s national president Bob Edgar, there is a job opening in Washington D.C. that may be of interest.

Common Cause was founded many decades ago by a Democratic president’s cabinet member who happened to be a Republican. He, like everyone who has ever served in any government anywhere, was acutely aware of the fact that these governments are mostly of, by, and for the interest groups large and small, worthy and less so, powerful and not, to whom those we elect are too often beholden.

When he formed Common Cause, he said that the only interest not actively represented in this special interest free-for-all was the general interest, the people; those who want a government that works for all more than an advantage for any or many of the special interests that may or may not be advantageous for the nation. He figured Common Cause would correct this oversight.

Over the years Common Cause has become an institution with its own history and image in Washington and in several, but much less than many, states.

It differs from other interest organizations in several ways which anyone who is thinking about applying for its top job must consider.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ellis, out on an island


By Bill Kraus

Not so very long ago Senator Mike Ellis developed and recommended a campaign financing plan that would have contributed a significant amount of public money to anyone who agreed to spending limits. The plan also was structured to protect those who took the public money and agreed to the spending limits from spending by unregulated third parties and organizations.

The comfortable incumbents who would have had to agree to this plan said in effect if not in fact “why would I vote for something that gives public money to people who want to run against me, and that takes away the advantage I have in raising campaign money due to my incumbency?”

The response should have been, “Because this is your last, best chance to be delivered from dialing for dollars and for avoiding hijacked campaigns and being thought beholden to interests rather than to the people who vote for you.”

The response instead was, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

The Ellis proposal was not enacted.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Power scorecard


By Bill Kraus

The thing about power is that it’s finite. If I have it, you probably don’t. There are, of course, occasions where we both have it in equal measure. This produces ties in games, gridlock in politics.

The other thing is that in politics, power moves or shifts. Sometimes it almost disappears altogether, usually when it is abused. Overreaching, as Lord Acton pointed out long, long ago is not only corrupting as he said but tends to set off a reversal.

So any assessment of who is up, down, and tied is ephemeral. But I can’t resist assessing anyway. It is my way of tracking political probabilities and prospects.

What follows is a truncated version of my power scorecard at this moment in time and space, with emphasis on Wisconsin.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Three endangered species


By Bill Kraus

Three elements in the public policy arena have become so undervalued and weakened that some of us question their survival.

Newspapers. The collection, validation, rating, and distribution of the events that drive all of our lives is essential to a working democracy. It is the first draft of history. Like all first drafts it is imperfect. It is even subject to being tendentious. Jefferson, however, was and still is right when he said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

If you are not thinking of creating a model for newspapers that will work economically and will restore newspapers to their full strength and coverage capability, you are not doing your civic duty.

If you have been lulled into believing that the internet is a substitute for newspapers, you are deceived. The internet is a marvel. It is also more divisive than unifying. It also is not yet, maybe ever, something that Jefferson’s “every man” receives.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Back to the Republican future?


By Bill Kraus

The Republican Party has said it wants to clean up its act and strengthen its appeal to certain large segments of society that are important to electoral success in 2013 America.

This is easier said than done.

In the not-too-distant past the Republicans were respected for their competence. They knew how to make things work. In a long ago interview with the redoubtable then-WPR host Tom Clark I asserted that the party I joined in my youth while not always beloved could always fall back on this reputation. “What if things aren’t running well when they are in charge?” he asked. “This assumption is so strong,” I replied, “that the contention that things would be even worse if they weren’t in charge” was pretty much accepted.

Along with this not-inconsequential virtue and talent, the party was expected to be and was both frugal and mildly libertarian.

Then along came segmentation and the “wedge” strategy.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

One out of three would be good


By Bill Kraus

I have observed more than once that Lincoln's famous claim that we have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people is no longer true.

A reading of Jon Meacham's book on Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, suggests that it never was.

The revolution that created the government that Lincoln described was fomented by the colony's elite whose rights and privileges were unjustifiably and wrongly curtailed and restricted by the overreaching British. The new government they created was run by that same often contentious elite.

As it developed and matured a bureaucracy came in to run things. The bureacracy was chosen, directed and overseen by the elite.

So what we got over time was a government of the elite, by the bureaucracy, and for the people. The people batted .333. Not unlike baseball, this was more than satisfactory.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Things to do today (in government)


By Bill Kraus

Okay the governor wants to talk about ideas big and small: expanding school choice, cutting income taxes, a venture capital spur for the economy, where public employees have to live, and, who knew, taking over the Circus Museum in Baraboo.

The Legislature hasn’t weighed in yet on what they like about his agenda or what is on their short list.

Neither of the above are going to be interested in what’s on my to-do list, but I have enough chutzpah to let them know what I think the governor is missing and the Legislature should be considering.

My list is not particularly daunting or surprising either.

I start with the obvious: dispassionate redistricting for whoever is still around when the next census is published in 2021, and whatever can still be done to clean up campaign funding and financing.

I put voter ID on the wait-and-see list. This is in the hands of the courts where it does or does not belong, but where it will be handled for better or worse.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Campaign finance's shifting burdens


By Bill Kraus

Endorsements have always been a campaign staple. Prominent people, large organizations, anyone or anything with a following who will praise the candidate, are as good as gold in candidates’ campaign literature.

The way it worked was the campaign controlled the publication of the endorsements.

Sometime in the last 20 percent of the last century more of the endorsements became self actuated and published. The control of the endorsement process shifted away from the candidates and the campaigns.

Most of the newly unfettered endorsers were respectable, responsible, and welcome.

They also had money. They could buy TV ads and let the world know how much they liked their endorsees and why.

This would be done in their own words, which was occasionally a mixed blessing.

All in all, though, there was no widespread protest about this turn of events.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Three reforms nobody seems to care enough about


By Bill Kraus

The reform agenda when I entered the wilds of good government was just as widely ignored but more fun before the Supreme Court took spending and contribution limits off the table by deciding in Citizens United that spending by third parties was sacrosanct and impliedly reaffirming what their 19th and 20th century predecessors ruled, respectively, that corporations are people and money is speech.

So we are pretty much down to redistricting, which is arcane and boring, donor disclosure, which is obliquely tied to the aforementioned money, and recall by fault instead of whimsy which is too toxic to touch, in Wisconsin anyway.

None of these initiatives are on the legislative leaders’ short agendas. Maybe not even on their long agendas.

In no particular order then:

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Whither the Electoral College


By Bill Kraus

The Electoral College system of picking a president is under fire, again. As it comes under close and critical scrutiny and as other options are proposed, Churchill’s aphorism about democracy being the worst system of government except for all those other systems comes to mind.

The assertion that there is something absurd about a national election that is basically contested in and settled by the results in only seven or eight states is hard to dispute.

Until the other ideas come under the microscope.

First, it is necessary to point out that it will take a constitutional change to go to the obvious proposal: the winner of the national popular vote wins the election.

Why the founders did not go this route is irrelevant. They didn’t. The Electoral College with its geographical and other quirks, which they chose instead, can only be changed if 38 states ratify the amendment to do this. Almost all of those 38 states are or feel favored by the Electoral College and don’t care that New York, California and Texas are ignored in presidential campaigns.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Trench mouth


By Bill Kraus

The 10th rule of government (circa 1980) is “A stalemate must be broken before there is time to dig a trench.”

This rule is no longer operative.

Most legislators now live in trenches.

These trenches were dug for them by their fiercely partisan supporters.

Most legislators, somewhat paradoxically, have been gerrymandered (actually have gerrymandered themselves) into districts where they are unassailable from their traditional, other-party adversaries.

Their new natural enemies are the trench-supplying, aforementioned, fiercely partisan supporters who want them to be as unyielding and uncivil and uncompromising as they, the fiercely partisan supporters, are.

This full explanation of the system comes to you courtesy of a member of the now despised and denigrated minority known in Republican circles as RINOs (Republican In Name Only), more generally as “moderates.”

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pipelines and cauldrons


By Bill Kraus

The discussion was about empty pipelines. It started with an obvious question. Who will the Dems run against Walker? The follow up was less obvious but beyond probable. Who will the Republicans run if Walker heads for greener and friendlier national pastures while he is still an iconic figure?

Two things immediately became evident. Both parties' pipelines are empty, and what once was a bubbling, boiling cauldron of ambitious wannabes--the state Legislature--is cold and dormant.

What happened?

There have been occasional forays by outsiders like Lee Dreyfus, but most candidates for governor in Wisconsin have come with a legislative history. The main exceptions have come from the other traditional spawning ground: the attorney general's office referred to by insiders by its initials AG, which often stood for "Almost Governor."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Who killed representative government?


By Bill Kraus

I am reminded of an Agatha Christie book and movie called Murder on the Orient Express in which the redoubtable Poirot finds that an execution was the work of not a single culprit/suspect but all of them.

The difference is that representative government is not dead yet or doesn’t know it is.

The suspects are a combination of outside people and forces and the legislature itself. The death when it comes will be a combination murder suicide.

Suspect 1

Populists came along early and often. Even Wisconsin’s beloved Fighting Bob wanted us to have initiative and referendum and no fault recall so we could impose agenda items and punish representatives who voted in ways we didn’t like. It’s an open question whether these are attempts to get a town hall government or a way to protect the people from the people they voted into office. Doesn’t matter. What this has turned into is a field day for public relations big spenders who can work their will an issue or an incumbent at a time without waiting for the next election. The most extreme example is California where conflicting referendums and other zaniness threaten to make representative government unworkable.

A milder form of populist intrusion is something called TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) which puts a lid on how much the people we elected to govern can tax us to do the job we elected them to. It is said to work in Colorado. It is doubtful that the founding fathers figured this kind of hobbling.

Suspect 2

Monday, January 7, 2013

The lonely crusade for rational redistricting


By Bill Kraus

Everybody who has been paying attention knows that decades of gerrymandering via maps and mathematics have inevitably created two sets of elections with two sets of winners beholden to two very different constituencies. Or, in a word, a gridlock democracy.

A gridlock, no compromise between executive and legislative branches world is hardly what the founding fathers had in mind and sets a course for governing futility.

I, along with many others, thought that those with the power to do so would move quickly to repair the damage gerrymandering has done by changing the way legislative districts are fashioned before permanent, irremediable hardening of the arteries sets in.

I was wrong.

The first clue came from three presentations I made to three very different groups about the results of and remedies for legislative redistricting by incumbents and partisans.

All three audiences agreed that most of us have lost a real choice of who is to represent us by the time of the November election, that this was not desirable, and that someone should probably do something about this.