Monday, April 28, 2014

Six questions and five answers

By Bill Kraus

Many people who know I have spent 62 years in and around politics think I know everything about this arcane, wonderful business. They also expect me to be knowledgeable, even wise, on all matters political, which I am not. The compilation that follows of some of those questions I'm asked and answers I've given will be all the proof needed of that.

Q: Why can’t we have shorter election periods like, say, the British do?

A: The main reason is that the British elections are called not scheduled. It’s hard to figure out how to enter a game when you don’t know when it starts. The other reason is that too many candidates have enough money to spend recklessly and wastefully, so why not start boring us to death early?

Q: Why can’t we have part-time legislatures?

A: Conceding that the world is a lot more complicated than it was when part-time legislators were up to the job of coping with it, the real reason is that the full-timers who occupy most of the legislative seats in Madison and all of the them in Washington would have to vote to go part-time.

Q: Why is so much money spent on campaigns?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Purity and paralysis

By Bill Kraus

Let’s hear it for the moderates and the mavericks with their ideas and adaptability. Enough already with the absolutists and extremists and their pat answers.

If the absolutists who are surer of everything than I am of anything were in charge, would they have approved of Democratic Governor Lucey’s tax break for job producing corporations or Republican Governor Dreyfus’s quick and decisive signing of the nation’s first gay rights bill or any of many unpredictable solutions to intractable problems enacted during Governor Thompson’s long reign?

Don’t even ask.

The “Tea Party” (in quotes because it isn’t a party) is predictably, even admirably, frugal. It is also preprogrammed and inflexible on a large collection of questionable social ideas. One of their prominent members has been quoted saying, “Compromise is surrender.”

This position is at one with the generals who fought World War I. Dig a trench and hold to a long series of untenable positions.

Is this the kind of government and country we really want?

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.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Attacks and wedges

By Bill Kraus

This is an election year. This means that we will all get to vote for a candidate for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and state treasurer.

Those of us in one of 68 Assembly districts in which competition is more than a fantasy will get to cast a meaningful vote for that office. The other 31 are walkovers for one party or the other due to clustering which is natural and redistricting which is not.

Those of us in 14 of the state Senate districts up for election this year may have a choice. The other three districts are what might be called pre-loaded for one party or the other.

In fairness, the 34 legislative seats which have a history of incumbents winning with more than 70 percent and up to 99 percent of the vote might be contested in primaries. But the winner of the general election is a foregone conclusion.