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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Read "Ringside Seat" by Tim Cullen

By Roger Utnehmer

Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson will be recorded as the second-most effective executive in state history. The reasons are apparent in a recent book by a two-time state senator and Thompson cabinet member, Tim Cullen, "Ringside Seat."

Cullen served in the state senate from 1975 to 1986 when be was appointed the highest-ranking Democrat in the cabinet of Gov. Thompson. Cullen returned to the state senate for one term after a long career in the private sector, retiring in 2015.

(Full Disclosure: I knew Tim Cullen when I worked for Republican State Sen. Clifford "Tiny" Krueger in the mid '70's and we continue a friendship today serving together on the Board of Directors of Common Cause-Wisconsin. Tim, in "Ringside Seat," calls "Tiny" the greatest senator with whom he served.)

His book is an insiders' look at the best and worst of our political system. Cullen writes a critical portrayal of Wisconsin's current governor, Scott Walker, accusing Walker of dividing a state rather than uniting it and of pursuing an unneeded and divisive attack on public employees to fuel a presidential campaign.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Wisconsin's Real Voting Problems

By Tom Frazier

Two recent reports, one from the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and one from Common Cause in Wisconsin, sheds light on Wisconsin’s voting problems. And the problems do not include people impersonating other people in order to vote illegally which is the problem that is supposedly addressed by Wisconsin’s photo ID law. In fact, impersonating someone else in order to vote is already illegal; it is a felony which is probably why so few people attempt it.

The League of Women Voters Report was compiled based on placing 103 trained volunteers in 202 polling places to observe a range of problems in voting related to the April 5, 2016 election. For most voters everything went smoothly with observers reporting that “poll workers were professional, helpful, and respectful of voters.”

There were, however, enough problems reported to raise significant concerns about the integrity of the voting process in the state.

There were problems reported that poll workers in some locations did not know the rules associated with all the recent changes in voting laws. For example, voting officials incorrectly telling potential voters that the address on the photo ID (e.g. a driver’s license) had to be the same as their current address.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Democracy and Republic Depend on Voting

By Tom Frazier

We have now had two elections in Wisconsin under the law requiring a photo ID, and the results are not encouraging. Consider the following examples:

1. An older female voter in Stevens Point who was well know by an election inspector for 20 years, and by four out of five poll workers at her polling station, was denied the right to vote because she did not have a driver’s license or photo ID.

2. A grandmother in Dane County who came to her polling station with her granddaughter, a first time voter, was turned away because her driver’s license had expired and, because she had lost her job and couldn’t afford to get it renewed.

3. An older African-American man in Milwaukee who applied to the DMV for a free photo ID was turned down after waiting for five months because the name on his out-of-state birth certificate did not match the name he had used his entire life. He was told he could correct his name through the Social Security Administration or go to court to legally change his name. The irony is that this man voted without incident in the formerly Jim Crow South only to be disenfranchised when he moved to Wisconsin.

4. An 89 year old woman who has been voting since 1948 and had served on her Village Board since 1996 cannot get a free photo ID because her maiden name is misspelled on her birth certificate which would cost $200 to correct. She says “No one should have to pay a fee to vote.”

There are other problems with the law, including the fact that the Wisconsin Legislature did not appropriate any money to educate voters about the new law, DMV offices have limited hours (e.g. just 31 of 92 offices maintain normal Monday through Friday business hours), and the reason cited for the new law (i.e. voter impersonation) is virtually nonexistent. In a court case challenging the law, Judge Lynn Adelman said “The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.” Adelman’s decision invalidating the law was reversed by the U. S. Court of Appeals.

Recently, Congressman Glenn Grothman created quite a controversy when he said that he thought Republicans could win the Presidential election because Hillary Clinton was a weak candidate and “now we have photo ID and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.” It is probably no coincidence that then State Senator Grothman also was quoted when the Legislature passed a law eliminating early voting hours on nights and weekends as saying he wanted to “nip this in the bud” before early voting spread to other parts of the state.

While as many as 300,000 voters in Wisconsin, by some estimates, may lack a valid photo ID for voting, another major negative impact on voting is redistricting (a.k.a. Gerrymandering). By fixing election district boundaries, thousands of votes are meaningless because the incumbent is in a “safe” district. Districts must be politically competitive for everyone’s vote to be equal.

I have always thought of voting as a scared right. My dictionary defines Republic “as a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.” Democracy is defined as “a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” Unfortunately, I can only conclude that we are, at best, not meeting those definitions and, at worst, deliberately tampering with those definitions. In either case, we must not allow our right to vote to be taken away or our form of government will be neither a Republic nor a Democracy.

Tom Frazier is a member of the Common Cause in Wisconsin State Governing Board, and was the executive director of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups from 1983 to 2010.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Bill Kraus: Book Review of Dark Money by Jane Mayer

By Bill Kraus

To get to respectable book length the author had to load up with bios of the billionaires and their forebears and tell you at tiresome detail where they got all that money.

Skim that.

What’s interesting is what they have been doing with that money to set the mostly domestic agenda and see that it is supported by bought and paid for legislators in the states and in the Congress.

The almost opening paragraph of the book is about inauguration day in 2009. Obama was taking the oath of office. The billionaires were gathering in California to set a strategy which would defeat Obama—failed—to make his life difficult—succeeded—and to take over statehouses across the country to get their views [called anachronistic totalitarianism by Bill Buckley] into the law and laws of the land—really succeeded.

Their timing couldn’t have been better.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The days of dark money and dirty advertising are dying

By Roger Utnehmer

The days of dark money and dirty campaign advertising are dying in America.

We can thank the core values reflected by the emerging millennial generation for the most significant improvement in political discourse since the emergence of the Progressive Party a century ago.

Millennials reject bombast, hype, exaggeration and most of the negative characteristics of political expression in America today. They dream, desire fairness and are race and gender agnostic. That means discrimination will die the same death as dark money and dirty campaign ads.

The surging Sanders support, the Trump phenomenon and the inability of the largest super pac in history to keep Jeb Bush in the presidential race are reasons for optimism.

Negative ads do not move millennials. The more Hillary Clinton attacks Bernie Sanders the higher he rises in the polls. Donald Trump's self-funded success without television creates the new post-millennial paradigm. Jeb Bush and his super pac spent more than $150 million on negative tv ads. The millennial rejection of dark money buying dirty ads will render thse ads ineffective and obsolete in future races.

Our television screens and mail boxes will soon be sanitized by the elimination of the dirty ads that no longer work.

Millennials respect authenticity. They reject the content of political ads that moved generations before them. Their greatest and most profound impact will come from their congenital commitment to fairness. The millennial generational affinity to fairness as a core value will impact the 2016 election and those to follow.

A campaign finance system rigged and corrupted by dark money is not fair.

Civil service and merit selection being replaced by political cronyism and patronage is not fair.

The concentration of political power in caucus leadership at the expense of political independence is not fair.

The emasculation of collective bargaining power is not fair.

Having to boil drinking water in Kewaunee County, as if it were a third-world slum, is not fair.

College debt so high graduates cannot afford a car payment much less a home mortgage payment is not fair.

And an immigration policy that prevents millions of people from experiencing a God-given right of self-determination is not fair.

Millennials make me proud and optimistic that are best days truly are ahead of us.

They are restoring civility, fairness, decency, authenticity, civic engagement and dreams to the political discourse of America. And that's very good news.

That's my opinion. I'd like to hear yours.

Roger Utnehmer is President and CEO of, and a member of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Happy New (Voting) Year!

By Tom Frazier

Recently I received an interesting email from an Aging Unit Director from northern Wisconsin who had the City Clerk talk to a group of 18 seniors about the photo ID requirements for voting which are in effect for 2016. Of the 18 older adults, three (17%) did not have a valid photo ID. Fortunately, the next election is not until April 5, 2016 so there is time for them to obtain a “Wisconsin Identification Card” from the Division of Motor Vehicles' service center.

While this was just a random meeting of older people and not a scientific sample, I think the 17% figure could be close to the percentage of older people who may not be able to vote in 2016 unless they get a valid photo ID prior to April 2016. There are approximately one million people in Wisconsin aged 60 and over and even if only 60% of them vote that translates into over 100,000 seniors (17% of 600K) who may not be able to exercise their right to vote in 2016 under existing Wisconsin law.

I urge the Wisconsin Aging Network (three Area Agencies on Aging, 72 County Aging Offices, and 11 Tribal Offices) and every organization that works with older persons to do what this Aging Unit Director did by providing expert, accurate information about the photo ID that is required to vote in 2016. This information is available from many sources, including Common Cause in Wisconsin, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Area Agencies on Aging, and County and Tribal Aging Units to name a few. Of course, one meeting is not enough—we need to reach older voters through every possible means, such as media, newsletters, trainings, and having information available wherever older people may be gathering.