- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 14

The ever divisive Scott Walker

Scott Walker took on a demanding new job on Monday, one that will consume his time like nothing he has ever done. How will he manage the job he already has? We’ll see.

Touting his record as a taxcutter and a fighter of unions, the Republican governor kick-started his campaign for the presidency on Monday in Waukesha.

Walker is at the peak of his political power, having won three statewide elections since 2010 and built a formidable national fundraising machine. In the lead-up to the announcement, he buffed his conservative credentials by signing right-to-work legislation, holding the line on taxes, taking on the supposed intellectual elites at the University of Wisconsin and endorsing tighter election and abortion rules.

We don’t blame him for running, but he still has to do his job as governor. There were signs during the recent debate over the state budget that Walker was AWOL at times.

To win over the Republican base and stand out among the 15 declared candidates, Walker is bragging about his most divisive act - to all but end collective bargaining for public employee unions. He is a “fighter,” he says, and believes that Act 10 proves it. Passage of the controversial bill in 2011 led to weeks of angry protests in Madison and his recall. Walker won that race in 2012 in an election that brought him to the national stage. For Walker, surviving the recall was proof of his political bona fides.

But Walker’s over-the-top policy prescription - which went far beyond what was necessary - cleaved the state in two. If there is one thing the nation’s voters should understand as Walker promises to do for them what he did for us it is this:

Walker is the most divisive Wisconsin politician in living memory.

And that kind of governing is wearing thin with some voters here.

The governor continues to lead in opinion polls in Iowa, but his support in his home state is slipping. In a Marquette Law School Poll in April, the governor’s approval rating fell to just 41 percent, down from 49 percent on the eve of last year’s gubernatorial election when he defeated Democratic challenger Mary Burke. In the latest MU poll, conducted as Walker’s presidential ambitions were becoming clear, 55 percent of voters disapproved of the way Walker was doing his job.

Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and elsewhere also should remember Walker’s promises on jobs. He vowed that the golden touch of lower taxes, looser regulation and cheerleading for business would induce private industry to create 250,000 new jobs during his first term in office. The unemployment rate declined, yes, but he didn’t come close to hitting his goal. During his first term, Wisconsin ranked 35th in the nation in job creation and consistently lagged other Midwestern states. The state’s entrepreneurial climate is arguably worst in the nation.

Is this all Walker’s fault? Of course not. The ability of a governor’s policies to substantially move a state economy is limited.

But even where the state does have some leverage, Walker’s administration has stumbled. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., a Walker creation and a good idea in principle, continues to make mistakes. An article last week recounted how the jobs agency awarded more than $1.2 million to a financially troubled De Pere businessman who hadn’t disclosed his problems to the state. It’s only the latest flub for WEDC.

So governor, as you jet off to a series of early voting states, we wish you luck.

Just don’t forget your day job.


Wisconsin State Journal, July 12

Little evidence suggests GAB out to get GOP

Citing a Wall Street Journal editorial last week, Republican state lawmakers renewed and intensified their claim that the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board is politically biased and unfairly targeting conservatives.

Little evidence supports such allegations.

Moreover, GOP leaders are ignoring key facts about the GAB as they try to weaken if not disband the independent and nonpartisan watchdog agency that oversees campaign finance, elections, ethics and lobbying laws.

For starters, half of the retired judges who serve on the GAB were elected decades ago as Republicans to the Legislature, Congress or district attorney. Only one member of the GAB is a former Democratic district attorney from the 1970s, and he was appointed to the GAB by GOP Gov. Scott Walker.

The GAB signed off on a secret investigation of Walker’s 2012 recall election campaign, which Wisconsin Republicans trot out as evidence the GAB is mistreating them and their financial supporters for political reasons. But two of the four district attorneys who signed off on the probe are Republicans, and so is the special prosecutor who directed the effort. He even has said he voted for Walker.

Now comes a Wall Street Journal editorial critical of GAB director Kevin Kennedy. Citing anonymous sources and some quotes from emails, the Wall Street Journal questioned if Kennedy was coordinating state investigations of conservative groups with the IRS.

Kennedy traded emails with Lois Lerner of the IRS while her division of the federal agency was found to be inappropriately targeting tea party groups. Lerner was forced to resign because of the ensuing scandal in 2013.

Republicans understandably want to know more about Lerner’s connection and contacts with Kennedy, who says he and Lerner are longtime friends. The public should be curious, too.

But the Wall Street Journal editorial is speculating when it concludes that “Liberals worked together to turn the IRS and the GAB into partisan political weapons.”

Wisconsin Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who lead the Legislature’s budget committee, echoed the national newspaper editorial Friday in a fiery press release. You’d think these two might lay low for a few days, having embarrassed themselves a week earlier by trying to gut the state’s open records law.

No such luck. They quickly called for Kennedy to resign.

That’s for the GAB’s board of retired judges to decide. And we trust, given their long and distinguished legal careers, the judges will act on facts, not conjecture.

Other GOP lawmakers insisted Friday the GAB should be replaced “with a body that is accountable to the people.” What lawmakers really want is a GAB that’s accountable to lawmakers. Democrats, when they were in power, tried to weaken the GAB, too.

(One bright spot Friday was GOP lawmakers rediscovering the value of Wisconsin’s open records law. They filed a records request with the GAB for any emails to or from Lerner.)

Far better than going back to the bad old days of a weak and dysfunctional Elections Board stacked with the political pals of top lawmakers, Wisconsin should stick with a strong and independent GAB that’s insulated from politics as much as possible. The GAB’s structure is sound, regardless of any staffing issues it may or may not have.


The Journal Times of Racine, July 13

State’s open-records law benefits everyone

Victory has a thousand fathers, the saying goes, but defeat is an orphan.

In the wake of state Republicans’ holiday-weekend-eve attempt to dramatically weaken the state’s open-records law, the bipartisan backlash toward the move, and the subsequent retreat, no one in GOP leadership seemed especially eager to say “It was my idea.”

Asked by The Capital Times whether Gov. Scott Walker’s office was involved in the changes, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said: “Sure. Yeah.”

Fitzgerald said lawmakers talked to the governor’s office along the way about open records issues and the number of open records requests Walker’s office receives.

“The Assembly obviously was involved as well,” Fitzgerald said.

When asked on July 4 if he knew the measure was included in Motion No. 999 before it passed, Walker avoided giving a yes or no answer while acknowledging that he was aware of the tide of public opinion opposed to it.

A spokeswoman for Walker said on July 8 that legislative leaders notified the governor’s office they were interested in making changes to the state’s open records laws.

Then on Friday, Walker pointed the finger at Republican lawmakers directly while speaking on a WTMJ talk-radio program: “I think it was a mistake to even think about it in the budget, even though it didn’t come from us.” Walker’s office earlier in the week acknowledged it helped draft the changes.

In the immediate wake of the reversal, there was some social-media chatter that the whole thing was merely a straw man to boost Walker’s stature ahead of his long-anticipated presidential candidacy announcement, which was made Monday. But of course, to have a straw man, you have to have everybody involved in unison. The protracted debate among Republicans - who control both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office - before Walker signed the budget on Sunday makes it clear that was not the case.

When your idea has brought together the conservative John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, legislative Democrats, the Society for Professional Journalists and legislators from your own party in opposition to it, you have truly come up with a bad idea.

As we have said and will continue to say as many times as necessary, government records do not belong to those presently holding office in the government. Those in office were put there through the democratic process by the people. The records are the people’s property and the people’s business.

We are willing to make an exception for the staff member commissioned by the legislator to research a topic and present a report. The staffer serves at the pleasure of the legislator; someone in opposition to the legislator’s move should direct his or her fire at the legislator, not the staffer.

But we completely disagree with Joint Finance co-chair Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, who on July 7 told the Wisconsin State Journal: “In my view, there should be some privacy for constituents to contact my office.”

Chairman Nygren, that is exactly the kind of information the open records law is there to protect.

When a letter or an email seeks to influence a legislator on a piece of legislation or government action, that is government business and therefore the people’s business.

“A constituent” could be the little old lady who lives next to the state highway. He or she could also be a powerful business person or the president of a union local. All of the people have a right to know who has Senator X’s attention on a particular matter.

Open records laws best serve those on the outside looking in. We give credit to the MacIver Institute for recognizing that while our state government leans conservative today, it will not always be that way. Open records laws have no regard for who is presently in power; they recognize that those in the minority have as much right to know who influenced whom as those in the majority.

It seems fitting that opposition to restrictions on open records rose up right before Independence Day. Thanks to outcry from those of various political stripes, government records remain the people’s business.

Vigilance will be required to keep it that way: Lawmakers now plan to form a Legislative Council committee to study possible changes to the open records law, the State Journal reported Friday.

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