- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 18

Robin Vos right to insist on solid road funding

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos rolled his eyes and shook his head - for good reason - when Gov. Scott Walker touted the administration’s transportation budget last week during the governor’s State of the State speech.

Seated directly behind the Republican governor during Walker’s annual address, Vos, R-Rochester, made it clear he’ll continue to fight for a responsible road budget. Assembly Republican leaders wisely say they’re open to the first increase in user fees on motorists in a decade, rather than continuing to borrow money to get by.

Assembly Republicans also should insist that ongoing road projects stay on schedule. That includes the reconstruction of Verona Road (Highway 151) southwest of Madison’s Beltline, which serves one of the fastest growing employers in the state in Epic Systems of Verona. The governor’s budget plan would slow completion of this vital project for a second time, making it harder for people and products to get where they need to go.

The governor claimed in his State of the State speech he has “restored a commitment to a strong transportation system.” In reality, he has spent and borrowed about the same as his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. Gov. Walker committed $17 billion to transportation during his six years, compared with $16.3 billion during the final six years of Doyle, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. That’s not much of an increase, given inflation.

At the same time, Gov. Walker similarly has relied on borrowing for roads: $2.48 billion during his six years, compared with $2.6 billion during the last six years under Doyle.

Doyle did raid $1.4 billion from the transportation budget to pay for schools. To keep road building going he borrowed money to fill most of that hole. Walker reversed the move, cutting state aid to public schools while steering dollars back into roads.

But now Walker has paid back more money than was lost. So he shouldn’t use Doyle’s actions a decade ago as an excuse for aging roads and bridges today.

According to the governor’s own Department of Transportation, the share of state highways in poor condition will double - from 21 percent to 42 percent - during the next decade without new revenue. Yet Gov. Walker continues to resist a modest increase in the gas tax, despite flat revenue.

The state gas tax of 30.9 cents per gallon hasn’t been increased in a decade. So the average driver is actually paying less in gas tax because of more fuel-efficient cars. All the while, the cost of road work has gone up.

The result is a nearly $1 billion funding gap for roads.

So Speaker Vos’ skepticism is understandable. He rolled his eyes last week when the governor said “safety and maintenance of our existing system is a priority.” Vos also shook his head when the governor touted an increase in transportation aid to local governments. What the governor didn’t say is road aid to local governments was flat in his two previous budgets.

Vos applauded most of the governor’s speech. But he couldn’t resist some open defiance on this important issue. Assembly Republicans should stick to their fiscally responsible position.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 14

Judge recusal proposal make sense

More than 50 retired jurists are making a reasonable request of the state Supreme Court: Set a “bright line” for judges to step down from cases that involve a party who has made a campaign contribution to that judge. The proposal deserves a thoughtful discussion and hearing, but on its face it makes sense: An objective standard on when to recuse oneself from a case would make it simpler for judges and could help rebuild public trust in government. How is that not a good thing?

Imagine you’re involved in litigation. You find out that your opponent in the case gave $5,000 to the re-election campaign of the judge hearing the case. Is your first thought going to be, “I’m sure the judge won’t give that a thought and will judge this case fairly and honestly,” or will it be, “I’m cooked”?

The judge involved may indeed judge the case fairly and honestly - we have no doubt that the vast majority would - but the appearance of a conflict of interest can be just as damaging to the public’s trust as an actual conflict. A hard and fast objective rule would help resolve that question.

Right now, judges and justices rely on a 2010 rule that says campaign donations can rarely force judges and justices off cases. Recusal is left in the hands of the judge or justice, and there’s no review or appeal.

“As money in elections becomes more predominant, citizens rightfully ask whether justice is for sale,” the former judges wrote in their petition to the high court. “The appearance of partiality that large campaign donations cause strikes at the heart of the judicial function, which depends on the public’s respect for its judgments.”

In a meeting with the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board Wednesday, retired Supreme Court Justices Janine Geske and Louis Butler and retired Milwaukee County Judge Mike Skwierawski made the case for the new rule.

“At some level, you have to hope that the integrity of the court system becomes the highest priority for the Supreme Court. Not just keep the money flowing,” Skwierawski said.

There are those who argue this is a free speech issue and that setting a threshold for campaign contributions to trigger recusal would have a chilling effect.

But as Skwierawski noted Wednesday, while everyone has a right to contribute to campaigns and to have a day in court, there is no right to have a case heard by a particular judge. And that’s all this rule would do; remove a particular judge who may or may not be motivated by a campaign contribution. Does it hurt free speech? “Absolutely not,” said Skwierawski.

Under the proposed recusal rules, circuit court judges would have to step aside if they received $1,000 or more from a litigant or attorney in a case. The threshold would be $2,500 for appeals judges and $10,000 for Supreme Court judges. The proposal also calls for a review and appeals process, the retired judges told us.

“This isn’t an attempt to shame anyone,” said Butler, who lost a re-election bid in 2008 to now-Justice Michael Gabelman. “I think it’s a realistic approach to the court, saying it’s time to review the rules that were drafted in 2010.”

It is a realistic and necessary approach. It deserves full consideration by the high court.

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The Capital Times, Jan. 18

As we resisted Joe McCarthy, we will resist Donald Trump

As The Capital Times editorial board reflected on how best to respond to the beginning of the presidency of Donald Trump, we recalled this newspaper’s response to the re-election almost 65 years ago of Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy - a similarly disreputable and dangerous demagogue.

When McCarthy ran for a second term in the U.S. Senate in 1952, The Capital Times opposed the Republican senator’s candidacy at every turn. The newspaper had opposed McCarthy from his arrival on the statewide political scene in 1944 - exposing his fraudulence and cruelty, challenging his guilt-by-association attacks on those who opposed him, ripping into his “red-scare” politics, and demanding that Democrats and the senator’s fellow Republicans reject McCarthyism.

McCarthy won his Republican primary that year, despite the best efforts of The Capital Times to renew the old progressive Republican tradition it had been founded to support. And in November, the senator prevailed over former Attorney General Thomas Fairchild. There was nothing to celebrate. It was “a black day for Wisconsin,” our editorial explained, when the voters “with full knowledge of his record - endorsed the cult of McCarthyism.”

The Capital Times embraced a statement from James Doyle, a key organizer of the modern Democratic Party in the state, which mentioned President-elect Dwight Eisenhower, Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, Republican Gov. Walter Kohler Jr., and McCarthy:

“To President Eisenhower: Our full and fervent support in the task of building the peace.

“To Governor Stevenson: Our eternal admiration for the most gallant and eloquent campaign in American history.

“To Governor Kohler: Our congratulations on your decisive victory.

“To Senator McCarthy: War unto the death.”

We are as opposed to Trump as we were to McCarthy.

Ours is a knowing opposition, rooted in recognition of the very real threat that has emerged.

We begin with the painful acknowledgment that Trump carried the state of Wisconsin. It is true that he beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by almost 23,000 votes. But it is also true that 53 percent of Wisconsinites voted for someone other than Trump. And it is true that Trump, who got almost 3 million fewer votes than Clinton nationwide, has no mandate from Wisconsin or the nation.

But we remain deeply disappointed by the Wisconsin vote, and we believe that a part of the response to Trump must be a recommitment to democracy. And we make it now, declaring that we will fight harder than ever for voting rights, labor rights and ethical governance in this state and across the United States.

As part of that fight, we will support responsible Republicans and Democrats, Greens, Libertarians and independents who object to Trump and Trumpism. We will, at the same time, call out Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan who serve as errand boys for this president - just as too many Republicans (and some Democrats) were apologists for McCarthy in the 1950s. There is no defense for Ryan’s irresponsible approach, or for that of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson. They ultimately embraced Trump’s candidacy - and, with it, his crude politics of racism, xenophobia, division and personal destruction, and they now advance his policies. There is no defense for them; they shame themselves and they shame the state of Wisconsin.

At the same time, we will be tough on the Democrats. There is no excuse for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. It failed in 2016, miserably and at every turn. It is not a functional opposition party and anyone who suggests that it is makes excuses for inexcusable dysfunction. The party must be remade as a fighting force that embraces and advances big ideas. This is less about personalities than about vision and ambition.

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