CHARLES J. SYKES
Even for a normally frigid region like ours, this was still the season of our discontent. Abetted by the dysfunctional politics of Illinois, the Asian carp continued their inexorable assault on the Great Lakes, and we learned that Wisconsin had lost 163,000 jobs in the Great Recession.
And, amid the winter gloom, comes word from Madison that the highest-paid city employee is a hard-working municipal bus driver named James Nelson, who pulled in $159,258 in 2009, including $109,892 in overtime. And as the new decade dawned, the state celebrated the dubious distinction of having, for the first time in its history, more souls working in government than in manufacturing.
Nice work, if you get the taxpayers to pay for it.
Happy Mother’s Day (early edition)
In early February, a 21-year-old Milwaukee man with a comedic turn told police that he was just joking when he put on a ski mask and “pretended” to rob his mother when she got home from shopping.
Mom, who apparently did not appreciate the humor, pulled out a .357 and, police say, “fired several shots,” hitting her son in the groin. Adding to his woes, police didn’t believe his story that it was merely a stunt gone wrong-given his rather extensive rap sheet.
1, 2, 3…Oh, never mind
The credibility crisis extended to the political class. In December, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed that a report claiming that the federal government’s $787 billion stimulus saved more than 10,000 jobs in the Badger State was “rife with errors, double counting and inflated numbers based more on satisfying federal formulas than creating real jobs.”
In February, the paper noted that a new attempt to count stimulus jobs was “based on new accounting rules that make it impossible to track the total number of jobs created or saved by the program. And the updated guidelines also make it impossible to avoid double counting from quarter to quarter.”
And so it went. Days after Gov. Jim Doyle claimed that a new high-speed train from Milwaukee to somewhere near Madison would create 13,000 jobs, the state admitted that the governor had been irrationally exuberant, and that the real number was fewer than 5,000.
It’s not easy being green
Belying critics who suggest that he is a man without a richly developed sense of humor, Doyle then continued to push for a global warming bill that an independent study (by our publisher, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute) says would cost the state more than 43,000 jobs. Doyle called the legislation-stop me if you’ve heard this one before-“The Clean Energy Jobs Bill.”
Ryan’s rising star
Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan says he’s absolutely, positively not running for president in 2012, but his political stature is on a giddy trajectory: He was singled out for praise by President Obama; touted as the next vice president by columnist George Will; highlighted in every national publication from The Nation to The New York Times; and was named the ninth most influential conservative in the United States by the British newspaper The Telegraph.
Russ’ falling star
Sen. Russ Feingold’s winter didn’t go as well. The Supreme Court drop-kicked the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and, while Ryan was doing the Sunday morning talk shows, the once-mavericky senator was berated by angry citizens at town hall meetings.
Feingold tried to assure constituents that he opposed imposing taxes on so-called Cadillac health-care plans and that he objected to backroom deals like the notorious “Cornhusker Kickback.”
This was awkward, since Feingold had voted for the health-care bill that included both the tax and the kickback. Worse, that election in Massachusetts suggested that even voters in blue states are paying attention to that sort of thing.
Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan admitted that he had “dated” a lobbyist for the pay-day loan industry, but insisted that he had received “nothing of value” from his female friend. It was undoubtedly a cold and lonely Valentine’s Day in the speaker’s office.
The Milwaukee Public Schools marked the New Year by naming a new superintendent despite his history of personal bankruptcy and ethical missteps. School board member Peter Blewett, however, waxed enthusiastic, declaring: “A couple of my constituents were excited about the possibility of him being superintendent because he promised to have coffee with parents.”
At least they aimed high.
Since we are on the topic of mediocrity and the Milwaukee Public Schools, it’s worth noting the rather spectacular failure of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s attempt to take over MPS.
Consider that while Barrett’s party controls both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, he still couldn’t line up enough votes for his MPS bill, despite being the Democrats’ frontrunner for governor.
MPS continues to spin into educational and fiscal chaos, and the mayor’s contribution so far: a few press conferences; a lobbying visit to Madison…and bupkes.
There’s an ad campaign here somewhere built around the MPS logo, as in:
Worst racial achievement gap in the country: $1 billion a year.
Unfunded retiree health care: $5 billion.
The establishment’s failure to enact any reforms: Priceless.
One for the road
In late December, a new law cracking down on drunk driving was signed into law. At a klieg-lit celebration of political self-congratulation, Doyle declared: “The only safe way with repeat drunk drivers, to keep them from harming people, is to lock them up.” Or not.
Less than a month later, the state granted early release to the first 21 prisoners to be sprung under Doyle’s budget. Among them was Brian Boje, a five-time drunk driver. As recently as December 2009, a judge had denied his petition for sentence adjustment, saying it was not in the public interest. If Doyle had any comment on Mr.
Boje, we couldn’t find it.
More good news
As Jessica McBride reported for WPRI, Boje is about to get a lot of company as a result of Doyle’s early-release plan. “Felons who beat up or point guns at cops or who cause a death while fleeing an officer? They can get time shaved off their sentences now. So can those who batter judges, witnesses, and jurors. Those who cause mayhem or subject someone to false imprisonment? Some stalkers? They can get time off too.”
Raise taxes, lose wealth
Maybe this is what happens when you raise taxes and hammer wealth. A study by Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy found that from 2004 through 2008, $70 billion in wealth left New Jersey as affluent residents moved elsewhere, while the state’s expected charitable giving declined by $1.13 billion. One of the study’s authors explained, “The migration of wealth out of New Jersey is substantial and significant.”
In other words, New Jersey is “going Galt.” As in John Galt.
A Cheesehead, of course. As columnist Mike Nichols noted, the iconic figure of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was one of us.
“Rand’s Galt was born in Ohio, but didn’t stay there long. He became a young engineer in an auto factory in Wisconsin before it, predictably, went out of business. He was an individualist and inventor who, stifled by the collectivism embraced by all the Wisconsinites around him, had to flee our state for a greener pasture-or, actually, valley.
“Sound kind of familiar?”
Karma is a badger
Even as the winter winds howled across the heartland, the season’s true climax came with precisely seven seconds left in regulation play, when an ill-timed interception from a former Green Bay Packer dashed the NFC title hopes of the Land of a Thousand Lakes and Al Franken. For a brief, but deeply satisfying moment, karma reached out and shared our pain with Viking Nation.
The word you are searching for is schadenfreude.
Charles J. Sykes, the WI editor, is the author of six books and hosts a daily radio show on AM620 WTMJ in Milwaukee.