The Reforms are Working

We can’t offer enough praise to those whose efforts thus far have succeeded beyond what many voters thought possible a year ago.

But it’s clear that more needs to be done to hammer home the linkage between Governor Walker’s budget reforms and the positive outcomes they have produced at all levels of government. This is made obvious by recent polling that uncovered a surprising disconnect between preferred results and the policies needed to accomplish them.

In brief, Wisconsin voters are equally divided over Governor Walker’s job performance. They approve of curbing government employee benefit costs but not of curtailing collective bargaining. And by a less-than-comfortable margin for the Governor, they don’t want him recalled.

This hodgepodge of attitudes is a warning that the accomplishments of 2011 are fragile and could be reversed if the electorate doesn’t associate its desired outcomes with the actions that bring them about. The outcomes so far are strongly positive.  Now it’s up to the Governor and legislative Republicans to explain why.

We suspect the anti-recall margin detected in the polling would be a lot stronger than six percentage points if people better connected collective bargaining curbs with avoiding teacher layoffs and controlling the pension and benefit costs paid with their tax dollars. Many aren’t seeing this and the political price could be high.

Democrats have been in “see what sticks” mode, spinning the poll as both a rejection of the Governor and a pro-Walker whitewash by a conservative think tank. Both ideas are preposterous. The pollster, Doug Schoen, has earned his living helping elect Democrats. It would be wise for conservatives to respect his abilities, assume he got it right, and redouble the effort to deliver a message that’s both positive and true.

What’s in a name?

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has decided the Berlin School District’s athletic teams, the Indians, can no longer keep that name.

The purpose of DPI meddling in such matters is clear enough. Bent on political correctness in defiance of common sense, the DPI assumes people name their athletic teams—the children of their communities—after things they despise.

People who don’t have excessive difficulty coping with the challenges of the day hardly need to be told that team names are chosen to suggest characteristics broadly regarded as virtues: courage, tenacity, strength, the fierce pursuit of honorable objectives.

But not all virtues are ideally applied in all settings. We’ve never heard of a football team called The Philanthropists or The Humanitarians or The Organ Donors.  DPI’s premise—that a team name may signify contempt—will cease being laughable the moment we hear of a team called The Attorneys or The Politicians.

Because they lead inevitably to speech restrictions and financial costs, team-naming controversies automatically give the communities that stand accused a legitimate interest in the skin of their accusers—relating not to its color but rather to its thickness or lack thereof. Whatever dubious role government may have in appeasing individual gripes and sensitivities belongs in the civil courts, not the bureaucracy.

The DPI’s mission is to “advance[s] the cause of public education and public libraries, and supervise[s] the public schools so that all school age children have access to high quality educational programs that meet high standards of excellence and all citizens have access to comprehensive public library resources and services.”

Naming teams isn’t on the list.

Situational Awareness, 2011

Conservative commentators with whom we generally agree have sharply criticized last week’s memo to state lawmakers from Madison police chief Noble Wray, saying Wray’s advice amounts to: “You’re on your own, good luck.” We can’t reject that interpretation out of hand, but there’s a more chilling aspect.

Wray’s memo follows the recent beer-dumping assault on Joint Finance Committee co-chair Robin Vos and advises legislators to practice “situational awareness” and be on guard against “persons that appear out of place or are paying unusual attention to you.”

The memo reads like common-sense tips any personal security professional would offer to people entering a high-crime area. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Outside their highly irregular working hours, legislators in Madison frequent an area close by the Capitol. Filled with fashionable bars, restaurants and hotels, it’s busy and well-lighted, home to the Capitol Police, Madison Police and Dane County Sheriff’s Department, and populated by condo dwellers with more money than most of us would feel free to spend on real estate.

And this privileged environment is Ground Zero for leftist unions, campus radicals and state agency clock watchers fantasizing that they’re in a life-and-death struggle with the Walker administration and the Republican Legislature.

What’s chilling about Chief Wray’s memo is what it tacitly concedes: If a Wisconsin legislator is assaulted—that is, if a Republican legislator is recognized as such and therefore targeted—the perpetrator is less likely to be a member of a criminal underclass lurking in a dangerous neighborhood, than a middle-class bureaucrat or academic leading a safe, comfortable life and quite possibly collecting a bigger taxpayer-financed salary than the one paid to the legislator.

Talk about a situation to be aware of.

Every boss for himself

A few weeks ago we reported that the state’s largest teacher union (WEAC), had laid off 40% of its staff. WEAC blamed the layoffs on budget reforms that gave school districts the tools to save money by competing for lower cost employee health insurance and by requiring employees to pay something toward their health insurance and pensions. School districts across Wisconsin are using these tools to avoid teacher layoffs and lower class sizes, goals the union claimed to support until those goals came in conflict with perpetuating the fat compensation its bosses.

Now we learn that WEAC’s policies regarding the reinstatement of staff has the National Staff Organization (NSO) up in arms. The NSO describes itself as “the world’s largest union of union staff,” and they’re urging their members to boycott WEAC. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Chuck Agerstrand, president of the National Support Organization, is accusing WEAC officials of “breaching staff contracts and destroying any working relationship with its employees.”

“WEAC management is taking a page out of Gov. (Scott) Walker’splaybook and making up new employment rules not in the (United Staff Union) contract,” Agerstrand said on the labor group’s website. “They should be looking to the 42 employees they laid off to fill vacancies before they go outside the state.”

In other words, the national labor organization says WEAC isn’t’t following the agreed-upon rules for filling a vacancy after a round of staff cutbacks.

It comes as no surprise to us that the same union who would throw thousands of teachers under the bus to save its own hide would violate its hiring policies, but it’s reassuring to know that their members are starting to figure out who the union really represents.

A battleground, again

We won’t be Ground Zero this time, but Wisconsin is again becoming a national battleground.

The new battle is over “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, the drilling technique that makes it possible to envision low-cost natural gas supplies that could last more than a century and feed economic growth like nothing in recent memory.

In the eyes of the environmental community, that’s bad.

Wisconsin doesn’t’t have natural gas to go fracking for, but we do have something that helps make fracking work: round-grained silica sand that drillers use in the process of cracking open rock formations to get at the gas.

We have heard credibly-sourced stories of Western Wisconsin landowners sweating out how to finance their retirement one day, and the next day selling the sand-mining rights to their property for a modest fortune.

That too is bad, according to the environmental community. They say sand-mining means air pollution and frightful health hazards they’re pretty sure must be lurking out there somewhere.

We’We’ve been mining sand in Western Wisconsin for years. Yet the environmental community couldn’t’t buy a headline until it became apparent that Wisconsin’s sand is a key to an energy future with no need for reliance on half-baked science fair projects that work one day in four, kill birds and scar the landscape.

Make no mistake, the greens favor energy alternatives only so long as you have no alternative but to buy the junk they’re selling.

Last winter Wisconsin became the nation’s battleground because Left-wing union bosses saw elected Republicans breaking up their racket. Now we’re becoming a battleground because Left-wing greens see the demon private enterprise breaking up their racket.

Is there a pattern here?

The new, new normal

What’s remarkable about the coverage of Saturday’s Tea Party rally in Oshkosh is that it’s so unremarkable. The local left leaning newspaper wrote it up after witnessing, evidently, no freakish behavior, no marauding Klansmen, no vandalism, nobody calling other people Nazis. The picture gallery is a portrait of pure, well-mannered, Midwestern normalcy.

Contrast this event, the kind of thing media elites love to characterize as a mortal threat to civil liberties and civic order, with the continuing exhibitions by the people entrusted with the job of educating Wisconsin’s youth.

No one at the Tea Party rally was beating drums, blowing on vuvuzelas or shrieking obscenities to drown out the speakers. Nor was anyone attempting to blackmail local businesses into toeing the party line. For that kind of thing, you have to go to a school board meeting or any event attended by the Governor, and watch for our guardians of learning and culture to appear.

Their credibility and that of the Tea Party have headed rapidly in opposite directions. For the sake of public education in Wisconsin, we can only hope that teachers who actually respect their profession stand up and do something about it.

Is Justice Bradley Unstable?

With all due respect, that question is begged by the Dane County Sheriff’s Department and its handling of information disclosed to its investigators in the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court controversy.

Several sentences describing interviews with Justice Bradley and her husband are blacked out in the official reports:

The Department’s explanation is that it was observing statutory guidelines in redacting material concerning “medical, mental health, juvenile, and financial information” that could be damaging to “the reputation of any person referred to” in the investigative record. But it was OK to include Bradley and her husband’s statements to investigators that damaged the reputation of Justice David Prosser?

It’s clear the person referred to is Justice Bradley. What’s less clear is why her husband, who witnessed nothing of the now-discredited “choking incident,” was interviewed. The redactions deepen the mystery of why a non-witness—and only this non-witness—was thought capable of contributing to the investigation.

We’re told by persons with law enforcement experience that it’s highly unusual for medical or mental health information to be redacted from an investigator’s report. Such a redaction would seem especially unusual in a case where the information withheld could be crucial to understanding what happened in Justice Bradley’s office this past June.

Wisconsin citizens deserve to know if a Justice who has been accused by four colleagues of rushing one of them and waving a fist in his face might be using a medical or mental health issue as justification..

At least someone’s doing the right thing. The weekly newspaper in Sun Prairie is apologizing to Justice Prosser for damaging his reputation.