The public trust, scorned

More than once, we’ve discussed the need to rebuild civil institutions that have been damaged by the political Left applying double standards and exempting itself from the rules others are expected to follow.  Prime examples are a justice system that can’t be trusted to give political conservatives a fair shake and a media that willingly blinds itself to misbehavior by the Left.

One civic leader, Milwaukee’s George Mitchell, has weighed in with an op-ed submitted to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  The newspaper has not published it.

An Abandonment of Journalistic Standards

George Mitchell

Assuming a chest-thumping posture, the Journal Sentinel brags that it “has broken every story” about what should be a secret legal investigation by District Attorney John Chisholm’s staff.

Why the paper is proud is a mystery.   Its coverage mocks journalistic values.  For example, its reporting relies on people who likely have broken the law.  Given the stakes, including the possible impact on the gubernatorial recall election, the paper’s actions are the antithesis of journalistic responsibility.

For nearly two years, unnamed sources have selectively leaked information to the Journal Sentinel.   Resulting stories cast many individuals in a negative light.  Often those people are legally prohibited from comment.  And those free to respond would be fools to enter a “he said, they said” battle with unnamed sources — a battle moderated by Journal Sentinel reporter Dan Bice.

The people portrayed unfavorably by the selective leaks don’t know who has spread negative information to the paper.  For legal and practical reasons, they can’t effectively respond.  Consequently, readers receive a sliver of information — the opposite of transparency and balance.

Is there an overriding public purpose that justifies setting aside the traditional journalistic goals of transparency, balance, and fairness?  None whatsoever.  To the contrary, relying on unlawful release of selective information corrupts and erodes concepts central to our justice system.

The Journal Sentinel disputes that it has used information provided unlawfully.   But how can that be considering that the proceedings are by law secret and that key participants cannot comment publicly?

The apparent answer is that the paper uses intermediaries — that is, go-betweens not bound by the secrecy order.  Thus, says the Journal Sentinel, its hands are clean.

Really?  The paper’s sources, of course, got their information from people who were bound by the secrecy order – people who broke the law.  By doing so, and by publishing the results, they and the paper undermine the very foundation of the investigation.

Who are the intermediaries that have leaked information to the paper?  No less a source than reporter Bice lists candidates:

“FBI agents, friends of FBI agents, family of FBI agents, staff in the US Attorney’s office, friends of US Attorney’s office employees, family members of US Attorney’s Office employees, witnesses, friends of witnesses, family members of witnesses, judges, family and friends of judges, judicial aides, court reporters, friends and family of court reporters, lawyers involved in the case, lawyers formerly involved in the case, lawyers with partners involved in the case, friends and family of lawyers currently or formerly involved in the case, certain county workers, friends of those county workers, family members of those county workers.”

Bice’s list confirms that the supposed safeguards of the “secret” investigation are a sham.  His possible sources run the gamut of the legal system; Bice exempts virtually no one.

What might motivate the leakers?  Bice’s list encompasses 43 members of Chisholm’s staff who signed petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker.  (Not identified by the Journal Sentinel, mind you.  No, an independent watchdog group called Media Trackers did that reporting.)   Yet Bice and his boss downplay the ramifications of widespread hostility to Walker among those working for Chisholm.

Supposedly, Chisholm is displeased that his investigation has been shredded by selective leaks.  You’d never know that from any public comment or any description of actions he has taken in response.  And where is Neal Nettesheim, the Appeals Court judge presiding over the investigation?  What has he done to restore a semblance of order?  If the judge and district attorney won’t protect the process, who will?

In an e-mail exchange with me, Bice said he wasn’t “aware” that any of his sources were breaking the law, adding, “Yet even if someone did, wouldn’t that be their concern, not mine?”  That flippant approach epitomizes the Journal Sentinel’s conduct.  It has turned a blind eye to motives of the leakers and the impact of reporting selectively leaked information.  Rather than pursue the source of widespread, illegal leaks, Bice and the paper are joined at the hip to that unauthorized activity.

All in all, this has been a sorry episode in the history of Milwaukee County jurisprudence and journalism.


Wisconsin is benefiting from Walker reforms

By Mike Grebe

If there is one thing the people of Wisconsin have learned in this last year, it is that politics and policymaking can be extremely emotional. People often approach challenges believing their solutions are the only way to address difficulties.

It is in discovering that there are a wide variety of solutions to some of government’s paramount challenges that can cause the greatest emotional reaction, especially when these other ideas actually work.

In what can only be described as an emotional diatribe against the very tough but necessary decisions Gov. Scott Walker has made during his first year in office, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate made some serious accusations in a previous Milwaukee Biz Blog regarding Gov. Walker’s reforms. While Tate and members of the Democratic Party had ideas on how the $3.6 billion budget deficit should be addressed – mostly by raising taxes on hard working Wisconsinites – Gov. Walker implemented reforms which fell in line with the promises he made on the campaign trail, and the Badger State is now benefiting from those reforms.

The reality is that Gov. Walker has laid the foundation for a more successful Wisconsin, put government back on the side of taxpayers, and got the state’s fiscal house in order. Not only has the governor closed a $3.6 billion budget deficit by not raising taxes or laying off public employees, he also added $1.2 billion to Medicaid, and his reforms led to the reduction of overall school property taxes by $47 million.
During the Doyle administration, Wisconsin lost more than 150,000 jobs, UW-Madison students saw a 9 percent tuition increase, and million-dollar cuts were made to public education which Doyle used one-time stimulus funds to backfill. Democrats have long used budgeting gimmicks to “balance” the budget, when all they really did was rob Peter to pay Paul and then used one-time federal funding to pay Peter back, but only temporarily.

Gov. Walker knew that the long practiced strategies of raising taxes, cutting crucial government programs, laying off workers and fudging numbers were not going to create long-term stability for our state. Gov. Walker is committed to creating an environment which allows Wisconsin to lead the way in private sector job growth. He knows that tomorrow’s leaders will come from our education system, which is why public education makes up the largest percentage of state support in his budget.

It is because the ideas and solutions that are turning our state’s economy around did not come from big-government, public employee union bosses that these same unions have launched this baseless recall effort. Gov. Walker’s reforms implemented a system whereby public employees have been asked to contribute the employee’s share of pension and health care costs, just like is done in the private sector.
Now, Madison liberals, at the direction of special interest unions, are fighting tooth and nail to force the millions of dollars Gov. Walker has saved taxpayers back into the hands of public employee unions. Wisconsinites will not stand for the $9 million power grab this recall is going to cost them and they will not allow the blatantly false accusations of what Gov. Walker’s reforms have accomplished to prematurely end his term.

Mike Grebe is the chairman of Friends of Scott Walker.

Supremely unseemly

Not knowing what happened any better than anybody else who wasn’t there, we’ll be cautious in commenting about last weekend’s story of a physical altercation between two justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

We fervently hope for an honest investigation. But it’s not unreasonable to ask whether the public can expect one, given Wisconsin’s current political atmosphere.  Change of venue may be impractical here but the judicial system provides for it in circumstances far less toxic and hate-filled than those surrounding this bizarre episode.

It would also be naïve to overlook who stands to gain from allegations that David Prosser put his hands around Anne Walsh Bradley’s neck during a dispute in Bradley’s office.  Some sources say Bradley was the aggressor. We hope the investigation sorts that
out.  But isn’t it interesting that anonymous sources floated this story days after the Leftist-government union alliance suffered what would normally be considered final defeat in the battle over Wisconsin’s collective bargaining law?

If anything has been demonstrated by the infantile politics on display since last November’s elections, it’s that keeping conflict unresolved is what sustains the Left. Elections don’t count. The actions of lawfully constituted governing bodies don’t matter. The norms of civil procedure are to be systematically breached except when they confer advantage on the Left. No slander is too vile. No dispute is ever settled unless the Left considers itself to be ahead.  If an opponent can’t be defeated in an election he may be destroyed by other means; any means available. This is not new. This is the Left as it’s always been, now revealing its true nature in reaction to serial defeat.

The unanswered question is whether the Supreme Court fracas might be just one more example.

Changing Paradigm By State Senator Frank Lasee

“State’s deficit fuels political divide; Polarization between parties, population likely to continue, experts say.” That was a headline in the GreenBay Press Gazette this week on a story reporting the sharp differences between the left and right in Wisconsin.

They’re wondering what happened to bipartisanship. In many cases, bipartisanship is still strong. About 80 percent of bills pass
through the legislature with a bipartisan vote and they’re often worked on in a bipartisan way. If you’re going to vote for something, you get a say in it. If you’re going to vote no, then you don’t get much of a say. I tell folks you have to have the votes, whether in the legislature or an election. One leads to another.

Bipartisanship is still here. It just doesn’t make the news very often. It isn’t very exciting. There are real differences between those that believe in more government and those that believe our government is too big, too expensive and too involved in citizens’ lives already.

The political landscape in Wisconsin and the country has changed dramatically in the last decade.

Since the Civil War we had a stable political paradigm in our state and country. Both parties had a full spectrum of elected officials. The Democrats had some conservative, small-government legislators such as Representative Bob Ziegelbauer (formerly D) – now an independent, because he was targeted by the Democrats, unions and liberal groups – and former state Senator Jeff Plale (D), a moderate who is now working in the administration after he was defeated in a Democratic primary by liberal Chris Larson. On the Republican side, we still have some big-spending, government-first types.

In the past paradigm, liberals and conservatives from both parties would have to get together to pass bipartisan conservative laws or bipartisan liberal laws. They couldn’t do it exclusively in their own caucus because of their diverse caucus. Conservatives and liberals needed help from across the aisle to get their agendas passed into law, or they wanted political cover for their agenda. That isn’t true any longer in Madison or Washington.

Now, the Democrats have clearly become the party of big government. They want big spending, big borrowing and higher taxes. They say they only want higher taxes on the “rich” and businesses. In Wisconsin, the “rich” often means a teacher married to a cop. As far as taxing businesses more, liberals show their inability to understand what businesses do. They just pass the cost of higher taxes on to their customers. The customer actually pays the tax.

Over the last dozen years, Democrats have been finishing the process of cleansing small-government conservatives and moderates from their party. Republicans are behind in this process but are making progress in the opposite, small-government direction. There are still some big government Republicans — both nationally and in Wisconsin — just not as many as there used to be.

This change will continue, and that will make compromise between big-government Democrats and pay-the-bills-first, don’t-grow-government Republicans harder and harder. This is the eighth two-year budget I’ve worked on. When final passage of previous budgets would drag on, I’d get angry toned letters from constituents saying. “Why can’t you Republicans get together with the Democrats and agree on what’s best for Wisconsin?” I would write them a polite letter that went something like this: “We’re a couple billion dollars apart on taxes and fee increases. The Democrats want more taxes and fees. I promised that I wouldn’t vote for tax increases. That’s what’s holding up the budget. Do you want me to cave in and vote for what the Democrats want to raise your taxes and fees by a couple of billion dollars? Do you want me to compromise and raise taxes and fees one billion dollars instead, provided we can get the Democrats to agree?** Or should I hang tough and keep my promise not to vote to raise taxes?”

I never did get an answer to that question. What would be your answer?

How do you compromise with someone who believes government is not big enough or involved enough in our lives, when you believe – as I do – that our government is already too big, too costly, limits too much of our freedom and hurts our economy? A government that has departed too far from the vision laid out in our Constitution? Some things should never be compromised away.

** Keep in mind that Democrats (who controlled the legislature and Governor’s office) raised taxes and fees by $4.5 billion, had record-deficits,
spent nearly $2 billion in federal stimulus money, had record borrowing and left us with a $3.6 billion deficit in the last session.