Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Latest jobs report further demonstrates a slower recovery under Walker

Latest quarterly report the second slowest year of WI's recovery (even slower than Doyle's last year)

The Department of Workforce Development has released details about the latest quarterly jobs report due to be released nationally in December. Since the time of Scott Walker’s recall, the DWD has released the quarterly reports a month early.

The numbers for this report – which counts the number of jobs created between June 2013 and June 2014 – shows that more than 35,000 jobs were created during that yearlong period.

The DWD is quick to paint a rosy picture about the numbers, with Department Sec. Reggie Newson stating, “The latest quarterly data further demonstrate Governor Walker's comprehensive strategies and targeted investments are creating jobs and growing Wisconsin's economy.”

When compared to the previous year, in which less than 28,000 jobs were created, it does indeed seem like a stark improvement, worthy of praise that the DWD is handing out. When looked at over the course of Wisconsin’s recovery period, however, it’s a dimmer picture.

This second quarter report is the second worst year of recovery out of the four that Wisconsin has experienced since the end of the recession. In fact, the best year of recovery so far has come during the last year of former Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget – from June 2010 to June 2011. During that year, Wisconsin created nearly 40,000 jobs.

While the difference may be negligible to some, it’s important to note that during the latest gubernatorial campaign Gov. Walker was quick to point out the supposed “failures” of his predecessor’s policies. Those “failures,” however, generated more jobs in the second quarter report than any of the years that Walker’s budgets have been in place.

If we had kept pace with the rate of growth seen under the budget created before Scott Walker (e.g. Doyle’s last budget), we would have created nearly 20,000 additional jobs in the state than what we see now, or about 20 percent more than what Walker is claiming his “comeback” has thus far created. So, what policy could have prevented that many jobs from being created?

It could be Act 10, the union-busting law that Gov. Walker made his priority shortly after taking office. According to one UW economist, that law alone cost more than 20,000 jobs from coming to the state, as state workers would find themselves with new financial hardships, and as a result making less purchases in the communities in which they reside.

Or it could be that substantial tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy do little-to-nothing to spur an increase in demand within the state’s economy. While Walker gave tax breaks to the middle class as well, those cuts were negligible, amounting to a “fast-food” meal per week, hardly anything that could spur economic growth.

In either case it’s clear to see that what Walker is doing isn’t better for the state. Wisconsin’s comeback has slowed down under his watch, and it’s foolish for him or his administration to pat themselves on the back for job not-so-well-done.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Lunchtime musings: Budget shortfall or “wish list?” Inconsistencies in past cause present confusion

Gov. Walker called agency requests a budget shortfall when it came from Doyle

Is it fair to call the $2.2 billion in budget requests a “budget shortfall?” These are, after all, simply requests from the various agencies in state government.

Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch was quick to say so in his department’s report (PDF) detailing the requests, which states unequivocally that the “assumption that ALL agency budget requests will be funded” is “flawed.”

Calling these new $2.2 billion budget requests a shortfall, then, is a bit of a stretch. But that doesn’t mean that these budget requests aren’t alarming. Indeed, alarmist behavior is how Gov. Scott Walker reacted when there were similar requests before he took office.

As pointed out by, this “method” for these budget requests “was also the foundation for the $3.6 billion deficit” claim that Walker has consistently made on campaigns and other self-promotion tours across the country.

To characterize the $3.6 billion budget requests from 2010 as a deficit and to disregard the current requests as a simple “wish list” shows inconsistencies in Walker’s and his administration’s rhetoric. Either there’s a problem with Walker’s budgeting scheme, or the alarmist words from Walker’s campaign were off the mark. In either case, Wisconsin is owed an explanation.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pastor Kid Scott Walker misquotes the Bible to justify denying health care

Governor confuses Chinese proverb and Christ's message of compassion

Scott Walker opposes expanding Medicaid and BadgerCare because it contradicts his understanding of the Bible.
“My reading of the Bible finds plenty of reminders that it’s better to teach someone to fish than to give them fish if they’re able. … Caring for the poor isn’t the same as taking money from the federal government to lock more people into Medicaid,” Walker said.
Oddly enough, the quotation Walker references above never actually appears in the Bible. It's a Chinese proverb. If we want to be clear on Jesus's position on handing out fish to the poor, we can look to the book of Matthew for guidance, where He literally hands out fish to the poor:
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 
As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”  
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.  
They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
It seems like Jesus was all about "giving out fish" (or aid) to people who needed it, a stark contrast to what Gov. Walker implies about the teachings of the Bible. Heck, Jesus even had time to give out some free health care while he was at it.

Forget that college degree -- Walker should consider going back to Sunday school before anything else.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Paging Sen. McCarthy -- blacklisting alive and well under Speaker Vos's leadership

Political payback evident following tumultuous election year

Robin Vos has essentially suggested that political blacklisting is back -- and acceptable -- in Wisconsin.

Conjuring the spirit of Senator Joseph McCarthy, Vos, who was re-elected to serve as Assembly Speaker this week, suggested that the political ties of Milwaukee Bucks owners could influence the state's decision to help fund a new arena.

Bucks co owner Marc Lasry greeted President Barack Obama when he came to campaign on behalf of Mary Burke.

"If you are looking for people to support [the Bucks] you certainly don't want to poke people in the eye," Vos said on Sunday.

Read another way, Vos is essentially saying, "Support our cause, stay out of our way, or suffer the consequences."

We've seen pay-to-play and other forms of cronyism in the past four years from Wisconsin Republicans. Now we are seeing firsthand open political payback against those whose opinions differ from the GOP's policy positions.

It might not be "Red Scare" McCarthyism, but it's blacklisting nonetheless that's still very reminiscent of the late, dishonorable senator. Vos should change his tune, and offer an apology to the Bucks owners, before any more damage can be the sports franchise, and towards our democracy.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Minute of Heat: Vos, the Milwaukee Bucks, and legislation based on politics

A quick thought on the Assembly Speaker's reluctance to help the Bucks (based on the owners' liberalism)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Democrats should embrace electoral reforms to win public opinion

Redistricting reform, blended proportional representation and a citizens veto would encourage greater democratic involvement

In 2009 Time Magazine declared the Republican Party an endangered species.

You’d never know it given last week’s midterm results, but pundits and political insiders were questioning, just as they are now with the Democrats, whether conservative lawmakers would ever be relevant again.

The GOP suffered huge losses in 2008. But they had a game plan, a strategy to help them recover. They stuck to it, digging their heels in and eventually took back control both houses of Congress.

Wisconsin, too, was a Democratic state in 2009. But now we’re under full Republican control as well. How can progressives come back? What will it take?

The people of Wisconsin obviously want change. So Democrats should deliver, bringing about real change for the better. They should become the party of reform, coming to office on the platform of bringing stronger “small-d” democratic representation to state government.

They should, of course, continue to support the policies that they pushed for in the 2014 election. A raise in the minimum wage and an expansion of Medicaid/BadgerCare funds ought to remain priorities for the party, as should strengthening women’s rights and environmental standards.

But so too should electoral reform be up for discussion by Democrats. I’m not talking about reforms that disenfranchise voters, such as voter ID laws that are unnecessary towards preserving democracy. Instead, Democrats should promote legislation that is needed, that will encourage voter involvement and increase the voice of the people in the state Capitol building.

Democrats should push for three specific items in their next bid to lead the state...

First, they should insist that there be non-partisan redistricting reform. Republicans, who drew the legislative maps following their 2010 victories, made it exceptionally difficult for Democrats to win anywhere outside of major metropolitan districts. With less competitiveness the Assembly remained in the Republican Party’s hands in 2012 despite more voters supporting Democrats.

Second, support for proportional representation should be encouraged by the Democratic Party. I’ve written on this topic prior, insisting that having a blended system with PR incorporated would allow voters to have someone in Madison speaking for them. A Democrat in Waukesha or a Republican in Madison, for example, could rely upon a representative they voted for in the legislature to be their partisan voice, if not their geographical one.

Finally, a citizens veto would encourage more involvement by the voting population. Speaker Robin Vos this week has insisted that the Republican victories across the state symbolize strong support for the GOP’s conservative platform. That may be true on some issues, but on others it might not be the case. Gov. Scott Walker, for instance, cruised to victory despite being on the wrong side of the minimum wage argument in Wisconsin.

It follows that lawmakers could overreach in this new legislative term -- indeed, I predict they will. To prevent such an overreach, progressives in the early half of the 20th century instituted the recall election process. Today, however, many Wisconsinites are frustrated with the recall. Being able to veto specific policies may be a middle ground for those who disagree with the recall process but still want to do something about terrible legislation being passed by an overreaching conservative government.

Democrats should continue fighting for middle class and working families. They should continue to hold onto the standard policy positions that will empower these families in the free marketplace.

But they should also recognize that part of the reason that people sit on their hands and refuse to vote for them is because they’re fed up with voting altogether. If citizens had a larger hand in selecting their leaders, if they could be convinced that corruption was being taken out of the game and if they could play a part in doing-away with destructive legislation, they might be more apt to take part in the process more regularly.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

You don't sell Big Macs by being anti-Whopper -- or, how Burke lost to Walker

Messaging (too much of it negative) was a big problem this election year

Scott Walker shouldn't have won reelection. On the main issues, more Wisconsinites supported his opponent's policies over his own:
A majority of Wisconsin citizens support raising the minimum wage. Walker does not.

A majority support accepting federal Medicaid funds to expand BadgerCare. Walker said no to that.

Most Wisconsinites want to increase funding to public schools. Walker cut funding and gave taxpayer dollars to private schools.
So why did Mary Burke lose? The Walker campaign made Burke into a monster. They successfully convinced a majority in the state that she would be a terrible leader, through unsubstantiated rumors and innuendos.

Burke did her best to combat that characterization, but it wasn't enough. The conversation, no matter how hard she tried, couldn't be steered a different way.

That wasn't the only problem, however. The messaging in favor of Burke for governor consisted mainly of talk about how Walker was terrible. Yes, Burke did her best to promote herself as a good option. But for the most part, she was presented as an "anyone but Walker" candidate.

This isn't how advertising, political or otherwise, works. No one goes to McDonald's and buys a Big Mac because they're anti-Whopper. Similarly, independents didn't vote for Burke because she was anti-Walker.

According to exit polls more than a quarter of the electorate were independents. That amounts to around 650,000 voters. The exit polls also show that 43 percent of independents voted for Burke while Walker received about 54 percent of their votes. If you flip those numbers, with Burke getting 54 percent and Walker 43 percent, the race would have been much closer -- add in a stronger turnout for Burke, and we might have seen some different results.

The plan by Democrats (and by all appearances, the ONLY plan) was for Burke to have a strong turnout in order to win. Her numbers weren't hugely different than those from the previous two elections against Walker, however, and the obvious reason is that Burke was the same candidate as Tom Barrett was in 2012.

OK, that's not entirely true. Burke and Barrett are two different people, and Burke would have brought a different governing style to Madison than Barrett would have. But to the average voter, Burke and Barrett appear to be the same candidate. In the recall Barrett was all about "not being Walker." In this election Burke, too, was all about "not being Walker."

That's good enough for a sizable number of people -- but for a huge chunk of voters, especially independents, it wasn't. They needed to know what she would have put in the next budget, how she would create jobs, and why (most of all) she would make a great governor -- not just a better one.

I'll be the first to admit that I've written more "anti-Walker" stuff on this very blog than "pro-Burke" items. But that's what I'm supposed to do -- I'm a blogger, I'm supposed to complain. For Walker, talk radio provided that same purpose, going after Burke in negative ways throughout the campaign. That allowed Walker to promote himself, even if he was lying while doing so.

Burke was right to point out Walker's flaws from time to time, but it shouldn't have been the campaign's main talking point. Burke was too ambiguous about how she'd run the state. Ambiguity can work in elections -- FDR didn't have a solid platform, and had no idea what the "New Deal" would look like when he ran for president in 1932. But ambiguity only works when there's a call for change by the electorate, not the candidate.

There wasn't a call for change from Wisconsin voters. And without a clearer explanation from Burke and Democrats on why she should be governor, the election was lost from the get-go. 


One final thought before I end this rant: The Democratic Party of Wisconsin didn't do much in terms of changing the discourse in this election. While the Burke campaign and the DPW are responsible for their own shortfalls, we should recognize that the party dropped the ball big time, in terms of both turnout and messaging in this election. It wasn't just the governor's race: the State Senate is still in Republican's hands. Heck, Democrats even lost a seat this year when there was a prime opportunity to take back that chamber.

How much responsibility the DPW will ultimately have to accept for this dismal election year is up for debate. I'm not one to call for pitchforks and torches, but this should be a major wake up call to leadership in the party that things need to change, and change fast, if we're ever going to fix this state.