Campaign Finance Reform Most Important Issue Facing Wisconsin’s Legislature

The number one issue facing the State of Wisconsin is not property taxes, crime, better jobs, or education.  The number one issue is not sexy, nor does it rank among the top issues voters talk about when listing their concerns over the future course of the state. Yet this issue affects every other topic up for debate, and as a result by not correctly addressing it everything else suffers.

The issue is, of course, campaign finance reform.

Our state once boasted about our clean government, but over the past several years we have had to hang our collective heads in shame as leaders from both parties, and in both legislative houses, have faced criminal charges for undermining the oaths they took to serve the public. Many indictments were grounded in the over-reaching, and never-ending search for campaign dollars.

Every piece of legislation is tainted and tarnished with lobbyist’s dollars, and deal making which ill serves the public. Bills dealing with transportation, gaming compacts, abortion, guns, and health care all involve the underlying chase for dollars and campaign contributions, making policy captive to the special interests. This is absolutely no way to conduct the people’s business. Every elected official is driven by the needs of ever increasing costs of campaigns, and the relentless search for dollars to fund them.  In the end policy goals are short-changed, and the general public ill-served.

Anyone who has ever worked in the Capitol, reported on the workings there, or followed state politics in the newspapers knows that what I write paints the picture of reality in the Statehouse more often than not. This practice of grabbing campaign cash infects and poisons the deliberative legislative process that should be the firewall against abuses that taints legislation.  The process is no longer clean as the need for campaign cash gives lobbyists bidding rights on every piece of legislation.  The outcome may be great for special interests, but the average voters are left with bad policy decisions, and a government that can be bought and sold.

The mighty important issue of campaign finance reform is needed to sturdy the foundations of state government.  Sen. Mike Ellis, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, have a bill that would, among other things set spending limits on state races, and prohibit fundraising during state budget negotiations. The fact that no forward motion has been made on the bill tells us all volumes about the way the folks inside the Statehouse feel about reform measures.

Some pretend the 800-pound gorilla of campaign corruption is not in the Statehouse.  Still others have actually become best friends with the beast. In the past when elected officials were caught they made feeble and embarrassing pleas as to their innocence and spewed “rationale’ as to why they had to act in the fashion they did. Only when confronted with jail time and fines are they able to find the words to finally convey their sorrow at undermining the political process.

For a long time I have been on record as a real Democrat embracing reform.   But my party has not always been truly pro-active in Wisconsin on this matter, and Governor Jim Doyle has shown no leadership ability to fix the campaign finance reform monster.

The issue is far too important to pretend that it doesn’t exist, or that the “other party” is more to blame for the problem.  Enough already.

When real leaders stand up on this matter they will have statewide support from newspaper editorial boards, and independents who seem to care more about this issue than partisans.

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Christmas Cactus Blooms Early

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Best Paragraphs In Sunday’s Newspaper

The future of the Middle East is an issue that is far more complex than President Bush understands.  Democracy is not a concept that just pops into existence because someone wishes it to happen.  As Thomas Friedman writes today in his column for The New York Times, diversity might be the better concept to pursue in foreign policy.

A senior French official suggested to me that maybe we in the West, rather than trying to promote democracy in the Middle East — a notion tainted by its association with the very Western powers that once colonized the region — should be focusing on promoting diversity, which has historical roots in the area.

It’s a valid point. The very essence of democracy is peaceful rotations of power, no matter whose party or tribe is in or out. But that ethic does not apply in most of the Arab-Muslim world today, where the political ethos remains “Rule or Die.” Either my group is in power or I’m dead, in prison, in exile or lying very low. But democracy is not about majority rule; it is about minority rights. If there is no culture of not simply tolerating minorities, but actually treating them with equal rights, real democracy can’t take root.

But respect for diversity is something that has to emerge from within a culture. We can hold a free and fair election in Iraq, but we can’t inject a culture of diversity. America and Europe had to go through the most awful civil wars to give birth to their cultures of diversity. The Arab-Muslim world will have to go through the same internal war of ideas.

I just returned from India, which just celebrated 60 years of democracy. Pakistan, right next door, is melting down. Yet, they are basically the same people — they look alike, they eat the same food, they dress alike. But there is one overriding difference: India has a culture of diversity. India is now celebrating 60 years of democracy precisely because it is also celebrating millennia of diversity, including centuries of Muslim rule.

Nayan Chanda, author of a delightful new book on globalization titled “Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers, and Warriors Shaped Globalization,” recounts the role of all these characters in connecting our world. He notes: “The Muslim Emperor Akbar, who ruled India in the 16th century at the pinnacle of the Mughal Empire, had Christians, Hindus, Jain and Zoroastrians in his court. Many of his senior officials were Hindus. On his deathbed, Jesuit priests tried to convert him, but he refused. Here was a man who knew who he was, yet he had respect for all religions. Nehru, a Hindu and India’s first prime minister, was a great admirer of Akbar.”

Akbar wasn’t just tolerant. He was embracing of other faiths and ideas, which is why his empire was probably the most powerful in Indian history. Pakistan, which has as much human talent as India, could use an Akbar. Ditto the Arab world.
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