Remembering Wisconsin’s Mike Ellis

Late last week former Wisconsin State Senator Mike Ellis died.   Many will recall him for being a strong personality and tough politician for the issues and causes he aligned himself with over the many years he served.  He certainly created controversy–even relished in stirring the pots.  But he also had a deeply human touch that could cross the political divides.

That latter point truly made an impression on me as when I noted in February 2011 that in spite of everything that seems to be happening for the bad, there are still some decent folks around doing good.

During that chaotic time the Senate Democrats decided to leave the state in order to prevent a vote on the budget repair bill.  It was then that Ellis made a decision to be a good human being versus a partisan politician.   I noted those feelings as it reaffirms my views about the better angels around us.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported the events that still make me glad for moments when there can be comity between state senators of differing parties.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Senate’s Democrats agreed to flee to Illinois, leaving the Senate one member shy of the 20 senators required to vote on budget-related bills.

It was the third pivotal decision – MTI’s call for protest and the Democrats’ continuation of testimony were the others – that blocked rapid passage of the budget-repair bill and accelerated an already historic set of events.

But there was a problem: Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville didn’t participate in the vote to leave Wisconsin. He was helping the family of former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Bill Bablitch notify the media of Bablitch’s death.

When he heard the plans, Cullen called Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, to ask if he could enter the Capitol without being detained.

“He said fine, come in. There’s no problem,” Cullen told the State Journal.

Ellis, who runs the Senate, cautioned Cullen to leave by 11 a.m., when the Senate was scheduled to consider the bill and he would be forced to institute a “call of the house” to try to compel the 14 senators back to the chamber.

Cullen said he later got a call from Ellis as he drove south toward Illinois: “Did you get out of here?”

When assured that Cullen was out of Madison, he said Ellis responded, “Good. I just wanted to double check.”

In January 2006 I wrote a blog post urging Ellis to run for governor.    While I am a liberal Democrat, and Ellis was a conservative Republican I much respected and admired his desire to fix a very much broken campaign finance system in the state.   The process of governing is very important to me, and I have long championed those who work to make it stronger and more durable.

Mike Ellis can be cranky and difficult. He has a bad hairpiece and is mostly not on the correct side of social policy. I know all that. I accept all that. But the supreme issue of campaign finance reform now confronts the foundations of state government, and needs to be solved.   ….this issue affects every other issue, and by not correctly addressing it everything else suffers.

Ellis understands the problem, and has been adamant about the need to address it, and fix it. It is time for those who care about the process to take a stand. Today I encourage Ellis to seek the office of Governor in Wisconsin.

While Mike Ellis has not made the decision yet to run for Governor (and may not run) I at least wanted to be on record as a real Democrat who embraces reform. My party has not been pro-active in Wisconsin and Governor Jim Doyle has shown no leadership ability on this matter. 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. One man has stood up and led on the issue. He deserves a chance to solve the problem once and for all. He will have statewide support from newspaper editorial boards and independents who seem to care more about this issue than partisans.

Over the many years I have thought of Ellis as our state’s version of Henry Clay.  Skilled, bright, and capable.  But never elected to the top position.  May we always have elected officials like Ellis–in both parties–who speak clearly and care deeply about this state.

GOP Congressman Jim Jordan “Stood By While Students And Student-Athletes Were Repeatedly “Sexually Abused”

There will be a political price Republican Congressman Jim Jordan will have to pay.

Jordan, the jut-jawed Republican and anti-gay crusader in the House, is singled out in the suit: He’s one of only three former school officials named, including Strauss, though the action is aimed at all the coaches, administrators and others in positions of responsibility at OSU who, it claims, stood by while students and student-athletes were repeatedly “sexually abused, harassed, and molested,” and “forced” to seek treatment from a well-known predator even after they complained. (Strauss was the sole team doctor for the wrestlers; the men say they either had to choose to let injuries go untreated, as the lawsuit says some did, or subject themselves to yet another assault.)

In recent public comments on the allegations, Jordan appeared to be banking on his former wrestlers’ silence and shame. But if he believed he could humiliate them back into submission, he was sorely mistaken. At least nine have spoken out so far. Dozens more will almost certainly be telling their stories in criminal and civil court along with Strauss’ hundreds of other alleged victims from 13 Ohio State teams. (A separate lawsuit was filed by four former wrestlers on Monday; this one didn’t call out Jordan by name, but he will almost certainly become involved if the case goes forward.)

Back home, where Jordan’s political future will be determined, local media are determined not to let him slide. “No more denials. Jim Jordan must acknowledge what he knew,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer editorialized this past weekend. Jordan has made it clear, though, that the truth will have to be pried out of him. (He says he is cooperating with independent investigators hired by Ohio State, though what he tells them may never become public.) If either or both of these lawsuits lands him in court, it will be.

Legislative Redistricting Michigan Style

For decades I have advocated redistricting reform. The problems we see in much of our dysfunctional politics can be traced back to the way political boundaries are drawn.

Iowa has a system in place for decades that has produced bi-partisan support—and now others are working to have a similar commission system established in their states. The Michigan proposal would establish a 13-member commission made up of four Republican voters, four Democratic voters and five independents.

The good news is that Katie Fahey and others like her are proving Justice Kagan wrong. Michigan is one of several states, red and blue, where regular citizens, tired of being the pawns of power-hungry lawmakers, are fighting to take back the mapmaking process. Initiatives will also be on the ballot in Utah, almost certainly in Missouri, and possibly in Arkansas and Oklahoma. And lawmakers in Colorado and Ohio have agreed, in the face of public pressure, to allow ballot measures on whether to adopt independent commissions in those states.

A truly fair process must be transparent as well as nonpartisan. Redistricting today is a sophisticated, data-driven enterprise, and that data should be available to everyone — the general public as well as journalists, analysts and advocates.

There are other ways to stop the worst excesses of partisan gerrymandering. When a state’s governor is of a different party than its legislative majority, the governor — who doesn’t depend on cleverly drawn lines to get elected — can veto unfair maps. In today’s political landscape, where Republicans hold total control of the government in 26 states, this means electing more Democratic governors. The Democratic Governors Association is pouring money into governors’ races in eight closely divided states — Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Colorado, Maine and Nevada. But the principle also works in Maryland, where the popular Republican governor, Larry Hogan, serves as a buffer against the state’s Democratic Legislature, which created an extreme partisan gerrymander with the eager help of Mr. Hogan’s Democratic predecessor.