Wisconsin Legislature Must Act In Special Session On Police Shootings; Provide Younger Voters With Hope

Throughout Wisconsin, since Sunday afternoon when Jacob Blake was shot in Kenosha, there has been a high degree of emotion among state residents.  We have witnessed sadness, anger, simmering resentments, misunderstandings, along with an overall sense of utter frustration concerning another police shooting of a Black man.  We know how the coming days will play out.  More newspapers will editorialize about police reform, and talk radio will fill hours of on-air programming about this shooting.  But who we really need to hear from are the ones who make the laws under the statehouse dome. 

Governor Tony Evers has called lawmakers into a special session to take action on a package of bills aimed at reducing police brutality.   Not only are the pieces of legislation worthy of bi-partisan support, but I contend there is an added value to the session by underscoring a truth that too many young people fail to grasp. 

Some people have no faith in the political process and consider the releasing of rage in unacceptable ways as a means to some higher goal.  We have all watched news footage of fires, looting, and death and understand this will lead to no positive end.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of protestors over the past months have been peaceful.  It is for that younger generation that I argue showcasing the special session on police reforms as an avenue on how to create real progress within our political and legislative frameworks.  In so doing our state can take an important step forward by proving the merits of the governing process, and allow younger people to understand the role they play in a democracy.

The session’s aim is to ban police chokeholds and no-knock search warrants.  In addition, it would be more difficult for overly aggressive officers to move from one job to another.  These legislative bills have long been promoted by those advocating for needed police reforms.

A bold and dramatic legislative agenda on the front burner in the Madison Capitol would send a strong message to the peaceful protesters that their words and efforts were not in vain.  In addition, the message from the legislators in a true across-the-aisle fashion would be welcomed by a growing majority of state residents–both rural and urban.  After all, police reform is not only an urban issue.  The Marquette Law School Poll in June found strong support for more accountability for police misconduct.

Views of what to do about the police depend heavily on how the question is worded. “Calls to defund the police” are supported by 23 percent and opposed by 70 percent. In sharp contrast, when asked about “calls to restructure the role of the police and require greater accountability for police misconduct,” 81 percent support such changes, while 16 percent oppose this.

If Republicans and Democrats alike were willing to join in an effort in the special session it would send a clear message that the best way for change is not to start a fire or throw a brick.  It would demonstrate to a new generation of voters and engaged citizens that the legislative process is the best avenue to address wrongs and create changes.  We have an opportunity to prove that the legislative process can be what our civics lessons taught us in our youth.

This moment in time should not be wasted.

Process Matters: Trump’s Wall Funding Hits Another Legal Ruling


Readers to this blog know that I am a process democrat.  I firmly believe that the manner in which governing takes place is the ultimate test of a republic.  When a president uses his executive office to tap into funds and uses them for purposes not allocated by congress that is an over-reach and abuse of the process of governing.

Therefore I was pleased today to learn that a federal appeals court ruled that House Democrats can proceed with a lawsuit over Donald Trump’s diversion of $2.5 billion in Pentagon funding to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

The entire mess started over Trump’s scheme to free up additional funding for his wall. There was a  congressional spending bill that allocated $1.3 billion for border security, but which fell far short of the nearly $5 billion Trump demanded.  In a tantrum, Trump then reallocated $2.5 billion in funding that Congress appropriated for defense and military uses.

That is when the needed lawsuits started.  Your high school civics teacher would concur.

Readers are very aware of the way this blogger views the xenophobic nature of Trump and the multitude of reasons as to why the wall is a stain on the ideals our country holds, along with the unsound financial strains such construction would demand.  But more than those reasons comes my conviction about the process of governing needing to be respected.

So I applauded the 7-2 decision when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that lawmakers have the legal right to sue the Trump administration over a financing maneuver that a separate California-based federal appeals court found to be an illegal encroachment of Congress’s power of the purse.

We do not need to separate into our tribal divisions to recognize the lessons of civics from our youth, or the varied examples as to why such a process demands to be placed on our way of governing.  

We all—Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives–should agree that the ruling is proper.  We all should endorse Congress’s right to pursue legal action to enforce its authority over federal appropriations.

Following this case can get murky, and I grant the fact many eyes will glass over as I add the outcome from the Supreme Court,  which has allowed the Trump administration to continue using the defense funds amid ongoing litigation, despite the California-based court’s ruling that the scheme is unconstitutional.  So one can argue the road ahead is uncertain in terms of the outcome if Democrats ultimately prevail in their lawsuit.

But for me and hopefully you–the call for shining a light on the process of governing and the court decision today underscores what we know to be right.  Apart from the high court ruling last week there is a related challenge initiated by House Democrats.  That case had been focused on a more preliminary question concerning the separation of powers, which the D.C. Circuit’s Friday decision appeared to resolve by ruling that Democrats were not barred from pursuing legal action against the administration.

I know these battles may seem far away, and not very important but they are germane to the very core of what makes a nation of laws.  When those laws and processes are discarded or tossed aside the very structure of our government starts to lose credibility and we as citizens are the losers.

Process matters.

Recall When Divorce Was Taboo In American Elections?

How far this nation has fallen seems to be a topic that touches many a conversation in this land.  Over a late night dinner at a small diner in Madison I made mention to James that just in my lifetime the level of what passes for acceptability in politics has taken a very wide swing.

It was only in 1964 that a very public marriage, which followed the couples previous divorces, caused a major stink.  Not just a cooked onion smell in the air, but a ‘who let the skunk in the house’ type of stench.

That was the time Happy Rockefeller made headlines.  She was the very visible socialite who married New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1963.  Both had been divorced, and very soon after each of the previous marriages had ended, they wed.  What followed is part of the Richard Nixon story–which is why this slice of American politics came to mind as I recounted the story to James.

The explosion of  comments and opinions about the marriage rocked the Republican Party.  That was a time when men wore ties and suit jackets and women wanted a door to be opened for them.  The marriage resulted in Rockefeller not being able to obtain the 1964 Republican presidential nomination.  That divorce/marriage scandal played into the 1968 race for the GOP nomination too, which Nixon won.  Simply put there were no further presidential races for Rockefeller.

Why that is simple to grasp is due to  considering where society was at the time.  That was an era when marital infidelity and divorce were toxic for presidential candidates.  Rockefeller was 18 years older than his new bride and each of the newlyweds had secured out-of-state divorces.

To put a finer point on this matter take the words of former Senator Prescott Bush, a Connecticut Republican and a longtime Rockefeller supporter into account when pondering this matter.

He said, “Have we come to the point where a governor can desert his wife and children, and persuade a young woman to abandon her four children and husband? Have we come to the point where one of the two great parties will confer its greatest honor on such a one? I venture to hope not.”

That was about a divorce.

Today the Republican Party is dealing with pedophilia.

A possible election of someone who has had a most credible allegation made about their past behavior involving  a 14-year-old girl .  Roy Moore was told not to visit a mall after his lurking and luring of girls was called to the attention of the business.  Other women have come forward and demonstrated a willingness to confront a sexual predator.    They gave their names and stories in public and not in some veiled fashion which I have found so troubling in some other cases.

Yet the the Republican Party who stated in various ways several weeks ago that they believed the women are now turning around and funding and endorsing Moore’s candidacy.

One can only imagine what Prescott would say about his party now linking arms with a pedophile.  I suspect men of honor, (and I have always placed Prescott in that category) ) would simply leave the party if he were still alive.

What passes today for our politics has partisans standing alongside a pedophile simply because he carries a political banner.  That makes everything the Founding Fathers did in Philadelphia almost stand on its head.   If you were to ask the average Alabama supporter of Moore to talk in a couple paragraphs about what the Framers had to say about the role of virtue in government—well…..we would be waiting until the cows came home.  That is why we have this mess today.

When we no longer teach civics, or history in the way it requires, and the central tenets for a strong, healthy, and functional republic are neglected then the election of Moore is the result.

The nation gets a pedophile severing as a United States Senator.

And to think in my youth the shocker was divorce!

Wisconsin Vs. Common Sense

While reading the Wisconsin State Journal on Thursday I again thought about where we are as a state.  I know every generation comes to a point where they look backwards and wonder what happened to the ‘way things once were’.   While I am very proud of our social progress, and leaps forward due to science and technology I am also profoundly aware that some fundamental values in Wisconsin seems to have changed.

I recall being told over and over as a boy by teachers that this state was special.  We had a clean government, took pride in our environment, had remarkable state parks to explore, and had a Midwestern perspective that valued hard work and also helping those in need.   I do not think that pride in our state was over-blown or less than an apt description of a snapshot of our past.

But between those memories from childhood to the news articles in the paper today something clearly has happened that can not be applauded.

Our judicial system seems to now require a petition from 54 former judges to implore our State Supreme Court to adopt rules requiring justices to recuse themselves from cases involving campaign donors.   It would seem that just based on principle and fairness such procedures would already be in place to prevent justice from being called into question for favoritism.

The deep abiding love that this state has demonstrated for the great outdoors is a real legacy we can be proud of.  So it comes as a real head-shaker when listening to the partisan voices in the state legislature who wish to split up the Department of Natural Resources so to mute enforcement and research concerning our environment.  The 300-member Wisconsin Association of Retired Conservationists along with five former DNR secretaries have all registered deep misgivings about the proposed split.

The UW-System of Wisconsin has proven countless times to be a mighty engine of research and economic development.  There is nothing but profound pride we should have for our campuses and a most justified feeling knowing the flagship campus has an enviable reputation.   Therefore the continuous baffling question is why the need for some in the statehouse to almost go out of their way to undermine the UW?  Tinkering with tuition and trying to craft ways for certain political messages to be conveyed seems to be taking the foundation of what a place of higher learning should be and tipping it upside down.

Those stories came from just one edition of the paper.  Think about the number of similar articles that readers ponder in a week or month and it is clear why many are wondering what happened to the state we once knew.  How is it that common sense has come to be replaced by the most outlandish policy ideas and politicians who seem downright gleeful to charge forward in promoting them?

The reasons are many as to why we are now in this sorry state of affairs.  From downplaying the need to instruct young minds with civics, allowing political boundaries to be drawn by the most partisan means possible,  failing to contain the amount of money spent in campaigns, having the most extreme partisans from both sides holding too much sway in the process, and having social media downsize the way we get information places us here in the middle of a mess.

When I was a boy growing up in Hancock, about 30 miles south of Stevens Point, teachers gave lessons in why pride in the state was easily justified.  While I still deeply love my state it is clear that the foundations which existed decades ago are giving way to a most base form of politics which are very troubling and sad.  If more of my fellow citizens do not take a determined attitude about the policies at play in this state then we are bound to wind up where the barber pole from the Main Street of my hometown landed.

Confusion Over Convention Delegates Due To Lack Of Civics Education

Once again we are witnessing how the lack of civics education impacts our nation.

The New York Times has a font page story this morning about the delegate selection process.  This matter of how delegates are selected and what role they serve has become a topic of discussion since both parties now have a spirited presidential nominating season underway.

For decades, both major parties have used a somewhat convoluted process for picking their nominees, one that involves ordinary voters in only an indirect way. As Americans flock this year to outsider candidates, the kind most hindered by these rules, they are suddenly waking up to this reality. And their confusion and anger are adding another volatile element to an election being waged over questions of fairness and equality.

Where exactly were all these concerned citizens over the past (pick a number) years when it came to nominations, conventions, delegates, and the process that is undertaken to select a general election candidate?  Where is their sense of history about the grand traditions of volatile conventions and bare-knuckle politics?  It seems as if the the word delegate were just invented instead of having a rich storyline in our country.

Which leads to me a question I ask honestly though there is no way to not make it sound unduly snarky.

Why are there so many Bambi-eyed folks wondering how the system works?

I am not asking for the average American to be as smart as Michael Beschloss but I do expect folks to have a general grasp of the way we nominate a presidential candidate.   While I have often been disheartened with the words and antics of candidates this cycle I must say it is a feeling of bewilderment that overtakes me when considering the lack of knowledge the citizenry has about our political processes.

Though some voters are only now discovering that sometimes their choices amount to little more than a Facebook “like,” party leaders today say the rules are nothing new.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, pointed out that superdelegates have been around “since 1984, the year I graduated high school,” and have never been a decisive factor. Sean Spicer, the chief strategist for the Republican National Committee, said of the rules, “This is a process that has existed since the 1800s,” even though he acknowledged, “It is incumbent on us to explain it.”

The lack of background knowledge about delegates this campaign season is just another topic for a long list of things most Americans are not aware of when it comes to government and politics.  Like many of my readers I am not pleased to learn of news reports that air from time to time about the lack of knowledge too many of our nation’s students have when it comes to some basic subjects.  For decades I have been speaking out for higher standards and better ways to educate our nation about history and civics.  It is the lack of training students correctly in our schools which then produces outcomes that we now witness among adults at election time.

There is no reason to have citizens who can not locate places on a map, name the three branches of government, talk at least in broad terms about how a bill becomes a law, or grasp how we nominate a presidential candidate.  We must do better at every level when teaching history and civics.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis: Four Marriages To Three Different Men While Denying Others To Wed

The behavior of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is simply unacceptable. Not only has she made a spectacle of herself but also allowed for the all too-true caricatures many have of people in that region of the country to once again be brought to attention.

When Davis who has had four marriages to three different men, which seems an odd background to have when it comes making statements about the sanctity of marriage, was elected by a narrow margin she made a public vow to follow the law.

“My words can never express the appreciation but I promise to each and every one that I will be the very best working clerk that I can be and will be a good steward of their tax dollars and follow the statutes of this office to the letter.”

Those was simply words without meaning as we now have come to know. Davis’ defiance of a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples places her in a legal path that can only lead to her dismissal, since it seems obvious she has no inner guidance system to allow her to see reason and follow the law.

If she cannot fulfill her job duties as outlined by the law she needs to haul herself to the local coffee shop and start looking in the help-wanted listings for her next paycheck. She simply cannot think the laws of her state or the nation can be tossed aside like her first three marriages so she can grind her bigotry deeper against gay couples who wish to marry.

I understand she is from a place where the best teachers never were hired but any good civics book will underscore for this long haired Bible-thumper that in this nation laws are to be respected and abided by.

Davis has said she got involved with religion to fulfill the dying wish of her mother in law. She fails to mention which one of those mothers-in-law it happened to be.

There is no shortage of legal hell that is about to reign down on this throwback of what so many still think the South is all about. In the end she will either bow to the law or need to seek a richer husband.

She must have at least one cousin with some cash.

What Wisconsin Kids Do Not Know About History, Civics, Geography

There are a number of themes that run over and over on this blog.  I push for equal rights, gun control, and in various ways a better informed electorate.  One of the first steps to be taken with the last item is to demand higher educational standards in our schools when it comes to history and civics.

Like many of my readers I was not pleased to read the news report this week about the lack of knowledge too many of our students have when it comes to some basic subjects.  For decades I have been speaking out for higher standards and better ways to educate our nation about history and civics.

The latest study released on this matter is nothing to be proud of when it comes to our schools.  While the numbers in the study reflect a nationwide result  there is no reason for Wisconsin residents to think we fare any better when it comes to not knowing things we should.

Only about a quarter of eighth graders showed solid performance or better in U.S. history, civics and geography on tests known as the Nation’s Report Card.

Among the findings: Less than half — 45 percent — of eighth-grade respondents were able to correctly interpret time differences using an atlas with time zones. Only about a third knew that “the government of the United States should be a democracy” is a political belief shared by most people in the U.S.

Only 18 percent of students demonstrated solid performance or better in U.S. history. The results for geography and civics were slightly better, 27 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

A large share of the eighth graders who took the test scored at the “basic” level, meaning just partial mastery of the subjects. Only 1 percent of test takers in U.S. history, 3 percent in geography and 2 percent in civics scored in the advanced level.

White and Asian students performed better than their Hispanic and black peers. Although the scores overall were similar to 2010, Hispanic students made gains in U.S. history and geography and white students made gains in U.S. history and civics. The scores of black and Asian students didn’t budge in the three categories.

About two-thirds of the eighth graders were able to use a map to locate a country on the Horn of Africa, but only a quarter successfully completed a two-part question that involved explaining how the participation of African-Americans in the Civil War affected the war’s outcome.

So what needs to happen to make our students more proficient in history and civics?

Having thought at one time about becoming a history teacher means that I also have given some thought on how students could be better informed and excited about the past.  The first requirement is a good series of texts from which to work.  While I much agree that a good solid textbook with the dates, places, and themes is essential, the class will soon tire if not given other exciting and relevant reading sources.  Using modern-day historians and recent research found in such captivating reads as Ron Chernow’s  Alexander Hamilton or Joseph Ellis’s His Excellency or The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin are just a few examples  that would allow gripping narratives to add flavor and dimension to the topics at hand.  A chapter here and there from books of this type would serve many purposes.  (I understand there are requirements about how much of a book can be copied and used in a classroom setting but all these issues can be dealt with.)

Second, I would use people in my community to tell the story of their lives.  For instance, we still have very energetic and verbal men who fought in World War II who could enliven a discussion on how people felt about the war, being sent over-seas, and about the role they served for their generation.  My partner, James, and I discuss the people from our neighborhoods while growing up who could have served a role like this in our classrooms.  He has often mentioned a woman who decades ago attended “huskings’ in Maine.  Connecting with the past in these ways provides for a lively discussion and also makes clear that history is not just about old deceased men and women.  History in many ways is very much alive.

Third, I would use texts from the past to show how our country has grown and evolved.  For instance, in 1930 Professor Thomas Marshall wrote in American History that slaves were usually happy.  It is simply a most stunning statement to make, and yet he even amplified on the idea. He wrote that slaves were fond of the company they kept, liked to sing, dance, and admired bright colors.  He wrote they were loyal to a kind master, never in a hurry, and always ready to put things off until “morrow”.    We would find this type of thinking unacceptable, but what happened in the nation to move us away from such ideas that once were more common to hear and read?  Confronting why the usage of the ‘N’ word in Tom Sawyer was once common practice  may raise ire among some but this type of honest approach to talking about history is not only more engaging but also will produce better results among students who need to understand that past.

Fourth, the computer has made history colorful and accessible.  Goggle Earth is but one great site where history and its ever-present companion, geography, are connected and overlapped for students of all ages.  Teachers in most classrooms now have computers for students to learn from and should take advantage of every such opportunity.  The way kids learn is changing and teaching must adapt to how the process plays out for our youth.

There is no reason to have a country that can not locate places on a map, name the three branches of government, or talk at least in broad terms about how a bill becomes a law.  We must do better at every level when teaching history and civics.

Ramping Up Civics Education

Not for the first time does this blog advocate for a stronger civics education curriculum in our public schools.  Coming from a background where such studies were encouraged at home and in the classroom has provided a perspective that places me clearly on the side of making sure others also receive the same type of foundation for becoming a knowledgeable  citizen.

There was many a night when the main topic of conversation at our dinner table concerned the top headline news stories of the day.  Built into those talks were the foundations of how our country operated.  When as a child there were questions to be answered my parents offered a way for me to understand.    By the time the topics were explored in school I was engaged and eager to discuss and learn more.  (My best grades came from those classes along with history and literature.  I recall a senior re-taking freshman year civics threatening to beat me up if I did not stop talking so much in class.   How that impacted him remains a mystery.   He had a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his t-shirt arm and looked like a greaser from the 50’s as he blustered his demands.  We were to know the names of all the cabinet secretaries and I did.  He was not able to do the same.  I recall him looking back at me in class and glaring.  But I had the last laugh as school was too rough for him and he snapped under the pressure and dropped out.)

As this nation has witnessed–lets us just say since 1996 and the Clinton impeachment proceedings to the 2000 election and the creation of special courts following 9/11–there are countless reasons that every person needs to be grounded in a solid civics education.    That too many people can not even name the three parts of government gives me cause to wonder where we are headed as a nation.

There was yet another powerful editorial on this matter that needs to be read by all who care about the lack of information too many people have about our government and political processes.

At a minimum, students in all grades need to be taught about the American political system and the structure of government at the federal, state and local levels. Documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution should be studied not just as literary or rhetorical artifacts but as examples of political philosophy and guides to civic engagement. And civics education (like all education) should encourage participation and creativity on the part of students. Finally, students should be specifically assessed on how well they understand the operation of the political system in which they will play a role as citizens. Granted, students, teachers and parents already feel burdened by the proliferation of tests, and a good case can be made that too many tests are administered too often. But there should be room in any testing regime for an assessment of knowledge about civics.