No Glee To Be Had In Booing Of Speaker Robin Vos

No one can take any glee over the booing that Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos received this weekend during the Republican State Party Convention. While it can be easily framed into a partisan moment where the extreme excesses of Donald Trump’s base were on full display, it is the larger concern about our precarious democracy that matters far more.

It was a most unusual scene to have occurred at a gathering of a political party. The State Assembly leader was booed by convention-goers which made for a gripping moment on newscasts statewide.

What was most troubling, however, was that Vos did not wander off the page of Republican orthodoxy so to receive such a reaction. He did not suggest raising any tax or offering more regulatory control. He did not backtrack from school vouchers or hint at gun control measures.

No, Vos instead simply and plainly told the crowd there’s no pathway to decertifying the 2020 presidential election.

“We have no ability to decertify the election and go back, We need to focus on moving forward.”

And cue the loud boos that filled the convention floor.

It was so raucous that State Party Chairman Paul Farrow had to then inform the delegates to “let him talk” and “be respectful.”

After that display from the conservative crowd, it calls into question exactly who should be surveyed in our state about the need for freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Maybe the UW System should not be first in line as a whipping boy about First Amendment rights.

While Vos did not deserve to be booed for stating a fact, he does need to own his share of the blame for stirring the pot of unreasoned anger in our state about the 2020 election. His use of former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to investigate that election has prolonged and needlessly exacerbated the Trump base of the party into continuing to think something nefarious occurred. In fact, as every examination of our state’s balloting proved, nothing illegal or sinister took place.

As evidenced from this weekend’s GOP convention no good comes when partisan attempts are used to strike at our political and electoral institutions. But over and over, across the nation, as The New York Times reported above the fold in their Sunday edition the partisan attacks on truth are far too often the new norm in state legislative races.

At least 357 sitting Republican legislators in closely contested battleground states have used the power of their office to discredit or try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The tally accounts for 44 percent of the Republican legislators in the nine states where the presidential race was most narrowly decided. In each of those states, the election was conducted without any evidence of widespread fraud, leaving election officials from both parties in agreement on the victory of Joseph Biden Jr.

Election and democracy experts say they see the rise of anti-democratic impulses in statehouses as a clear, new threat to the health of American democracy. State legislatures hold a unique position in the country’s democratic apparatus, wielding a constitutionally mandated power to set the “times, places and manner of holding elections.” Cheered on by Mr. Trump as he eyes another run for the White House in 2024, many state legislators have shown they see that power as license to exert greater control over the outcome of elections.

It undermines our democracy by playing to the ones who will use factless arguments to then spearhead spurious and dangerous reactions that strike at the heart of our political institutions.

After all that grim reality it would seem, then, for there to be no way this post could stay on theme but still somehow look upwards. And more oddly still, by using Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the winds to lift our sails. But the following shows not only why we can have faith in reclaiming our democracy, but a lesson that McConnell can impart to Vos.

This weekend the Wall Street Journal reported McConnell’s pleasure over the fact the isolationist wing of the Republican Party was able to be reined in when the Ukraine aid package was put together and passed into law. He said that it was a personal victory for him.

Said McConnell: “I am interested in diminishing the number of my members who believe that America somehow can exist alone in the world.”

He added: “I think the fact that only 11, in the end, ended up voting against the package was an indication of success in convincing a larger number of our members that no matter what was being said by some on the outside that those views were simply incorrect.”

McConnell is most correct about international aid, and on the substance about the Wisconsin election not having been ‘stolen’ Vos is equally correct. What then is required from Vos going forward to combat the most unreasoned in his party, is what McConnell expertly administered in Congress to pass an aid package.

Leadership.

And so it goes.

Tommy Thompson Would Have Been Formidable Candidate For Governor

One of the constant refrains I have heard from people who teach or work at UW-Madison is how Tommy Thompson rose to the occasion as interim president of the University of Wisconsin System. The former governor cemented himself as a reasoned statesman for the higher educational ideals of our state.

When liberals in Madison are praising Tommy Thompson it proves not only the continuing legacy of this man but something deeper about politics and governing. We desire competence and gravitas from our leaders. When people watched Thompson do his work with clarity of purpose and determination during tough and challenging times, while a pandemic raged, they paid attention. They also applauded.

Thompson made an announcement Monday that his four terms as governor, starting in the 1980s, will not be extended by another four years. There are surely varied reactions to the news as some in the Republican Party would prefer to see a powerful and robust candidate take the state into the fall election. At the same time, Democrats are pleased that Governor Tony Evers will only need to deal with the current lineup of GOP candidates who have yet to find an energized pace.

For politicos, however, the loss of Thompson as a candidate has deprived this battleground state of what would have been a grand election experience.

There is something that changes when Thompson enters a room or takes to a stage. One does not need to be a Republican to feel that charge in the air, as no one can doubt a sense of pride when the former governor speaks inspirationally about the state, our workers, and the future.

And then there is the handshaking campaign style of Thompson who seemingly never forgets a name or the son or daughter who is taking classes at Stevens Point or Eau Claire. He is the consummate campaigner.

Thompson made a tremendous impression on me in 1987, one that encompasses his abilities and personality.

An employee of the famed Door County eatery,  Al Johnson’s Restaurant (with goats on the roof!), fell ill with hepatitis contracted during a vacation.  The establishment closed down for an extended period of time, and when reopening called in none other than Thompson to create the needed favorable headlines.

A number of elected officials were standing in line along with local citizens galore, waiting for the Governor to arrive.  When Thompson’s car arrived and he set foot on the ground his smile and outstretched hand never stopped.  He greeted people by first names, and if he did not know it he still bantered like they had been college buddies.  His one hand rested on a shoulder as he pumped a handshake and looked into a person’s eyes, as opposed to the too-often ‘political scan’ over the shoulder to see what else is happening.  He was truly present with the folks in that restaurant.  That morning has never been forgotten for how the art of politics can look and feel.

I regret Thompson’s decision not to run as he is perhaps the only one in our state who has that larger trust from a wide segment of the state. If anyone has bi-partisan regard from the electorate it is Thompson. Yes, Thompson is a solid conservative, but he also has proven to operate above deeply partisan rancor and tribalism of the worst kind.

There are few Wisconsin personalities that match his dynamism or scope of service.  He is a Republican, through and through, but has that essential quality of honesty and fair-play that allows him to have true friends from the entire political spectrum. And that counts in politics!

As such, Thompson would have been a formidable candidate for Wisconsin governor.

And so it goes.

Speaker Robin Vos Should Not Be Dismissive Of Judge’s Contempt Ruling

I suspect Wisconsinites firmly believe that the ones who make the laws should be the first ones abiding by them. If one asked at any barbershop or diner from Mason to Muskego there would be most certainly strong agreement that our elected officials must not show disdain for the rules of law and order.

If one chatted over coffee and pie with locals I am very sure there would be agreement that a judge’s ruling should be viewed with the respect accorded to people on the bench, and not made into a partisan affair. We can almost hear the voices in this state say if the ones in top positions of government flaunt the laws what message does that send to average citizens about the way we should conduct ourselves in society?

When I pulled the snowy blue plastic bag off Thursday’s Wisconsin State Journal my eyes landed on the troubling front-page story about the contempt charge against Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

A Dane County Circuit judge held Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in contempt of court Wednesday for failing to provide requested public documents related to the ongoing GOP-ordered review of the 2020 election.

Approached by a reporter following a pair of town halls in western Racine County Wednesday afternoon, during which Vos repeatedly told listeners that the 2020 election could not be decertified, Vos responded to being found in contempt of court.

“It’s a liberal judge in Dane County trying to make us look bad. I don’t know about you, but when you have deleted emails, how do you get deleted emails back if they’re from Gmail? We already have an expert saying they can’t be done. You have a judge who’s focused on making a name for herself, and that’s all she’s doing,” Vos said.

The news that the assembly speaker shrugged off the contempt charge by ‘a liberal judge’ sounds like what we too often hear in our politics. But if it is possible to step back and ponder the significance of that remark it will demonstrate how far away we are from the core values that need to be embraced.

It is not possible to have a healthy democracy if the public perceives that legal rulings and decisions handed down by judges are based on partisan politics rather than the rule of law. When we have not only elected officials, but top members of government who echo such sentiments, it is truly disturbing.

Simply put, Robin Vos, who is now speaker and clearly has eyes on higher office, should not in any way contribute to the further erosion of trust in the judiciary. There is nothing to be gained–other than cheap short-term partisan politics–by fostering a deeper struggle about the distinction between law and politics.

We have always had an intersection of law and politics–from Justice John Marshall forward. That is how our constitutional balancing act was created. But with increasing volume and in numerous ways the institutional legitimacy of our judges is being questioned. That is absolutely harmful to our democracy. While Vos may think he is in some way upholding the views of some of his constituents with his unfortunate remark, it is far more important that a judge properly uphold the law. That is the lesson we need to heed.

I have no problem with anyone disagreeing with a ruling or seeking to better understand a law that decides a case. But it is never proper or appro­pri­ate to defy a ruling or attempt to undermine a judge with a personal attack, as Vos did with this contempt ruling.

I know this story is just par for the course these days given our politics. But in fact, this is really a sad place we find ourselves. Our democracy needs to have more citizen advocates who hold public officials accountable when they undermine our Constitutional norms and values.

And so it goes.

Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos Should Take Page From Thomas Jefferson Playbook

I am absolutely confident that the vast majority of reasonable Wisconsinites, from both sides of the political aisle, are tired of re-arguing the 2020 presidential election. The vast majority of citizens know the election was fair, the results solid, and the ongoing stirring of the partisan debate to be needless.

Oh, yes, and that same public is opposed to any use of taxpayer dollars to further stoke the partisan fires and undermine the faith that should be instilled in our electoral processes.

This past week it was reported that former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, now the special counsel in a Republican-orchestrated investigation of the 2020 election, signed a new contract with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Following that news report, Vos issued a statement praising Gableman for doing a “good job”.

We should expect any Speaker to have pointed remarks and firm stands on the issues of the day. Actual issues, that is. Like methods of raising revenue for transportation needs or how to better formulate school aid payments. But needlessly stirring the red-meat ‘election is not over’ stew for the Republican base seems not only too blatantly partisan but also just sordid.

This brings me to Thomas Jefferson and how Vos might benefit from taking some advice from a Founding Father. (Please hear me out.)

After a close friend of Jefferson’s father dies, the parentless children are added to the Jefferson household. One of those children was a boy two years older than Jefferson, and historians have theorized that it was in those years of potential conflict and tension in the combined family that Jefferson found a most useful tool.

Comity over needless conflict is the best route to take.

Throughout his entire life, Jefferson was known not to engage in unneeded conflict. While not backing down in diplomatic missions to Europe or factional fights within the early years of the nation, he also was known not to desire personal confrontation. He did not pick a fight that was not needed to be fought.

We often think of the Founding Fathers providing guidance and views on the cornerstones of democracy. But if we heed the quieter patterns of their lives we will find lessons that can be learned, that when then added to their well-known consequential actions, makes governing stronger and more productive.

It is a lesson that I sincerely believe Vos could benefit from in his duties as Speaker.

I have no doubt, whatsoever, that Vos fully knows there is nothing to be ‘learned’ or ‘discovered’ or ‘made known’ about the 2020 Wisconsin election. Vos knows this investigation is all just for the demonstration that the Wisconsin GOP has not lost touch with the base of the party.

But in so doing the Speaker has constructed a needless fight in our state over something that is not even there to be fought. It would seem a better use of the assembly leader’s time to focus on how to upgrade worker skills so to meet the needs of employers in the state. Or assist in making sure more graduates from our high schools have a better grasp of civics and history.

It just perplexes me how the platform that Vos has been given is being used too often for the most marginal of purposes.

And so it goes.

Michael Gableman Must Do His Work In Light Of Day

Once again, there is a news story about Michael Gableman threatening jail time for a mayor from one of Wisconsin’s larger cities. The reason for such bluster is because, once again, no one is agreeing to sit for what can only be termed as a secret interview.

I recall warmly the affable and jowly former Senator Sam Ervin who knew full-well the power of public questioning of individuals involved in the crimes of Watergate. The televised hearings of the Senate Select Committee were a powerful tool that allowed the nation insight into the workings and shady dealing of Richard Nixon’s White House and campaign committee for his reelection.

The House Select Committee relating to the insurrection and rioting at our nation’s Capitol on January 6th also understands the power and need for public hearings. They plan to schedule some prime-time hearings this spring so the nation can better follow along with their work.

It comes as no surprise from a political, public relations, and sound governing perspective open and public hearings are logical.

It is highly troubling and unfathomable to explain, then, how a former justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is attempting to hold closed, secret, and behind-the-door questioning of duly elected mayors from our state’s largest cities. Openness and transparency is not a new concept. Questions arise and suspicions deepen when people with power seek to limit light and forthrightness.

Why would Gableman go out of his way to create confusion and mystery? Why would he not want to showcase ‘election chicanery’ with a full array of reporters to record his findings?

Perhaps Gableman does not wish to be akin to Geraldo Rivera who opened an empty vault on national television. But therein lies the danger to our democracy in that grand allegations can be made undermining the faith of our election process, but then not the same volume and bandwidth being provided to prove such claims to be wrong.

It is incumbent upon those who thought it wise to set up such a ludicrous investigation probe and place Gableman in charge, to now step up and demand that any hearings or questioning be done in public. The fact is, of course, that no foundation exists for questions about the credibility of the election process, or the outcome by the voters. We know that any public questioning will only further underscore the abuse of power by Speaker Robin Vos and further shine a light on the laughable spectacle that is Gableman.

I must say, that over the past months when Gableman puts out his press releases or speaks I am continually reminded of John Alexander who plays the role of ‘Teddy Roosevelt’ in Arsenic And Old Lace. That delusional character was supposedly digging the Panama Canal in the basement.

Gableman makes as much sense in trying to prove election chicanery the size of the Panama Canal in the 2020 elections.

We see on both the international stage and the more local one the absolute necessity of being vigilant about democracy. The fabrication of why Russian forces ‘needed’ to invade a sovereign nation is repugnant. But so is the creation of a Big Lie about the presidential election that now ‘requires’ closed-door questioning by Gableman.

What is so disconcerting about this entire story is that, first and foremost, the investigation was predicated on a conspiracy theory without any factual foundation. To continue fostering lies about the 2020 election, and to use duly elected mayors as part of the orchestration of that conspiracy so to play to the base of the Republican Party is a complete travesty.

At some point, this bizarre episode by Gableman will end. But when the credits roll, unlike when they did with Alexander’s movie performance, we will not be left with a fond memory.

There was no Panama Canal on that Hollywood movie set, just as there was no election underhandedness that merited this investigation. The only lasting impact of this affair will be the undermining of faith citizens must have in our electoral system.

And so it goes.

Adam Jarchow Tweets About Invading Canada As Their Law Enforcement Quells Lawbreakers

It is often taught that before standing up and making a statement one needs to know their audience. That truism from grade school days did not seemingly resonate with Adam Jarchow, the Republican seeking nomination for Wisconsin’s attorney general.

Over the past weeks, there has been a very limited number of Canadian protesters opposing vaccine mandates. To show off their disdain for laws and common sense they have been shutting down border crossings and businesses around Ottawa. Over the past week, law enforcement has stepped up its efforts and is easily quelling the lawbreakers.

And yes, the protestors are breaking the laws by their actions. The blockades are illegal.

This weekend Jarchow, in light of the well-reported news over the weeks that laws were being broken in Canada, and as a candidate for a top law-and-order office in Wisconsin tweeted a most bizarre statement.

“If Canadian politicians keep this crap up, the deer hunters in WI will be forced to invade to restore liberty. Don’t test us!”

Playing to the most base of the Republican Party is not a new tactic for conservatives. Jarchow, like many other candidates in the GOP, never desires to be a teacher about the issues of the day while campaigning but is always an enabler to those voters. As a consequence, we have a major political party in this nation that accepts such comments as appropriate.

But in the real world that is not a statement that should have been made, and certainly never accepted. There are two reasons Jarchow’s statement is troubling.

First, and foremost, at this very moment, there are real people who are packing up belongings in case they need to flee from Ukraine. There are many who know that should Russia invade the loss of life will be high in Kyiv. There are many who have loved ones in that country and worry about them from homes around the globe.

No politician, who might read only the front page of a newspaper, would think it now a perfect moment to tweet about invading another country. His lack of even simple considerations for others is rather hard to fathom, given the Ukraine situation.

The second glaring problem with Jarchow’s statement is a lack of regard for law enforcement and securing of law and order. Canada is a nation that abides by laws and rules. To in any way undermine or disregard the hard and meaningful work of law enforcement is not the message any serious attorney general candidate would make.

What does this say about the foundation of values and principles held by Jarchow as he seeks statewide office?

And so it goes.

Kevin Nicholson Enters Wisconsin Governor’s Race, With Touch Of Bi-Partisanship

Last week this liberal blogger who lives on the Madison isthmus urged very conservative Kevin Nicholson to splash into the Republican race for governor. I did so after a top state Republican told the business owner to ‘stay in his lane’ and forgo entering the campaign.

The words made publically by Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos were not the most well-crafted by one who aims to show his skills in the political arena.

“If Kevin Nicholson is listening — you need to not run for governor,” Vos said during an interview at a Wednesday event hosted by Wispolitics.com in downtown Madison. 

I found those words so demeaning towards Nicholson that I had actual empathy for a politician that I could never vote for or support in any meaningful way other than urging him to run.

I suspect everyone clearly understands how it would feel to be told by another person within your profession or industry to just stay low and do not get any big ideas. Stay at the kid’s table and just be content with where you are now.

Regardless of which political party one calls home, there was a degree of understanding across Wisconsin about how Nicholson felt being instructed by the Speaker to stem any notion of seeking the Republican nomination for governor this August.

Nicholson has created a conservative set of beliefs for his political appeal and proved in his bid for the Senate nomination not to shy away from being an aggressive contender. Though he did not prevail there was no doubt he knows how to force issues and swing political rhetoric. His punches over the years at political insiders and leaders have landed on receptive ears within the Republican Party. These days that accepting audience is larger than ever.

On Thursday, Nicholson threw his hat into the ring as a “conservative outsider,” and will use it as a line of attack on his opponents who wished to restrain his voice in the campaign and limit the choices on the ballot for voters come August. Without a doubt, this campaign will create not only an expensive contest worthy of headlines but also a real race for the heart and soul of Wisconsin Republicans.

There is no way to discern if Vos honestly believes that former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch is the best candidate for the November election or would prove to be an effective governor if elected. It seems more probable that conversations within the power circles over the recent months centered on how not to fracture the base and unwind the spool of thread they consider all that is required to defeat Tony Evers this fall.

But Nicholson felt that conversation about policy and the election ran far short of what is needed to win and govern. And he is rightly smarting over the words and tone from Vos.

While we all can differ about politics I suspect across the state today there is a ‘good for you’ feeling among residents about Nicholson entering the race.

Is this what bipartisanship feels like?

And so it goes.

Did Robin Vos Give Kevin Nicholson A Political Gift?

I suspect everyone clearly understands how it would feel to be told by another person within your profession or industry to just stay low and do not get any big ideas. Stay at the kid’s table and just be content with where you are now.

I bet that regardless of which political party one calls home there was a degree of understanding across Wisconsin about how Kevin Nicholson felt being instructed by the Assembly Speaker to stem any notion of seeking the Republican nomination for governor this August.

What has generated some drama within the GOP ranks is the comment made this week by Speaker Robin Vos.

“If Kevin Nicholson is listening — you need to not run for governor,” Vos said during an interview at a Wednesday event hosted by Wispolitics.com in downtown Madison. 

In other words, stay in your lane.

Mincing no words the would-be candidate offered a pithy reply.

“Thanks, @repvos, for the political advice,” Nicholson tweeted. “Our elections are a mess, law & order is eroding, schools are failing. How about you focus on doing your job?”

Nicholson has created a conservative set of beliefs for his political appeal and proved in his bid for the Senate nomination not to shy away from being an aggressive contender. His rhetorical punches over the years at political insiders and leaders have landed on receptive ears within the Republican Party. These days that accepting audience is larger than ever.

So one has to ask, then, did the Speaker give Waukesha County business owner and Marine veteran a leg up for entering the race for governor? Does Nicholson now have a line of attack handed to him about how Madison political powerhouses wish to restrain the voice and power of the Republican primary voter by limiting their choices on the ballot?

There is no way to discern if Vos honestly believes that former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch is the best candidate for the November election or would prove to be an effective governor if elected. It seems more probable that conversations within the power circles are how not to fracture the base and unwind the spool of thread they consider all that is required to defeat Tony Evers this fall.

But Nicholson surely feels that the current conversation about policy and the election runs short of what is needed to win and govern. And he is rightly simmering about being instructed in public about what he should do regarding his political ambitions.

As a liberal Democrat, I differ from most positions taken by Nicholson. But to be most candid I would relish his standing up and stating he makes his own decisions and as such throws his hat into the race for governor.

Wisconsinites of all political stripes could respect that action.

And so it goes.