Speaker Robin Vos Should Want To Do As He Stated, “Guarantee Public Faith In Elections”, Could Be a Win-Win

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was most willing to appropriate more than a million dollars to a former Supreme Court justice so to ferret out alleged nefarious and illegal voting behavior following the defeat of Donald Trump in the state’s 2020 presidential election. Rather than admitting the Republican Party had a seriously flawed candidate, Vos stood by as Michael Gableman threatened to jail the mayors of major Wisconsin cities such as Madison, Green Bay, and Racine if they didn’t comply with subpoenas to sit for private interviews as part of the investigation. Following the August endorsement of Vos’s primary opponent by Gableman, the Speaker terminated the contract to further spend taxpayer’s dollars on an investigation that had no serious purpose.

What was widely reported in the state, and in national political columns was that this summer while the investigation was underway Vos stated he had taken a phone call from Donald Trump, who told the Speaker of his desire to see the results of the 2020 balloting overturned.  It comes as no surprise that the January 6th committee follows such developments as that phone conversation, and is attuned to the developments which are aimed at undermining our democratic institutions and eroding the faith of the citizenry in our electoral process.  Therefore, the committee is, of course, mighty interested in Vos’ testimony and information he can add to the larger understanding of a seditious conspiracy plotted by Donald Trump, and aided by a number of close aids and confidants.

After the anticipated legal protection that Vos grabbed for after the panel handed him a subpoena, the panel canceled Monday’s deposition deadline, but noted their desire to have his compliance and know the matter is pending upon the ruling from a judge.  This reluctance from Vos, however, to honestly testifying is troubling for two reasons.

First, the desire of the Committee is straightforward. They simply requested in their subpoena for Vos to give a deposition about his call with Trump and the surrounding circumstances. The fact is our democracy came under violent attack on Jan. 6th. Many attempts at undoing the election outcome, though impossible to achieve, have been made in the months following as Trump furthers an absurd theory in several states.  Wisconsin was one of those playgrounds which have used tax dollars, and as such, there is a need to know what pressures were placed on the Speaker by Trump to thwart the will of the voters.

Secondly, if Vos is true to his words and intentions then he would very much desire a full accounting of what occurred with the Trump phone call.  During the period following the 2020 election, he stated Wisconsin needs to “look forward” to guarantee public faith in elections. He said he believes “half of the state or more,” thinks there were “serious problems with the way the election was conducted”.  I can state that equal numbers of our fellow Wisconsinites are much concerned about the shape of our democracy and worry about the fate of our political and electoral processes.

As such, Vos would well serve our state by being forthcoming to the Jan. 6th Committee about his stated desire of securing the public faith in our elections….while at the same time giving a boost to our overall democracy. It could be a win-win.

Campaign For Wisconsin Governor Must Address Labor Shortage, Need For Immigrant Labor

With the campaign for Wisconsin governor moving in full steam towards the November election voters are being offered an array of pretty much the same fare as past fall races.  This year there is alpha-male posing from Republican nominee Tim Michels while Tony Evers unveils a cheesy tax cut. Voters know aggressive masculinity does not equate to good governance, and that our transportation budget needs state funds far more than individuals do with an extra couple hundred bucks in their wallet.

Yes, we are now in that time when candidates will say and do anything for a point bump in the polls or a series of favorable headlines.  I understand the need to press all the buttons and make every effort to prevail at the polls, but there must also be a real conversation with the electorate about issues that matter.  One of those topics is something I have talked about for at least 20 years.  Count the number of graduates leaving high school in May and then count the new faces entering kindergarten in September.  We have a genuine worker shortage, in every business sector and in every region around the Badger State.

On Sunday Tom Still, who I believe should be in the kitchen cabinet for whoever wins the governorship, stated most clearly why there is a need to focus on our state’s worker shortage.

Economists and demographers in Wisconsin have been warning for decades that a shortage of workforce-age people was inevitable. The St. Louis-based research arm of the Federal Reserve reports Wisconsin’s “labor force participation” rate declined from 74.5% in late 1997 to 66.4% in June 2022. That rate reflects the number of all employed and unemployed workers divided against the state’s civilian population.

Stills also noted a sobering fact about the dismal rate of growth from those moving here from another state.

At a time when much of the United States is on the move, Wisconsin isn’t a leading destination. About 1.1 million people moved from one U.S. state to another in 2021, the conference was told, yet only 3,400 or so wound up in Wisconsin.

Among the various factors Still connected to the worker shortage, was the fact our state will need to view immigration in a different light if we are to meet the economic needs we face. Nine years ago, in 2013, he wrote a column about immigrant workers in the Badger State.

Immigration reform can help the Wisconsin economy at a time when the demographics of an aging society are chipping away at the state’s workforce, from its kitchens, farms and resorts to its research laboratories and tech companies.

In a global economy, Wisconsin looks much less international than even its neighbors. Compared to Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, Wisconsin has a smaller share of foreign-born population and total labor force, as well as fewer foreign-born business owners.

During the primary season, there were countless television ads by Michels where “illegals” were mentioned. We learned that he aligned with Donald Trump concerning a wall at the Southern border. He ground down with campaign rhetoric about “no drivers’ licenses, no benefits, and no tuition” for immigrants.

We too often hear conservative pols use dehumanizing language regarding immigrants.  Over the past years, we have had too many truly sad examples of political discourse that was xenophobic and racist. The facts are of course that immigrants are human beings in search of a better life, fair wages, safety, and security.  Additionally, we know that Wisconsin requires their labor and skills.

While the usual theatrics of a campaign season is upon us it appears that once again the long-term problem of a shortage of workers in our state will be left behind.  Slogans and heavy rhetoric about red meat topics will not address the shortage of workers businesses confront year after year in the construction trades, farms, or on the manufacturing floors. Voters should be provided ideas by the candidates for governor about how our state deals with this pressing problem.

Robin Vos Does Not Get Profile In Courage Award For Firing Michael Gableman

There are those times when what might be considered a strong and resolute position, instead winds up looking rather sluggishly anemic. Such is the result of Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos firing Michael Gableman a mere 72 hours after the Racine County Republican squeaked out a primary election night win after Donald Trump urged voters to elect his opponent.

It was only after the votes were counted that Vos found his voice, even his backbone, along with a microphone into which he could utter his feelings about the former Supreme Court justice. “He’s an embarrassment to the state.” But only last week the former justice was a needed investigator for Republicans! Catching up with the sentiments held by the majority of state residents for the past year does not make Vos a prophet or even slightly principled, but simply underscored why many people think Republican politicians are playing to the most gullible within the GOP.

Vos’ comment, however, is about the length and breadth that leadership and a commitment to facts are allowed to be displayed within the current Republican Party. It is due to elected officials, such as Vos, who have continually played to the right-wing conspiracy theories from the base of the party, and in so doing have allowed for oxygen to be given to the nonsense. That has resulted in much harm being done to the home of such political giants as Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

Speaker Vos authorized and funded Gableman’s actions which resulted in a wild, unhinged, and legally impossible notion, such as decertifying the 2020 election. There was no evidence of widespread election chicanery to unearth, though that did not stop state tax dollars from being used by Gableman to foment lies for the less educated in the state. Nor did it stop Vos from continuing the spigot of money into Gabelman’s efforts which even included his attending a seminar in South Dakota hosted by luminaries such as Mike Lindell, the MyPillow facts denier.  

The time to cut ties with Gableman would have been after the first sit-down the Speaker had with someone who claimed in 2008 that Justice Ann Walsh Bradley rapped him on the head during a meeting. At the time many in the state snickered at the event, but in hindsight, it might be appropriate to ask exactly how much damage was inflicted!

The Michael Gableman we have watched over the past year is the same person who ran a sleazy and racist campaign in 2008 against the Supreme Court’s only African-American, Louis Butler. A major state newspaper wrote in 2012 that Gableman, as a justice, “opened the door to accusations of unethical behavior”. The years have changed, but the character of Gableman sadly has not. I wrote on Caffeinated Politics in 2011 that Michael Gableman was the least intelligent and probing mind on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  After this past year, that may be the kindest thing one can say about the man.

Why Speaker Vos was not able, or willing, to provide leadership and honesty to the ones within his party spreading the Big Lie remains a troubling question that historians will need to address. After all, firing Gableman was only about 365 days too late.

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos Should Remove Janel Brandtjen As Chair Of Elections Committee

Parents know how often small children will do just about anything to get attention. The whole nation was reminded of those types of antics when the Stuart skit on Saturday Night Live would make us laugh with “look what I can do’. Now that same type of behavior is being exhibited by a member of the Republican Assembly caucus.

Representative Janel Brandtjen, the chair of the Wisconsin Assembly’s elections committee, has called for invalidating President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory in the state.

While the display is laughable, it is not charming like the performances of the little rascals at home aiming for the limelight with their parents. In fact, it is just sad, dangerous to the nation, and another reminder of how removed from reason and logic a portion of the unhinged element of the Republican Party strives to remain.

Readers do not require my writing this sentence to know that constitutional scholars from across the state and nation, along with even the conservative Republican legislative leaders in Madison have called such outbursts legally impossible. Most Wisconsinites would label Brandtjen’s desire as patently absurd.

I realize that Brandtjen was very busy ginning up this headline-making idea and so did not have the time to review the facts about a number of recounts, along with a slew of court rulings that upheld the victory Biden scored in the state.  Even a legislative audit from the very statehouse where she works showed there was no widespread fraud in the voting outcome.  On top of that, even the outcome by a very conservative group demonstrated there was no out-of-control fraud taking place in Wisconsin.

While I do not carry a stick so to poke at the bears at the zoo, I have to admit it would be more than amusing to allow Brandtjen sixty seconds of uninterrupted time on a newscast so she could explain why she thought decertification was possible.  Since Wisconsin is known as a state that loves alcohol, perhaps a drinking game could be arranged for every ahhh…and umm…as she seeks a way to round the square. Folks living above Highway 29 might even wish to play the video a second time.

I have faulted Assembly Speaker Robin Vos for his desire to play too close to the fire when it comes to the ludicrous base of his party as it relates to the Big Lie.  Prolonging the oxygen in the state for the conspiracy crowd and the danger that this creates for the foundation of our democracy is not something any rational leader should court.

If Vos was seeking what was best for the state and country he would remove, at once, Janel Brandtjen as the chair of the Elections Committee. She has proven to be at odds with facts, and logic, and as such should not remain in such a pivotal place. The seriousness and credibility that comes with being a committee chair are diminished when the actions of Brandtjen are allowed to stand. What she has done casts a shadow on the entire Republican caucus. And the state.

Such a move would show Vos had the leadership skills to speak and act for the higher interest of Wisconsin. Even though it would roil the waters for the conspiracy-prone, the mature members of the state GOP would be assured that a reasoned person was at the helm. Acting impotently, however, will only feed the ongoing narrative that the GOP is an out-of-control clown car.

It is no wonder why many deride the far-right wing of the Republican Party. It is no mystery why conservatives are the butt of jokes for late-night talk show monologues. What the GOP requires are elected officials who will step up and clearly demonstrate a willingness to align with sanity.

Cue Speaker Vos to look into the camera with the red light on and start speaking.

Now that would be a headline in the Milwaukee Journal the state would applaud.

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.