Vulgar Word Usage From Madison Statehouse To Washington

Our politics in both Wisconsin and the nation has roughened considerably over the past decade. While political discourse starting with the Founding Fathers moving forward has always been sharp and at times personal, I have noticed that in recent times it can also be just plain vulgar. Part of the blame, obviously, gets placed on those who use language that is low-brow, but we also must place news reporting when conveying certain phrases responsible for the slide downwards in our political discourse.

The shared revenue bill in Wisconsin has generated much heat in the state capitol.  Not only about the dollar amounts to be placed into the hands of local governing officials, but the attempt by Republicans who control the majority of power in the chambers to place a laundry list of conditions on the money to be spent. Some of the most onerous whims in the bill are directed at Milwaukee, a city with challenges to be faced, but when one of their state representatives spoke to a reporter about the harshness of the proposed legislation his words got in front of the justified outrage working its way through the statehouse.

On WISC TV on May 16th during the 6:00 P.M. local news Democratic Assemblyman Ryan Clancy said the GOP was “polishing a ****” when speaking to a reporter about the shared revenue bill. I was taken aback, I guess in equal proportions, by the manner in which the freshman legislator felt he needed to express himself and to the news reporter who felt that snippet of a sound bite was worthy of being added to the story about this pressing issue in our state.

I woke one morning this week to a story in my news feed from Semafor Principles which reported that Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene wanted more goodies in the debt limit bill that would encourage her to vote for what she described as a “ **** sandwich”.  While that language is on par for defining her character in general it was the coverage she gained from such vulgarity that astounded me.  The much-revered news outlet, The Hill not only reported it but used her expletive in a headline.

Reporters must report the news and newsrooms are professionally required to inform the citizenry about the workings of their government and its officials.  In no way should we want any less than that foundation in journalism.  But it was not so long ago when the language used in the examples above would not have been allowed on the airwaves or in print. After all, in neither case was there news content in their choice of phrases.  That is a key point to make. Coverage could have stressed the issues just as clearly and both elected officials would have been quoted strenuously advocating their positions in language that met a certain standard.  And standards in broadcasting and news reporting matter.

At a time when social media is awash in crude discourse and it is all but impossible to walk in a mall or down a busy street and not hear the F word it then underscores why journalism should at least be one place where proper word usage, style, and professionalism is showcased. Within my arm’s reach of where I write is a reference shelf that contains, among other books, The New York Times Manuel of Style and Usage. It literally examines everything from “A, an, the” to Zoom.  That it does not list how to deal with scatological terms, in and of itself, notes that there are words that are just simply not permitted in news reporting.

Those who wish for unlimited word usage on the airwaves and in newsprint will label this attitude of mine (and others who share such views) likely in some fashion akin to having ‘delicate sensibilities’.  While that Jane Austen-type description is their right, I would counter that having worked in both radio broadcasting and later in a legislator’s office where in each case conduct was always viewed or heard by someone, that words used do matter.  Yes, I can see where the views expressed in this column are more prescribed than others in society.  But it really should not be so.  We all should care about the use of language by elected officials. I contend it should not be hard to conduct ourselves in society with word choices given we have the entire dictionary from which to use when making a point.  If pols can campaign and ask for votes in polite ways at election time surely they can speak to their constituents in the same fashion.  After all, elected officials are always walking a line on how to frame issues and respond to all sorts of inquiries so word usage to them is as basic as washing hands before dinner.

Simply put I believe in standards of good taste. Such a bottom line is not political or old-fashioned. It is not about censorship. It is simply about a firm belief in what should be regarded as an accepted way of behaving in a polite society.

Wisconsin GOP Assemblyman Rob Brooks vs. GOP Talking Point About Personal Responsibility

Many readers of this little site on the internet highway (a term that now sounds old-fashioned and dated) will recall when the Republican Party continually lectured about personal responsibility (a talking point that now also sounds old-fashioned and dated). If we are silent for just a few seconds, we can almost hear President Reagan talk about how leaving people alone so as to rise with their own abilities was the path the nation needed to take.  America just needed to unleash the notion of personal responsibility.

The words and tone from Reagan came to mind as I read the news report about Wisconsin State Assemblyman Rob Brooks and the bar he owns in Saukville.

Police in Wisconsin say the fentanyl-laced drugs that killed one person and caused three more to overdose in a village north of Milwaukee were bought at a state lawmaker’s tavern that has been the subject of multiple calls to police in recent years.

Republican Rep. Rob Brooks has owned the Railroad Station in Saukville since 2007 and said he was aware of issues with drugs at the bar shortly after purchasing it but thought they had been addressed.

Brooks has not reached out to the family or responded to their calls and did not publicly comment on the recent death or answer questions about the bar until Thursday.

“It ticks me off. It seems like he doesn’t care, like he doesn’t care about the community,” Joe Hamilton said on Wednesday.

When asked about other incidents police have responded to at the Railroad Station, Brooks said, “We’re a bar, and there is alcohol served.”

I was taken aback by Brooks’ cavalier tone about the problems at the bar that he has owned and operated for 16 years.  The level of irresponsibility and unaccountability runs counter to the rhetoric that comes from his party about how there need to be fewer regulations and rules for businesses to follow.  Equally troubling are the GOP talking points on the one hand about why law and order must be maintained and respected when facts clearly demonstrate on the other hand there is an obvious problem with criminal activity taking place inside the bar. When police are overburdened with too many social ills which they need to contend with, it is concerning that they need to be called repeatedly to an establishment run by a state representative.

“We’re a bar, and there is alcohol served.”

Brook’s words really struck me as a cop-out (pardon the bad pun) as it totally undercuts the GOP push about personal responsibility. What he said was there can be no personal responsibility. How can he be held responsible, after all, there was alcohol being served?  That sounds like examples used by Reagan and his fellow pols when talking about why there was always a reason given by people for something bad happening.  Socio-economic reasons were responsible for inner city crime, or a lack of birth control was the reason for teenage pregnancies.  How can Brooks be responsible, after all, alcohol was being served?

Political rhetoric is cheap. What matters, of course, is the behavior of any politician both in terms of keeping campaign promises and living in accordance with the values the majority of one’s constituents believe are essential to have if holding office.

Republican Efforts Nationwide To Curb Public Voices On Advisory Referendums, Wisconsin Must Say No With Governor’s Veto

Statehouse Republicans in Madison are working on a funding bill aimed at providing much-needed funds for local units of government. That, in and of itself, is considered progress with this party in the legislature.  But Democratic Governor Tony Evers had to threaten to veto the bill due to a bevy of add-ons that are aimed to stymie local elected officials and place unneeded control on local efforts at governing.  One of the most outlandish desires of the GOP is to disallow voters to have a say at the ballot box on advisory referendums. 

Why there is a desire from conservative Republicans to undermine direct democracy by restricting citizens’ ability to bypass lawmakers through ballot initiatives is perplexing from a good government perspective.   The GOP playbook on this matter runs across the nation, with some states also changing the way constitutional amendments are passed.  The majority party in our legislature is mimicking what others are trying to pass in their states.

The reason why many voters are turning to the ballot process is due to unrepresentative district boundaries drawn by partisans that then lock them out of power in state legislatures. With a ballot process that can place vital matters before the public at election time the issue of gerrymandering can be sidestepped and the public’s voices can be heard. That should be greeted as a positive thing in a democracy. Obviously, Republicans are increasingly feeling pressure from such advisory referendums and want to curtail them, now more than ever, as their party has run into a political buzzsaw over women demanding reproductive health services not be undermined.

An Ohio proposal is asking voters during an August special election to boost the threshold for passing constitutional amendments to 60% rather than a simple majority. It also would double the number of counties where signatures must be collected, adding an extra layer of difficulty to qualifying initiatives for the ballot. The Missouri Legislature failed to approve a similar measure but Republicans vowed to bring the issue back in 2024 in an attempt to head off a citizens’ attempt to restore abortion rights in the state through a constitutional amendment. similar measure will be on North Dakota’s ballot next year, while one in the works in Idaho would ask voters to increase signature requirements imposed on petition gatherers.

Following the highly disruptive Dobbs Supreme Court decision voters took their concerns to the ballot box in several states. Those measures that established or upheld abortion rights in all six states where they appeared were passed with ease by the voters. The GOP understands they have an uphill trek with gale-force winds on this issue so they want to pass rule changes to blunt the will of the voters.

Having a wider degree of understanding as to what the voters are feeling and how those citizens then wish their elected officials to act when casting votes in their legislatures should be seen as a boon to our democracy. Voters want to have a process for allowing their leaders to know what is of pressing importance to them, and if the gerrymandered district lines disallow direct representation, the least the GOP can do is recognize the results from a balloting process.

Tony Evers must veto any aid bill that is designed for partisan chicanery far more than to aid local units of government with needed dollars. Voters have every right to freely express themselves at the ballot box and through advisory referendums.

Wisconsin Law Enforcement Needs 40-Mile-Long Caravan To Statehouse, Time For Red Flag Laws, Universal Background Checks Following 4th Officer Shot To Death This Year

Residents of Wisconsin are feeling a raft of emotions following the most recent and absolutely senseless shooting death of yet another law enforcement officer. The news of the death of St. Croix Sheriff’s Deputy Katie Leising following her response to a suspected drunk driving situation underscores the madness that can so quickly become unleashed when a society is loaded with guns and plenty of ammo. Leising came upon a car in a ditch in Glenwood City, and when asking 34-year-old Jeremiah Johnson to complete a field sobriety test he shot and killed her. For those keeping count, and what a truly awful statistic to need to be aware of, this was the fourth officer killed in the line of duty this year and the third in less than a month.

We simply can not pretend this is just another news story. Just another article on the front page of the newspaper, the top story on local news before we get our first heads-up about tomorrow’s weather forecast. Gun violence is a cancer eating away at communities across the state, the entire nation. We can not think this is our new norm because if we do the consequences of this outrageous situation will only grow deeper and more ugly.

The Wisconsin Fraternal Order of Police has had enough heartache this year–and we are only in May—to last for several years.  Once again, another solemn law enforcement caravan took place this weekend as patrol cars from Minnesota and Wisconsin departments joined in the almost 40-mile procession for Officer Leising from the Medical Examiner’s office in Minnesota to a funeral home in Baldwin, about 50 miles east of Eau Claire. While it was a fitting tribute to a fallen officer the local residents who watched from roadways and overpasses are not the ones who need to see and feel the passion and distress of law enforcement when about to again bury one of their own.

Rather it is the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Legislature that needs to grasp the enormity of the sacrifice the men and women in Blue make for all of us, and what it means every day to put on the uniform and show up for duty at overseeing what should be the most routine of tasks.  Such as traffic patrols to make our roadways safe for motorists.  Officers can no longer assume the person they are pulling over in a vehicle is not loaded with weapons or a person who would have been prevented from having a gun if only a solid red-flag law had been enacted in our state.  Or a person who would not have a gun if only our elected officials had fully implemented a sound background check system.

The Wisconsin Fraternal Order of Police has every reason to be sad, and truly angry. As do the residents of our state, as another law enforcement family prepares for a funeral. The offices of politicians statewide will have the most carefully worded and moving words placed into press releases and onto social media.  But nothing will be done to put this sad moment into a constructive context.  The state will just turn the page and see if there is any sports story that meets their attention span. 

Therefore, it is essential that law enforcement form a 40-mile-long caravan with cars and officers from all points of the state and drive to the Wisconsin State Capitol during a session day.  The ones in the statehouse who talk loudly about law and order and their love of the Blue uniform need to confront the reality that those men and women face each day on the job.  The level of gun violence is growing as the number of weapons on the streets expands wildly. In 2021, news reports in our state showed that gun sales had increased 88%. This year in his state budget Governor Tony Evers proposed that all handgun purchases and transfers require background checks to be done through a federally licensed gun dealer. But we know how the majority party in the Wisconsin legislature is tied to the National Rifle Association so there will be no background check enhancements or any court-mandated gun confiscation program in the final budget slated for passage by July 1st. But for the folks who live in our state and see the deadly results of gun violence, there is much support for universal background checks, which means every gun purchase involves a background check of the buyer. 

Such background checks matter.

While the rate of gun purchase denials is low, it has still prevented thousands of Wisconsin residents with felony records from getting guns. 

Since Sept. 2013 being convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse has stopped more than 3,000 gun purchases compared to being a convicted drug offender which has stopped roughly 2,800 gun purchases and being a convicted felon, which has stopped slightly more than 2,700 gun purchases.  

It also needs constant reminding that Wisconsin does not have a tough working red flag law which is essential so that family members or law enforcement can ask a court to temporarily remove firearms from someone who’s deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

If politicians treat the shooting deaths of our law enforcement as just the latest basement of acceptance when it comes to gun violence in our state one does have to ask what is next? I trust law enforcement will send a powerful and unified message to our state capitol.

Why Does GOP-Controlled Legislature Think Waushara County Wrong For Wanting To Vote On Ballot Measure?

On the November 2020 ballot the voters of Waushara County had the opportunity to share their views about redistricting reform, an issue designed to curb political dysfunction and allow the expressions of the electorate to be better represented in our state legislature.  State residents know, no matter how far they might be from Madison that when political boundaries do not represent the diversity of the electorate or are crafted for the sole purpose of party control, then the essential art of governing is reduced to merely partisan gain.

With that in mind, conservative and highly Republican Waushara County placed onto their ballot the redistricting reform question. Those voters in the county where I was born and raised came to mind as I read more about the Republican-authored bill that would boost state funding to local governmentsThe need for increased aid across the state for local units of government is one of the priorities that this legislature must address.  Having a Dad who served on the Hancock Town Board for 40 consecutive years I can attest to the importance of such funding as our dinner table conversations were often peppered with such discussions.

But this year the GOP wishes to tack on so many conditions and whims with the dollars that what results are partisan games being played at the expense of local control. As such, Governor Tony Evers stated he might have to veto the bill due to the unnecessary restrictions on counties and cities.  One of the unacceptable conditions that come with the money would be to tell voters in Waushara County they do not have a right to cast a ballot on advisory referendums, as they did in 2020. What, pray tell, is the grave concern about having more information from the voters about their views on issues of the day?

In written testimony provided to the committee, Matthew Rothschild, executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, criticized another component of the bill, which would prohibit counties and cities from holding public votes on advisory referendums.

Rothschild pointed to the 32 counties and 21 cities that have passed referendums supporting nonpartisan legislative maps over the past several years, as well as the handful of counties and cities that have passed advisory referendums supporting legalized marijuana in the state.

Rothschild said the bill’s provision is unconstitutional and “a slap in the face to every citizen of this state.”

“You are telling all of us that you don’t even want to hear from us, and that we can’t even express ourselves in advisory referendums on public issues through our local governments,” he added.

Local elected officials work mighty hard to stretch the tax dollars and do the work that their constituents have asked to be completed. What they have requested for years from the state legislature is a fair increase in state aid. Now when it appears there is no way for the Republicans to say no to that request, based on the state coffers being very full, there seem to be no limits on the strings and conditions they wish to insert into the bill. The list of conditions ranging from streetcars to blasting at quarries and even interjecting themselves into health needs at a local level in a future pandemic is more than what state residents can allow for state aid. This behavior is an example of what happens when a political party feels so emboldened by its majority that they feel free to overstep its bounds.

It is rather what the voters in Waushara County were expressing concern about in 2020 with an advisory referendum…the kind the GOP now wishes to end.

Scott Walker Just Sounds Petulant

When people leave elected office, either willingly such as when Tommy Thompson stepped down as governor to serve as a cabinet secretary in Washington, or when they depart office such as with Tony Earl upon losing his bid for a second term, there is a certain tone and even grace about what follows in life.  On the national stage, perhaps the best ‘recent’ example is how President George Bush took up paint brushes and found contentment outside of the limelight.

Not everyone who is ushered out of the doors of power, however, has the same poise and ability to move on in life without looking peeved, even years after the door has closed.  While former governor Scott Walker rarely comes to mind or can be found as a reason for a news story in the papers, he has achieved a fair amount of media recognition since the outcome of Wisconsin’s Spring Election was noted across the nation.  The state’s Supreme Court shifted to liberals, and as a result, Walker tried to spin the defeat suffered by conservatives away from their seriously flawed candidate Dan Kelly and instead placed the blame on young voters.

“Younger voters are the issue,” Walker said. “It comes from years of radical indoctrination — on campus, in school, with social media, & throughout culture,” he wrote in a tweet, alongside a clip from a Fox News interview in which he elaborated on this theory. “We have to counter it or conservatives will never win battleground states again.”

Walker did not mention that it is usually more problematic for Republicans to win in state races that are not gerrymandered by his party.  But it is not his comments that I want to focus on, but rather his tone.  He once again comes across as brittle and not adjusted to his life as someone without an elected title.  He seems not to be comfortable in the role that the voters selected for him. 

There is a lack of dignity when Walker, a former elected official who courted voters, now challenges younger voters for undertaking their civic responsibility. There is a lack of reasoning when trotting out the well-worn trope about higher education being to blame for expanding the horizons of college students. Two students, one from Boston and the other from Arizona spent the final weeks housed with a neighbor on the Madison isthmus. They worked across the state on college campuses informing students about the importance of the court race, and making sure students were registered to cast a ballot for Janet Protasiewicz, who won by 11% when they were counted. Who would now argue against the maturity shown by those energized to wade into statewide campaigns or the young adults who took their role as citizens seriously as they cast a ballot?

I understand Walker needs a paycheck and his work as president of Young America’s Foundation keeps the light bill paid. But it does not make him look good, given what it seems he is required to do and say in that role.  I find myself pointed concerning this matter because I think at the end of the day Walker is a decent person.  I have had many serious disagreements about his policies and his politics, but I have never strayed from my bottom line which I wrote on this blog in 2010 as the final days were passing in the race for governor between Democratic candidate Tom Barret and himself.

As we wind this long and far-too-often nasty campaign down to the final days I am reminded we could have done far worse than the final two contenders for governor.  We can, and will, argue the politics of the race.  But in terms of electing a nice person, I suspect we will win either way.

I hope Wisconsin has a chance to see that nice guy again, as opposed to what was offered this past week.

Tale Of Two Concessions Speeches: Paul Vallas Vs. Dan Kelly

Paul Vallas addresses the crowd at his election night party to concede the race to Brandon Johnson. 
Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-times

From time to time in conversations with friends, I am asked what moves me about politics and politicians.  After watching campaigns and election nights for nearly 50 years, what truly uplifts and inspires me? One such moment took place on Tuesday but ironically was the same night when I witnessed a stunningly low moment in our politics.

Most people are now aware of the low-brow behavior of Dan Kelly when addressing his supporters after the Associated Press was able to call the race for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court less than an hour after polls closed.  Kelly did not call Janet Protasiewicz and offer a verbal concession but instead went on television stating, “I do not have a worthy opponent to which I can concede.” And then seemed to enjoy offering up the line, “My opponent is a serial liar. She’s disregarded judicial ethics“.

That was clearly the lowest moment in memory for politicos who follow such events, but soon thereafter something happened in Chicago that lifted the sails for those watching that city elect a new mayor.  Paul Vallas competed with Brandon Johnson in the run-off election and when it was clear Vallas had come up short something occurred that the city can be proud of as they move past a hard-fought campaign. The Chicago Sun-Times reporting tells a fabulous story.

Though 90,000 mail-in ballots remain uncounted, Vallas did not hold out for a full count that would have dragged Election Day into Easter weekend.

He took the podium at the Hyatt Regency Chicago at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday to tell his supporters he had called Johnson to offer his support to the mayor-elect.

“I ran for mayor to bring this city together, and it’s clear, based on the results tonight, that this city is deeply divided,” Vallas said. “So tonight — even though we believe every vote should be counted — I called Brandon Johnson and told him that I absolutely expect him to be the next mayor of Chicago.”

When some of his supporters shouted, “No,” Vallas responded: “Please, please, please. It’s critically important. This campaign that I ran to bring this city together would not be a campaign that fulfilled my ambitions if this campaign is gonna divide us more. So it’s critically important that we use this opportunity to come together.”

With 90,000 absentee ballots uncounted and a 52% return rate, Johnson likely will pad his margin of victory as late-returning mail-in ballots are counted later this week. Several analysts predicted he could get as many as 70% of the uncounted absentee votes.

When it comes to campaigns and elections, as witnessed on Tuesday night, there are two ways a losing candidate can proceed.  The high road and the low one.  As one who enjoys Chicago politics, I was watching coverage from their CBS affiliate (Channel 2) and needed the uplift that Vallas provided. It was not only an antidote to Kelly last night, but a lesson about how more politicians need to operate going forward.

Dan Kelly: Churlish Behavior And Bad Sportsmanship In Concession Speech

When one competes in an election there are certain situations that are going to occur.  Not everyone is going to be cordial to a candidate so grinning when confronted with the opposition’s supporters is a must. There are doubtless too many selfies that need to be endured, but with each one, a candidate grins and bears it.  Then comes the night when the ballots are counted and regardless of the outcome a candidate needs to be gracious.  If winning the candidate expresses how much the victory depended on the scores of volunteers and their tireless efforts.  Harder still, but equally important, is when the loser in an election steps up to the microphone and offers a concession speech that honors the victor. Even if one needs to fake the graciousness of losing, conducting oneself in such a manner is simply part of the deal of entering a race in the first place.

I have always said that how a losing candidate conducts themselves says far more about their character than any other outward display can convey to the public.  As such, I was truly and totally stunned by the dreadful way Dan Kelly admitted defeat Tuesday night when losing his second race to sit on the Supreme Court.  He stated, “I do not have a worthy opponent to which I can concede.” And then seemed to enjoy offering up the line, “My opponent is a serial liar. She’s disregarded judicial ethics.”.

The brittle, harsh, and truly troubling display from Kelly alerted the television audience that Midwestern niceness is not a trait equally shared.  Voters who had endured far too many television commercials over the months and had been alerted that Kelly was not properly suited for the Court, had the rare opportunity to witness why many worked so feverishly to defeat him.  No one on either side of the political aisle can condone or rationalize Kelly’s truly churlish behavior and completely undisciplined emotion.

Sports coaches from little league to the Green Bay Packers, forensics coaches in high schools from Superior to Lake Geneva, and parents who try to teach values at home all know the necessity of instructing about losing with grace and taking the high road when things turn sour.  When so many try to guide youth in a positive direction it is unacceptable to have someone who asked for our vote as a judge utterly disregard any sense of decency and act in such a surly fashion.

I have watched campaigns and candidates for over 45 years. I have been thrilled by speeches of victory, but also strongly moved by ones of defeat. The Dream Shall Never Die speech in 1980 at the Democratic National Convention placed Senator Ted Kennedy in the heart of the party, even though he was defeated for the nomination. He offered soaring words as he ended the race. “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die”.

Dan Kelly upon losing took the opposite tactic and acted with bitterness. He has to now live with that was his final campaign curtain call.