Governor Walker Vetoes Republican Over-Reach On Wisconsin Center For Investigative Journalism


It feels great to use my first blog post in five months to comment on a positive ending to a news story that has brought much dismay to people around the state.   For the past five months I have been on a hiatus from this blog, time which I spent working on my book slated for publication in August.  For long-time readers to this blog (and thanks for coming back) it will come as no surprise that this first post deals with reporters and journalists, a group I respect more than any other in this country.

There is little dispute the new state budget Wisconsin Governor Walker signed is a most dreadful document.  It is filled with flawed reasoning, and tortured math.  The list of reasons to find fault with the final product is an endless one to ponder.  From high capacity wells for corporate farms, a continued undermining of public education, tax cuts which are not aimed for those who can most use them, to inadequate transportation funding for our faltering infrastructure.  Clearly there are more than enough reasons to sound off on the contents of the budget.

The actual budget items passed by Republicans have helped create a projected structural deficit of over $500 million, and much will be said about this problem in the months and years to come by just about everyone in the state.  But it is the many partisan policy items  in the document that are even more indefensible.

One of those items which created jaw-dropping around the state, and can only be summed up as the epitome of petty politics, was the attack on the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.   With obvious malice as a guiding force the Republicans attempted to banish the center from its offices in the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.  The budget item also would have prohibited UW employees from working with the center as part of their job duties. The frontal attack on the center left many across the state stunned and baffled, and rightly expressing their distaste for the needless action.

I had hope that following the rhetoric and bombast created during the legislative process on the budget a reasonable and thoughtful period might allow for Governor Walker to see the folly over this matter when pondering his veto option.   I just had to believe that surely there would be at least one person who had the Governor’s ear, and could steer him into a more credible position concerning this non-profit group.

Therefore I am most pleased that Walker took the correct action this weekend, and vetoed the over-reach by the Republican legislature.

There is no way to defend the actions that moved the GOP to insert itself into this issue on the UW campus.  Perhaps in no greater fashion during the budget process did the GOP display their glee with allowing partisan politics to trump common sense than with this matter.

First and foremost this item should never have been placed in the state budget.  No state dollars are involved as private foundations, individuals and news organizations fund the center.   So the only rationale for the provision being in the budget is that someone’s undies got knotted over the work the center did on a story.

Getting the facts, and presenting them to the citizenry is the role of journalists.   The public is always better served when such reporting is encouraged.  But that is not good for Republicans who now hold the state hostage with their stranglehold on power under the dome.

As this story has played out over the past weeks it has struck me as strange how the message that Republicans often spout on the campaign trail was forgotten when it came to the center.  Conservatives tout the woes of government intrusion, and so on principal alone should have backed off of this matter during the budget process.   There was no reason politicians should have acted to strike out in the budget process as they did.

Political motives have driven this story from the start.  Conservatives were not pleased that this small intrepid band of journalists actually fulfilled the role that reporters should have in this state.  They ferreted out the facts for the public concerning stories that dealt with government, political institutions, and environmental issues.  They dared digging for the truth, and then had the unmitigated gall to actually report their findings!

I often find myself on the opposite side of the issues when it comes to Governor Walker, but on this matter he did the right thing by using his veto pen to curb the worst instincts from his side of the aisle when it comes to reporters and journalists.