City Of Madison Money Well Spent On Overture Center


Good news came from the Madison Board of Estimates this week when it was reported that $150,000 in additional funding was provided for the Overture Center.  The funding for Overture is now at $1.6 million for the this city budget.  Thankfully funding is not a political piñata as it was last year at this time.  Though there is roughly $150,000 less in city funding this year than last the lack of rancor led by Mayor Paul Soglin has been greeted with smiles all around.

Even though there is mostly harmony among those fashioning a city budget there is angst and disagreements from some in the electorate as to the level of funding that the Overture receives.  As much as I have listened as some try to spin their point of view it never makes any sense.

There is not a city our size in the nation that would not drool heavy for the chance to have a performing arts center of the type we enjoy.  Or the fact that this building was presented to the city as a gift.  There is a not place in the nation that would not love to have our symphony orchestra or our chamber orchestra play in such a building.  Yet there is the chorus from some that the Overture is a place for rich white people.

There is no way to deny the benefits that the arts provides to a community with continuing economic energy.  I would argue even more importantly ihe arts provides to individuals texture about life, awakening of the senses, and adds insight about how we feel and interact with sights and sounds.  In a nutshell the are essential to being a well-rounded person, and a harmonious community.

As such I very much favor the path that was taken this year by the leaders of Madison to make sure funding was allowed without the tension as to why it is necessary.

I am sure many will not agree with the majorities assessment about the need for Overture receiving city funding.  I just happen to feel the arts are something that society should support, as it does make us better as a people

I also reject the idea from some that there are no shows ‘they can afford’.  That is just absurd on the face of it.

I recently had a conversation with someone who tried to make that case to me.  It might have been more persuasive had I not already known that several times a month this person goes to movies and enjoys popcorn and pop while the motion picture plays.  I love film too , and certainly think movies are a great way to spend time.  But if one adds up the amount of money that person spent on films in a month it quickly becomes clear that there was money for a ticket to the Madison symphony.

The same might be said for the person has season tickets for the Badgers, or spends 30 dollars on a Saturday night at the bar for drinks and tips.

It all comes down to priorities.

While everyone can have the fun in the way they desire, I find it unacceptable to have it argued that tickets to Overture events are too costly when spending money on other forms of entertainment is not a problem.

At the end of this budget cycle I hope our leaders will come to appreciate the calm that was the result of  coming together to form an understanding about the need for Overture funding.

Why Is Madison Mayor Paul Soglin So Cranky?

Why do I think there is already buyers’ remorse setting in among voters in Madison when it comes to Mayor Paul Soglin? 

We were used to Dave Cieslewicz and his youthful demeanor, his wit, his smile.  “Mayor Dave” exemplified an energy about government service along with an optomisitc  view about who we are as Madisonians.  That applealed to me.  

Meanwhile Paul Soglin comes across as cranky and pissed off.  There seems to me a deep negative reaction within Soglin for anything that Cieslewicz  succeeded at doing in the last eight years.  As a citizen of Madison I hope that is not the tone we have to look forward to whenever Soglin speaks.

With that in mind…

Isthmus’ Bill Lueders has the must read article from Madison’s weekly.

Ah, Mayor for Life Soglin, Madison’s sourpuss-in-chief. Here’s a guy who seemingly shifts between two phases of existence: being unhappy about not being mayor, and being unhappy about being mayor. See if you can spot the common theme.

Madison Needs To End Mifflin Street Party

I love Madison.  I love to talk about the great things this city has to offer, and what we contribute to the rest of Wisconsin.  This is my home, and a place in which I have lots of pride.  That is why it really annoys and frustrates me over what took place this weekend during the Mifflin Street Party.

If this were the first time I was frustrated with this event I might feel different.  But this is a yearly feeling when the reports of the drinking and arrests make the news.  This year the  two stabbings that took place were the last straw.

The drinking party that has been a yearly spectacle for this city, and a continuing embarrassment, must come to an end.  Clearly there is no other reason for the crowd to assemble then to booze it up, create refuse, fill detox centers, needlessly cause city resources to be used, and create bedlam.

The event started in 1969 as a way to protest the Vietnam War, but today the crowds that descend on Mifflin Street could not explain the reason the event started, or what great social reason draws them together now.  If they did try to give words to the reason they attended it would  only come out slurred.

Madison needs to come to grips with the fact the ONLY reason the Mifflin Street Party takes place is so a large and often unruly group can abuse alcohol.  It seems the organizers have no desire to see the event to be anything other than what we witnessed this weekend.  If they did they never would have suggested lifting the ban on open alcoholic beverages in the streets. 

Who could not see the end result of this policy disaster?

I suspect many local politicians will try to feign a shocked look when trying to explain how this never was considered a possible outcome.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin thought the new ideas for more music and fun was a grand idea for this year’s event.

“Just when we thought there were no new ways of having a block party, we’ve found a new way,” Soglin said. “This is a rather different and much improved effort to celebrate spring.”

I strongly opposed the lifting of the ban on open alcoholic beverages in the streets within the event zone for the party this year.  That’s a big change from past years, when police had been ticketing people who had open containers of alcohol anywhere off private property.

Lets be honest about something here.

Anything that encourages more alcohol consumption at this event should be discouraged.

Why is that so hard for some to understand when it comes to this yearly embarrassment to the city.

Having said that it is time Madison makes a very clear statement about the future of the Mifflin Street Party.

Enough is enough.

The party must be over.

The Mifflin Street Party is something that I strongly suspect most taxpayers are not interested in paying for when it comes to the number of police officers it requires to keep order.  This year the event turned violent with two stabbings, and 160 arrests.  Detox centers had too many cases (at least 20 cases this year), and even a hospital had to be engaged as one stabbing victim required surgery.

Local politicians will try to tinker around the edges and try calming everyone down with tough words.   Some will offer ideas on how to better manage a drunk-fest, which is all the Mifflin Street Party is at the end of the day.

There is no reason that the majority of the residents of this city should be embarrassed, or need to pay for the bad decisions that allowed for this party to take place.  Likewise the residents of Madison should demand that no more permits be granted for this party in the future.

Too often we try to gloss over the hard facts.  After this weekend it will be harder to do that.

This must be the final Mifflin Street Party in Madison. 

Enough is enough.

One Way City Of Madison Could Cut Costs

This is not the cost-saving measure that will solve all of our fiscal woes.  But I do think it speaks to a way of how we should think about doing things in Madison during harder economic times.

Today as I was driving on John Nolen Drive there were some workers placing mulch around the trees in the median.  The mulch is a good idea as it allows water retention, and also beautifies the street.  I am all in favor of mulching!

But the mulch was clearly commercial as it was that rich reddish color, and the work probably contracted out by the city. 

Not a mile from where the workers placed commercial mulch was the city site where christmas trees and other brush is ground into massive piles waiting to be used by residents of the city.  It is from these piles that city trucks distribute mulch to neighborhood parks for citizens to get some for their yards….at no cost.

The City of Madison could just as easily have used the ground free mulch from the city to be placed around the trees on the streets, such as John Nolen.

I can vouch for the city mulch as James and I had three pick-up truck loads unloaded on our driveway for the flower beds about three weeks ago.  We do this every spring.  The rich pine smell makes for positive comments from those that walk by, and I can attest to the lasting quality of it through the fall.

I know that this cost saving idea is but a drop in the fiscal concerns of this city, and yet every dollar counts when Governor Walker is seeking ways to screw Madison.

Wisconsin Politics Could Not Have Been Created By Famed Author

Pulitzer Prize winning author Allen Drury of “Advise and Consent” fame could not have written the events that played out in the Wisconsin State Capitol during the past four weeks. Even as good a writer and creator of political fiction as Drury was, the events in Madison were beyond being created out of thin air.

I truly realized this on Wednesday.  That is the day I got a haircut.

As is always the case the woman cutting my hair engaged me in conversation about the latest news.  On top of the agenda was the collective bargaining story that was taking place at the Capitol.

The woman is a perfect barometer when it comes to gauging what the rank-and-file voter is thinking.  While she keeps up to date on the news she is not overly political, and is usually more interested in plans with her husband than the average legislative debates.  As such, she is much like most of Wisconsin’s citizens.

But she had been following the collective bargaining controversy that commanded national attention.  What she had seen and heard from Governor Walker had not impressed her.  The prank phone call was a most important moment, she thought, as it made more people pay attention to the debate, and better understand the motives driving Walker.

When she asked me what the next developments would be I gave her the stock answer I have used for three weeks.  I told her that if she were to take a blank sheet of paper and write down the craziest scenarios they would pale in comparison to what actually would take place.

Damned if I was not right.

We are now all aware of the most bizarre series of events which started playing out in the Capitol late Wednesday and culminated, at least legislatively, on Thursday afternoon.   

What no one knows for sure is where we all go from here.

Clearly the workers of this state are not going to sit down and accept being assaulted.  I suspect that a  series of strikes and work stoppages will begin, and be planned in such a way as to maximize their effects.  The harsh impact  of no collective bargaining has to be made obvious to the entire state.

On top of this will be multiple recall races that will drive emotions and money across the state.  The level of rancor will only grow as the signatures are gathered, and as I predict recalls become reality.

I strongly sense a  growing unease and meanness which has been building over the past week, and I fear is about to become a real problem.  On both sides.

What troubles me is everything we have witnessed did not have to be this way. All that we have endured was done by Governor Walker for political purposes.   As a result that makes the possible future events even harder to think about.

But what I fear is that the angrier elements will needlessly ramp up to make points in ways that undermine the larger message from whichever side they come from.

I saw the rallies and energy in Madison these past weeks as a way to funnel anger into the constructive end of changing minds in the Capitol, and impacting the legislation.  Now that the very process was up-ended to favor the Republicans, the ones who wanted to end collective bargaining in the first place, will only increase the anger among some who are not sure how to proceed.

How this all translates in the weeks to come will be on the minds of many.

Allen Drury would have had a series of note cards with the scenario for his story laid out well before he started his first chapter.  He would have known how it all ended.  As we know in his Advise and Consent series everything did not always end on a happy note.

It looks like Wisconsin is in a similar place.

Letter From Home 3/4/11

My mom would say that as a kid growing up I always “wanted something going on”.    It seemed most of my life I heard about those years when I yearned for activity to be around me, with new things to think about or explore.  

Almost in the same breath when she recounted those years my mom was sure to add she always “just wanted a few minutes to sit down.”  

I suspect every kid, and all parents understand both sides of the coin.

I really had not given much thought to those words over the years until this past week.   As a result of all that is taking place in Madison due to the political chaos running wild, I now understand a bit more about what my mom was talking about.

Plainly put, I am exhausted.

I am not a union organizer, nor am I a state employee.  (And no, this post is not a political column.)   Instead I am just a citizen that has run on adrenaline for three weeks and I seem unable to turn off the excitement, and have no ability to ratchet down the events that are stirring me in all directions.

As a result I am really running out of energy.

As a kid I loved when my grandparents would bale hay in the field close to my home.  At times I even was able to ride on the wagon.  I looked forward to the day when construction was to start on our country road.  Motor graders belching dark smoke and huge dump trucks with dirt was perfect drama for a boy.  The razing of our barn, and the birth of a new building was great fun, even if it included my stepping on a nail.  (A rusty one.  Well, if you are going to do it…do it right.)  But in each case the event came, stayed a while, and then it was over.

Don’t get me wrong.

These past weeks in Madison have been a dream come true.  I love politics, journalism, debates on issues, and new things to blog about.  Living within range of hearing the voices of 30,000 (or more) chanting citizens at the State Capitol is amazing.  Stepping off my front stoop and knowing that the events on the front page of the paper are not in another nation, or even state, but just up the way is nothing short of remarkable.  Walking a few blocks to where the action is, and seeing it in person is just a real powerful feeling.

One of my friends that I met back at broadcasting school wrote me a note the other day.  “This must be like Christmas,  New Year’s, and your birthday all rolled up together”.  He was right.   I am in my element with all the excitement.

But I feel emotional overload. 

I am connected in a personal way as I care about the issues, and have many friends who are involved.  As such at the end of the day I find myself talking with others I know to either vent a bit or debrief and share tidbits I picked up through the day.  I love to hear their views, and some gossip.

In the morning I find myself not just reading the local paper but evaluating it to see how the front page was laid out, and what message was trying to be sent with the placement of stories. 

I have the remote welded to my hand at news time to flip through the local channels to see how and what is being covered in this drama.

I have posted more on this one story than any other news topic on my blog.  That it is taking place so close to where I live makes this a chance to see  events unfold and comment along the way.  I feel an obligation to my readers to paint the picture of events from my perspective.   This past week I had my highest number of hits in one day.  Just shy of 10,000 readers came to my blog on Wednesday.   Humbly put, not bad for a one-man blogging operation.

But along the way I have lost weight, and rubbed up to those physical limitations I should not cross.  I was reminded of that this week after introducing myself to a woman who works at the Capitol and reads my blog.  She said, “I thought you would be younger,” and then started to apologize.  I laughed and told her no offense was taken.  

But I do feel older tonight.

So I plan to try and tamp down the adrenaline high, and kick back this weekend with a good read.

In the book “Going Home To Glory”, a memoir about President Eisenhower after leaving the White House, grandson David Eisenhower pens  in the first paragraph a reminder that things always do get back to being normal.

On Inauguration Day 1961 President Eisenhower and Mamie are driven from Washington to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  Leading the way is a car with Secret Service agents.  The last line of the paragraph is quite remarkable.

“When the Eisenhowers approached the entrance to their Gettysburg farm, the Secret Service honked the horn and made a U-turn, heading back to Washington.

Things returned to normal that quickly.

Pictures And Comment From Wisconsin State Capitol-Thursday March 3, 2011

It was the first time since coming to Madison in 1986 that I was not able to just walk into the Wisconsin State Capitol.  Under gray skies and with rather somber faced people around, I waited in line for my chance to get back into the building where I once worked.  Looking up at the magnificent building during a roughly 15 minute wait I wondered where Wisconsin heads from here. 

With anger mounting, and politicians feeling like  they have their backs to the wall, there is no way that everyone can win.  Question tonight is will there be a way for everyone to save enough face so we all can move on.

Once I moved on into the Capitol I was very troubled by what I saw.  Right off, without counting, I suspect there were 20 law enforcement officers with instructions to treat everyone like they were toting a weapon.  This is not how the State Capitol should be operating.  That all this is being done for political purposes, as opposed to truly legitimate safety concerns made me upset.

I talked with three officers and each, in their own way, let me know they were ‘just following orders’.  One remarked, with a cock of his head, “this is not what we should be doing”.  Everyone knows that law enforcement thinks this is as much a political sideshow as everyone else.  The least we can do is thank them for their time, and wink, and grin….they know what we mean.

The roughly 100 people camped out in the rotunda were not the mom and pop types that had dominated the building during the massive rallies.  No less determined about the reasons they fought the Department of Administration rules over access to the statehouse, they none-the-less were very much a ‘Madison moment’.  They are to be applauded for fighting for very important and fundamental rights.  It is due to their concern that this matter turned into a legal one that has brought a victory from a judge for the union cause.

I spoke with a mom from Milwaukee who brought her young children to the Capitol for the afternoon.  She sat on the floor and was headed back home tonight.  She did however want her kids to see what was happening.  “I do not like the chant, “Kill The Bill”.  We do not use that language at home.  But Walker is wrong about this bill.”

Readers might wonder if it was loud in the statehouse?

Not really. 

In spite of a few drums and singing it was far more ‘serene’ than what the images on television might lead one to think.  Let me be clear….there was more than enough calm for the upper floors of the Capitol  to be working on a negotiated end to this turmoil.

There was one sight I have never seen before in the Capitol.  Jeremy Ryan, who many know from his videos on-line, was using a device that most would love a chance to try.  Due to medical reasons he was allowed to bring his segway into the Capitol.  Ryan was one of the most interesting faces I talked with on Thursday.  Bright, passionate, and clearly a caring person.

When  I asked Ryan how long he was going to stay he responded without hesitation, “for as long as I need to.”

That seemed the spirit of the crowd. 

Before I left Representative Brett Hulsey spoke to the folks and told them “we may have differences (with the Republicans) but we do not have to be disagreeable”.    He also asked people to greet State Senator Grothman, who has labeled the protestors “slobs”, with politeness.

As I left after about an hour the assembled people broke into “Amazing Grace”.  The lady leading the song only knew the first verse, and was handed music with the rest of the song.  Let me add that moment under the dome was quite remarkable.  I only wish Senator Grothman could have witnessed it  with me.

Outside the same scene as yesterday took place as several state representatives had some office furniture out on the statehouse lawn as a way to greet constituents.  Since it was so hard for voters to get inside, elected officials came to them outside.

I asked two Assembly staffers how they were holding up during these last three weeks.  “This is historic, and we are tired, but we are doing OK” one told me. 

What too many never think about when this chaos takes place are the many dedicated people who work in the statehouse and keep the trains running on time.  CP wants to thank them for a job well done, and hoping someone is kind enough to buy them a strong cup of coffee when they most need it.  The Capitol staff are to be applauded for the hard work they do in chaotic times.

The large doors of the building are shut and locked.  But the people of Wisconsin have visited all the same and left sticky notes with countless ideas and feelings.

Prediction From Caffeinated Politics About Wisconsin Politics

Unless there is a compromise on the budget repair bill, and in light of the state budget to be unveiled Tuesday, I expect bigger crowds next Saturday at the State Capitol.

This political storm is just starting to ramp up.

After the past two weeks one thing is very clear.  The voters and citizens of this state are mighty pissed!

Within the political ranks of Wisconsin from either party no one has ever witnessed such lunacy which now passes for governance.   The seasoned and mature minds are just shaking their heads and wondering WTF!

On Sunday I had to smile at the words penned by Doug Moe in the Wisconsin State Journal about his conversation with former Governor Tommy Thompson.  Every reader of the column knew that Thompson was being a gentleman and biting his tongue when he spoke of the outrageous issue that now confronts this state.  

The line that just rang with understatement and made me howl was Thompson saying “It possibly could have been handled better.” 

Thompson would never have let himself get so mired in the muck and distracted as Scott Walker has done.  No politician worth his salt dives into an empty swimming pool…and then wants everyone else to take the plunge too!

Governor Walker is not up to the job that he was elected for in November, and not intelligent enough to understand that fact.

The chaos and divisions that are being created within our communities and workplaces as a result of the ideas and plans being hatched by his administration must end. 

Someone has to tell Walker, and get him to listen.

It is quite obvious to anyone that takes the time to look out the windows of the State Capitol that the people of Wisconsin are not willing to follow Walker.

They want a change in direction, and they want it now.

The people are in NO mood for the games that Walker and his allies are playing.  In just a few weeks the conservatives have over-played their hand.

The question I will be looking to find an answer for this week is if the Republicans are listening to the people of this state?

Will the legislative members of the GOP have a heart-to-heart chat with Walker?  Will they advise Walker the hokum that is being spun is not what the people of Wisconsin bought when they elected the GOP last November.

The Republicans had better wise up and sit down for a chat this week with Governor Walker and settle a few issues.

If not the people of Wisconsin will come back to Madison next weekend for a chat of their own. 

The people intend to be heard.  They intend to win this policy battle.