Wisconsin State Journal Slams Fitzgerald Brothers

I have talked/blogged/and argued for weeks about the process of how a bill becomes a law, and the need to follow it.  I have also ripped into the fact Governor Walker and Company have not followed the process, and that is why I believe the collective bargaining ‘law’ is not valid.

Today the conservative editorial board of the Wisconsin State Journal sang my song.  I think all should read this.

Instead, because the Fitzgeralds got cute with Wisconsin’s open meetings law, the bill is stuck in an exhausting and complex legal battle that could drag on for weeks if not months.

We sure hope the Fitzgeralds have learned their lesson: Flouting even the spirit of Wisconsin’s open government laws is a big mistake. It ruins public trust and exposes government actions to thorny legal challenges.

Wisconsin State Journal Part Of Reason For Lack Of Primary Election Coverage

It was one of those ‘do not throw stones’ moments on the front page, above the fold, in the Sunday Wisconsin State Journal. 

In large font the newspaper mentioned the Rose Bowl, winter weather, and the Green Bay Packers all under the headline of “The Stealth Campaign”.  The paper than added, “Perhaps lost in the drama of recent weeks is Tuesday’s primary.”

Wow!

It was as if the State Journal had no role to play other than being a child’s toy boat on the sea of current events. 

With a statewide primary contest for Wisconsin Supreme Court, a highly charged race for Dane County Executive, and a titanic struggle for control of the mayor’s office in Madison there have been plenty of reasons for in-depth reporting of personalities and issues.    Every day there were stories and ideas that could have been covered to inform, and also engage the voters.

However, day after day the State Journal thought more papers would sell if they put  coverage of the Wisconsin Badger football team all over the front page, followed by the Packers.  Time and again due to overblown sports coverage  throughout the paper news concerning the primary, candidates, and the issues was neglected.

The hype that surrounded the Packer playoffs was nothing compared to what was about to be printed once the Super Bowl line-up was confirmed.  In the end even full-page color pictures of  Packer players in the paper appeared!    So one can see why I cringed at the audacity when the State Journal printed, “Perhaps lost in the drama of recent weeks is Tuesday’s primary.” 

No, the news was not lost, it just was not covered by the State Journal in the way it should have been. 

While the paper did have some coverage of the races, and outlined candidate’s views there was not the complete coverage that one should expect given the nature of the races being waged, or the big name players who are in the arena.    Also to be fair about who should carry the blame for lackluster election coverage would be the three Madison television stations that opted for sports coverage as ‘news’ for too many broadcasts.

Newspaper reporters should have been assigned to ferret out more detailed insight into how candidates in the county would deal with transportation issues, or how the court candidates would deal with conflict of interests if elected.  More examination of the views the court candidates have about ‘merit selection’ of justices, (which the editorial board of the State Journal endorses) or how much job creation can really be achieved through the county executive’s office, or how candidates might curtail the growing problem with gangs…all might have filled many column inches. 

Let us be honest, there was NO shortage of stories to think about, report on, and publish.

Instead State Journal readers were offered too many fluff stories such as how people watched the games, or how people who were not sports fans would spend their time.   While we read about the diet of the Badger players, I did not see such an article about the beef intake of Packer quarterback Aaron Rogers.  Should sports fans feel cheated?

While sports play a role in society, they should not dominate the front page of any paper as they did this past month in Madison.  When both candidates and citizens comment that it is hard to break through the noise of a mere football game in order to talk about things that matter than perhaps the State Journal should have been listening and responding.

The role of a newspaper is educational: to inform the reader of the events of the past (in this case) 24 hours.  It is to be the first written account of history.  It should shed light on issues in long-form writing that is not possible on radio or television.  When newspapers fill their role properly  issues are illuminated and the result is a more healthy dialogue among the voters.  

Sadly however, when it cames to the races and issues for this spring election the State Journal has failed to live up to the standards we should all expect from a major paper.  We can only hope that their sales were good to compensate for the lack of meaningful election coverage.

So I will not then be surprised if after a small voter turnout on Tuesday a headline appears in the Journal stating  “Low Voter Turnout For Spring Primary.”

Hmmmmmm…

I wonder why.

Stephen Fitzgerald “Looks Small”, Appointment Process “Smarmy”

When news broke on January 31st that Stephen Fitzgerald was in consideration to head  Wisconsin’s State Patrol I objected on the grounds that it would appear he was using his sons’ political positions to leverage himself a job that pays $105,678. 

After all, as I noted in my post “appearances matter”.    That is perhaps more so in politics than anywhere else.

We are now all aware of the news announced yesterday that the father of the Assembly Speaker, and the Senate Majority Leader will now head up the State Patrol.

No one can say this was just the right person with the proper resume getting a plum assignment at the right time. 

That pig ain’t gonna fly.

Today the Wisconsin State Journal pounced on the whole process that allowed for Stephen Fitzgerald to get the State Patrol job, even after his defeat in the fall election for Dodge County sheriff by a 2-to-1 margin.

Seems like the voters who knew Stephen Fitzgerald best summed up their feelings at the ballot box last year.

The State Journal termed this an “eye-rolling appointment”  and then added this.

No matter Stephen Fitzgerald’s qualifications, his appointment looks like a goodwill offering from Gov. Scott Walker to the top two lawmakers Walker will need on board with his budget and policy agendas. We hope we’re wrong.

But even if we are, the pick could unnecessarily inject distrust into a host of state decisions. For example, will the Fitzgerald brothers running the Legislature support the smart idea of merging the State Patrol and Capitol Police to save money and improve response times — something that’s been floated in the past — if it also meant it could cost their dad his job?

In January when I wrote about this matter I made a most correct assessment of the matter.

At age 68, and with a few feathers already in his hat, I suggest Stephen Fitzgerald not use his sons’ political positions to leverage himself a job.  It makes him look small, and it makes the process seem smarmy.

Appearances matter, and no matter how one dices this story it ends in the same way.  No one comes out looking good.

I was right.

Wisconsin State Journal Tackles Scott Jensen Plea Deal

I am quite proud that my post about Scott Jensen’s plea deal that was announced yesterday reflected almost point for point what the Wisconsin State Journal lead editorial stated today.  My post was completed late yesterday afternoon, and the newspaper rolled out their copies this morning.  In both cases it is a  complete rejection of the type of politics that Scott Jensen played, and the plea deal that leaves justice in the mud.

If you missed the print copy on your stoop here is what you should read.

Scott Jensen called Monday a “bright sunshiny day.”

But for the rest of Wisconsin and its justice system, the mood matched the weather: cold and cloudy with snow.

The former and fallen Assembly speaker from Waukesha managed to dodge a jail cell and felony charges Monday after eight years of fighting and delaying his case in court.

Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel gave Jensen an early Christmas present, with Judge Patrick L. Snyder blessing the sweetheart deal.

Instead of taking Jensen to trial for misconduct in office, Schimel slapped Jensen’s wrist with a $5,000 fine. Jensen also will have to pay back the state $67,000 that taxpayers had covered for a portion of Jensen’s legal bills.

The only good news in this bad ending to Wisconsin’s worst political scandal in a generation is that Jensen won’t be able to run for public office again. That’s because Jensen agreed not to appeal a previous misdemeanor conviction for misusing his state leadership position for private benefit. 

But the public will always remember that Jensen never served a single day behind bars — despite cheating taxpayers to give himself and his loyal pals unfair advantage in elections. Like other top lawmakers of his day — both Democrats and Republicans — Jensen turned public employees into private campaign armies that served to further his political power.

Jensen was convicted of felony misconduct in office in 2006 and sentenced to 15 months in prison. But that conviction was overturned in 2007. 

Jensen and his expensive lawyers then succeeded in moving the case to his home county of Waukesha, where Schimel came up with plenty of excuses for why he couldn’t muster another trial on behalf of good government in Wisconsin.

Schimel, as well as Snyder, should have given more thought to the terrible message their weak actions will send. They just reinforced public suspicions that prominent people with friends in high places and lots of money can dodge justice.

It’s a disturbing end to the nearly decade-long case. Jensen may have dodged a jail cell, but he’ll always be guilty in the court of public opinion for badly breaking the public trust.