Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Wisconsin Indies Leaning Toward Dems

GOPers in the state will undoubtedly contest the findings in the latest Badger Poll, which shows Doyle up by 14 points on Green and Falk up by 11 points on Van Hollen.

But setting the overall results behind, what's perhaps most telling about the poll is that it shows the wide lead the Dems hold with independents in Wisconsin.

In the gubernatorial race, Doyle holds a 45 to 27 lead over Green with the indies. That's huge.

And much of it is likely a response to Green's campaign tactic of positioning himself as the anti-Doyle above anything else, something I discussed as a problem for Green on this blog back in June.

While attacking Doyle will certainly generate the attention of the diehard GOP base (i.e., those who would vote against Doyle, anyway), many people who don't see themselves as clear-cut Dems or Repubs will shrug it off at best and get turned off from voting altogether at worst.

What Green needed to do early on -- and what he still hasn't done -- is devise and push a clear and centralized campaign theme that tells voters, specifically the indies, why they should vote for him as opposed to simply against the incumbent.

That's the message Green should be hammering home in this last stretch of the campaign; but, instead, he's stuck talking up non-starters like immigration and hyping every poll that has him within the margin of error in the last month of the race.

Another telling stat from the latest Badger Poll is Green's favorables since the last Badger Poll in June. Back in the summer, Green was viewed favorably by 26 percent, unfavorably by 14 percent, and 59 percent didn't know.

This month, those who don't know him have decreased to 34 percent, but it's where those people went that should be concerning for Green. While 6 percent went into the favorable column, bringing it up to 32 percent, a whopping 20 percent opted for the unfavorable column, raising the total there to 34 percent -- a full two percentage points above the favorable column.

That, too, is huge.

And, ironically, this shows that if anyone was successful in convincing voters to not vote for his opponent, it was Doyle. It's clear the "Extreme Mark Green" label went a lot further with Wisconsin indies than the ethics charges Green tried to level against Doyle. Perhaps that should be no surprise considering Green hails from the ethically-challenged GOP-controlled House.

As for the AG race, Falk holds a 35 to 25 lead with the indies. Not quite as strong as Doyle, but a noteworthy lead, nonetheless.

What's most interesting about the AG race, though, is that 60 percent of respondents still don't know enough about Falk to cast an opinion and 75 percent still don't know enough about Van Hollen to do the same, which means there's a lot of guessing when it comes to the choice on the ballot.

Right now, based on the Badger Poll, those guesses are leaning Falk's way, which suggests she may be riding a bit on Doyle's coattails, along with the overall mood in the nation to vote for Dems ahead of Repubs.

Out of the statewide candidate races, it seems the AG race is poised to be the closest. And those are the type of races where it seems the indie votes means the most.

UPDATE: For an excellent overview of the Doyle and Green campaigns, check out this post by the Recess Supervisor.

LATE UPDATE: Dave Diamond adds more on when "Vote for me because my opponent sucks" campaigning works and when it doesn't.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Picking Your Taxpayer Battles

So paper and other companies across the state are flocking to a 53 year old law that evidently allows them to exempt their properties from property taxes.

The law in question states that "all property purchased or constructed as a waste treatment facility used for the treatment of industrial wastes . . . for the purpose of abating or eliminating pollution of surface waters, the air or waters of the state" are exempt from property taxes.

This means paper companies?

Apparently an attorney successfully argued that point in front of a Dane County Circuit Court last year, which has caused a flood of exemption applications for the industry. And other businesses are also trying to get in on the action, including a motor oil recycling company, a chemical company, and a food company.

Of course, when businesses become exempt from property taxes, that increases property taxes for everyone else in the community unless the community is able to withstand a decrease in the amount of public revenue available to it.

Bad news, right?

Well, based on the reaction of the state after it lost the exemption case in court last year, it doesn't seem like the courtroom is going to be the place to make the situation right again.

So that means the onus falls on the legislature.

But according to the Journal Sentinel, state Rep. Dean R. Kaufert (R-Neenah) "predicted the Legislature will consider changing the law when it meets next year."

Just consider it?

And later in the article, Kaufert -- who's co-chair of the powerful Joint Committee on Finance -- said that if negotiations between the companies granted exemptions and the communities affected don't pan out, the legislature is going to need to choose between the two "and we will probably choose the taxpayers. . . . We don't want to be put in that situation."

The legislature will probably choose the taxpayers? Huh?

And how awful that the GOP-controlled state legislature would be put in the position of actually needing to defend citizen taxpayers. But, wait, isn't that the state GOP's big thing, protecting "the taxpayer"?

I guess it all depends on who they're up against.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Romney to Green: Do Your Own Campaigning

There's no question the Republican Governors Association (RGA), led by Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, has put some money into the Wisconsin gubernatorial race.

Based on a count of ads listed at Wispolitics, the RGA has put together three separate spots attacking Governor Doyle since mid-August, with the latest being released just yesterday.

But how high on the priority list -- or, to put it differently, the list of close races the RGA thinks it has the best shot of winning -- is Wisconsin?

If you read the Spivak & Bice column today and stuck around for the last few lines, then you saw this tidbit of news:
Finally, there is a letter Romney sent to supporters earlier this month, according to The Associated Press and the Rocky Mountain News, offering free airfare and lodging to those interested in campaigning in the key states of Iowa, Maine, Oregon, Illinois, Arkansas and Michigan as the only states with targeted races.

Noticeable by its absence: Wisconsin.

I'm not saying that this is evidence the RGA is giving up on Wisconsin -- the group's newly released ad shoots that theory right out of the sky.

But the absence of Wisconsin from the list of "targeted races," as deemed by the RGA brass, is noteworthy.

According to the latest polls, the Wisconsin gubernatorial race is tighter than many of the races targeted by the RGA, and Wisconsin is seen as a particularly useful state for either party to have a foothold in heading into 2008 because of its swing-state status.

So what does the RGA see in Wisconsin that keeps it off the targeted list?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Green Plays Politics with People's Careers

Just last month, Mark Green again went after Governor Doyle for allegedly "play[ing] politics with people's careers" by pledging in 2002 to cut 10,000 state jobs in two terms.

I seem to recall some months back Green promising he would "never" do such a thing with people's lives.

Yesterday, though, Green said at a press conference that, if elected governor, he would move the Department of Workforce Development -- and its hundreds of employees -- from Madison to Milwaukee.

Considering Milwaukee already houses a regional office of the DWD, the intent of the proposal was clear, even to the Journal Sentinel, which wrote: "[Milwaukee] is typically Democratic turf, and if [Green] blunts Doyle's expected victory margin here, it would help his chances."

I wonder if Green would care to revise his past comments on playing politics with people's careers.

Side-Note: It should be noted that most of the state job cuts under Doyle have come from positions not being filled after vacancies arise, usually a result of retirements, as opposed to direct lay-offs.

Green's plan, conversely, would move existing jobs 90 miles to the east, undoubtedly disrupting the lives of people in them. Although, if elected governor, it seems highly questionable that Green would go through with the proposal once the election spotlight is dimmed and the need for plans with little value beyond cheap campaign symbolism no longer exists.

UPDATE: For the sake of clarity, I want to add that I don't agree with Doyle's pledge to cut 10,000 state jobs in two terms; in fact, I've criticized the move on this blog in the past.

In this post, I'm objecting specifically to two things: 1) Green's characterization of Doyle "playing politics" with people's careers considering much of the cuts have not come from lay-offs, and 2) Green's hypocrisy when it comes to his own proposals that do, in fact, play politics with people's careers.

While making state government more efficient is a noble goal, I don't believe setting an arbitrary figure of jobs to cut, whether they're filled at the time or not, is responsible public policy. As I've noted before, arbitrary cuts are part and parcel of the same fiscal conservative ideology that spawned the likes of TABOR, which is opposite of the way we should be crafting fiscal policy in this state.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Doyle & Green on Health Care Reform: The Difference IS Huge

When Mark Green finally released his health care plan earlier this month, I wrote:
But, then again, actually addressing the growing health care crisis in Wisconsin wasn't really a goal of Green's health care proposal, anyway. The goal was simply to get some talking points out on paper to use to muddy the waters at the gubernatorial debate in two weeks, part of which will focus on health care reform.

All Green needs to do now is throw out the traditional GOP talking points on health care -- including stand-alone HSAs, medical malpractice caps (which already exist in Wisconsin, but Green wants to make them stricter despite a state Supreme Court decision that deemed such caps unconstitutional), and now HOAs -- to make it seem like he's focused on the problem.

Most voters won't look into what the proposals actually mean for Wisconsin, they'll just be satisfied that both candidates have considered the issue and have a plan to address it. Any difference is just a difference of opinion, not necessarily right or wrong.
Case in point, today's Journal Sentinel article titled "Differences on Health Care Not Huge." In reality, of course, there is a big difference between the health care proposals by Doyle and Green.

Everything that Green has proposed deals with removing health care from the reach of the public sector with the sole exception of the state forcing providers to make prices more transparent (a movement that's already taking place across the country, including right here in Wisconsin, although the research on its effectiveness is less than glowing).

Green's focus on "the market" amounts to state tax breaks for HSAs, encouraging people to pay for their own long-term care insurance rather than participate in state programs like Family Care (which Doyle fought to expand during his tenure), and reducing awards for victims of medical malpractice.

Green, of course, doesn't need to provide any evidence that these proposals will work, he just needs to list them. The media will then help sell them as "market-based strategies," like
the JS did in this article, as if that inherently means something useful for the growing crisis.

Meanwhile, Doyle's signature proposal is BadgerCare Plus, which would consolidate the three major state health care plans -- Medicaid, BadgerCare, and Healthy Start -- into one program to help streamline and reduce administrative costs. This savings would subsequently allow broader participation in the program -- the ultimate goal being coverage of all children in the state, 91,000 of whom have gone without health care coverage in recent years.

And Doyle did take the time to provide evidence that BadgerCare Plus will work. After announcing the plan in January, Doyle set-up a series of forums to develop the plan throughout the spring. This resulted last month in a detailed 36-page plan, complete with a fiscal estimate and a strategy for implementation.

So what Doyle is proposing is an expansion of state health care programs that directly results in more coverage for the uninsured, while Green is proposing incentives to reduce participation in state programs without providing any evidence that this will expand coverage or reduce costs in the state.
What's more, Doyle has been pushing health care reform in this race since the spring, while Green didn't even release a plan until this month.

How much bigger of a difference can you get between the two?

Of course, since the BadgerCare Plus has been getting rave reviews (even GOP state legislator Carol
Roessler praised it), Green has changed his tune on it a bit.

When Doyle was touring the state over the summer to push the plan, all Green could muster for a comment was that he favored "private sector solutions" to the growing health care crisis in Wisconsin. And when the JS asked Green about the BadgerCare Plus plan directly last month, here was the congressman's response: "[R]ather than expanding government-run health care as Jim Doyle has proposed, I believe we should look for ways to make health care more affordable in the private sector."

That's a "No," right?

Well, according to the JS article this morning, now it seems Green is claiming "the program is one that he will consider."

I suppose if there's one thing a lack of real conviction or interest in health care reform affords Green, it's the ability to change his mind on it at the drop of hat.

And, if elected governor, I wonder what Green's mind would tell him about including BadgerCare Plus in his first budget proposal once the election attention is off in January.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Star Power

The Wausau Daily Herald has an article today on Hank Aaron's visit to the northwoods with the Doyle campaign yesterday.

Here's the reaction of Wausau native Ruth McCutcheon upon merely hearing about Aaron's visit: "I almost fainted. It's a good thing I got this," referring to her cane.

To have finished your trade thirty years before and still get that type of response is impressive. That takes star power to the iconic level.

Granted, McCutcheon is 84...but still.

Money, Money, Money

A post at the Daily Kos yesterday noted that the DCCC just dropped $12 million this week on 32 congressional races around the country (including the 8th CD in Wisconsin).

But to bring that into perspective, Greg Sargent at TPM Cafe notes that, according to a new analysis by the Congressional Quarterly, the NRCC has been spending an average of $5 million per week for the last month and a half, which brings group's the grand total to nearly $40 million in 7 weeks.

The telling difference in all that? Only four of the races the DCCC just put money into are defensive ones for Dems, while 90 percent of the $40 million spent by the NRCC recently has gone toward 47 districts where GOPers are on defense.

It's looking like it could be a rough November 8 for the GOP.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Fair & Knowledgeable Wisconsin Will Vote NO

Virginia is voting on a marriage and civil unions amendment that's very similar to the one Wisconsinites will vote on in November.

The Washington Post recently asked Virginia voters how they planned to vote on the amendment. 53 percent said they supported the amendment, 43 percent opposed it, and 4 percent were undecided.

The respondents were then asked a follow up question: "Supporters say the measure would mean that same-sex marriages would never be approved or recognized in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Opponents say the proposed language is too broad, and would endanger contracts made between unmarried heterosexual couples. With these arguments in mind, if the election were held today, would you vote yes or no on Amendment One? "

When the respondents considered those arguments, the results changed dramatically to 48 percent in favor, 47 percent opposed, and 5 percent undecided.

The numbers on the amendment alone are a bit closer in Wisconsin than they are in Virginia. A new WPR/St. Norbert College poll shows 51 percent of Wisconsinites support the amendment, 44 percent oppose it, and 5 percent are undecided.

I wonder what those numbers would look like in Wisconsin if the respondents were asked the same follow up question posed by the Post?

Thankfully the crew at Fair Wisconsin is doing an excellent job making sure voters have that follow up question in mind before they even answer the initial question.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Immigration = GOP Election Desperation

Immigration is going to be a swing and a miss for the GOP in Wisconsin this election year.

Paul Bucher tried to make waves with the issue in the Republican AG primary this year (see here, here, and here), but, in the end, he could barley even muster 40 percent of the GOP vote in September.

For some reason, the Journal Sentinel only used a poll by the Republican outfit Strategic Vision in its story on the topic this morning. That poll found that 55 percent of Wisconsinites “oppose granting amnesty to illegal immigrants currently living in the United States.”

As it happens, though, that’s not the only Wisconsin poll on the topic.

The independent Badger Poll found much different results in its July survey, back when immigration was at its peak coverage in the media.

According to that Badger Poll, 66 percent of Wisconsinites said they favor the following type of program: “The Senate is currently considering a bill that would create a temporary worker program for immigrants. Those participating in the program would eventually be able to attain citizenship by meeting a number of requirements, including paying fines, learning English, and proving their work history. Do you favor or oppose such a program?”

Even two-thirds of Republican respondents said they favor such a program.

So who’s right -- Strategic Vision or the Badger Poll?

Certainly the Badger Poll question was more complete. And the use of the word “amnesty” without providing any context or definition for the term undoubtedly had an effect on the Strategic Vision poll results.

The Badger Poll also showed that 67 percent of respondents (60 percent for Republican respondents) think undocumented immigrants take the jobs that people don’t want, anyway. And it found that nearly 69 percent of respondents (67 percent for Republican respondents) think that immigrants contribute positively to the economy in Wisconsin (although the poll didn’t specify between documented and undocumented immigrants on this question).

In the end, it’s pretty clear Wisconsin doesn’t have a public that wants to give undocumented immigrants a free pass (and neither of the major parties are advocating that), but it also doesn’t have a public that’s looking to be “hard” on undocumented immigrants.

The attempt by Congressman Mark Green to rile up excitement on the immigration issue will almost certainly fail. It’s just not an issue statewide, and, more importantly, it’s pretty clear most of the state disagrees with Green – who opposes a temporary worker program with a path to citizenship – on the topic.

John Gard may have a better time with it in the 8th CD, but it still doesn’t seem likely to have a major impact on that race.

All in all, the GOP focus on immigration appears to be little more than a sign of election desperation.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Harley's Ultimatum: Where's the Line?

In conservative ideology, is management ever wrong? Does it ever overstep its bounds?

I'm not asking to be snarky, but to help further the discussion surrounding the Harley union vote yesterday to reject compensation cuts in light of the company's booming profits.

After all, as a liberal, I see a line on the union side. In spite of my strong support for unions, there are times when I think unions should accept cuts (as the Harley union just did in 2003).

For instance, if the Harley company could show that it was financially necessary for the union to accept pay cuts of up to 33 percent for new workers, increases in health benefit costs for all workers, and a decrease in the pension benefit for all workers (and it also wouldn't hurt if the execs could show that they're also accepting cuts), then I would say the union should accept the deal.

And many of the union workers agree with that. According to the Journal Seninel this morning:

Harley workers interviewed after the vote Monday said a highly profitable company - Harley is on track to net more than $1 billion this year - could afford to expand without extracting concessions from current employees and cutting pay for future hires.

"They try to portray themselves as being different from most companies," one woman said. "They're no different. They're greedy. They have the funds to provide what they're going to build."

Her voice rising, the woman also said a firm as profitable as Harley shouldn't be seeking governmental financial help.

"I personally think Harley should be ashamed of themselves even asking the state to kick in on something like this," she said.

Other employees indicated they would accept concessions if Harley were in financial trouble.

"I can understand if it were GM or Ford, who are hurting," one worker said. "They're not hurting by any means."

Does conservative ideology offer a similar line for management? Or when management says, "Jump," should the automatic union and public response be, "How high?'

If there is a line, then it would go a long way toward helping the conversation on this issue if conservative commentators would share it rather than simply blaming the union for supposedly costing the area jobs (see here and here for two examples), as if management didn't have a choice in the matter at all.

Side-Note: Just to be clear, what Harley presented to the union wasn't merely a "concession package," as euphemistically described in the JS, but a set of compensation cuts. And it also wasn't an offer, it was an ultimatum.

Monday, October 16, 2006

It's Concealed Carry, Stupid

WEAU-TV in Eau Claire did a story last week on where Wisconsin hunters are lining up in the race for governor.

While Mark Green has the backing of the NRA, the story tells us, Governor Doyle has the endorsement of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

The story notes how the NRA is trying to rile-up hunters this election season to unseat Doyle. In all of the group's ads and billboards attacking Doyle there is an attempt to link "sportsmen" with "gun owners" in a united front against the governor.

But, in reality, the NRA's goals in Wisconsin this election season have nothing to do with hunting.

The subjective "F" rating the NRA gave Doyle is entirely a reaction to the governor's vetoes of concealed carry. That's it.

One look at the Wisconsin page on the NRA site highlights the group's priorities in the state. Nearly every article on the page concerns concealed carry. In fact, the only legislation noted on the site that pertains to hunting is a highly controversial bill to allow 8-year-olds to hunt, which couldn't even make it out of the GOP-controlled state legislature.

What's more, just read the speeches given by the top executives of the NRA at the group's recent convention in Milwaukee. Here's the speech by the group's political chief Chris Cox, and here's another by its CEO Wayne LaPierre. You won't find one complaint in either about Doyle's record on hunting rights. But both speeches are overflowing with fiery rants about the governor's opposition to concealed carry.

The tactic of the NRA in the Wisconsin gubernatorial race is simple: Substitute hunting for concealed carry. That way the group can harp on a topic that hardly anyone in Wisconsin opposes, while avoiding the topic that polls show most Wisconsinites don't support.

After all, the heated nature of concealed carry is best exemplified in Mark Green's complete unwillingness to touch it throughout his run for governor (which I discuss in more detail here).

There is simply nothing substantial on the line in this gubernatorial race when it comes to hunting. In Wisconsin, the NRA is about concealed carry, plain and simple.

It's just a shame that at least one media outlet in the state fell for the ruse.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tom Reynolds: Heading the Opposite Direction on Health Care

There are certainly a number of good reasons to vote against State Senator Tom Reynolds (R-West Allis) next month based on his personality alone.

But for those in the 5th senate district who are looking for more concrete policy-based reasons to unseat Reynolds this fall, a big one is Reynold's idea for the state's Medicaid system.

Currently Medicaid reimbursement rates for providers are abysmally low in Wisconsin, as they are in most parts of the country. Those rates are set around 55 percent of the cost of care, which, according to the hospital lobby in Wisconsin, left a $550 million tab for unpaid costs in 2005 alone.

This results in a so-called "hidden health care tax" that's passed on to other health care recipients, subsequently driving up the overall cost of care.

Recently, the Wisconsin Hospital Association sent a questionnaire to Reynolds and his challenger, Jim Sullivan, asking them whether they would support the state raising the Medicaid reimbursement rate to reduce the size of the hidden health care tax.

Sullivan responded with a simple "Yes."

Reynolds, though, had this to say: "Would like to require a greater co-pay by Medicaid and BadgerCare recipients."

This comment demonstrates not only a lack of understanding for the ability of the poor, elderly, and disabled to pay for health care, but also for the federal regulations over the Medicaid system.

Last year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities summarized the results of a number of studies that show a direct correlation between rising out-of-pocket health costs and skipping out on necessary medical care when it comes to the poor.

To raise Medicaid co-payments enough to have a noticeable impact on the $550 million unpaid reimbursement tab would without question keep those Wisconsinites who rely on Medicaid from accessing needed medical care. This, in turn, would only increase the long-term cost of care by encouraging simple problems to go untreated and potentially develop into more complicated ailments that require more expensive in-patient care.

There are also other more complex issues that could result from increasing co-payments, such as overburdening our already overburdened emergency rooms. Since federal law prohibits co-payments for emergency visits for all Medicaid recipients (for good reason), there's no question those on Medicaid would turn to emergency rooms for non-emergency issues just to avoid the co-payment (which is something that happens already, but raising the co-payment level would surely exacerbate it).

What's more, Reynold's comment disregards federal rules on the level at which states can set co-payments. Currently, the limit for most adult visits is $3, and there is no co-payment allowed under federal law for children. And one quick look at Wisconsin's current co-payment schedule tells us that the state is already charging the maximum for many types of visits.

While a waiver can be attained to exceed the co-payment maximum, doing so would not only risk the health of the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites on Medicaid, but also -- in an ironic twist -- potentially decrease the amount of money collected through the nominal co-pay currently in place by reducing the number of people able to participate in the program.

All-in-all, it's clear Reynold's either hasn't given much thought to the health care situation in Wisconsin or he just doesn't care about the potentially disastrous results of his ideas.

In a time when we should be concerned with making health care more accessible to Wisconsinites -- particularly the 90,000 children in the state who currently go without it -- it's disturbing to see a state senator opting to head in the opposite direction.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Spice Boys' Flip-Flop

Here's what Spivak and Bice wrote on their blog just last week under the title "Guilt by Association":
First, there's the scandal. Then there's the game of trying to link everyone else to the pol brought down by scandal.

In this case, that means seeing who received money from disgraced U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, the Florida Republican who resigned last week after it became public that he sent sexually explicit e-mails and instant messages to Capitol pages.

The Center for Responsive Politics, a D.C. do-gooder group, put out the full list of more than 100 recipients of Foley's campaign cash. According to the group, two members of the Wisconsin delegation benefited from Foley's largess: Republican congressmen Paul Ryan ($2,000) and Mark Green ($1,000), now the Republican candidate for governor.

How long until the Dems start screaming that Ryan and Green should return this "dirty money" ASAP?
They were right on with that assessment.

It didn't make any sense to call those donations "dirty money" because, after all, it's not like the money was donated at a "Exploiting Teen Boys" fundraiser; and, most importantly, there's no known connection between what Mark Foley did and Paul Ryan and Mark Green (the same can't be said for the GOP congressional leadership).

So what do Spivak and Bice write about in their column today? Take a look:

If there's a person an incumbent governor in a tough re-election fight doesn't want to be linked to in any way, shape or form, it's someone whom the feds refer to in an indictment as "Individual B."

That's not someone a governor wants to be associated with.

But Gov. Jim Doyle finds himself in the company of just that sort of guy this week.

Chicago's U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, unsealed a couple of political indictments against Antoin Rezko, a top Democratic fund-raiser for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. A major player in the two bombshell indictments is Individual B, who, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, is really Blagojevich's top money man, Christopher Kelly.

And what's Kelly's connection to the Wisconsin governor? Kelly gave the maximum $10,000 donation to Doyle's campaign on June 24. Kelly was, according to news accounts, under investigation when he made the donation and remains under the federal microscope today.

Betcha Doyle isn't quite as grateful for that money today as he was when he received it from Kelly, a central figure in what Fitzgerald dubbed "a pay to play scheme on steroids."

Is there any connection between Kelly's donation to Doyle and a pay to play scheme? Nope.
So let's review.

Spivak and Bice mock Dem calls for Mark Green to return money from a colleague who likely faces criminal charges in a child sexual exploitation case.

But, just a week later, they shed their concern for guilt by association to hand the Green Team a press release (which you can expect by 10am this morning) and a citation for their next attack ad by writing a full article brimming over the top with innuendos about a donation Governor Doyle received from an individual who is mentioned (though, not by name) in an indictment.

There's that consistency we've come to know and expect from the JS in its gubernatorial coverage!

UPDATE: Mike Plaisted gives a more detailed analysis of the Spivak & Bice article from today -- check it out.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I’m Going to Make It Big in Wyoming

The doom and gloom tour, also known as the corporate lobby, is out with its “taxes in a vacuum” analysis to tell you how bad your state sucks when it comes to corporate climate.

So if you live in New York City, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, listen up. While you may have thought your areas were doing pretty well in the business world by housing the corporate centers for hundreds of multi-national corporations and attracting thousands of wide-eyed MBAs each year, think again.

The Tax Foundation wants you to know that Wyoming, South Dakota, and Alaska are really where it’s at.

And while Wisconsin is ranked the “12th worst” for corporate tax climate, at least we can take comfort knowing that when it comes to business, at least we’re not New York (4th worst) or California (6th worst).

And I just want to add that I’m quite impressed by the willingness of the Journal Sentinel to get a wide variety of perspectives for its story on the Tax Foundation rankings this morning. The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and the Tax Foundation itself were all represented in the article. Kudos all around.

Nothing like taxes in a vacuum.

Side-Note: Paul Soglin performed a public service in June by analyzing seven of these corporate tax rankings that are released every year. What he found was that 78 percent of the states are ranked in the bottom quarter of at least one study.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Green Trying Desperately to Energize the Base

Mark Green's emphasis on immigration late in the gubernatorial race suggests he either has some internal polling data that points to it as an important state and local issue for Wisconsinites, or his campaign is getting desperate to finally find a topic to rally the base.

Considering most public surveys of Wisconsin residents -- such as this one -- don't rank immigration too high on the list of important state and local issues, it seems likely it's the latter reason that's driving the Green Team's emphasis on it recently.

To be sure, Green has struggled to grab the heart of the base throughout his campaign. Back in July, a Badger Poll found that, among Republican respondents, only 25 percent strongly supported Mark Green. Around 48 percent supported Green "not so strongly," 13 percent didn't know, and the remaining 13 percent supported Governor Doyle.

Much of this is because Green's main campaign tactic has been to define himself simply as the anti-Doyle. The big charge leveled against Doyle by Green and the GOP has been ethics, but so far none of these allegations have come close to developing into actual charges against the governor.

And in his recent spat with the State Elections Board -- and shortly the Federal Elections Commission -- Green has clouded his own ethics enough to likely convince most voters of what they probably already thought was true; that is, if you want to infuse ethics into the governor's mansion, don't elect a politician to the post (let alone a member of the current GOP Congress).

So with the issue of ethics neutralized for many swing voters, the Green Team is turning back to the issues in a last-ditch effort to drum up excitement amongst its base.

The Green campaign completely swung and missed on the issue of the state budget. And the other hot-button GOP issues in the state -- such as concealed carry, TABOR, and same-sex marriage -- have proven to be too risky for Green to hype on a broad scale in the purple state of Wisconsin.

Thus, Green comes to immigration. It's a relatively safe issue for a GOPer to beat the drum over because, if challenged, one can always fall back on the "Well, it's illegal, isn't it?" line.

But the problem for Green when trying to strike a spark with undocumented immigration -- like Paul Bucher before him -- is twofold.

One, undocumented immigration isn't a big issue for most people in Wisconsin. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Wisconsin ranks 21st in the country in the number of undocumented immigrants living inside its borders. Not exactly cause for alarm.

Plus, a Badger Poll taken over the summer shows support for undocumented immigrants in Wisconsin, even among Republican respondents.

The second problem is that most people think of undocumented immigration as a federal issue -- which it is primarily -- and not a state or local issue, at least for Wisconsin. That's why Green's proposals on the topic come off as half-hearted and relatively minor.

For instance:
  • Green wants all Wisconsin Works participants to show proof of citizenship before accessing benefits of the program. But considering it's already illegal for undocumented immigrants to actually participate in the program, unless Green can show that there's widespread abuse of the system, the proposal is a non-starter that amounts to adding another layer of bureaucracy to the already bogged-down Wisconsin Works program.
  • Green wants to force state Department of Corrections (DOC) and jail officials to check the immigration status of everyone (unless he plans to profile) charged with a felony or drunk driving in the state. But, as it happens, the DOC already verifies the legal status of all inmates and reports undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.
  • Green wants to work to eliminate local ordinances that prevent public employees from investigating immigration status, which were designed to develop trust between immigrants and local authorities. This proposal is particularly dangerous politically because it amounts to the state usurping local control, which is a major reason the various versions of TABOR were shot down in the Republican legislature over the past few years.
So it's clear the Green campaign is desperately looking for something to get its base to the polls in a year when Republican voter enthusiasm is at a low point across the country.

But, in the end, the issue of immigration will go the way of HSAs and school vouchers for GOP voters -- noteworthy, but not overly exciting.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Doyle Favors Campaign Donor John Menard

That's the headline Governor Doyle could expect from Congressman Green, the RPW, and the Journal Sentinel if Menards was given special preference by the DNR in its attempt to build on protected wetlands.

After all, the headline fits right in line with the incessant GOP allegations and JS scrutiny over every penny the Doyle campaign has received in donations over the years.

In the case of Menards, the DNR treated the company like anyone else who wants to build on protected wetlands -- that is, it scrutinized the move.

Surely the $10,000 John Menard donated to Doyle's campaign over the past three years, the legal limit for an individual under state law, and the other $10,000 Menard donated to Doyle prior to this election cycle -- some of it before Doyle was elected governor -- would've been brought into question if the DNR treated Menards differently the other companies in the state.

Of course, that didn't stop Green and the RPW, who can't seem to make up their minds in their press release hysteria, this time swinging at Doyle for not demanding the DNR grant special preference to a major campaign donor.

I guess Governor Doyle has more integrity than the GOP thought.

Side-Note: As for the Wisconsin DNR working with Menards, according to the JS this morning, the company has applied for 35 wetlands permits with the state over the last thirty years -- the DNR has granted 30 of them, and the other 5 were withdrawn by the company.

And here's John Menard's statement on the matter: "Governor Doyle has worked very well with Menards and myself over the years, helping us grow in Wisconsin. All of us at Menards appreciate the substantial assistance we have received from the Department of Transportation and the Department of Commerce under his administration."

Monday, October 09, 2006

Mark Green's Immigrant Experience

Recently, Mark Green has tried to make immigration -- specifically undocumented immigration -- an issue in the gubernatorial race.

A new baseless Green attack ad (which the Journal Sentinel dismantles here) alleges that Doyle is soft on undocumented immigration. And Green has frequently used the fact that he is the son of immigrants to claim special insight into the issue.

Here's Green's standard line on the topic from a May press release: "As the son of immigrants, I strongly support legal immigration. America is and always will be a nation of immigrants who come here in search of a better life. My family is proof positive of just that. But as we welcome newcomers with open arms, we also must demand that our laws are respected."

So what was Green's immigrant experience like?

According to the JS:
It was the second time in the United States for [Mark Green's] parents, Jeremy and Elizabeth. The two had met in Elizabeth's native England, where she was a nurse and Jeremy a doctor. Their first stop in the states was in Boston, where Mark was born in 1960, when his father was working at the old Boston City Hospital.

When their visas expired, the family wound up in Australia.

The longer they were away from America, the more they wanted to return. Then a letter came. A friend Jeremy Green had met along the way was opening a health clinic in Green Bay and needed doctors.

[Jeremy] Green was interested, but the two-year wait before they could seek permanent visas had not passed. So they were stuck until a surprise call came from the American Embassy, telling them to come in and apply.

They later learned that folks in the United States, with the help of then-U.S. Sen. William Proxmire, had been working to cut through the red tape.

Moral of the story for undocumented immigrants: Don't cross the border illegally. When faced with legal hurdles like Visa waiting periods, just wait for your well-connected friends in the States to contact a powerful politician, perhaps Congressman Green, to expedite the legal process and get you in. You see, that's what Green means by respecting and maintaining the integrity of our red tape...er, I mean, laws.

Now is that so hard?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Teachers + Guns = News Coverage

So Rep. Frank Lasee (R-Bellevue) wants to arm our school teachers.

Jay already did a great job explaining why this is "quite possibly the stupidest idea ever," so I won't get into that here.

But I want to follow-up briefly on a point made by Carrie Lynch, which is that Lasee has garnered himself 15 minutes of fame with this proposal. Carrie says the fact that this proposal has received attention from national news outlets like MSNBC and CNN doesn't exactly speak well of Wisconsin.

I agree. But I also don't think it speaks too highly of national news outlets like MSNBC and CNN.

Although it's no surprise that the mainstream media hit on this story, it's something that does deserve to be questioned. Why would a half-baked idea like this -- which has absolutely zero chance of being passed -- get significant media play while other well thought-out proposals, such as those for providing universal health care, get virtually ignored by the big media outlets?

The simple answer is the old adage that if it bleeds (or, in this case, could lead to bleeding), it leads.

But that just explains why it would get attention, not why it should.

Over the years some legislators have learned to use the old media adage to their advantage. Wisconsin civil rights hero Lloyd Barbee, for one, used to toss out wild proposals from his state legislative seat just to get people to start talking about the topic.

So when Barbee proposed limiting all jail terms to no more than five years and legalizing prostitution, to provide a couple of examples, he didn't actually think those bills should be passed, he just wanted to spark a debate on those topics by establishing an extreme and working back toward a sensible reform from that point.

I suppose what's most concerning about Lasee's proposal is that it seems he actually believes in it whole-heartedly.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Dems: Keep It Simple with the Foley Affair

Conservatives are furiously focusing in on some calls for GOP legislators to return campaign cash connected with disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley.

The attention to this singular aspect of the Foley boondoggle is a blatant attempt to redirect the discussion onto a theoretical consideration (i.e., an argument seeped in relativism, as opposed to a clear cut matter of right and wrong) of what constitutes "dirty money" and, subsequently, away from the Republican leadership's cover-up of Foley's activities.

After all, it's the cover-up that's damaging to the GOP, not the actions of a lone representative from Florida or the money that the Republican leadership funneled to colleagues.

The Dems should focus solely on the actions of the Republican leadership (or lack thereof) when it was informed of Foley's activities years ago. It's a story that speaks directly to the priorities of today's GOP, and one that can be added to a long list of abuses of power by the leaders of the Republican Party.

What's more, it's a story that's going to play -- big time. It's got sex, it's got conspiracy, and it's got finger pointing, all three of which are key ingredients for a media feeding frenzy. And, to top it all off, it's coming at a time when many in the American public are just starting to tune into politics in preparation for the upcoming elections.

In fact, according to a new AP poll, the story is already having an impact on voters. Out of the likely voters contacted in the poll, one-half said the Folely scandal will be "very or extremely important" when they head to the voting booths in five weeks.

As ABC reports: "More troubling for Republicans, the poll found that by a margin of nearly 2-to-1 likely voters says Democrats would be better at combatting political corruption than Republicans."

That's the simple point the Dems need to nail home with the Foley affair.

UPDATE: Fox News is reporting that an "authoritative" GOP pollster has conducted an internal poll that estimates a 20 to 50 seat shift in the House next month if Hastert stays on as Speaker.

According to Fox: "
The GOP source told FOX News that the internal data had not been widely shared among Republican leaders, but as awareness of it spreads calculations about Hastert's tenure may change."

Why aren't GOP lawmakers calling for Hastert's resignation as it seems the American people are demanding? Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post supposes that the White House's fond relationship with the Speaker has something to do with it. We'll see how long that fondness lasts in light of this recent polling.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Court of McCain Issues Its Decision

John McCain, who has been busy shedding his "straight talk" reputation lately, has decided to lend his help to the Green Team in its hour of need.

It's McCain's contention that Congress did not intend to ban shifting federal campaign money into a state account when it passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) in 2002, a bill that McCain co-authored and championed with Russ Feingold.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin (RPW) proceeded to make McCain's statement the jumping point for this jaw-dropping commentary: "McCain issued a brief statement on Tuesday clearing Green’s transfer." Added new RPW chief Brad Courtney, "This totally vindicates Mark Green. It shows that this attack on Mark Green was based on politics and not based on the law."

To claim that McCain's statement somehow strips the matter of partisanship is simply astounding. Considering how advantageous it would be to McCain to have a sympathetic GOP governor in the swing state of Wisconsin when he runs for president in a couple of years, the Arizona senator's statement does nothing but infuse partisanship into the matter.

But putting all that aside, let's look more closely at the substance of McCain's comments.

McCain knows as well as anyone that laws don't always simply prohibit behavior, they can also expressly permit other behavior. In the case of the BCRA, moving money from a federal to a state campaign account was not one of the expressly approved uses of federal campaign funds.

For McCain to now claim that wasn't the intent of the bill is disingenuous at best. Unless, that is, McCain wants to argue that not expressly allowing federal funds to be used in that way, among the other allowances directly granted in the bill, was just an oversight.

McCain is right to claim that Congress returned to the matter in 2004. But he is misleading to make it seem like this return was an open and obvious fix of the BCRA.

To be sure, the tiny BCRA amendment in 2004 was tucked away in a 3,300-page appropriations bill. And, at the time, no one on Capitol Hill could (or would) say exactly who slipped that tiny provision into the enormous bill; come vote time, as seems to happen so often in legislative politics, it was just there.

Most federal politicians, however, weren't too disappointed about the change, particularly those who had plans to seek state office in the not-too-distant future, including Mark Green. According to Spivak and Bice, Mark Graul -- then Green's chief of staff, now Green's campaign manager -- told them: "[The provision] shows the many advantages that Mark will have if he chooses to run for governor. This is just one."

But not everyone was happy about the provision. As one GOP insider from Wisconsin (a Walker supporter, perhaps?) told Spivak and Bice at the time: "Merry Christmas. How nice - while they're out there running up the debt, they find time to help themselves."

And that's not all.

Looking at the actual wording of the BCRA amendment from 2004 doesn't get Green off the hook, as the use of McCain's statement by the RPW makes it seem like it does.

That amendment added these two acceptable usages of federal campaign funds:
  1. "for donations to State and local candidates subject to the provisions of State law"
  2. "for any other lawful purpose unless prohibited by subsection (b) of this section"
Green is claiming that it's the second usage that opens the door for him to make a full-fledged transfer of funds from his federal campaign account to his state campaign account based on the argument that a fund "transfer" is separate from a "donation" and therefore covered by the "any other lawful purpose" line.

But Judge Niess soundly rejected this reading of the BCRA amendment (emphasis mine): "The problem with this argument is that subsection (6), both by its own terms and by basic rules of statutory construction, does not apply if the transfer of funds is governed by subsection (5). '[A]ny other lawful purpose' in subsection (6) means any lawful purpose other than those already addressed in the statute."

Since moving funds from a federal campaign fund to a state campaign fund was already covered in the first usage detailed in the amendment, that's the usage that controls all such movements. In other words, the only way to get funds from a federal account to a state account is a donation of those funds that's "subject to the provisions of State law."

Indeed, if Congress wanted to allow fund "transfers" as something separate from "donations," why didn't it expressly state that in the BCRA amendment?

Or are we supposed to conveniently believe, two years later, that was just an oversight, too?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Bride of HSAs

As part of his new health care proposal, Congressman Mark Green is pushing Health Opportunity Accounts (HOAs) for Medicaid recipients in Wisconsin.

HOAs are a relatively new addition to the so-called "consumer driven" approach to health care reform, which has been trumpeted by the GOP and the insurance industry alike in recent years.

HOAs operate very much like stand-alone Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), except they are specifically designed for Medicaid recipients.

The way it works is that Medicaid recipients are given a deductible to pay for services before their Medicaid coverage kicks in. In order to cover the cost of this deductible, the Medicaid recipients have a HOA that holds funds tax-free, just like the HSA does for a traditional high deductible plan.

A pilot program for HOAs was approved by the GOP-controlled Congress in December 2005 (not a single Dem in the House or the Senate voted for it) and is set to go into effect on January 1, 2007. Ten states will be allowed to participate in the pilot program. It seems Green wants Wisconsin to be one of those ten states.

This isn't good news for many of the nearly 650,000 Wisconsinites who rely on Medicaid or Wisconsin taxpayers.

There are two big kickers with the HOA plan, both stemming from the fact that, like stand-alone HSAs, HOAs are better for healthier and wealthier people and worse for sicker and poorer people.

First, as it's currently written in the law, there's no requirement that states fund the HOA enough to cover the entire cost of the prescribed deductible. In fact, states are expressly required by the law to set the deductible amount somewhere between 100 percent and 110 percent of the amount that the HOA is funded.

In other words, if the HOA is funded at $5,000 per year, the annual deductible could be set at anywhere between that amount and $5,500. This means the recipient could need to pay up to $500 in out-of-pocket costs each year, also described as a "doughnut hole," before traditional Medicaid benefits would kick in.

For poor families, which is the predominant population group served by Medicaid, a large body of research -- most famously a RAND study published by Harvard's Joseph Newhouse -- demonstrates that out-of-pocket costs are the difference between getting health care and going without it.

GOP proponents argue that HOAs are voluntary; therefore, the poorest people on Medicaid don't need to choose to use them.

But it's this point that leads to the second big kicker, which is that HOAs would actually make Medicaid more expensive. Once recipients become ineligible for Medicaid, rather than forfeit the entire amount left in their HSA, federal law allows them to keep 75 percent of it for a variety of purposes specified by the state.

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, "These costs will mount if the healthiest Medicaid beneficiaries elect to participate in the demonstration project while sicker beneficiaries decline to participate because of the large deductible and the 'doughnut hole.'
Because the healthiest individuals may need little health care, they often would have large balances remaining in their accounts when they left the program."

So not only do HOAs provide incentive for healthier and wealthier people to enroll, that incentive leads to higher costs for the program as a whole.

What's more, administrative costs for managing the HOA for recipients, eligible and ineligible, are paid by the public.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the HOA pilot project will add $261 million over the next decade to the total federal Medicaid bill (see here, page 36), and costs will continue to increase if more states decide to provide HOAs after the pilot period.

Additionally, since Medicaid works on a matching system, this means it's likely the Medicaid costs incurred by the State of Wisconsin would increase under the HOA plan, as well.

In fact, according to the Journal Sentinel today, the WI Department of Health and Family Services considered HOAs when it devised the BadgerCare Plus expansion proposed by Governor Doyle, but it dropped the idea after deciding it would likely cost more to administer HOAs than simply consolidating the three state health care programs, which is at the heart of the Doyle plan.

In the end, it's clear HOAs are just another half-baked GOP scheme -- alongside stand-alone HSAs and privatizing Social Security -- to shift public money into private accounts to give the impression that it's making the system more efficient, when in fact it's doing the opposite.

But, then again, actually addressing the growing health care crisis in Wisconsin wasn't really a goal of Green's health care proposal, anyway. The goal was simply to get some talking points out on paper to use to muddy the waters at the gubernatorial debate in two weeks, part of which will focus on health care reform.

All Green needs to do now is throw out the traditional GOP talking points on health care -- including stand-alone HSAs, medical malpractice caps (which already exist in Wisconsin, but Green wants to make them stricter despite a state Supreme Court decision that deemed such caps unconstitutional), and now HOAs -- to make it seem like he's focused on the problem.

Most voters won't look into what the proposals actually mean for Wisconsin, they'll just be satisfied that both candidates have considered the issue and have a plan to address it. Any difference is just a difference of opinion, not necessarily right or wrong.

It's really no wonder scandals, even fictional ones, get so much play during election season. In addition to their sensationalism, they're about the only thing in election politics that doesn't make easy fodder for relativism.