Thursday, November 30, 2006

It Just Doesn't Feel Like the Holidays...

...unless Bill O'Reilly is out protecting Christmas from persecution in America.

Ahhh. That's better.

Oh, and snow helps, too, which I hear we're getting later today.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thou Shalt Not Support Liberal Positions

Like the infamous fifth Beatle, you could call this the long-lost eleventh commandment. Lost, that is, until the Christian Coalition and others on the Religious Right discovered its political power in the last quarter-century.

Just last month, the Christian Coalition brought on a new leader, Rev. Joel Hunter, who is pastor of a large nondenominational megachurch in Florida.

Rev. Hunter wanted to broaden the Coalition's agenda to include other issues of Biblical importance like addressing poverty and protecting the environment. As he puts it: "My position is, unless we are caring as much for the vulnerable outside the womb as inside the womb, we're not carrying out the full message of Jesus."

The Coalition's board didn't agree, so a little over a month after hiring him, they fired him. Well, the Washington Post says he was "removed," Hunter says he resigned.

Either way, this episode demonstrates the deceitful nature of many groups in the Religious Right. Although well known as political entities, groups such as the Christian Coalition still try to portray themselves to supporters (and potential supporters) as Christian-first.

In other words, as they like to put it, the positions they hold are Christian ones that happen to be backed by the GOP, which is why they, in turn, back Republicans. Indeed, they would never try to argue that they first pick GOP stances on issues and then look to the Bible second for a defense of them.

And if you ask just about any member of Christian Coalition why abortion, for instance, is opposed by the organization, they'll tell you because the Bible says it's wrong. I'd venture to guess the RNC doesn't come up once in the response.

But, yet, here we are confronted by other issues that the Bible implores its readers to address, and the Christian Coalition doesn't want to touch them.

What's perhaps most eye-opening in this is that the Christian Coalition board, in defending its decision to let Hunter go, actually put the blame on its rank and file for the move, claiming they feared their membership would revolt if other issues of Biblical importance were included in the group's agenda.

(Side-Note: Considering the Christian Coalition is currently over $2 million in debt -- after amassing revenues of $25 million per year just a decade ago -- it's questionable whether the base hasn't already revolted.)

It's amazing the board didn't think of how its membership would (supposedly) feel about Hunter in early October when it hired him. After all, the reverend is very open about his goal to broaden the agenda of the religious right. He even wrote a book titled, Right Wing, Wrong Bird: Why the Tactics of the Religious Right Won't Fly with Most Conservative Christians. Yet, evidently, it took the board until a November 21 conference call with Hunter to determine his views were too threatening to the group's support.

This begs the question, what (or who) really caused the board's 180 degree turn on Hunter? Was it the Religious, or was it just the Right?

Of course, there is nothing newsworthy about the hypocrisy of using the Bible for the defense of certain positions while ignoring other positions the Bible speaks at least as strongly about (if not more).

But what makes this episode notable is that it's a concrete example of the hypocrisy in action. That is, rather than passively side-stepping the Bible's positions on issues like poverty and the environment, this move by the Christian Coalition actively rejects them.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Blue-ing of the Burbs

I grew up in Whitefish Bay -- a suburb just north of Milwaukee -- and currently live there (no, not with my parents...I'm a few blocks away now).

Whitefish Bay has been traditionally associated with Republican voters, as have most of the suburbs in the North Shore (aside from, perhaps, Shorewood). In the 2002 midterm election, for instance, Whitefish Bay voters opted for Scott McCallum over Jim Doyle, Vince Biskupic over Peg Lautenschlager, and Jim Sensenbrenner over Bryan Kennedy.

But, as this year's election demonstrates, that trend is changing. Just recently, Whitefish Bay released detailed results of the 2006 election on its website.

This year, not only did Doyle defeat Mark Green in Whitefish Bay, but Kathleen Falk defeated JB Van Hollen, Bryan Kennedy defeated Jim Sensenbrenner, the civil unions and marriage amendment was shot down by 20 percent of the vote, and the death penalty referendum was voted down by 22 percent of the vote.

According to a study by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, the leftward trend in Whitefish Bay is taking place in other suburbs nationwide, as well. The study found that while Dems gained 53 percent of the vote in "inner suburbs" of the nation's fifty largest metro areas in the 2002 midterms, that percentage jumped to 60 percent this year.

And other statistics show this isn't just a 2006 thing. In the 2000 presidential race, George Bush defeated Al Gore by 10 points in Whitefish Bay. In 2004, however, Kerry actually edged Bush in Whitefish Bay by a little less than one percent.

That's quite a turnaround. And it's one that has importance in the next few years as the landscape of suburban politics in Milwaukee County changes. I'm sure GOP politicians like Alberta Darling and Scott Walker are watching these changes closely.

All of a sudden a good portion of Darling's senate district is looking quite blue, just in time for her re-election bid in 2008. Whitefish Bay was one of Darling's last remaining Milwaukee County strongholds in 2004, which she won that year by 6 points. She also won in the more northern suburbs of Fox Point, Bayside, and River Hills, but there are fewer voters in those villages combined than there are in Whitefish Bay.

And while Darling's district extends into portions of conservative Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha counties, Milwaukee County still represents about one-half of the voters in her district. If the leftward trend continues in the Milwaukee County suburbs, a victory won't be so easy for Darling next time around, especially against a well-known challenger like, say, Sheldon Wasserman.

And, as for Walker, I have a feeling he might be hearing a few less cheers each year when he walks in Whitefish Bay's annual Fourth of July parade. It appears his suburban GOP base is waning fast, and the next Milwaukee County executive race is coming up just as quickly.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Side-Stepping Comprehensive Health Care Reform

Journal Sentinel business columnist John Torinus took on health care reform over the weekend, concluding that the private sector is best suited to lower costs and expand coverage.

I'm not going to take the time here to rehash all of the research that questions the usefulness of consumer driven health care -- which Torinus advocates-- or the data that demonstrates consolidating payers is the best route to go for lowering costs and expanding coverage. I've already citied these figures in more posts than I can count. For those who are interested, a few of those posts are here, here, here, and here.

But what makes Torinus' column worth mentioning is the manner in which he side-steps comprehensive health care reform (which he dubs "public sector" solutions). Here's the key passage:
Besides ducking the real issue, expect a din from the left for a government takeover. Let's shift the payments from businesses and individuals to the government, À la Medicare, Medicaid and BadgerCare.

Translation: Let's shift the unbearable costs where they are less visible - to the taxpayers. That's us, by the way.

Torinus' claim that "public sector" solutions amount to transferring cost from businesses and individuals to taxpayers (i.e., businesses and individuals) is ridiculous, but it's not new. This is a line that's been used before by the those on the right to dismiss fundamental health care reform, and it's a line that will undoubtedly be used more as the health care reform debate ramps up in the next few years.

First off, out of the three comprehensive health care proposals currently before the state legislature in Wisconsin (here, here, and here), only one (and the one that seems least likely to pass) would shift cost to public revenue (the last of the three links). The other two use the same funding structure -- that is, an employment-based one -- that's currently in place.

This leads into the second point, which is that comprehensive health care reform -- as opposed to the piecemeal "consumer driven" approach proposed by Torinus and others -- is not about transferring cost, but lowering cost. Torinus completely ignores the actual arguments behind consolidating payers in the system, and instead pretends comprehensive reform amounts to simply creating a new way to pay for our current inefficient and expensive (and privatized) health care structure.

Not once does Torinus challenge or even mention the argument that consolidating payers would decrease administrative costs and increase the purchasing power of payers in the system.

In short, what Torinus doesn't say is more concerning than what he does say. Let's hope this doesn't characterize the health care reform debate that's about to bust wide open in this country. It's too important of a debate to sell any ideas short.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Misguided Argument for National Standards

The Journal Sentinel has another story this morning about how maybe, just maybe, Wisconsin students aren't as great as everyone thinks.

The JS has learned -- through a study from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance -- that a gap exists between the way Wisconsin students score on state standardized tests and how a subsection of those students (2000, to be exact) score on national standardized tests.

Since students are doing better on the state tests than they are on the national tests, the implication goes, the state test must be weak.

This has fueled calls by some for the establishment of national standards that would be tied to a national standardized test.

Setting aside the fact that even though Wisconsin students score higher on the state test, they still score among the best in the country on the national test (see here, here, and here) -- a fact that the JS article completely ignored -- there are other important reasons to challenge these calls for national standards.

I should admit, I am bias on this topic. Standardized testing and, subsequently, standardized teaching are why I left teaching two years ago. (You can read more about that here.)

And it's that link between standardized testing and standardized teaching that most people don't understand -- or care about -- when they push national standards.

Most teachers will tell you that assessment needs to match instruction. And not just what you instruct students on, but also how you instruct them. For instance, it's unfair to students to focus a class on conceptual thinking and then hand them a multiple choice test to assess them on it. In that case, the assessment clearly isn't matching the instruction.

So when a researcher from the conservative Fordham Foundation says, "Math is the same in Madison as it is in Missouri as it is in Mumbai," in an attempt to justify national standards, he's missing the point that assessment is -- or, at least, should be -- based not only on what you teach, but also how you teach.

Thus, when you pre-determine assessment, you inherently pre-determine instruction -- again, not just what, but also how.

And pre-determining how a class is taught is detrimental to both teachers and students because it severely limits the possibility of developing any organic teaching and learning within the classroom, which is often the most meaningful kind for teachers and students.

It's bad enough we have standardization taking place at the state level today. Making it national only takes us that much further away from true local control of education. And by "local" I not only mean the community, but more importantly the classroom itself.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

John Edwards Looking Strong for 2008

Hillary Clinton still may be the presumed frontrunner for the 2008 Dem nomination, but it's John Edwards who has the hot hand heading into the heavier campaign season next year.

A recent CNN poll (via The Fix) asked registered Dem voters who they would most likely support for the presidential nomination in 2008. Here's who topped the list:

Hillary Clinton - 33 percent
Barack Obama - 15 percent
John Edwards - 14 percent
Al Gore - 14 percent

No other potential candidate received more than 7 percent.

While Edwards is just tied for third, digging a little deeper into the results demonstrates Edwards' strength.

After asking respondents who they preferred for the nomination, CNN asked them who they would consider supporting out of the list of these potential candidates (respondents could choose more than one): Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Al Gore, and John Kerry.

On this question, Edwards tops the list with 44 percent, Gore comes in second with 42 percent, Clinton third with 39 percent, Kerry fourth with 38 percent, and -- somewhat surprisingly -- Obama fifth with only 35 percent.

But, truth be told, these national polls can only tell so much about a candidate's chances for winning the nomination. After all, it isn't a national vote the picks the nominee. Instead, winning the nomination is very much hinged on how well a candidate does in the early primary season. Nominees who can pull off a string of wins in the early primaries often garner enough national attention to boost their nationwide popularity and acceptance as the candidate of choice.

And when it comes to strength in the early primaries, no one on the left is as well-positioned at this point as Edwards.

For starters, Edwards is hugely popular in Iowa. In a Des Moines Register poll taken over the summer, Edwards led the pack of possible Dem candidates with 30 percent, while Clinton came in second at 26 percent.

But what stands out even more, however, is the way Iowans favor Edwards more than the other potential Democratic contenders. When asked how they felt about Edwards, 83% responded that they either have a "very favorable" (42%) or "mostly favorable" (41%) impression of him. That’s a lot of love. Clinton, by contrast, scored 71 percent on the favorability scale.

After Iowa, the next three primaries are Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. By all accounts, the inclusion of Nevada in the early Dem primary season was a boon for Edwards. The former North Carolina senator has strong ties to the powerful labor unions in that state, which will prove immensely useful in campaigning, particularly considering the short amount of time between the Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire primaries.

In 2004, there were eight days between the first two primaries, Iowa and New Hampshire. In 2008, however, there will be only five days between Iowa (Jan. 14) and Nevada (Jan. 19), and then only another three days between Nevada and New Hampshire (Jan. 22). The South Carolina primary will come one week after New Hampshire, around January 29, and the rest will start after February 5.

With a shorter amount of time between the primaries, candidates will not have as much of an opportunity to ramp up support just prior to the subsequent primary, as they did in the past. Instead, a strong base of support will be key, and that's exactly what Edwards has done the most to create in Nevada.

New Hampshire could be a tough one for Edwards since it's closer to Clinton's territory, but South Carolina is a virtual lock for Edwards. It's not only his home state, but he also is the defending champ there after winning it in 2004 by 15 percentage points.

That means that Edwards is in a good position to pull off three of the first four Dem primaries, in spite of the fact that Clinton currently leads him in the nationwide polls. When you add to that the fact that more people could see themselves supporting Edwards than any of the other candidates, it makes him one strong contender.

I've said in the past that I support Edwards as the Dem nominee. It's not that I wouldn't support others; it's that I think Edwards has the right message. In short, rather than crafting a centralized theme that comes on the terms of the right, as many Dems have done in recent years (e.g., "John Kerry, reporting for duty!"), Edwards has crafted one that harks back to the roots of Democratic support: It's the economy, stupid.

But even more specific than that, Edwards' message focuses on poverty. And he tackles the issue in a way that flips the red state-blue state dichotomy used so well by Republicans on its head. The conservative ascendancy of the last 30 years worked hard to provide the public with a perception that Democrats were elitist and Republicans were with the masses (how else can the New England reared, Ivy League educated, rich beyond belief current president play it off like he's in touch with "common folk"?).

In essence, the goal of the conservative movement was to make class a cultural entity. This is the basic point of Thomas Frank's popular book, What's the Matter with Kansas?

What Edwards does is strive to re-affirm the economic core of class. He puts it on his website like he did numerous times on the stump in 2004: "There are two different Americas in our country today -- one for those at the top who get everything they want, and another for everybody else who struggles just to get by." In other words, the divisions that exist in America are defined by income level, not by cultural or social interests.

This isn't to say that Dem candidates shouldn't have a strong message on defense and foreign policy -- they absolutely should. But that doesn't mean that message needs to be the central theme of their campaign.

Edwards gets that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It's Budget Report Day!

Well, actually, it was yesterday. How did you celebrate it?

Some GOPers celebrated by falsely claiming that the timing of the state budget release is suspect since it comes just two weeks after the election. In reality, the timing of the release is statutorily-driven, not campaign-driven.

According to Section 16.43 of the Wisconsin State Statutes: "The [DOA] secretary shall compile and submit to the governor or the governor-elect and to each person elected to serve in the legislature during the next biennium, not later than November 20 of each even-numbered year, a compilation giving all of the data required by s. 16.46 to be included in the state budget report, except the recommendations of the governor and the explanation thereof."

These reports have been released on the same day -- November 20 -- over at least the past three bienniums (I didn't look back any further than 2000). So the timing of the release this year is not at all suspect or out of the ordinary.

But taking a trip down memory lane is instructive on more issues than just timing.

Interestingly, the projected budget gap for the 2005-2007 biennial budget was exactly the same as this year's projected budget gap. But since the budget as a whole is larger in the 2007-2009 biennium, the projected gap for the upcoming budget actually represents a smaller figure proportionally than the last projected gap heading into 2005-2007.

On November 20, 2004, the Journal Sentinel ran a front page article by Patrick Marley and Stacy Forster titled "Deficit is $1.6 Billion, State Says." Here's a snippet:

The report from Administration Secretary Marc Marotta said state tax revenue would grow in the first year of the budget to more than $11.8 billion, an increase of $489 million, or 4.3%. In the second year, it would rise to $12.4 billion, up $548 million, or 4.6%.

The budget runs from July 1 to June 30, 2007.

Some officials said they expected more of a pickup in revenue as the economy rebounds. But Doyle said the figures were based on conservative projections to avoid counting on money that doesn't materialize, as his predecessors did.

Although overall revenue will rise, state agencies' budget requests surpass it, creating the $1.6 billion deficit.

Doyle said he will not raise taxes, so he must whittle back the requests so he can submit a balanced budget to the Legislature early next year.

The Legislature then would make its own adjustments and ship the spending plan back to Doyle, who has broad authority to veto portions of the budget.

In addition to their budget requests, agencies have given Doyle plans for how they would handle 10% cuts to their administrative spending. If implemented, those plans -- which include a vast reorganization of the Transportation Department -- would cut spending more than $150 million and trim 1,400 jobs.

For the most part, Doyle said agencies shouldn't expect to see their full budget requests fulfilled. He said he plans to turn toward the 10% reduction plans "right away" as he puts together his budget.

All of the same could be said this year. But it wasn't. No clear explanation of what the projected budget gap actually means was provided in today's front page JS article. Instead, it's simply referred to as a "deficit."

(Side-Note: While the word "deficit" has been used in the past, it's somewhat misleading to call it that when there isn't even a budget, yet.)

Taking a trip a little further back in time proves even more interesting.

When the state DOA under Scott McCallum released its very conservative projected budget gap of $2.6 billion on November 20, 2002 -- the largest in state history, which included an actual deficit of around $300 million for FY 2002-2003 -- the resulting Journal Sentinel story didn't even make the main section, instead landing in the Metro section.

And even then, the title of the article -- written by Steve Walters and Dennis Chaptman (dated 11/21/02) -- was "$2.6 Billion Deficit for State Projected," with the keyword "projected" prominently displayed. No "Deficit is," as the 2004 and 2006 titles have read.

(Side-Note: The actual budget gap in 2002 ended up being more than $2.6 billion because the McCallum administration significantly over-estimated the revenue growth in 2003 and 2004, placing it at 5.3 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively, which, in turn, lowered the projected budget gap amount. By contrast, Doyle's 2004 figure took a more conservative approach by wisely under-estimating revenue growth at 4.3 percent in 2005 and 4.6 percent in 2006. Doyle's administration is again estimating low revenue growth figures for the upcoming biennium -- 3.6 percent in 2007 and 4 percent in 2008.)

Going back two years before that to November 20, 2000, when the Thompson administration announced the state was facing a projected budget gap of $574 million in the upcoming biennium, the Journal Sentinel coverage didn't even use the word "deficit" once in the title or text of its article.

The title of that 2000 article, written by Steve Walters and Richard Jones (dated 11/21/00), was "Tax Cuts May Put Squeeze on State," referencing the state tax cuts from earlier that year that soaked up the remaining surplus from the 1990s.

I'm not trying to push some big conspiracy that the Doyle administration is being treated more harshly by the state's biggest daily than previous administrations (although I do think there's some truth to that argument, at least during the election season).

Rather, it's important to point out that projected budget gaps are nothing new in Wisconsin -- and neither are budget reports being released on the statutory deadline that comes a couple of weeks after an election.

Of course, the $1.6 billion projected gap is not great news. It would be nice if we could run a significant surplus. But the $1.6 billion figure is also not jaw-dropping bad news, either, and a little context does go a long way toward demonstrating that point.

In short, it will be up to the governor and the legislature to prioritize during the budget dealings next spring, just as it is every two years in Wisconsin. Not every state agency will get everything it wants -- in fact, most probably won't.

You can find a list of what state agencies are requesting for the upcoming biennium on pages v-vi of this document. If you see an agency you think deserves the funds it's requesting (or, perhaps, one that doesn't), between now and next spring is the time to tell your state legislators and governor about it.


Side-Note: I don't provide links to the older articles because the JS is now charging for archived articles beyond 14 days old. I gave the authors and dates of the articles in case people are interested in checking on them.

UPDATE: Jay takes the shock and awe righties head on in this post -- check it out. Carrie also has more here.

LATE UPDATE: Dave Diamond has the latest on Doyle's projected Christmas deficit. Well worth the read.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Try Again, Pentagon

Over the summer, it was discovered that the Department of Defense was classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder in a document that outlines discharge policies.

Considering the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders over three decades ago, the Pentagon came under some heat for the classification.

Rather than try to defend the indefensible, the DoD opted to change the classification.

So, as part of its discharge policy, the Pentagon no longer considers homosexuality a mental disorder akin to schizophrenia and mental retardation.

Now it just considers homosexuality to be a "defect" alongside bed-wetting, alcoholism, and chronic venereal disease infections.

In response to the new classification, the APA released the following statement to the Pentagon: "We appreciate your good-faith effort to address our concern that the document was not medically accurate. But we remain concerned because we believe that the revised document lacks the clarity necessary to resolve the issue."

To translate, that's academic for, "How's the weather up your own ass?"

Here's something for the Pentagon brass to consider: Maybe there seems to be no good place for homosexuality in a discharge policy because it doesn't belong in a discharge policy.

It's Health Care Costs, Stupid

The financial group PricewaterhouseCoopers recently released a report on projected health care costs in the upcoming year.

Here's the breakdown of expectations:
  • Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs): +11.9 percent
  • Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs): +11.8 percent
  • Consumer-Driven Health Plans (CDHPs): +10.7 percent
Is it really any wonder why the cost of operating public and private entities is increasing dramatically each year?

Sure, you can put the burden on the workers to foot the bill. But are they really in any better of a position to afford it than their employers?

As Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) -- the author of one of the three comprehensive health care reform proposals before the state legislature -- notes: "We cannot continue to tinker around the edges of health care reform, we need big solutions."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Scott Walker: "It's their budget now."

No, County Executive Walker, it's your budget now, too.

By vetoing the entire county budget earlier this week, Scott Walker was again playing politics with the county budget crisis. Now that his veto has been decisively overridden by the County Board in a 14-5 vote, when the county is still in crisis next year -- which it would've been regardless of this year's budget make-up -- Walker can conveniently say that it wasn't him that did it.

Walker calls his veto "bold." That's ridiculous.

The people of Milwaukee County didn't vote him into office to tell the County Board it's his way or the highway -- they voted him into office to work with the County Board on the budget.

Even the Journal Sentinel called out Walker on his politically motivated reasons for vetoing the entire budget.

From Tuesday's paper:

Walker could not easily use his veto pen to deal with the budget shortfall issue. By throwing the whole budget out instead, he accomplishes several things in addition to portraying himself as protecting the county's long-term fiscal health:

• He takes what appears to be a stacked deck against him on veto overrides and potentially puts pressure on some supervisors to vote with him by making the stakes larger.

• He avoids issuing vetoes of certain politically sensitive add-backs, such as those related to public safety, that could come back to haunt him.

• He keeps alive the issue of who will have to take responsibility if county workers get pink slips. Supervisors say it was Walker's idea to privatize, and he should get the blame or credit. Walker says supervisors are trying to have it both ways - keeping the jobs alive but not fully paying for them.

What irks me most about Walker's move is that I actually agreed with him on a couple points on the budget, such as what to do with the county pools.

The plan of Parks Director Sue Black to modernize the pool system in the coming years was the best route to go. The cost of operating and maintaining a highly dated pool system has caught up with the county, and a change is needed. Walker was on the right track in September when he agreed to modernize the Lincoln Park pool in exchange for the closure of other pools in the system.

But by exchanging his veto pen for a veto grenade earlier this week, Walker forfeited the opportunity to negotiate this point and others. He simply gave the supervisors an all or nothing ultimatum, and they chose all -- some of them reluctantly, but not necessarily incorrectly.

These aren't the actions of a responsible county executive. Nor are they the actions of someone who's committed to solving this crisis over the long haul.

It appears Walker still has his eyes on the prize -- that prize just happens to be above and beyond Milwaukee County.

The Tommy Train Heads National

It appears Tommy Thompson is taking the first steps toward running for president in 2008 by planning to form an exploratory committee after January 1.

I, for one, welcome Thompson into the race on the GOP side. Not because I think he'll win or because I want to see him lose, but because he plans to make health care an issue in the race. This will, in turn, force the other GOP contenders to at least formulate and articulate a position on it, as well.

It's already a given that health care will be an issue in the nomination battle on the left, but without someone like Thompson, there's no guarantee the same would be true on the right.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Doyle Keeps Harley Expansion in Milwaukee!

Actually not, but since he was blamed when it looked like the Harley expansion would happen elsewhere, I figured it was only fair to give him credit when the company decides to stay.

All friendly prodding aside, even though the union was forced to accept concessions with the vote last night, I still think it comes out ahead by standing up to the threats by Harley last month that the company's first offer was going to be its final offer.

The union rejected that first offer, and in this latest one it ended up getting terms it could accept.

That's the essential point of a union. If those workers negotiated as individuals, they never would've stood a chance at getting contract terms they could accept -- they just would've gotten terms they had to accept.

Interesting note, the union leadership encouraged members to vote for the first offer, evidently accepting the company line that it would be the last offer. Kudos to the rank and file who knew better.

The vote last night marks the second union concession in three years. In light of Harley's projected billion dollar profits this year, let's hope it's the last for awhile.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sen. Lasee Wants Civility & Decorum to Continue in the Senate

Which Senate is he talking about?

This is utterly astounding coming from the former Senate President who last session sent an obviously unpopular bill of his to a variety of different committees in order to find one with a sympathetic chair who would pass it, in spite of the fact that the chosen committee had no legal oversight over the bill's area.

And when called on it, Lasee responded: "I didn't break any rules. It's my bill. I'm the president."

Yes, that's a direct quote.

And let's not forget the time Lasee strong-armed Republican legislators from the Assembly into passing the death penalty referendum -- a pet issue of Lasee's -- during a closed session.

According to Rep. Sheryl Albers (R-Reedsburg) -- who opposes the death penalty and planned to vote against the referendum -- Lasee's private talk with the GOP caucus "was so strong that I did have some fear that were I to vote against it, it could affect my next (legislative) session because of his connections, and I do intend to run again and pursue many other issues."

Albers opted to ditch out of the vote, along with Reps. Judy Krawczyk (R-Green Bay) and Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon), rather than challenge Lasee on it. The referendum ended up passing the Assembly by two votes.

Yep, sounds like the state Senate was just brimming over the top with civility and decorum last session.

How the US Health Care System Rations

Anyone who doesn't think the US health care system involves rationing, read this story.

Fifty-three year old Delbert Davis recently died of complications from cirrhosis of the liver that was diagnosed two years ago.

Just prior to the diagnosis, Davis lost his health insurance coverage after being laid off from a printing company in Austin, TX. His wife – who he just married a year earlier – was an adjunct history instructor at Austin Community College, but she wasn’t able to qualify for the health insurance plan there until she worked in the system for three years.

The health care bills quickly racked up as Davis’ condition got worse. After a year, doctors determined that Davis needed a liver transplant. If he didn’t get one, they said, he’d be dead in a year.

According to state records, about 1,380 Texans are currently on the waiting list for a new liver. Last year, 143 people on the list died while waiting. This is an issue of new organ scarcity. And until medical advances like embryonic stem cell research progress much further, it's an issue we're forced to accept.

But since Davis didn’t have health insurance, he couldn’t even get on the transplant list. He never even had a shot at getting healthy. That's a fixable problem -- and one that we don't need to wait to fix.

According to a spokesperson from a hospital that Davis contacted about getting on the list: "We can't [put Davis on the list]. Safety net hospitals are forced to make very tough decisions. We wish we could provide every medical service, but it would be fiscally disastrous for us to do that."

Even when Davis and his wife took positions that were supposed to offer health insurance, they couldn’t get coverage because of his pre-existing condition. As Davis’ doctor, Stephen Utts, noted, “What insurance company is going to insure someone staring down a half-million-dollar bill?”

Davis appealed to his representative in Congress, Lamar Smith, who helped get him authorized for $1200 per month disability payment from Social Security, and it also made him eligible for Medicare…but not for two years.

Davis’ wife summarized the situation: “My husband and I have worked hard all of our lives. We had insurance up to a very brief window of time: three months that we didn't have coverage, and this happened. Just that little lapse of time . . . and we were trapped in a spiral that we couldn't get out of.”

And for those who think this is an isolated incident, according to Dr. Utts: “There's a disdain for universal coverage, and it's tragic. In 20 years of practice, I've probably seen hundreds of patients” die because they couldn't get on the transplant list without health insurance.

This is the US health care system's version of rationing. As health policy expert Matthew Holt has explained: "So yup [rationing] happens here too, and instead of doing it by some defensible way — like looking at the cost-benefit analysis for a population — that an economist ought to commend, we do it on the basis of whether or not you can afford it."

And, as the case of Delbert Davis makes clear, it's not just the poor who can't afford it these days.

UPDATE: The LA Times has an article today on the new-found willingness of the insurance industry to move toward universal healthcare now that the Dems have made a resurgence in Congress.

Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, the plan introduced by the insurance lobby does nothing to hold down health care costs, either by reducing administrative overhead or pooling payers in the system to achieve better negotiation discounts. And why would it? After all, all of that administrative overhead is currently going into the pockets of the insurance industry along with the benefits of having a variety of payers in the system.

Another interesting note from the LA Times article, while the Dems are aiming at health care reform on the national level, they plan to do so cautiously. An insider source says they'll operate around the edges over the next two years but really not take reform head on until after 2008...assuming, I imagine, that election goes in their favor as did last Tuesday's.

That doesn't mean, however, Wisconsin (or even just Milwaukee County) needs to wait with them.

LATE UPDATE: Matthew Holt's take on the insurance industry's plan. Color him skeptical.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Taxes Don't Tell the Whole Story

The Journal Sentinel has an article today titled "Tax Rates Don't Tell the Whole Story," which essentially serves as an outlet for taxpayer groups to complain about politicians using property tax rate decreases for political leverage.

These politicians, the taxpayer groups complain, should be decreasing the rate in light of rapid property value increases in recent years. So, it's argued, for them to try to capitalize on the move politically is deceptive.

I can see where the JS is coming from with the article. It is important to inform readers about exactly what makes up property taxes -- that is, the property tax rate times property value.

But what I'm still waiting for is the article that talks about how taxes don't tell the whole story.

In Wisconsin -- particularly, it seems, the southeastern portion of it -- the political mindset has become structured around the idea of taxes. And, when referred to in a political context, the people here are almost always "taxpayers," as opposed to citizens.

I've written before about how this conception of the public reinforces an individualized business-like relationship between the people and the government. Each tax payment is an individual transaction between person and government -- and if you're not getting something directly back for it, you're getting screwed. There is little to unify taxpayers aside from the fact that they're all required to pay taxes.

Conversely, to think of the public as a collection of citizens suggests not merely a group of individuals, but rather an inherently unified body. In this sense, each tax payment is not an individual transaction between person and government, but instead an investment in the community at large.

That's why I, along with many liberals, prefer to think of taxes as a part of public finance, rather than as a standalone entity. Thinking like this often elicits accusations that liberals favor raising taxes, but that's just not the case. Sure, we can reduce taxes, but the real questions to consider are how, where, and, most importantly, at what cost, and to consider those questions is to consider public finance as a whole.

Responsible tax reductions are those that stem from the implementation of specific policies that create operational efficiencies on the service-side wherever possible (e.g., health care reform), as opposed to setting arbitrary caps on revenue and expecting efficiencies to naturally flow from them (e.g., TABOR).

In the end, it's not a bad thing to have some straight up tax talk. If nothing else, it keeps the relationship between citizenry and government honest by serving as a reminder that in addition to citizens working toward a public good, people are also individuals who are striving to make ends meet at home.

But to focus primarily on the tax talk is just as detrimental as no consideration at all for the individual. A balance is best, but that's not something we have -- at least for the most part -- in the public discourse or mindset in Wisconsin right now.

Friday, November 10, 2006

An Election Bonus: The Death of TABOR

Well, at least as dead as any political idea can get. I'm sure we'll see another TABOR incarnation at some point, but, at least in the near future, the proposal is as dead as privatizing social security.

Make no mistake, if the outcome of the election was different, we'd be fighting the same TABOR battle that was fought this past spring.

The tallest roadblock for TABOR now is the Dem-controlled state Senate. Last session's version of TABOR couldn't even pass the Republican-controlled state Senate, so it seems safe to say it will never get by the Dems.

But even setting that fact aside, there are more subtle ways TABOR was rejected on Tuesday.

Recently, conservatives in Waukesha County formed the Wisconsin Center for Economic Properity (WCEP) with the sole purpose of electing politicians in the state who are friendly to writing restrictive fiscal policy into the state constitution.

In the latest election cycle, WCEP gave money to 13 legislative candidates. Eight out of those 13 lost their races, which included one incumbent and four open seats (three of which were previously controlled by the GOP).

Another TABOR proponent, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, didn't fair any better. The state's biggest lobby group ran ads in 10 legislative races this year that either attacked anti-TABOR candidates or supported pro-TABOR candidates. The WMC-chosen candidate lost in 8 of those 10 races, which included three incumbents and three open seats (two of which were previously held by the GOP).

Even outside of Wisconsin, TABOR was stomped on election day. In three states that held statewide referendums on the initiative -- Maine, Nebraska, and Oregon -- all were defeated by an average of 30 points (the margin was actually relatively close in Maine at 8 points).

Just another reason to smile this week.


Side-Note: If you want to see some disagreement on this point and others involving the election results, I encourage you to attend the FREE "Download 2006" event that's being co-sponsored by One Wisconsin Now and Boots & Sabers.

The event will feature a panel of bloggers from the right and the left. Owen and James will be two of those bloggers from the right, and each share a different assessment than me on the role TABOR played in Tuesday's elections.

Both Owen and James feel that the Dem takeovers in the state were a result of the GOP not passing TABOR, as opposed to a rebuke of the idea itself (among, of course, others) as I do.

Although I don't see TABOR supporters staying home on election day (especially in light of the huge voter turnouts statewide) or thinking to themselves, "Well, the GOP didn't write fiscal policy into the state constitution like I wanted, so I'll try the Democrats," I suppose those are the type of disagreements that make for good debate.

Here are the details for Download 2006:

Date: Saturday, November 11 (that's tomorrow!)
Time: 11:00am-2:00pm (the panel starts at noon)
Location: Waukesha County Technical College, Richard T. Anderson Education Conference Center, 800 Main Street, Pewaukee (see here for directions)

Please RSVP to if you plan to attend.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Why Green Lost and Van Hollen Won

There must be a lot of conservatives in Wisconsin wondering what happened.

I remember some of them popping up in my comments section over the spring, summer, and fall to express how utterly confident they were in a Doyle defeat.

The conventional math went like this: Doyle didn't win with a majority in 2002, and those votes that went to Ed Thompson that year will break for the GOP this year because libertarian voters are more apt to vote right than left, thereby ensuring a Republican victory.

The Green Team picked up on this "Doyle has high negatives" line early on. It seems they figured as long as they kept Doyle down, Green would naturally rise to the top.

So the Green campaign, along with the RPW, engaged in months of bashing Doyle on ethics, culminating -- though not ending -- in the Georgia Thompson case, which many conservatives thought would be the deciding factor in the race as a whole.

And if all it took to win was running against Doyle, then Green would've won.

But that's not all it takes. Green also had to run for governor, and that's where his campaign lost the race.

The Green Team never crafted a centralized campaign message that it could use over and over and over and over throughout the campaign months to convince voters (particularly the indies, who showed up at the polls in big numbers) why they should vote for him rather than just against Doyle.

I figured Green would craft a message that was focused on the budget in general and taxes in particular. But when Green completely fumbled the chance to share his plans on the budget in a front page Journal Sentinel article in late June, it started to become clear that Green just didn't have a message to share and that his campaign had completely bought into -- or at least acted like it bought into -- the notion that attacking Doyle was enough to win the race.

And in the month that followed, when Green went on a rampage of tax break promises while simultaneously hammering Doyle over the long-term budget deficit, it shined through that nothing simple, straightforward, or centralized was going to come out of the Green camp.

JB Van Hollen, on the other hand, did craft a simple, straightforward, and centralized campaign message that he would be McGruff the Crime Dog on steroids, and he won. It didn't matter that the AG post really isn't about fighting crime, at least not on the front lines, it only mattered that Van Hollen found a strong campaign theme and stuck to it.

Even when Van Hollen was telling voters why they should vote against Falk, it was almost always in the context of her lack of crime fighting experience. In other words, the same message he was using to convince voter to vote for him. So when people thought Van Hollen, particularly the indies, they likely thought crime fighter, then figured to themselves, "AG = crime fighter. Sounds right to me."

Of course, the election results were not all about what the GOP candidates did and didn't do.

On the Dem side, Doyle ran a strong campaign that worked the stem cell issue and "Green is extreme" theme to near perfection. When you consider that Doyle, as the incumbent, already had a leg up on the challenger Green in the message department heading into the race, it really is no wonder why Doyle's margin of victory was so large.

And Falk, for her part, ran a campaign for the actual AG post as opposed to the one that many voters envision when they think of it (i.e., the one that Van Hollen talked about). It's not that she ran a bad campaign as much as she just didn't run a tough enough campaign.

Perhaps part of that can be attributed to the lack of enthusiasm for Falk's campaign on the left (many didn't seem to appreciate her challenging the incumbent). But I think it has more to do with the messages Falk and Van Hollen chose to emphasize -- Van Hollen's was just that much easier to buy into for the voters.

UPDATE: I see now that Jay beat me to the punch on this one. I'm with Dave on this one: "Damn you, Jay Bullock!"

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Time to Get to Business, Dems

Today would be the day to celebrate, or gloat, if you're a Dem like me.

Dems have taken control of the US House and are currently leading in two contested US Senate races that would give them control of that chamber, too.

Democratic governors across the country also picked up 6 seats to give them a 28-22 lead in governorships, which has importance for those states and the presidential election in two years.

Here in Wisconsin, Governor Doyle was re-elected by a sound margin and the Dems took control of the state Senate.

Other more quirky looks at the results are also gloat-worthy. For instance, not only did Mark Green lose the gubernatorial race, he also was forced to watch as John Gard lost his old House seat to Steve Kagen (Gard's old Assembly seat did stay in GOP hands, as expected). That had to be tough. I can just hear Scott Walker: "It should've been me -- I'm not up for re-election until 2008!"

The GOP did grab the state AG post by a razor thin margin and pulled out both statewide amendments yesterday. But, overall, last night was a good night to be a Dem -- the first time that could be said in an even-year November in quite awhile.

But, putting all of that aside, my excitement is really not about yesterday, it's about what the Dems are going to do now.

At the national level, I expect:
  • Legislation that charts a new course in Iraq
  • Legislation that sets a new energy policy for the country
  • Legislation that creates an accountable prescription drug benefit
  • Legislation that creates a fair immigration policy
  • Legislation that opens the doors to the most promising stem cell research
  • Legislation that's aimed at balancing the budget
  • Legislation that corrects the mistakes of No Child Left Behind and fully funds any educational mandates left behind
  • A stop to ridiculous legislation that distracts from the real business of America (I'm looking at you, flag burning amendment)
Of course, I don't expect many of these pieces of legislation to actually become law in the next two years. Even if the Dems do hold on to the Senate, it will be a razor thin majority there, which isn't going to be enough to override presidential vetoes (although bills like stem cell research may have gotten the boost they need).

At the state level, I expect:
  • Legislation that initiates comprehensive health care reform
  • Legislation that re-does the school funding formula
  • Legislation that revamps the way campaigns are financed in the state
  • Legislation that initiates comprehensive health care reform
  • Legislation that closes any corporate tax loopholes (not tax incentives, but loopholes)
  • A quick defeat of the next incarnation of TABOR
  • Legislation that initiates comprehensive health care reform
  • Legislation that fixes the school voucher funding flaw
  • Legislation that publicly funds the most promising stem cell research
  • And did I mention legislation that initiates comprehensive health care reform?
Of course, like the national level, I don't expect much of this legislation to become law since the GOP still controls the state Assembly. But getting Dem ideas passed in at least one legislative chamber will help to get those ideas out there by grabbing the attention of the media.

When Dems spoke at the national or state level in the past four years, the media was apt to ignore them because their ideas had no chance of going anywhere. And, conversely, the GOP could grab headlines with any hair-brained idea they wanted (again, I'm looking at you, flag burning amendment) because everything they thought of had a chance at becoming law.

Now, though, the Dems have that important outlet to share their ideas with the American public. They need to take advantage of it -- and just in time for 2008.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Lena Taylor: Charlie Sykes' New Least Favorite State Senator

My TV: $150

My couch: $800

Sitting back and watching State Senator Lena Taylor absolutely deflate Charlie Sykes' talking points on WTMJ-TV's election special tonight: Priceless.

"You've got to get connected, Charlie, you've got to get connected."

In Sykes' defense, the cards were stacked in Taylor's favor. This is just not a good night to be a GOPer.

Side-Note: Jay and Owen, if you guys are still at the WTMJ studio, ask them what the deal is with the reporter writing the number of seats the Dems have picked up with her finger on the screen like John Madden. It's kinda creepy.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Election Tomorrow...And I Can't Wait Until It's Over

To be quite honest, I can't wait until the election is over tomorrow night. Not because I want to see the results that badly (although I am interested to see them), but because it will mean the end of election coverage.

This will be the first major election where I am politically engaged on a daily basis. In the past, I paid attention to the headlines and read a handful of articles on politics each week (usually at the national level), but I was hardly focused on politics (especially state and local) every day as I have been since starting this blog.

In the past, my interest was at its peak on election day.

Lately, though, I've found my interest in election coverage waning. It's the same each day, particularly in these last few weeks. Few ideas are being discussed unless their part of some attack.

And the ads, don't even get me started on the ads. I've seen more than I can count, and I don't even watch that much TV.

What's worse, when I saw these ads in the past, I figured they were mostly B.S., but I didn't know enough of the details (at least in local races) to explain how or why. Now I know they're B.S., and I can recite exactly how and why for each, which is much worse than before.

When I just figured the whole spot was B.S., I only had to cringe once. But, now, I find myself cringing at every line that's either a lie or blatant mischaracterization.

In terms of tolerating campaign ads, knowledge sure doesn't feel like power.

I also don't like what the election has done to my blogging. When I started this blog in January, I wanted it to be a place to analyze policy. And, for the most part, it was that way for much of the first six or seven months.

But, over the summer, I noticed my writing beginning to change after the state legislative session ended and the election came onto the horizon. And it wasn't just the topics I wrote about that changed, it was also the way in which I wrote that took a turn.

Policy is (or should be) about nuance. So when I wrote about policy, my writing -- and any discussions that might ensue in the comments section -- had nuance. That's the way I like it.

Elections, on the other hand, are about choices. You don't get to devote a certain percentage of your vote to one candidate and the rest to another. At the polls, you get to pick one person per race, and that's it.

So when I've written about the elections, my writing, similarly, has been aimed at the choices I think are best, which has involved little, if any, nuance. That's not the way I like it.

Even when I'm writing about the issues of the campaign, I've felt philosophically trapped by the positions of the candidates I support (and there's no candidate out there who I agree with 100 percent). If I advocate a position outside of what my chosen candidate has gone on the record as supporting -- say, for example, universal health care -- the point almost seems moot in the context of the election because what I want to discuss is simply not one of the choices on election day.

Over the last few days, I've noticed myself pouring over the newspaper to find articles that deal with politics but not the elections. Needless to say, I haven't read much the past few days. It seems I'm pulling away from the election just as others are opening their eyes to it.

Things will get better with the post-election analysis. There seems to be at least some nuance there, particularly when discussing election strategy.

But I truly can't wait for the next legislative session to begin, at least in terms of my blogging. A little grey will be nice after all of the black and white.


No blogging tomorrow. I’ll be busy getting out the vote to preserve a fair Wisconsin.

I’ve never felt compelled to actively donate my time to a political cause until this civil unions and marriage amendment vote came up. This one’s worth it.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Bloggers and the MSM

I just want to make a quick comment in light of an op-ed in the Journal Sentinel the other day that I was directed to through Jay's blog.

The piece is on the local blogsophere in (presumably) Milwaukee, and at one point the author -- Michael King -- writes (emphasis in original): "The sworn enemy of both sides [of the Cheddarsphere] is the MSM (mainstream media)."

I actually don't view the MSM as my sworn enemy, even though I have criticized coverage in the Journal Sentinel on more than one occasion, including my previous post.

My criticism is based on the important role I see the MSM playing in the political and civic culture of society, as I discussed yesterday.

If I didn't think the MSM was important and necessary, I would just ignore it.

That said, I hope my criticisms have not come off as confrontational and dismissive, but rather constructive and engaging.

I'll admit, though, it's tough to do that sometimes in the heat of the moment. You see an article or, worse, a pattern of articles that triggers some frustration or anger, and in the rush to get the post out (and, as most citizen bloggers will surely attest, blogging often needs to be done in a rush) you crank out a snide remark or, worse, a series of them.

This isn't to say there aren't some bloggers out there who thrive on snarky comments and actively seek them out in every post. But my sense is that a good portion of bloggers (at least the ones I bother to read regularly) don't do that.

And the fact is most bloggers -- myself included -- need the MSM. I don't have time to seek out and report the news on my own, although it's true some citizen bloggers do see themselves as reporters of the news in addition to their roles as commentators.

I see this blog, instead, as solely a place to analyze the news that gets reported by others. And since the news being reported is inherently linked to the report itself, that report often comes under the microscope along with the news.

But, again, that's because the MSM matters, not because I'm trying to fight against it.

Side-Note: If this type of discussion is interesting to you, I encourage you to attend a FREE event next Saturday that's being co-sponsored by One Wisconsin Now and Boots & Sabers called "Download 2006."

This event will feature a panel of citizen bloggers -- including myself -- from both the right and the left that will engage in a discussion about the elections and, relevant to this post, the coverage of the elections in the MSM.

Here are the details:

Date: Saturday, November 11
Time: 11:00am-2:00pm (the panel starts at noon)
Location: Waukesha County Technical College, Richard T. Anderson Education Conference Center, 800 Main Street, Pewaukee (see here for directions)

Please RSVP to if you plan to attend.

Fronting Cross Promotion

The JS is fronting an article today on how a picture mocking Senator Kerry appeared on Charlie Sykes' blog, which then led the picture to the Drudge Report and elsewhere on the Internet.

This is front-page news?

I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised considering the JS and WTMJ are owned by the same company, Journal Communications.

Nothing like a little cross-promotion.

But, seriously, does it need to be on the front page?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Accentuating the Negative

A manufacturing industry research group, eMvoy, recently ranked Wisconsin 6th in the nation for manufacturing competitiveness. The Badger State was one of only 14 states the group found to be "significantly above-average for industrial competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing."

But you wouldn't know that by reading the Journal Sentinel, the state's biggest daily.

And I'm not griping about this in the context of the gubernatorial race. I'm griping about this in the context of how the public views the state of Wisconsin.

Earlier this month when the conservative Tax Foundation released its rankings of corporate tax climate, which placed Wisconsin as "12th worst," the JS covered it on the front page of the Business section along with the echoing reaction of like-minded groups such as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

And this doesn't just happen with business.

When the conservative Fordham Foundation released completely subjective rankings that graded Wisconsin a D- for the way in which its state standards are written, the JS covered it on the front page.

But when the ACT scores for Wisconsin students came in second in the country, the story was buried in consecutive articles on how most Wisconsin high school grads are supposedly ill-prepared for college and how there's wide variance in test scores between locales in the state. And when Wisconsin students outpaced the rest of the country on the SAT (again), the JS buried that in an article about how scores are declining nationwide.

It seems likely this is linked to a "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality. The articles that show trouble are assumed to be bigger eye-catchers than those that show all is well.

But, cumulatively, emphasizing the negative while ignoring the positive has the effect of shaping a negative public view of the state of Wisconsin itself, which, in turn, has an impact on intangible issues like civic pride and tangible issues like voting.

That's the great responsibility our media holds. It should be more mindful of it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Framing the Civil Unions and Marriage Ban Debate

It’s interesting to see where the civil unions and marriage ban debate is at a little under a week before the actual vote.

It seems the crux of the debate has centered on the effects of the amendment passing, particularly the second sentence.

Those who oppose the ban are talking up the harmful impact the second sentence will have on a wide range of benefits for all unmarried couples, while those who support the ban are claiming that opponents are overstating the effects of the second sentence.

Conspicuously absent from the debate is an emphasis on what will happen if the amendment doesn’t pass.

In other words, while the impact of the ban passing is receiving tons of scrutiny, the actual need for the ban has been largely glossed over.

When questioned on the issue, amendment supporters point to Massachusetts and Vermont. The problem with this, of course, is that Wisconsin is not Massachusetts or Vermont. This state has a different constitution, different laws, and different courts than those states and all other states.

What I have not seen from the pro-ban crowd is a convincing case demonstrating that here in Wisconsin judges would or even could use the our state constitution to force the allowance of gay marriage or something substantially similar to it. There should be some burden on the pro-ban side to make this case -- without using the words "Massachusetts," "Vermont," or now "New Jersey" -- if they want voters in Wisconsin to make the significant step of altering the constitution.

Unfortunately, though, the public's attention often isn't focused on political questions long enough to consider multiple layers of a debate. And, if one frame had to be chosen, the fact that the public debate has been framed primarily around the effects of the second sentence is a victory for the anti-ban side because it gets people thinking about those effects and not the fear – however unfounded – that Wisconsin will be the next Massachusetts or Vermont.

If the emphasis of the debate was on that fear of the amendment not passing, it would be much easier for the pro-ban crowd to convince voters to vote yes with talk about what “might” happen if the amendment didn’t pass and, of course, frequent use of that favorite ambiguous GOP phrase “judicial activism.”

(Side-Note: Kevin Ryan at Milwaukee Ramblings has a good discussion of the roots and purpose of American judicial activism.)

One look at the odd and slightly off-putting “Vote Yes” television spot released this week gives a glimpse of what the pro-ban side would prefer to be discussing -- and it doesn't have anything to do with the second sentence.

(Side-Note: Any complaints from conservatives on the use of children in the “Vote Yes” ad? Considering the outrage expressed after Doyle used a mother and daughter in an ad earlier this year, I would think there would be some.)

Instead, though, it’s the anti-ban crowd that’s been able to use concern over what “might” happen if the amendment is passed by raising legitimate fears about the broad reaching effects of writing social policy into the state constitution.

At the very least it appears this framing victory for the anti-ban side will lead to a closer vote on the Wisconsin amendment than any other marriage ban vote in other states in recent years (the closest to date is Oregon, which in 2004 went 57 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed).

We’ll need to wait a week to see if the framing victory can actually translate into a voting victory.