Thursday, March 15, 2018


By Dominique Paul Noth

Conor Lamb's astounding victory in Pennsylvania despite
Trump's best efforts.
Trump couldn’t have entered in a stronger personal position March 10 when he held one of his patented “lock em up” rallies in the House special election, ostensibly to help Rick Saccone in the District 18 Trump had carried by 22 points.

In that bizarre stream of red meat self-praise and insults on a  Saturday night,  he could highlight his recent  tariffs on foreign steel (designed for  these Pennsylvania blue collar voters to love), a new tax bill embracing the penny-for-you dollar-for-CEO  trickle down those voters have cheered in the past,  personal diplomacy with North Korea that many find daring, nice noises of compassion on school shootings  and then standing firm with the NRA, nice noises on DACA and then blaming the Democrats for screwing up his sympathetic heart.  

Even the twitter firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson  March 13 came too late to influence turnout negatively and, given the propensity of Trump voters to like his style of blunt action, would have helped rather than hurt.

Despite such an enormous wind at his back in a solid red gerrymander – some thought it solidly red for any Republican no matter what – Saccone lost. It was a squeaker but Democrat Conor Lamb was the “apparent winner” (apparent not because he doesn’t have the votes but there could be a “wing and prayer” recount).

All sorts of lessons are being drawn from this staggering loss  -- staggering personally to Trump’s image and staggering financially to the dark money that kneejerk  Republican donors have been blindly hurling at elections whenever the RNC panics, and don’t think those donors aren’t rethinking  such waste.

Candidate Lamb directly raised four times as much as Saccone in personal (and recordable) pleas, but was outspent $10.7 million to $4.7 million, mostly in outside money attack ads on the former Marine’s character and viewpoints. Certainly Trump wasted a lot of ammunition sending Don Jr. in a hair-net, Ivanka, Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence and even Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to help.

Meanwhile, of course, some progressives were concerned by Lamb’s pointed refusal to support Nancy Pelosi as House leader, his support of gun ownership (with avid support of background checks), his personal opposition to abortion while supporting women’s rights.

But when GOP’s Paul Ryan tried to explain Lamb’s victory as a conservative win, he obviously never heard Lamb’s full-throated defense of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security (programs Ryan is determined to cut), his opposition to the Trump tax bill and his embrace of not just union movements but the pension programs the GOP is also attacking.

If a candidate supports universal health care, stronger unions, no cuts to Social Security, a woman’s right to choose and is pro medical marijuana, many voters would welcome that as a new definition of conservatives. (It was also Ryan’s gigantic PAC that misfired most in attacks on Lamb’s persona.)

What the heck is meant by a big tent party if not this? Here we have a living example of a candidate who fit his community and turned them from their kneejerk Republicanism. And he checked a lot of Democratic boxes doing so.

The district will disappear in a few months as a new district map ordered by the Pennsylvania high court takes hold to end the GOP gerrymandering, likely leaving Lamb with a friendlier district to run in again in November.

But he may be helping define what are the core values that put someone inside the Democratic Party -- and what are the new or transitioning values (same sex marriage, reasons for warfare, strategies on farming and environment, no drones or some drones) Democrats disagree on as they are pulled to the left and then to the right (if those terms have any meaning these days).

During Wisconsin’s crowded campaign for governor, with 15 reasonable choices and not a JFK among them (by which I mean no one has jumped out to voters eight months ahead), I’ve talked to Bernie Sanders diehards  who are unsatisfied with candidates who don’t adopt Bernie’s precise language on health care.  Yet many of those candidates gently prefer their own terms and methods to solve the same problem.

A lesser known candidate for Wisconsin governor, former legislator
 Kelda Roys may have scored modernized points by
 not hesitating on breast-feeding in a TV ad.
I’ve talked to some that think a Democrat from Milwaukee or Madison is the kiss of death yet sneer at the “hick” views on drainage and budget wonkishness from legislators like Dana Wachs and Kathleen Vinehout. I’ve talked to some who say it better not be a woman again and others who say it better be a woman, which will perk up the ears of Vinehout and former legislator Kelda Roys.  I’ve heard others rail about the older age of most candidates yet are slowly understanding that 70 is the new 50.

I’ve talked to Democrats still upset that Bernie hasn’t registered as a Democrat– and in Wisconsin, one candidate against Scott Walker, “no labels” figure Mike McCabe is in a strange battle with the Dems over access to their data intended just for Democrats. (Is this a battle of scruples or politics?)

“Medicare for all” (Sanders language) and “steps to single payer” (a term of art some candidates  now prefer) seem a silly reason  to split party support, but there is a persnickety side to Democrats that  tend to gripe over nuances on guns, women’s rights, health care, educational approaches, immigration approaches and more. 

Should we throw people out of the party who are not vocally angry enough about Trump or outspoken enough about Black Lives Matter?  Should a Catholic whose social justice views are liberal but supports the church on abortion (but not on contraception in my experience) be drummed out of the party? Should we expect a rural voter to have the same concerns as a city voter over water, guns and immigration?

Let Trump be the one living in his own simplistic dreamland.  He and his party tried to attack Lamb on all the jaded issues -- guns, crime and Pelosi -- while Lamb focused on kitchen table issues, saying he would work with this president where he can, raising the larger question of what people are sent to D.C. to do. 

Sticking too close to Donald resulted in the devastating sea change in a district that was designed to remain Republican. But Lamb advanced by just letting Trump stew in his own ineptitudes. 

In a red region, the winning road was not to take on Trump directly but to take on the issues, to carve up his constant boasts and define just what you will do differently for your voters, not your party, in office.

In a bluer region, a different strategy may be needed, but beating up likely supporters seems particularly silly. The danger for Democrats is eating their own young.

Joe Kennedy III
This week I heard anger from Democrats at other Democrats who raised questions about the student walkouts (doubts that they would work) – and anger running the other way. Skepticism is hardly a reason to throw a friend over the cliff, especially a friend who shares your basic concerns.   

To many, the fine response to the State of the Union given by Joe Kennedy III was undone by harping on his resistance to marijuana legalization.   There is some family history there and some real internal squeamishness on his part, but is the “right view” on pot also now essential to the definition of Democrat?

Recently harsh divisions have erupted over changes to the Dodd-Frank bill in the Senate.

Elizabeth Warren
Now personally I am on Elizabeth Warren’s side on this one, that loosening controls on sizable banks could result in another financial meltdown.  But many Democrats of good standing support the help the bill gives community banks. It’s quite an argument – whether somewhat justifiable help for community banks is overloaded with handouts and deregulation for quite large banks. 

It comes at a moment of great suspicion about Republican economic thrusts in the first place – can anything good come from adjusting Dodd-Frank?  The Warren side (where I stand), including the likes of Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, suggests that if the bill was clearly going to help smaller regional banks it would not extend to the likes of such “regional” giants as SunTrust, BB&T, Citizens, M&T and BMO Financial Corp, which are openly playing around with the $50 billion threshold the bill sets.

Missouri's Claire McCaskill may be a moderate but Trump
and the GOP are working overtime to beat her.
But it’s not just known conservative Democrats like Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota or Joe Manchin of West Virginia that Warren was in a fight with.  There are about a dozen Democrats in all – some in crucial re-election races -- Virginia’s Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, Florida’s Bill Nelson and Montana’s Jon Tester.  

Yet those opponents of the Liz Warren stand –including Michael Bennett of Colorado, Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and  Debbie Stabenow of Michigan  -- have now seen themselves called racists in print.  They think that’s a bit much.

But so do many Catholics who, like Lamb, support the church’s view on abortion and have found themselves branded as too extreme to be called Democrats. At a recent grassroots gathering, in fact, such viewpoints were shouted down.
Billionaires were funding Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin's opponents
even before they were chosen.

Interestingly McCaskill, Heitkamp and Nelson call their campaigns crucial to making the Senate a Democratic majority, since they are indeed facing a blitz of dark money to unseat them.  Each thinks their contest is the most important in the nation – and McCaskill is clearly under special pressure though you would think her shrewd moderation would win out in Missouri.

I would argue that the more openly progressive Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Brown of Ohio, Elizabeth Warren and Chris Murphy of Connecticut are facing the biggest financial guns.

We are entering the period when Democrats will be out-raised on money issues but have to start digging hard into generally smaller pocketbooks to flip both Senate and House. I sense a reluctance among progressive Democrats to support the likes of McCaskill or Heitkamp who are not their ideological cup of tea in a perfect world. But obviously they are legions better than the Trumpites and women haters they are facing.

There is equal reluctance among moderate Democrats to help Liz, Bernie and Sherrod, believing their views are pulling the party too strongly to the left, where some fear the Democrats nationally can’t win.  To some outspokenness is good style and to others it is not. And such views are affecting the wallet.

This is not the time to pick and choose in some abstract chess player universe for 2018.
Beto O'Rourke may prove that Texans dislike Ted Cruz
 almost a much as the rest of the country does.

There are also new players to take a hard look at. Consider Rep. Krysten Sinema of Arizona hoping to move up to take Republican Jeff Flake’s senate seat.  She began in the Green Party, became a Blue Dog Democrat but is a huge champion of Dreamers and gay rights – so she’s gone round the barn on many issues, which may be ideal for Arizona.

There is also Beto O’Rourke, the photogenic Democrat taking on Ted Cruz and defying the NRA – in Texas! -- in a task that once seemed as unlikely as, say, Conor Lamb winning in Pennsylvania.

There will be time to argue if party labels are necessary in the first place, though right now they seem convenient at the very least and informative at the most,  except where party leaders are too stiff-necked for their own good.  But it would be shameful if the Democrats, facing the opportunity of a lifetime in federal and state races, chose this moment to break up over self-imposed litmus tests.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


By Dominique Paul Noth

Our modern conflict resolution in politics is better then the old days,
but just how much better?
I’m rebelling against the way civility is being employed in American politics. 

There may be many good things that stem from the decorum imposed on members of Congress in their internal dealings.  No more screaming insults on the House floor, no more challenges to a duel as existed in the 19th century.  But under the “civilized” rules adopted since,   there is now no way to call a liar a liar without violating comity.  And more and more our politics have been a field day for flat-out lying.

Sen. Ted Cruz tried it two years and it wasn’t even about a “lie” but losing out on  legislative gamesmanship – and he still is paying the consequences of violating etiquette, as well as being in danger of losing his seat.

Most of the time, civility is the rational way people speak to each other, essential in a working democracy. It's why they wear nice clothes in Congress.

But that’s not how dress-up has been landing lately.  Not since the Republicans gained control of two of the three branches of government.  That power has gone to their  heads so much they will shortly lose it. They can’t play fair, so they have become expert at creating  their own facts.

This has recently bollixed the Democrats to the point that a lie perpetrated by a Republican House chairman, and backed by misleading statements from the White House, has so muddled the issues around the Russian investigation as to leave the truth upended and the public in a state of confusion. It’s no longer just “politics as usual” but attacks on the basic facts that we normally could agree on. Seldom have statistical details been put to such obfuscation.

It’s getting tiresome to explain how Rep. Devin Nunes, despite recusing himself from Russian issues at the House Intelligence Committee, had his staff fashion out of secret documents a lie about the FBI playing politics and FISA judges not having the right knowledge about opposition research. They figured that these fabrications  would be convincing to Trump’s voters.

The lie was quickly promulgated to the public with favorable statements from the White House, which controls release of any data based on sealed documents. Then, relying on a public confused enough to believe the Nunes lies, Trump delayed, redacted and poked fun at the rebuttal truth message from the Democrats.

One result is that the correction could not go blow by blow exposing the lies. It did demonstrate that in this case both the FBI and the four FISA judges followed all rules, but by that time who noticed?   And the correction didn’t get its own extensive airtime, since it  was not revealed to the public until the middle of the CPAC gathering, where Nunes was allowed to repeat his lies before a zealous conservative crowd, with full TV coverage.

And the media? It was paralyzed by civility too, it seems. Not “Fox and Friends,” of course, whose constant lies in favor of Trump have led to both exposure and derision.

But civility and balance are at least given lip-service at MSNBC, CNN and other networks.  To explain things to the public they still feel they have to give as much time to the false accusation as to the Democratic rebuttal, thereby doubling the exposure, allowing the lies to seem a reasonable area of debate.  

Has Adam Schiff been rewarded for civility?
One could only groan for Rep. Adam Schiff, chief minority voice on the committee, who tried to indirectly point out in interviews that he was facing lies – except he couldn’t say lie. Not only is he naturally a creature of civility, the rules of Congress don’t allow him to call a liar like Nunes a liar without being censured by the Republican dominated House.

It didn’t help that Nunes’ good buddy, Speaker Paul Ryan, told his friend to recuse himself then, wink and nod, allowed him to interfere at will. You get the feeling that many Republicans truly  know what is going on but are too cowardly to speak out against the master race. They may not have the presidency by much but damn they want to keep it.

And that's the biggest thing tilting the playing field -- the attention we historically give to the bully pulpit of the White House. For decades whatever the president says is news to be dissected and debated, even now when it can be the spewings of infantile tweets or the flourishing of useless resolutions like a dining menu at  Mar-a-Lago.

You see it several times a week when the press corps keeps asking sensible questions of the White House press secretary knowing that Sarah Huckster is going to spin and spin what the president actually told her or what she has invented to protect him. You can see the press  frustration and stifled laughter, but they still follow decorum – and frankly, I no longer know the hell why.

The same is true with the president at his rallies and non-interruptable TV and radio interviews.   We and the media may quietly laugh, we and they scramble to keep up with the hundreds of lies and bungled statistics that fall from his  lips, but he still gets way too much airt

Partly it his entertaining style of delivery – it’s good for ratings to not know what he will say next – but partly it is that president of the United States thing.  No journalist can ignore what he’s saying and no member of the public can totally ignore what he is thinking (though I think more are trying daily).

Add to this a  White House staff devoted not to serving the nation but to protecting their boss – a mansion full of novices and nepotism  constantly twisting things for an audience of one.  

The master of fake news signings strikes again.
This is a president who believes the NRA is sincere, just as he believes Putin when he said he  had nothing to do with attacking our election.  This is a man who spends hours hiding his bald spot and inventing bone spurs to avoid the draft, yet insists that he would have run unarmed into that Florida school to face a gunman.   When dealing with that level of self-delusion, who dares tell him aloud that he talks like a fool?

And here is the result, so frustrating that it raises up in the public a  desire to beome rabble-rousers – so useless seem the normal avenues of conversation.  

Trump offers a totally ridiculous solution to gun violence: Arm the teachers  – teachers who understand human nature and the fallacy of the western shoot-em-up mentality.

But because the president proposed it, we waste a lot of digital and print space whacking it down as if it were a serious idea.  Since he is echoing the gun manufacturing lobby known as the NRA, the president is providing them cover for what everyone knows is outrageous foolishness.

Suddenly the media is holding talkathons  on just how many teachers might want to bring a gun to class, just how many hardened Marines want to work as teachers, just how many mentally challenged gunmen will be scared away as opposed to being more attracted to suicide by cop. 

The nation has been distracted from the real problem. The NRA leadership is out in force spinning  a phony vision of the Second Amendment.  Fortunately, these young victims of the Florida massacre are old enough to not put up with these efforts at distraction, which have sapped the strength of older citizens to do something about the gun culture.  The youngsters  claim they will survive rounds and rounds of setbacks as just blocked them in Tallahassee.

They have entered a biased race where decorum ought to matter but action matters more. Round and  round our nation goes, wasting time on issues that are neither left nor right  but smart vs. dumb.  

We are going to see if the women angered by chauvinistic men can continue their commitment and  agitation for the years it will take to achieve gains.  We’ll see if the young people, normally impatient but now deeply  angered by gun policy failures,  are committed enough to survive all the barriers  and  disappointments that big money and a waffling president will push in their path for years. 

Trump’s diminishing band of supporters know this is a race and they are hanging on with some powerful tools. His last stand is the economy. No one wishes our economy ill (except other countries).  It’s the Trump ace in the hole, no matter who stabilized it.  Until it fails,  his backers  will stick with a president who has flamboyant-sized fixation on the economy to go with his pea-brained view of social problems. But isn’t  that’s too high a price to pay for civility?

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018


By Dominique Paul Noth

Shortly before he left early from the Domes  hearing on parking fees,
Chris Abele dodged a question from AFSCME retired leader Patty Yunk,
photo from her Facebook page.
When Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele backed off Tuesday (Feb. 13) from putting parking meters in the parks to raise revenue, he said he was just bowing to the public’s resistance.

He didn’t say he was bowing to the hundreds who spoke against such fees at a Domes public hearing forced upon him by the County Board.  If the board  hadn’t insisted, meters would have gone through without public input.

Nor did he cite the complaints and resolutions peppering him from those supervisors who each represent about 55,000 persons.

Nor did he mention how the day before at a meeting of the ICC (Intergovernmental Cooperation Council)  he was hammered by the influential leaders of the 19 municipalities who all have parks in their backyards.

It remains an open question which factors really led Abele to abandon an idea no one liked.  He has often stuck to his guns regardless of public opinion. And here comes another bill he’s pushing in Madison mainly designed to increase his powers and stick it to the county board. Under that bill (Senate 777 and Assembly 923) he could do everything he just said he wouldn’t.

As writer Virginia Small reported, when Abele was asked why he wanted more power, he told Channel 58 that the bill would let executives run government “more efficiently,” to which Supervisor John Weishan responded: “I’m sure that Mussolini and Hitler said the same thing.”

Many in the public are fooled into thinking this is a personality dispute – supervisors led by board chair Theo Lipscomb to oppose imperious Abele rather than serve their own constituents.

It’s a simple-minded view that  the media --  newspaper and many radio and  TV stations  (except for a few good interviews) --  have also adopted. It’s always easier to sell news or minimize the controversy if you make it about people not liking each other rather than real issues.  

Supervisor Jason Haas
“It’s all the newspaper,” said Supervisor Jason Haas, first elected in 2011. “There is no meat to those bones. Whoever is in the board chair will have conflicts with this county exec (as Marina Dimitrijevic did before Theodore Lipscomb).  It’s a policy dispute. We (the board) demanded a plan for parking revenue  and insisted on a public hearing.” That, he believes,  was not mentioned in stories about the Abele withdrawal.

Across town, Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman – new to the board but a veteran state legislator - added,  “Oh, there is always  a little personal animus.  The policies have started to turn them on each other. But the real problem is the bill. It goes too far.”

It’s an Abele power play and  violates “my  ideal of both sides working together,” Wasserman said. 

Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman
Working together is clearly mandated  in the largest city in Wisconsin with a $1.5 billion budget (now reduced in negotiations) that requires county board input under federal and state law.  This 18-headed Hydra with some  districts of frequent turnover has actually pulled together on key issues over the last decade – and likely will again after  the April election.  Many supervisors  are resentful at the media treating this as a personality disorder on their end.

Abele is an odd duck on many fronts.  He has used his father’s wealth (Boston Scientific and Argosy Foundation) and his own for many philanthropic or progressive causes  to  support national women’s rights and local LBGTQ efforts, individual national candidates  and so forth. 

But he also spends money that swamps local competitors  and puts his own candidates in the field. He  produces aggressive flyers and TV-radio campaigns against the county board.  His methods have angered many politicians who previously got his support. That money and his willingness to use it leads to the general feeling that “he doesn’t  play well with others,” as one former supervisor put it. 

Said Lipscomb in an interview, “He’s working with you if he gets his own way.”

Abele  not only has the money to do it, he has the methods. Sometimes he seems to deliberately beat the board to the punch on reversals of his own  policy – not just the parking thing but when Lipscomb was unveiling a board  plan to save bus routes,   Abele slipped in ahead of him to take the savior position.

The parking-in-parks  issue strikes many as that sort of backhanded back-down – now suggesting using the contingency fund instead,  an idea stolen from a Weishan proposal.

Yet he was  still lobbying February 14 in Madison for a bill violently opposed by the public that gives him the power to impose ideas he just abandoned.  In fact, when asked in Madison  who is paying the expensive lobbyists for the bill, he said,  “I am.”  

And that bill allows  him  a wheel tax of whatever size despite the public voting 72% against the  $60 he was seeking. It also allows him any fiscal debt he wants to acquire, amend or impose without public input.

Many see the bill as the coronation of King Abele and were unhappy when they  heard that other county executives also wanted it. Not Wasserman. “County execs want to be buddies with each other,” he chuckled.

Wasserman noted the bill expands their power to match Abele’s, though some in the press believe it brings him up to them, so cleverly was this sold.

It extends authority to other county executives (about 10 others in the state) to put them on a par with Milwaukee but  has a section devoted all to Milwaukee – “a wish list for someone who wants dictatorial powers,” said Supervisor James (Luigi) Schmitt, who has represented the Wauwatosa area on the board since 1998 and has seen his share of would-be dictators come and go. (Scott Walker preceded Abele.)

Non-lawyers may not realize all the wrinkles Abele is seeking in a bill introduced by GOP lawmakers and two Democrats now being regarded as turncoats, Sen. Lena Taylor and Rep. Jason Fields.  It has  a powerful lobbying component pretending to be  County Leaders for Modernization whose announced members tilt to firms long associated with the Republicans. It would take away from the board approving contracts and leases;  setting compensation rates including retirement; reviewing an interim appointment and much more.
Board chairman Theodore Lipscomb

The state’s neutral Legislative Reference Bureau stated the consequences clearly and simply in its fiscal analysis:  “To the extent that a conflict exists between county board action and county executive the bill provides that the action of the executive shall prevail. The bill also allows a county executive of a populous county to exercise some of the authority that would otherwise be exercised by the county board for matters regarding property.”

Abele may also have stepped over his skies in TV interviews saying  all the state’s other 10  county executives are behind the bill.  No, they are behind its idea of a two-year budget cycle that creates efficiencies in management, and so are members of the Milwaukee  board I interviewed.

But while initial news stories and Abele’s own statements put the other county execs full scale behind the bill, that’s  simply false.  Other county execs indicate, as one said off the record, that it was supported “to the extent we didn’t publicly oppose.”

There are expanded powers for them as a sweetener in the bill but there’s an entire section that clearly applies just to Abele and not to them – presented to a legislature notorious for wrapping around Milwaukee like  a python.

Outagamie County's Tom Nelson
One of the more notable county execs with a statewide reputation as a solid Democrat, Tom Nelson of Outagamie County, is a strong supporter of Abele’s idea  but even he suggests his county is in a different situation.  For instance, asked if he would ever seek a wheel tax, he said no.

Nelson now suggests he wants to introduce amendments since some of the language in the bill sounds so toxic toward  county boards. “There are a number of provisions that appeal to me including two year budgeting and establishing a commission to set elected-official pay,” Nelson told me in an interview. But “I have come to appreciate our unique board-executive relationship. It’s a partnership grounded in mutual respect and understanding.”

Portage County Executive Patty Dreier also called the language and details  “toxic.” Such  execs  also have close relationships to their citizen board of legislators who generally represent fewer citizens and less demographic complexity than in  Milwaukee.  Nelson points out that his board only took 15 minutes to approve his budget.

Many execs  also quietly say they have more experience in the give-and-take of democracy than Abele does. 

It was  state legislation (Act 14 morphing into Act 55) a few years ago that first gave Abele more power after  running to Madison. Those bills  shut county board members out  of land deals (the Bucks arena and environs) and department leadership choices while also reducing them to part-time hours and pay though many continue to work full time.

Because of those reductions, this April all the board seats are again up for vote, though only a few are contested.  Only one requires a Feb. 20 primary.  That’s the Oak Creek 8th District where incumbent David Sartori is being challenged by Abele-backed James Davies and Working Families Party-backed Scott Shea. 

Two years is the average board service length  around the state, but note that the Outagamie board only meets twice a month and Nelson says it is fully involved – attending “all executive budget meetings,” while in Milwaukee Abele is known  for secrecy.

Fond du Lac County Executive Allen Buechel says bluntly “I will not take a public position on the current legislation. If it does not pass, the issues will not go away. At that point I would recommend that a group of County Executives and County Board Chairs sit down and work through the issues.”

Buechel has been county exec for 25 years and was  for 17 years before that  on the Fond du Lac board.   “I have a great relationship with my board,” he said. “I recognize that this is not the situation in some of the other 10 counties with an elected executive.”

Doubts about the bill have spread.  Dane County is actually registered in opposition; its  budget is only a third the size of Milwaukee’s. The new bill, Schmitt points out, overrides fiscal controls even past  the point of independent judicial review.  

Under Act 55 Abele already had wrested control of non-parkland, which allowed him to unilaterally make the deal for the new Bucks arena and 10 acres around it.  But he also forced county taxpayers to  absorb a hefty  chunk. At the same time as President Obama was advising no public money should go to private sports palaces,  Walker and the GOP agreed to spend $250 million in taxpayer money  -- and $80 million of that over 20 years from county taxpayers under the Abele concession.  

Obama is proving right about how the taxpayers are underwriting enormous  private profits – the Bucks are now worth over $1 billion -  but credit the Bucks with realizing how that looks and agreeing to a $12.50 minimum wage growing to $15 and unionized local jobs. Does that lessen the sting of  $80 million?  Or will the Arena  join Foxconn as a bitter pill for the county taxpayer  to swallow?

Not all the land going through the parks has been officially zoned as parkland, and Abele has talked openly about a goal of self-sustaining park revenue by 2024. As long as that was  beer gardens or golf putting greens, no one objected.  But giving him the power to go further is worrisome and certainly weakens local control over both parks and other land use, his many critics point out.

Patricia Jursik
Local parks activists fear that if a park doesn’t pay its own way, Abele will shut it down. Noted former supervisor Pat Jursik, now on the board of Preserve Our Parks, “When leaders wanted a brand new arena they found the money in the supposedly depleted county coffers. But when citizens want to preserve the legacy of our grandparents and save public parks for our own grandchildren, we are told there is no money. This is a false narrative. This is rule by the Corporate Oligarchs who do not listen to the public.”

The timing of Abele’s new Madison power grab to the April election also struck many as no accident.  Because simultaneously a new organization funded by Abele and supporting several candidates while opposing board incumbents has emerged – LeadershipMKE.  It is targeting several races with flyers and ads – including Lipscomb in District 1, attacks on Peggy West in District  12 and defense of incumbent Deanna Alexander (Abele’s staunchest ally on the board) against an outspoken progressive opponent, Sparkle Ashley, in District 18.

LeadershipMKE  is openly backing Jim Davies with multiple flyer dumps in that Oak Creek district, trying to  muddy the progressive message of candidate Steven Shea ahead of Feb. 20.

Which raises another question of strange bedfellows. A  knowledgeable state legislator noted accurately that “Abele has been searching for someone to run against Theo for a year and promised big bucks to whoever that would be.” 

Yet Lipscomb’s opponent in District 1 Glendale area, Casey Shorts, insists he was not recruited by Abele nor has he taken money from him.  Similarly, Sylvia Ortez Velez,  opposing Peggy West in traditionally low turnout District 12, ran for the seat before and also insists she is not Abele’s candidate – “in fact, I oppose his privatization push,” she said.  And so does Shorts.

But flyers savaging the incumbents from the Abele group  are landing on the doors in these two districts and other advertising is planned.  All Velez and Shorts say they can do is shrug and ignore.  Shouldn’t something be said about disowning?

Shorts boasts endorsements from the Milwaukee Area Labor Council and Citizen Action, neither close to Abele and also past supporters of  Lipscomb, who admits to being confused by their choice.  Pam Fendt, who now leads the labor council, says “we were simply blown away by Shorts’ strong labor presentation” – Shorts is a lawyer and workers comp specialist at Previant.  Citizen Action also cites a strong interview.  His opposition to privatization was another key factor, though Lispcomb is equally opposed and has worked in the past for union compensation.

Shorts, a Glendale resident, clearly buys the newspaper attitude about the dispute. He  believes that the Abele-Lipscomb friction is a factor he can correct.  If it weren’t so “deep rooted,” if there were 97% agreement,  he speculates, why  anytime you open JS wouldn’t that  be more widely known? To him it seems personal between them.

“97% is the actual truth if you look at how his budgets go through,” ripostes Lipscomb.  “Conflict is his oversimplification.”  But he admits to getting irked “when Abele runs to Madison to get what he wants.”

The irony is that in a different place and time, you could see Shorts and Lipscomb talking policy over  beers.  Is he a decent candidate in  the wrong environment, I asked Shorts.

“I’ve heard that before – right person in the wrong race,” he smiled. “But I live in Glendale and I have local support and I think it’s insane the conflict I’m seeing.”

The media also hasn’t noticed how the American fetish for automobiles keeps moving Abele closer to Walker. It may be a mutual blind spot about raising money.

The governor,  after years of opposition, is  now dreaming about a piece of Trump’s infrastructure fancies. So suddenly he is open to two things once taboo: Creating toll roads to raise money and raising the gasoline tax.  Abele, rather than intelligent belt tightening or deeper innovation, fixates on wheel tax and parking fees.

What is it with these guys and the American love of automobiles? Joked Haas,  “They never seem to learn. Go near people’s cars and there’s outrage.”

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


By Dominique Paul Noth

Trump January 9 in an "Apprentice" like sitdown
while Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyers listens.
Apparently the way to get Trump to behave more presidential is to accuse him of being unhinged.

In response to widespread speculation after “Fire and Fury,” he opened to the press a usually closed session with leading Democrats and Republicans July 9 where, knowing cameras were rolling, he sounded calmer and more conversationally stable than usual. He directed a freewheeling if simplistic discussion of DACA (whatever Congress agrees to he will sign), earmarks (he wants back the collegiality associated with such pork) and admitted there are security fixes aside from a big wall on the border,

Trump also said the bill must include something no one in the room agreed about. He insisted that the public, thanks to his diatribes, was now against “chain migration,” without defining what that term actually means or why aside from rally cliché it must be in any bill.

The media and TV audience who watched this unusually open Tuesday meeting might think they heard more than a glimmer of agreement, but then you also have to remember the shoot-downs stuck in by common sense realists about the legislative process and that the House hardliners on immigration were carefully not invited to the room.

Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein’s suggestion of a clean DACA bill before the March 5 deadline, which seemed to have support from Trump, was quickly jumped on by GOP House leaders to say there had to be some element of border security, too, and ending chain migration, though passing DACA would go a long way toward border security. 

Sen Diane Feinstein after releasing transcript.
Feinstein was having a good week. On her own despite her Republican judiciary committee masters, she released the full transcript of GPS Fusion testimony, which the company itself, the public and the media wanted.  That discussion of the infamous “dossier” outlined several legal avenues for Congress to pursue though the Republicans haven’t and also revealed that the memos that comprise the dossier were confirmation of what the FBI was already looking at.

Much of what emerged from the White House meeting was in the realm of public relations. The introduction of mental illness into the discussion of Trump has been something of an insult to the mentally ill, who in majority are ordinary people struggling to cope with internal malfunctions.  But Trump was clearly stung and used this meeting to answer the question.  In fact, he is easier to understand as a sane end product of a particular kind of Yankee buccaneer -- self-focused, high-strung, so ego-centric about his own worth that he can rightly be accused of massive lack of empathy.

It could be good for America that he is so easily distracted by personal attacks. His lack of attention to details and his mania for how he is treated by the media mean he has been less effective in doing his job – one of the least accomplished presidents in history.  But that also means he has given more power to his cabinet to put their own peculiar interpretations on his campaign promises.

The extremists among them have been working on ardent slapdowns of public schools, foreigners, citizens who protect immigrants and residents without the proper papers (illegal to him, undocumented to others sensitive to the nuances of laws and language). The courts keep stabbing back but these extremists seem undeterred. 

That White House meeting may diminish his band of followers even more without picking up enough moderates to compensate.  He seems to be reneging on that promise of massive spending on a 2,000 mile Great Wall along the border. It bore a scary price tag of some $40 billion but he now promises to build it cheaper for Mexico to pay.

But Mexico won’t pay for such idiocy and neither will the US Congress. On that there is agreement across the aisle.  On Tuesday, Trump further backed off his campaign rhetoric, suggesting there were natural barriers to protect the border and some work that was simply fixing what is there, in effect diminishing the amount of work he seemed to be asking for.

It turns out that effective security measures would still be abandoned for the sake of the wall. Despite Trump’s claims that the US Border Patrol was universally in support of his policy, their immediate problem is staffing since they are losing agents faster than they can hire. They sorely want other kinds of help than money thrown against the wall.

Back of the envelope math suggests why Trump is wrong-headed on this – and why he has been elevating every criminal case involving immigrants to a national crisis, trying to hide how basic facts are against him.

To begin with, the number of illegal border crossings has reduced sharply and now mostly involves not people from Mexico but from Central and South America using Mexico’s porous southern borders and coastal lines through a sophisticated but ruthless network of “coyotes.”

Estimates from US Border Patrol say its agents apprehended without Trump's wall 303,916 in fiscal 2017 -- including people caught multiple times. They estimated that at an 81% success rate of those who tried.  

On that math, Trump wants to build a wall costing $18 billion in the first wave to catch some 60,000 people a year. That works out to $300,000 per person, who each would settle for a paycheck 10 times smaller.

These simpler realities – border crossings have shrunk, border patrols are hard to staff, costs outweigh any perceived need – have focused congressional discussions away from the wall.  Many suggest that rather than Mexico paying, we should be paying Mexico for better security on its southern border and coastlines or, even better, provide those countries economic incentives against poverty and crime. Under Trump there is far less incentive but migration persists because of perilous living situations.

Such facts demonstrate the further short-term cruel thinking of Trump’s policies for temporary refugees taken in from Haiti (some 40,000) and El Salvador (200,000)up to 18 years ago.  His argument is that, since the natural disasters they fled are over and the roads rebuilt, they should be forced to return regardless of the jobs and families they have created here, regardless of the remaining crime and poverty figures at home, regardless of the billions of dollars they have sent back to their families in home countries – an economic aid those countries would now be deprived of.

It also means their children born here and hence American citizens will have to choose staying illegally if DACA is not solved or going back with their parents, ignoring their advances in  school, military service or professional careers.  This is an edict created without thinking to satisfy the powerful anti-immigration lobby and disturb the rest of us. Those home countries can’t absorb such numbers and lose such shipped income in one swoop.  It forces the immigration community further underground, another example of Trump's penchant for substituting quantity for quality.

Which brings us to Trump’s definition of chain migration.  Historically it refers to the inevitable practice that people who come to this country look to bring family and friends from their home countries along – not all they approach want to go, of course.  In past times many came to learn and left to go back to their homeland, some 40% 100 years ago.  And not all invited involved multiple children and in-laws, as the false graphics from the immigration haters suggest. 

For centuries this process has been going on unregulated and successfully – both once Republican aims. What has changed are quotas, the sense of a crowded America (though don’t ask the people of Montana, North Dakota and other states that still advertise for settlers) and mainly a basic change in the skin color of the seekers. 

In Trump’s mouth, chain migration is an evil, suggesting that every bad actor who gets to this country has strung behind him a train of bad actors, though there is no evidence of that. History is actually full of hombres, both good and bad. That includes our president’s grandfather Friedrich Trump who fled Bavaria to Trump’s big mouthpiece-in-chief Steven Miller, stemming from 19th century Jewish German heritage

Even Republicans are confused in defining chain migration.

To our president, ending chain migration has become the catchall cure to any criminal act by someone in this country illegally or via green card.  This one-time casino operator thinks lotteries are bad, though all participants are screened. Yet for many of us this country was founded on one form or another of chain migration – settlers helping bring over the family, friends and fellow churchgoers.  That some turned to crime and others like Friedrich to fleecing fellow settlers – that just seemed the price of getting the good 99% majority.

Despite all his talk about gangs and street violence, actual research shows that immigration communities report far less crime, though some of that may be fear of interacting with law enforcement authorities.  That, of course, is why several community police forces swear by the effectiveness of sanctuary cities.

Trump is no ideologue. Many don’t think he has the intellect to admit doubt and ask questions.  If this is going to be a Democratic wave he might go along in a weirdly pliable way – if you can figure out which side of his mouth to listen to.

Yet he has staffed some of his agencies with the most extremely conservative or least qualified inhabitants – Justice, Education, Housing, Energy, Environment – and counted on their refusal to more flexibly interpret his edicts or even examine the facts behind the policies.  They are slowly doing enormous damage to our country.

After the meeting, the serious negotiations took place behind closed doors. But this public back and forth was most welcome to a national audience despite moments of contradictions from Trump and a realization that just about everyone else in the room had a deeper vocabulary. 

Democrats don’t want the country to fail – not to a foreign power, not once again to sluggish economy, not to an inability to compromise. They are in a dealing mood despite their doubts. But that means they have to take Donald along with any package – even when he seems to be treating a tableful of our nation’s leaders with the similar manner he used on “Celebrity Apprentice.”  None had the 2011 guts of Obama to take him down.

About the author: Noth has been a professional journalist since the 1960s, and a founding figure of the American Theatre Critics Association.  After stints as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, he was also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic on his way to becoming the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with active historic archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.