Thursday, February 23, 2017

COMPARING POLITICAL TOWN HALLS TODAY AND 2009

By Dominique Paul Noth

Moore speaking at a rally in 2006.
Rep. Gwen Moore as long as I can remember doesn’t duck town halls – in fact, she revels in them, with a usually supportive base but a friendly and quiet way of deflecting criticism with facts and experts when needed.

I recall her in full flower in late 2009 at the height of the Tea Party activity.  The event was her town hall in a huge auditorium at North Division High School, with union laborers serving as ushers and  with the Tea Party enthusiasts free to wave inflammatory signs.  They were poised to holler but it wasn’t the brawny laborers who stopped them. It was a panel of health experts answering every question from the crowd. 

That was a big difference from current events.  Today’s Republicans are being  poleaxed at town halls around the nation  because they have no “replacement” to defend and no way to defend Trump’s first month in office except to claim it’s early days, give him a chance.  Some will,  but given what others have seen so far, the people are more than anxious. They are angry.

Obama as he looked in 2009
In late 2009 Obama had months in office and a clear direction and law to discuss. By that time an outline of an Affordable Care Act was available. It was untested but explainable, and a panel of health experts pledged something practical. What didn’t work would be changed (just as there had been many changes to Social Security and Medicare as they evolved) and what would work would improve the United States health system but keep the familiar  private health companies. They would just run according to best practices and rules and key changes everyone would like, particularly keeping students on family coverage through age 26, no denial for pre-existing conditions, no lifetime caps on what an illness cost you. (The last, incidentally, is on the chopping block of some GOP revisions.)

No one at that time envisioned a GOP that would refuse any adjustments based on evidence.   Or health providers that would drop or refuse to improve plans.  That made  Obama the  liar of the year in 2013. Perhaps he should have but he had not anticipated how insurance companies would cancel plans and change policies so that  “you can keep your doctor and your plan” did turn out to be a lie.

None of that  was perceivable in 2009 when there were high expectations by the creators of the Affordable Care Act that  the nation’s politicians would pull together to improve it. 

I  don’t agree that the people of today are the left version of the Tea Party, though they borrow some methods. The Tea Party started quite legitimately, almost in partnership for awhile with the Occupy movement. Then in funding and organization, in payments for signs and busses and the running of headquarters,  it  was co-opted by Koch Brothers groups. Today, no longer active on the streets, the Tea Party has reshaped  a weighty segment of House Republicans who have been a thorn for House leadership and may do the same pricking action with  Trump.

By the time of Gwen’s town hall, the Tea Party, funded and not, was there in force. But so were her traditional voters and total strangers. They all shared a lot of fear.  Should they believe the signs that said “Government Takeover.”  Should they laugh at the sign that said “Hands Off My Medicare,” which assumed that was not a government-run system (and quite successful and low-cost at that).

People were not even yelling “Obamacare” a lot in 2009, according to memory.  Years ago the Atlantic did a fun piece on when Obamacare was coined, tracing it back to 2007  before Obama was elected and the GOP was using it interchangeably with Hillary-care  (they thought she might win).  By 2011, the Democrats didn’t want the phrase used because it was a pejorative.  Obama said what the heck – he  was so positive about ACA’s eventual acceptance that he didn’t care what it was called.

Now the irony has landed full force.  It was easy to pick on  the ACA, insisting on repeal, as House Republicans did some 60 times, knowing Obama wouldn’t advance it.  Now the Republicans own any change – the old Pottery Barn rule, break it you own it.

And the public is letting them know full throttle that there will be hell to pay if they repeal without replacing. And they have not yet decided how to replace it, so they have no defense when confronted at town halls.

Milwaukee was first city in nation to stage
a massive Day Without Immigrants
(photo by Joe Brusky)
And they’ve been clobbered – not by the Tea Party of the left. Not by paid Democrats as Trump has claimed.  Not by disgruntled Hillary voters, though they are a sizable portion.  But this is mainly about the sense of confusion over what will come, confusion that Trump  has generated among those who voted for him, those who voted against and those who didn’t vote. And all manner of groups have come out in protest.

The promises his voters most liked have not yet been addressed and require big  action:  Jobs, infrastructure (in the sense of more jobs), assurances to the regions and people who felt left behind, regulations they thought hurt them rather than the  regulations he has addressed that only help big businesses.

If you live in coal country, if the growth of  manufacturing has not helped you, if no one has explained how all industry is relying more on technology and needs a presidential spur to think of creating jobs for people,  you don’t much care about what has consumed his presidency so far. 

The wall (which Congress is balking big-time at paying for).   The deportation policy (Mexico is now balking at both the wall and the policy).  The immigrants (who are not the “hair on fire” problem Trump kept saying).  If a rural and disenchanted base helped him get elected, they are not finding much comfort  from his first month in office. They are leaning hard on “wait and see” – when not joining the protests.

Now they are sometimes the ones in town halls responding to a rebirth of an ancient nemesis – Russia and its interference in our election and why he has been so resistant to acknowledging it.

His hidden taxes are now a bigger issue to both liberals and conservatives. His travel ban was clearly not some technical difficulty the courts dismissed.  Trump, these voters say in interviews,  needs to get over feeling threatened by inquiries into Russia and his  taxes.

Even in 2009 it was clear the ACA was actually Obama’s second choice after universal care. He chose it  because he wanted to preserve the private health industry with its decades of existence and hundreds of thousands of workers.  The screams against it by Republicans worked in 2010 while the ACA kept rolling along anyway,  building support. And while Obama was re-elected in 2012 the screams against his policies worked again in 2014.

But now the Republicans are faced with how strategically Obama provided subsidies to health insurers and how any plan the GOP brings forward has to keep the essential aspects.  They can toy all they want with health saving accounts, maximum risk pools of maximum risk patients, age and income limits and whatnot, but the people are asking for hard details they can’t give at the town halls.

They’re also  in danger from the answers they can give. Somewhat to my surprise, town hall interest was high in Russia, Trump’s taxes and Betsy DeVos.

Sen. Cotton dressed down
at his town hall.
When Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton tried to silence the universal criticism of her choice as education secretary, he made another mistake. Perhaps you wouldn’t be so upset with her, he suggested, “if the education department had less to do.”  It was an old Republican line about the department and didn’t go over with this crowd, which had been screened to be his constituents. It sure sounded like the only way to control her ineptitude was give her less to demonstrate it with.

The audience may have been unpaid. They may have leaned Democratic.  But they were  informed.  They were also independents and Republicans --  and any hope they  will fade away in a few months, like the Tea Party street activists did, I strongly doubt.

The Indivisible movement, which has provided a guide of how to approach your issues of concern and an easy way to sign up for events and even create them, now has two chapters in every congressional district.

Its guide is not an ideological manifesto but a practical road map to what may work on a variety of issues and agendas.

The Nation is picking up readers by doing entire stories on how to get your friends and neighbors interested.

Social media is alive with ways to protest and plan events, calling people out within hours to join. The level of knowledge and ease of connection via social media is one of the notable differences of 2017 from  2009. 

Rather than being paid, volunteers are contributing to causes that concern them.

Citing multiple reasons, police departments are standing up against becoming ICE agents as Trump originally wanted.  

An Episcopal church in Seattle is suing the Trump administration for a travel ban on the refugees – saying  “help for the stranger” is a central tenet of their Christian practice. 

Emerge America almost can’t keep up with the demand of women to be trained as  political activists and candidates.

The Republicans in Congress, many back home during a recess,  are being pummeled in ways far deeper and longer than the old Tea Party did to Democrats. The DeVos issue broke out at many town halls. But hanging over it all was Trump’s dismissal of the protests as paid for or hardly genuine.

He is stepping right into keeping it alive for years.  The people at these meetings are not buying his claim that the media is “The Enemy of the People.” They fear he is.

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 milwaukeelabor.org.  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 urbanmilwaukee.com. 


Monday, February 20, 2017

MMAC DROPPING DEVOS STYLE MONEY INTO SCHOOL RACES

By Dominique Paul Noth

The MMAC is a curious trade organization – since many businesses don’t know what they really trade in.

Ostensibly representing business interests as the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce it has a freewheeling political arm that does a lot of things its 1,800 member companies don’t know about and whose opinions individual members of these  businesses don’t always share, as many have told me.


Would members remain proud if they
knew what the political arm was up to?
If you look at its roster, the absence of many local “people friendly” businesses is quite notable, since people friendly and neighborhoods are not normal definitions of its activities. But what was more revealing to me was how many actual members did not know they have a hyper-active political lobbying arm and actually a political conduit that members pay for to fund candidates that supposedly speak in their name. You decide if this is what you want represented.

An interesting game has emerged, at least from my perspective.  The Betsy DeVos voucher school political arm, American Federation for Children, has become famous, or is that notorious?, for dipping its money rich fingers into races for the state legislature, especially  whenever there is  a strong advocate for good public schools to oppose.

That’s a bit unlike the MMAC, which sometimes supports ideas the general public might also  accept – after all, despite the myths, even liberal commentators are not anti-business – but trod a bit more carefully in Milwaukee related legislative affairs (such as worrying how some Milwaukee businesses would react if it became too public that MMAC was actively backing Waukesha’s intention to siphon Lake Michigan water).

DeVos as new education secretary will probably have to withdraw from more visible roles in solicitation, but the AFC is expected to march on with her family money.

Before his first election as state senator years ago, AFC used a series of flyers mailed to households (the cost being the entire budget of many other legislative races). It was trying to paint Chris Larson as a shoplifter because of a youthful dalliance that he had openly discussed before. 

In other races they hijacked public domain photos of anti-voucher public figures to appear in brochures for pro-voucher candidates, to fool voters about who was supporting them.

Their money and campaign methods have been wielded in rural communities against noted figures of firm community reputation who deserved re-election, such as Mandy Wright for the Assembly 85th District.  They won against her in a close election in 2016 where many think their money made the difference. But usually they have hit a brick wall – IF the community becomes aware of their dealings.

Outside money can become a horror to the local community when made aware of it, especially in things like school board races where the public still believes it decides.

Almost as if an organized “I’ll wash your back if you wash mine” agreement existed,   MMAC has dipped hard into AFC territory – Milwaukee school board races. The rationale is they want more students to be educated to their business needs.  Some of it may be sincere to make sure students know about business – even over what they know about the  arts or  civics. But much of it is based on the theory that, rather than paying for specialized education themselves, just let the taxpayers do it.


Tony Evers posing with other education names at a recent
fund raiser.  From left: Doug Armstrong, running for
Whitefish Bay school board, Evers, retired US Sen.
Herb Kohl and Larry Miller of MPS board.
The MMAC Conduit has dumped $10,000 against Tony Evers in the race for State Superintendent of Schools (primary Feb. 21). The money may now be needed as a protective barrier around John Humphries -- not so much against Evers (that comes later) but to keep the right-wing public from choosing a fellow GOP candidate in a nonpartisan race.

There has been a  self-destructive campaign war between Humphries and Lowell Holtz, also hungry for voucher money.  Humphries and Holtz are hurling accusations against each other about who originated a devious plan to seize control of Madison and Milwaukee public schools – in fact, even more urban districts that are making notable advances under highly educated and talented women.

The $10,000 may now give Humphries the ad cushion to make it easier for fence sitters to vault to his side.

Note Feb. 21 -- Boy, was I wrong! Holtz advanced and so now the voucher money and probably MMAC money will shift to him!

But now MMAC is mucking in two of the four Milwaukee school board races that are on the ballot April 4 and are old-time AFC playgrounds. There are some intriguing connections back to the Evers race, which is statewide on both Feb. 21 and April 4.


Tony Baez doesn't face MPS election till April 4,
but MMAC money against him is already there.
While Tony Baez in MPS South Side District 6 is a remarkably experienced school leader and civil rights activist, suddenly on February 10 the MMAC dropped $3,950 behind his opponent. Now that amount of money in a school board race is really remarkably rich to help an unknown, especially when you add in the other business interests that have bulged the coffer against Baez to $7,900. I have covered entire school board races that ran on just two or three thousand.

Such early MMAC money suggests Wisconsin should brace itself for far more by April 4, probably again timed too late for most news outlets and TV stations to even be aware of the game, as was true with the Evers money dump.

The main thing besides money against Baez is the beneficiary’s name — Jonatan Zuniga. Here's a largely unknown opponent who has a Latino sounding name in a district rich in Hispanic households that have been a long-time target for voucher school and religious school come-hithers.

Take a moment to consider how insulted Latinos should feel having a Latino sounding name being the main claim to recognition and backing. A PhD Dr. Joseph won that same district four years ago because of credentials.  Her photo and her first name, Tatiana, revealed her heritage, but she was already  mightily well-known as a UWM professor and a  champion of children, Latino and others. 

This time we seem to  have the cynical assumption that every Hispanic knows or identifies with every other Hispanic and will vote for the name.  The public has to hope the Hispanic voters are smarter than Trump, who recently committed the same faux pas that the African American community learned long ago to laugh about, the assumption “that every black person must know every other black person”  as Rep. Elijah Cummings joked. This came after Trump asked a black reporter to introduce him to the Black Caucus (they are not really black; the group represents many minorities, including Latinos). It also came as Trump made up a story about Cummings being too scared to meet with him, quickly exposed as a lie.

Dr. (as in highly educated) Baez is a proven and tested quantity and has until April 4 to make that clear to district voters, who like personal encounters more than the flyers money can buy.  An articulate veteran of community service and helper of low income families, Baez is also endorsed by state Supt. Tony Evers (more on that race in a moment, but trust me, it all ties together).

The MMAC contributions may reveal a lot more about Zuniga that his resume does -- it should be a warning signal to constituents of school district 6, because this business trade group doesn’t give something without expecting something back. 

MMAC has been supportive of voucher schools and religious education – nothing wrong in that by itself. But since the state funding formula robs public schools to finance religious schools with taxpayer money whether they belong to that religion or not, the whole exercise is rather shifty. MMAC should be fighting hard for a better formula but instead they are fighting to shift representation of education money to business interests they expect will be more receptive to their wishes.

Similarly over in District 4, Annie Woodward has been a veteran of public service, moving to the school board after retiring as a mental health and service professional at Milwaukee County Health and Human Services.  For several election cycles since, she has been a champion of what you would expect from an MPS board member – vibrant healthy public schools that may need better management but also need intelligent use of better money.

Her opponent, Aisha Carr, has received $3,450 – nearly as much as Zuniga – from MMAC and added money from the same business interests.  Her brochure and website emphasize her survival as a single mother, her support of Black Lives Matter and her work as a teacher, saying nothing of her stand on issues, voucher schools, funding formula or anything substantial she wants to accomplish.  (Recall there are some prominent Democrats who also support vouchers, such as Lena Taylor and Jason Fields, and they have a sturdy opposition from their constituents and educators over that.)

In sum, Carr is also black in a predominately black district, a single mother which always sounds like a hard-knock life, and more photogenic (i.e. younger) than Woodward. So mostly her campaign is a hope that black voters will swallow “change” without meaning. It seems to have happened in some places on November 8 -- change to anything or anyone who hasn’t been in the trenches struggling.  Woodward has been there, and that shouldn’t be a negative.

But why should we worry about April 4 school board elections now? Shouldn’t we just go out and vote Tuesday?  As election sites remind us, no more than two candidates are running for any of the MPS seats, so there is no need for a primary this time around. 

To look a little further into April 4, there is genuine competition for East Side District 5 between a veteran I have long admired, Larry Miller, and newcomer Kahri Phelps Okoro, who has a construction company background.  There is also an open seat for District 8 between two candidates who both have strong progressive credentials, Joey Balistreri and Paula Phillips. Interesting how quality and ideology in these races did not tempt the MMAC, while Zuniga and Carr did.

That MMAC money jives with the right-wing effort to defeat Evers, who is likely to move forward Feb. 21 (probably against Humphries).

But the MMAC Conduit had scant money to offer  at the end of 2016. Then suddenly this PAC (Political Action Committee) got $20,000 at the end of January – in one big gift on the same day it forwarded $10,000 to the Humphries campaign!


The $20,000 to the conduit came from Agustin Ramirez, the retired chairman of Waukesha’s Husco International and a respected businessman and philanthropist with a special interest in Christian schools. In fact, he pushed through City Hall and is self-funding the building of St. Augustine Preparatory Academy, located at 2607 S. 5th Street, where some city fathers once dreamed of building soccer fields.

Enrolling students this February with the intention of opening three grades for the 2017-2018 school year and growing into a facility serving 2,000 K-12 “primarily Hispanic students,” the school has only told the public it would be “private.” It has told the applicants much more. It is accepting applications through the city and state voucher school programs. 


(The state program inflates levels of family income far beyond what taxpayers long expected to be their contribution to voucher schools, ranging up to $75,647. Simply add $7,696 to your taxpayer cost for each family member up to eight accepted by these schools, which still don’t face the same accountability standards as public schools.)

Perhaps after the building, this is not quite the philanthropic largesse Ramirez originally promoted. (I would be accused of sarcasm if I also suggested the school will discover a far lower percentage of Hispanic special needs students in the Hispanic population compared with the high percentage in the general population absorbed by the public schools -- voucher schools do have a habit of somehow not seeing or finding such students.)

The school would be located in the school district that Baez and Zuniga are vying for April 4 – and bingo, that seems where the MMAC and Ramirez‘s generosity connect.  If you’re running a voucher school wouldn’t you want a more pliable MPS board? 


MMAC lobbyist Steve Baas.
The MMAC conduit did not have the money on hand to contribute to these school races until Ramirez stepped in.

Steve Baas, the MMAC’s senior vice president of governmental affairs and public policy (in other words, lobbying mouthpiece), has stated forcefully that his group's PAC does not make donations at the request of individual donors and simply “reaches out” to all its business members for contributions.

Wonder if he has a bridge to Brooklyn for sale. 


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 milwaukeelabor.org.  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 urbanmilwaukee.com. 


Thursday, February 16, 2017

THE TRUMP THEY VOTED FOR VS THE TRUMP THEY HAVE

By Dominique Paul Noth
Cartoonist Ribber Hansson's view from Sweden

The chaos president – or as a friend more impolitely calls him, the KKchaos president – has been careening around like a kid on an amusement park bumper car. 

In his off the cuff off the wall press conference Feb. 16 he denied any personal involvement in the Russian connection, described the unprecedented 82 months of job growth he inherited from Obama as “a mess,” and admitted there were “real leaks” in stories he called “fake news” – a remarkable contradiction.

Immediately after proclaiming his infallibility and that the press was out to get him, Trump through his lawyers asked the Ninth Court of Appeals to vacate its killing of his travel ban because he would soon rescind it with a new order. In other words, don’t stop me before I kill again because I’ll stop me on my own. 

The White House lurches on. TV comics love him. SNL is riding wicked high.  John Oliver can build his new HBO season around dissecting how Trump steals his ideas within minutes from the alt-right media.

“We are running out of adjectives to describe this behavior,” noted Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.” The current parade of news anchors are heavily water-logged in their own clich├ęs – “it's like drinking out of the fire hose,” “doused in a downpour,” “all the hydrants have been opened at once.”

The best water allusion should be a nonswimmer dog-paddling in the shallow end of the pool. 

Hasn’t anyone noticed how many of his executive orders are just nonsense? How the most damaging are blocked in court or doing anticipatory damage behind the scenes? Only now, weeks into his rein, is real damage emerging as opposed to feared damage.  Most of his two-dozen presidential resolutions so far hardly advance his campaign promises, but they eat up TV time.

Voters “take his words seriously but not literally” a fellow billionaire once explained. Usually that would require a doctorate in semiology to comprehend, but right now there is some clarity -- their hopes whatever they were and his words are both literally and seriously stalled. 

Few of Obama’s important orders have been affected.  Republicans now think unwinding Obamacare could take more than a year since Trump has to keep many beloved things about the Affordable Care Act and the political consequences of repealing without replacing are enormous. Remember how he promised “on the first day”?
Steven Sack in Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Undoing the Dodd-Frank law will take Congress months at least, and in nibbling around the edges Trump’s executive order has been charitably called vague in reality and long on promises. The first effect delays a regulation to make sure financial advisors are working in the best interest of the customer, not themselves or Wall Street.

The big beautiful border wall requires far more money and costly border staff than Congress is willing to consider, especially when border experts claim it is wrong-minded if not useless.

Even Trump voters did not expect the first results of his attacks on over-regulation would be, according to multiple reports, removing protection for a dying species of bumblebee, allowing toxic wastewater to be dumped directly into rivers and letting the mentally ill on Social Security buy and own guns (though technically the last originated in Congress).

His immigration order targeted citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries and all refugees traveling to the US. The courts immediately blocked this, first drawing Trump’s rage and then his acquiescence.  The rewrite is underway, tailored to address some of the court’s objections but without the haste Trump said was necessary to keep bad dudes out. Of course, he still has to solve how evidence including his own words says this was a Muslim ban.

Some of his bureaucrats, seeking to outguess their new master, are leaping in harder than he may have ordered or the law may intend. That could bring new lawsuits.

It’s hard to tell if ICE was ordered by Trump or is trying to please its new master, but the current wave of raids (in states including Wisconsin with ICE’s own agents guessing that a quarter to a third of those rounded up were not on the list of criminals) has become the fresh example of actual damage and genuine fear. Marches of protest have risen throughout the nation (the first involved thousands in Milwaukee).

Rather than running from the start as “a fine-tuned machine” as he claimed Feb. 16, his administration has been buffeted by self-imposed errors leading to the resignation (firing) of national security adviser Mike Flynn, the withdrawal of Hardee's czar Andrew Puzder from the labor secretary spot and the refusal from the vice admiral Trump wanted to replace Flynn.

Trump’s comparison of the slow-walk for his cabinet to the speed of Obama’s cabinet approvals is also largely nonsense. It just emphasizes the difference in quality.  While Obama offered world-class scientists with administrative skills to lead the Department of Energy, Trump trotted out Rick Perry – a separation in intellectual reputation that speaks for itself.

His cabinet is largely fawning former rivals or wealthy buddies, but even with several already in place, Trump is still asking his political staff to explain him in front of TV cameras.

The latest has been more associated with Goebbels than Trump. Stephen Miller,  the male Kellyanne  who has warmed up the crowds at Trump rallies and is now senior adviser, does  seems Gestapo  wired as he defends every word that drops from Trump’s lips.

Even if he gets his cabinet in place, it is hard to imagine Trump deferring to them – unless the spotlight shines so bright it burns.

Right now he relishes the spotlight and says millions of Americans enjoy him basking in it.  What they enjoyed were the promises he made – not all of them. His voters were actually selective, ignoring the outrageous while longing for the promised jobs and attention to neglected regions. He had voters who discounted his wildest behavior because they wanted a change.

But even they can’t go on for four years watching him dog-paddle at the shallow end of the pool.


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 milwaukeelabor.org.  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 urbanmilwaukee.com. 


Monday, February 13, 2017

ANGER AT DEVOS SHOULD BENEFIT EVERS IN NORMALLY LOW TURNOUT APRIL RACE

By Dominique Paul Noth

Tony Evers
National TV news anchors were calling out Wisconsin voters February 7 immediately after the US Senate barely approved Betsy DeVos as new education secretary.  They wondered aloud if the February 21 primary and April 4 Wisconsin election for state superintendent of schools would reflect the widespread anger of progressives and moderates over the DeVos appointment and keep Tony Evers as the sole statewide antidote to  the right-wing takeover of education and  government.

Since the Evers race is the only statewide contest in these typically light spring elections – usually a field day for state GOP machinery – would progressives translate their universal outrage into supporting Evers or would they subserviently secede to the  two GOP backed opponents (coming down to one by April) who so immediately embraced DeVos in hopes that her  dark voucher school  money would spring to their side?

My easy guess is that the survivor against Evers for April 4 will be John Humphries who can loosely claim education credentials as a (much disliked by teachers I spoke to) assistant administrator for the Dodgeville schools. He hopes to seduce unthinking liberals because he signed the Walker recall petition before renouncing that stand and running wholesale to the GOP and voucher schools side.

Openly pleading for voucher money, Humphries who once worked for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is trying to demean his former boss  even though Evers’ honest approach and his unmatched knowledge of education issues have brought recognition from noted Republicans. When asked in private conversation, Madison opponents concede that he is the straightest of straight shooters, offering compassion and tolerance in the unending debate over school education and finances.

This became clear at two recent events in Milwaukee – a Hyatt fund-raiser for Evers, organized by retired Sen. Herb Kohl and Mayor Tom Barrett who both attended, and an East Side church speech for hundreds on a Sunday, organized by North Shore Grassroots. While Evers is raising money from broad-based contributors, Humphries is relying on business interests in the most recent filings.

Evers is known for being a staunch defender of better and cleaner school funding, both K-12 and college, and he is devoted to his job’s independent authority despite efforts to bring him under the legislature’s thumb.

He openly works  with Scott Walker where he can,  yet has been pointedly critical of some of the governor’s schemes to cut funding and then restore some of it as if it were never gone. (Gov. Walker is  counting on voters’ short term memory to forget he is the one who crippled schools and is now returning some of the cuts in healthy sounding cash, expecting a reward at the polls in 2018 when he runs again). 

Walker only demands accountability that fits his narrow views and actually protects voucher schools from equal accountability with public schools.  In contrast, Evers’  approach and his in-depth knowledge of education from a lifetime commitment have earned him the support of the GOP chair of the state Senate education committee, Luther Olsen, and retired GOP assembly leader Dale Schultz.

Evers  makes a point of nonpartisanship in praising Walker when he sees something good – noting for example how many of the better ideas in the new two-year budget for mental health education and rural schools were lifted near intact directly from Evers’ own budget ideas, something the leader of the Department of Public Instruction gets to submit to the legislature. So also, he  pointedly has noted, are Walker’s belated effort to address the state’s massive brain drain and teacher shortage,  something Evers has long pushed for. He is for any effort by Walker to be “pro-kids”  and return some of the money he has taken away from  K-12 schools over six  years.

But  he is not shy about criticizing when he smells the game being played. On Walker’s latest budget, which forces school districts to abide by teachers paying into health care at Walker’s Act 10 levels, and equating rich districts with poor, Evers notes acidly in his polite manner, "If you're giving a wealthy district the same amount as a poorer district,  over time that takes a toll." 

“We have a long way to go before any of what we heard becomes a reality for the kids in our classrooms,” he points out at his events. 

And he also notes an interesting contradiction in the Nov. 8 election.

Even as Trump won the presidency, some 80% of the local referendums in the state seeking more  local money for school buildings and teaching triumphed easily in that election.  To Evers this points out that whatever the readings of politics on the national level, “People are willing to tax themselves and spend more money when it comes to educating kids.”

That combined with the statewide distress over the expansion of the voucher schools program have led many commentators, both liberal and conservative,  to note how forcefully Wisconsin communities support their local schools and government transparency over the continuing efforts to expand vouchers.

Add to that the genuine fear instilled in parents and teachers by the DeVos appointment and the genuine growing pressure to make sure there are public officials in place who know when and how to resist. Few are more important on the state level that someone who is in charge of standards for all schools, which is the function of the DPI.  In fact, were it up to me, Evers should also be handed the reins for early childhood education, which currently is subject to the vagaries of the legislature.

But that expanded level of educational control  would be great if it is Evers, twice already superintendent,  who is re-elected.  My fear with Humphries is that he is too willing now to be a tool of the governor, not someone who will stand up honestly for the needs of the children. And his pursuit of voucher dark money is more proof if any was needed.

Early in the race, Evers expressed confidence and no fear of opposition.  His conviction may not have changed, but two political realities have crept up. 

One is that the desire to find a Supreme  Court opponent for the well heeled conservative Annette Zeigler failed to materialize, leaving Evers as the only statewide race to attract voters when the electorate is longing for a break from politics – at a time when the nation can’t afford a break.

The other reason is that,  while DeVos will probably be forced into the background of fund-raising for such voucher organizations as American Federation for Children, her campaign in Wisconsin is led by a former GOP name and admitted criminal,  Scott Jensen, and all observers expect  big money wielded against Evers, who has asked the state legislature to look scrupulously at voucher expansion. 

Author Barbara Miner
In a powerful op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times, Milwaukee author (and photographer) Barbara Miner has laid out the demoralizing history of Wisconsin voucher schools and the tragic realities behind DeVos’ rise to power.  Miner is now openly demanding action from Wisconsin voters.

It’s not enough “if  you're upset about DeVos,” she says.

“Pay attention to the upcoming State Superintendent of Schools election and vote for Tony Evers. The two conservative candidates are strong supporters of DeVos and privatization. The primary is on Feb 21; the general election is April 4.  This is a statewide election and every person’s vote counts.

“Street protests and other forms of resistance are all-important, but don’t forget to vote.”

The winning candidates February 21 have committed to a Milwaukee forum Monday,  February 27.  at the Zilber School of Public Health, 1240 N. 10th St.


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 milwaukeelabor.org.  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 urbanmilwaukee.com.