Monday, November 19, 2018

WILL WISCONSIN STAY SLEEPY THE NEXT 40 DAYS?

By Dominique Paul Noth

Is Scott  saying: "Even if you beat me, Tony, I'll find a way to screw you."
Basking in the mammoth November election victory and preparing for a festive holiday season, the Wisconsin public is little in the mood to think of politics or the degree of mischief the Republicans are contemplating in the 40 odd days before Tony Evers and Mandela Barnes are sworn in as Democratic leaders January 7.

This is just the sort of lull the GOP loves to pounce in.

In this time, it will be particularly hard to galvanize the outrage and march on Madison that Wisconsinites were eager to do in 2011 when Gov. Scott Walker and his GOP legislature sprung Act 10 on them, limiting worker bargaining rights and wresting important areas of local control away from communities. 

Those protests made national headlines, planted seeds that grew in 2018, but did little else. It took years before the full dual price of those actions caught up with Walker. (The gerrymandering the Republicans imposed in 2011 still has a hold.)

There are still people around who try to defend Walker and Act 10, but it was one of several moves that cost Walker the 2018 election -- because seven years later the truth had finally landed.

He traded temporary financial savings for long term loss of continuity, control and effectiveness of local government and education. You could argue that all his desperate borrowing and deal-making actions since 2011 stemmed from what he considered a success then and that the public would continue to fail in acting against him. Surviving one recall and one re-election made him confident that our blindness would continue.

The 2018 election was a bigger disaster for Republicans in many states outside Wisconsin, yet all the states where the GOP  still exercises some level of government control are seeing the same sort of sabotage as emerging here.

Look next door in Michigan. Before incoming Democrat Gretchen Whitmer can take over as governor, the Republicans in the legislature are trying to weaken an improved minimum wage proposal they passed to lessen her impact. 

There’s terrible irony here for the GOP dominated legislature in Michigan. In September they pre-empted the minimum wage and sick time improvements intended as ballot initiatives by approving them to soften the voter anger.  It didn’t. Now they intend to use that pre-emption so that a simple majority vote in their chambers can prevent any amendments or improvements by the public.

Similarly, North Carolina Republicans – already facing court action over election maps – are plotting to change a voter ID constitutional amendment before the legislature loses its supermajorities.  With that loss, impending next year, goes away the ability to unilaterally override vetoes by a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, who was elected in the summer of 2017.

But it is in Wisconsin the GOP hopes to cause the most damage in the weeks before Evers takes over and in the few weeks after that before his new team can take hold.

Evers is promising a governorship unlike Walker who made public war on the Democratic governor he succeeded, Jim Doyle, forcing Doyle by his incoming veto threat to back away from promises for high speed rail, expanded health care and other improvements.

Evers has pledged a cooperative reign, but the Republicans seem born suspicious and are acting aggressively against him.  They are trying to gather enough votes among their majority – with some balkers who may soon give in – to curtail Evers’ powers as governor and strengthen the GOP legislators’ say in the freedom of action of the Democratic executive staff.

They couldn’t find enough GOP votes for a key Walker corporate welfare plan -- to supply Kimberly-Clark the giveaways the company wanted. Maybe this was a minor rebellion against the departing Walker, but the Republicans are also listening hard to leaders like Rep. Robin Vos, who was poised to run for governor until Walker decided on one last time.  Now they now sound more convinced that they can impose a new legislative session before the end of 2018.

They are openly exploring how to dilute Evers’ ability to appoint staff and tinker with what actions the governor can propose – a sudden concern about executive power they never expressed in public when Walker was in office.

Indeed, Walker is not out of the picture.  Though in public he claims he will be hands off and let Evers work his own magic, privately he is encouraging frequent allies to handcuff the new governor.

The Republicans are actively seeking ways to prevent Evers from blocking work requirements on Medicaid participants (a Walker scheme).  They would also make changes to diminish Evers’ role in the University of Wisconsin system.

And they are openly talking 2020 and divorcing a state Supreme Court election that year (technically nonpartisan) from the spring presidential primary.  It would be moved to March rather than April. Why?  The fear is that Democratic fervor will work against a GOP pet that the public has never spoken on, Daniel Kelly, appointed to the high court by Walker in 2016.

Alberta Darling lets the cat out of the bag.
GOP state Sen. Alberta Darling, often used to float GOP trial balloons in advance of aggressive action, openly discussed moving the state Supreme Court election so that the true feelings of the populace wouldn’t interfere. March would also bring far lower turnout.

The GOP also lives in fear of what will happen in April of 2019 when Shirley Abrahamson’s seat is up on the high court and the much touted and experienced progressive candidate is appeals judge Lisa Neubauer, highly regarded by both sides and running against a Walker holdover, Brian Hagedorn. In fact, if progressive judges win in 2019 and 2020, there goes the conservative dominance on the high court.

The Republicans clearly hope that the na├»ve public will not look ahead to the games still left their legislature ahead of Democratic takeover and even long afterward into 2020.  They have thrived on residents’ indifference to what they can do under the surface.  Will that still hold?

“This is exactly the brand of politics that that was rejected by the voters, who really selected Tony Evers to move away” from such behavior, commented Democratic assembly minority leader Gordon Hintz on the same TV show where Darling floated GOP plans

The big question remains. How woke is the public to such shenanigans during the holiday season?

The next two weeks are precisely the time when fully activated crowds descending on Madison and warning the legislature to let the new people alone would have an enormous impact.  It is doubtful that such a level of protest can be stirred up.

Those with long memories will remember the holiday season of 2010 when it was clear impending new governor Walker was going to take away high speed rail while denying to labor leaders that he would take away collective bargaining from public workers (a clear sign, to anyone who understands such political denials, that he was leaning that way) and preparing to borrow to the hilt on the state dime to keep his pledge not to raise taxes.

Wisconsin fell for it then. Why should anything be different now?

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 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 Urban Milwaukee.  


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

WARPED MAPS GET UNDER STATE’S DEMOCRATIC SKIN

By Dominique Paul Noth

More than a week after the midterm elections, it is the Democrats who want to keep the count going to confirm the  heady size of the  Blue Wave . . . in the rest of the nation.

The 1812 political cartoon that gave birth to
the term gerrymandering
In Wisconsin it was blue frosting atop a dark gerrymander cake.  The state proved that on the top  it is Democratic, electing every statewide Democratic candidate plus giving Tammy Baldwin the largest victory margin in the US Senate. Yet underneath it looked like North Dakota.

Sad as that is to report it remains factual.  In the top blue frosting, there may well be a potent template for the future in governor and attorney general, but it is criminally slowed down by a legislative field established by years of successful cheating by Republicans, quietly allowed by voters in most of the state’s 72 counties. 

Never forget that and brace for more of the same in 2020 unless the courts or new action in the US Congress change things, both possibilities long shots. The Democrats, with   nearly 40 seats won from Republicans in the House,  now have the power to challenge Trump and offer exciting bills.  But Wisconsin will not be at the forefront of change, and we’d better get used to that.

Along with eight new Democratic governors,  the turnaround in statehouses was massive – fully 300 statehouse seats changed to Democrats. In Wisconsin and by virtue of absentee ballots recorded a day after the election, only one Assembly seat turned blue – Robyn Vining in AD (Assembly District) 14. One Senate seat that went blue in the lower turnout August election went back to red – in Door County!

And while the US House now boasts a nearly 100 seat lead in favor of  the Democrats, assuring many new proposals starting in January, not a single House seat in Wisconsin flipped or even came close.  At that level we look like Tennessee.  In terms of clout, we have to rely on Tony Evers, Mandela Barnes and Josh Kaul to figure out something.

That is truly bizarre because in case after case it was clear to all voters that the Democrats had better candidates – anyone want to argue against Dan Kohl over Glenn Grothman, Margaret Engebretson over Sean Duffy?

Bryan Steil over Randy Bryce in CD1 was a combination of gerrymandering and vicious successful third party advertising that painted Bryce as a much arrested union thug. I think both union image and arrest record played a dismaying role.  Steil not only had Paul Ryan’s money and support, he looked enough like Ryan to confuse people. So there are complexities in that lopsided race beyond the gerry-snake.

On the Internet an accurate chart has been making the rounds, indicating how many more Democratic voters the Wisconsin Assembly races got and yet how they remained red because of the maps drawn in secret with Republican attorneys in 2011. To put the chart simply, in 2018 Democrats  got 54% of vote yet only  36 seats while Republicans got 45% of the vote and 63 seats.

This is an ingrained problem that has been written about for years by perceptive journalists (insert appropriate pat-self-on-the-back emoji).  Looking through my files, in 2013 I discussed how hard right-wing money was stepping in to support gerrymandering in state legislative races that the localities were not even aware of.  In another story I speculated on why a completely superior candidate even by Republican measures could still lose in suburbs like Franklin.

The voting public is responsible for this, but apparently does not have the level of education or interest to dig inside a five syllable word to understand mapping.  That led even the Washington Post to provide a simply mathematical breakdown of how clever gerrymandering can turn natural competitive districts into lopsided ones based on miniscule voting patterns. Study that explanation for a moment and even the mathematically challenged will understand how expensive lawyers working with in-depth voting charts could tilt your assembly and state senate district to confound the best citizen candidates.

And we had them in 2018.  The most painful loss was state Senate District 5 where Julie Henszey came about one thousand votes shy (mainly the gerrymander) of putting Dale Kooyenga on the same shelf as Leah Vukmir (who did so poorly against  Baldwin). 

Don’t expect Henszey to go away but don’t expect her to run again unless the map becomes fair. And that is the attitude from several candidates. They flogged themselves and their supporters in door to door campaigns that looked good while Republican incumbents dodged discussion of issues and relied on tried and proven advertising techniques. And to our regret as a state, relying on voter ignorance worked.  Under these maps, Democrats would have to pull 20% above their actual weight to win seats.

Some of the losers gave up good jobs to run and they deserve to be back in the mix.  But until the map changes, don’t expect Dennis McBride to run again in Assembly District 13, nor Liz Sumner to take on Fred Ott in AD 23, nor Emily Siegrist to tackle Dan Knodl in AD24 – all strong races on paper that had enthusiastic backers.

One thing that has weakened gerrymandering in other states – with a difficulty the courts should still step in to fix --  is a  pronounced new flow of populations and information. That’s been particularly true in urban areas but harder to achieve in entrenched GOP suburban cul de sacs and in more rural states like Wisconsin. Some sociologists think isolated family voters tend to reinforce each others’ preferences and biases generation after generation.

Now even that is changing, thanks to the needs of farmers for imported immigrant laborers who put down roots; by the nature of small business manufacturing along with the movement of big companies and the “service industry” units;  by living patterns where isolation or size of lot is not as important to a resident as such factors as schools, hospitals, environment and education.

There are citizens in this country who don’t think much about politics until it impacts their living standards, which Trump’s policies are starting to do.  Simplistics about law and order and lingering confusions about taxes are slow to dissipate. 

On the local legislative level, the high involvement in the midterm – a staggering 49% of eligible voters nationally, more than in any midterm since WWI! – reflects a growing awareness reaching far beyond the politically attuned regulars to involve more families, more young people concerned about their future, more people forced to face up to  how and where they get their information.  All that is somewhat muddied by the noise of our technology and splintering sense of unity.

Changes will not happen overnight and changes are never clean.  Most people don’t remember back to 2012 how two South Side Milwaukee Latino districts were protected by a federal court, while the rest of the questionable 2011 maps proceeded willy-nilly. What progressives perceived then as a victory still took six years to create change at the top and nearly nothing down below.

Trump followers desperately need to slow things down, one reason for all the fury about counting real votes in Florida and Georgia.  They  realize that unless they expand their numbers quickly  they are dying out -- that may actually be the underlying fear that motivates them and Trump. 

Likely new Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants the House’s first focus to be on voting issues – rights, gerrymandering, campaign finance, accountability – and there could be widespread support.  Along with protecting pre-existing health conditions, these issues have deep public impetus behind them.

Eric Holder and Barack Obama’s NDRC  organization – the National Democratic Redistricting Committee –  is not only taking the gerrymandering issue national but is also raising money and attention for nonpartisan redistricting. The pressure for improvement keeps building on several fronts.

After North Carolina, Wisconsin is next up in the gate for the US Supreme Court, which has temporarily turned back  to a three member federal panel a technical issue involving legitimate  complainants.  That struck many observers as a signal of interest when SCOTUS  could have simply shut the door.  

The case comes up again in April for the federal judicial  panel – and it now has the frighteningly universal results of the 2018 election to add in as evidence.

That case continues with the elimination of a blindly loyal Republican attorney general, Brad Schimel – replaced on Nov. 6 by Josh Kaul, who has made no secret that he will return his department to more legal responsibility as opposed to partisan leanings.  All this led the appeals court to allow Assembly  Republicans to hire their own private lawyers to pursue the case, which also releases pressure on Kaul to blindly support the maps as Schimel did.

There seems little doubt with the added evidence of the 2018 election, SCOTUS will have to take this case up after it deals with North Carolina, also a state under censure from a judicial panel.

The plaintiffs believe that, having solved the legal concerns raised by SCOTUS, they have a strong case that could force the court to provide new maps – whether in time for the 2020 fall election is unclear.  SCOTUS could find a way to punt again.

Expert minds are mulling the situation and raising simple questions.  Is it possible for Wisconsin to rejoin the rest of the nation it seems to agree with? Or will the gerrymander strike again in 2020?


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 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 Urban Milwaukee.  




Wednesday, November 7, 2018

BEING BLUE ABOUT NOT BEING BLUE ENOUGH

By Dominique Paul Noth


The tight victory of Evers and Barnes should not disguise
the difficult Wisconsin they inherit.
Now that the blue wave has subsided into a light drizzle, it is time for a writer whose desire for a blue tsunami is on record to point out that in Wisconsin in particular the feeble drizzle is simply not enough for lasting comfort. The nation will spend two more years ruing the day they resisted a full monty stripping of the emperor’s clothes.

What we are in for was signaled by Trump while votes for Senate seats were still being counted (including some good news for Democrats).  But the moment he was assured the GOP would continue control of the Senate, probably even picking up a seat, he replaced the US attorney general with his own hatchet man, Matthew Whitaker, who has mused about defunding the special counsel and was serving as Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff (or Judas goat, apparently, or quisling, if you prefer).

Even more toothless than before, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned that any attack on Robert Mueller’s probe of presidential collusion and corruption would produce a constitutional crisis. Trump is in effect saying, “Bring it on, Jewman” (allegedly his off-camera description of a fellow New Yorker, which certainly fits his tendency toward vile nicknames).

While suburban and urban voters clearly rejected Trump’s religious, race  and immigrant baiting, there were enough voters mainly in red states (or states where the blue could not muster the strength at the ballot) to nod in agreement over the degree of slime  and fall back on the false equivalency that both sides were equally responsible for the toxic tone.

Some of them even embraced Trump’s threat about the caravan, not believing the reality of media reports about asylum seekers a thousand miles away. Some truly bought how evil was the treatment of Kavanaugh as opposed to how mightily he was protected.  Some believed that Trump would never actually act as white nationalistic as he was palavering.  They are in for a surprise – or secretly welcomed his nastiness given how many seem willing blind men feeling the side of an elephant, practiced in ignoring his darkly autocratic tone.

This is why, though I have to be happy for Tony Evers pulling out a victory over the long disastrous Scott Walker – and amused to see Walker’s lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, slapped down by her boss when she pulled  a Sarah Palin moment on election eve;  and as fervently delighted as I am to see Mandela Barnes lend authority to the lieutenant’s job and Josh Kaul to straighten out the mess left by Brad Schimel at the attorney general’s office – the harsh reality is that the cowardice of the Wisconsin voter left the results in doubt all election night and now have left Evers a larger mountain than  any reformist governor should have to face. If only the voters had done a full job.

Baldwin's expected but undeniably great win.
So let’s give out the knee-jerk Eureka at how well Democratic governors did (this is quietly revolutionary for the election map future of the nation, but don’t expect changes in Wisconsin), the undeniable greatness of Tammy Baldwin's win and how the switch of the US House to Democratic control does provide some needed teeth to check the president’s tendencies and more importantly preserve health coverage of pre-existing conditions and threatened Medicare and Medicaid funding.

Let’s now look more cold-bloodedly. Many future Democratic stars went down to defeat Nov. 6.   The House gains were not as high as they could have been.  The Senate may never have been in the cards unless the electorate awoke. It didn’t.


I admit that politics is more complicated than movie mythmaking and never as satisfying. But I can’t ignore the dream I had Nov. 5 of the conclusion of the third original “Star Wars” – the emperor, screaming bile and throwing lightning bolts from his hands, falls into the abyss denied even a toehold for evil to survive.  (Even my dream knew better than to compare Trump to Darth Vader, since there is no repentance under our president’s mask.)

America, in its wisdom, has left Trump that toehold from which to hurl thunderbolts – and he may even climb back out to release havoc and require an even bigger stake in the heart in 2020.  If only political ugliness could be destroyed as cleanly as in movies.  But reality and the voters have left it difficult.

We have to face it – America is more difficult.  Voter suppression still works in sections.  Gerrymandering continues to rule Wisconsin. Nov. 6 demonstrated even a larger gulf between rural and urban (an oversimplification of the media, I admit), a sober reality that disaster will have to be upon many, strangling their breath as it was in the Great Depression, before they accept the slow steady pace of resurrection that democracy imposes.  And even then many didn’t.

Look at the map.  With the exception of Florida, which is always a weird anomaly in US elections, disaster has to be upon the slow learning public before it ever acts.

The economy may be out of tilt, but as long as it seems to deliver to the many, okay, and to hell with the poorer.  Waves may engulf homes, fires may destroy communities, pollutants may choke drinking water, the apocalypse created much by man’s activity may be congealing but right now, while some of the immediately threatened may want to respond, the complacent communities dominate and can roll on feeling validated by ignorance

Before I am accused of excess negativism, let me ask you simply:  Did you really expect that all of the fine new enthusiasts running for Wisconsin legislature would be turned aside by the Republicans refusing even to engage them on the issues? See update below.  Did you really think the voters wouldn’t see through that GOP incumbent game and relentless ad profusion?

Has anyone grasped that, even if Evers viewed himself as a transitional figure rather than a new governor for many terms as Wisconsin moves to more sensible policies and undoes some horrors left behind, he would have to do so with a more resistant, more conservative remnant of the Walker machine completely in place?

Did anyone realize that by not destroying Trump’s hold on the Senate we are in for months if not years of the White House’s avoidance of responsibility and free hand to do considerable damage?  While most of us don’t want the House to behave vindictively or be sidetracked into attacking Trump directly, he is clearly eager for them to do just that and will ride the outliers of constitutional waves to the max to keep the toxicity going.

So cheer for what you can, but don’t forget to buckle down and be forced to work even harder to bring the US back to a nation its own citizens, much less the world, can respect and admire. We didn’t do that Nov. 6 and have to try try again.

UPDATE UNCONFIRMED BY LOCAL MEDIA, WHICH HAS BEEN SLOW ON THIS: New reports suggest that Robyn Vining has won Assembly District 14 over Matt Adamzyk because both Waukesha and Milwaukee counties had tabulation changes that swung her 153 more votes. 


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 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 Urban Milwaukee.  


Thursday, November 1, 2018

AS TRUMP FADES, LIGHT WILL SHINE AGAIN ON CARAVAN

By Dominique Paul Noth

We will know Nov. 6 how right the Democrats were in their races across the nation to largely ignore Trump, assuming every voter knew how they despised him, and just stick with issues of local concern like health care, jobs and universal background checks their election can do something about.

Trump disgust has been an unspoken reality. Everyone knows the election intends to be a curb on the president’s tendencies to dangerous excess in policies and language, blocking in a real way his misuse of the military, ignorance on climate change, misreading of global alliances and corruption of economic cohesion.

It would also be nice to begin restoring the English language to sensibility and importance.  Believe it or not before Trump it had dignity and elegance and an exciting role in ideas, political discourse, poetry, romance and actual interchange rather than a pompous filibuster.

It’s been painful how Trump has constantly cheapened the language he touches, even within a clearly limited fourth grader vocabulary.  Simple words and phrases that used to connect ideas are in his mouth mere moments to adjust his dentures.

His desire  to stoke up fear and self-flattery may be too ingrained to ever change, but he keeps reaching out, adopting and then misusing words that once had alluring meanings in society and culture.

Such as caravan. It used to reverberate with images of desert intrigue, adventurous hardships and gypsy romance, the wonders of traveling into the unknown with a destination at the end.  The vision of an invading horde of migrants sweeping down on the US was a laughable redefinition from the start, as if Pancho Villa always intended a caravan rather than horsemen and rifles.

I can recall when Milwaukee voters used to arrange caravans to go to Madison to protest one bill or another, never thinking that it was anything but getting from one place to another.  Riding those busses up the steps of the Capitol to seize and throttle bad legislators?  Never. That’s what elections are for – and in a nicer way.

When did a method of protecting travelers on arduous journeys become a vision of evil marauders?  Only in Trump semantics (yes, I know he and most of his followers will have to look up that word). Particularly with a caravan a thousand miles away and predicted even by the Pentagon to dwindle in the month it takes asylum seekers to  arrive to  a few hundred mainly women and children seeking to lay their case before American authorities, as is their right under  long established laws.

Trump wants them greeted by 15,000 troops, more than enough to help them change diapers but a curious use of an estimated $50 million of taxpayer money and soldiers’ time.

Alas for caravan and its appeal over generations. In 1937 it was a movie title used to lure swooning females to Charles Boyer – years before Hollywood discovered he was far more than a romantic idol and really could act. The women were, of course, being misled by advertising because he was the gypsy lover – but in a German operetta! Yet another reminder how the word had flown around the world as a magic term for the exotic.  

In the 1960s author James Michener sought to use “Caravans” as the cover for an exploration of the cultural and even romantic similarities (of all things!) between the US and mysterious Afghanistan, long before Afghanistan became such a toxic word in the American lexicon. Trump now wants to send three times as many troops to the border with Mexico than control the country that sheltered Osama bin Laden.

 “Caravan” despite Trump is a most famous and hypnotic word in American music.  There are many exciting renditions of this classic by Duke Ellington and trombonist Juan Tizol (one of Puerto Rico’s greatest gifts to jazz). For my money the best is by Ella Fitzgerald (who else?).

But the most famous appearance in contemporary culture is the climactic moment in the 2014 movie “Whiplash” when the Ellington standard is used to bring down the house and make a hero of its young drummer, a moment captured on YouTube.

(I concede it still sticks in my head. I was fortunate to see this film and herald its brilliance before it started winning awards left and right.)

But we digress. On purpose. The less we think about Trump the better for our sanity.  In a few months, I suspect, Trump’s evil perversion of immigrants, asylum, sanctuary and caravan – once noble words in the language – will vanish as he will from our memories; the original power and humanity of the terms will return.

Ignoring him – as a temporary pimple on the American body politic -- is the most effective course.


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 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 Urban Milwaukee.  


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

DEMOCRATS, DON’T DARE GIVE UP ON U.S. SENATE!

By Dominique Paul Noth 

Even if the most threatened Democrat, Heidi
Hietkamp, has a tough road in North Dakota,
Democrats can still carry the Senate.
In two years, the US has shrunk to a puny shadow of its influential self on the world stage while the economy gallops ahead fulfilling Obama’s vision of slow steady growth but heedless of the warning signals about troubled tariffs, nationalism and ballooning deficits of the Trump regime  that could blow up  a few months after the election.  Many pundits fear that as long as the economic balloon isn’t punctured too harshly, Trump still has weight to throw around, which puts them in the uncomfortable situation of hoping against our economy to block his more outrageous brainstorms.

Yet the president continues to invent rioting in California, middle easterners coming in caravan from Central America (the only Mideast tribe he seems to admire is from the Saudi royal family), evil immigrants invading his golden space and Democrats salivating to impose more taxes – all a clear intent to use fear to reduce his Nov. 6 losses.

It’s a pretty low bar to support a president by comparing him to a broken clock – right inadvertently twice a day.

Yet wisely, the Democrats are ignoring his outrageous behavior while cable media still feels forced to cover his daily ravings,  on a theory I wish the news gods would abandon – that even a president who talks like an escapee from the hospital still merits a ridiculous degree of attention.

There is some evidence that his daily rallies and news gaggles leading into Nov. 6 have more to do with holding up his sinking ratings than any real belief even among supporters.  He’s on the air more than reruns of “I Love Lucy.”

The Democrats have realized that all the invective possible has already been hurled at Trump.   Nor can the Dems  do anything  about the exaggerated right wing hopes that his  Supreme Court picks justify giving the lunatic full rein.  And the Dems don’t want to explore, even if they have reason, billionaire Tom Steyer’s calls for impeachment lest it raise the specter that punishment is more important than better government.

No, the Democrats up and down the ballot are emphasizing what they can actually do for Americans in terms of health care, better roads, livable wages and healthier environment – also pinpointing the areas where Trump and the GOP are letting the citizenry down.

This is the right approach even if we admit the motor underneath.  Up and down the ballot the reason for high turnout is to create a check on Trump’s executive power.

This is the main reason people are voting.  The pundits maintain a somewhat simpleton distinction between the progressive mood of urban America and the built-in conservatism of rural communities, but the  two sides are coming together in curious ways this election year, and Trump is the cause.

With two more years in office and already rumblings that he might try to overturn the Constitution if he doesn’t like the results Nov. 6, the US public has to be determined not to react in fear of what Trump might do but to block any more of what he has done. 

When people stop fearing how he will misbehave, they focus on how they want the US to behave.  Frankly, the common reaction I hear from the public rural and urban is that they don’t want to see again what happened in 2016.

Today’s polls less than two weeks out make it clear the House is likely to turn to Democratic control, but the media loves a good horse race and feels they must give presidential asides attention, even if “diatribes” better describe his ramblings than actual information.  Recognizing that the table was always stacked in 2018 against the Democrats, who have to defend far more Senate seats then the Republicans, the talking heads are emphasizing the difficulty of turning the Senate around as if the Republicans have a real argument to make.

I’m going to disagree with the current warnings that the GOP may keep control of the Senate.  They might, but it’s more than wishful thinking that they will lose this chamber as well as the other one. 

A powerful blue wave still has a strong likelihood of kicking Mitch and his ilk to the curb – and a powerhouse turn in the electorate is essential to truly blocking Trump.

Krysten Sinema given a poll
lead in Arizona.
First there are strong indications of several seats now in Republican hands flipping to the Democrats.  Among them, Jacky Rosen in Nevada beating Dean Heller and  Krysten Sinema in Arizona taking the seat being abandoned by Jeff Flake.  Even Tennessee seems to be coming to its senses, listening to Taylor Swift and recalling how even its retiring GOP senator, Bob Corker, had reservations about Marsha Blackburn, who continues to audition for FOX News more than running for Senate. She is Tennessee’s Leah Vukmir.

The Democratic in that race is male and older, but Phil Bredesen is a proven commodity as a former popular Tennessee governor.

And would you believe that even Mississippi may be in play? At 49-51 the Democrats need only to flip two Senate seats, so a narrow takeover remains in the cards.

Several Democratic defenses are in good shape (Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Amy Klobuchar and the little known Tina Smith  in Minnesota, the latter appointed to fill Al Franken’s term;  Chris Murphy in Connecticut, even Bob Casey in Pennsylvania and the once heavily threatened Sherrod Brown of Ohio, to name a few now indicated as “leaning Democratic”).

But many in states that went for Trump are considered on the bubble. The most threatened is North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, though it is hard to see even conservative voters in that smaller population state endorsing the ugly voter suppression games their GOP has been playing.

Claire McCaskell given a good
chance in Missouri.
Also considered as Democrats bucking their state’s trends are Jon Tester of Montana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, though both are leading their races. (Many Democrats don’t care much about Manchin until they read more about his GOP opponent.)

Voters in Missouri believe Claire McCaskell’s respected individuality will pull out her re-election – she still does smart grassroots things like asking voters at her meetings who is benefiting from coverage of pre-existing conditions. Insiders share similar hopes for Bill Nelson in his Florida race against the well heeled exiting governor, Rick Scott.  Helping there is that Andrew Gillum is leading in the race for  governor,  marking a groundswell for Democrats.

Beto's national attraction not as important
as his good chance among Texas voters.
And there actually remain hopes for Beto O’Rourke in traditionally red Texas, largely because of Ted Cruz’s unpopularity with Republicans and his wimpiness in now embracing the president who once accused his father of treason and his wife of ugliness. Plus Beto has been running a smart and financially impressive campaign.

If you look at the election map in that light, the Democrats could take back the Senate even if they lose a seat here or there. It seems that voters even in reddish states are serious about providing a check on Trump.

That upset in both chambers also relies on traditional understanding of the power of Congress, not its recent temerity.  It was designed to check and balance a president and it could again on many fronts beyond advise and consent on judicial nominations.  You don’t have to be a cockeyed optimist to realize that if Republicans perceive a blue wave taking firm control, there may be enough of them willing to make deals if the Democrats focus less on punishing Trump and his fellow Republicans than on what can be done for the country. They may realize that is what their voters want.

Comprehensive immigration form with a path for citizenship was once as much a Republican idea as a Democratic one. It was even once in Trump’s mind – if you can call it a mind.  Events including his scornful rhetoric may have wiped away his participation but if he sees a two-thirds majority heading his way he could be forced into it. And there may be that super-majority reachable after Nov. 6 if the Republicans left agree with the push to the middle, which many underneath seemed to want, except when they feared bucking Trump.

And though it sounds weird in the current environment, how about a national health care bill that continues Obamacare’s assurance that pre-existing conditions have to be covered?  Before you laugh, yes it is possible, though House Republicans voted more than 70 times to destroy the ACA and its pre-existing coverage, though it took the late John McCain’s thumbs down to stop the Senate from joining the parade, despite Republicans including governors Scott Walker, Rick Scott and others going to court to sue the ACA to eliminate coverage of pre-existing conditions.

Yet as Nov. 6 approaches, No. 1 in national popularity in polls is support for Obamacare, even among Republicans. Republicans are still suing to stop ACA, though now they are pleading with voters to ignore what they are doing in court.  The hypocrisy is stunning, and unbelievable that they really want to support such coverage later. Right now, Trump has proposed allowing private health insurers to return to charging people extra to cover pre-existing conditions, and many Republican state governors including Scott Walker agree.

The Republicans may not be ready for “Medicare for all” but steps in that direction could be possible.  Change is even possible in regions previously considered Republican territory because right now a lot of Republicans seem eager to reclaim their own party as a forward-moving machine.

So, too, could a Democratic wave help a real infrastructure bill, some better consumer protections, less arbitrary spitting fits over tariffs and even some steps to recognize the existence of climate change.

I know, I know, it all sounds impossible given the toxic heat in the days ahead of the election. But such is the power of voters to turn things around.

Even the natural hesitations some voters have about the Democratic Party might be changing. Some Democrats do not seem as strong as others on progressive movement, some seem  too cozy with rich donors. Some Democrats have been accused of continuing marginalization of minorities by the cowardice of their votes. But all now  seem ready to pull together on key issues and the selling point is when the voters start asking which party has been more open to listening  to minorities, the young, the elderly,   the disenfranchised and new ideas to improve fundamentals.

Overall the Democrats have been better at responding on these fronts, and the voters seem to be realizing that.   But it does depend on avoiding petty disputes or petty infighting,  or tying Congress up in investigations rather than actions. 

Certainly the Democrats’ case has been helped mightily by how even Republicans once thought open to reason have proved too willing to hide their heads in the sand over the worst excesses of Trump.

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 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 Urban Milwaukee.  


Thursday, October 18, 2018

IN STATE LEGISLATIVE DISTRICTS NOV. 6, GOP TRYING TO RUN OUT THE CLOCK

By Dominique Paul Noth

Nurse practitioner Emily Siegrist reflects
 the new energy and commitment of Democratic
 candidates shaking up supposedly Republican
bases like River Hills (Assembly District 23).
Republicans in the Madison legislature are depending on an old reliable friend to stay in power – ignorance.  Ask the many candidates fighting to replace them Nov. 6

This is ignorance built up over decades to block any blue wave and it has some tried and true buddies -- inertia and skewed maps -- along for the ride.

The main ignorance is simply that most residents don’t know who represents them and in exactly what assembly or state senate district they live, and the Republicans are counting on that. Surprisingly few voters are steeped in our fast-moving politics – and the GOP is also counting on that. 

The gerrymandering of 2011 was so deep and vast – and unnoticed -- that there is already an imbalance favoring Republicans in many districts, including some once competitive. That means that unless residents are agitated to seek change, and only if there has been hot debate within households long bound to one party over the other, the residents are expected by the GOP to remain complacent.  (To be fair, some Democrats think that way, too.)

Some of the key issues – such as health care protecting pre-existing conditions and tax policies allowing  local control and communities to grow – are important in the details, but the Republicans in power are just not interested in talking about these.  After all, what defense of the failures  could they offer? And they’ll certainly pretend the “failures” are enemy exaggeration.

Our ego helps our ignorance along. Everybody you talk to says “I vote for the person and not the party label.” I asked several of the newer candidates if they believed that was true – and they laughed. Based on months of experience, they said, “It’s just not so.” The D or R after the name is still a determinative and it is hard for many voters to take a deeper interest than party label  Nov. 6.

As pointed out in previous stories, the challengers are not familiars from the Democratic stable but neighborly residents of the community – business owners, community volunteers, even nature guides, local attorneys, many first timers in reaching out to voters. 

Sandy Pasch in 2013
“I am so happy we are getting young hungry people running for office,” said a retired veteran Democrat of the Assembly who still keeps her ear to the ground on political affairs, Sandy Pasch.  “A lot of older Democrats frankly gave up because of gerrymandering but be clear, I mean older in political age, not chronological  age.” 

“Over time  the makeup changes in a district,“ she points out.  Conceding her partisan bias, she adds a pretty established truth.  Republicans “tend to just exchange bodies relying on the R and their voters go a long time without even seeing their state rep.”  This year that laziness – just inserting new pieces into an old system --  is hurting the incumbents.

The Democratic candidates often represent a significant change from the past, limited by money and the number of doors they can personally knock in each community to introduce themselves. But the more the voters become aware, the less these candidates come across like the politicians of yore.

Still, even today the inertia of some communities about Nov. 6 is often the most noticeable thing when you visit – no yard signs, no agitation in local shops and stores about the issues, streets where folks next door don’t talk to each other and, sometimes, seem unwilling to offend neighbors (they might be conservatives!) by raising their voice.

Lillian Cheesman
“I can’t tell you how many times a voter has been friendly to me at the door but looks around to see who is watching,” said Lillian Cheesman, the Democrat running against incumbent Joe Sanfelippo in Assembly District 15 (West Allis area).

In many communities, the inertia is even more reinforcing than the R or the D after a name. There are not even sidewalks in some communities to make door knocking feasible and Republicans more than Democrats seem to rely on such isolation. It takes money, foot energy  and muscle power to overcome.

Yet today in the North Shore suburbs, there is a lot of political agitation in communities with slightly more wealth, more mobility and free time to engage in politics.  Little noticed by the media, many North Shore districts in Republican hands are on the verge of flipping.

In working class communities such as West Allis, or more isolated neighborhoods like Franklin or Brookfield, it is harder to get a lively conversation going about politics. Insiders offer reasons.

When parents have to work two or three jobs to maintain a good lifestyle “they  may think that’s normal and agree with Republicans that it’s the sign of a  good economy,” said one campaign worker in Waukesha County. “These residents have gone so long without that they don’t realize how much a good state legislature could have been doing to help them.”

Similar issues surround the cost of health care, the quality of education, pollution in creeks and potholes on the roads – either residents think that’s all normal or it is not something an elected official can solve. Noted Pasch,   “Many voters don’t believe who is in office affects them.”

She thinks one of the changes this year is the fresh faces that are leading the Democratic insurgency and the determination to forge lasting change.

Candidate Chris Rahlf
In Washington County Assembly District 60 (Saukville, Cedarburg, Port Washington), Democrat Chris Rahlf has firsthand experience about the difficulties  even as her campaign attempts to make headway in a scattered cluster of towns and cities. 

Her opponent may have been censored by his own party for sexist and racist remarks aimed at female (GOP!) lawmakers, but while he agreed to relinquish his assembly leadership role, Rob Brooks insisted on still running again for office.  Though his vagaries were written up in Wisconsin media, Rahlf noted, “Most of the voters in Washington County don’t know who he is, certainly not from personal appearances or discussing his record.”

Instead, she noted, he is in present mainly  in huge plastic signs put up in vacant lots. “I think these are the sort of games that leave lots of voters fed up,” she said.

The problem of trying to discuss issues with the Republicans has become endemic in this election. Ducking debates and candidate forums is clearly the modus operandi of the GOP.  Or setting ridiculous conditions.

The Ozaukee Press detailed the anger of the Ozaukee League of Women Voters, a non-partisan group famous for setting up neutral forums and debates, when the Republicans flatly called them “a group of left-leaning activists masquerading as a non-partisan group” to avoid their famous nationally-recognized  system.  Instead, the GOP wanted to set up a student-organized forum at a friendly site – Concordia College --  miles away from several of the districts invited to participate. 

Rahlf turned down the offer as did Emily Siegrist, running a successful race in River Hills-Germantown area Assembly District 23, and as did Liz Sumner of Fox Point, who is shaking up the Assembly District 24 race so hard that Jim Ott can longer rely on his climate change “doubting Thomas” meteorologist reputation.

Siegrist is surprising observers in what is state Sen. Alberta Darling’s backyard because many don’t even know who her GOP opponent is (Dan Knodl), so stealthily has he campaigned, preferring traditional Republican intractability and financial advantage in the area. But voters have been responding in large numbers to Siegrist’s rallies in Menomonee Falls and Germantown and to her life story. With Mexican heritage and a loving adopted family she became a military medic and then a nurse practitioner. In a year in which health care and mental health care are strong on the ballot her personality and background are being listened to.

Candidate Liz Sumner
Sumner, a member of the Fox Point village board,  is also benefitting from campaign advice from the national as well as the state Democratic Party whose leader, Martha Laning, has added staff and services and still wishes the party had “more money for so many good candidates.”  Make no mistake, it is giving what money it can and she cites chapter and verse.

But the nature of the election has put unusual stress on down-ballot money raising, especially with the Democrats fielding responsible candidates in so many state senate and assembly races.

One reason the money is tight is that the Internet has made Wisconsin citizens a target for races for senate and governor around the nation, many with legitimate claims for small donor giving from Arizona to Massachusetts, a small-donor arena where the Democrats are doing well.

If you ask believers in the blue wave, they are convinced it will happen in such statewide races as US senate, governor and attorney general but are less positive as you work down the ballot. “We know that someone voting for me is a vote for Tammy Baldwin,” said Cheesman. “But can we be sure that every vote in our district that Tammy’s forces get is also a vote for me?”

Local assembly races show an interesting tale of tight money.  At the state party’s website, wisdems.org, if you enter your address to find the Democrats listed on your local ballot you will discover the down-ballot candidates have been encouraged to load background profiles and even a video to help voters. But there  is a $50 fee, enough to make some candidates balk at providing details, unsure how effectively the website will be used by voters looking for  basic information.

“$50 is a lot of money as you work down the ballot,” said one assembly candidate.  “We are not in the position of local Republicans who get recurring retainers to fund established flyer delivery and radio ads.”

In fact, if you browse the free online voting guides, you often find the Democratic candidates have dutifully answered questions but the incumbent Republicans simply don’t bother.

A cynical veteran West Allis Democrat puts it more bluntly. “I admire the energy of these candidates but they are facing decades of built-in  patterns by the GOP, which is counting on those to carry them through again. We no longer have local newspapers that will follow every issue.  Look at conservative radio – it is providing Republicans hours of free airtime, so they don’t have to work in person, as the newer Democrats do – they can count on seven to 11 contacts simply through media and flyers.”

“I think this is where younger Democrats go awry,” said another veteran legislator who has won four campaigns. “This is the time of year when money and organization do  make a difference and it takes a lot more than raw passion to overcome.”

This is the negative history confronting undoubted new energy and new voters, an energy that  also depends on a public angry with how the Republicans duck and what they won’t talk about. 

Candidate Robyn Vining
In Assembly District 14 (Waukesha County into Milwaukee through Wauwatosa), Robyn Vining is not going to interrupt her success by  going down the rabbit-hole after her strange opponent, former state GOP treasurer Matt Adamzyk,  who is ducking talking about the issues and clearly doesn’t want to talk about his dismaying track record in an office he tried to close.

 “I haven't wanted to use my time to jump through hoops to ask (for forums) and then complain he won't debate,” she said. “It's time consuming, and there are far worse things about him than that he's hiding from debates. So, that's not something I'm fussing with.” 

Nor is Julie Henszey, the state senate candidate in overlapping District 5, wasting a lot of time pursuing her opponent, former Rep. Dale  Kooyenga, whose temper tantrums and drinking have put him back in the news and on  video.

Julie Henszey running for state senate
Kooyenga has already declined a big forum organized by Wisdom for Justice and so far only agreed to an event on familiar home turf (Elmbrook School District). Like other Republicans, he is relying on past voting patterns, but that may not work for him, given the past occupant of the office was Leah Vukmir, who is doing badly in debates with US Sen. Baldwin.

At the forum he did attend, Kooyenga defended voucher schools and Act 10 while Henszey tried to point out to him that the state is now “reaping what we’ve sown.”

Head up to Door County and you’ll find similar GOP avoidance in a state senate contest that is actually a repeat from the summer when Democrat Caleb Frostman won against Andre Jacques in the First District that covers Door and Kewaunee counties as well as parts of Brown, Outagamie, Calumet and Manitowoc counties.

Hoping to stay senator Caleb Frostman
As a journalist I was hoping --  this race being a repeat – for some in-person debate on basic issues, but Jacques from all reports is adopting the Republican playbook of relying on friendly maps and friendly past voting patterns.

Pasch in our interview noted that likelihood.  “The gerrymandering will slow change down, but we will pick up seats,” she said.

But like others asked for comment on how much and how many will win, she suggests it not only depends on the voter turnout but also -- frankly -- on how much residents care for each other and their neighbors.

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 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 Urban Milwaukee.