Monday, December 17, 2018

GOP GROUCHES EMERGE WHEN POLITICAL POWER TRANSFERS

By Dominique Paul Noth

Among the traits Assembly majority leader Robin Vos
shares with Richard Nixon . .  .
In national politics, there is a pattern of the incoming Republican administration seeking to unravel successes of the departing Democrats.  Wisconsin at the end of 2018 is seeing a wrinkle in the playbook -- departing Republicans trying to foul the landing field for the incoming Democrats.

. . . is a profound disdain for the US
democratic transfer of power.
It all makes curious reading for history buffs about how our supposedly normal transfer of power from one party to another can be turned into a period of audacious mischief-making.

Democrat Lyndon Johnson was desperately but promisingly working on a deal among South Vietnam, North Vietnam and the US to halt the war in 1968 and bring the issues to the Paris bargaining table. Richard Nixon the Republican candidate was anxious to wrap up presidential victory in a year when the Democrats had fought among themselves yet were still giving him trouble at the polls.  He keenly feared an LBJ success in Vietnam could tip the scales.

So Nixon gave lip service to LBJ’s peace initiative but behind the scenes through emissaries like power broker Anna Chennault -- and today we have it on tape – tricky Dick was assuring the South Vietnamese they would get a better deal if he got elected.  

LBJ discovered the deception, branded it treason in private but felt revealing it to the public would destroy the nation’s self-image.  So Nixon got away with that maneuver, the war lingered seven more years and even expanded during his terms. The seeds of Watergate deception were planted – he had proof that high-handed interference worked.

Something similar was parlayed by candidate Ronald Reagan when he was ahead in the polls in 1980 but feared one setback that could elevate Jimmy Carter – success in Carter’s quiet backstage work with Iran on a deal to release the hostages.  So Reagan, turning to his campaign manager and future CIA leader William Casey, negotiated with Iran to wait for him -- assuring there would be no hiccup in his win.  Carter’s administration succeeded but the hostages release was announced by Reagan on the date of his inauguration – fooling America to think he’d done it, fostering a myth that has endured.


With Trump, we don’t yet have a total picture of what sabotage was worked with Russia or social media to lead to his election.  It’s starting to look like no one involved was convinced their shenanigans would have such positive results in 2016, but we do know there were shenanigans and collusion – just waiting for investigators to establish how high up and intimate they went.   

We have clear evidence, though, of how Trump sought to sabotage the departing administration its last two months in office – to undercut Obama in more ways than campaign rhetoric where he could. One way was to make sure the Russians knew he would weaken the sanctions Obama had leveled, while also working ahead of time to undo other Obama’s initiatives.

Wisconsin Republicans picked up the same pattern of behavior – but in this case after losing, not winning every statewide race. The GOP could do that  because the courts have not yet solved the gerrymandered district maps imposed by Republican lawyers in 2011. The GOP still held firm in deformed legislative maps seven years later while statewide every office turned blue

Wisconsin and Michigan have that legislative underclass in common and are the two states the GOP could show its ugliest colors in the transformation – or flat giving up – of power.

Wisconsin was even more grotesque in how the Republicans sought in their final bills to undo campaign pledges that clearly helped Tony Evers win, such as economic development and Medicaid expansion.  Evers won voters with a campaign promise to replace a Walker concoction, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation,  with a well managed Commerce Department. The legislature has now locked him out of any say in the WEDC for eight months.

Urban Milwaukee editor Bruce Murphy speculates that the GOP had been planning for a long time to pull this lame-duck trigger once it was assured Walker would lose, and I for one believe Walker was a willing participant in this idea, so easily did he approve all three of these bills weakening incoming Democrats, putting his powerful partial veto pen to one side.  Even a partial veto would criticize his longtime allies for not thinking deeply enough or draw a road map for the inevitable lawsuits.

But Walker’s final trickery was shrewder. The entire lame-duck session was pretense to
lay $100 million or $78 million in tax incentives on Kimberly-Clark, but even GOP legislators balked at that amount of corporate welfare, particularly after hearing the public’s anger about the billions of dollars given to Foxconn. So before he signed the new bills preventing any such economic deal by Evers – shrewd timing this -- he established $28 million in tax incentives for Kimberly-Clark, a healthy chunk of what he wanted in the first place.

The frustrated lame-duck GOP turned instead to bills that strengthen the legislature’s hand over the new governor and particularly over the new attorney general.  They almost force Josh Kaul to play backseat to their own legal hires in   every case where the public objects to legislative overreach.

The attacks on the governor were notably  in regard to the WEDC, which the GOP has openly used to give tax incentives to companies that supported them politically. WEDC represents seven years of scandal and financial waste, much of it before the noxious Foxconn deal.  

The lame-duck bills lock Evers out of the WEDC for eight months.  By that time, the damage by an unfettered CEO with new freedoms may be  too severe to unwind.  The new law raises membership on the board so that the legislature, not the governor, has the controlling voice.  It makes the state’s Foxconn point person report to the board, not the governor. The legislature gets to choose the CEO and the CEO can make more deals with less data (verification of new jobs created) than before. And while previously WEDC was limited to making deals with 30 companies (it only got up to 26) the cap is now gone and the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has a passive voice of approval in the decisions.  In other words, if you view the original setup as inviting corruption, these changes practically beg for corruption.

The Republicans know these bills are a last gasp effort because they no longer can triangulate: Senate blames Assembly blames Walker and round and round we went trying to figure out who was doing the most damage.  The governor is now out of the picture.  The ugly stuff is coming from the legislature and if the public gets angry about which good ideas are bollixed, the finger-pointing is only at the legislature – and all the lawsuits will be aimed at them.  The GOP may hang on to stubbornness for a few months but the price for continued obstruction could quickly become too costly.

Funny thing.  While Democratic Party regulars and much of the public that voted Evers in are gnashing their teeth and anxious to crucify the Republicans for their entrenched gridlock,  Evers is not.  He continues his budget listening tour around the state, picks out an eminent team of advisors, frames proposals the Republicans will be hard to fight and even visits the White House  to lay out plans for state and federal cooperation. 

He has been critical of the lame-duck bills but believes he will be judged on what he tries to accomplish – and what they oppose.  The  orneriness of the legislature could prove his biggest marketing tool.

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.  


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