Tag Archives: Column

Freedom of Choice

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. I had actually planned to write this column before I noticed that it’s School Choice Week. Serendipitous, don’t you think? Here you go:

When children and philosophers think about government, they will often romanticize the philosopher king or benevolent dictator as the ideal form of government. The idea of a wise, thoughtful, kind, and generous ruler making decisions to correct the wickedness of ignorant people for the benefit of the entire society is a tempting and alluring story. But history has shown us that such fantasies are best left on the pages of storybooks and treatises. They have little relevance in the actual history of mankind.

When our founders began on their journey of self-governance, it was largely a reaction to the tyranny of monarchical rule. As the spark of the Reformation helped ignite the flames of the Enlightenment, people began to consider the notion that they were not only capable, but entitled, to rule themselves. Such thoughts traveled to America and made the yoke of a distant monarchy weigh heavy. Finally, our founders cast off that yoke and began the great American experiment of self-governance, which continues to this day.

Our founders were students of history and recognized that one of the critical footings of successful self-governance is education. Indeed, only an educated people governing themselves could can off the abuses of tyranny so often inflicted by the cruel on the ignorant. As Thomas Jefferson wrote to William Jarvis in 1820, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

In order to ensure that the people were educated enough to govern themselves, the founders viewed it as a duty of government to provide the people an education. Not deemed a responsibility of the federal government, our founders worked hard to enshrine the responsibility to provide an education into the state constitutions and local charters. It is an important ethos that has helped carry our nation into its third century of self-rule.

As a people, we have decided that it is critical for our republic to not only provide, but also to require that every citizen be educated. While rooted in the preservation of our liberty, compulsory universal education also has significant secondary consequences like raising the standard of living, enabling innovation and reducing poverty.

Whereas we all agree that it is in the best interests of our liberty and our general society to require and provide for universal education through our governments, there is less agreement about how that education should be delivered. At the root of the issue is that while we all generally agree that we should use our collective tax dollars to fund education, there is no rational basis for the government to own the means of delivering that education.

Education is one of the few areas of civil society where we insist that the government both fund and own the means of production for a public good. For example, in transportation, the government pays for infrastructure, but utilizes mostly private enterprises to complete the work. When it comes to welfare, we all generally agree that the government should pay for the indigent, but there are not government-owned grocery stores. In fact, there has been strong push back to President Donald Trump’s idea to provide packages of government groceries to welfare recipients instead of letting them choose their own groceries.

In the 21st century, the idea that the only way to provide a good education is for the government to own, manage and run the schools is as antiquated as the boys-only one-room school house. As our society speeds up, the rigidity and sluggishness of the public schools have struggled to keep pace. That fact, coupled with the frustration from some that some public schools have become centers of Neo-Marxist indoctrination instead of education, is part of what has led to a majority of states offering some form of school choice in the form of vouchers, education savings accounts and/or tax exemptions for private schools.

The heart of the school choice movement is the recognition that every child is precious and unique. Each child deserves the educational environment in which they can best thrive, and the child’s parents — not politicians — are the most informed, most interested and most invested in making decisions about their child’s education. For some parents, that choice may be a government-run school. For some it might be a religious school. For some it might be an online or private school. For some it might be homeschooling or an immersion school.

The point is that it is the parents who should decide and our societal obligation and commitment is to ensure that money, within reason, is not the sole determinant of educational choice. The rich already have all of these choices. School choice levels the field by ensuring that people of all economic means also have choices.

If an educated people is a free people, then we must free our education system to reach as many children as possible. Our founders were willing to tear down old societal structures to build a better future. Are we willing to do the same?

Wisconsin should return to a part-time Legislature

As we more candidates throw in their hats for the Wisconsin legislature, it’s worth noting that we could govern differently. Here’s my column for the Washington County Daily News.

When it comes to compensation levels for legislators, there are two schools of thought. The first says the rules of compensation that apply in business should also apply in government. Members of Congress are responsible for spending trillions of dollars every year. Members of Wisconsin’s Legislature are responsible for spending tens of billions of dollars every year. In order to attract the brightest minds to make these tough spending and policy decisions that affect the lives of millions of people, we must offer compensation at a level sufficient to lure the best minds out of the private sector, or so the argument goes.

Critics of this thought argue that legislators who take the job based on the money are not worthy of it. Instead, people should want to serve the public good regardless of the compensation. Critics also argue that legislators who have a greater financial stake in the job are more susceptible to the influences of donors and purely political forces. After all, taking a stand that results in the loss of a job that pays $5,000 is much less painful than losing a job that pays $500,000.

The second school of thought regarding pay for legislators says that it should be as low as possible. This argument declares that low levels of compensation would be sure to attract only those truly interested in serving the public interest. Also, it’s nice to save a few bucks over the other option.

Critics of this school of thought argue that low pay will attract too many of the “wrong” people. Namely, those who are rich enough to not care about the pay and those who are rabid ideologues to whom the power is more important than the compensation.

Personally, I advocate for higher compensation at the federal level and lower compensation at the state level. Today, let us just worry about Wisconsin.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Wisconsin’s legislators have the ninth highest pay in the nation. In other words, 41 other states manage to function paying their legislators less. Wisconsin’s legislators currently make $50,950 per year plus health insurance, pension benefits, and a per diem of as much as $157 (except for Dane County legislators).

Wisconsin is also one of only 10 states to have a full time legislature. States with full time legislatures are New York, Pennsylvania, California, Michigan, Alaska, Ohio, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Illinois.

Wisconsin should move to a part time legislature,dramatically cut pay for legislators, and eliminatebenefits — including pensions and health insurance.Wisconsin’s Legislature should be part time for three major reasons.

First, Wisconsin just does not need a full time legislature. Our state has a biennial budget. The budget is the single most important piece of legislation that the legislature must pass and they only have to touch it every two years. They also tend to use the budget as the mechanism to move controversial policy issues. Most years, the budget is debated and decided within a few months.

Except for the budget, everything else that the legislature acts upon is discretionary. They decide that they want to pass some laws about whatever burr is currently under their saddle and they go to work. There is no good reason why the Wisconsin legislature could not convene for one session every two years, pass the budget and whatever else is important, and go home until it is time to pass the next budget. If something truly pressing comes along, the governor can always call the legislature into special session.

Second, full time legislators with few pressing issues are prone to draft and pass useless, stupid, and intrusive laws. As the old proverb goes, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Having a bunch of legislators sitting around Madison looking for something to do or how to make a name for themselves is a recipe for a brew of bad laws. Paradoxically, too much time to think sometimes results in idiocy.

Third, Wisconsin’s legislators should spend as little time in Madison as possible. They should have to earn a living, adhere to the regulations they enact, and pay the taxes that they vote for. They should spend almost all of their time in their districts interacting with everyday Wisconsinites as a customer, employer, employee, service provider, etc. — not as a politician. The value of the “citizen legislator” is in the first word.

As a part time legislature, miniscule pay and no benefits makes sense. The lack of a pension plan should help with a healthy turnover in the legislature. Also, Wisconsin should reimburse actual mileage and meals instead of a flat per diem. Legislators should not view their time in Madison as a career.

Wisconsin had a part time legislature until the 1970s. It’s time to return to our roots.

Easy choice for Wisconsin Supreme Court

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

The passage of time makes it easy to forget how activist and liberal the Wisconsin Supreme Court was a few short years ago. For many years before 2008, the liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court rendered ruling after ruling that eviscerated individual liberty, punished commerce and rewrote laws from the bench.

By 2007, Wisconsin voters had had enough. Wisconsinites elected conservative Justice Annette Ziegler to an open seat, but the liberals on the court still held a 4-3 majority. 2008 was the pivotal year. In that year, the upstart judicial conservative Michael Gableman challenged incumbent liberal Justice Louis Butler and won. This was the first time since 1967 that an incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice had lost a bid for reelection. Gableman’s victory also flipped the court to a conservative majority. Since 2008, Wisconsin voters have elected or reelected judicial conservatives every time except once. Conservatives hold a 5-2 majority on the court.

The conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court has been critical in Wisconsin’s conservative reformation. Liberals who failed to win elections and majorities in the legislative or executive branches have routinely run to the courts to advance their agenda. Act 10, right to work, concealed carry, school choice, regulatory reforms, tort reforms, welfare reforms, etc. would all likely have been thwarted by a liberal Supreme Court.

After serving for 10 years, Gableman has chosen to return to private life, thus inviting an open election for the seat. There are three candidates for the seat. On Feb. 20, Wisconsinites will go to the polls to narrow the field to two candidates in the spring primary election. With one judicial conservative, one judicial liberal and one activist liberal, the choice could not be clearer.

Tim Burns is a liberal Madison lawyer who has made his name suing insurance companies. Although the Supreme Court race is nonpartisan, Burns is taking the approach of running as an avowed “progressive” (the chosen moniker of modern socialists) and is unabashed about espousing his political opinions. He also believes that the court should not just interpret laws passed by the other two branches of government, but that the court should intervene to “protect the middle-class economy.” Burns also believes that the court has an “obligation to strive for more than just equality. Progressive courts can ensure equity.”

Burns does not want to just interpret and enforce the laws as written. He wants the Supreme Court to serve as a socialist super-legislature that will reshape our lives in his vision — win Tim Burns making the decisions, of course. Burns is not just the typical judicial liberal. He is a dangerous activist with little regard for representative government or judicial restraint.

Rebecca Dallet is a more traditional judicial liberal. Dallet has been a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge for 10 years after working as an assistance district attorney for Milwaukee County. She is president of the Milwaukee Trial Judges Association and secretary of the Association of Women Lawyers. While Dallet is also an avowed liberal, she advocates a more restrained approach to the bench than Burns.

Dallet’s judicial rulings reveal her liberal approach to justice. As recently uncovered by Right Wisconsin, Dallet sentenced a confessed pedophile to a mere two years in jail saying, “there wasn’t an extreme amount of harm. There wasn’t intercourse” as if a grown man repeatedly fondling the vaginal areas of two elementary school children was not serious enough to warrant a more severe penalty.

Dallet has been at the heart of the liberal criminal justice system in Milwaukee County that has enabled violence and crime to surge. If voters want the rest of Wisconsin to look more like Milwaukee County, then a vote for Dallet would be the way to go.

The third candidate is the only judicial conservative in the race. Judge Michael Screnock has served as a Sauk County Circuit Court judge since 2015, but he has a very well-rounded background with experience in education, the private sector, local government and the legal system. After earning a BS in mathematics from UW-Madison and an MBA with an emphasis in urban economic development, Screnock worked for the cities of Reedsburg, Washburn and Ashland before returning to UW-Madison to earn a law degree. Screnock then worked for Michael Best & Fredrich for nearly 10 years before Gov, Walker appointed him to the Sauk County Circuit Court.

Screnock has a traditionally conservative judicial philosophy rooted in restraint and deference to the other branches of government. Screnock believes that “the role of a judge or justice is to interpret and apply the law, not rewrite the law.” While such a statement seems like traditional common sense, it stands in stark contrast to the judicial philosophies of Burns and Dallet.

Wisconsinites have worked very hard over the last decade to build a conservative Supreme Court majority that upholds the law with humble respect for the role of the court. That work must continue by electing Judge Screnock to the court — first on Feb. 20 and again on April 3.

Walker moves left in bid for re-election

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

Gov. Scott Walker is a smart, conservative, savvy politician who has managed to win elections and assemble an impressive resume of conservative achievements over his political career.

Knowing that, it is almost inexplicable why he is choosing to lurch to the left and base his 2018 re-election campaign on the Democrats’ playbook of government gravy and targeted handouts.

The secret to Gov. Walker’s electoral success is no secret at all. He wins elections because Republicans and conservatives turn out in record numbers to vote for him. Very few Democrats voted for Walker. Slightly more moderates voted for Walker than his opponents in the past three gubernatorial elections. But Republicans voted overwhelmingly for Walker and turned out in incredible numbers — especially in the heavily Republican counties of Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington.

The reason that Republicans and conservatives have enthusiastically gone to the polls to vote for Walker is because he ran on a bold, conservative agenda and delivered on that agenda. During Walker’s two terms as our governor, he has amassed a conservative record that is unmatched in the nation. Budget surpluses, Act 10, concealed carry, Right to Work, elimination of the state property tax, welfare reform, education reform, tax cuts, repeal of prevailing wage, frozen tuition at UW and on and on. Any one or two of those accomplishments would be a proud achievement for any governor, but Walker can claim them all.

But while Walker has been mentioning his impressive conservative record on his re-election campaign trail, he has also been touting some blatantly leftist talking points and proposals.

During his State of the State speech, Walker proposed using the state income tax system to give parents a handout at the expense of all taxpayers. It is the kind of proposal that Bernie Sanders would love and is a gross handout of taxpayer money for the purpose of currying votes.

Under Walker’s proposal, the state would take about $122 million in estimated tax overpayments in the current budget and give it to parents at the rate of $100 per child — irrespective of whether or not the parents paid any state income taxes. He packages the proposal as a “reform dividend” that returns the projected budget surplus to the taxpayers. His proposal is actually a crass handout to parents in an election year at the expense of all taxpayers. If it were truly a “dividend,” Walker would be returning the entire surplus, once it is actually realized, to all taxpayers.

Walker is also touting things like more governmentspending on education, a state mandate that healthinsurance companies cannot deny coverage because of a preexisting condition and other talking points that are more commonly found in the speeches of his Democratic opponents.

Some speculate that this new blue hue to Walker’s campaign is a reaction to the recent special election in Wisconsin’s 10th Senate District where a Democrat won a seat that a Republicans held for many years.

But the real worry for Walker should be what happened in the special election in the 58th Assembly District. That election revealed a substantial enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats in the heart of Walker Country.

The 58th Assembly District is overwhelmingly Republican that usually has very high turnout. In the special election in the 58th, only 12.5 percent of voters cast a vote. Of those, only 56.6 percent voted for the Republican when, historically, 70-80 percent of the electorate votes Republican. And the Democrat actually won the city of West Bend.

What should be keeping Walker up at night is not that Democrats and moderates will not vote for him. It should be that his Republican base is not enthusiastic about voting this year.

Instead of resting on the conservative successes of the past while touting a more liberal future, Walker needs to get Republicans enthusiastic about voting for him by writing the next chapter in Wisconsin’s conservative reformation. An agenda that actually reduces state government spending for the first time in generations, eliminates the state income tax like seven other states and reduces the regulatory burden on Wisconsinites to unleash their economic potential is something that Wisconsinites and Republicans can get excited about.

Gov. Walker has a proud record of conservative successes, but politics is often more about “what are you going to do for me now?” Walker’s answer to that question should not be his government picking winners and losers through preferential government handouts. His answer should be to continue to improve the state for all Wisconsinites by getting government out of our way.

Wisconsin is Working

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

The economy in Wisconsin is booming and employment is at an all-time high. Data released by the Department of Workforce Development last week showed that December’s 3% unemployment is tied for the lowest unemployment rate on record and the number of people employed is at an historic high. Wisconsin is enjoying economic full employment. If you want a job in Wisconsin, you can have one.

In light of the economic boon in the state, Governor Scott Walker has called a special session of the legislature to pass a package of welfare reform legislation dubbed Wisconsin Works for Everyone. The legislation is authored by Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield). Governor Walker says the reform legislation will, “remove barriers to work and make it easier to get a job, while making sure public assistance is available to those who truly need it.”

Part of what makes such legislation possible are new rules regarding Medicaid recently issued by the Federal government under President Trump. In the past, Medicaid eligibility has been based almost completely based on a person’s income. The Trump Administration has informed states that they can introduce requirements that most people receiving Medicaid either work or look for work.

There are 10 principal parts of the Wisconsin Works for Everyone welfare reform package. They will also undoubtedly be revised, expended, trimmed, and otherwise tweaked as they go through the legislative process. Here are a few of the key elements of the package to start the conversation.

 Expand work requirements for recipients of Wisconsin’s FoodShare Employment and Training program from 20 hours to 30 hours for more people. The bill would require people to treat both able-bodied adults with dependents and able-bodied adults without dependents the same by requiring 30 hours of work instead of 20.

 Launch a pilot program to allow recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit can receive payments throughout the year instead of waiting until they file their taxes to receiveit in a lump sum. This will put more money in the pockets of low-income people throughout the year as they work. Ifsuccessful, the pilot program will be expanded to all EITC recipients.

 Establish an asset test related to a primary residence. Under this bill, if a person owns a home (excluding farm land) that is worth more than 200 percent of the statewide median value home ($321,000), they would not be eligible for W-2, Wisconsin Shares, or Foodshare. This bill would also add a $20,000 limit on the total equity value of a non-work related vehicles. Simply put, if a person has a nice home and drives nice vehicles, the taxpayers should not be giving them welfare.

 Prohibit able-bodied parents who refuse to cooperate with determining paternity of a child or refuse to pay child support from receiving Medicaid.

 Require employment screening and drug testing for people who use public housing and provide employability plans and drug treatment as needed.

 Require photo identification for people who receive FoodShare.

There is a role for the taxpayers to play in supporting people who are unable to support themselves, but it is offensive for taxpayers to be forced to support people who are able to support themselves. The Wisconsin Works for Everyone reforms are designed to push able-bodied adults into the workforce and provide training and treatment for those who need it.

There is a dignity in work that cannot be replaced by an entitlement. Moreover, at this moment in time, Wisconsin is flush with jobs of all skill levels and needs everyone possible to find a job and work hard.

Americans see immediate impact from tax reform

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

Even the most optimistic of supporters of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” President Trump signed into law just before Christmas did not anticipate the immediate and substantial impact it would have in the lives of so many low income and middle class Americans. American businesses are racing to announce their plans for their tax savings and over two million Americans are already going to receive a substantial bonus thanks to tax reform.

There were two major thrusts of the Republican tax reform plan, but they rested on the same principle. That principle is that the quickest path to economic growth and prosperity for individual Americans is to allow them to keep more of their own money and spend it where they choose. This principle runs contrary to the totalitarian notion that has been popular in the past several years that a group of central planners should collect Americans’ wealth through forced taxation and redistribute it back into the economy as they see fit.

The first thrust of the tax reform plan was a reform of individual taxes to allow Americans to send less money to Washington. Individual tax rates were lowered, the standard deduction was raised, the Obamacare individual mandate was repealed, the child tax credit was increased and other changes were made to the tax laws with the goal of lowering the overall tax burden for most taxpayers.

The effect of these changes has yet to be seen. Americans are likely to see more take home pay beginning in February as the IRS adjusts withholding schedules to take less money out for the federal government. Some of the benefits of this part of the tax reform law will not be seen until 2019 when Americans file their federal taxes. As 2018 progresses, millions and millions of Americans will have a little more money in their pockets to spend on their priorities — not the priorities of politicians in Washington.

The second major thrust of the Republican tax reform plan was to lower taxes on American businesses. Corporate taxes have been lowered from the confiscatory maximum of 35 percent to a more average 21 percent. The new law also lowered taxes for other business entities like sole proprietorships and partnerships. The new law made modifications to how businesses depreciate capital investments and changed the United States to a territorial tax system to make it easier for businesses to move their foreign earnings back to our shores.

While many of the tax savings for businesses will also not be realized for a while, businesses are already announcing their plans to invest the savings in their employees, infrastructure and elsewhere. Americans for Tax Reform has been keeping a tally of the announcements. Here are a few examples:

 Aflac is increasing its 401(k) match from 50 percent to 100 percent and kicking $500 into every employee’s 401(k);

 U.S. Bancorp is giving a $1,000 bonus to 60,000 employees, raising their base wage to $15 an hour and is giving $150 million to charities;

 Southwest Airlines is giving a $1,000 bonus to all of its 55,000 employees and $5 million additional charitable donations;

 PNC is giving $1,000 bonuses to 47,500 employees, kicking in $1,500 to each employee’s pension accounts, raising their base wage to $15 an hour and giving $200 million to charities

 Nationwide Insurance is giving a $1,000 bonus to 29,000 employees and increasing 401(k) matching contributions for 33,000 employees;

 Fiat Chrysler is giving a $2,000 bonus to 60,000 employees and investing $1 billion in a factory in Michigan — creating 2,500 new jobs;

 Waste Management Inc. is giving $2,000 bonuses to 34,000 employees The list goes on and on. The reasons are quite simple. Businesses operate in a competitive environment and need to invest their profits into their employees and infrastructure in order to remain competitive. And contrary to the demonizing rhetoric of Democrats, most businesses are run by decent people who do want to improve the world around them.

As tens of millions of Americans see their wages increase, receive bonuses, and spend less on taxes thanks to the Republican’s tax reform law, they will invest that money into their own lives in a billion different ways. Some will spend a little more on their kids. Some will think about starting a business. Some will give a bit more to charity. Some will buy ammo. Some will blow it on lottery tickets and booze. The point is, however, that individual Americans will be making their own choices to benefit their own lives.

And come November, I suspect that many Americans will remember that not a single Democrat voted to allow Americans to keep more of their own money.

 

Trump’s conservative record

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

The closing of one year and opening of the next offers the opportunity to reflect and re-evaluate one’s preconceptions and biases. As a conservative who opposed President Donald Trump, I must admit that I have been very favorably surprised by his first year in office.

My reasons for opposing candidate Trump were simple, if heart wrenching. He is a man with a history of wretched character who rode a dangerous populist wave to the White House while shouting some empty conservative rhetoric. My worry was, and continues to be, that Trump will govern as a big-government populist and tear apart the conservative movement in the process. That may still come to be, but his accomplishments during his first year in office would be the envy of any would-be conservative president. For that, he deserves praise and thanks.

The most recent accomplishment was the monumental tax reform bill that Trump signed into law a couple of weeks ago. With the help of the Republican Congress, Trump has slashed the corporate tax rate to slightly below the worldwide average, cut and simplified the income tax for individuals, moved the U.S. to a territorial tax system, cut taxes for other businesses, eliminated the alternative minimum tax for businesses and scaled back the alternative minimum tax for individuals. Any one of those would have been a conservative victory.

That’s not all. The tax bill also repealed Obamacare’s individual mandate, which imposed an unconstitutional tax penalty for people who chose to not purchase health insurance. This was a key pillar that underpinned Obamacare and was a flash point in every debate about repealing Obamacare, but it passed in the tax bill with barely a protest.

Also in the tax bill was the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy development. This has been a goal for 30 years and it was finally done with barely a whimper of protest.

The passage of the tax reform law alone, with all of its provisions, would have been considered a massive accomplishment for any conservative president. That was merely the capstone of Trump’s tremendous year.

Trump and the Republican-led Senate set a record for appointing conservative federal judges. The most important was the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, but he also appointed 18 other federal judges in his first year. Given how liberals challenge every piece of conservative legislation in federal court, filling the federal judiciary to a constitutionally conservative judges is critical to any long term reform.

In the area of federal regulations, where Trump has far more unilateral authority, he has made incredibly aggressive and sweeping conservative reforms. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency has been sharply pulled back into its constitutional cage, as have the Education Department, Health and Human Services, Federal Communications Commission, and many other regulatory agencies. Thousands of individual regulations have been repealed or reprioritized with the overriding objective of getting the federal government out of people’s lives.

Among those regulatory reforms were the FCC’s repeal of President Obama’s 2015 Net Neutrality regulation, which imposed stringent regulations on internet service providers in favor of Big Media and others. Also, Trump’s administration broke loose the intentional regulatory roadblocks of the Obama administration by approving projects like the Keystone Pipeline.

Trump held firm on his campaign promises to honor our veterans. The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act improved backlogs at VA facilities while other legislation improved overall access to healthcare and expanded educational opportunities for veterans.

In foreign affairs, Trump has reoriented our nation’s policies under the “America First” banner. Far from being the isolationist posture that many feared, Trump’s foreign policy is engaging and muscular. Trump has returned the U.S. to a more realpolitik foreign policy where our nation will act energetically to support our national interests and expects other nations to do the same.

To that end, Trump rightly pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accords and Trans-Pacific Partnership – both of which were designed to benefit other nations at the expense of America. Trump has taken a less appeasing stance toward tyrannical regimes in North Korea and Iran. He is finally fulfilling the rhetorical promises of his predecessors of both parties by moving America’s Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. Trump also decertified the treacherous Iran deal where Obama gave Iran a path to nuclear arms and billions of dollars to get there in exchange for empty promises of peace.

Perhaps most impressive, if woefully downplayed by much of the media, was the defeat of the Islamic State. Under Obama, who called them the “JV team,” IS rose to power conquering a huge territory in Iraq and Syria. IS exported terrorism to the world while murdering Christians, Jews and anyone else in their reach who did not subscribe to their cruel ideology. Trump allowed the military the latitude to act without tactical permission from political agents in Washington and supported our allies in Iraq and elsewhere to act aggressively. The result is that after years of growing and spreading, IS has been largely defeated and pushed completely out of Iraq.

It would be easy to lament what could have been had a traditional conservative won the Republican primary, but debating alternative futures is the realm of fiction authors. Trump’s record of conservative reforms is impressive as it stands. Let us hope that he can maintain pace and direction of reform in 2018.

Closing the door on 2017

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

End of the year columns often fall into a few templates: Predictions for the New Year; Recap of the old year; Top ‘X’ lists; thoughtful reflections; etc. This one will be a bit of everything.

The year 2017 was certainly an eventful and tumultuous year. The Islamic State was finally pushed out of Iraq and lost its territory. The King of Saudi Arabia consolidated power as he slightly liberalized In the U.S., the stock market and economy boomed with unemployment dropping to record lows. President Donald Trump kept everyone scrambling with his tweets. Bitcoin boomed and busted. The year ended with the passage of the greatest tax reform in a generation.

In Wisconsin, the budget debate dragged on for months as Republicans battled over transportation spending. Meanwhile, the years of conservative reforms and coordinated effort brought the largest foreign investment in the history of the state to Wisconsin with Foxconn committing to a massive new facility in the state. The illegal John Doe investigations were finally exposed for the partisan witch hunt that they were. And the Packers’ season broke with Aaron Rodgers’ clavicle.

Locally, Rep. Bob Gannon died suddenly leaving big shoes to fill. The U.S. Open catapulted beautiful Washington County into the national spotlight. The West Bend School District was roiled in controversy with the sudden resignations of four teachers, the scandalous hiring process for two new high school principals and the untimely resignation of the Superintendent. Washington County flirted with building a reliever route to Hartford.

The year 2018 promises to be an eventful year. The tax reform that just passed has already spurred countless companies to announce that they will increase wages, give employee bonuses and increase their investments. Several businesses have also announced that they will be building new facilities or moving global facilities to the U.S. All of this economic activity, coupled with the pent up demand from the laggard Obama years, point to a boom in the economy. That also likely means that Americans will finally begin to see some upward movement of the median wage and its frequent companion, inflation.

Meanwhile, the political world will be looking to the mid-term elections in November. If historic trends hold true, theDemocrats can expect heavy successes at the polls and will probably take control of the House of Representatives — possibly the Senate, too. In anticipation of a change in control, both parties will be scrambling for political advantage with little regard for positive governance.

Wisconsin will also be caught up in the mid-term swirl. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is on the ballot and faces fierce competition. The Republican primary to choose her challenger is shaping up to be a nasty fight. Gov. Scott Walker has signaled that he will advocate an ambitious agenda as he runs for a third term. At least eight Democrats are lined up to challenge him.

Here in West Bend, the primary election to fill Gannon’s seat will be held. Even though it is considered a safe Republican seat, a low-turnout special election in a year when the liberals are hyper-energized is just the kind of atmosphere where lightning could strike. Two seats on the West Bend School Board are up for election giving the public an opportunity to weigh in on its performance. The city of West Bend will likely be asking the public in a referendum how they want to handle funding of city transportation infrastructure.

One way in which I hope and pray that 2018 is different than 2017 is that we move toward a more rational national discussion. In 2017, it was the most divisive years in my memory. Too many people retreated to their tribes, closed their minds and substituted thinking with reflex. While we are so often heated by the friction of our differences, the cool welds of our similarities bind us together. We are all Americans, Wisconsinites or Benders. Most of us are honest, hardworking and thoughtful people. We all want a thriving economy, safe neighborhoods, great schools, a clean environment and ethical elected leaders. And while we may disagree on the means, most of us are striving for the same ends.

May 2018 bring you all good health and happiness.

Who will guard the guards themselves?

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Incidentally, my working title was “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes,” but my editor kindly translated it for y’all. Here you go:

Wisconsin’s Department of Justice was asked to investigate illegal leaks to the media by the now shuttered John Doe investigations. What the investigators found was more than just a few rogue prosecutors. They found a fascist political hit squad determined to use their police power to criminalize speech and silence their political opponents. Action must now be taken to punish the guilty and prevent it from ever happening again.

Wisconsin’s John Doe law allows a unique process where prosecutors are granted extraordinary powers to investigate in exchange for keeping everything secret. The intent of the law is to allow investigators to look for suspected criminal activity where there is not sufficient probable cause to use a normal investigatory process, but protect the reputations of those being investigated in the event no criminal acts are uncovered.

Leftist prosecutors and investigators abused this process as they hunted conservative people and groups in the wake of Gov. Scott Walker’s election in 2010. They used the broad powers granted to them under the John Doe process to sift through the lives of their political opponents while leaking selective information to the media. Then they used the process to silence the targets of their illegal investigations and did not even allow them to secure legal counsel for their own protections.

I strongly urge you to read the entire report written by the Department of Justice. It reveals behavior that would have been familiar to the Soviet Politburo in the 1950s, but it happened in Wisconsin in the 21st century. Here are a few of the more outrageous findings:

 They seized “millions of documents that had been created over a period of several years” by “29 organizations and individuals.” This was not a targeted investigation looking for a crime. It was a political operation sweeping up their opponents’ private information.

Much of that information was copied, placed on several digital drives, and distributed, but no record was kept of who made copies or to whom all of that private information was distributed.

 The prosecution team intentionally used Gmail and Dropbox accounts to avoid oversight.

 A key hard drive that Shane Falk used is missing. It contained all of the leaked documents.

 The specific information leaked was designed to influence the U.S. Supreme Court as it was considering a case related to the John Doe.

 After the court repeatedly ordered the investigators to cease their investigation, the investigators repeatedly and knowingly copied and distributed the captured information.

 After the court ordered all of the documents surrendered to the court, the DOJ found multiple caches of documents.

 Many of the ill-gotten documents were stored in a files labeled “opposition research,” indicating the real purpose for their collection.

 The John Doe persecutors also swept up and kept thousands of personal emails including private medical information. There is no rational investigatory value to these documents.

One has to read the entire report to fully appreciate the incredibly abusive behavior of a group of partisan activists using their broad investigatory powers to terrorize their political opponents.

Now that we can no longer hide behind the naïve illusion of impartial justice, we must act.

First, although the Government Accountability Board was rightly disbanded, many of the partisans who worked for it and were involved in the abuses of the John Doe persecutions just took new jobs working for the new Ethics and Elections Commissions. Anybody associated with those abuses must not be allowed in a similar position of power again. Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have called for the resignations of those involved, but the bureaucrats have circled the wagons around their own. They have lost the mantle of impartial and dispassionate management of those Commissions. If they will not resign with honor, then they must be forced out with dishonor.

Second, the people directly involved in the abuses of the John Doe persecutions must be punished by whatever legal means available. This is important not only to punish the guilty, but to send the strong message that these kinds of abuses will not be tolerated in Wisconsin.

Third, Wisconsin must repeal the John Doe law. It is unique for a reason. It is unjust. The normal criminal justice process with all of the protections for victims and suspects that has grown through centuries of legal evolution is more than sufficient in dealing with suspected criminal activity. Government, secrecy and power rarely do a good job of protecting our civil liberties.

Finally, we must shed the misguided notion that great power can be so cavalierly handed to people presumed to be above petty human emotions and biases. We must reject any government entity that insists that it must operate in the shadows. No person is above corruption. No person is beyond the reach of our inherent sinful nature. Visibility and vigorous oversight must be our watchwords. Secrecy and unilateral power must be rejected.

Choosing the Republican candidate for the 58th

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. We have an embarrassment of riches in the 58th in that good candidates make hard choices for the voters. Here it is:

The special primary election for the 58th Assembly District is coming up quickly. Absentee in-person voting has already begun and the election is Dec. 19. The Democrats have an uncontested primary, but there are four Republicans vying for the seat.

Before evaluating the candidates, we should pause to thank them all for running. It is no easy task to reorient one’s life, place it under the microscope and ask your neighbors for their vote. This is especially true in today’s charged political environment. All of the candidates on the ballot are stepping forward to serve the citizens of the 58th Assembly District and are entitled to our gratitude for being willing to serve.

The 58th Assembly District is privileged in that there are so many good, honorable, conservative people in it who are open to public service. This brings us to the first Republican candidate, Spencer Zimmerman.

Zimmerman is a 38-year-old professional driver and flight line technician who touts himself as a “Trump Conservative.” He has run for office several times in the past few years including the 99th Assembly District in 2015, the 48th Assembly District in 2010, the Senate in Nebraska in 2012, a couple of runs for the Dane County Board and most recently challenging Paul Ryan last year. Zimmerman hails from Janesville, but plans to move to the district if he wins. With all due respect to Mr. Zimmerman, the 58th has plenty of great people who could represent them without having to import someone from Rock County.

One of those other great people is Tiffany Koehler of Slinger. Koehler lost to Bob Gannon in the Republican primary in 2014, but that did not deter Gannon from hiring Koehler as a legislative aide. If elected, Koehler pledges to continue on Gannon’s legislative agenda and to be an independent voice for the citizens of the 58th in Madison. Koehler considers herself a fiscal hawk whose background in nonprofits has honed her ability to get things done with limited resources.

Recently, CNN published a report saying that Koehler had become a supporter of Obamacare after her recent bout with cancer. Koehler said that nothing could be further from the truth and she remains a firm opponent of Obamacare. She does, however, support Obamacare’s mandate forbidding insurance companies from excluding people with pre-existing conditions and the mandate prohibiting lifetime coverage limits.

Rick Gundrum is a fifth-generation resident of Washington County who is currently the Washington County Board Chairman and serves on the Slinger Village Board. Gundrum worked in radio broadcasting before starting his audio video production business in 2000.

If elected, Gundrum promises to tackle tax reform, reforming and shrinking the state’s government bureaucracy and pushing more control to local governments. Gundrum said he has a leg up on the other candidates because of his experience working in government. He is most proud of the fact that Washington County has the lowest property tax rate since World War I, the property tax levy is the lowest in 10 years, and the county has been embarking on creative cost-saving measures like a health clinic for county employees, zero-based budgeting and merging county health services with Ozaukee County.

The last Republican candidate is Steve Stanek from West Bend. Stanek runs a small business doing disposal services. Stanek is committed to fiscal responsibility, helping Wisconsin’s businesses grow and add jobs, and public safety – particularly the effects of the opioid crisis. He has been involved with local government including serving on West Bend’s Value Task Force for the last two years. Stanek said he stands apart from the other candidates because of his capacity to be a leader and effect change.

The glaring issue that makes Republicans pause when considering Stanek is that he gave Tom Barrett a $3,000 donation in October 2010 when he was running against Scott Walker for governor. Stanek has given to several Republicans over the years, but the Barrett donation stands out. He said the donation was a “business decision” because his employer at the time held fundraisers for Barrett and encouraged the donations. That is a tough pill for a Republican primary voter to swallow, but it is, admittedly, an anomaly in Stanek’s record of political involvement.

As a voter in the 58th writing this column one week before the election, I remain undecided. Such is the consequence of a great slate of candidates from which to choose. Fortunately, Common Sense Citizens of Washington County is holding a candidate forum at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the West Bend Moose Lodge. This will provide an excellent opportunity for citizens of the 58th to hear the candidates for themselves and make up their minds.

House, Senate need to find compromises on tax reform

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

After a heated debate in the U.S. Senate where Wisconsin’s Senator Ron Johnson mounted a spirited effort to make the final bill more conservative, all but one Republican senator passed the most comprehensive and significant tax reform bill in decades. Now begins the process of reconciliation where the legislators will attempt to merge the tax reform bill already passed by the House of Representatives with that of the Senate to create a final bill. This will prove to be an arduous task as the House and Senate versions are considerably different.

Before delving into some of the details of the tax bills, two things must be remembered. First, there is a reason that our federal tax code is as large, complicated, and incomprehensible as it is. Behind every deduction, provision, exemption, rate, bracket, and classification is a person or group who benefits. Because of that, any attempt to change any of the tax code’s complexity will be met with passionate opposition by the person or group impacted by the change. Americans like to say that they want a simple tax code, but line up in opposition whenever their special interest is touched.

Second, as the next few weeks are filled with detailed debates over arcane tax policy items and the opponents engage in the predictable histrionics, we must not lose sight of the goal. The purpose of tax reform is to stimulate economic growth by allowing Americans and their businesses to keep more of their money to spend as they see fit. It is a fundamental faith in the fact that hundreds of millions of Americans will make better decisions about how to use their money than a few hundred politicians in Washington.

The one major thing that both the House and Senate bills have in common is reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. If that was all the Congress did, it would be a tremendous boon to the American economy. Right now, the U.S. has the fourth highest corporate income tax rate among 202 jurisdictions surveyed by the Tax Foundation in 2017. Only the UAE, Comoros, and Puerto Rico have higher rates.

But rates are misleading. The actual tax rates that U.S. corporations pay are much lower because they have armies of lawyers and accountants who know how to exploit all of those loopholes baked into the complicated code. Large multinational corporations also avoid America taxes by keeping all of the profits they can overseas outside the reach of the IRS.

By lowering the corporate tax rate and repealing many of the loopholes, American corporations find it more advantageous to bring their profits back to the U.S. and invest. Whether they spend their tax savings on dividendsto owners, employee compensation, capital investments, innovation, or all of the above, it is more money pumping into the American economy.

The rest of the two tax bills have less in common and will have to be reconciled. The self-imposed convoluted rules in the Senate forced some unnatural items into their bill. For example, the House bill sets a straight 25 percent tax rate for business profits that are passed through to individuals in LLCs, sole proprietorships, and other pass through business entities. The Senate tried to cut this tax, after Senator Johnson forced the issue, by slightly reducing the rate, but allowing the business owners to exempt the first 23 percent of business profits.

On individual taxes, the House bill reduces the current seven tax brackets to four and cuts the rates. The Senate bill reduces some individual tax rates, but keeps all seven brackets and the rates will return to their current levels in 2025. In exchange for reducing the rates, the House bill reduces the amount of mortgage interest that individuals can deduct while the Senate bill leaves this unchanged. Both the House and Senate bills increase the Child Tax Credit, but to different amounts.

On the death tax, the House bill repeals it. The Senate bill merely increases the threshold at which it is applied. I have never understood how it is good public policy or moral for the government to confiscate the lifetime earnings of Americans just because they had the temerity to die.

Perhaps the starkest difference between the two bills is that the Senate repealed Obamacare’s mandate that levies a tax penalty if Americans do not buy health insurance. The House bill does not address this at all. Many House Republicans will surely agree to revisit part of the Obamacare repeal debate.

Overall, the House bill does a better job of simplifying the tax code and reducing taxes than the Senate bill, but the Senate bill is tolerable as it is written. Neither bill is as clean and cohesive as it could have been. Such is the art of compromise. I hope the final compromise bill can be agreed upon and passed into law soon so that all Americans can benefit.

FCC gets it right on net neutrality

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has decided to move forward with reversing Obama-era regulations of the interned dubbed “net neutrality.” In doing so, President Donald Trump’s FCC is upholding a bedrock conservative principle of free market capitalism.

The internet has been atwitter for years over the issue of net neutrality. One side of the debate argues that the government should ensure that everyone has equal access to the internet. The other side argues that the people and companies who own their piece of the internet should be able to do with it what they please. While there are certainly philosophical or theoretical skirmish lines in this debate, the real war is being fought by giants of American business. As is always the case, one only needs to follow the money to see why.

First, let us remember that the internet is simply a vast array of millions of computers that are interconnected by millions of networks. All of those computers and networks are owned by separate people and companies who voluntarily connect them to each other for their own purposes.

On the “equal access” side of the debate are the giant media and entertainment companies who produce the movies, news sites, games, pornography, commercial marketplaces and other content that people consume through the internet. They argue that whatever they produce should be equally available to anyone at any time by any means.

On the “free market” side of the debate are the giant telecommunications companies who own the massive networks that connect all of the computers to each other and to the consumers who access the internet. They argue that since these networks are their property, they should be able to manage it and charge people to access their network as they please.

The media companies are worried that if the government does not force net neutrality, then the telecommunications companies will be in a position of market power to force the media companies to pay for access to consumers. The telecommunications companies want to do just that in order to monetize their network.

This debate is not about the internet consumer and whether or not he or she will be able to access cat pictures on Instagram at 100 megabits per second. This debate is about whether or not the government should regulate people and their businesses on how they manage and monetize their private property. Specifically, it is about whether or not the government should force telecommunications companies to give everyone the same access on their networks. Interestingly, nobody is talking about the government forcing media companies to give everyone equal access to the content they produce.

One of the principles that has helped drive the American economy for centuries is that the government should regulate less — not more. Laissez-faire economics are fundamental to free market capitalism. And while some may fear the consequences of less regulation, the invisible hand of the free market has proven for centuries to be the best regulator of prices, market access, allocating scarce resources and consumer demand.

Let us walk through the worst case that the net neutrality adherents envision. In a world without the federal government regulating net neutrality, the telecommunications companies may manipulate the speed and access to certain internet content based on whether or not the content providers pay them. But remember that there is already competition — often very robust in urban areas — between internet service providers. If consumers are demanding access to certain internet content, they will speak with their consumer choices and the internet service providers will be forced to accommodate. Woe to the internet service provider, for example, who cannot deliver Netflix or Hulu without choppy buffering.

Until President Barack Obama came along and thrust net neutrality regulations on the nation, the internet was thriving with both internet service providers and media companies tripping over themselves trying to meet the demands of internet consumers. The Trump Administration’s FCC is on the right track in reversing Obama’s antifree market internet regulations. It is just such deregulation that will continue to allow the internet to be the transformational economic and societal engine that it is.

Respecting the Hunt

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Sorry for being a bit late posting it. I was, predictably, hunting. Here you go:

It is the end of November and we all know what that means — Thanksgiving and the kickoff of the Christmas season. In Wisconsin, it also means that it is the annual nine-day gun deer season. Our state and local governments have been tinkering with the regulations in recent years — mostly for the better — but the gun deer season continues to be an integral part of Wisconsin’s heritage.

At the most mundane level, Wisconsin’s deer hunters provide a vital service to the state by controlling the population. Deer are responsible for millions of dollars of crop damage every year and thousands of vehicle accidents. According to statistics compiled by State Farm last year, Wisconsin is sixth worst in the nation when it comes to accidents involving deer, elk, and moose with the odds of hitting a deer in the state 1 to 77. The national average for automobile damage after a collision with a deer was $3,995 last year. From this perspective, keeping Wisconsin’s one-million-strong deer population in check is a necessary function.

But Wisconsin’s deer hunt tradition is so much more than just a utilitarian community service. It is a tradition that binds families, friends and fellow Wisconsinites. Throughout Wisconsin, hunters spread out into the woods to commune with nature and each other. Then they return to their homes, their buddy’s shed, their local tavern or elsewhere to swap stories, tell lies and engage in endless speculation about where to find the elusive Turdy Point Buck.

Every family and group has their own unique traditions and communities. For some, the deer hunting tradition unites generations where grandparents teach their grandkids and kids soak up time with their parents. For this reason, perhaps, the legislature decided to waive the minimum hunting age in Wisconsin. Up until a week ago, children had to be at least 10 years old to participate in a mentored hunt where the mentor and child must stay within arm’s length of each other and share a gun. The new law allows children of any age to participate in a mentored hunt and to carry his or her own gun.

The new law allows kids to get into the field and learn the craft of hunting with their mentors (usually their kin) earlierif their parents choose. Thirtyfour other states already do not have a minimum hunting age. While seemingly minor, this change to Wisconsin’s law is another step in the ongoing trend in Wisconsin to push more decisions and control back to the people and out of the hands of government. After all, who is in a better position to decide the maturity and skill of a child — their parents or the government? And who has more of a vested interest in the safety of that child — their parents or the government?

While Wisconsin has been encouraging and nurturing the state’s deer hunting culture, West Bend has acknowledged the practical need to allow hunters to thin the deer herd within the city limits. Up until last week, the city forbade hunting within the city limits. The problem is that without any natural predators, the deer continue to breed and the herd grows. This has resulted in an increase in people crashing into deer with their cars causing property damage and injuries.

In order to help thin the West Bend herd, the Common Council passed a resolution to allow very limited hunting in two of West Bend’s parks. Under the new ordinance, the city will issue 20 nuisance permits for bow hunters to hunt deer in Lac Lawrann Conservancy and Ridge Run Park for four days in January. Anyone wanting to participate will have to pass a proficiency test. Then the city will hold a lottery to award the 20 permits to anyone who applied and passed the test. A committee will decide some of the finer details of the actual hunt, but it will be highly regulated with the focus being the safety of the hunter and any citizens who may venture into the two parks.

Such onerous restrictions seem a bit overwrought given Wisconsin hunters’ tremendous safety record — especially bow hunters — but they are reasonable measures meant to assuage the fears of some of the city’s citizens. Over time, the regulations will undoubtedly be adjusted to balance the need for safety with the need to manage West Bend’s deer herd.

There is an expression from my alma mater that is apropos to Wisconsin’s rich deer hunting heritage: From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.

Indeed.

State should standardize access to police body cam videos

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Actually, it was online yesterday, but I was busy. Here you go:

Technology has always pushed the boundaries of culture and it often takes time for the law to catch up. As body cameras become more common for police, the management of that footage has largely been left to individual law enforcement agencies. The Wisconsin State Assembly has passed a good bill to govern the public’s access to law enforcement body cam footage that the state Senate and governor should quickly enact into law.

The use of body cams by law enforcement has been expanding mainly due to the public’s pressure to do so. Americans grant a lot of power in our police and extend a lot of trust that they will use that power appropriately on our behalf. But that trust is not absolute and in the wake of a series of high profile incidents where a law enforcement officer killed a citizen under questionable circumstances, many members of the general public pushed for police to wear body cams to help discern the truth in such incidents.

On the other side of the coin, many law enforcement officers asked to use body cams under the belief that while a body cam video might indict a cop doing something illegally, it might also exonerate a cop who is wrongly being accused of committing a crime. Now that many law enforcement agencies are using body cams, the results are predictably varied. What we are finding is that the body cam footage of controversial incidents rarely conclusively show the “truth,” and a jolting video rarely quells the controversy.

While the use of body cam footage may not be the antidote to controversy that many had hoped, body cams have become a useful tool in the routine business of law enforcement. The question remains: now that we have thousands of law enforcement officers going about their work while recording themselves and all of the people around them, who is allowed to see those recordings?

In general, the video recorded by law enforcement’s body cams are public records. That means that upon request, the law enforcement agency must give that video to anyone who asks unless there is a compelling government interest not to do so. Our common law has always set a fairly high bar for withholding public documents, so the end result is that 95 percent of requests for police body cam video are granted.

The presents a problem in balancing the public’s right to know with the individual’s right to privacy and protection under the Fourth Amendment. While policies for when law enforcement officers activate their body cams vary, most of them are recording whenever they are engaging a member of the public for any reason. This means that even when an officer is engaging a citizen who has not committed a crime, which is the vast majority of the time, that engagement may be recorded and released on the internet for everyone to see.

For example, if an officer responds to an elderly person’s fall in his or her home, that could be recorded and released. If an officer responds to a woman who was raped, that encounter could be recorded and released. If an officer helps a person who slid into a ditch, that could be recorded and released. While some of these incidents are benign, releasing the video of the encounter could be embarrassing for the citizen, or worse, used by someone to harass or further traumatize a victim of a crime.

Rep. Jesse Kremer’s (R-Kewaskum) bill seeks to set some reasonable standards for when law enforcement body cams must be released and when they should be kept confidential. Under the bill, footage would be considered an open record and available to the public if it was taken in a public place and involved a death, assault, arrest or search. If one of those actions occurred in a place where a person had a reasonable expectation of privacy, then the footage could only be released if all of the people involved agree.

Under Kremer’s bill, police body cam footage would still be available for any legal action, civil or criminal, but only footage of actual or suspected criminal behavior could be released to the public. This strikes a reasonable balance that allows the public to continue to have general oversight of police in the most serious encounters, but protects the public from malcontents using police videos for harassment, bullying, preying, or just feeding their creepy voyeurism.

This bill was passed on a bipartisan voice vote in the Assembly and now sits in the Senate awaiting action. The Senate should pick up Kremer’s torch and carry it to Gov. Walker’s desk.

Special election for the 58th Assembly District

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

After Rep. Bob Gannon’s untimely death in office, the citizens of the 58th Assembly District must go about the task of filling his seat. To that end, Gov. Scott Walker has called for a special election.

When a legislative seat is unexpectedly vacated, the governor has wide discretion on when to call a special election. The governor could have waited for the April ballot, but given that the April election is for non-partisan offices, it is sensible to hold an election on a different date for the 58th Assembly District.

The special election is coming up very quickly. The primary election will be Dec. 19 and the general election will be Jan. 16. Two candidates have already announced that they are running for the office, but potential candidates have until Nov. 21 to file their nomination papers.

The 58th Assembly District is overwhelmingly Republican. Glenn Grothman, now Congressman Grothman, held the seat from 1993 until 2005, when he challenged incumbent Republican Senate Leader Mary Panzer, in a primary and soundly defeated her. Grothman was replaced by the equally conservative Rep. Pat Strachota. When Strachota retired from office in 2014, several conservative candidates stepped forward to vie for the seat.

During the partisan primary election of 2014, Bob Gannon, Sandy Voss and Tiffany Koehler battled it out for the Republican nod. Tellingly, nobody even tried for the Democratic nod even though it was an open election without an incumbent on the ballot. That is an indication of how Republican the district is.

Bob Gannon won that primary with 51.3 percent of the vote and went on to win the seat unopposed in the general election. Gannon won reelection unopposed last year. As Republican as the 58th Assembly District is, the primary election on Dec. 19 will really determine who will go to Madison to represent the district.

The two candidates who have stepped forward already offer a quality choice for the voters. The first is Steven Stanek, who announced his candidacy the same day that Walker announced the special election.

Stanek is a Republican from West Bend. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Stanek owns and runs Direct Disposal Services of Wisconsin.

He is married with three teenagers and has been heavily involved in local clubs and youth athletics. Stanek is committed to focusing on fiscal responsibility, jobs and public safety. This is not Stanek’s first foray into politics as he was the campaign manage for Republican Jeff Fitzgerald when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2012.

The second candidate is Tiffany Koehler of Slinger, who ran in the primary against Gannon in 2014 and garnered a strong 27.7 percent in that election. Koehler spent 14 years in the U.S. Army as a combat medic and mental health specialist. After graduating from Cardinal Stritch University, Koehler spent many years working in the mental health field in the private sector with several organizations.

Most recently, Koehler has been serving as a legislative aide to the late Rep. Gannon, her former primary opponent. Koehler’s political positions will sound very familiar to conservatives in the 58th. She believes in less government, less taxation, more freedom and reducing government’s footprint.

While there is still time for other candidates to enter the race, the voters of the 58th Assembly District are already presented with two quality candidates from which to choose. The primary election is six weeks away, so voters will have to make an effort to get to know the candidates so that they can make an informed choice.

As a side note, local election clerks are always in need of volunteers to work at the polls. This is especially the case for a special election. If you are able to help facilitate our election process, please consider calling your local clerk for more information on how to become an election day poll worker.

The legacy of Russian influence

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

Harry Hopkins was an energetic and tireless social worker who helped shape much of the world as we know it today. His work in New York in the early 1930s attracted the attention, and then the friendship, of New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor.

When Roosevelt moved to the White House, he called upon Hopkins to be one of the principal architects of the New Deal. Throughout the decade, Hopkins grew to become one of Roosevelt’s closest advisors and was probably the most influential person throughout Roosevelt’s administration except for Mrs. Roosevelt.

When World War II began, Roosevelt called upon Hopkins again to be Roosevelt’s personal emissary in high-level diplomatic discussions with Britain and the Soviet Union. Hopkins was appointed to administer the famed LendLease program and was a permanent fixture in the White House throughout the war.

One aspect about Hopkins’ work during the war had sought explanation from historians. He was energetic and consistent about advocating for the Soviet Union even to the detriment of the U.S and other allies. Hopkins greatly directed Lend-Lease resources to the Soviets, strongly pushed Stalin’s demands for a second front, dismissed the fact that the Soviets massacred 22,000 Poles in the Katyn Forest, and generally tilted every scale he could put his finger on in favor of the Soviet Union.

The fall of the Soviet Union and the release of many of the Soviet archives has begun to offer some explanation for Hopkins’ behavior. He was almost certainly a Soviet agent. The only real remaining question is to what extent. The first indication came when Oleg Gordievsky, a senior KGB defector, recalled a lecture in which another KGB office bragged that Hopkins was the Soviet’s most important agent during the war.

The confirmation came when New York Senator Daniel Moynihan forced the release of The Verona Papers — a trove of decades’ worth of coded messages from Soviet agents in the U.S. to Moscow. Those documents revealed a message from Agent 19 to Moscow about a highlevel conversation between the Western Allies. Scholars have deduced that Hopkins was the only person in a position to share the details of that conversation. The evidence points to the fact that Hopkins was not just a zealous friend of the Soviet Union, he was an active agent for their interests.

We do not want to think that there was a traitor so close to the central nervous system of American power — especially during war. We do not want to think that Joseph Stalin’s hand was at work shaping American policy. But facts are facts whether we want to believe them or not.

It took half a century for the facts about Hopkins’ treachery to come to light. Evidence of another high-level treachery is coming to light much sooner for former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Here are a few facts that have been reported by The Hill and others:

 Former President Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 in 2010 by a bank controlled by the Russian government for a 90-minute speech to Renaissance Capital in Russia and then had a meeting with Vladimir Putin. This happened right after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been in Russia and was actively working on a variety of follow up items for Russia after those meetings.

 One of the issues Hillary Clinton worked on was her department’s approval of a deal whereby a Russian nuclear company purchased a Canadian uranium company to control 20 percent of America’s strategic uranium reserves.

 Around the same time, a Canadian uranium magnet involved in the deal donated about $145 million to the Clinton Foundation, whose main purpose has been to support the Clinton’s lavish lifestyle rather than any meaningful charitable purpose.

 Another issue was for another Russian company that used to sell recycled uranium to the U.S., but needed a new market as their deal was ending.

 A third issue was to arrange for a group of venture capitalists from Silicon Valley to travel to Russia to look for ways to create a Silicon Valley in Russia.

 Also in 2010, the FBI broke a Russian spy ring that had been trying to get access to the State Department for a decade. They had recently gained access to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton through a Democratic donor before the FBI arrested them.

 Since 2009, the FBI had also been investigating a huge bribery and kickback program inside a Russian nuclear energy company with a division in America. As part of that investigation, the informant overheard numerous conversations from Russians about their efforts to influence the Clintons.

A kind, if naïve, reading of these facts might excuse them away as independent and unrelated events that were each conducted with the utmost propriety. After all, we do not want to believe that there could have been someone working for the benefit of the Russian government at the highest level of our national government. But at some point, the accumulation of facts point to only one reasonable conclusion whether we want to believe it or not.

Wisconsin’s surplus

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

Huzzah, huzzah! The State of Wisconsin finished its last budget with a $579 million surplus. That is great news both in real and in political terms, but it also gives some perspective to some unpleasant truths.

There is no reason to understate the fact that $579 million is a lot of money. A lot. If Wisconsin had ended the budget with a $579 million deficit, it would have been considered a crisis and woeful example of incompetent fiscal management. But the fact that it is a surplus confirms the converse. Namely that the state of Wisconsin is in terrific fiscal health and its finances are being competently managed.

What is perhaps more important is that this budget surplus is merely one in a string of recent budget surpluses. Gov. Scott Walker and the legislature have been managing the state budget successfully for almost a decade and it is not going without notice around the nation. Just last week, Both Fitch Ratings and Kroll Bond Rating Agency upgraded the state’s bond rating to AA+. Fitch noted that, “the fiscal 2011-2013 budget marked a turning point, with extensive structural budget actions and the resolution of several lingering fiscal challenges.”

Fitch’s commentary is a heady tonic as Walker gets ready to officially announce his run for a third term in office. Whichever Democrat wins the nod to challenge Walker in the general election will have to make the case that budget surpluses are bad and the state’s bond rating is too high.

Walker and the legislature must now decide what to do with the surplus. There is a very easy answer to that: give it back to the taxpayers — $579 million is almost exactly $100 for every man, woman, and child in the state. Taxpayers would no doubt appreciate a $100 credit for each member of the household on their state income taxes next year. In any case, given the fact that the legislature just completed the new budget, which is balanced and not reliant on a surplus from the previous budget, they should reject the urge to spend it on things whose priority failed to garner funding in the current budget.

While $579 million is a fortune in real terms, it is only a small fraction of the state budget. The previous state biennial budget was $72,635,547,000. The $579 million surplus was, then, is about 0.8 percent of the entire amount. The 2017-2019 budget that just passed the legislature projects to spend $75,590,563,100. The surplus is only 0.77 percent of that budget.

It is worth remembering some of the heated debates that raged over the budget and delayed its passage by months. One of those debates was over the fictional budget shortfall for transportation that was estimated at anywhere between $400 million and $1 billion depending on who one asked. In order to fill that budget gap, the legislative Republicans separated into three camps.

The first camp was headed by Speaker Robin Vos and some Assembly Republicans who wanted to raise taxes to spend more on transportation. The second camp was represented by the Senate leadership and wanted to borrow more to cover the shortfall. The third, and smallest, camp of Republicans wanted to delay or reprioritize transportation projects to spend within the money already available.

In the end, the Republicans struck a compromise that did a bit of everything. They increased taxes on people who drive electric and hybrid vehicles, reprioritized some projects and borrowed a lot of money. In hindsight, that entire debate could have been rendered moot had they just prudently managed the resources available as they did demonstrated in the previous budget.

That fact raises the question, why were any Republicans ever even proposing a tax increase? Why any of them proposing more borrowing? Why were some of them so unwilling, in the context of a $76 billion budget, to reprioritize spending to fill what amounts to less than 1 percent of the state budget? Republicans should rightly be commended for their fiscal management these recent years, but some of them have drifted very far from their conservative moorings if they are reaching for tax increases and debt as a measure of first resort.

A $579 million surplus may be a lot or little depending on the perspective, but there is no argument about it being a good thing for Wisconsin. The taxpayers are continuing to reap the rewards of the conservative revolution begun at the dawn of this decade.

Trump acts on Obamacare

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

President Trump, frustrated with Congress’ failure to repeal Obamacare, has begun to take unilateral action to reintroduce market forces into the health insurance market and pick at the pillars of Obamacare. His actions are a great first step.

Before getting into the specifics of Trump’s actions, we must note that the continued concentration of power in the presidency is abhorrent and an existential threat to liberty. That concentration has been progressing for decades, but greatly accelerated during the President Obama’s terms. Whereby Obama bragged about governing with a “phone and a pen,” Trump is exercising that same arbitrary authority. And while Trump’s most recent orders are good policy, the same power can and will be used for bad policy and worse. The fact remains that so much arbitrary power — the power over the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans and trillions of dollars — should never be concentrated in the pen of one person.

Obama used that arbitrary authority to implement Obamacare and make changes to our health care insurance market — sometimes in ways not legal. Trump is using that same arbitrary authority to make different changes to our health care insurance market.

Trump’s first executive order was a series of directives to various cabinet agencies and tweaks to find ways to allow more health insurance options and more flexibility in the health insurance market. The first directive was to the Labor Department to find ways to allow small businesses and individuals to collectively buy insurance through association health plans.

Allowing small businesses and individuals to group together — particularly if they are allowed to do so across state lines — would allow them to gain more purchasing power, better rates and in some circumstances, alleviate them of many of Obamacare’s regulations by shifting their plans under federal regulation instead of state regulations.

The second thing Trump’s order did was to allow people to buy more kinds of short-term health insurance plans. Obama limited these plans to 90 days, but allowing people to by plans for up to a year provides much more flexibility to people between jobs or open enrollment periods.

The third thing Trump’s order did was allow employers more ways to give employees tax-free money to pay for health care expenses elsewhere. In the past, some employers that did not provide health insurance could instead give their employees money to buy insurance on the individual market through a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA). Obamacare forbade this accommodation and Trump’s order allows it again.

These series of changes are all positive and allow for more flexibility and competition in the health insurance market. It was Trump’s second action, however, that really undercut Obamacare. When the Obamacare law was written, the lawmakers knew that it would dramatically increase the cost of health care insurance. It sought to address that by shifting costs to the taxpayers in two primary ways. The first way was to give subsidies to people buying Obamacare policies if they couldn’t afford it through a tax credit.

The second way was to mandate that the insurance companies providing Obamacare policies cut what they charge health care providers — even if those cuts results in a loss to the insurance company. This was done with the understanding that the taxpayers would pick up the losses of the health insurance companies, but the Obamacare law never appropriated any money for such subsidies. Lawmakers at the time were justifiably fearful of being accused of subsidizing the profits of big health insurance companies, so they did not appropriate the money. President Obama picked up the ball and began illegally giving the health insurance companies subsidies to prop up their profits beginning in 2014.

Trump is ending this illegal practice. Ironically, all Trump is doing is following the law as written. The result is that the insurance companies are still required by law to keep their billings lower — sometimes below costs — but they will not get a check from the taxpayers to cover those losses. They will be forced to either pass those costs on to policy holders through massive premium increases, or exit the Obamacare exchanges. The structural flaws of Obamacare will no longer be covered up with billions of taxpayer dollars illegally funneled to insurance companies.

Obamacare has already failed America. Trump is just trying to mitigate and hopefully reverse some of the damage.

The human cost of civil liberties

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

Living in a free society rooted in individual liberty and the rule of law is not for the frail or fragile. There are considerable personal and societal human costs, but the alternative is despotism, the human costs of which history has demonstrated to be substantially more severe. 

When the Constitution of the United States was written, it rested, and continues to rest, on the principle that sovereignty resides in the individual. Those individuals can bind together as a people to form a government. The people then grant the government specific powers to exercise on behalf of the people for the common good. The Constitution was written to define the structure of the national government and then grant that government specific powers. It was understood that the national government could not exercise any power not specifically granted to it by the people in its founding document. Because of that understanding, many of the founders thought that a Bill of Rights was superfluous.

Fortunately, other founders disagreed and insisted on a Bill of Rights to make it crystal clear to that there are certain rights of the people that are absolutely inviolable. The end result was the first 10 amendments of the Constitution which were drafted, debated and passed by many of the same people who signed the Constitution.

The Bill of Rights was specifically written to protect individuals from the arbitrary coercive power of government and it has protected Americans for more than 200 years. But those protections do not come without cost. Many of them result in mayhem and deaths that could have been prevented in a more authoritarian state without a Bill of Rights.

For example, many of the protections in the Bill of Rights allow criminals to remain free to brutalize their fellow citizens. The Fourth Amendment says that people have a right to, “be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” This requires that the police have a reasonable suspicion that someone has committed a crime and follow due process in order to search someone’s person or property. Sometimes criminals are able to hide behind these procedures and commit more crimes while the police are unable to act.

The Eighth Amendment says in part that, “excessive bail shall not be required.” This amendment is why alleged murders and rapists are able to bail out of jail even when the evidence is overwhelming that they are guilty. Sometimes, those murderers and rapists continue to wreak havoc while on bail until the judicial system can finally process them.

The Sixth Amendment says in part that a criminal on trial has a right to, “be confronted with the witnesses against him.” This is the right that forces the government to present witnesses to an accused criminal, thus allowing the accused to take retribution against those witnesses or even murder them to halt the trial, as happened recently with a drug lord in Milwaukee.

All of these individual protections that keep criminals on the streets are rooted in the philosophy that “It is better that 10 guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer,” as written by William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England in 1765. While a noble and high standard to set for a government to deprive an individual of his or her rights, it also necessitates that our government lets a lot of very violent people roam our streets because the government cannot reach that standard.

Beyond protecting possible criminals, our Bill of Rights also forbids our government from punishing thoughts or actions that do not violate someone else’s rights. The First Amendment prohibits the government from punishing someone for exercising their religion, peacefully assembling, speaking, petitioning the government or proclaiming thoughts in the press. That comes with a cost. People are free to preach hateful religions, glorify violent thoughts and images, whip up a mob into a murderous rage and much more. America has seen a lot of murders, assaults, damaged property, and even wars that could have been prevented had it not been for the First Amendment.

Then there is the Second Amendment, the favorite target of the left after every murderous rampage committed with a gun. The Second Amendment protects individuals from the government restricting or prohibiting their ownership and use of weapons. While the use of weapons in our society is overwhelmingly positive and a vital backstop against tyranny, there are also times when weapons are used to maim and kill innocent people.

It is not always easy or safe living in a free society. It requires vigilance, effort, thoughtfulness, and a willingness to accept consequences for one’s own actions and the unpredictable actions of others. It is much easier and safer to live under an authoritarian government – as long as you do and think what your government tells you.

Republicans tackle tax reform

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

In an attempt to rise from the ashes of their failure to repeal Obamacare, the Republicans in Washington are forging ahead with an ambitious tax reform plan. While it remains to be seen if Congress can accomplish anything substantial under Republican management, this tax reform plan needs to get done.

There are substantial political obstacles for any real reform of the federal income tax system. The first political obstacle is that the United States’ federal income tax has become so progressive that any real reform of it will be lambasted by political opponents with the old tired rhetoric that it “benefits the rich more.” And that rhetoric will be largely true if the benefit is measures in real dollars.

As of the latest figures from the Tax Foundation, the so-called “rich” pay the vast majority of the taxes — and they pay a disproportionate amount of taxes compared to their share of income. The top 10 percent of income earners earn 47 percent of the aggregate adjusted gross income while they pay 71 percent of the overall income tax burden. The top 50 percent of income earners earn 89 percent of the aggregate adjusted gross income while they pay 97 percent of the overall income tax burden.

Looking at the numbers from the alternate perspective, the bottom 50 percent of income earners earn 11 percent of the aggregate adjusted gross income while they pay 2.75 percent of the overall income tax burden. Our federal income tax system is beyond progressive. It is redistributory. It is almost a mathematical impossibility to reform the federal income tax system without disproportionally benefitting the upper half of income earners.

The second political obstacle to tax reform is the throng of lobbyists and special interests in Washington who will fight against reform. While the average American and business owner yearns for a simple and fair tax system, the lobbyists and special interests thrive in the system’s complexity. For every tax exemption, loophole, credit, and shelter, there is a constituency that will fight tooth and nail to protect it. Any attempt at simplifying the tax code will run into a withering fire from K Street.

Despite the obvious political obstacles, the Republicans are seeking to simplify and flatten the tax code. There are many components to the plan, but the thrust is very straightforward and sensible. They want to lower the overall rates while removing almost all of the loopholes.

Under the plan, the individual income tax framework wouldbe reduced from the current seven tax brackets to just three brackets with rates of 12 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent. But while reducing the number of brackets and the rates, the plan would eliminate all tax exemptions except for those for home ownership, charitable giving, retirement savings and higher education. The plan would also increase the child tax credit and the standard deduction.

As a point of comparison, the current highest tax rate is 39.6 percent, but the effective average tax rate of the 1 percent is 27 percent after all of the deductions, credits, and loopholes. Under the plan, even though the highest rate would be lowered to 35 percent, the effective tax rate will most likely increase due to the elimination of most of those loopholes.

For business taxes, the Republicans’ plan would lower the corporate tax rate from a ridiculously high 35 percent to 20 percent — slightly below he world average. The plan would also eliminate almost all of the loopholes that corporations use to avoid paying income taxes.

Perhaps more importantly, the Republicans’ reform plan would decrease the top tax rate on small businesses from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. Since most businesses in America are small businesses whose profits are taxed at the individual tax rate of the owners, they are usually paying a much higher rate than corporations, although corporate profits are taxed twice.

Finally, the Republicans’ plan would switch to a territorial system for taxing overseas profits of American companies, which is more in line with the majority of industrial nations. This would encourage American companies to bring home and spend the estimated $2.6 trillion in cash that they are currently holding overseas to shield it from confiscatory taxation.

Year after year, Americans have clamored for a simpler, fairer, less burdensome tax system for our businesses and our own incomes. The Republicans’ tax reform plan would go a long way toward delivering that kind of system. It is also the Republicans’ last chance to deliver on one of their big promises before the next election. For the sake of the American people, let us hope that the Republicans can overcome the obstacles and pass their plan into law.