Tag Archives: Column

A proven conservative for US Senate

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. I’ve been waiting a long time to be able to cast a vote for Leah Vukmir (I don’t live in her district). Here you go:

There is still a little time for additional candidates to jump in, but it looks like there will be two Republicans vying for the right to challenge incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Republican primary voters will choose between Kevin Nicholson and State Sen. Leah Vukmir on Aug. 14. I will be delighted to cast my vote for Vukmir for the first time in her storied political career. It isn’t even a close call.

Vukmir is a career registered nurse who was compelled to run for the Wisconsin Assembly in 2002 with a passion for education. It is a passion that has never diminished. Vukmir has been a staunch advocate for education reform and school choice throughout her time in office. In 2006, she almost single-handedly rescued the expansion of the Milwaukee School Choice program by battling other Republicans to get it passed.

For the past 16 years, Vukmir has been at the epicenter of Wisconsin’s conservative movement pushing for smaller, more efficient, more effective government. In 2010, Vukmir was elected to the State Senate as Scott Walker was elected governor. Vukmir has been a powerful ally of Walker in Wisconsin’s conservative revolution. She voted to expand the exercise of our gun rights. She voted for tax cuts. She voted to protect the unborn. She voted for welfare reform. She voted for cutting back regulations. She fought for right-to-work even when many of her fellow Republican legislators opposed it. She pushed to end the corrupt Government Accountability Board.

Amongst her lengthy list of conservative accomplishments, Vukmir singles out her steadfast advocacy for, and defense of, Act 10 as one of her proudest achievements — and rightfully so. Act 10 was transformative for Wisconsin and faced a withering onslaught from entrenched special interests. Vukmir stood firm in the Legislature and in public.

Beyond Vukmir’s very public actions, she has also been tireless in supporting conservatism behind the scenes. For years, it has been common to find Vukmir working in Republican offices around the state helping get other conservatives elected. She has always been willing to show up and do the grunt work of working the phones, stuffing envelopes, or whatever else was needed to move the ball forward.

The reason it is easy for conservatives to supportVukmir is because she is one of us. She has been one of us for decades and has been a leader in the Wisconsin conservative movement. Furthermore, she went to Madison with her conservative beliefs and has been an effective leader who advanced mountains of conservative legislation into law. It is not an exaggeration to say that Vukmir has been one of the most important conservatives in Wisconsin in the past 20 years.

Nicholson also touts his conservative beliefs. After years of being a paid activist liberal Democrat, Nicholson went to war and returned a conservative. In 2002, when Vukmir was first elected to office as a conservative, Nicholson was still being paid to work for Democratic candidates in Minnesota. In 2005, the year before Vukmir helped save the Milwaukee School Choice program, Nicholson was living in North Carolina as a registered Democrat. Nicholson’s parents have donated to Baldwin’s campaign.

One must take Nicholson’s battlefield conversion to conservatism at face value. Certainly, many people have made the transition from liberal to conservative as they gain the wisdom that comes with age and experience. I welcome Nicholson into the conservative movement with open arms. We have a big tent. But now Nicholson is running for one of Wisconsin’s two seats in the United States Senate and he does not have any actual track record of conservative achievement to evaluate.

So far, Nicholson has proven to be an articulate spokesman for conservatism, but only since he began running for the U.S. Senate. Where was he during the battle for Act 10? Where was he when the Wisconsin Legislature was passing concealed carry? Where was his advocacy for the rights of the unborn? Where was Nicholson when Republicans were battling over right-towork legislation? Where was he when Republicans were cutting taxes? Where was he when liberals were protesting Walker and Republican leaders? Where was Nicholson when school choice was being expanded statewide?

I don’t know where he was. I know exactly where Vukmir was. She was right in the thick of it.

I am eager to cast my vote for Vukmir because she is an effective, proven, conservative leader. We need more of those in the U.S. Senate.

Paul Ryan returns to private life

My column for the Washington County Daily News. It’s a look back at Paul Ryan’s career (so far) and his impact on Wisconsin and the nation. It gets lost in the heat of the current political season, but Ryan was the first Speaker from Wisconsin and is legitimately a historical figure. Here you go:

The news did not come as a surprise, but it was still a shock. Rep. Paul Ryan has decided against seeking re-election this year. It will be the first time in 20 years he will not be on the ballot. The reverberations of Ryan’s remarkable career will be felt in Wisconsin and the nation for generations. And at only 48 years old, he may not be done yet.

Ryan entered politics as soon as he graduated with a degree in economics from Miami University in Ohio as an aide to Sen. Robert Kasten in 1992. He served in various supportive roles for powerful Republicans, including as a speechwriter for Jack Kemp, who Ryan considered an influential mentor.

Ryan got his turn to run for office in 1998 when Rep. Mark Neumann decided to run for the U.S. Senate. Ryan won the 1st Congressional District by a convincing 14-point margin and had firmly held the seat since.

Ryan quickly established a reputation as a sincere, intelligent, articulate, consistent advocate for his core conservative beliefs. During his 20 years in Congress, whether in the minority or the majority, he was always pushing to reform the fundamental structures that continue to undermine our nation’s potential — rampant entitlement spending and a byzantine tax system.

It is the nature of American politics that nobody completely gets what they want. Our system of competing interests and balanced power ensures that the only way to accomplish anything is through compromise. Some of Ryan’s detractors criticize that he was unable to fully accomplish his oft stated ideals of reforming and restraining the federal government, but it is precisely Ryan’s ability to compromise without capitulating that led to any accomplishments at all. There are plenty of bomb-throwing ideologues in Congress. We fellow ideologues love them, but they are rarely effective in moving policy. Ryan’s style actually moved the ball forward.

Ryan’s signature and crowning accomplishment came when he was serving in a role he never wanted and under an unlikely Republican President. Ryan never wanted to be Speaker Ryan because he is, at his heart, a policy wonk. The job of Speaker is to cajole the caucus to move legislation written by other people. Ryan wants to write the legislation. Ryan answered the call of the Republican caucus in their time of crisis because sometimes duty and loyalty trump personal ambitions.

The landmark 2017 Tax Reform Law marked a transformational shift in the tax code that will be felt for generations. It is a signature achievement that has Ryan’s years of effort baked into its very core. Americans will benefit from this achievement long after they have forgotten how it came to be. As Speaker, Ryan also wrestled passage of many reforms including the repeal of Obamacare and entitlement reform. Unfortunately, too many of those legislative efforts found their graves in the stodgy, dysfunctional Senate, but Ryan did his job and did it well.

Throughout his tenure as representative, committee chairman, vice presidential candidate and Speaker, Ryan also justifiably maintained a reputation as a genuinely nice guy. He had a style in which he was able to aggressively debate and advocate policies without the personal hatred and animosity that infects too many other politicians. In this respect, perhaps he is too much of a throwback to a different era of politics in which his mentors lived. The ability to disagree without being disagreeable is becoming a rare gift in the modern era.

As the first Wisconsinite to serve as the Speaker of the House, Ryan stands unique in Wisconsin’s pantheon of political giants. He has certainly earned the right to slip into obscurity and indulge in the enjoyments of private life. As for me, I know that there comes a time on the horizon when the people of Wisconsin will call again for his leadership, and I pray that he will answer the call.

Until then, thank you, Speaker Ryan, for serving the citizens of Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District and our nation.

The Post-Privacy Era

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

There is a lesson that I have preached to my children for years when it comes to using free services on the internet — if you are not paying for it, you are the product being sold. The recent revelations regarding Facebook confirm that lesson, but also highlight just how much of an illusion privacy has become in modern society.

The most recent privacy breach by Facebook garnered so much media attention because there is a connection to President Donald Trump, but it is hardly a new revelation. Facebook collects data about the people who use it and sells that information to anyone who can afford it. Facebook’s entire business model is predicated on collecting, shaping and selling its users’ information. Facebook’s customers are not the people who use it to share pictures of their meals and pets. Facebook’s customers are the people who buy information about Facebook users.

Facebook is hardly the only company that operates this way. They have merely become one of the largest and most popular because they created an application that people enjoy using. There are plenty of other companies with similar business models. Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google, Spotify, Pandora, Tinder and on and on. Even many websites for which you pay will sell any information they collect about you to anyone with a credit card. And since many people access their favorite sites on their mobile devices, location and other information can also be collected.

Then there are the data brokers who amalgamate information from many sources to create incredibly detailed and accurate profiles of people. They collect information about your buying habits, internet search activity, medical information, income, address, what guns you own, what movies you like, who your friends are and much more. These companies know more about people than their families or neighbors.

All of this collecting, buying and selling of information is legal. Then there is the illegal activity. All of this information is stored somewhere and people want it. Every week there is another story about some company being hacked and people’s information being stolen. Any information you keep on a computer will eventually be stolen. It is a matter of when, not if.

Worried yet? There is more. The next wave in breaking down privacy barriers is already here. The popularity of voice-driven technology like Siri, Alexa, Google Home and others has opened the door to a new way for businesses or hackers to collect information about you. Each of these devices is constantly listening to everything you say as it waits for you to say the key words to activate it. When a person uses these devices, their words are recorded and sent into the gigantic data processing hubs where they can be stored and used for anything.

Now people are sending their DNA to businesses through the mail to get a report back on what their ethnic heritage is or what diseases and disorders they are genetically predisposed to. These companies are creating massive databases of DNA that can be sold and used for everything from marketing products to redirecting government programs to something nefarious.

The fascinating aspect of the collapse of privacy is that it is almost entirely voluntary. People are willingly sharing incredibly personal information about themselves all over the internet. In an odd quirk of human nature, people who are unwilling to share details about themselves to their friends at church are more than willing to share their most intimate details on a digital platform that the entire world can access.

Why?

There are some legitimate and positive reasons for people to share personal information online. Having detailed information about people allows some companies to deliver a more personalized service. By knowing more about their customers, retailers, airlines, banks and many other companies can customize their offerings to the individual consumer. Consumers love it.

All of that information is also being used for more general societal benefits. For example, Google has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to track flu outbreaks in real time based on spikes in the use of certain search terms. This allows the CDC to better allocate resources to where and when they are needed most.

People also enjoy the convenience of technology. Of course it is easy enough for you to use a remote to turn off the television, get up and adjust the thermostat, close the garage door, set an alarm, and turn on the radio. But it is even easier to just say, “hey Siri” and let it do the rest. The price of that convenience is that Apple, which provides Siri, now knows what channel you were on when you turned the television off, what temperature you like at that time of day, what kind of garage door opener you have, when you plan to get up and what music you like. What will Apple do with that information? That is none of your business. It is theirs.

Of course, there is a darker reason for people being willing to abandon any notion of privacy. The vile parts of human nature like vanity, greed and pride drive people to want to share things that were considered private 30 years ago. For every picture of a silly cat on one site, there is a picture of some guy’s private parts somewhere else.

Our culture has certainly crossed into a post-privacy era. It was a threshold we sprinted across willingly and without hesitation. There are many benefits, but also great risks. It will take a while for our laws and expectations to catch up.

Wisconsin Democrats propose socialist paradise

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Get out and vote today, but then we need to start thinking about November. Here you go:

With the spate of bipartisan legislation making it to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk at the sunset of this legislative session, one might have been lulled into thinking that Wisconsin’s Democrats had finally moderated and moved toward the center of the ideological spectrum. As if to disabuse the electorate of any such notion, some Assembly Democrats have introduced a sweeping amendment to the Wisconsin state constitution that reads like a Madison socialist manifesto.

The amendment does not stand any chance of actually passing. In order to amend the Wisconsin Constitution, both houses in two successive legislatures must pass the same amendment and then it must pass a statewide vote. It is very difficult to amend the state constitution, but it is particularly hard for the minority party in the legislature to do it. But that isn’t the point of what the Democrats are doing.

Released at the end of the legislative session on the eve of an election season where Democrats are hoping to ride a blue wave to electoral majorities, the amendment is meant to lay down an ideological marker of where the Democrats would like to take Wisconsin if the voters are foolish enough to hand them power.

The lengthy amendment contains 18 provisions that address everything from abortion to voting rights. Let us look at a few of the more wacky ideas that Democrats would like to foist on the state:

 Democrats would attempt to undermine the Second Amendment by allowing local ordinances to supersede federal and state law when it comes to how citizens own, use and carry firearms.

 Democrats would strike the word “resident” from the definition of an eligible voter and only require a person to live in a ward for 10 days before being permitted to vote. This would open the door to allow Democrats to flood key districts with temporary voters in order to win elections.

 Democrats would allow felons who are on probation or parole to vote.

 Democrats would reinstate the notoriously corrupt Government Accountability Board that was complicit in persecuting conservative people and groups. Not only that, but they would give the GAB even more power by putting it in control of drawing district lines. The GAB was so successful in helping Democrats before it was disbanded that they assume that it will tilt legislative maps in their favor too.

 Democrats would prohibit religious schools from receiving public funds. This would effectively kill school choice in Wisconsin since the majority of choice schools are highly-successful Catholic, Lutheran and other religious school systems.

 Democrats would turn back the clock in favor of unions by declaring a right to collective bargaining. This would negate Act 10, right to work legislation and reinstate the expensive prevailing wage laws.

 Democrats would enable the DNR to be an independent leftist attack dog by insulating it from the voters. They would do this by putting the superintendent of public instruction — historically a Democratic stronghold — representation in the DNR and by allowing a Natural Resources Board to choose the DNR secretary. Democrats believe in insulating their favorite government institutions from electoral scrutiny.

 Democrats would also have the superintendent of public instruction set the budget for public school funding. It is difficult to even understand how this would work since the Legislature holds the power of the purse, but Wisconsin’s Democrats are unbothered by such things.

The proposals go on, but the message is clear: Democrats really do think that Wisconsin would be better off if it adopted San Francisco’s values. They really would mount a full scale assault on our civil rights if they manage to regain control of the government again.

This constitutional amendment is not going to pass, but it is a clear statement of the kind of Wisconsin that Wisconsin’s Democrats would create if given the chance. Many of these ideas do not need a constitutional amendment in order to become reality. Most of them could be done with simple changes in the law. If Wisconsinites are enjoying record employment, a booming economy, budget surpluses, tax cuts and the expansion of civil rights, they are going to have to get to the polls in November and make their voices heard.

 

West Bend asks if it’s time for a tax increase to pay for streets

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

The West Bend Common Council has reached a crossroads and is turning to the public for advice. After almost a decade without a tax increase, the city’s streets are in good condition, but they could be better. Are the taxpayers willing to stomach a tax increase to pay for better streets? That is the subject of four advisory referendums on the April 3 ballot.

Maintaining the city’s streets is a core function of city government. Quality streets are critical to the city’s economy and quality of life. Measuring the quality of streets is also inherently subjective. West Bend has about 134 miles of streets, but nobody drives on all of them. Any citizen’s perception of the quality of the city’s streets is limited to their experiences on the subset of streets they use. If the street I live on is crumbling, then I am more likely to think that the city’s streets are poor.

Many Wisconsin municipalities use the PASER rating system to try to measure the overall quality of the streets. The PASER rating ranges from 1 to 10, with a 10 being a new street. The city evaluates all of the streets every two years. The PASER rating is based on a subjective visual observation of the streets, but it gives us some benchmark against which to gauge the quality of the city’s streets.

West Bend’s average PASER rating was 5.89 in 2011 when the city began increasing spending on street maintenance by about 4 percent every year. In 2017, that rating rose to 6.04. That is considered “good” on the PASER scale and comparable with cities of a similar size. Keep in mind, however, that there is a lot of subjectivity inherent to the PASER rating, so changes of a few decimal points are not necessarily relevant. Also, no study has shown any correlation between a city’s PASER rating and citizen satisfaction — largely because of the perception issue mentioned earlier.

The equation for getting better streets is pretty simple at the local level: spend more, faster. While the city will likely be able to save some money on projects thanks to the repeal of the prevailing wage laws, those savings will have a marginal impact on overall spending at a municipal scale. The question then becomes, do the citizens of West Bend want better streets? If so, how do they want to pay for it? Those are the questions the four referendum questions seek to answer.

Referendum questions 1 and 2 ask if the taxpayers want to increase property taxes by $640,000 or $1.2 million, respectively, to be used for streets. Question 3 asks if the citizens would like to implement a $20 wheel tax to be used exclusively for road designated borrowing.Question 4 asks if the city’s citizens would support an agreement with Washington County to distribute up to 25 percent of the proceeds of the county sales tax to municipalities to pay for roads.

On these four questions, I will be voting, “no,” “heck, no,” “are you kidding me?” and “nope,” respectively.

The first three questions are straightforward. If you want to spend more on the city’s streets, they are asking the amount and method of payment. I do not support raising any taxes to spend more on the streets. Frankly, the city has been doing a good job in maintaining the city’s streets and slowly improving them over time within the confines of the funds available. It has been an impressive display of leadership and good stewardship of the taxpayers’ money for which the city’s leadership and staff deserve commendation. I have confidence in their continued leadership in this regard.

The fourth question is interesting in that a vote on an advisory referendum regarding something the County Board might consider is almost completely meaningless. In fact, the County Board and county administrator have already shot down the idea. In theory, if the county has a sales tax that is collected from all of the citizens in the county, it is not unreasonable for the county to remit some of those proceeds back to the municipalities.

The sales tax in Washington County was originally passed as a temporary tax to fund a few major capital projects. I still cling with childlike belief to the hope that a conservative County Board will one day honor their predecessors’ word to the taxpayers and end the sales tax. The addition of more municipal fingers into the sales tax pie makes the possibility of ending the county sales tax even less likely.

West Bend has been a case study is solid conservative city management for several years. They have kept taxes flat while meeting the city’s priorities and maintaining or improving services. These referendum questions are a sincere query of the citizens to ask if the time has come to raise taxes to improve the city’s streets faster. No, that time has not yet come, but the city’s leaders earned the right to ask. Keep up the good work, West Bend.

Charging to State

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Something positive this week. Here it is:

Spoiled professional football players disrespecting their country’s flag; Olympic athletes getting caught doping; extensive corruption in FIFA; FBI arrests in college basketball … sports are supposed to be fun, right? It has been easy to forget that fact, but there is something special going on with the boys’ basketball team at Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School to remind you.

After a run as impressive as it was improbable, the KML boys basketball team came back from a 13-point halftime deficit Saturday to defeat their East Central Conference rival Waupun Warriors and win the sectional championship. Now they are off to Madison to compete in the Division 3 WIAA Boys Basketball Tournament.

The road to the sectional championship was not easy for the Chargers. On March 3, the Chargers faced off against the Brown Deer Falcons who were the No. 1 seed and ranked No. 2 in the state. The Falcons were heavily favored, but the Chargers fought to a strong 10-point victory.

Next up was the perennial powerhouse, the Dominican Knights, with Alex Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee Bucks player Giannis Antetokounmpo attended the game to cheer on his brother in what was supposed to be an easy victory on the way to the championship. Instead, the KML Chargers played tough and clinched the win on a clutch basket at the buzzer by Solomon Zarling.

Embracing the motto, “embrace the grind,” the Chargers got right back to practice to face their powerful conference rivals, the Waupun Warriors, two days later. The game between the Warriors and the Chargers was everything that sports is supposed to be. The stands were packed with fans from both schools who mightily cheered for their respective teams.

The Warriors were unbeatable in the first half. With a staunch defense leaving the Chargers little room to maneuver, the Warriors gutted it out on the inside while sinking seven 3-pointers. With the final 3-pointer of the half swishing into the basket at the halftime buzzer, both teams entered the locker room at halftime with the Warriors ahead 3421. It seems like the Chargers’ journey was ending.

In the second half, the Warriors’ shooting went cold as the Chargers defense stepped up. The Chargers went on an 18-4 run to take a 39-38 lead before the Warriors could stop the bleeding. After going back and forth for several minutes, the Chargers pulled away to win the game, 53-48.

More impressive than the game was the sportsmanship displayed on both sides. Throughout the hard fought game, the fans, with rare exception, cheered for their team without booing the other side.

The boys on the court played hard and could be heard encouraging each other and forgiving mistakes easily. When it was all over, the Warriors players remained on the court to congratulate the Chargers despite their understandable disappointment. It was everything one could want from a game.

I have had the pleasure of watching several of the Charger boys play together since they were in grade school. They come from West Bend, Germantown, Jackson and all over Washington County and beyond. You will not find a better group of humble, competitive, cheerful, tough, thoughtful, Christian young men and it shows in how they play the game.

These young men remind us that faith, joy and character matter more than winning. They remind us of what sports is supposed to be. Coach Todd Jahns and his assistants expect nothing less from the young men in their charge.

This week will see teenagers being inspirational. It will happen on Thursday afternoon at 1:35 p.m. in Madison as the KML Chargers take on the No. 1-seeded Valders, who defeated Appleton Xavier.

Go Chargers!

Sloppy management practices in UW System invite abuse

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. I tried my best to make a very boring topic more interesting. You be the judge as to whether or not I succeeded. Here you go:

Last year the University of WisconsinOshkosh Foundation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after several suspicious and inappropriate transactions were discovered between the foundation, the university and its chancellor. The fallout from that mess is still being litigated in court. In response, the state’s Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) conducted a study of the relationships between UW institutions and 90 affiliated organizations. The results are disturbing.

First, let us recall what happened at UWO because it serves as an example of how bad things can get. The UW-O Foundation was purportedly dedicated to helping the university. Like many university foundations, it served as a booster club to raise money to help the university pay for things that were not covered in the budget.

Over several years, it was discovered UW-Oshkosh was funneling university money through the foundation for projects like a biodigester and a hotel. Meanwhile, the foundation bought the university’s chancellor’s house for about $120,000 more than the appraised value right before he retired to Florida. Even though millions of taxpayer dollars were involved, much of this happened with almost no oversight and little paperwork.

In response to these revelations, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee asked the LAB to evaluate the relationships between all UW institutions and their affiliated organizations. The scope of the evaluation included almost all UW universities and colleges and 90 affiliated organizations from fiscal year 2007-2008 through fiscal year 2016-2017.

What the study found is a mess of poor accounting, weak oversight, sloppy management and comingling of public and private finances.

The LAB couldn’t track all the finances because not every affiliated organization had a unique identification number in its accounting system, thus rendering a full accounting impractical. But what the LAB could count showed that $257.9 million flowed from UW institutions to the affiliated organizations over the period of the study. Remember that the money is usually supposed to flow the other direction.

In one relatively small example, UWMadison received$3.5 million in 2015 for media rights related to certain athletic programs and then immediately sent that entire amount to the UW Foundation. UWMadison said an unspecified portion of the $3.5 million was intended for coaches who had assigned their share of the funds to the UW Foundation, but did not provide any detail or accounting. UW-Madison is apparently so awash with money that a mere $3.5 million does not warrant scrutiny by university officials.

The LAB evaluation also found that there is very little separation between affiliated organizations and the universities they support. The various foundations and affiliated organizations are private organizations while the UW institutions are public entities subject to public scrutiny and oversight. They are supposed to be separate.

The LAB report showed that UW employees worked as the executive directors of most foundations for the four-year universities. Even though nine of the foundations reimbursed the taxpayers for some or all of the salary and benefits for the 50 employees who also worked for the foundations, it is impossible to determine if all expenses were reimbursed because those employees did not track the amount of time they spent working for the foundations. Meanwhile, four of the affiliated organizations that were not primary fundraising foundations had UW employees as voting members of the boards of directors.

Until December, the UW Board of Regents did not have a written policy governing the relationships between UW institutions and their primary fundraising foundations. The regents finally established that policy, but still do not have a policy to govern the relationships with all of the other affiliated organizations.

The citizens, taxpayers, students and staff who support the UW System deserve better than this. The lack of oversight, shady accounting, comingled governing structures and incomplete record keeping is intolerable in a system where hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake. Such poor management practices allow abuses like what happened at UW-Oshkosh.

The UW Board of Regents has been slow and incomplete in their response to this growing problem. The Wisconsin Legislature may need to step in and demand action on behalf of their constituents.

Defending Our Kids

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

Once again we find ourselves searching for solutions in the wake of a mass killing at a school. It is the natural human reaction to want to do something about it and we all want the killing to end. The powerful impulse to “do something” is often the genesis of bad laws, or worse, tyranny, but that must not deter us from doing whatever is legal, ethical, and constitutional to decrease the likelihood of another massacre.

Mass killings are still the statistical outlier in America. The odds of being killed in such a mass shooting is dwarfed by the likelihood of being killed by a criminal or angry family member. According to FBI data, our nation has averaged about 23 deaths per year from mass shootings since 1982. While each mass shooting is shocking and tragic, you are more than twice as likely to be killed by bees or wasps as in a mass shooting. Still, while rare, mass killings appear to be on the rise and we must take reasonable measures to prevent them when possible, and mitigate the damage when they occur.

The root causes of the rise of mass killings are complex. Our culture is steeped in violent movies and video games; devoid of moral absolutism; hostile to God and blessings of salvation; detached from the real world of human interaction; where kids grow up isolated and angry in a sea of digital and artificial surrogates for love, friendship, and emotional connections. It is a toxic brew that — especially when mixed with mental illness and lax law enforcement — fertilizes evil. But fixing the culture is hard. In the meantime, we must look to preserve the footings of individual liberty while providing for our security.

What can be done about reducing mass killings in our schools and elsewhere? Provide better mental health services? Install better security in our schools? Hire armed security officers to patrol our schools? See it and say it? Ensure that background checks for the purchase of weapons are thorough? Deal severely with people who are violent and unstable? Yes. All of the above.

Another measure we need to take is to allow schools to decide if and how they would allow teachers, parents, and staff to arm themselves.

There are some realities that we face as a nation when it comes to firearms. First, firearms are prevalent in our society and they are not going away. That is as it should be. We decided at the founding of this nation that an armed citizenry was necessary for the preservation of liberty and it is an ethic that is ingrained into the American heart. If anything, in the face of tragedy, Americans have shown that they prefer to lift restrictions on owning and carrying firearms for law-abiding folks instead of enacting further restrictions. Even if we repeal the 2nd Amendment tomorrow, 300 million guns aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Second, while we can and must take action to address the root causes of violence, we will never completely dig out those roots. They are at the very core of humanity. We are marked by a shadow of evil that cannot be completely eliminated absent the eradication of our species. As such, we must do as we have always done: hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Allowing school employees to arm themselves provides for that last desperate line of defense in the face of unthinkable violence. When faced by a lunatic with a gun, there are very few ways to escape the situation alive. Meeting force with force is sometimes the only, and best, option.

Implementing such a policy is complex. High schools are different from elementary schools. Rural schools are different from urban schools. Big schools are different from smaller schools. That is why the decisions about how a policy allowing teachers and staff to arm themselves must be left to local school districts and private school leaders.

But this is not untraveled ground. In Texas, for example, 172 school districts already allow staff and/or school board members to carry firearms on school grounds. And according to the Giffords Law Center, nine states already allow concealed carry holders to carry on school grounds in some or all situations. Those are not the schools where mass shootings are on the rise.

Not every, or even most, school employees would want to accept the responsibility of providing an armed defense, but some would. They deserve to have that choice. They deserve to have a safer workplace. Even the best police forces are minutes away when seconds count.

At the very least, the fact that some school employees might be armed serves as a deterrent to wouldbe killers. There is a reason why mass murderers tend to target gunfree zones. They may be evil, but they aren’t stupid. The threat of an immediate armed response denies them the time to inflict maximum carnage.

We will never be able to completely eliminate the threat of violence in our schools. That is precisely why we must provide our school teachers and staff with all of the tools available to protect themselves and our children. As we have learned after almost every school shooting in the past thirty years, the violence only stops when it is met with equal force. The quicker that happens, the fewer people get shot. It is just that simple.

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.