My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here it is.
What Democratic appointments say about the party
Legislature’s minority poised to be more belligerent
The new year is upon us and Wisconsin’s politicians are about to get to back to work. Gov. Scott Walker celebrated his second term with an inaugural ball. All of the newly elected and re-elected members of the Legislature were sworn in. The pieces are being set in place in preparation for the upcoming legislative session and budget battle.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin is truly at a critical point in its history. It is almost difficult to remember that they controlled the Assembly, Senate and governorship as recently as 2010. In the five years since then, Wisconsin has vaulted Republicans into the majority in both houses of the Legislature and elected Walker thrice. Walker is settling in for another four years in Madison and it is difficult to see how the Democrats will lead in the Assembly in the foreseeable future. Only in the Senate is there some opportunity for Democrats to regain the majority, but even that looks unlikely before the end of Walker’s term.
With the Democrats ensconced in the minority for this legislative session, and perhaps several sessions to come, it is telling to see how they will adapt to Wisconsin’s political reality. Nobody expects them to become Republicans or support Republican initiatives, nor should they. The Democrats who are in office are there because their constituents elected them to advocate for the liberal views they espoused during the campaign.
The question is how will the Democrats work with the Republicans? They could be constructive and try to advance their policy ideas on the edges of bills — really the only avenue open to the minority party. They could throw a two-year tantrum and leave the state when they don’t get their way like they did in 2011. Or they could chart a path somewhere between the extremes.
Both the incoming Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling and the Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca seem to be striking a cooperative tone. Both have expressed a desire to work with Republicans where there is common ground while still opposing the policies they completely oppose. But, as they say, actions speak louder than words.
While Shilling and Barca are using the language of moderation with the media, they are taking actions that demonstrate that they plan a far more aggressive opposition. When choosing the members who will serve on the potent Joint Finance Committee, they chose some of the most bellicose people in the Democratic caucus.
Case in point is Barca’s appointment of Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh). Hintz is a liberals’ liberal who was just barely re-elected in a district which included the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and leans heavily to the left. He is known for his flamboyant and sarcastic comments and news releases. He is also known for some very poor behavior.
In the same year that Hintz was cites and fined for violating the city’s sexual misconduct ordinance as part of a prostitution sting, he was forced to apologize for threatening a fellow member of the Assembly. During a contentious debate about the budget, Hintz shouted “you’re (expletive) dead” at Republican Rep. Michelle Litjens while on the floor of the Assembly.
The fact that someone who has exhibited such low personal character is now a member of the Wisconsin Legislature’s most powerful committee indicates just how low the Democratic leadership is willing to go in the upcoming legislative session.
On the other hand, perhaps Hintz’ appointment is just an indication of just how bereft of character and talent that caucus has become after withering electoral defeats for the past few years. To think that is the case would be an insult to the other 36 Democrats in the Assembly who were not selected for the Joint Finance Committee.
(Owen Robinson’s column runs Tuesdays in the Daily News.)