Tag Archives: Column

The April election is on and more important than ever

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. Note that I had an error in the deadline for getting an absentee ballot. I corrected it below.

Coronavirus might still be raging across the state, but our right to self-governance continues on. For now, the April election will be held on schedule. The deadline has passed to request an absentee ballot to vote by mail. The deadline is April 2nd. If you already have one, be sure to fill it out and exercise your franchise. Most municipalities are still allowing in-person absentee voting until April 3, although there may be some additional precautionary measures. Be sure to call your local clerk. I voted a couple of weeks ago at City Hall in West Bend and it was a perfectly quick and delightful (and sanitary) experience.

Finally, the polls will be open on April 7. Some of the normal polling places have been moved and the process will work a bit differently, but they will be open. We must not abrogate our right to vote in the face of adversity.

There are several important races on the ballot. Here is a quick rundown of who I voted for and why:

Wisconsin Supreme Court: This is, by far, the most important election on the ballot. The Supreme Court is always important, but as we have seen our governor exercise extraordinary arbitrary power to micromanage all of our lives, the importance of the other branches of government stands out. Incumbent Justice Daniel Kelly is being challenged by a liberal activist judge Jill Karofsky, who has repeatedly told audiences how she would use the court to advance the liberal agenda. Daniel Kelly has proven himself to be a conservative jurist who will uphold the Constitution and the law – even if he personally disagrees with it. Kelly is an ethical judge with a humble temperament that is too rare nowadays in the judicial branch. To protect our rule of law and our rights, I voted for Daniel Kelly.

Court of Appeals District 2: This is the second most important election on the ballot. Very few cases are actually decided by the Supreme Court. Most important legal issues are settle in one of Wisconsin’s Courts of Appeals. Incumbent Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer lost an election for the Supreme Court last year. In that election, she showed her true colors with a scorched-earth campaign in which she passionately advocated for liberal activism on the court. This election is a chance to remove her from the Court of Appeals and replace her with someone who respects the role of a humble jurist.

Fortunately, Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Paul Bugenhagen Jr. is a great conservative judge with just the right temperament for the court. Bugenhagen got my vote.

Washington County executive: For the first time, Washington County citizens will elect a county executive after the County Board voted to change the county’s government structure. Josh Schoemann is the current county administrator. Adam Gitter is the Economic Development manager for the city of West Bend. Both men are conservative. Both men are veterans. Both men are career bureaucrats seeking their first elected office. Both are promising to hold the line on taxes and spending.

On the issues, Schoemann and Gitter differ on two primary issues. First, Schoemann supports park fees and Gitter does not. Second, Gitter considers the county sales tax to be a “slush fund” and wants to reform or repeal it. Schoemann thinks the sales tax is necessary to fund the county. I’m somewhat indifferent on park fees, but want to see the sales tax repealed. Mainly for that reason, I cast my vote for Adam Gitter.

Mayor of West Bend: Much like for county executive, the citizens of West Bend have two great choices for their next mayor. Chris Jenkins and Rich Kasten are both currently aldermen for West Bend. They are both conservative, fiscally and socially conservative, hard workers, and love the city. They both want to fix the roads, control spending and taxes, and attract businesses.

The difference really comes down to experience and background. I voted for Kasten because he is a bit older and more experienced. Also, Kasten works in the private sector while Jenkins works for another municipality. In light of the fact that the next mayor’s term will be spent trying to heal the city after a government-forced recession, I prefer a mayor whose experience is rooted in the private sector.

West Bend School Board. My column from a few weeks ago went into detail on the need for a new voice on the West Bend School Board. There is only one person on the ballot worth voting for. The citizens of the West Bend School District need Jody Geenen on the board.

In an era of unprecedented government intervention, it is more important than ever to choose our elected leaders. Vote by mail. Vote absentee in person. Go to the polls on April 7 to vote. Just vote.

The April election is on and more important than ever

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. It’s a rundown of who I voted for and why. Most readers of this blog won’t be too surprised, but go pick up a copy!

Finally, the polls will be open on April 7. Some of the normal polling places have been moved and the process will work a bit differently, but they will be open. We must not abrogate our right to vote in the face of adversity.

[…]

In an era of unprecedented government intervention, it is more important than ever to choose our elected leaders. Vote by mail. Vote absentee in person. Go to the polls on April 7 to vote. Just vote.

A devastating cure: Weighing liberties, security in the age of coronavirus

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Go pick up a copy!

In the future, when we remember the liberties we once had and explain to our grandchildren why we surrendered them, some old man will slowly look down at his shoes and mutter, “We did it out of an abundance of caution.”

The global Coronavirus pandemic is a severe health concern that requires a response from our government. We need our government to aggressively work toward a vaccine and treatments, inform the public with the latest prevention methods, act to provide resources where needed, and provide the legal and regulatory safety net for the private sector to join in the fight. We do not need or want our government to arbitrarily suppress our civil rights, undermine the rule of law, and intentionally destroy our economy and our livelihoods.

It is breathtaking the speed at which our government leaders resorted to totalitarian extremes to combat the spread of a disease. The government ordered thousands and thousands of businesses to close indefinitely. This has forced millions of people out of work. Many of them do not have the financial cushion to get by without an income for weeks on end. Many small-business owners are losing their life’s work and their families’ entire net worth by order of the government.

With millions of people are struggling to get by, the inevitable wave of foreclosures and bankruptcies will follow. The government may try to halt this by decree or throw stimulus money at the problem, but the financial realities make the long-term impact of these decisions unavoidable.

Meanwhile, some governments are ordering people to remain home, forbidding people from assembling, and even closing churches. In California, people who are caught outside of their homes for nonessential reasons are subject to arrest, fines, and imprisonment for violating the order. At the same time, jury trials (a constitutionally protected right) are being postponed, elections are being delayed, prisoners are being released, and the government is ignoring private contracts — for example, the government ordering that landlords can’t evict people — in lieu of the judgment of politicians.

The impact is more than just financial or an inconvenience. The government restrictions have caused a massive shortage in donated blood for hospitals, crime is sure to rise, people are postponing necessary medical care for fear of leaving their homes, and an increase in depression, addiction, and suicide will result from mass unemployment and economic destruction.

Americans should be following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control to maintain a physical distance from others, cover sneezes, avoid touching faces, wash hands, sanitize surfaces, and reduce unnecessary travel. But there is an abyss between free Americans taking steps to mitigate the spread of Coronavirus of their own free will and our government using police power to enforce those steps. In most cases, it is a single man — a governor — making these incredible decisions to upend our lives.

If the response to Coronavirus has taught us anything, it is that our government officials will strip us of our liberties at a moment’s notice on the justification that it is for our own good. Instead of relying on the collective wisdom of a billion individual decisions made by free people, our government officials instantly supplanted their own judgment for that of the people they were elected to represent. They immediately assumed that they know better and are not only empowered, but obligated, to micromanage our lives “out of an abundance of caution.” And then, when the inevitable negative effects are being felt, these same people will mortgage our grandchildren’s future too with another boondoggle trillion dollar stimulus.

This is a very old debate about the balance of government power between liberty and safety. The way in which so many Americans surrendered their liberty for the dubious promise of safety with little more than a shrug and a muffled bleat is testament to how far we have strayed from our roots. For all of the “don’t tread on me” stickers and “live free or die” machismo, too many Americans have become fat and docile.

Coronavirus will ravage the world and leave devastation in its wake, but we will find workable treatments and a vaccine. It will pass. The devastation to our economy and liberties will be far longer lasting.

Cast your vote based on the record

Speaking of voting, here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

Three incumbent West Bend School Board members are up for re-election on the April 7 ballot. Joel Ongert, Nancy Justman, and Tonnie Schmidt ran as a bloc in 2017 and are running for re-election as a bloc again. In 2017, they ran on conservatism and transparency. Having failed on both counts, this year they are running on their record. It is certainly a record that deserves scrutiny.

Despite promising transparency, the West Bend School District became instantly more opaque when they took office. Individually, these three board members repeatedly refused to respond to questions from media and constituents who did not support them; documents disappeared from the district’s website; and there was a noticeable increase in the number of closed sessions.

This secrecy enveloped the decision in 2017 to split the high school administrations. West Bend has two high schools in one building, but previous boards had combined the administration to be more efficient and economical. Without any public input or discussion, and in the middle of a hiring process for a single principal, the School Board split the position into two expensive principals instead of one. Secrecy and patronage were the new guiding principles with these three.

Under the leadership of the Triad, the district abandoned using Act 10 and reversed course on the implementation of merit pay for school staff. After a year in limbo, the district is implementing a new compensation system that rewards teachers for experience and more education — irrespective of the teacher’s performance.

Who could forget the superintendent shuffle? The district will be hiring its fourth superintendent since the Triad took office three years ago. They forced one out (allegedly), had an interim for a while, and then hired Superintendent Kirkegaard. While Kirkegaard has been a capable superintendent, it did not take much foresight to understand that an administrator nearing the end of his career who spent his entire life in another state would not last long. Along with the superintendent shuffle came the huge turnover of the rest of the administrative staff. The district has cycled through six business managers, five HR directors, and countless other staff positions.

The Triad also ran last time as conservatives. They may be fiscally conservative in their private lives, but they are big-spending liberals with other people’s money. Despite steeply declining enrollment (not the district’s fault), the School Board increased spending by over $5 million, or over 6%, since 2016. That spending brought with it property tax increases. The School Board increased the property tax levy by over 9% over the same period. The spending and taxing decisions of the West Bend School Board are indistinguishable from those of legendarily liberal school boards like Madison or Milwaukee.

The increased spending and taxes were not enough for this crew. Throughout the Triad’s entire tenure, the district has been roiled with referendum debate. After a few months, the Triad pushed through a $74 million (with interest) referendum for a new Jackson Elementary School and work at the high schools. They followed the liberal school referendum playbook to the letter. They manipulated a fake community study committee, conducted a sham survey, rolled out the scare tactics, and were hazy about the details of how the money would be spent.

After the voters rejected the referendum, they are right back at planning the next referendum. Despite the fact that a private task force of local business and facilities leaders (of which I was a member) dug into the data for months and showed a way to restructure facilities with enormous improvements without increasing taxes, the Triad appears determined to ignore those findings and proceed with a rehashed version of the previous referendum – a new Jackson Elementary School and maybe some other fluff thrown in to lure voters from outside of Jackson.

Sadly for the kids of the West Bend School District, the spending, taxing, administrative turmoil, lack of performance incentives for teachers, secrecy, and poor management have only perpetuated a steadily declining performance. None of this has improved educational outcomes or better prepared our kids to enter the world.

If you want higher taxes, more spending, declining performance, and an endless succession of referendums, vote for the Triad. As for me, I will only be voting for one person for the West Bend School Board, Jody Geenen.

Geenen is a solidly conservative mother who had three children go through the West Bend School District. She is committed to doing the hard work of improving transparency, communicating with the public, evaluating the curriculum, being a frugal steward of taxpayer money, and providing a “high-quality, content-rich, truth-and-factbased education for all students.”

There are four candidates for three School Board seats, so two of the three members of the Triad will be re-elected. It does not matter which ones. But it does matter that the voters elect Jody Geenen to be the only conservative on a school board that lurched to the left with the election of the Triad.

Cast your vote based on the record

Isn’t it nice to read about something that isn’t related to Coronovirus? My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a little taste:

Sadly for the kids of the West Bend School District, the spending, taxing, administrative turmoil, lack of performance incentives for teachers, secrecy, and poor management have only perpetuated a steadily declining performance. None of this has improved educational outcomes or better prepared our kids to enter the world.

If you want higher taxes, more spending, declining performance, and an endless succession of referendums, vote for the Triad. As for me, I will only be voting for one person for the West Bend School Board, Jody Geenen.

Geenen is a solidly conservative mother who had three children go through the West Bend School District. She is committed to doing the hard work of improving transparency, communicating with the public, evaluating the curriculum, being a frugal steward of taxpayer money, and providing a “high-quality, content-rich, truth-and-fact based education for all students.”

There are four candidates for three School Board seats, so two of the three members of the Triad will be re-elected. It does not matter which ones. But it does matter that the voters elect Jody Geenen to be the only conservative on a school board that lurched to the left with the election of the Triad.

Preserving small ‘l’ liberal education

Here is my full column for the Washington County Daily News.

When one enters higher education to pursue a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree, there are two main objectives. The first objective is to learn a lot about a particular subject like math, history, business, or any of hundreds of other major areas of study. The second objective, and the one that differentiates a liberal (classical liberal – not political liberal) education from a vocational education, is to gain a broader knowledge of the world.

The heart of a liberal education is that second objective. It is why students are required to take classes that do not have anything to do with their major. It is also why students spend more money and spend longer in school to earn a bachelor’s degree. For many people, going to university is their first time outside of the bubble in which they grew up. It is their first time away from their family, church, neighborhood, childhood friends, and cultural roots. A good university education offers a wide range of information and multiple viewpoints to give students a broader perspective of the world around them. A good university education also equips students with the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate a big, diverse, exciting world.

Unfortunately, most universities have abandoned a small “l” liberal education in favor of a big “L” Liberal education. Instead of offering a broad perspective from diverse perspectives, they offer a narrow perspective from a hyper-orthodox view. Whether the subject is related to global warming, abortion, unions, gun rights, health care policy, or any other important issue, there is only one perspective tolerated on most university campuses – the Liberal viewpoint.

The reason is simple. The vast majority of university faculty members are extremely liberal. For example, consider the political donations of faculty members. The best way to tell what is important to someone is to see where they spend their money. According to Opensecrets.org, 97% of all political donations given by employees of the University of Wisconsin system in the 2020 election cycle so far have gone to Democrats. Only 3% have gone to Republicans.

Lest you think that such lopsided political affiliation is an artifact of the Trump era, the percentage was 98% for Democrats in 2014 and 95% in 2012. To put that in perspective, a student takes about 40 college courses with 40 professors to earn a bachelor’s degree. There is a very good chance that a student attending a University of Wisconsin school might complete their degree without ever having anything but a politically liberal professor. In some majors, it is a virtual certainty that a student will never hear anything but a liberal perspective.

This is one of the reasons why it is so important for universities to invite non-liberal speakers to their campuses. For some students, it will be the only way they will hear a conservative, libertarian, or even a centrist speak without leaving campus.

Sadly, too many universities have tolerated, or even encouraged, the rise of the cry bully on campus. These sniveling tyrants wrap themselves in their own righteousness to bully other people into silence. If challenged for their intolerance, they cry “victim” and demand a safe space. These are the petty bullies who have been protesting and shouting down conservative speakers on university campuses to the point that some universities have stopped inviting conservatives to speak at all for fear of violence.

The University of Wisconsin Regents deserve credit for pushing ahead with a policy to punish cry bullies who would intimidate others into silence and preserve universities as a place for diverse thoughts to be heard and debated. In October, the Regents voted for a policy that would require that a student be suspended if they twice “materially and substantially disrupted the free expression of others.” Upon the third violation, the student would be expelled.

The policy is needed to ensure that universities can be a place of free expression and diversity of thought. The policy does not prohibit any student from offering a different perspective or even protesting a speaker they dislike. It simply discourages students from disrupting other people from speaking and sharing their views. That is what free expression is all about. Universities used to know that and the UW Regents are reinstilling that principle of small “l” liberal education.

Preserving small ‘l’ liberal education

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Go pick up a copy, but here’s a part:

Unfortunately, most universities have abandoned a small “l” liberal education in favor of a big “L” Liberal education. Instead of offering a broad perspective from diverse perspectives, they offer a narrow perspective from a hyper-orthodox view. Whether the subject is related to global warming, abortion, unions, gun rights, health care policy, or any other important issue, there is only one perspective tolerated on most university campuses – the Liberal viewpoint.

The reason is simple. The vast majority of university faculty members are extremely liberal. For example, consider the political donations of faculty members. The best way to tell what is important to someone is to see where they spend their money. According to Opensecrets.org, 97% of all political donations given by employees of the University of Wisconsin system in the 2020 election cycle so far have gone to Democrats. Only 3% have gone to Republicans.

Lest you think that such lopsided political affiliation is an artifact of the Trump era, the percentage was 98% for Democrats in 2014 and 95% in 2012. To put that in perspective, a student takes about 40 college courses with 40 professors to earn a bachelor’s degree. There is a very good chance that a student attending a University of Wisconsin school might complete their degree without ever having anything but a politically liberal professor. In some majors, it is a virtual certainty that a student will never hear anything but a liberal perspective.

 

Evers’ vetoes tell us his values

I forgot to post this earlier in the week… here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News on Tuesday.

Governor Tony Evers spent last week telling the people of Wisconsin what his values really are by vetoing several bills that would have made Wisconsinites wealthier, healthier, and safer. Our governor’s actions tell us that he would rather Wisconsinites be poorer, sicker, and less safe if it means that he can appease his liberal benefactors and the social justice warriors.

In light of the state of Wisconsin’s projected budget surplus, the Republican Legislature passed a tax cut. The idea was simple. The people of Wisconsin are paying more in taxes than the government has budgeted to spend. The Republicans voted to reduce marginal tax rates so that those excess taxes would never be collected. Instead, that money would have been left in the pockets of Wisconsinites to spend on their families, businesses, and priorities. The Republican tax cut would have had the greatest impact for lower- and middle-income earners whose lives are most impacted by high taxes.

Governor Evers vetoed the tax cut in its entirety. In doing so, he said that he wants to use any tax surplus to spend more money on the state’s government schools. Despite the fact that statewide enrollment is declining and Wisconsinites spend more on education — by any measurement — than at any time in the history of humankind, the governor just wants to spend more. It is no coincidence that Wisconsin’s government education establishment supports Evers.

The Republicans passed another bill that would have made direct primary care agreements exempt from insurance law. The idea here is also simple. The cost of health care in Wisconsin is too high and the high cost prevents some people from getting

the care they need. One of the reasons that the cost is so high is because of the regulatory structure and insurance middle man. DPC agreements are a way to cut out the insurance middle man and lower costs with a direct fee structure.

In a DPC agreement, a person or their employer pays a subscription to a health care provider that gives patients access to primary care, urgent care, lab work, and other relatively routine health care services. In doing this, the patient does not access their health insurance except for the truly critical issues. By making primary care available through a low-cost subscription, patients and their families can get the routine care they need without jumping through the insurance hoops or paying huge deductibles. The bill passed by Republicans would have clarified the law to ensure that DPC agreements do not fall subject to onerous insurance laws that would render DPC agreements unviable.

Governor Evers vetoed the bill in its entirety because it did not specifically prohibit health care providers from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation. Because Governor Evers wants to curry favor with the LGBTQ lobby, Wisconsinites will continue to have to pay more for health care and have fewer health care options available to them.

Perhaps worst of all, Governor Evers vetoed several bills that would have made Wisconsinites safer. One bill would have required that the Department of Corrections recommend revoking a person’s supervision or probation if they are charged with a crime. One would have thought that if a person was on probation and committed a crime, that they would be automatically put back in jail. Unfortunately, under current law, people often commit crimes while on supervision or probation and no action is taken.

This bill would have left judges with the discretion to actually revoke a crook’s supervision or probation, but it would have required the DOC to recommend revocation.

In another bill, the Republicans would have extended the restrictions for who is eligible to get released early from prison for certain crimes. Most of the crimes that the bill extended the restrictions for were child sex crimes. For example, the bill would have made people who commit the crimes of incest, child enticement, or sexual assault of a child, ineligible to be released from prison early.

Governor Evers vetoed both of those crime bills and several more anti-crime bills. One can only conclude that Evers wants more criminals on our streets — even those who are convicted of child sex crimes. Evers’ goal of reducing the state’s prison population takes priority over the victims of crimes.

Thanks to the actions of Governor Evers last week, Wisconsinites will be poorer, sicker, and less safe than they could have been if he had signed these bills into law. But at least the government teachers, LGBTQ lobbyists, and criminals will be better off.

Evers’ vetoes tell us his values

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s how it starts:

Governor Tony Evers spent last week telling the people of Wisconsin what his values really are by vetoing several bills that would have made Wisconsinites wealthier, healthier, and safer. Our governor’s actions tell us that he would rather Wisconsinites be poorer, sicker, and less safe if it means that he can appease his liberal benefactors and the social justice warriors.

 

 

The Sanders surge and the slippery slope

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Check it out:

One of our national great failures is that we, the people, have allowed our government schools to teach that communism, and its more polite brother, socialism, are anything other than the violent, failed doctrines of tyrants and lunatics. This is one of the reasons that Bernie Sanders is surging through the primaries and might be anointed the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party right here in Wisconsin.

Communism is not just an alternate form of organizing society or an altruistic expression of collective will. It is not just another way of accomplishing the same goals as capitalism and liberal democracy. Communism is an evil and murderous creed.

Communist governments have killed at least 100 million people over the last century. That is far more than every other kind of government combined. The oppression and killing by communists span cultures, geographies, and time. Whether in communist China, Soviet Russia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea, Ethiopia, or elsewhere, communist violence is not a bug. It is a feature.

Some defenders of socialism and communism contend that the failures and atrocities of communism in places like Russia and North Korea were caused by externalities and circumstances that can be avoided on the next attempt. What these defenders neglect to share, or understand, is that centrally planned societies and economies require a tremendous concentration of power into the hands of a very small group of people. Those central planners are subject to the same emotions, flaws, passions, egos, jealousies, and sins of any other human. Communism does not bestow virtue on the practitioner. If anything, the old saw holds true that absolute power corrupts, absolutely.

Even if communism could be implemented by purely perfect noble beings, the very construct of the doctrine is contrary to the human condition. By eliminating free markets (legal ones) and individual rewards (except corrupt ones), people have little incentive to be productive or worry about making things that people actually want. The absence of incentive robs people of their initiative and denies society the benefit of their ingenuity. The result is the inevitable decline of a decaying society. The lessons of history are all too important today as a sizable number of our fellow Americans are supporting Bernie Sanders, and more importantly, his ideology. Sanders has put together a string of primary victories as he heads into Super Tuesday. Here in Wisconsin, a recent poll by the UW-Madison Elections Research Center shows Sanders the overwhelming favorite of Wisconsin’s Democrats with twice the support of his closest rivals, Joe Biden and Mike Bloomberg.

Now that he is a national figure, Bernie Sanders likes to disavow communism in favor of something he calls “democratic socialism.” It is a distinction without a difference. Wordplay has always been a favorite tool of communists. Without going into Sanders’ long history of support and praise for communism and communist regimes, one need only look at Sanders’ platform to see it for what it is.

Sanders’ “Medicare for All” is the same government takeover of the health care system that we have seen for decades. Sanders would have the government outlaw private health care providers in favor of a health care system run by the federal government. Such a system puts government bureaucrats in charge of our personal humanity — our health.

Enacting the Green New Deal would require the government to force action in the energy and construction sectors of our economy. It would also require the government to obliterate private property rights in order to impose environmental mandates across the country.

Sanders’ plans for what he calls “workplace democracy” would shove people into unions and require the government to dictate the policies of heretofore private companies. Given government control of wages, health care, private property, etc., unions would be relegated to little more than enforcement arms of the government.

Does this sound familiar? Look at the verbs in the preceding paragraphs. “Outlaw.” “Force.” “Require.” “Obliterate.” “Impose.” “Dictate.” All of these policies require a colossal concentration of power into the hands of a select few in faraway Washington, D.C., to centrally manage our health care, work, economy, energy, and homes. With such concentration comes the inevitable violence and oppression to bend the people to the will of the central planners.

While some of my fellow conservatives relish the idea of a Sanders’ victory because they believe that Sanders would be the easiest challenger for President Trump to defeat, we must not risk our great nation for game theory and political theater. In this case we must follow the communists’ example and smother the threat before it grows — peaceably in the voting booth.

Just say no to boozy Democrats

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part, but go pick up a copy to read the whole thing.

Second, the fact that the Democrats are coming does not change the underlying reason that Wisconsin has an earlier bar time. Wisconsin forces all bars to stop serving alcohol at 2:00 a.m. on weekdays and 2:30 a.m. on weekends because the people consider it a public safety hazard for bars to be open later than that. Does that safety consideration disappear because it will be mostly Democrats getting sloshed at a bar in Milwaukee at 3:30 a.m. instead of someone else? Since the bill would impact the entire state, what if a Republican in West Bend gets sozzled and stumbles out of a bar at 4:00 a.m.? Is that safe?

Wisconsin’s bar time has not changed in a very long time. It is possible that the public safety considerations have changed since the last time state lawmakers set closing time. If lawmakers want to consider changing the bar closing time, then they should do the homework to fully understand the impact on public safety. Then, after a public debate with public hearings, state lawmakers can permanently change the bar time for everyone in the state.

Changing public policy should be done after rigorous study and robust debate with the entire public’s interests in mind. It should not be done on a whim to appease a single group of visitors who want to get drunk into the wee hours of a Wednesday morning. If Democrats want to keep drinking after the bars close, they can pick up a bottle and head for their homes and hotels like Wisconsinites have been doing for years.

 

Evers calls a special session to waste money we don’t have

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News this week.

Thanks to a robust economy, Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau has projected that Wisconsin will collect more taxes than the state budgeted by the end of the biennial budget next summer. The news prompted Gov. Tony Evers to call the Legislature into a special session to waste money we do not have on stuff we do not need.

The state passed the biennial budget last year that is in effect from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2021. Those dates are important. The budget estimates tax collections based on the tax policies and sets sending based on the estimated taxes. Periodically, the state’s LFB will evaluate actual tax collections as compared to the budget estimates and forecast whether the state will collect more or less than the budget estimated.

Still awake? Hang in there. In January, the LFB estimated that the state will collect $620.2 million more in taxes than the budget estimated. If the LFB is right, that would mean that the state would generate a $620.2 million surplus at the end of the budget – in July of 2021. In other words, the state does not have $620.2 million in extra cash stashed in Governor Evers’ desk. The state might have $620.2 million in additional money sometime next summer – if the LFB’s forecast is correct.

The LFB does a really good job, but it is not a Delphic Oracle with divine sight. It makes estimates based on the economic data available. This changes, however, in unpredictable ways. For example, if the United States elects a communist to be president this year, it is likely that our economy will enter a deep recession, thus undermining tax collections in Wisconsin and any chance of a surplus.

From this basis, we must evaluate Governor Evers’ plan on both a financial and moral basis. Governor Evers wants the Legislature to pass bills to spend $250 million of the projected surplus on government schools. From a financial perspective, it is outright mismanagement to spend money that state government does not have. Evers wants to spend money based on a single financial projection made three weeks ago about where the state’s finances might end up in 17 months. What if the economy shifts and the surplus does not happen? What if the LFB just got it wrong? If the Legislature votes to spend the money and the surplus does not materialize, the money is still spent. They will have to find another way to pay for it.

On a moral basis, we already had a debate about the budget through our elected representatives. Out of that process came the spending and taxes that we, the people, collectively thought was necessary to fund state government. Evers already proposed that we spend more. The Legislature passed a budget and Evers signed it. If there is a surplus, there are only three things that should be done with it: pay down debt, save it in the rainy day fund, or return it to the people.

Paying down debt is never a bad thing, but if the state is just going to replace it with more debt and spending, then it is counterproductive. Thanks to years of good fiscal management when Republicans controlled all of state government, the state’s rainy day fund is already adequately funded. That leaves the last option: Give it back to the people. The state overcharged for its services and should give the people their change.

Finally, it is not just that Governor Evers wants to spend money we do not yet have. It is that he wants to pour it into the bottomless pit of government schools for no benefit. The governor lists 14 spending items directed at government schools from general state aid to grants. Nowhere does he even pretend that the additional spending will improve educational outcomes for the kids. Even Evers appears to know that more spending will not result in better education.

In fact, Wisconsin spends more on government education than at any time in its history, and yet, test scores and student performance continue their steady decline. It is a travesty that liberals like Governor Evers continue to spread the lie that more money leads to a better education because it distracts from advancing policies that will actually improve education for our children. Governor Evers’ spending plan is a boon for government workers, special interest groups, and school construction companies, but it once again leaves our kids behind.

The Legislature should ignore Evers’ folly and close the special session as soon as it opens. If the surplus does actually materialize as the LFB projects, then the Legislature should return it to the people.

Evers calls a special session to waste money we don’t have

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s part of it:

Finally, it is not just that Governor Evers wants to spend money we do not yet have. It is that he wants to pour it into the bottomless pit of government schools for no benefit. The governor lists 14 spending items directed at government schools from general state aid to grants. Nowhere does he even pretend that the additional spending will improve educational outcomes for the kids. Even Evers appears to know that more spending will not result in better education.

In fact, Wisconsin spends more on government education than at any time in its history, and yet, test scores and student performance continue their steady decline. It is a travesty that liberals like Governor Evers continue to spread the lie that more money leads to a better education because it distracts from advancing policies that will actually improve education for our children. Governor Evers’ spending plan is a boon for government workers, special interest groups, and school construction companies, but it once again leaves our kids behind.

West Bend School District needs a new superintendent

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News last week.

West Bend School District Superintendent Don Kirkegaard has resigned after less than two years in the job and plans to return to his newly built house in South Dakota. Although he has not shared any career plans, one might posit that the vacancy for superintendent in his old school district may have factored into his decision. The folks in the West Bend School District thank him for his short time in our community and wish him the best. The School Board now must look for the district’s fifth superintendent in four years.

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The search for a new superintendent comes during a time of turmoil in the school district. After Superintendent Ted Nietzke resigned in 2016, the School Board hired a strong replacement, Erik Olsen. 2016 is also when the School Board began its turn to the left when Tiffany Larson was elected. 2017 completed the turn with the election of Joel Ongert, Nancy Justman, and Tonnie Schmidt. With a solid majority, Superintendent Olson was quickly paid a handsome severance to leave. Interim Superintendent Laura Jackson served well until Kirkegaard was hired by the board in 2018 after an expensive search.

Through these years, the school district has burned through four or five HR directors and business managers, ended innovation like the charter school, abandoned merit pay for teachers, stunted community and stakeholder communication, roiled the electorate with a poorly thought-out referendum that failed, and generally regressed from the gains made a few years ago. The results have been distressing as student performance has been stagnant and much of the community is disengaged and disinterested.

Meanwhile, the school district is facing some serious challenges. Due to a general demographic shift, enrollment is declining in the district and is projected to continue to decline for the foreseeable future. A district that once had 7,000 students will likely have less than 5,000 within this decade. This will mean substantially less money and the need to downsize personnel and facilities. The district is also facing competitive pressure with the expansion of school choice and the maturity of online and home-school learning options. These are structural pressures that are not unique to the West Bend School District. They are systemic and unavoidable.

Taking all of this into account, the next superintendent of the West Bend School District needs to be a strong, transformational, visionary change agent. It is exponentially more difficult to properly manage an organization through a contraction than through an expansion. The leader must be a phenomenal communicator who can motivate employees and build support with all of the stakeholders in the district. The West Bend School District does not need a caretaker or a toady. The district needs a strong leader to guide it through a transformation to improve educational outcomes, infuse modern innovations, and reconnect with the community while also consolidating and economizing personnel and facilities. The folks in the West Bend School District deserve a better, if smaller, school district that reflects the values of the community it serves.

To find a superintendent that matches all of those criteria will not be easy, especially given the recent turnover in the position. To do so, the West Bend School Board should follow the lead of the University of Wisconsin System and consider candidates who do not come from the government-education industrial complex. A school district superintendent must have a vision for education, but must also have skills in budgeting, contract negotiation, public relations, personnel management, finance, facilities management, organizational behavior, recruitment, marketing, legal, and more. These are skills that most seasoned, successful business executives have acquired and are not unique to people who have spent their career in education.

Finally, we must remember that this process will be conducted in the midst of an election where three incumbent school board members are on the ballot who have overseen the dysfunction of the district for the previous three years. As a sign of the disengagement of the community from the district, only one challenger stepped up, but she is a true conservative who is eager to set the district back on a path to success. Jody Geenen had three kids graduate from the district and has been an active, involved, conservative member of the community.

Electing Jody Geenen to the School Board will not only put a vocal taxpayer steward on the board, it will signal to the superintendent candidates that the citizens of the West Bend School District are ready to accept progress and change. Furthermore, Geenen would be in a position to invite the public into the process of choosing a new superintendent with a transparency that has been so sorely lacking from the West Bend School Board.

The West Bend School District needs strong leadership that can lead it through the next decade. The voters can begin by electing Jody Geenen to the School Board. Then the School Board will need to recruit and select a transformational leader as the next superintendent.

West Bend School District needs a new superintendent

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Go pick up a copy! Here’s a part to whet your appetite.

The search for a new superintendent comes during a time of turmoil in the school district. After Superintendent Ted Nietzke resigned in 2016, the School Board hired a strong replacement, Erik Olsen. 2016 is also when the School Board began its turn to the left when Tiffany Larson was elected. 2017 completed the turn with the election of Joel Ongert, Nancy Justman, and Tonnie Schmidt. With a solid majority, Superintendent Olson was quickly paid a handsome severance to leave. Interim Superintendent Laura Jackson served well until Kirkegaard was hired by the board in 2018 after an expensive search.

Through these years, the school district has burned through four or five HR directors and business managers, ended innovation like the charter school, abandoned merit pay for teachers, stunted community and stakeholder communication, roiled the electorate with a poorly thought-out referendum that failed, and generally regressed from the gains made a few years ago. The results have been distressing as student performance has been stagnant and much of the community is disengaged and disinterested.

Meanwhile, the school district is facing some serious challenges. Due to a general demographic shift, enrollment is declining in the district and is projected to continue to decline for the foreseeable future. A district that once had 7,000 students will likely have less than 5,000 within this decade. This will mean substantially less money and the need to downsize personnel and facilities. The district is also facing competitive pressure with the expansion of school choice and the maturity of online and home-school learning options. These are structural pressures that are not unique to the West Bend School District. They are systemic and unavoidable.

Taking all of this into account, the next superintendent of the West Bend School District needs to be a strong, transformational, visionary change agent. It is exponentially more difficult to properly manage an organization through a contraction than through an expansion. The leader must be a phenomenal communicator who can motivate employees and build support with all of the stakeholders in the district. The West Bend School District does not need a caretaker or a toady. The district needs a strong leader to guide it through a transformation to improve educational outcomes, infuse modern innovations, and reconnect with the community while also consolidating and economizing personnel and facilities. The folks in the West Bend School District deserve a better, if smaller, school district that reflects the values of the community it serves.

To find a superintendent that matches all of those criteria will not be easy, especially given the recent turnover in the position. To do so, the West Bend School Board should follow the lead of the University of Wisconsin System and consider candidates who do not come from the government education- industrial complex. A school district superintendent must have a vision for education, but must also have skills in budgeting, contract negotiation, public relations, personnel management, finance, facilities management, organizational behavior, recruitment, marketing, legal, and more. These are skills that most seasoned, successful business executives have acquired and are not unique to people who have spent their career in education.

Evers’ latest attempted usurpation

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

It has become a nasty feature of modern politics that Democrats just cannot lose gracefully. Here in Wisconsin, the Democrats went into a full frenzy when Gov. Scott Walker was elected. They insisted that he “cheated” and engaged in “collusion” to win. Sound familiar? We saw the same thing when President Donald Trump won. Democrats advanced a narrative that Trump “cheated” and “colluded” to win the election. The truth in both cases was that the Republican won and the Democrats could not accept it. In their worldview, the only way a Republican can win is if they cheat.

This brings us to the abominably boring topic of redistricting. It is a topic that only political junkies find interesting, but it is a necessary part of self-governance. The process is fairly simple. Every 10 years, the United States does a census to count everyone in the country and figure out where they live. After that, the states redraw the boundaries between congressional and legislative districts to ensure that they each have an equal number of people.

States go about the process of redistricting in different ways. In Wisconsin, the state Constitution gives this responsibility solely to the Legislature. The Constitution simply reads, “At its first session after each enumeration made by the authority of the United States, the legislature shall apportion and district anew the members of the senate and assembly, according to the number of inhabitants.” The only guidance the Constitution gives on this is that, “such districts to be bounded by county, precinct, town or ward lines, to consist of contiguous territory and be in as compact form as practicable.”

Although redistricting is the exclusive purview of the Legislature, the state Supreme Court ruled that the maps had to be passed as a normal bill and signed by the governor. This gave the governor a role in the process. The third branch of government, the courts, have an oversight role to ensure that legislative districts adhere to the Constitution and that they do not violate any federal laws or constitutional protections.

The process of redistricting is inherently political. It could not be anything but political. This is why it is appropriate for the Legislature to do it. That is the forum to which the people elect their representatives to debate political issues and make decisions on the people’s behalf. And the more controversial and heated the topic is, the more important it is to be debated by our representatives in the light of day. Decisions made after heated debates by elected representatives on the floor of the Legislature are far preferable to those made by unelected commissions or judges.

This is why Gov. Tony Evers creation of a socalled “People’s Maps Commission” is so offensive. It is a deliberate attempt by the governor to usurp the will of the people as expressed in their elected legislators. Instead, Evers proposes to appoint a group of commissars who will draw new maps according to the will of one man: Tony Evers. In a representative government, we do not decide big issues with unelected commissions with allegiance to the governor. We decide big issues by debating them in the People’s House – the Legislature.

Evers’ reason for this attempted usurpation is the reason cited at the beginning of this column. Democrats just cannot accept losing elections. The Democrats have claimed for years that the Republican majorities in the state Legislature are due to rank partisan gerrymandering. For evidence, they point to the fact that Democrats won statewide elections at the same time that they failed to win majorities in the Legislature.

The problem with their argument is threefold. First, politics are truly local. During the time that Republicans have held majorities in the state Legislature, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and Tony Evers all won statewide majorities. In the state Assembly, for example, Republicans have held the majority for all except two of the previous 26 years. The fluctuations in regional turnout have more impact on these discrepancies than the boundaries of the districts.

Second, Democrats conveniently forget that Republicans first swept into their most recent legislative majorities in November of 2010 in legislative districts drawn by the courts after the divided legislature deadlocked in 2001. Their majorities are not a result of maps that Republicans drew. Republican majorities are due to good local politicking, good candidates, and good policies.

Third, partisan gerrymandering, while perhaps unfair and annoying, is not illegal or unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court affirmed that fact as recently as last year. Governor Evers’ unelected commission of usurpers is pretending to fix or prevent something that is perfectly legal and constitutional. The truth is that their purpose is not fairer maps. Their purpose is maps that favor Democrats.

Governor Evers has repeatedly demonstrated that he lacks the skills, personality, or will to work with the Legislature on important issues. Instead, he seeks to circumvent the Legislature and concentrate power in himself. In doing so, Evers is attempting to circumvent the people’s right to self-governance.

Evers’ latest attempted usurpation

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. It’s about Governor Evers’ ridiculous “People’s” Maps Commission. Here’s a part.

The process of redistricting is inherently political. It could not be anything but political. This is why it is appropriate for the Legislature to do it. That is the forum to which the people elect their representatives to debate political issues and make decisions on the people’s behalf. And the more controversial and heated the topic is, the more important it is to be debated by our representatives in the light of day. Decisions made after heated debates by elected representatives on the floor of the Legislature are far preferable to those made by unelected commissions or judges.

This is why Gov. Tony Evers creation of a socalled “People’s Maps Commission” is so offensive. It is a deliberate attempt by the governor to usurp the will of the people as expressed in their elected legislators. Instead, Evers proposes to appoint a group of commissars who will draw new maps according to the will of one man: Tony Evers. In a representative government, we do not decide big issues with unelected commissions with allegiance to the governor. We decide big issues by debating them in the People’s House – the Legislature.

Forensics analysis: Watch your spending

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. What a debacle.

We have seen this movie before. Filled with wrath and vim, parents and students crowd a school board meeting to bewail budget cuts to their beloved programs. Only this time there was a surprise ending. The budget was never cut, and, if fact, the school district had used discretionary funds to cover overspending. The story is instructive for several reasons.

At the Jan. 6 meeting of the West Bend School Board, students from the high schools’ forensics programs and their parents spoke for 45 minutes about the cuts to the programs that were preventing them from participating in events for the rest of the season. The students were eloquent and passionate, but completely wrong. Superintendent Don Kirkegaard responded at the meeting that there were not any cuts, but would look into what happened. What happened is that the forensics teams massively overspent their budgets the prior year and just assumed that they could do it again.

The two high schools’ budget for forensics is $13,400 plus transportation. Last school year, they actually spent $17,818 — 33% over budget. The high schools had a little surplus last year, so they covered the overage with the surplus. This year, the forensics teams kept spending at the same rate. Half way through the year, they are running out of money, but there isn’t a surplus this time to cover the overspending. The fact that the teams cannot overspend the budget by more than 30% the second year in a row is why the students and parents rose in anger at “budget cuts.”

This was a magnificent learning opportunity for the students. Faced with less money than they want to finish their season, their teachers and parents could have taught them about living in a budget, fiscal stewardship, dispute resolution, how local government works, overcoming obstacles, and the consequences of choices. Instead, these kids were fed a lie about “budget cuts” and pushed into the public square to advocate for more spending. Armed with sympathetic appeals for the arts and indignant admonitions, the kids were used as activist props by adults who were supposed to teach them.

Somebody told the kids that the budget was cut when, in fact, it was being blown by the people in charge of it. Were the adults intentionally misleading the kids or were the adults ignorant of the truth? Either way, the adults in these kids’ lives perpetrated a grave disservice on them.

There is also the issue of the fiscal controls and financial decisions being made in the school district. The two forensics teams overspent their collective budget by 33% last year and are already running out of money this year. That does not happen by accident. It is a choice. Last year, the high school principals decided to cover the overage with some other pile of money. This year, Kirkegaard has said that “for the 2019-2020 school year, we are going to amend the budget to reflect 2018-2019 expenses.” In short, there will be no accountability for the people overspending their budgets by over 30%. Instead, their overages are covered and the administration will just amend the budget to match expenses. It is no wonder that the adults did not take this opportunity to teach the kids about budgeting and fiscal responsibility. They are incapable of it themselves.

Finally, at the Jan. 6, School Board meeting, board member Nancy Justman beclowned herself in response to the hullabaloo. Instead of getting the facts and representing the interests of the all district stakeholders, Justman took the students’ characterization of the issue that there was a “budget cut” at face value and immediately took up their cause. Justman harangued the superintendent to bring her details of the budget (Hint: School Board members decide on the budget), demanded that the administration find the money somewhere, and called it “shameful, very shameful” that the students were being told that they would not be able to take a trip. Justman behaved like an aggrieved PTO parent instead of an elected school board member charged with serving the whole community’s interests.

In the wider perspective of the school district’s $70 million annual budget, this is a minuscule expense and small problem. It could have been easily fixed by good fiscal management and a few reasonable choices. Instead, the way in which it was bungled and manipulated from the School Board to the parents indicates a deeper, systemic dysfunction at work.

Forensics analysis: Watch your spending

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print today. I take a look back at the kerfuffle over “budget cuts” at the West Bend School District. Here’s a taste, but go buy a copy for yourself:

At the Jan. 6 meeting of the West Bend School Board, students from the high schools’ forensics programs and their parents spoke for 45 minutes about the cuts to the programs that were preventing them from participating in events for the rest of the season. The students were eloquent and passionate, but completely wrong. Superintendent Don Kirkegaard responded at the meeting that there were not any cuts, but would look into what happened. What happened is that the forensics teams massively overspent their budgets the prior year and just assumed that they could do it again.

The two high schools’ budget for forensics is $13,400 plus transportation. Last school year, they actually spent $17,818 — 33% over budget. The high schools had a little surplus last year, so they covered the overage with the surplus. This year, the forensics teams kept spending at the same rate. Half way through the year, they are running out of money, but there isn’t a surplus this time to cover the overspending. The fact that the teams cannot overspend the budget by more than 30% the second year in a row is why the students and parents rose in anger at “budget cuts.”

This was a magnificent learning opportunity for the students. Faced with less money than they want to finish their season, their teachers and parents could have taught them about living in a budget, fiscal stewardship, dispute resolution, how local government works, overcoming obstacles, and the consequences of choices. Instead, these kids were fed a lie about “budget cuts” and pushed into the public square to advocate for more spending. Armed with sympathetic appeals for the arts and indignant admonitions, the kids were used as activist props by adults who were supposed to teach them.

Somebody told the kids that the budget was cut when, in fact, it was being blown by the people in charge of it. Were the adults intentionally misleading the kids or were the adults ignorant of the truth? Either way, the adults in these kids’ lives perpetrated a grave disservice on them.

Changes coming in 2020

Here is my full column that I wrote for the Washington County Daily News this week.

2020 will prove to be an eventful year. Much of the year will be consumed with Americans choosing a president. The United Kingdom will finally leave the European Union after the people were compelled to return to the voting booth to reassert their will. The Middle East will continue to roil with unpredictable consequences. While world and national events are important, the changes happening in our state and local communities also have a big impact on our lives. Here are a few changes that will happen in my local jurisdictions and some results that I would like to see.

The city of West Bend will get a new mayor. Late last year, Mayor Sadownikow stepped down to avoid a conflict of interest with his business, but he had already signaled that he would not run for re-election. Under Sadownikow’s leadership, West Bend enjoyed years of solid conservative fiscal management. Taxes were kept flat. The city greatly reduced its debt. The mayor helped negotiate labor contracts to protect the city’s taxpayers from future unfunded liabilities. Economic development thrived and city services improved. It was a good run.

The new mayor of West Bend should learn from Sadownikow’s example and continue that trajectory. This will be no small task. Immediately after Sadownikow stepped aside, the Common Council voted to raise property taxes and the city Water Utility passed a substantial rate increase. Sadownikow’s absence was immediately felt and the liberal tax increasers got their way. The new mayor will need to use all of his or her wiles to thwart the efforts of the newly insurgent liberals on the council.

Washington County will also get its first county executive after voting to restructure county government. As the first county executive of Washington County, he or she will have the opportunity to set precedents and a tone for the future. The new executive should collaborate with the county’s municipalities to tell the world that our county is “Open for Business,” to steal a phrase from former Gov. Scott Walker. There is an economic boom happening in our state and nation and Washington County has a lot to offer businesses that move and grow here.

The West Bend School District is also facing a year of change. The steady decline in enrollment that has been happening for years has accelerated and shows no sign of slowing. Meanwhile, the school district is saddled with heavy infrastructure and labor costs that are increasingly unaffordable. With big challenges come big opportunities to make bold changes. Act 10 gives the School Board vast discretion to rebuild the school district on conservative principles of educational excellence, fiscal restraint, and forward- looking innovation. As the Private Task Force demonstrated, this can be done while reducing spending and taxes. The citizens of the West Bend School District deserve nothing less.

For the first time in a couple of generations, the good folks in the 5th Congressional District will have a new representative in Washington. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner is serving his final year in office. He has been a conservative lion in the House of Representatives and helped cultivate and lead a generation of conservative leaders throughout the state. While Sensenbrenner’s successor will undoubtedly assume office with a different style and priority, the people of the 5th have earned the right to be represented by someone who will continue to champion conservatism in the House.

Finally, the board is set for 2020 in the state of Wisconsin. The Republicans will almost certainly retain control of the state legislature and Gov. Tony Evers will remain a devoted liberal Democrat. For conservative Wisconsinites, it is unrealistic to expect the continuation of the conservative renaissance that we have enjoyed for the previous decade, but they can expect that Republicans in the Legislature hold on to the gains. Wisconsin is enjoying the fruits of conservative leadership with a booming economy, stable budgets, rising wages, high employment, protections for our rights to freely associate and bear arms, and so much more. Hopefully 2020 will end without Wisconsin regressing.

By the time 2021 dawns, the landscape will look very different around here. We have work to do to make sure we will like what we see.