Boots & Sabers

The blogging will continue until morale improves...

Tag: Column

Where are the vaccines?

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. It’s not often that I find myself on the same side as the editorial board for the Madison paper. Here’s s snippet:

After Governor Tony Evers failed the unemployed of Wisconsin with his inept management of unemployment claims, he is compounding Wisconsin’s misery with his failure to administer the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. What is more infuriating is that when questioned about it, Evers blusters and obfuscates with all the indignation of a career bureaucrat unacquainted with accountability.

 

[…]

 

Last week, Governor Evers admitted that his administration would be unable to begin inoculating the general public until June – over five months from now. It is a disgraceful admission of failure given with the banality of an indifferent government bureaucrat.

 

[…]

 

This subcommittee still needs to finalize Phase 1B before moving on to Phase 1C, Phase 2, etc. These are decisions that could be made in an afternoon. While Wisconsinites are suffering and being told that there is a medical crisis, Evers’ bureaucracy moves at its own pace – oblivious to the travails of the citizens it serves.

 

[…]

 

When confronted for his administration’s failures, Evers blames the federal government for not giving the state enough doses (despite having administered less than half of the doses available); blames Republicans; makes vigorous, if unsubstantiated, proclamations about the competence of his government; and refuses to accept any responsibility for his administration’s failures. However, despite his accusations and deflections, the simple truth is that Evers has failed to administer the doses Wisconsin has already been given.

 

Evers’ administration of the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has been too slow, too bureaucratic, and too lazy. While Wisconsinites are being asked to forgo their livelihoods, upend their lives, and accept a retardation of civil rights in response to a pandemic, Governor Evers and his administration are behaving like it is just a another day at the office.

 

Assembly returns to work in person

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. It begs the question: when will any of us go back to a relative normal? Here’s a part:

For those who decry the decline of consensus and collaboration in our elected bodies, making them virtual will only make it worse. Consider the people debating politics on social media as they retreat into their information silos and ideological fortresses and imagine them writing legislation that will govern your life. The results would be predictably bad. Some things just have to be done in person.

 

Furthermore, let us not pretend that any but the tiniest minority of our representatives are actually isolating at home. While the Democrats insist on doing their jobs virtually, most of them are continuing to go shopping, eat at restaurants, meet with friends and colleagues, spend time with their extended families, work in their businesses, and generally go about living their lives. They might be wearing masks and keeping their distance, but they are going about their lives like millions of other Wisconsinites. Their insistence on doing their jobs as elected representatives virtually is conveniently selective.

 

In his letter imploring Speaker Vos to keep the Assembly virtual, Assembly Democratic Leader Gordon Hintz conveniently neglects to provide any standard by which he and his colleagues would willingly attend in person. Presumably, the Democrats want to do their jobs virtually in perpetuity — or at least until they no longer need to posture that COVID19 is more dangerous than it is.

Evers fights for more government with COVID-19 bill

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News this week. Thankfully, this bill is still dead.

Gov. Tony Evers is urging the Republican leadership of the Legislature to pass his self-styled “compromise” bill addressing the ongoing health concern precipitated by COVID-19. Setting aside, for a moment, that Evers’ bill is not a compromise (hint: compromise bills are rarely announced by only one side) and that Evers has actually taken the Legislature to court over the legality of bills passed in a so-called “lame duck” session, let us examine the priorities of the governor during the ongoing health concern.

 

Evers’ bill consists of 17 provisions. Seven of the provisions are designed to expand government and/or reduce the government’s accountability to the people. Eight of them would make waste, corruption, and graft easier with taxpayer money. And two of them are regulatory overreaches that will wreak havoc on citizens and the economy.

 

Given Evers’ background as an educrat, it is not surprising that his bill begins with the absolution of the government education establishment from the strictures of accountability. Under his bill, government schools would not be required to administer pupil assessments and the State Department of Public Instruction would not be required to publish the annual school and school district accountability report for the 2020-2021 school year. Evers seeks to remove any evidence of just how much government education failed the children of Wisconsin this school year.

 

Ominously, Evers seeks to allow any state entity to waive in-person requirements until June 30, 2021, “if enforcing the requirement would increase the public health risk.” You will take note of the fact that no objective standard is given for what constitutes an increase to the public health risk. While this may impact things like court proceedings, Evers’ likely target it to waive in-person requirements to obtain official state photo identification and the spring elections. With this provision in law, Evers could provide a massive gateway for illegal aliens to obtain official photo identification and force the upcoming elections to be conducted 100% by mail.

 

The bill also seeks to funnel unemployment insurance payments into the hands of people who do not need it. It would permanently allow people who are receiving federal Social Security disability payments to also receive unemployment payments. Under current law, someone who is receiving money because they cannot work due to a disability is not eligible for unemployment payments because they are already being compensated for not working. The bill would also completely waive the requirement to seek work in order to receive unemployment payments until July 3, 2021. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is at 5% and employers are again struggling to find workers. Anyone who is able and willing to work can find a job. Evers should focus his attention on fixing the unemployment payment backlog that his administration has allowed to languish for the previous nine months.

 

Evers is also sure to take care of the state bureaucracy. His “COVID relief” bill would allow state government employees to take their annual leave even if they have not completed the required six-month probationary period. Evers would lavish additional funding on the Department of Health Services and the Department of Administration while expanding their powers. The DOA would be given arbitrary discretion to shift money around to fund unemployment payments and DHS would be given a grand mandate to operate COVID testing and treatment facilities in perpetuity. The Department of Revenue gets a nod too with the arbitrary discretion to distribute grants to small businesses. The arbitrary discretion of any government official is an invitation for corruption.

 

Most shockingly, Evers would completely prohibit any foreclosures or evictions until July 1, 2021. He would do so without providing any relief for the thousands of property owners, big and small, who would be forced to completely pay for the housing for people unable, or unwilling, to pay their mortgage or rent. Should this provision go into effect, it will force a wave of bankruptcies for small- and medium property owners and force the prices up for people who do pay their bills. While one might be willing to grant Governor Evers credit for trying to stick up for struggling families, this measure is so breathtakingly stupid and destructive that no such credit can be issued.

 

Governor Evers’ bill is a mishmash of bad ideas interspersed with measures clearly designed to unshackle the state bureaucracy. Its only redeeming quality is that it will never pass. True to his character, Governor Evers announced this bill after a series of insincere discussions with the legislative leadership designed to give him the cover of having negotiated something. He did so while giving the Legislature a ridiculous deadline of less than two weeks during the holiday season to pass it. Thankfully, the legislative leadership has signaled that they will not be bullied by a duplicitous governor offering nothing but a list of destructive decrees.

 

The fact that Governor Evers is devoid of good ideas does not release the legislative Republicans from their duty to convene and pass meaningful legislation to help Wisconsinites who continue to feel the impact of COVID-19 and our government overreaction to it. They should start with universal school choice to allow families to escape government schools that failed so badly during this time, liability protections for employers, and prohibit state taxpayers from paying to bail out local governments that enforced more restrictive COVID-19 measures that crippled their own local economies.

Evers fights for more government with COVID-19 bill

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I dig into Evers’ COVID bill a little. Here’s a part:

Gov. Tony Evers is urging the Republican leadership of the Legislature to pass his self-styled “compromise” bill addressing the ongoing health concern precipitated by COVID-19. Setting aside, for a moment, that Evers’ bill is not a compromise (hint: compromise bills are rarely announced by only one side) and that Evers has actually taken the Legislature to court over the legality of bills passed in a socalled “lame duck” session, let us examine the priorities of the governor during the ongoing health concern.

 

Evers’ bill consists of 17 provisions. Seven of the provisions are designed to expand government and/or reduce the government’s accountability to the people. Eight of them would make waste, corruption, and graft easier with taxpayer money. And two of them are regulatory overreaches that will wreak havoc on citizens and the economy.

Merry Christmas 2020

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

For many people, the year 2020 has been a year of discovery, rediscovery, and reprioritization. The world shuddered and shook loose some of the scales that obscured the truth. As the year comes to an end and Christians gather to celebrate the birth of our savior, we are again reminded of what is really important.

 

Driven by our innate human enthusiasm for celebrations, Christmas has been ornamented with traditions and tinsel that sometimes obscure the meaning behind the day. All of the presents, cookies, trees, and gatherings are to honor an extraordinary event: the birth of Jesus Christ.

 

Christmas is a time of joy, but shaded with guilt, for from the manger, we can see the cross. Jesus came into our ghastly world for the singular purpose of being brutally killed to atone for the sins of humankind — including my sins. It is sometimes difficult to take joy in the beginning of a story when you know how devastating the end is.

 

But that isn’t the end of the story. Jesus rose in glory from the dead and waits in splendor to welcome us into our eternity. Because he rose, so shall we. From that, Christians take joy and meaning for our lives. This mortal life we lead is a transient prelude to a story whose end is not ours to write.

 

As we celebrate Christmas by giving gifts to each other, it is really a celebration of the gift that Jesus gave to us. Without the baby, we would not have the man. Without the man, we would not have our salvation. For that, Christians are forever thankful.

 

It is with this knowledge of our salvation that Christians walk through this mortal life with earnestness, confidence, joy, and love. Earnestness to do the most good with the gifts God gave us in the short time we have. Confidence in our destination. Joy in our purpose. Love for our fellow humans. It is with this in our hearts that I hope we will approach the issues that we will face together in 2021 and the years left to each of us.

 

Earnestness to work hard to leave the world a better place than we found it. While it might be easier to leave the hard things to those who will follow, that would be to shirk our duty and waste the time and gifts granted to us. Let us move forward with the drive of a people who know that our duty cannot be delegated.

 

Confidence to act without fear because our salvation and our eternity have already been won. Because of this, we need not fear condemnation, retribution, ridicule, or the tools of malice wielded by dark hearts in this world, because those implements are blunted by the weight of the eons to come. We can act with the confidence that doing what is right is an act of gratitude for a reward that has already been given.

 

Joy is the sinew that binds the muscle of action to the solid bones of faith. Action without faith is aimless. Faith without action withers into dust. But connected by joy, the body comes alive. Joy makes everything possible.

 

Love is the birthright of humankind. It is our “why” and our “why not?” We do not love one another because we necessarily like one another. We love one another because Christ loves us even when we don’t love him … or ourselves. When we love one another despite our natural inclinations otherwise, it is like the pale moon reflecting the brilliant sun of God’s love for us. The moon will not bring you warmth, but it will move the oceans.

 

As Christians around the world celebrate the birth of the Christ child, let us carry his love for us in our hearts that day and every day after.

Merry Christmas 2020

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. It is a departure from my usual fare. Here’s a part:

Christmas is a time of joy, but shaded with guilt, for from the manger, we can see the cross. Jesus came into our ghastly world for the singular purpose of being brutally killed to atone for the sins of humankind — including my sins. It is sometimes difficult to take joy in the beginning of a story when you know how devastating the end is. But that isn’t the end of the story. Jesus rose in glory from the dead and waits in splendor to welcome us into our eternity. Because he rose, so shall we. From that, Christians take joy and meaning for our lives. This mortal life we lead is a transient prelude to a story whose end is not ours to write.

As we celebrate Christmas by giving gifts to each other, it is really a celebration of the gift that Jesus gave to us. Without the baby, we would not have the man. Without the man, we would not have our salvation. For that, Christians are forever thankful.

It is with this knowledge of our salvation that Christians walk through this mortal life with earnestness, confidence, joy, and love. Earnestness to do the most good with the gifts God gave us in the short time we have. Confidence in our destination. Joy in our purpose. Love for our fellow humans. It is with this in our hearts that I hope we will approach the issues that we will face together in 2021 and the years left to each of us.

Make Wisconsin a destination state

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

Elon Musk made big headlines when he announced that he would move Tesla’s headquarters from California to Texas, but he is actually a bit late to the trend. Over the past decade, over 10,000 companies have fled California for other states with Texas being the number one destination. Joining Tesla in just the last month, tech giants Oracle and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have announced that they are moving their headquarters to Texas. There is no reason why Wisconsin could not also be a destination state for businesses. It is a policy choice, and it will take some hard work.

Musk’s comments about his decision were as flamboyant as ever. Calling California “fascist” and “entitled,” he made his announcement with his customary flourish. But underneath the bombast is a calculated business decision to operate in a state that is a better climate for the business and his employees. It is the same business decision being made by thousands of companies.

The effects of coronavirus are enabling and accelerating the movement. When the pandemic forced employees to work from home, many companies and employees found that it worked well for both. Remote working is particularly sustainable in industries like technology and financial services. With employees able to work from anywhere, one of the challenges to moving a headquarters is removed. It is much easier for a business to launch into another state when they do not need to overcome the gravitational pull generated by employee density.

As companies are liberated from needing to worry as much about where employees live, they are free to look to locate in states that offer a better climate for the business and the top leadership. Texas is a destination because of the policy choices made by state leaders for decades. Texas has no personal income tax, no corporate income tax, a lower cost of living, a businessfriendly regulatory climate, world-class universities, and a vibrant, diverse place to live. There is no reason that Wisconsin could not become the Texas of the 2030s, but we will have to start making changes now.

Governor Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature made Wisconsin significantly more attractive to businesses in the last decade. They did so by reducing the regulatory burden and slightly controlling taxes. They did not make the big systemic changes or spending cuts that will be needed to make Wisconsin a prime destination state. In order to become a business magnet, lawmakers will need to lower the cost of living and doing business by do things like eliminating the personal income tax, reducing or eliminating the corporate income tax, lowering fees and taxes across the board, and reducing the regulatory burden.

For comparison, the state of Texas spends about $4,361 per person. The state of Wisconsin spends about $8,785 per person. Local spending is a little closer, but Wisconsin still spends more. Texas spends $5,663 per person while Wisconsin spends $6,169 per person. All told, Wisconsin state and local governments spend $4,930 more per year per person than Texas. That is $19,720 per year in additional taxing and spending for a family of four. Wisconsin cannot reduce the cost of government and, subsequently, the cost of living if it does not reduce government spending.

One wonders where all of that spending is going. Both states have world-class public universities, but Texas state taxpayers spend less than 50% per capita on them. Both states have a good transportation infrastructure, but Wisconsin state taxpayers spend 13.8% more per capita. Wisconsin is spending almost 28% more on K-12 education for marginally better results, but the student demographics are drastically different.

Generally, as one goes through the state budget, Wisconsin spends much more on almost everything than other states. It is difficult to see any additional value for all of that additional spending. “Value” should be the word that dominates the upcoming state budget debate. If taxpayers are going to spend 10%, 25%, or 50% more on something than other states, then state politicians should be able to articulate how taxpayers are getting 10%, 25%, or 50% more value for the dollars spent. If they can’t, then the spending is just being wasted.

The upcoming budget session is another opportunity for Wisconsin policy-makers to make the choices that will determine if Wisconsin will ever be a destination state for businesses and workers. If they choose to keep increasing spending because it is the path of least resistance, then businesses and people will continue to relocate into other states and Wisconsin will miss this historic opportunity when businesses are going to be moving more than ever.

Make Wisconsin a destination state

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I continue to charge the windmill of Wisconsin government’s spending problem. Here’s a part:

Wisconsin cannot reduce the cost of government and, subsequently, the cost of living if it does not reduce government spending.

One wonders where all of that spending is going. Both states have world-class public universities, but Texas state taxpayers spend less than 50% per capita on them. Both states have a good transportation infrastructure, but Wisconsin state taxpayers spend 13.8% more per capita. Wisconsin is spending almost 28% more on K-12 education for marginally better results, but the student demographics are drastically different.

Generally, as one goes through the state budget, Wisconsin spends much more on almost everything than other states. It is difficult to see any additional value for all of that additional spending. “Value” should be the word that dominates the upcoming state budget debate. If taxpayers are going to spend 10%, 25%, or 50% more on something than other states, then state politicians should be able to articulate how taxpayers are getting 10%, 25%, or 50% more value for the dollars spent. If they can’t, then the spending is just being wasted.

The upcoming budget session is another opportunity for Wisconsin policy-makers to make the choices that will determine if Wisconsin will ever be a destination state for businesses and workers. If they choose to keep increasing spending because it is the path of least resistance, then businesses and people will continue to relocate into other states and Wisconsin will miss this historic opportunity when businesses are going to be moving more than ever.

Liberty trumps longevity

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

I have been operating under the assumption that the COVID-19 pandemic would end the same way every other viral pandemic ends: virtually everyone will catch it or be vaccinated for it. My number came up a few weeks ago as I was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have opposed using the violent, coercive power of government to impose lockdowns, restrictions, mask orders, and the like. Using the blunt instrument of government to fight a natural phenomenon is anti-liberty and results in countless negative consequences that we are just beginning to understand. Our government is useful to pool resources and provide information, but individual citizens retain the right and responsibility to live their lives according their own values and risk assessments.

Even though I oppose tyrannical government decrees, I do understand the science of viral infections. I did not want to get sick and I did not want to get other people sick. Like many Americans, I have spent months wearing a mask when out in public, obsessively washing hands, sanitizing surfaces, avoiding close contact with people (something that goes well with my misanthropic tendencies), and staying close to home.

At the same time, I am not going to give up months and years of living for the miniscule risk of death from COVID19. I took reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of disease, but I did not live like a recluse. I supported local restaurants and stores, fetched groceries, attended to my routine health care needs, enjoyed the parks, cheered on my teams, worked, played, and went about living my life.

In the end, they call it “inevitable” for a reason. Despite taking CDC-recommended precautions, I caught COVID-19. I don’t know where it came from. I did not knowingly come into contact with anyone else who had it. Likely, I caught it in passing from someone at a grocery store or restaurant who may not have known that they had it.

The first indication was a scratchy cough on a Friday in November. Saturday and Sunday were pretty crummy. I experienced varying degrees of fatigue, aching joints, coughing, headache, and general symptoms between a bad cold and a mild flu. By Monday I was feeling better but decided to get tested for COVID-19. By Thursday, I was almost completely better, and my test came back positive. Per CDC guidelines, I isolated for another 10 days, spent some time on the phone with a contact tracer (she was delightful), and now I am back to normal, except now I have a super-charged COVID-19-killing immune system.

COVID-19 is a nasty disease that is severe or deadly for some people. We need to be careful about spreading it — particularly to people in higher risk categories. But for every story you read about someone who was severely ill or died from COVID-19, there are more than 40 people whose story is more like mine. It was a rough few days and I am fine. That does not include all of the people who have had COVID-19 and did not get tested or never had any symptoms.

The point of the story is not that COVID-19 isn’t serious. It is very serious for a small percentage of people. For most people, however, the risk is a few days of unpleasantness. For most people, a few days of unpleasantness is not worth throwing away our livelihoods, our children’s education, our mental health, our life’s savings, our liberty, or our enjoyment of life. For most people, we have already sacrificed too much of life for so small a risk of death.

Fear is a powerful emotion. Fear is also the emotion most often used to subjugate people. Fear of war. Fear of enemies. Fear of natural disasters. Fear of global warming. Fear of disease. All of these fears have been, and are, used to convince free people to accept more regulation, more restrictions, more government, and less freedom. “It is for your own good,” they coax in soothing tones. “Think of grandma,” they say to stoke your familial loyalties. “You don’t want to get the dreaded virus,” they warn as if the politician has exclusive magic to protect you from disease. Meanwhile, they strip away one more liberty and stick their hand further in your pocket.

Hearing a politician say, “trust me, I am here to help” should make every freedom-loving American’s hair stand on end. Living longer is less important than living free. In the case of COVID-19, we must each evaluate the risk according to our individual characteristics and tolerance for risk, but not impose our choices on our neighbors through the police power of government.

 

Liberty trumps longevity

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Yep… I got the ‘Rona. Here’s a part of my story:

COVID-19 is a nasty disease that is severe or deadly for some people. We need to be careful about spreading it — particularly to people in higher risk categories. But for every story you read about someone who was severely ill or died from COVID-19, there are more than 40 people whose story is more like mine. It was a rough few days and I am fine. That does not include all of the people who have had COVID-19 and did not get tested or never had any symptoms.

The point of the story is not that COVID-19 isn’t serious. It is very serious for a small percentage of people. For most people, however, the risk is a few days of unpleasantness. For most people, a few days of unpleasantness is not worth throwing away our livelihoods, our children’s education, our mental health, our life’s savings, our liberty, or our enjoyment of life. For most people, we have already sacrificed too much of life for so small a risk of death.

Fear is a powerful emotion. Fear is also the emotion most often used to subjugate people. Fear of war. Fear of enemies. Fear of natural disasters. Fear of global warming. Fear of disease. All of these fears have been, and are, used to convince free people to accept more regulation, more restrictions, more government, and less freedom. “It is for your own good,” they coax in soothing tones. “Think of grandma,” they say to stoke your familial loyalties. “You don’t want to get the dreaded virus,” they warn as if the politician has exclusive magic to protect you from disease. Meanwhile, they strip away one more liberty and stick their hand further in your pocket.

2020 election paves road for Wisconsin’s next Republican governor

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

The recounts in Wisconsin have wrapped up and, pending ongoing legal action, the election results will likely be certified soon confirming that Joe Biden has won the state by about 20,000 votes or 0.4% of the voters. The results tell us a lot about the current makeup of the Wisconsin electorate and what the Republicans will need to do to win the governorship in 2022.

The biggest message of the 2020 election is that the Wisconsin electorate is almost perfectly evenly divided. In 2016, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by about 23,000 votes. In 2020, with about 200,000 more ballots cast, Biden defeated Trump by about 20,000 votes. At the top of the ballot, the state is evenly split.

The state legislative results were less evenly split. The Republicans lost a couple of seats in the state Assembly, but still retain a substantial majority. The Republicans actually gained a couple of seats in the state Senate to give them their largest majority in that house in more than thirty years.

While Democrats will bemoan gerrymandering, those kinds of legislative majorities cannot be drawn by wily cartographers. Those majorities are a reflection of the fact that liberal Democrats have heavily segregated themselves into a few areas of the state and have become far more liberal. In doing so, the Democrats have moved away from middle-class and working- class Wisconsin and become the party of socialists, activists, and white-collar chauvinists who can afford to indulge bad ideas.

The 2020 election also showed that Republicans have made gains in most of the state. Trump increased his margins in the Fox Valley, central Wisconsin, northern Wisconsin, east-central Wisconsin, and in the rapidly growing Racine and Kenosha counties. The Democrats churned out huge vote totals in Dane and Milwaukee counties to win the state for Biden, but lost ground in almost every other area of the state.

In order to win in 2022, the Republican candidate for governor will need to appeal to those same Trump voters with the kitchen table issues that matter. First, a strong economy is good for all Wisconsinites and a strong economy is a diverse economy. Republicans must focus on championing the industries that matter to people who do not live in Madison and who do not have a college degree. Manufacturing, tourism, hospitality, construction, mining, milling, etc. are businesses that have provided family-supporting livelihoods for generations of Wisconsinites.

In particular, Governor Evers has spent the better part of a year ignoring the plight of small businesses with his dictatorial orders. Republicans must fight for the tavern owner in Fifield and the ski hill operator in Wild Rose. Fighting for them does not mean offering them a handout. It means getting government out of the way so that they can make a living.

Many Wisconsinites have seen the indifference of government throughout the ’Rona Recession. While government forced businesses to close and people out of work, many government employees continued to receive their full pay while not having to work. Schools closed, but teachers were paid. University of Wisconsin campuses sent kids home but kept the tuition and housing fees. Wisconsinites do not want to see their fellow citizens suffer, but they do want to see the suffering shared equally by government.

Republicans must work to make government accountable to the people it serves. Many of the people who voted for Trump did so because they felt that their government no longer served them. Republicans must champion government service in the humblest sense of the phrase. Republicans must champion a government that works for the people.

Specifically, too many of the public schools in Wisconsin have shown that their priority is not serving the kids or the community. Their priority is serving the employees and unions. Against the best scientific guidance, too many public schools have whipsawed between models and left parents struggling to educate their own kids while juggling their jobs. Too many public schools have made it clear that education is not really that important and that when there is a health concern, every kid can be left behind.

Republicans should focus on providing educational choices for families when their public school abandons its obligations. School choice, charter schools, virtual academies, homeschool support, etc. are all viable options for families that deserve public funding. Billions of dollars for education. Not one cent for empty schools.

Wisconsinites deserve a pragmatic, frugal, hardworking governor who works for the issues that impact their daily lives. Most Wisconsinites just want to earn a living, provide their kids a good education, enjoy a good fish fry, root for the Packers, and be left alone. The next Republican governor must work for them.

2020 election paves road for Wisconsin’s next Republican governor

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a taste:

The state legislative results were less evenly split. The Republicans lost a couple of seats in the state Assembly, but still retain a substantial majority. The Republicans actually gained a couple of seats in the state Senate to give them their largest majority in that house in more than thirty years.

While Democrats will bemoan gerrymandering, those kinds of legislative majorities cannot be drawn by wily cartographers. Those majorities are a reflection of the fact that liberal Democrats have heavily segregated themselves into a few areas of the state and have become far more liberal. In doing so, the Democrats have moved away from middle-class and working- class Wisconsin and become the party of socialists, activists, and white-collar chauvinists who can afford to indulge bad ideas.

The 2020 election also showed that Republicans have made gains in most of the state. Trump increased his margins in the Fox Valley, central Wisconsin, northern Wisconsin, east-central Wisconsin, and in the rapidly growing Racine and Kenosha counties. The Democrats churned out huge vote totals in Dane and Milwaukee counties to win the state for Biden, but lost ground in almost every other area of the state.

In order to win in 2022, the Republican candidate for governor will need to appeal to those same Trump voters with the kitchen table issues that matter. First, a strong economy is good for all Wisconsinites and a strong economy is a diverse economy. Republicans must focus on championing the industries that matter to people who do not live in Madison and who do not have a college degree. Manufacturing, tourism, hospitality, construction, mining, milling, etc. are businesses that have provided family-supporting livelihoods for generations of Wisconsinites.

In particular, Governor Evers has spent the better part of a year ignoring the plight of small businesses with his dictatorial orders. Republicans must fight for the tavern owner in Fifield and the ski hill operator in Wild Rose. Fighting for them does not mean offering them a handout. It means getting government out of the way so that they can make a living.

Integrity isn’t convenient

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

Once again, a sizable percentage of the people are going to spend the next four years disbelieving the results of a presidential election. With an electorate divided so evenly that elections are decided by just a few thousand votes, even the appearance of impropriety sows doubt and undermines the stability of our republic. We must reform our election process to rebuild the confidence of the electorate that the results — whatever they may be — are an accurate reflection of the will of the people.

America’s voting laws have been continuously changed throughout our history and every state conducts its elections a little differently. The twin objectives of our electoral process are to make it as easy as possible for as many citizens as possible to vote while also ensuring the integrity of the process. The former objective is to encourage a large enough turnout of voters to capture the will of the majority. The latter objective is to ensure that that will is accurately recorded.

As we have leaned our electoral system in favor of convenience to encourage turnout, we have opened it to fraud and the appearance of fraud. When election results are overwhelming, a little fraud does not threaten the result. When elections are decided on the knife’s edge, a little fraud undermines our system of government. In a system of government that relies on the losers willingly accepting the rule of the winners, legitimacy is based on the people’s faith in the outcome.

While still encouraging as many citizens who want to vote to vote, Wisconsin should once again lead the nation in electoral reform by creating a system that is the pride of democracy.

First, mail-in voting should be restricted to people who must have them. Overseas soldiers, ex-pats, and home or institutionbound people need a way to securely exercise their franchise. For most of the people who voted by mail this past election, it was simply a convenience. The problem with mail-in ballots is that they are inherently insecure. They pass through too many hands and are susceptible to fraud or being lost (intentionally or not). Greatly restricting the use of mail-in ballots to the people who really need them will reduce actual and assumed fraud.

Second, Wisconsin must insist on paper ballots in all jurisdictions and secure all of them for a reasonable time after every election. Electronic systems are convenient for clerks, but they leave no paper record of a vote in the event of a challenge or discrepancy. The beauty of paper ballots is that if there is a problem, authorities can always pull out the actual ballots and count them by hand.

In conjunction with the paper ballots, no counting machine should ever be networked to anything. Ever. Anything that touches a network is subject to widescale hacking. Simple, standalone counting machines may be inconvenient, but it is impossible to tinker with them on a large scale without a widespread conspiracy with people touching every machine. Such widespread conspiracies are improbable and unlikely to go unnoticed.

Third, local districts must purge the voter rolls on a more frequent basis. Having our voting rolls cluttered with the names of people who are dead or have moved is a ripe field for fraud. The simplest way to keep the rolls more hygienic would be to purge names of people who have been identified as having moved and those who have not voted in two election cycles. Given that Wisconsinites can register again on Election Day if they find their names removed, it is a minor inconvenience for a handful of voters for the sake of electoral security.

Fourth, all of the counting and recounting should be live-streamed and recorded. Nothing pushes away fraud and builds confidence like transparency. Anyone who has seen the incredible detail and angles available to watch a poker game on television knows how easy it would be to show every ballot up close for all the world to see. If there is a legal challenge over the count, the archived video would be easily accessible.

All of these measures would help secure our elections and restore the people’s confidence in our elections. They should also be coupled with measures to expand options for voters to cast a secure ballot. For example, the state should expand and fund a uniform in-person early voting period throughout the state.

For our republic to survive, the integrity of our electoral system must be above reproach. It does not matter if 90% of the people allegedly turn out if a large contingent of Americans do not trust the results. A substantial number on the left have never trusted the results of the 2016 presidential election. It appears that a substantial number on the right will never trust the results of the 2020 election. We have to do better for 2024.

Integrity isn’t convenient

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

America’s voting laws have been continuously changed throughout our history and every state conducts its elections a little differently. The twin objectives of our electoral process are to make it as easy as possible for as many citizens as possible to vote while also ensuring the integrity of the process. The former objective is to encourage a large enough turnout of voters to capture the will of the majority. The latter objective is to ensure that that will is accurately recorded.

As we have leaned our electoral system in favor of convenience to encourage turnout, we have opened it to fraud and the appearance of fraud. When election results are overwhelming, a little fraud does not threaten the result. When elections are decided on the knife’s edge, a little fraud undermines our system of government. In a system of government that relies on the losers willingly accepting the rule of the winners, legitimacy is based on the people’s faith in the outcome.

While still encouraging as many citizens who want to vote to vote, Wisconsin should once again lead the nation in electoral reform by creating a system that is the pride of democracy.

 

In Praise of Messy

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

There is a dangerous ethos slipping into our national psyche that has the power to upend our cherished republic. That ethos decrees that objectionable speech should be forbidden. Not challenged with more speech. Not ridiculed. Not debunked. Forbidden. Our nation’s downfall finds root in such concepts.

Our nation is not unaccustomed to robust public debate. Much of our history is the story of vigorous, heated, sometimes violent debates that burned hot in the friction created by the wheels of progress. Some of our national heroes are those who were able to introduce new, sometimes radical, concepts that lubricated the body politic in preparation for action. Such heroes of thought, pen, and voice would struggle in today’s enforced culture of leftist thought hegemony.

Liberty begins with the freedom of thought and the first public manifestation of liberty is the expression of thought. The measure of a free society is how many of those expressions are permitted. How restrictive can a society be before it toggles from a society that is considered free and one that is not?

In a perfectly free society, all expressions would be permitted without government sanction. Almost all nations, even those considered to be ardent adherents to the principle of free speech, criminalize some speech. Direct threats and defamation are almost never allowed, for example, but the bar for restricting speech is very high.

At the other end of the spectrum are those nations that maniacally regulate every utterance and have severe penalties for anyone who dares speak something deemed forbidden by the regime in power. The United States has moved along this scale throughout its history, but we are slipping toward the totalitarian end of that spectrum at an alarming pace.

In the American culture, people like to claim that they support free speech, but are increasingly willing to silence people who express views with which they disagree. Since it goes against the traditional American self-image to silence opposing views, the oppressors among us have taken the convenient moral shortcut of labeling thoughts with which they disagree as X-ist or hateful. Since everyone agrees that it is immoral to be X-ist or hateful, the oppressors can claim that silencing such thoughts, and the expression of them, as not only justified, but a moral imperative.

This is the faux moral high ground that movements like antifa and the leftists who lend them support seek to claim. They stand in righteous judgment of everyone who they deem “fascist” or “hateful” or “bigoted.” Their definitions are fluid, but their fury is constant. And when the silencing of evil foes is a moral imperative, any means of doing so can be justified because it promotes a higher good.

Those means have manifested themselves across America in a hundred different ways. News organizations have spawned “fact checking” squads to seek out opposing thoughts and label them as untrue. These self-anointed arbiters of truth stride forth with the confidence and wisdom of 19-year-olds who are home from their first year of college. In an earlier column, I rang a warning bell about the tech giants who are using their market dominance to regulate which speech is allowed to be heard and which must be quashed into the digital abyss. Some Democrat politicians and leftists are espousing the virtues of blacklists to prevent any Trump supporter from being able to work or hold a position of public influence. In both Wisconsin and in Washington D.C., we saw how elected leaders and bureaucrats weaponized government agencies to silence speech and punish the speakers.

The crushing of American public debate under the pretext of purging it of hate, X-ism, and bigotry is an attack on the freedom of thought and an affront to the ideals upon which our nation was founded. That does not mean that all thoughts are good, helpful, or positive, but the way to eradicate them is not to mute them. The way to eradicate them is to allow the light of truth in the public space to show them for what they are and allow them to retreat to the fringe. Freedom means permitting the expression of all thoughts — not just the ones that are accepted by the current orthodoxy.

Freedom relies on people being able to think, speak, introduce new ideas, resurface old ideas, subject them to the gristmill of public debate, and allow the people a robust discussion of diverse viewpoints from which to formulate a consensus public policy. Many of the ideas espoused by our Founders were considered radical, subversive, and treasonous at the time. That is precisely why our founding documents include a full-throated defense of free speech. They understood that the world would change, and new ideas would emerge. Our nation should not fear those ideas. We should welcome them, debate them, and encourage more. It is messy, but freedom always is.

In praise of messy

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

In the American culture, people like to claim that they support free speech, but are increasingly willing to silence people who express views with which they disagree. Since it goes against the traditional American self-image to silence opposing views, the oppressors among us have taken the convenient moral shortcut of labeling thoughts with which they disagree as X-ist or hateful. Since everyone agrees that it is immoral to be X-ist or hateful, the oppressors can claim that silencing such thoughts, and the expression of them, as not only justified, but a moral imperative.

This is the faux moral high ground that movements like antifa and the leftists who lend them support seek to claim. They stand in righteous judgment of everyone who they deem “fascist” or “hateful” or “bigoted.” Their definitions are fluid, but their fury is constant. And when the silencing of evil foes is a moral imperative, any means of doing so can be justified because it promotes a higher good.

Those means have manifested themselves across America in a hundred different ways. News organizations have spawned “fact checking” squads to seek out opposing thoughts and label them as untrue. These self-anointed arbiters of truth stride forth with the confidence and wisdom of 19-year-olds who are home from their first year of college.

In an earlier column, I rang a warning bell about the tech giants who are using their market dominance to regulate which speech is allowed to be heard and which must be quashed into the digital abyss. Some Democrat politicians and leftists are espousing the virtues of blacklists to prevent any Trump supporter from being able to work or hold a position of public influence. In both Wisconsin and in Washington D.C., we saw how elected leaders and bureaucrats weaponized government agencies to silence speech and punish the speakers.

The crushing of American public debate under the pretext of purging it of hate, X-ism, and bigotry is an attack on the freedom of thought and an affront to the ideals upon which our nation was founded. That does not mean that all thoughts are good, helpful, or positive, but the way to eradicate them is not to mute them. The way to eradicate them is to allow the light of truth in the public space to show them for what they are and allow them to retreat to the fringe. Freedom means permitting the expression of all thoughts — not just the ones that are accepted by the current orthodoxy.

 

 

When nobody was looking, West Bend became liberal

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

While the national political scene continues to dominate our attention, local politicians are making decisions that will more directly impact our everyday lives. In the city of West Bend, the Common Council has taken a lurch to the left and is pushing for the second property tax increase in as many years. What is happening in West Bend is a good case study for how much local leadership matters and how easy it is for the big spenders to seize control when the citizens get lazy.

West Bend has always been a conservative community. Like many smallish conservative cities, the city was run by a close cabal of old-time Benders for a long time. Well-meaning, but without much vision, the city leadership plodded along steadily raising spending, raising taxes, increasing debt, and seemingly intent on just making sure everybody would go along to get along.

Springing out of the national tea party movement, local conservatives began to look seriously at the city’s governance in 2009. Groups like Concerned Citizens of Washington County sprang up with the express purpose of recruiting, encouraging, and supporting conservatives to run for local office.

It worked. Election after election, principled conservatives ran for local office and won. In the city of West Bend, the result was a slate of conservative council members and a conservative mayor who were intent on leading the city in a conservative direction. In 2011 they passed a flat-tax-levy budget and then cut the tax levy by 5% in 2012. For the rest of the decade, conservative leadership meant flat taxes year after year, a dramatic improvement in the city’s debt load, the shedding of unfunded liabilities for retired employees, and frugal spending. Along the way, the city upgraded the riverwalk, made parks selfsustained, expanded the police station and City Hall, and attracted businesses to locate and expand in West Bend.

It was a good run, but it is over now. After a decade of good governance, local conservatives got lazy. They stopped recruiting and supporting new conservatives to run for local office. The big spenders and lefties returned to power as local conservatives twiddled their thumbs and harrumphed at each other.

Over the past several elections, big spenders and lefties ran for, and won, seats on the Common Council. They are in firm control. The new mayor, Chris Jenkins, trumpets his conservatism in public, but has proven too weak to provide firm conservative leadership in the face of opposition.

Last year the Common Council passed a property tax increase even though the city had the money to pay for the entire budget without raising taxes. They passed a tax increase because they wanted to see if the public would scream too loud. Aldermen John Butschlick, Mark Allen, Steve Hoogester, Justice Madl, and Roger Kist voted to increase taxes. Aldermen Andrew Chevalier, Chris Jenkins, and Rich Kasten voted against a tax increase. Since then, all three of the aldermen who voted against the tax increase have left the council and Jenkins was elected mayor.

This year, the council is proposing a 5% tax levy increase that will be used to increase spending and pad employee compensation. Most city employees will receive a pay increase with at least one high-level employee receiving a $12,125, or 11%, raise. Meanwhile, the city in increasing the percentage of premiums that taxpayers cover by about 1%. A city employee will pay 13% of the premium for a family plan under the new budget. The average going rate for Wisconsin private-sector employees is more than twice that.

Just like last year, the city does not need to increase taxes. Thanks to new construction, the city will get a 4% increase in the tax levy without increasing taxes on everyone. Just like last year, the Common Council seems determined to raise taxes anyway. The budget calls for a 5% levy increase. A council dominated by former public employees seems resentful that a year should pass without increasing taxes. It is easier to keep increasing taxes a little every year and finding a place to spend it instead of only asking for a tax increase when they need it.

Alderwoman Meghann Kennedy has been the lone voice for fiscal conservatism on the council as the rest seem intent on passing annual tax increases irrespective of the need or the property owners’ ability to pay. 2020 has been a tough year for many, but that fact seems lost in the halls of city government.

As I write this column, the public hearing for the budget is in the future. As you read this, the hearing is in the past. Irrespective of how the hearing went or how the council votes, the only way to truly return West Bend to conservative fiscal management is to elect the principled conservatives who will lead future councils. The liberals will always fill a leadership vacuum. If conservatives in West Bend want to see conservative leadership, they will need to get off their duffs and put some effort into it. The same is true all over Wisconsin. Leadership starts locally.

When nobody was looking, West Bend became liberal

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Last night’s vote pretty well proves the thesis. Here’s a part:

It was a good run, but it is over now. After a decade of good governance, local conservatives got lazy. They stopped recruiting and supporting new conservatives to run for local office. The big spenders and lefties returned to power as local conservatives twiddled their thumbs and harrumphed at each other.

Over the past several elections, big spenders and lefties ran for, and won, seats on the Common Council. They are in firm control. The new mayor, Chris Jenkins, trumpets his conservatism in public, but has proven too weak to provide firm conservative leadership in the face of opposition.

Last year the Common Council passed a property tax increase even though the city had the money to pay for the entire budget without raising taxes. They passed a tax increase because they wanted to see if the public would scream too loud. Aldermen John Butschlick, Mark Allen, Steve Hoogester, Justice Madl, and Roger Kist voted to increase taxes. Aldermen Andrew Chevalier, Chris Jenkins, and Rich Kasten voted against a tax increase. Since then, all three of the aldermen who voted against the tax increase have left the council and Jenkins was elected mayor.

This year, the council is proposing a 5% tax levy increase that will be used to increase spending and pad employee compensation.

[…]

A council dominated by former public employees seems resentful that a year should pass without increasing taxes. It is easier to keep increasing taxes a little every year and finding a place to spend it instead of only asking for a tax increase when they need it.

Alderwoman Meghann Kennedy has been the lone voice for fiscal conservatism on the council as the rest seem intent on passing annual tax increases irrespective of the need or the property owners’ ability to pay. 2020 has been a tough year for many, but that fact seems lost in the halls of city government.

As I write this column, the public hearing for the budget is in the future. As you read this, the hearing is in the past. Irrespective of how the hearing went or how the council votes, the only way to truly return West Bend to conservative fiscal management is to elect the principled conservatives who will lead future councils. The liberals will always fill a leadership vacuum. If conservatives in West Bend want to see conservative leadership, they will need to get off their duffs and put some effort into it. The same is true all over Wisconsin.

Leadership starts locally.

The campaign is never over

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

Another driver of the growing relevance of politics in our lives is that we have ceded too much power to the political realm. In earlier years, debates over the next Supreme Court justice or which party controlled the U.S. Senate were important, but not imperative. Our far-away federal government made big decisions about big things, but was relegated to a narrow part of our daily lives.

Now we have allowed our federal government into the most intimate corners of our lives. We have allowed politicians and bureaucrats we have never met, who live and work in distant cities to which we have never been, to make the most granular decisions about how we live our lives. They are deciding what kind of cars we can drive, how we see our doctors, how much water our toilets can use, what fuels our lawnmowers can use, what our schools teach our children, what foods we can eat, how we make our neighborhoods safe, and so much more.

Throughout most of our history, these decisions were left to the good sense of individuals and the cooperation between neighbors. Now we task our government to homogenize and codify the most minor of human interactions into law. If it seems that politics are taking a larger role in our lives, it is because we have allowed it. Some have insisted upon it.

 

The elusiveness of legitimacy

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

One of the many strengths that has sustained our great nation through the centuries is the peaceful transition of power. What makes this possible is that the people whose candidate did not win are willing to accept the legitimate governance of the winner and channel their energies into winning the next time. My fervent hope is that this presidential election will continue our nation’s history of peacefully transitioning power irrespective of who wins.

In any civic society, the stability and success of the government requires that the vast majority of the people consider the government to be legitimate, but legitimacy is an elusive concept that is largely in the mind of each citizen. Some argue that democratic governments are inherently legitimate because democracies are designed to enact the will of the majority of the people. Democracy, however, is a method of making decisions. It is not, in and of itself, a basis of legitimacy.

Thomas Jefferson got to the root of it in the Declaration of Independence when he echoed John Locke’s contention that governments are instituted, “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The word “consent” is the basis of legitimacy and can be just as easily given or withdrawn in a democracy as in an autocracy. A relatively free society like ours relies on almost everyone agreeing to abide by the laws enacted by government of their own free will — even when they disagree with the law or the means by which it was enacted. Unlike a totalitarian government, democratic societies purposefully lack the police power to enforce widespread disobedience and face stiff resistance when they try. For order and stability to prevail, almost everyone must generally consent to the laws. They will only do so when they think that the government is legitimate and that there is a general sense that we are all in this together.

There are many things that can rend the sense of legitimacy in a democracy. Marxists rely on dividing people by class and race to delegitimize the government by convincing people that the government is not working for them. Democracies can devolve into mob rule where a substantial minority is subjugated to the majority. Technocracies can develop in democracies where the public will is subverted by unelected experts. Human history is replete with the rise and fall of governments. They always fall when the people no longer think they are legitimate and, therefore, no longer feel a need to obey them.

I began dwelling on legitimacy while enjoying a delicious fish fry at one of Wisconsin’s myriad supper clubs. Like many people, I have accepted that COVID-19 will be with us for the long term and that when I get it, it is exceedingly unlikely that I will suffer long-term effects from it. I am going about living my life with reasonable precautions that I would make to avoid catching any virus. As I have gone to stores and restaurants, it is clear that most Wisconsinites are doing the same thing and are largely ignoring the various orders flowing out of the Madison bureaucracy. While it is good to see free people behaving as such, it is a warning sign that the legitimacy of state government is waning.

When the presidential election is over, either Donald Trump or Joe Biden will be our next president. Many people are questioning the integrity of our election process and casting doubt on the legitimacy of whoever wins. The Marxists who have been burning cities are intentionally working to undermine the legitimacy of our government. They can be isolated for the insurgents they are, but only if the vast majority of the people can accept the election results and our next president as the legitimate president.

My heartfelt hope is that all of the people working in this election do so with the utmost integrity. The American people have a long history of accepting the results of elections even when their side loses. But if the election is fraught with errors, fraud, distrust, allegations, and other malarky, the result will be more and more people refusing to accept our government as legitimate. If even 15% or 20% of the people no longer accept our federal government as the legitimate government of the people, then civic society breaks down and becomes ungovernable. America becomes Portland.

People often suffer from recency bias or historical ignorance when they say things like “this is the most important/ contentious/dishonest presidential election in our history” (I would say it was the 1796/1860/1876 elections, respectively), but every election is an inflection point. History will tell us if this was just another peaceful transition of power or a step in our nation’s decline.

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