Tag Archives: Washington County Daily News

Supreme Power

Here is my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. And now that I’ve ruminated and griped about how much power we have ceded to an unelected branch of government, the realities of today dictate that we must get a good, constructionist jurist in place before the election.

The Supreme Court of the Unites States completed its session with a flurry of mostly good rulings and Justice Anthony Kennedy added an exclamation point by announcing his retirement. With the prospect of President Trump’s second appointment to the court looming, every politician and special interest in America has launched into battle as if the world depended on the outcome.

I can’t help but feel a deep sense of sadness for the state of our republic. It was never supposed to be like this.

Somehow we have drifted from Judge Marshall’s opinion in Marbury v. Madison, “that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void; and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument” to a point where the Supreme Court of the United States is routinely called the “final arbiter of the Constitution” without so much as a second thought. But interpretation and enforcement of the Constitution is not the sole responsibility of the Supreme Court. Even Marshall acknowledged this fact when he includes “other departments” in the quote above. Those “other departments” are the other two branches of government.

The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It supersedes anything generated by any part of the government. This is what Marshall meant when he wrote: “The Constitution is either a superior, paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and, like other acts, is alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it.

If the former part of the alternative be true, then a legislative act contrary to the Constitution is not law: if the latter part be true, then written constitutions are absurd attempts, on the part of the people, to limit a power in its own nature illimitable.”

In other words, a written constitution is meaningless if it is able to be quashed by a simple act of the legislature or by an arbitrary regulation from the executive. It is the responsibility of every branch of the government to maintain the integrity of the Constitution.

It is worth noting that Marshall closed his opinion by pointing out that the oath taken by judges obligates the judges to place the Constitution above other considerations. The oath taken by a judge reads, in part: “I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

This portion of a federal judge’s oath is also included in the oath taken by a soldier, a senator, a congressman and, most notably, a new United States citizen. Just as a new citizen must verbally vow to support and defend the Constitution, each natural- born American citizen implicitly adheres to the same oath as a duty of citizenship. It is every citizen’s duty to support and defend the Constitution.

It must be remembered that the Constitution is a document that restricts what the federal government can do. The federal government is specifically denied the power to do anything outside of the specific powers delegated to it in the Constitution.

Since the Constitution is a shackle for government, why would we make an institution of that government “the final arbiter” of its meaning and extent? That is like letting a child be the final arbiter on how much Halloween candy is permissible to eat in one sitting. Just as that child would end up bloated and sick, so too would a government left to decide its own boundaries.

The current apoplectic fury over the appointment of a single judge of a ninejudge panel of a single branch of our three-branch government is symptomatic of the degeneration of our adherence to our Constitution. As a people, we Americans have ceded the responsibility of binding our government to the tenets of our Constitution to an unelected branch of that same government. We have permitted the pendulum of power to be permanently stuck on the side of the government.

The result has been predictable. Our federal government routinely acts well outside its constitutional boundaries with not only the consent, but the adulation of much of the citizenry.

As the federal government’s overseers, it is the American people’s historic responsibility to fasten tight the constitutional fetters with which we bind our government and closely guard the key. Yet over the past two centuries, we have fallen asleep on our watch and left the keys dangling within easy reach of our charge.

I do not fault the political factions in our nation for waging a rhetorically bloody crusade for control of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has become the nuclear weapon of the modern American political landscape, control of which dictates supremacy. At the same time, every citizen should take to heart the words written in our Declaration of Independence: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The Supreme Court only has as much power as Americans consent to give it.

 

Supreme Power

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. You can find the whole thing by following the link. Here’s a snippet:

Since the Constitution is a shackle for government, why would we make an institution of that government “the final arbiter” of its meaning and extent? That is like letting a child be the final arbiter on how much Halloween candy is permissible to eat in one sitting. Just as that child would end up bloated and sick, so too would a government left to decide its own boundaries.

The current apoplectic fury over the appointment of a single judge of a nine judge panel of a single branch of our three-branch government is symptomatic of the degeneration of our adherence to our Constitution. As a people, we Americans have ceded the responsibility of binding our government to the tenets of our Constitution to an unelected branch of that same government. We have permitted the pendulum of power to be permanently stuck on the side of the government.

The result has been predictable. Our federal government routinely acts well outside its constitutional boundaries with not only the consent, but the adulation of much of the citizenry.

Wisconsin politicians should reject tax increase on internet purchases

As you could have read yesterday in the Washington County Daily News, here is my column urging Wisconsin’s Republicans to reject a tax increase.

Thanks to a 1992 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that said that states could only collect a sales tax on businesses with a substantial presence in their state, consumers have been largely exempt from paying sales taxes for purchases made online. Those days may be coming to an end.

Last week the Supreme Court overturned its 1992 ruling. The new legal landscape means that states can now levy a sales tax on internet sales, but they are not required to do so. States like Illinois and California, with their self-inflicted derelict financial situations, are salivating over the opportunity to capture more tax revenue. What should Wisconsin do?

A report last year from the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that the imposition of Wisconsin’s sales tax on online purchases would result in between $123 million and $187 million in annual tax revenue for Wisconsin. The important thing to remember is that this projected tax revenue is not “found” money. It is additional money that would be extracted from the pockets of Wisconsinites by state government. It is not a tax on the online businesses who sell to Wisconsinites. It is a tax increase on Wisconsinites.

That is not to say that imposing a tax increase is necessarily a negative thing. There are some compelling reasons for states to impose a sales tax on internet purchases. The primary reason is for the cause of tax fairness. Wisconsinites pay the sales tax at brick-and-mortar stores without question or debate. The fact that those same Wisconsinites can buy products online without paying the sales tax gives online retailers a material advantage over the brick-and mortar stores. In the name of fairness, government should treat businesses equally regardless of their mode of delivering products.

The problem with that argument is that the unequal treatment of businesses is a consequence of a policy decision. The sales tax is not imposed on the businesses. The businesses are merely tasked as an agent of government to collect the tax. The consumers are paying the tax. The implementation of the sales tax whereby consumers must pay it at a physical retailer but are exempt from paying it at an online retailer is fair. Every consumer — the people actually paying the tax — is being treated equally in this regard.

It must also be acknowledged that the different sales tax treatment of brickand- mortar purchases and online purchases is an extremely small driver of the societal trend toward online purchases. The infinite selection, ease of browsing, competitive prices, easy shipping and the ability for consumers to sit on their couches in their skivvies while they shop are far more powerful disruptive forces than the sales tax. Furthermore, even as online purchases have soared in the past two decades, they still only represent about 10 percent of all retail purchases in America.

Given that the ruling by the court is still fresh, Wisconsin’s political leaders are still pondering the consequences and possibility of imposing the tax increase. Some of them are lusting after the money with an eye to spend it on their priorities. Gov. Scott Walker and other Republican leaders are floating the idea of imposing a new sales tax on internet purchases, but using it to offset state income taxes in accordance with a law that Republicans passed in 2013.

Such a use of new sales tax revenue would be laudable. By using sales tax revenue to offset income taxes, it would keep Wisconsin’s total tax burden static, but shift some of that burden to the broader population of retail consumers and off of the shoulders of income earners.

History tells us, however, that raising one tax to offset another never works over the long term. While Walker and legislative Republicans may set up such a tax offset initially, over time there will be different politicians with different priorities. Inevitably, some future politicians will begin to carve out a percentage of online sales tax revenue for some spending “priority” or “crisis.” Then that percentage will increase over time until the notion of a tax offset is all but forgotten except by crotchety curmudgeons who write columns.

Wisconsin’s Republican leaders should resist the temptation to tax online purchases and make sure the whole nation knows that Wisconsin is the place to live if you want to continue to make tax-free online purchases. The best tax is the one that is never imposed.

Wisconsin politicians consider tax increase on internet purchases

In my column this wee in the Washington County Daily News, I take a deeper dive into the issue of a potential sales tax on internet sales following the decision by the Supreme Court last week. Here’s a snippet, but pick up a copy of the Washington County Daily News to read the whole thing!

That is not to say that imposing a tax increase is necessarily a negative thing. There are some compelling reasons for states to impose a sales tax on internet purchases. The primary reason is for the cause of tax fairness. Wisconsinites pay the sales tax at brick-and-mortar stores without question or debate. The fact that those same Wisconsinites can buy products online without paying the sales tax gives online retailers a material advantage over the brick-and mortar stores. In the name of fairness, government should treat businesses equally regardless of their mode of delivering products.

Republicans need a vision to break the blue wave

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

Since President Donald Trump was elected Democrats and their liberal allies have been predicting that Democrats would win a sweeping victory at the polls this November. Dubbed the “blue wave,” the Democrats have history on their side. The opposition party to the president traditionally wins big electoral gains in the midterm election following the president’s inauguration.

While Democrats are still likely to win more elections than they lose this year, the threat of a blue wave appears to be diminishing. Trump’s rising approval rating, the booming economy, the prospect of peace in North Korea and a host of other factors are sucking some of the strength out of the wave.

The reason there might be a blue wave, or perhaps a blue ripple, is not because millions of heretofore Republicans have suddenly become Democrats. It is because Democrats are more energized to vote as they focus their hate around the figure of President Trump. Hate is a powerful emotion that drives a lot of people to the polls. But as we saw in Wisconsin when the Democrats fixed their hate on Gov. Scott Walker, it is not always enough to win elections.

There were two special elections last week in Wisconsin districts previously held by Republicans. A Republican won one and a Democrat one. Given that both districts are considered Republican-leaning, the results lean toward the Democrats, but it belies the notion that there is a gigantic blue wave that will sweep Democrats into power over all opposition. These special elections indicate that candidates still matter. Hard campaigning still matters. Local issues still matter.

Walker is running for his third term and is rightly running on his record. Most Wisconsin Republican incumbents are doing the same. Republicans are right to run on their record because it is a powerful record of success. Wisconsin is far better off than it was before Walker assumed office and Republicans won control of the Legislature. Taxes are down. The state budget runs a surplus instead of a deficit. Unemployment is at an alltime low. Job participation and incomes are rising. And the Republicans have enacted dozens of important reforms from concealed carry to Act 10.

It is a marvelous record, but it is not enough to get Republicans energized and flocking to the polls like they did in 2012 and 2014. What is sorely missing from the Wisconsin Republicans’ message is a vision for the future. While it may not be fair, politics is not about what you have done. It is about what you are going to do next.

If you go to Walker’s campaign website, it has some great details about his historic conservative record, but is scant in detail about what he wants to do in his third term. The Assembly Republicans’ site touts their “Forward Agenda” from 2016. A tour of the sites for incumbent Republican candidates offers much of the same.

If Wisconsin Republicans want to get their base excited and energized to counter the Democrats’ enthusiasm, they need to present a bold vision of what voters can expect if they return Walker for another term and Republican majorities to the Legislature.

For example, here are some things that I, as a conservative member of the Republican base, could get excited about: Cut spending. Don’t just bend the curve down or cut the rate of spending increases. Republicans should actually pass a budget next year that will spend less than the current budget. It is a corollary to Parkinson’s Law that government spending will always fill the budget allocated. That is part of what drives increasing budgets. Republicans should aggressively cut the budget to reflect what Wisconsinites can afford instead of what bureaucrats want to spend.

Once spending is cut, Wisconsin Republicans should end the income tax. It may sound insurmountable, but it isn’t. Nine states manage to function without a tax on regular income. Wisconsin Republicans have certainly shown themselves to be capable enough to enact comprehensive reforms and this one would be welcomed by anyone with an income in the state — including many of our seniors on fixed incomes who find themselves fleeing the state to afford their retirement.

Republicans should reform Wisconsin’s welfare system. In an age of full employment, there is no excuse whatsoever for every able-bodied person who wants to work to get a job. And if they do not want to work, the taxpayers should not be forced to pay their bills. Wisconsin Republicans have made some reforms in this area, but there is a long way to go.

There are many more great conservative reforms waiting to be enacted. If Wisconsin Republicans want to stay in power come November, they will need to articulate for Wisconsin’s voters what they intend to do with that power. Now is not the time to celebrate the past. It is time for Republicans to announce the future.

Republicans need a vision to break the blue wave

Due to a tweak in my agreement with the Washington County Daily News, I will not be posting my column on the blog the same day it runs in the paper. The only way to read it is by picking up a paper or following this link! And, of course, you want to do that. Here’s a sample to get your juices flowing:

It is a marvelous record, but it is not enough to get Republicans energized and flocking to the polls like they did in 2012 and 2014. What is sorely missing from the Wisconsin Republicans’ message is a vision for the future. While it may not be fair, politics is not about what you have done. It is about what you are going to do next.

Go read it the whole thing!

Choosing the next Washington County sheriff

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

On the eve of his third term as Washington County’s Sheriff, Dale K. Schmidt has decided to enjoy the fruits of his years of service and will retire upon the conclusion of his term in January. Sheriff Schmidt leaves behind a proud legacy of service, honor, stability and leadership. Washington County is better for his having served and we citizens of the county owe him our gratitude. Now our attention must turn to his potential successor and who will lead the sheriff’s office for the next four years or more.

The Sheriff’s Office has ancient English roots and a broad mandate. In Washington County, the sheriff is the only countywide elected official and has a wide range of responsibilities. The Sheriff’s Office is the primary law enforcement agency for every part of the county that is not served by a local police department. The Sheriff’s Office also provides additional support and resources for the local police departments. The 911 dispatch center, county jail and juvenile detention facility are all run by the Sheriff’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office maintains a SWAT team, dive team, transports prisoners to and from court, provides security in the courts, runs a multi-jurisdictional drug unit, provides D.A.R.E. and other educational resources, executes foreclosures and evictions and is the primary law enforcement response unit for many of the county’s schools. It is a very busy department with diverse duties.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Sheriff Schmidt’s tenure has been the lack of controversy. In an era where some other law enforcement agencies are finding themselves embroiled in scandals and responding to public outrage, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office just gets the job done. Through honest, open performance with a humble respect for the rights of the citizens they serve, the sheriff’s department has earned a great deal of trust throughout the county. Meanwhile, as good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, Sheriff Schmidt’s office finished with a budget surplus of $231,500 last year. Sheriff Schmidt’s successor has big shoes to fill.

But like any county, Washington County has some looming problems that the next sheriff will need to tackle. As cited in the Sheriff Office’s most recent annual report, high speed pursuits have been on the rise. Many of these occur on Interstate 41 or Highway 45, which have become high-speed conduits for criminals through the county. These chases are dangerous for everyone involved.

Another rising problem is criminals raiding into the county from the south. Last year, almost 20 percent of jail bookings in the county were residents of Milwaukee. That is a 38 percent increase since 2014. This ispartially driven by the increase in the number of people who fail to appear in court every year. About 45 percent of those who fail to appear hail from Milwaukee County, requiring extra effort and time to track them down.

Two candidates have stepped forward for the opportunity to be the next sheriff of Washington County. Both serve in the sheriff’s department. Both are Republicans, like Sheriff Schmidt. The primary election to select the Republican candidate is Aug. 14. Since there is not a Democrat running, whoever wins the Republican primary will be the next sheriff. The voters of the county have the privilege to choose between two qualified, conservative, honorable men.

Lt. Jason Guslick has served in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for 17 years in several roles working up through the ranks. Touting himself as a conservative Republican and lifetime NRA member, Guslick recently announced the endorsement Tim Schmidt, the president and CEO of Delta Defense in West Bend.

Guslick lists his primary issues as school safety, supporting the Second Amendment, fighting the heroin/ opioid epidemic, cooperating with federal authorities to enforce immigration laws, protecting county citizens from criminals from surrounding areas and taking a proactive approach to the mental health crisis. His vision for the department is “to move to a principles-based organization with associated values.”

Capt. Martin (Marty) Schulteis has served in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for 25 years in multiple roles and has also worked his way up through the ranks. Schulteis lists his core values as fiscal responsibility, integrity and accountability, and believes that his extensive background and experience in public safety have prepared him to be the next sheriff.

Schulteis lists his primary issues as combating the current drug epidemic with a multi-faceted approach. He is also looking ahead to the coming resurgence of the meth epidemic in the county. Although opioids/ heroin are the drug du jour, cheap methamphetamines are flooding in from Mexico and have already saturated other parts of Wisconsin. Since meth has a stimulant effect on the human body, it poses different challenges to law enforcement and Schulteis is focused on the issue. Schulteis will also advocate to add an additional circuit court to the county to help manage drug crimes.

I encourage every voter in Washington County to take the time to get to know the two sheriff candidates before the Aug. 14 primary election. It is an important office that directly and indirectly impacts every citizen. The county has had a great sheriff for many years. Let us make the effort to ensure that the office will be in good hands for years to come.

 

Boom! goes the economy

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

When I was in business school during the previous millennium, I remember sitting in a class listening to a professor drone on about the unemployment rate, wage pressures, labor participation and the notion of full employment. Full employment is when everyone who is willing and able to work is employed. Full employment does not mean that the unemployment rate is 0 percent. An economy is traditionally considered to be at full employment when the unemployment rate is between 4 percent and 6 percent because there will always be a percentage of people transitioning between jobs and times when workers’ skills do not match the jobs available.

By any account, the U.S. and Wisconsin, and especially in West Bend, are in a state of full employment. The most recent employment reports indicate that the U.S. has an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent. Wisconsin is beating the rest of the nation by a full point with an unemployment rate of 2.8 percent. West Bend has an astonishing unemployment rate of 2.3 percent.

On the micro-level, the evidence of hyper-employment is overwhelming. A short walk around West Bend will find a “help wanted” sign at almost every business. Several businesses have large signs advertising starting wages for entrylevel jobs at $10, $15 or more per hour — and those businesses are struggling to find good employees.

At the macro-level, a Bureau of Labor Statistics report says that while 223,000 jobs were created in May, the number of unemployed persons dropped by 6.1 million people. That means that nearly 6 million people entered the national workforce to fill jobs that were already open. This has the labor participation rate — the total number of Americans employed — increasing to 62.7 percent. That still is not as high as it once was, but it is finally steadily increasing after being in steady decline since it peaked in early 2000.

There really is no longer any excuse for every ablebodied adult to get a job. Anyone with a pulse and a modicum of work ethic can, and should, get a job. This is an economic truth that policy makers should bear in mind when debating things like welfare and education.

While high unemployment creates a litany of societal and economic problems, full employment presents a set of problems. They are better problems, but problems nonetheless. First and foremost, American businesses are struggling to attract and keep good employees. In particular, entry-level jobs and skilled jobs are difficult to fill. There are still plenty of lawyers and middle-managers out there, but finding a good roofer or hotel front desk clerk has become a challenge.

The inability to find good workers has undoubtedly retarded our nation’s potential economic growth.

The inability of some businesses to find good workers is partially their own fault. Fearful of the future, too many American businesses have been slow to increase wages to attract workers off of the economic sidelines and into jobs. We are finally seeing some significant wage increases in fits and starts. Some employers and industries are offering substantial wage increases to attract workers.

While overall private sector wages have increased between 2.5 percent and 2.9 percent since last year, wages for construction workers are growing at 3.8 percent — and that does not include the ample amount of overtime pay available to willing workers. Residential construction workers’ wages are growing at an even faster 5 percent. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 35 percent of small business owners reported increasing wages to attract and retain employees. And some of America’s largest employers like Walmart, Costco, Walgreens, Publix, Tyson Foods and many more have increased wages.

Increasing wages, which always lag in a growing economy, are finally here, but that will drive another economic metric — inflation. As wages increase, the cost of goods and services will increase to pay for them. While rampant inflation destroys economies, moderate inflation in a growing economy is quite healthy. Thanks to sustained economic growth since President Ronald Reagan was in office and the Federal Reserve’s almost irrational fear of inflation for the past decade, Americans have not experienced significant inflation in a generation. Barring more unnatural manipulation by the Federal Reserve, the American economy should expect higher inflation over the next economic cycle as the value of the dollar reconciles with the value of labor.

It was only a few short years ago when President Barack Obama and Governor Jim Doyle were trying to convince us that America’s best economic days were behind us and we needed to adjust to the new normal of a European-style economy. Thankfully, they were wrong. America’s, Wisconsin’s and West Bend’s economies are booming and all of us are seeing the benefits.

Foxconn begins to deliver on its promise

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

While there is still a long way to go before Wisconsinites can evaluate the full impact of the Foxconn development, so far it is proving to be the economic boon for Wisconsin that Gov. Scott Walker and other supporters of the deal predicted. The official groundbreaking ceremony will be June 28, but the work has already started.

When Walker announced the deal with Foxconn, it marked the largest economic deal the state of Wisconsin had ever struck. Liberals vacillated between bemoaning corporate welfare and declaring that Wisconsin should have gotten a better deal. Conservatives cringed at the massive amount of tax dollars involved to lure one company to Wisconsin. Walker touted the deal as a transformational economic development that would benefit Wisconsin for generations. It is possible that everyone was right, but certainly Walker deserves credit for getting it done.

Before the first shovel could be put in the ground, nearly 500 subcontractors, suppliers, service providers, vendors and other companies attended an information session hosted by Foxconn for the projected $10 billion construction project. These businesses came from all over Wisconsin and the world for the chance to participate in one of the largest construction projects in United States history.

Late last month, Foxconn began announcing the contractors that they would use. True to their word, Foxconn officials strongly favored Wisconsin companies. Ninety percent of the contracts so far have been awarded to Wisconsin companies.

In just the first phase of the project, 27 Wisconsin companies and one Illinois company are sharing $100 million to do the preparation work for the site including excavation, erosion control, soil and water testing and stormwater management. A $100 million project would already be one of Wisconsin’s largest construction projects, and that is only 1 percent of what Foxconn is planning to spend to complete the project. Furthermore, as Walker predicted, the economic benefits are not limited to southeast Wisconsin. One of those Wisconsin companies already working is a Black River Falls construction company which has been tasked with moving about 325,000 dump truck loads of dirt and installing 120,000 linear feet of sewer. That company, Hoffman Construction, has indicated that they will need to hire about 150 additional seasonal workers to handle the work.

MJM Truckin’ LLC of Nekoosa, Wood County, Panacea Group LLC of Seymour, Outagamie County, and other businesses throughout the state are already seeing money flow from Foxconn into their businesses.

The reason that all of Wisconsin will benefit from Foxconn is simple. The Foxconn project is just so incredibly huge that southeast Wisconsin does not have the people or material necessary to complete it. Not only will Foxconn need to bring in workers from all over Wisconsin, they will have to bring people from all over the world to Wisconsin to work.

A study by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce estimates that Foxconn’s new Wisconsin plant will contribute about $51 billion to the state’s economy over the next 15 years. Calculating the exact economic impact of the massive Foxconn development is inherently difficult, but Wisconsin is already seeing a ripple effect spread across the state.

All of this positive development makes the stance of some of the Democratic candidates for governor even more puzzling. While some may disagree with the deal that Walker struck with Foxconn, it is done. The contracts are signed and both sides are obligated to honor their side of the agreement. Yet some of the Democratic candidates are hoping to see it all fail and rip a hole in Wisconsin’s economy as it does.

Rep. Dana Wachs has said “we will find a way to end it.” Matt Flynn said that he will end the deal, “no matter what.” Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and Rep. Kelda Roys want to renegotiate the deal — whatever that means. Try to imagine a world in which one of these Democrats wins the governor’s chair and uses it to douse the Foxconn economic fire with a vat of cold water. Not only would it hobble the Foxconn economic juggernaut, but it would neuter Wisconsin’s ability to attract business for decades to come. What company CEO in his or her right mind would make a long-term commitment to Wisconsin if all it takes is a new governor to tear up the contracts?

The argument over whether or not the Foxconn deal was a good one for Wisconsin will be decided in the years to come. One would hope that whatever one thought about the terms of the deal, we could all root for it to live up to its promise. Fortunately for our state’s economy, so far it has.

Liberal West Bend School Board targets November for $80 million referendum

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

As the West Bend School Board continues to search for a new superintendent after the unfortunate departure of the previous one, it is also aggressively following the liberal playbook to bamboozle the taxpayers into approving a new, massive, $80 million (plus interest) spending referendum. While every one of the school board members ran for office on a platform of conservatism and transparency, their governing is indistinguishable from the arrogant liberal school boards in Milwaukee or Madison.

Since Act 10, the liberals in Wisconsin have fought for more spending and stumbled upon a process to get school spending referendums passed that plays on the fears and best intentions of goodhearted people. The West Bend School Board is following that process and looking to take advantage of the projected “Blue Wave” in November to get more money from district taxpayers.

First, the School Board created the Citizens Facility Advisory Committee last year with a strong majority of members who were already convinced of the need to spend more money. The only questions were “on what” and “how much?” The board hired a company based in Milwaukee called Bray Architects to run the CFAC meetings. Bray brags on its website about the expensive building projects funded by referendums it helped get passed.

Bray did its job for the board and ran a rigid CFAC process that would only lead to the outcome that the board had predetermined. In one unguarded moment, the Bray facilitator admitted that “the decision to build a new Jackson school was made in the prior efforts.” The taxpayers of West Bend would be surprised to know the decision to build a new school was already made. When the facilitator was asked by a CFAC member about why they were even bothering with the committee, he answered, “because we need to help the community understand why a new Jackson is being considered.” In other words, CFAC was a sham propaganda tool from the beginning — not an actual advisory committee. Recent events confirm that conclusion.

After the bogus CFAC process, the School Board is taking the next step of spending $35,000 of our money to conduct a sham survey. The board pretends that the survey is going to be used to gauge public support for areferendum. The survey is a propaganda tool used to build support and, like CFAC, has a predetermined outcome.

The West Bend School Board has hired SchoolPerceptions to conduct the survey. A recent column

by Mark Belling exposed School Perceptions for the propaganda machine it is. Instead of conducting an objective survey that is honestly seeking answers, “the whole point of School Perceptions is to influence opinion through framing questions,” Belling writes.

The upcoming survey in West Bend will not be any different. It is telling that while asking respondents about a list of projects, there will not be an option to just say “no.” The West Bend School Board has decided to intentionally spend taxpayer money to conduct a propaganda effort under the guise of a survey with the intent to sell a spending referendum. It is a shameless act of liberal activism at taxpayers’ expense.

It is worth noting that while the West Bend School Board members are intent on jacking up spending and taxes, the transparency that constituents have enjoyed with previous boards has muddied. Many meetings are no longer recorded, meeting minutes are missing from the district’s website, the use of special and closed sessions has become the norm and many agenda items appeared to have been already discussed and decided before the public meetings. This School Board has made a practice of obscuring their actions from public view.

Furthermore, when I have repeatedly asked the elected school board members to comment on issues for more than a year, the only member of the School Board who has ever responded was Ken Schmidt. Every other Board member has refused to respond — including the two who were just elected. This is a sharp departure from previous years where even the most liberal School Board members were willing to chat with me over a cup of coffee. Elected officials have a duty to speak with their constituents. It is part of the job. Sadly, most of the members of the West Bend School Board lack the sense of duty or humility that good public service requires.

West Bend is proud of our conservatism and proud of our public schools. The School Board is failing our public schools by failing to govern as the conservatives they professed to be. Before they come hat in hand for another $80 million to spend, they need to get their house in order and rebuild the public trust that they have squandered.

 

U.S. should pull out of 2015 Iran agreement

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Trump has until the end of the week, but he’ll be announcing today. Here’s the conclusion:

The 2015 Iran deal is not working. It is not preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It is helping Iran by lifting sanctions and opening an economic spigot that Iran’s leaders can use to further their nuclear ambitions. The agreement has not ended Iran’s support of terrorists or tyrannical regimes. The agreement has not softened Iran’s confrontational relationship with the West or its neighbors. For all of these reasons, Trump should withdraw the United States from the agreement.

The deadline for the U.S. to withdraw is Saturday. While several of our allies are lobbying Trump to stay in the deal, the interests of our nation and the world dictate otherwise. The path to a lasting peace with Iran is through a diplomatic solution, but the 2015 agreement that Obama struck has taken us off that path.

 

Progress In North Korea

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. You have to give props when props are due. Here you go:

In West Bend last weekend, there was a brat fry for the benefit of veterans of the Korean War. More than 5.7 million Americans served in the Korean War — 33,739 were killed in battle. Another 20,507 died in service during the war and 103,284 were wounded. Today, less than half of the Americans who served in the Korean War are still alive.

Given that it has been almost 65 years since that bloody war ground to a halt in a cease fire agreement, many of those Korean War veterans had likely given up hope of ever seeing the war actually end. Last week, Kim Jong Un, the grandson of North Korean tyrant Kim Il Sung, who launched the bloody war in 1950, shook hands with South Korea’s President, Moon Jae-in, and then stepped into South Korea to begin a historic summit that may lead to a lasting peace between the sibling nations.

That handshake did not come about by accident. It was the result of a multifaceted foreign policy effort by President Donald Trump. For all of his faults, Trump’s foreign policy has proven to be sophisticated and effective. He has advanced the interests of peace on the Korean peninsula further than any of his predecessors.

The likelihood of a lasting peace, much less the complete denuclearization of North Korea, is still slim. Kim Jong Un is a third generation dictator who is equal parts evil and crazy. His interests are rooted in his own power — not the welfare of the North Korean people or the world. In order for peace to be sustainable, Kim’s self-interest will have to be appeased and Trump will have to twist Ronald Reagan’s famous maxim to, “don’t trust and verify.”

Still, we are closer to peace than we have been for three generations and the world has Trump to thank for that. The secret to Trump’s foreign policy is no secret at all. He has returned to the more muscular foreign policy of “peace through strength” that underpinned the foreign policy of many previous administrations.

The first thing Trump did when entering office was make it clear that the days of American appeasement of North Korea were over. Strong, occasionally reckless, rhetoric sent the message that Trump was not of the same mold as his most recent predecessors.

Then Trump backed up his rhetoric with very stiff sanctions against North Korea. While North Korea is no stranger to sanctions, this time it was different. Through a combination of threats and praise, Trump convinced China to get on board with the sanctions. China is North Korea’s largest trading partner, by far, and ally in the Korean War.

Once the sanctions were in place, Trump extended his potent mix of threats and complimentary gestures to Kim. Trump began working toward high level negotiations and backed it up by sending the soon-tobe Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to meet Kim. In the bast couple of weeks, Kim has committed to cease nuclear tests, dismantle a nuclear facility, met with South Korean President Moon, and indicated that he wants a permanent peace. Trump is tentatively scheduled to meet with Kim next month.

Incidentally, while Pompeo was furthering the peace process in North Korea through diplomacy as the secretary of state nominee, Wisconsin’s Sen. Tammy Baldwin voted against his confirmation saying that she feared Pompeo would not be diplomatic enough.

Underlying the entire process is the fact that nobody doubts that Trump is willing to back up his threats. No doubt the strikes by the United States against chemical weapons facilities in Syria, despite the admonitions of the Russians and Assad, got Kim’s attention. If Trump is willing and able to act with such precision against Syria, there is no doubt that he would be able to strike North Korea. And with China softening its defense of Kim in order to protect its economic interests, Kim is more isolated than ever.

The North Korean problem has been the world’s Gordian Knot for more than half a century. Trump might be about to cut it.

A proven conservative for US Senate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Ryan returns to private life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Post-Privacy Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

Proven conservatism for West Bend School Board

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

There is an election April 3, but in-person absentee voting is open at your local City Hall until the end of the day Friday. Most importantly, get out and vote for Michael Screnock for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. After that, look further down the ballot and you will find many other important races. In the West Bend School District, four candidates are contending for two seats.

The West Bend School District is in the midst of some serious challenges. The biggest challenge is that the district has been without a superintendent for the better part of a year and is just beginning the search process for a new one. Many of the other administrators have also left the district leaving a severe vacuum of leadership. Meanwhile, the School Board is charging headlong toward an unwise referendum to replace Jackson Elementary.

West Bend voters are privileged in the fact that all four candidates running have a lot in common. Monte Schmiege, Mary Weigand, Chris Zwygart and Kurt Rebholz are all devoted local citizens with deep roots in the community. All four candidates have solid, if different, backgrounds that would bring a lot to the school board. They all tout the virtues of fiscal responsibility, safe schools, transparency and all of the other things important to West Bend’s voters. They are all intent of finding a superintendent who will fill the leadership void with a clear vision, strong administrative skills and an ability to connect and communicate with the entire community.

For all practical purposes, all four candidates appear to agree on 90 percent, if not more, of the issues that will come before the board. The differences between the candidates are small, but they are real. Those differences lead me to cast my votes for Monte Schmiege and Mary Weigand.

One of the biggest differences that has emerged between the candidates revolves around the School Board’s role and responsibility when it comes to determining curriculum. Rebholz and Zwygart have made strong statements to the effect that the School Board should provide some oversight, but that the determination of curriculum should be left to the so-called experts. They eschew the responsibility for curriculum saying that part-time non-educators should not have a say in determining what is taught to our kids. I reject that notion.

The whole purpose of having an elected School Board is so that the government school district is overseen by representatives of the community. They are there to inject the community’s values into everything from budgeting to safety protocols to extracurriculars and to, yes, curriculum. And if the School Board thinks that there is better use of time in an eighth grade language arts class than spending 40 days reading about the “Sustainability of the US Food Supply Chain,” then the School Board should change the curriculum — experts or not. The School Board should not micromanage curriculum, but neither should they abandon their responsibility for it.

The other primary difference between the candidates just comes down to track record. As we learned in the School Board election last year, it is easy for candidates to bamboozle voters by touting fiscal responsibility and transparency and then abandon those values when elected. Both Rebholz and Zwygart are relative newcomers to engaging in the issues of the school district.

Meanwhile, Schmiege is the only incumbent in the race. Running for his second term, he would be the most senior member of the School Board and the only member who has been part of a search for a superintendent. He has a rock solid track record of fiscal responsibility and thoughtful leadership on the school board. He is one of the only members of the School Board willing to continually work on the boring things like revamping old policies and strictly adhering to rules governing a public board. He has also remained transparent and open to the community throughout his term. There is never any doubt about where Schmiege stands on an issue or whether or not he will stick to his convictions. He is a rock.

Weigand has been actively involved in district issues as a parent and citizen for years. She has served on the district’s Human Growth and Development Committee and is serving on the Citizens Facility Advisory Committee. Weigand is a regular feature at School Board meetings and frequently offers insightful input. Like Schmiege, there is never any doubt as to Weigand’s convictions or whether or not she will waver from them under pressure.

All four candidates say many of the same things, but only Schmiege and Weigand have the years of public history backing up those statements. They have both earned a seat on the board.

Win or lose, I truly hope that all four candidates remained involved in shaping the district’s future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charging to State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Chargers!

Sloppy management practices in UW System invite abuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defending Our Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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