Investigative Report: Koch Industries and the Wisconsin Judiciary

As part of an investigation involving open records requests regarding Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman and his campaign financial supporters, Badger Democracy has discovered that the Koch brothers’ influence on the judiciary has been active in Wisconsin – aided by supposedly “non-partisan” justices. This practice confirms a report first published by John Fialka in the Wall Street Journal in 1999, which characterized the “law and economics” courses originated by Koch Industries in 1995:

The topic: hard-nosed, market-based economics, a
subject Judge Corrigan says he never took in
college. “Talk about a mental challenge,” the judge
raves.
Equally interesting, however, was the identity of
the founder and key patron of the two-week
seminar: a Koch family foundation headed by an
official of Koch Industries Inc. of Wichita, an oil,
natural gas, minerals and agribusiness giant that
aggressively lobbies government.

This class, taught by Henry Butler, came to the Wisconsin Judicial Conference 12 years after the publication of the WSJ report, at the 2009 Judicial Conference. With the help of methodical and systematic co-opting of academicians and institutions, Koch influence came to Wisconsin, still under the radar in 2009 – with a little help from a “non-partisan” judge…from Waukesha County.

  Documents obtained by the Wisconsin Judiciary Education Board confirm that Justice Michael Gableman has fulfilled his required continuing education hours by attending State Judicial Conferences for the years 2008 , 2009 , 2010 , and 2011  (links to conferences agendas attached). In almost all cases, seminars at these conferences deal with non-partisan matters of law, changes in legislation affecting sentencing, etc. For example, at the 2010 conference (link, above), seminars were held pertaining to new OWI laws, updates on deferred compensation and early retirement planning; at-risk restraining orders, and increasing prison populations and sentencing issues. One year before Scott Walker would be elected to office, and Koch Industries would become a household name connected with political influence, a Waukesha County Judge brought a known Koch Industries “academician” to present his “Law and Economics” program to the 2009 State Judiciary Conference.

Judge Paul F. Reilly is an Appeals Court Judge in District II, Waukesha County. While the office is supposedly non-partisan, Reilly is a known Republican. In the 2010 election, Reilly received the endorsement of the heavily Republican-conservative Wisconsin Family Action PAC, applauding his bringing “…respect for the law and the separation of powers to this key judicial position.”  The twisting of “separation of powers” meaning was key to conservatives in defending the overreach of Act 10 enactment, and their legal opining that courts could not intervene – even in light of constitutional challenges. According to Judicial Education Commission staff, Reilly “pushed hard” for Henry Butler’s seminar on Law and Economics to be included in the 2009 program. A non-partisan judge, lobbying for a seminar created, and paid by Koch Industries in 1995, focusing on Friedman principles of “free-market economics.”  Butler moves from one university to the other with private funding. In 2009, the program was at Northwestern University. Now, the Law and Economics program resides at George Mason University – but always under the direction of Henry Butler.

Henry Butler is a known conservative and free market proponent-economist. Butler had a long affiliation with the American Enterprise Institute, having been the former director of the “Judicial Education Program.” In 1992, Butler left George Mason University to accept the “Koch Distinguished Professor of Law and Economics” at the University of Kansas – funded entirely by a generous grant from the Koch Foundation. While at the U of K, Butler developed his course, with money, support, and influence on policy from the Kochs. In its formative stages, U of K received over $2 million dollars in private endowments from the Koch Foundation for the “Judicial Education” Institute (pgs. 18-20 of the document).

A report by Bruce Green prepared for the Koch Foundation in 2004 (pgs. 18-28 of the document) discloses that Butler, with Koch support and money, began developing, publicizing, and teaching a course with the intent of influencing state judicial opinion – with the express goal of gaining “free-market” supporting decisions at the all-important state level. Bruce A. Green at that time was the Stein Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law and the director of the Louis Stein Center of Law and Ethics. The original study conducted by Green, upon which this report was based, was based on the following report: Bruce A. Green, Ethics of Judicial Education: An Analysis of Private Charitable Gifts for Judicial Learning (Oct. 15, 1999). The report was prepared for three foundations-the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Claude R. Lambe Foundation, and the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation, which retained the author to render, on a compensated basis, a report on the propriety of private foundation support for judicial education programs. Additionally, this study drew on the author’s remarks at a program entitled “Continuing Education for Federal Judges: Purpose, Problems and Public Perception-The Controversy Examined.” The Conference was sponsored by the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements at the ABA’s annual meeting in Chicago on August 5, 2001.

Henry Butler, heading the Law and Economics program now at George Mason, keeps the espoused principles grounded firmly in the conservative principles of an unrestrained, free market capitalism – without regulation getting in the way. The reading list for the program is indicative of that bias – many of the readings are required reading for the American Enterprise Institute. The video introduction of the program gives a synopsis of the mission – train judges to rule in favor of  in matters of particular interest to big business, monopolies, trusts – the Kochs of the world.

Butler was a key “scientific expert” who testified and created “studies” friendly to big tobacco during the 1980′s hearings. This from “Corporate Corruption of Science”:

Butler seems to be a well-known partisan economist and law professor, who is active in Republican circles, and who associates himself closely with many of the more powerful right-wing think-tanks, policy groups and societies. He clearly has aspirations to be a Republican Congressman like his father, but (judging from his work record) he probably doesn’t stay long enough in any one university to establish himself with the local GOP officials.

As an academic, he certainly has the ability to move in the right corporate/wealth sectors, and he belongs to the organizations which are able to attract money from those who wallow in it. He has received grants/fellowships from the Koch, Olin, Coor and Scaife-funded organisations, and he currently serves on the:

  • Legal Advisory Council of the American Enterprise Institute’s Legal Center for the Public Interest, 
  • Advisory Council of Atlantic Legal Foundation, 
  • Legal Policy Advisory Board of the Washington Legal Foundation

Indeed, Butler ran as a Republican for Congress (Virginia) in 1992, and lost – despite a $1000 contribution from David Koch.
Quietly, Koch political dominance has emerged over the past decade. According to the Wisconsin Judicial Education staffer, Judge Reilly had seen Butler deliver his program in Chicago – likely true, as Butler was at Northwestern at the time. Being a lifetime conservative ideologue, Reilly would have known the premise of the “Law and Economics” program, as well as Butler’s reputation and connections with Koch Industries. If Reilly was on a scouting mission to vet the program for presentation in Wisconsin, it is merely conjecture – Reilly three times refused comment on the subject, in requests for interviews.
When one considers the role ideologically conservative judges have played in the power grab in Wisconsin this past year – especially those in and influenced by Waukesha County politics; the genius and deviousness of the Koch plan is apparent. The influence of Henry Butler and Koch ideology on some justices cannot be overstated – and will continue for years to come, until this program is rejected by academia and universities as unilaterally political propaganda – not legal study, and Judges like Reilly are exposed for the political ideologues they are – not members of a non-partisan judiciary.
Next time a Republican screams judicial partisanship about a “radical” Dane County Judge, ask them about Henry Butler and Koch Industries, and Paul Reilly.

Candidate Interview – Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug LaFollette

Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug LaFollette is one of the most recognized and educated environmental advocates not only in Wisconsin, but the nation. Born in Des Moines, Iowa; LaFollette received his BA from Marietta College, his Master’s Degree in chemistry from Stanford, and his PhD in organic chemistry from Columbia. He began a teaching career at UW-Parkside, and was a key organizer (with Gaylord Nelson) of the first Earth Day in 1970 prior to entering politics. LaFollette also started Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade with Peter Anderson, now known as Clean Wisconsin. LaFollette served as Secretary of State from 1975-1979, and from 1983 to the present. His great-grandfather and Robert M. LaFollette were brothers.

Doug LaFollette is energized and passionate about the recovery of progressive values in Wisconsin, having lived those values his entire life. In this writer’s opinion, LaFollette and Kathleen Vinehout have occupied periphery treatment in this brief campaign by the majority corporate media. That is a tragedy. Both of these candidates will be intimately involved in the recovery of a progressive Wisconsin through their expertise and experience. They have a great deal to offer the grassroots and the political landscape shift occurring. Our interview was conducted on April 7, 2012 as LaFollette was busy in downtown Madison collecting the signatures necessary to be placed on the primary ballot.

BD – What does this movement mean to you not only as a politician, but as a citizen of the state?

LaFollette – As I’ve been elected many times and served Wisconsin for a long time as Secretary of State, I have the opportunity to travel around the world on behalf of the people of Wisconsin. I was always told “Wisconsin is such a wonderful progressive state” by people from all over. When this past year, for the first time, people started asking me “what is wrong with Wisconsin – what happened?” I couldn’t sit back and let it just happen. This is all about people politics…taking back democracy for the people over powerful money and corporations. To support that, I’ve promised to take no out-of-state PAC money for my campaign.

BD – What would be your first act as Governor?

LaFollette – I would sit with key personnel to appoint new agency heads. That is the first step to repairing the damage done, because the budgeting process doesn’t happen for some time after the election, and we may not control the legislature going into the next session. Top priority is a new DOA Secretary (replacing Mike Huebsch), and DNR (Cathy Stepp). In addition, I would return administration of the DNR to the DNR board, where it belongs. The constitutional authority of the Secretary of State also needs to be restored as a balance of power against an authoritarian Governor or Legislature. I will make sure we get back to Wisconsin Ideas, not these ALEC, out-of-state ideas. We have to get back to supporting the University of Wisconsin, so it can contribute to finding Wisconsin ways to deal with our economic problems.

BD – How  does your experience as Secretary of State make you uniquely qualified to be Governor?

LaFollette – It is my years of experience and maturity primarily. I have nothing to prove politically – I would not be the Governor of any one group. I have support from independents, progressives, Democrats – I’ve even gotten great response from Republicans who do not like how Scott Walker has torn apart this state. I would govern for all the people of Wisconsin.

BD – How would you dispense with Act 10 as Governor?

LaFollette – I would take a two-step approach. First, I would work through the summer to elect a state legislature that believes in the right to organize. The Governor can’t accomplish this alone. Scott Walker could not have single-handedly passed Act 10 – he had a complicit legislature. We have to elect a legislature that will support the Governor in repealing Act 10. In the immediate term, I would order the DOA to sit down and re-negotiate with all the public unions, examine the contracts, and work out agreements that benefit both parties. No more of this shutting-out the public employees who serve this state so well.

BD – In its annual report dated January 31, 2011 to Joint Finance Committee Chairs Senator Alberta Darling and Rep. Robin Vos, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau indicated a net balance at fiscal year-end of $56.4 million (before Scott Walker assumed office). In the same report one year later, dated February 9, 2012, the LFB indicates a fund balance deficit of $208.2 million – primarily due to decreased revenue as a result of Acts passed by the current Governor and Legislature. In this fiscal and political climate, how do you repair the damage done to public education,  healthcare, and jobs?

LaFollette – It is important to understand again, that the Governor cannot do this immediately. However, I would work on plans and solutions to propose to the Legislature that would repair the damage. For example, I would examine every corporate tax cut Scott Walker put in his budget, and look at which we could repeal and rollback to fund our Technical, University, and public education system. We have to collect a fair share of revenue being lost to wealthy, giant corporations that have been lost during this administration.

BD – What substantive difference is there between you and the other candidates in this primary?

LaFollette – My style and approach is completely different. I’ve been a progressive all my life. My fight is the progressive fight of this grassroots movement – we have to stop these big money and special interest approaches here and now. We have to prove Wisconsin can do it better.

BD – How would you govern after this year of unprecedented single-party power grabs and partisan legislation?

LaFollette – First, let me say it has been a mistake for Labor to endorse and take sides. This election has to be about bringing people together again, and that is how I would govern. That’s why I took no special interest interviews, and did not seek endorsements. I will not be a special interest candidate or Governor – I will truly represent the people.

If there is a longshot candidate, Doug LaFollette is it. No matter the outcome of the primary, he is a true original, and has at heart the true interests of the people of Wisconsin. He gets it. We must hope if LaFollette doesn’t win the primary, that the winner of the primary to take on Scott Walker listens to Doug LaFollette. There is progressive wisdom in his ideals that can resonate throughout the state.

Badger Democracy is scheduling interviews with Tom Barrett for next week, and will post as soon as completed. Share, engage,  and discuss. In the words of Robert M. LaFollette said, “…the only cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.”


Candidate Interview – State Senator Kathleen Vinehout

Wisconsin State Senator Kathleen Vinehout was interviewed on April 5, 2012 by phone. Senator Vinehout has a personality and style that sets her apart from all the candidates – apparent to anyone who has met her in person. In our nearly 45 minute interview, she exuded a passion and personality as engaging over the phone as in person.

Kathleen Vinehout has the most diverse background of all the candidates. She received her Masters Degree in Public Health in 1982, and her PhD in Health Services research in 1987. For 10 years, Vinehout directed the graduate and undergraduate programs in Health Administration at the University of Illinois-Springfield. She also taught as a faculty member in Health Services Administration and Women’s Studies. Her academic focus was primarily on state health policy and rural health issues. Vinehout left academia after the faculty union at the University of Illinois was de-certified. She stated that she was crushed by the move and loss, and knew academia at the U of I would never be the same. As this writer knows faculty currently at U of I, she was correct.

Vinehout moved to Wisconsin and began operating a 50-cow organic dairy farm in Buffalo County. Active and award-winning as an organic farmer and active in local politics, she entered politics full-time by winning election to the State Senate in 2006, defeating incumbent Ron Brown. In 2010, she defied the Tea Party wave and won re-election over Ed Thompson and returned for a second term. Vinehout represents the 31st District in Western Wisconsin with an impressive record of legislation emphasizing progressive fiscal budgetary issues, health reform, and education. She was one of the “Fab 14″ State Senators leaving Wisconsin, slowing passage of Scott Walker’s “Budget Repair Bill” in 2011 and putting her political career on the line. Vinehout has the most extensive voting record on state issues of any candidate – too lengthy to even begin discussing here – but this link to Project Vote Smart gives current votes on key legislation – including the end of the 2010-2011 session. It is worth the time to examine the record. Now, the interview.

BD – What does this movement mean to you not only as a politician, but as a citizen of the state?

Vinehout – I’ve seen an energy and engagement in the political process that hasn’t happened in over 100 years. A few weeks ago, I did an event in Waukesha County to a standing-room only crowd. After my speech, 35 people came up and volunteered to help with my campaign. The first campaign I ran for State Senate, I had trouble finding 3 people to knock on doors in my home district. 35 people in conservative Waukesha County – that’s a huge change. People are paying attention, and making a difference.

BD – What would be your first act as Governor?

Vinehout – It would be largely symbolic, but those Wisconsin tourism signs at the borders…the welcome signs shaped like the state…I would go to each one of those and take down Scott Walker’s “Open for Business” signs and replace them with signs that say “Open for Everyone.” That’s how we bring everyone together and heal this state. Wisconsin should not be open just for corporate interests, it is for everyone.

BD – In its annual report dated January 31, 2011 to Joint Finance Committee Chairs Senator Alberta Darling and Rep. Robin Vos, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau indicated a net balance at fiscal year-end of $56.4 million (before Scott Walker assumed office). In the same report one year later, dated February 9, 2012, the LFB indicates a fund balance deficit of $208.2 million – primarily due to decreased revenue as a result of Acts passed by the current Governor and Legislature. In this fiscal and political climate, how do you repair the damage done to public education,  healthcare, and jobs?

Vinehout – I would start by looking what the Governor is currently buying and spending state money on, and change those priorities. In 2011, I wrote and released a budget (link to the Vinehout Budget here)that showed we can balance the budget without hurting working families, education, and access to affordable care. I authored the only “Health Care Exchange Bill” in the legislature, which never got a hearing because of the partisan nature of this session. This bill would help close the gap in affordable care while saving taxpayers money by setting up a statewide exchange. I would make an “Emergency Funding” program for public schools a priority. Our public schools’ most difficult years are coming in the second half of the bienium. Federal funding under the stimulus plan has lapsed, and any savings districts saw under Act 10 will have been used for last year’s budget. We will need emergency funding to help public schools survive Walker’s draconian education cuts. There also need to be audits done by the Legislative Audit Bureau on Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), as there are serious issues there in funding transparency and accountability. That audit needs to be performed this summer. Recent audits of the state Department of Health also show serious issues in accountability and monies paid private contractors beyond the budget. We need to get our fiscal house back in order after this administration, so working families can stop footing the bill for corporate tax breaks.

BD – How do you substantively differ on the issues with Kathleen Falk (note – Tom Barrett had not yet announced his candidacy at the time of the interview)? Would you sign the same pledge Falk did to put collective bargaining in the state budget?

Vinehout – The differences are in my experience as a legislator in state government, serving on committees on audit, budget, education, and healthcare…such as the authoring the healthcare exchange legislation (see link above). None of the other candidates have specific policy plans already written – they have plans and talking points, not specific policy legislation. As for the pledge, I would not sign such a pledge because it is too risky to play “brinksmanship” with the state budget. The Legislature must pass a biennial budget, and under Wisconsin statutes if the budget does not pass, the state continues under the old budget already in place. I don’t know too many people who want to continue any longer than necessary under the Walker budget, and we can’t afford it. In 2007, Governor Doyle and the Democratic legislators played that game with Healthy Wisconsin. In the end, the budget was blocked by the GOP until Healthy Wisconsin was taken out, and that legislation had to wait until the next session to be brought back. The legislation is already written to restore collective bargaining rights (SB233), and as Governor I would make sure that bill passes. I would work through the summer to keep the Senate in Democratic hands, and shift the balance in the Assembly. Do I think it can be done? Yes – many of my colleagues in Western Wisconsin are Republican Assembly Reps., and they know, as do other Republicans, that Act 10 went too far. I believe I can bring those sides together to pass SB233.

BD – The day you declared your candidacy, attacks were leveled at you over your voting record on women’s health issues, primarily by supporters of Kathleen Falk, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL WI. Subsequently, you put your voting record in plain view and stood by it. Last Legislative session, you voted against all GOP attacks on women’s equal pay, healthcare, and access to services (see link to voting record, above). You have a background in healthcare and women’s studies, so you understand the issues as well as any candidate. As Governor, will you commit to vetoing ANY legislation that would restrict, deny, or diminish women’s access to medically sound care or procedures?

Vinehout – Absolutely. Even if those issues ended up in the budget, I would veto them, especially anything funding related. Particularly in the case of narrowing access through legislative language to eliminate Planned Parenthood funding; I would absolutely veto any bill or budget item that has that effect. This session has been particularly brutal towards women. I have never seen a legislative session with so much intentional political payback and attacks by one side over another. That is not how Wisconsin should be governed.

Kathleen Vinehout is in the process of running the most grassroots campaign for statewide office in recent memory, using primarily people power and traveling all over the state to every size event. She is certainly changing the way people look at politics and politicians with every person she encounters on her campaign – one voter at a time. For that, she deserves more credit than she is receiving from the media and pundits. But that’s not who she serves. She serves her constituents very well.

Next interview – Secretary of State Doug LaFollette.

Candidate Interview with Badger Democracy – Kathleen Falk; and a message to progressive grassroots

With the Democratic Primary less than one month away, it is clear that this election is unprecedented and unpredictable. This election is the most critical to the direction of Wisconsin in a century – and it is also abundantly clear that it is up to us, the people, to make the difference in this election. The latest poll released by Daily Kos/Public Policy Polling shows a 4% shift over the previous poll in favor of Scott Walker over the closest Democratic challenger. While this is largely due to solidification of the conservative base, and a slight shift in the independent vote toward Walker; it is an indication that the propaganda ads from Scott Walker’s moneyed corporate interests are getting through to the “moderate undecided” voter. The people of Wisconsin can no longer rely on the Democratic Party to carry the message that resonates to voters – this election will be decided by person-to-person messaging necessary to overcome overwhelming money being spent on behalf of Scott Walker.

This interview is the first in a series with all the major candidates in the Democratic Primary. Interviews will be presented in the order the candidates formally declared their intent to run for Governor. Share widely, as information is the necessary key to our success in this recall. It cannot be overstated that our only chance to defeat Scott Walker will be with factual information and a wide grassroots campaign touching as many citizens as possible. Every effort will be made to link documents and sources with candidate remarks and responses, to allow for easy access to information. Choose a candidate not based on an endorsement, but because he or she represents all that is best about this movement – then spread the word about WHY you chose that candidate to repair the damage done by Scott Walker. There is no such thing as the perfect candidate – there are, however, choices in this primary. All of whom are a far cry better than Scott Kevin Walker. In the end, we will all come together to support the winner, and defeat Walker – failure is not an option. The first candidate to declare her candidacy – Kathleen Falk.

Kathleen Falk was born in Milwaukee, and grew up in Waukesha, Wisconsin. After spending her early collegiate years at UW-Waukesha, Falk earned her B.A. from Stanford and law degree from the University of Wisconsin. Falk also attended the “Senior Executives in State and Local Government” program at Harvard University. Falk served as co-director and counsel for the Wisconsin Environmental Decade, Assistant Attorney General and Public Intervenor in the Wisconsin Department of Justice (1983-1997), and Dane County Executive (1997-2011).

Early endorsements by WEAC (WEAC uses the term “recommendation”) and AFSCME created controversy surrounding the strategy of endorsing when other candidates were still “on the fence.” Falk committed early on and has since received the endorsement of other key Labor Unions – SEIU, AFL-CIO, AFT, IBEW, and South Central Wisconsin Building and Construction Trades Council. In addition, Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin are significant environmental advocacy endorsements. Badger Democracy conducted the interview with former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk by phone on April 9, 2012.

BD – What does this movement mean to you, not only as a politician, but also as a citizen of Wisconsin? Falk – I’ve never experienced such a unique time in our state’s history. At 60 years old, I grew up during Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Rights Movement, etc. There has never been a time where people have to answer “which side are you on?”,  and the differences are so stark. That is what is so inspiring about this movement – citizens are taking charge and making the difference.

BD – What will be your first act as Governor, if you are elected? - Falk – The first day after the election I will go to Waukesha County, UW-Waukesha, where I started my college education. It will be highly symbolic in a Republican stronghold to demonstrate that I will respect and work with everyone in Wisconsin. My message to the people of  Wisconsin will be, “this is what we need to do, this is where we go from here,” and I will lay out the specifics of how we will come together repairing the damage from the previous administration together.

BD – The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has forecast a significant deficit in revenue for fiscal year 2012-2013 ($208.2 million deficit); greater than the forecast surplus in 2011-2012  ($56.4 million surplus), prior to Walker’s first year in office (see links for LFB memos to Legislative Leadership specifying the nature and amount of the deficit). How do you accomplish your substantial goals of repairing the damage done to Education, Healthcare, Jobs, under that fiscal and political climate? - Falk -I would move Wisconsin back to a more progressive taxation and budgeting process. I have outlined initiatives on my website to prioritize education, real job creation, and responsible government. For example, we have to restore the $70 million in cuts to Wisconsin’s Technical College system. There are 35,000 job openings requiring vo-tech training, at a time when Scott Walker cuts state support of the technical colleges that prepare students for those jobs. If we just close the “Las Vegas loophole” in combined reporting, we can recover $40 million alone, which nearly pays for the technical college cuts.

BD – You signed a pledge to make restoration of Collective Bargaining rights a budget item, and that you would veto any budget that did not restore those rights and repeal Act 10. In Wisconsin, if a budget is not passed by the statutory deadline, the previous budget remains in effect until the new budget is reconciled and passed. Are you willing to play brinksmanship under those circumstances where the Walker Budget would continue if no budget has passed? For example, in 2007 the Democratic members of the Legislature and Jim Doyle attempted to insert “Healthy Wisconsin” into the biennial budget. The GOP blocked passage of that budget, and “Healthy Wisconsin” was eventually removed from that budget and had to wait until the next session as a stand alone bill? - Falk – The Budget is the only way to restore collective bargaining rights because the Budget is the only law which MUST be passed by the legislature. A bill, as proposed by other candidates, won’t work. If the Republicans control any House in the Legislature, they won’t bring the bill to a vote. We have to be honest about how this can realistically be done, and I am the only candidate saying how repealing Act 10 can happen. The Legislature does not have to respond to a call for Special Session, and they don’t have to even consider a bill in committee. The Budget is the only way to get this done with a split Legislature, because they have to vote on it, and pass a budget.

BD – What in your past experience makes you substantively different from your opponents? - Falk – In my 14 years as Dane county Executive, I had to work with a 37 member County Board consisting of Conservative Republicans and Liberal Democrats, and work out a budget and policy with them. With my 20 years as an environmental lawyer representing state interests, and balancing a budget as County executive, I have a great perspective of what our shared Wisconsin values are, and how we can work together to solve our problems. I have experience in managing healthcare costs, education,  job creation, and negotiating in a respectful environment to ensure worker’s rights and balance a budget. All of these experiences give me the skills to accomplish what needs to be done as Governor.

Kathleen Falk was very candid and personable in her responses during our 20 minute interview. It is noteworthy that the initiatives on her website are specific in the negative effects of the Walker Budget. The initiatives outline policy differences between Falk and Walker, making it clear that Falk will pursue a far more progressive and inclusive administration than her potential predecessor.

Comments and question are welcome and encouraged. Next up – Wisconsin State Senator Kathleen Vinehout, Democrat from Alma. Share, talk, debate, engage, and vote.

Wisconsin Recall Election 2012 – most critical in a century, growth of grassroots power, starkly contrasting candidates

Wisconsin is now in the midst of a historic political season which is not only the most critical, but also the most contentious in a century. The end goal of this recall is the ousting of Scott Walker – on that every person at the core of this movement can agree. What is less agreeable is the candidate best to run against Scott Walker, and the central issue of the recall.

As for the most prominent candidates – the wisdom and strategy of some early endorsements for Kathleen Falk are still being questioned, but Falk is starting to gain momentum statewide; Tom Barrett is a late entry into the campaign with the most name recognition (and was absent throughout virtually all of the grassroots movement); Kathleen Vinehout is touring the state in a true grassroots campaign; and Doug LaFollette is unfortunately being virtually ignored by state media but has great grassroots appeal.

The first “debate” format was held in Madison (link to the video archive) on Wednesday evening to an enthusiastic, full house at the Concourse Hotel. While the debate in this Democratic primary should (and I believe will) remain civil – it is critical to the movement and democracy that it be contentious. There are marked differences in philosophy and ideology between the candidates, and the very future of our state and nation depends on it. We deserve to have well vetted candidates – the people started this movement, and it is the people to whom the next Governor must answer to.

While the race is on, there are obviously powerful forces at work on both sides – Democratic and Republican. The danger in this political climate is for this movement to not only be hijacked by party politics and inherent money and power; but to wane into complacency post-election and a Walker defeat. The only way to prevent this is to engage in a spirited debate this primary – and keep at the fore what this recall is all about.

Scott Walker and his allies have continually over-reached in blatant power grabs, ended collective bargaining rights recognized in EVERY OTHER civilized nation on earth, cut public education funding at record levels (the result of which will become clear as Federal emergency funding runs out this fiscal year for most districts – we haven’t begun to see the effects); attacked women’s rights; made health care for women, the poor and children less accessible; engaged in the most partisan political patronage in a century…the list goes on and on. All these alone are valid reasons for recall, and have taken Wisconsin back to an age not seen in generations. All of the above reasons are symptoms of a larger issue – one that lies at the core, and should keep this grassroots movement growing to the recall of Scott Walker, election of a new Governor in 2012, and progressive movement forward again in Wisconsin for generations.

This is all manifestation of one great strugglethe supreme issue, above all others, is the encroachment of the powerful few upon the rights of the many. Union busting is the assertion of the capital of a select few as being superior to labor – something Abraham Lincoln rejected in his first State of the Union. The power and money of multinational monopolies and corporations (i.e. Koch Industries) have come between the people and their government. The resolution of this recall will be the answer to the great questions facing us:

Can we free ourselves from this control and restore our representative form of government?

Can we begin to repair this damage with a new politic and legislation, or will our children and grandchildren inherit the plutocracy and disenfranchisement being created by the corporate political powers?

There is no higher call today than this protracted fight for social justice.

To continue the debate and further the progression of grassroots politic, Badger Democracy will not engage in endorsing a candidate. Instead, extensive interviews have and continue to be conducted with all candidates and will be posted along with a profile and record examination of each candidate. The people should decide. In that spirit, closing remarks from Robert M. (“Fighting Bob”) LaFollette from a 1912 speech in Philadelphia addressing a similar struggle against the “Robber Barons” of early twentieth century industry and banking:

“…We will, in our day, meet our responsibility with fearlessness and faith; that we will reclaim and preserve for our children, not only the form but the spirit of our free institutions. And in our children must we rest our hope for the ultimate democracy.”

Our fight is for the future…never forget.