Moving on…and up

It’s been quite a ride. Twenty-six months ago, I launched Badger Democracy blog to comment on what was (and still is) happening politically in my beloved Wisconsin. This blog has also filled in a void of information left by a media that has been steadily in decline. Thanks to the literally thousands of you who have read Badger Democracy over the past two years, and especially those who continue to engage in the political process.

But as the title of this post says, it is indeed time for me to move onward, and upward. As many of you already know, I recently co-founded and am heavily committed to the “Forward Institute.” We are a non-profit, non-partisan policy research and messaging organization, and we are already creating some buzz and making some waves. Our recent study, Wisconsin Budget Policy and Poverty in Education has received statewide press coverage. It is also changing the way policy makers and legislators are thinking and talking about education issues in Wisconsin. We’ve received bi-partisan support, and continue to engage and collaborate with statewide grassroots groups, and other 501c3 organizations.

As a final request on this blog, I am asking all of the 1,000 ++ who follow this blog to keep up with, and follow the Forward Institute’s research and future work, and even engage with us wherever possible. We founded to fill another void. We are Wisconsin’s first truly independent think tank, and we are here to do the research and messaging work that grassroots organizations can’t do themselves, then share it statewide.

We are doing a great deal of that work right now…in fact we’ll be in Black River Falls this weekend to take part in the Regional Frac Sand Mine Conference. We are also looking for independent funding sources outside of relying on the people we will be serving and working with. But as many of you know, that is always slow to develop. Our expenses are relatively small right now, but any contribution of any size would be greatly appreciated, to help offset the little things we need as we continue to grow. And yes, we are a 501c3 – so just let me know, and I can get you a receipt. You can use the donation button below, or contact me with any questions.

We are all making a difference. Stay engaged, stay strong, and please keep in touch through Forward Institute or email. Badger Democracy will stay on this site, as will the archives. Thanks again, and I look forward to the day when we are all back in the Capitol celebrating the restoration of our Wisconsin, always moving FORWARD!

Solidarity,

Scott Wittkopf

Chair, Forward Institute (scott@forwardinstitutewi.org)


		

And here we go again in Wisconsin…of idiots and ideologues

Hear me, people: We have now to deal with another race – small and feeble when our Fathers first met them, but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil, and the love of possession is a disease with them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break, but the poor may not. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule. (Chief Sitting Bull, Powder River Conference, 1877)

Is there a better processional for the parade of idiots and ideologues in the 2013 Legislative Session? The People who were here long before Wisconsin became a state were led by visionaries that understood the motivation of a white man corrupt with power.

A Mining Bill is poised to pass out of both committees this week, on the fast track to a swift vote within weeks. A bill which would mean devastation to one of the world’s great supplies of freshwater. Water which means life not only to an indigenous people, but those who have since settled and call the Bad River watershed and Lake Superior Basin home. But damn the torpedoes, science, and those inconvenient geological facts…full speed ahead Mr. and Ms. Chairman/Woman, we have (paying) corporate constituents to serve.

The only hope for defeat of this bill lies in the Republican-controlled Senate, and the possibility that four of its members still listen to a little voice most of us hear as a conscience. Dale Schultz, Mike Ellis, Robert Cowles, and Luther Olsen may be the only sane Republicans left in this biennial assemblage of insanity we still call a “Legislature.” This writer holds out hope that the smokescreen of empty jobs promises is wearing thin in a state moving closer to honorable entry into socio-economic “Dixie”…and further away from its progressive roots.

Has there been a time in our state’s recent history which more closely resembles oligarchy than democracy? The unholy triumvirate of Walker, Fitzgerald, and Vos…let’s face it, in 2010 Jeff Fitzgerald was nothing but a figurehead. Vos is, and has been pulling the strings all along. I digress. This triumvirate has the state government in lockdown, controlling the message in and out, controlling debate, the media, and god forbid anyone should sing in the Capitol. Every moment of every day is a campaign. Public policy is built on a campaign strategy, and supported by money. Lots of it. If you are on the right (literally) side, the money pool is almost unlimited. If you are on the wrong side…well, money doesn’t follow losers. And no money, no access.

Even the Capitol press corps is being kept on a short leash, with passes and access being strictly controlled by the powerful few. Say the wrong thing, write the story the wrong way, come across as the least bit partisan (read – report what we tell you to), and no access for you. End of story, end of job as a Capitol correspondent. This sort of power concentration is rare in Wisconsin. Scott Walker has power, and he is using it.

Walker is raising unprecedented amounts of money, and spending a lot of it on his legal defense fund. Let’s all be honest here…something stinks about the way Walker has campaigned, raised money, and conducted his business in and out of office. His administration is loaded with insiders, fixers, and power mongers. No interest in governing, just power and money. Crooks, liars, sharks. The smart money is that there is something illegal here…but that same money doubts the political will of a Milwaukee County DA to take on the Walker machine. But the Feds? Reminds me of something…

Richard Nixon in 1972. Re-elected, destroying McGovern in a landslide. Everyone knew, but few said it, that Richard Milhous Nixon was a crook. The media knew – but sat on the story until after the election. Once there was blood in the water, the media went in for the kill. Before Watergate, Nixon was untouchable, and had concentrated more power than almost any other president in history. The scary part is, once the scab was ripped off, no one knew how bad the wound was, or how long it would take to heal. Maybe it never has…and maybe we failed to learn the lessons of too much power in the hands of a man like Nixon…or Scott Walker. And so here we go again…in Wisconsin.

There is some light, in this dark time of plutocracy. There are voices rising above the din, who don’t rely on a Capitol press pass. We are getting one back tomorrow. John “Sly” Sylvester is back on the air Monday, February 4th from 3 – 6:30 pm. Sly will be on one of the last remaining locally owned and independent stations in the entire country – 93.7FM WEKZ. He’ll now have a three state reach – Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. Sly will also be contributing to the good fight against Democrats who are mere posers in our neighboring states – like Rahm “NAFTA, TIF King, Kill Public Schools” Emanuel, and Pat “screw the pension fund” Quinn. Station link to listen live here.

I’ll be listening. Why? Because in this time of incredible propaganda, Sly is honest about what he says and believes. He’ll question and confront both Republicans and Democrats who turn their back on Wisconsin working families. And that is important.

The new debate on economics and education will continue to demonize teachers and other public employees. It will perpetuate the myth of impending fiscal doom to preserve the wealth of those paying to spread that myth. Scott Walker will continue to do what Sitting Bull warned about in 1877: They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule.” It is voices like Sly’s we need to call out the Walkers, Fitzes, Vos’ Emanuels, Ryans, and Johnsons of our time for what and who they are. Greedy, power-hungry, sharks and fixers who are out for blood. The life blood of Wisconsin – its people and resources in exchange for money and power.

A final quote before sign-off…a warning shot across the bow of our fragile democracy:

When democracy granted democratic methods to us in times of opposition, this was bound to happen in a democratic system. However, we…never asserted that we represented a democratic point of view, but we have declared openly that we used the democratic methods only to gain power, and that, after assuming the power, we would deny to our adversaries without any consideration the means which were granted to us in times of our opposition.

No, that was not from a Walker secret conversation with Robin Vos.

It was Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, 1935 propaganda pamphlet, quoted in Vol. I “Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression,” US Government Printing Office 1946 

Vigilance. Always vigilance.

Mining Bill will be voted on in Committee February 6

This afternoon Wisconsin State Senator Tom Tiffany and Rep. Mary Williams announced an Executive Session in both Senate and Assembly Committees taking up SB/AB1 (The Mining Bill).

The Assembly Committee will take up The Mining Bill in Executive Session:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
10:00 AM
417 North (GAR Hall)

The Senate Committee will take up the Mining Bill the same day:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
10:00 AM
201 Southeast

The Executive Session will occur three days prior to the hearing scheduled in Ashland by Senator Bob Jauch and Rep Janet Bewley, who serve constituents that would be directly impacted by a Taconite mine in the Penokee Range. That hearing is scheduled for Saturday, February 9 at the AmericInn in Ashland.

No “official” hearing is scheduled in the region, and based on the scheduled Committee hearings and likely vote to message to the full legislative bodies, the current mining bill appears to be fast tracked in spite of significant technical and legal issues with the bill as written.

A representative in Mary Williams’ office confirmed to Badger Democracy this afternoon that the bill would be voted on to refer out of committee on February 6.

The hidden danger in the Mining Bill version 2013

Tomorrow, Wednesday January 23 at 9:00 AM, Room 411 South at the Wisconsin State Capitol will be the only scheduled hearing  (for now) on the new Mining Bill.  The hearing takes place before a joint committee, and will undoubtedly be contentious. One of the greatest miscarriages of justice in this process has been the omission of participation, and lack of  recognition of the Bad River Nation and the impact on this legally sovereign entity.

This is intentional, as there is a hidden danger in the new Mining Bill which has received little attention in the press. The result, if this bill is passed, will be a bad law – which is what happens when corporate influence holds outsized sway over a legislative body. The only jobs that will be created if this bill passes will be for attorneys, and rightly so. The current bill has language that will virtually deregulate one of the greatest hazards to freshwater and the Great Lakes – sulfide ore. The passage of this bill could lead to mining activity that would turn surface water into acidic runoff, ruining the environment in one of the greatest freshwater basins on earth.

Senate/Assembly Bill 1, page 3 contains the Legislative Reference Bureau’s analysis of the change in “sulfide ore” regulation:

Current law prohibits DNR from issuing a permit for metallic mining in a sulfide ore body (a mineral deposit in which metals are mixed with sulfide minerals) unless it finds, based on information provided by the applicant, that two conditions are satisfiedUnder the bill, these conditions on issuing a permit for metallic mining in a sulfide ore body do not apply to issuing a permit for iron mining.

The expedited release of sulfide ore deposits into surface water, and the damage it causes has been well documented over several decades:

The acidic discharge and metal-laden leachate from mining activities is known as acid mine drainage (“AMD”)…AMD is one of the most damaging and widespread pollutants associated with the mining industry throughout the world.  As of 1997, over 60 mines or mineral processing plants were on CERCLA’s National Priorities List, indicating contamination so severe that it requires federally-funded cleanup. (S.R. Jennings, D.R. Neuman, and P.S. Blicker (2008). “Acid Mine Drainage and Effects on Fish Health and Ecology: A Review”. Reclamation Research Group Publication, Bozeman, MT for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Anhorage Field Office. Available online at http://www.pebblescience.org/pdfs/Final_Lit_Review_AMD.pdf)

Among some legislators associated with this bill, there is confusion regarding iron ore mining and sulfides. This confusion has been propagated by GTAC, in the hopes of keeping the facts (and legislators) in the dark. Part of the confusion is based on facts regarding iron ore mining:

It is important at the outset to clarify some common confusion surrounding sulfide mining and to distinguish it from other traditional forms of mining in the region. While iron mining has a long history and still continues in the upper Midwest, it does not involve the mining
or disturbance of sulfide ores. Iron is generally mined out of an iron oxide ore, not an iron sulfide ore, and iron oxide ores do not degrade and toxify the same way that sulfide ores do. (Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5, “Great Lakes: Basic Information.” http://www.epa.gov/greatlakes/basicinfo.html)

The Penokee Range Taconite is unique, however. A report issued by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and scientists at Michigan Tech in March, 2012 draws the distinction:

This issue can be confusing because iron sulfides (e.g., pyrite, iron disulfide) are among the most prevalent of sulfide ores, so they are often the leading causes of acid mine drainage (“AMD”) in a sulfide mining operation. This does not, however, mean that iron mines are always associated with sulfurous AMD. In fact, the presence of sulfur in an iron ore is considered a weakening factor, rendering the ore undesirable for iron extraction. Iron sulfides are simply a common byproduct of the extraction of other metals from sulfide ore bodies. 

A taconite mine that disturbs sulfide ore bodies, on the other hand, would present the same hazards as non-ferrous metallic mines. The Gogebic Taconite mine under development in northern Wisconsin is an example of a taconite mine that may disturb sulfide minerals.

A recent article published by The Wisconsin Academy titled “Ironwood: The Rocks of the Penokee Range” confirms and details the unique geological features of the formation:

Figure 2. Block diagram showing the Ironwood Formation and adjacent bedrock layers. The view is looking toward the west (from U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1730)

Geologist Tom Fitz details the composition of the “Tyler Formation;” the large, wedge-shaped layer above the “Iron-Formation” layer (see figure, above).

There is also pyrite present in the Tyler Formation, some of which would end up in the tailings as well. When pulverized and put in contact with oxygen and water at the Earth’s surface, pyrite and other sulfide minerals can undergo chemical reactions that create sulfuric acid. This acid can leach harmful metals and compounds that end up in groundwater and surface water.

It is also possible that sulfate ions released during the weathering of pyrite would affect the growth of wild rice and other elements of the sensitive ecosystem found downstream from the mine. 

 The legislation passed in January 2012 by the Wisconsin State Assembly would have decreased the rigor required in scientific studies regarding potential impacts, making assessment of potential damages difficult. At the same time it would weaken many environmental regulations that protect the Bad River and its tributaries from significant water quality changes.

THAT is the hidden danger in the current Mining Bill. The authors have created a special exception for Iron Mining, taking away the regulations and processes that will protect the surface water and Lake Superior watershed from the harmful sulfides created from extracting iron ore through a heavily pyrite layer. The waste runoff created from destruction and disposal of the sulfide ore will have a longterm impact on regional water quality:

Figure 4. Map of the Bad River Watershed showing the location of the iron ore and the Bad River Reservation

The major corporate entities poised to benefit from the bill have intentionally perpetrated a fraud in this bill, and it endangers the very lifeblood of North Central Wisconsin – the water. The reason? They cannot mine the ore because of the low price of iron, and make millions of dollars in profit unless they are able to pollute the water – and they know it. THAT is why they created this provision in the bill. From the NWF Mining Study cited above:

Wisconsin’s sulfide mining law has perhaps the greatest regulatory scope of any of the
U.S. jurisdictions surveyed…Notably, state agencies are charged with the essential task of completing the environmental review for the project in the application phase, rather than the permittee. Special attention is paid to siting criteria and water quality, and the financial assurance mechanisms are written to ensure that any necessary cleanup will be fully funded by the permittee.

If you wanted to make a quick, multi-million dollar deal on a mine, this is how you would do it.

For the record, this has NOTHING to do with creating jobs. It’s about creating a “boom” economy in North Central Wisconsin, so a few people can make a quick buck.

Who cleans up when the bubble bursts, as it always does?

Scott Walker’s “I am not a crook” moment

This morning, in an interview with the Associated Press (AP), Scott Walker insisted that he was not a target of the ongoing John Doe investigation. Walker went further in saying that if he had knowledge of wrongdoing in his office, he would have put a stop to it.

Gov. Scott Walker tells The Associated Press that he remains “absolutely” confident that he is not a subject of a criminal investigation involving former aides in his Milwaukee County office.

Walker says he had no knowledge of county workers doing campaign work while on the clock for their county job. He says if he had known what Rindfleisch was doing, he would have taken action to stop it.

Less than twelve hours after Walker made that statement, news broke about former top Walker aide Timothy Russell, scheduled to go on trial December 3rd.

A plea agreement has been reached in the felony embezzlement case against Timothy D. Russell, a former aide to Gov. Scott Walker.

Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf said Monday a hearing on the plea deal is set for Thursday but declined to discuss terms of the deal. Russell’s lawyer, Parker Mathers, didn’t immediately return a phone call late Monday.

Russell, 49, was charged in January with embezzling more than $20,000 from a veterans group through a nonprofit organization that Walker assigned him to lead. He’s accused of siphoning money raised for Operation Freedom, an annual veterans fair and picnic at the zoo hosted by Walker during his time as Milwaukee County executive.

Russell served as deputy chief of staff and housing director at the county during the period he’s accused of plundering the veterans money. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Thursday will be an interesting day. Of more immediate concern is Walker’s claim on the record that he is a complete innocent. The record will show, eventually, that today was Scott Walker’s “I am not a crook” moment (shades of Nixon). There are several emails that make it abundantly clear that only one of two possibilities is true. Either Scott Walker lied today, or he is an incompetent fool duped by his campaign staff whom he had no control over. You decide…to the exhibits.

Power Point Slide #42

Email from Walker Campaign Manager (Friends of Scott Walker) Keith Gilkes (kgilkes@scottwalker.org) to candidate Scott Walker (skw@scottwalker.org). Copied to County Exec Walker’s staff including Kelly Rindfleisch, now guilty of campaigning on County time, in this case 11am on a Friday. The email is coordinating an official statement from County Executive Walker regarding the County tax levy, prepared for political expediency by his campaign. This goes beyond schedule coordination, and directly involved Walker.

Power Point Slide #44

Email from Rindfleisch on County time (1:30pm  on a Wednesday), from her “secret” Gmail account to bypass County email systems, to Scott Walker and Campaign Manager Gilkes (among others). More direct coordination of messaging and strategy for a WTMJ radio spot, even recommending “SKW might want to do a letter…asking for an appeal.” Noteworthy is that Walker and his state Capitol staff have continued message coordination and control with conservative talk radio pundits, as previously reported.

Power Point Slide #45

Perhaps one of the most damning email chains of all. This email chain is initiated by Scott Walker from his campaign email (skw@scottwalker.org) to combined County/Campaign staff including Rindfleisch and Gilkes. While we are unable to view the full first email, Walker is unhappy with how corporate counsel is handling media inquiries. The end result is Campaign Manager Gilkes telling Rindfleisch that the Walker campaign would “…like him to stop being a lawyer and think political.” Understand, this is a political campaign telling the County government how its corporate counsel should respond to public record inquiries from media, through Scott Walker, candidate. Again, on County time.

Power Point Slide #70

Extremely revealing email. Sent from campaign manager Gilkes to candidate Walker, Rindfleisch, and other County staff.  Sent on Friday afternoon May 14, 2010 when Walker would know Rindfleisch would be on County time. The subject is Darlene Wink, who had just left her County job under fire days earlier. This email is coordinating damage control and spin between the County Executive and Walker Campaign. The exact text (emphasis added):

Scott – we would like to discuss this further. We got a briefing from Kelly (Rindfleisch).

There are a few key thoughts on this that our (sic) critical to a response and diffusing this report.

Make no mistake, this is the start of a cover-up, with Scott Walker fully in the loop. Each of these email slides shows not only knowledge, but full participation in this activity. It is little wonder Kelly Rindfleisch’s attorney Frank Gimbel was beside himself, wondering how his client is the only one currently facing jail time in this scandal. As the emails on display were several of thousands, it is highly likely things are going to get very heated for Scott Walker.  This scandal will end up being of unprecedented scope in Wisconsin politics. A scandal that makes the Caucus Scandal look like a childish kerfuffle…

It comes down to this, and we must consider not only the emails referenced in the Rindfleisch sentencing, but the full record of Scott Walker.

He is one or the other…Walker is either lying; or he is an incompetent fool, completely ignorant and immune while his minions run roughshod over the law and the office just steps away from him.

Which is it?

 

 

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John Doe Power Point implicates Walker; Source Discloses Continuing Pattern of Corruption

The seventy-eight slide Rindfleisch power point presentation given by Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf is now available for public viewing (follow link). There can be no more speculation as to whether Scott Walker had firsthand knowledge regarding campaign activity occurring in his Milwaukee County Executive office. There was, and he did. Walker’s private campaign email address appears on numerous slides, and the campaign/county staff were one in the same. Significant questions remain.

Does the Milwaukee County DA have the goods on Walker? Or is this part of a coordinated chess match to “flush out” Walker for the Feds? Will the indictment come from Milwaukee County or another law enforcement agency? If this revelation came out in the Rindfleisch sentencing (she is a fairly small-time player in this network), what will come out in the Russell trial starting next month?

The one certainty in all this is that Scott Walker has continued his pattern of building an appointed, political network at the state level to carry out his policies unencumbered; and likely coordinate with his campaign. We already know the investigation has expanded to Madison, and Badger Democracy has previously published an email from Keith Gilkes’ state email account discussing campaign assistance from a Walker supporter.

A highly placed Administration official has recently communicated information to Badger Democracy which confirms Walker’s pattern of crony appointments and corruption continues in Madison. As additional information is disclosed, additional blogs will be posted. Of specific importance are recent events at one of Walker’s newly reorganized agencies – Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS – formerly Regulation and Licensing). All information has been confirmed through independent inquiry.

Cronyism

The Walker Administration has replaced all Division Administration heads at DSPS with political appointees. The last non-appointee left on April 12, 2012. Former DSPS HR head Martha Zydowski retired from her $90,000/year + job earlier this year. Shortly after her “retirement” she was rehired at a part-time job working 3 days a week, earning $67,000/year. She is assigned to working “special projects.”

Only two raises have been awarded since 1/1/11 for full-time exempt employees. One was to Angela Herl, who is married to Dane County GOP chairman Mike Herl. The other was to Kathy Sotak, who was promoted to a Bureau Director. Just months after her promotion, she resigned. State records show Sotak formed “Sotak Solutions LLC” in 2010 – while working for the state. Sotak’s LinkedIn profile claims to have worked at Sotak Solutions since 1999. Her business specialty:

Chemical management and industrial hygiene, risk management, safety, training programs

This is identical to the work she was performing at her state job. Badger Democracy found state Vendornet records showing Sotak as a state subcontractor in 2007 (Kathy Sotak as Safety Consultant 2004-2007). It is apparent that Sotak has spent her time in state government coordinating subcontract opportunities for her own LLC. The revolving door of state government at work.

Further cronyism exists in the appointment of Bill Wendle as Assistant Secretary of DSPS. Wendl is the former CEO of the Wisconsin Builder’s Association (WBA); one of Walker’s largest donors, supporters, and lobby for Scott Walker’s policy agenda. According to Badger Democracy’s source, through Wendle, WBA “bought the codes.” Wendle is said to be planning to write and update the new building codes, favorable to WBA interests “after the committee hearings” are held. Current code updates are said to be receiving “little to no oversight” due to “lack of manpower.” Building Code review is 6 months behind any updating activity.

Secrecy and Corruption

Badger Democracy has received information that a private Gmail network has been set up in more than one Administration Agency – including DSPS. There is also an initiative being pushed to eliminate the IT support at DSPS and transition all IT/Email to DOA. This would place control of IT at DSPS into the hands of DOA. Noteworthy is the private email account which Kelly Rindfleisch conducted her illegal campaign work on was a Gmail account. Also, greater opportunity for corruption exists now that DSPS is led by political appointees of Scott Walker.

As with WEDC, it is apparent that DSPS is now in disarray, sacrificing effective administration for cronyism and secrecy. Badger Democracy will have more information in future posts.

While the John Doe investigation continues to roll on, it is unclear what the next move for the Milwaukee County DA will be.  We now have confirmation that Scott Walker had direct knowledge of campaign work happening in his County executive office. We also know that Walker has continued this at least immoral, possibly illegal activity in Madison.

It is also known that Walker is also being investigated at the Federal level. Of that, we have heard nothing…yet.

 

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Expect more of the same from Scott Walker on Health Insurance Exchange Plan

If there was ever a time for Scott Walker to prove he is willing to work with “both sides of the aisle,” tomorrow is the day. Friday, November 16 is the deadline for states to announce their plan to implement state-run exchanges, or face implementation of a Federal Exchange. Walker and other GOP Governors went all-in on a Romney win, and subsequent repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  

Romney lost. “Obamacare” was declared constitutional. Don’t expect anything from Scott Walker – except business as usual.

Once again, Scott Walker and the extreme far-right GOP Legislators are choosing ideology over good governing, and it is the majority of Wisconsin taxpayers who will pay. Sadly, it didn’t have to be this way. The structure of an exchange has been in existence for over one year.

On November 1, 2011 State Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) introduced 2011 SB 273 “Badger Health Benefit Authority.”  From the Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis:

This bill creates the Badger Health Benefit Authority (authority) that is a public body corporate and politic that is created by state law but that is not a state agency.

Under the bill, the authority must establish and operate a Wisconsin Health Benefit Exchange in this state, must make qualified health plans, with effective dates on or before January 1, 2014, available to qualified individuals and qualified employers, and must seek federal grants and other funding for the purpose of the exchange. A qualified health plan is defined in the bill, generally, as a health benefit plan that covers the costs of health care services and that meets the certification criteria described in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

In the past, Legislators from both side of the aisle would have spent the year hammering out an Exchange unique to, and to the benefit of Wisconsin. This is how Badger Care came into existence. Not today.

Enter the ideological crusaders. So extreme are these ideologues, nine of them have gone on public record as promoting legislation authorizing the arrest of any Federal Employee who would attempt to enact ACA in Wisconsin – including a Health Exchange.

Rep. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), Sen. Mary Lazich of New Berlin; Reps. Don Pridemore of Hartford; Erik Severson of Star Prairie; Tom Larson of Colfax; Scott Krug of Wisconsin Rapids; and three Republicans elected for the first time last week who will be sworn in early next year – Rob Hutton of Brookfield, Mark Born of Beaver Dam and Dave Murphy of Greenville. (MJS)

These are not responsible legislators. They are hacks.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin recently released an email from DHS to Walker Administration officials containing a Power Point presentation – the closest thing we have seen to a blueprint from the Governor’s office.

We can be certain of one thing. The Walker plan for a Health Exchange will be consistent with his previous governing record. The WEDC Block Grant fiasco, the current Talgo breach of contract lawsuit, cronyism in Administration appointments and State Agencies, and corporate patronage at the expense of fiscal responsibility are now the hallmarks of the Walker Administration.

The Walker plan for a Health Exchange will be nothing more than a sub-contracted, privately operated online market “clearinghouse” serving existing for-profit insurance companies – and doing nothing to reduce costs or increase access to the nearly 500,000 uninsured Wisconsinites.

The result will be the same as well – a giant boondoggle which will set up a significant battle with the Federal Government over whether the Wisconsin Exchange conforms to the ACA. And we all will lose.

Scott Walker will again live up to our expectations of him, which are continually decreasing.

Walker, Vos and Darling Train Fiasco – Everybody Pays…twice

The day before Election Day, Badger Democracy reported on the train maker Talgo filing a lawsuit against Governor Scott Walker, DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb, and the state for “default of contract.”  In brief:

Train manufacturer Talgo filed a “Default of Contract” suit against Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb in Dane County Circuit Court today. Court documents filed today show that the Washington-based train manufacturer notified the state on April 4, 2012 that the “trainsets” were ready for required service testing to be conducted by WisDOT.

The state has attempted to claim that Talgo is responsible for testing, but the contract makes clear that WisDOT bears that responsibility.

The trainsets in question were not ordered for the controversial rail expansion to Madison. These trains are for use on the highly traveled Milwaukee to Chicago “Hiawatha” line. Coming on the heels of the WEDC/HUD block grant fiasco, DOT Secretary Gottlieb quickly issued a statement on November 5 to Badger Democracy, in full damage control mode:

The Department of Transportation participated in a formal mediation process with Talgo just last week in a good faith effort to resolve disputes related to the delivery of completed trainsets. We are disappointed that process was not successful.

Talgo has failed to complete or test the trainsets and they do not meet even basic federal standards, such as those required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The department will defend against this action and continue to act in the best interests of Wisconsin taxpayers.” (emphasis added)
Badger Democracy forwarded Secretary Gottlieb’s response to Lester Pines, Attorney for Talgo. In an interview, Pines offered the following response:
1. As stated in the lawsuit filing, the State of Wisconsin failed to make a $4.5 million contract payment to Talgo, as a means to attempt to force Talgo into conducting “pre-revenue” testing of the trains. Per the contract, this “pre-revenue” testing is the state’s responsibility. Contract excerpt below:
All parties acknowledge and accept that 49 CFR 238.111 provides that the Operator (or railroad, as the case may be) not the Contractor is responsible for performing a pre-revenue service acceptance testing plan. Contractor will diligently work with Department and such Operator to ensure that the Operator’s pre-revenue service acceptance testing plan is efficiently implemented.
2. The state is alleging in the statement that the trainsets do not meet ADA accessibility requirements. This is not true. The trains have been warranted by Talgo to meet every FRA and ADA standard. One minor deficiency has been corrected by a simple part replacement.
3. The state has had an escape clause in the contract which it could have used at any time. It did not. The state could also have declared Talgo in breach of contract at any time for legitimate reasons. It did not.
4. The state of Wisconsin put up a $50 million capital bond issue to pay for the trains. If the state is found in breach of contract, Talgo gets their trains back, and the state no longer will own the capital for which the bond issue was made. The state would be required to repay the $50 million – out of General Program Revenue.
A Legislative Fiscal Bureau March 14, 2012 memo to Robin Vos and Alberta Darling’s Joint Committee on Finance (JCF) confirm many of Talgo’s assertions. The memo also  gave legislators plenty of advance notice on this issue, and made specific recommendations (emphasis added):

The state purchased two passenger car train sets in 2009 from Talgo, a Spanish train manufacturer.

A total of $68.9 million in passenger rail development bonds has been approved for the purchase of the rail cars ($48.5 million), as well as other costs related to construction management, purchase of maintenance equipment, and a temporary maintenance facility.

The train sets are now nearing completion, and are scheduled to be delivered to the state for initial testing in mid-March. Following testing, the cars would be ready for use on the Milwaukee to Chicago service, likely in late 2012.

Under that agreement, the state is responsible for providing a facility for the maintenance and for making payments to Talgo for
ongoing maintenance costs. [In anticipation of the completion of the Talgo cars, 2011 Act 32 provided $4,450,000 SEG in 2011-12 and $6,700,000 SEG in 2012-13 in the Department's passenger rail service appropriation for start-up maintenance costs.]

According to the LFB memo, maintenance costs were an issue of significance. Alternative solutions were offered, including a renegotiation of the maintenance agreement:

ALTERNATIVES

1. Approve the Department’s request for the approval of $2,500,000 in passenger rail development bonding for final design engineering for a permanent maintenance facility for the
State’s passenger rail cars.

2. Deny the request.

3. Deny the request and direct the Department to reimburse any expenditures for the maintenance facility preliminary engineering that were made with bonds from the Department’s SEG appropriation for passenger rail service, to the extent that unencumbered funds are available in that appropriation.

4. Deny the request for additional funding and direct the Department to attempt to renegotiate the maintenance agreement with Talgo to reduce ongoing maintenance costs and, if feasible, the cost of the permanent maintenance facility. Direct the Department, in any subsequent request for funding for maintenance-related services, to report to the Committee on
the status of these negotiations.

Walker, Vos, and Darling all knew exactly what this contract entailed. They wanted to kill any new rail development as payback to their transportation construction political cronies, so they did nothing – even though it would cost taxpayers millions above and beyond the cost of honoring the contract. Vos and Darling were very vocal about how they were “saving taxpayers money” in a May 2012 edition of the Conservative-Digest.

Unfortunately, they failed to tell the whole story about the Talgo contract, and the specific issues surrounding the inevitable trainset replacement costs. You can read the entire LFB memo linked above. The LFB estimates do not include extra costs associated with continuing to use Amtrak maintenance – so the Vos/Darling  article is conveniently leaving out key details. The last few lines of their joint article are the most important:

Luckily, the state has options. According to
the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, if no funds were
given for the Talgo maintenance facility, the
“agreement can be terminated by either party.”
So that’s where we are now.

Wisconsin taxpayers were taken for a ride by
Doyle and the Democrats. We’re proud to say
that the ride is coming to an end.

Not quite Governor Walker, Representative Vos, and Senator Darling. When Talgo wins this lawsuit, Wisconsin taxpayers will be the ones paying back the $50 million in revenue to replace the bond issue – as you will have lost the capital purchased by those bonds.

And the trains – they will still have to be replaced in just a few short years anyway. In essence, we will end up paying for them twice. Though, after defaulting on the Talgo contract, will anyone do business with Wisconsin? Maybe we’ll be able to ride Chinese trains from Milwaukee to Chicago.

Lost loans at WEDC, federal block grant money distributed without authority, contract breaches, lost capital from bond issue, former aides convicted…

This is acting “…in the best interests of the taxpayers of Wisconsin…?”

Paul Ryan retains his Congressional seat…but is Tuesday’s biggest loser

Paul Ryan will still have a job, having defeated challenger Rob Zerban in his most competitive race since he first won election. What is getting very little attention in the mainstream media is that Ryan failed to carry his home communities of Janesville and Rock County. Zerban won his home County of Kenosha and Ryan’s home County, Rock. Not surprisingly, Ryan has the GOP-friendly redistricting and Waukesha County to thank.

Total vote:

Ryan –      199,715 –  55%

Zerban – 157,721 –  43%

Difference – 41,994

(Source – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

First, Ryan loses his home of Janesville and Rock County:

Rock County

Paul Ryan (Rep) 46.39% 18,826
Rob Zerban (Dem) 51.50% 20,902

Zerban + 2076

(Source: Rock County Clerk)

Zerban wins his home Kenosha County:

Kenosha County

Rob Zerban (DEM) 41101 52.27
Paul Ryan (REP) 36092 45.9

Zerban +5009

(Source: Kenosha County Clerk)

Zerban is competitive in Racine county:

Racine County

PAUL RYAN   –   50,106 –  48.21 %
ROB ZERBAN  -  47,618  - 45.81 %

Ryan +2488

(Source: Racine County Clerk)

Racine and Rock basically cancel each other out, leaving Zerban with a 5,000 vote lead. Walworth County gives Ryan a slight lead:

Walworth County

PAUL RYAN REP 27,890
ROB ZERBAN DEM 16,546

Ryan + 11,344

(Source: Walworth County Clerk)

After Rock, Kenosha, Racine, and Walworth County, Ryan is only ahead 6,747 votes out of 259,081 cast in those four counties, or 2.6%. Enter the GOP behemoth Waukesha County.

Paul Ryan    -   36,843

Rob Zerban –  12,688

Ryan + 24,155

(Source: Waukesha County Clerk)

After Waukesha County, Ryan’s lead is increased to 30,902 out of 308,612 votes cast, or 10% – a huge increase, and insurmountable.  Waukesha County accounts for nearly 50% of the margin of victory. Southern Milwaukee County adds almost the same pro-Ryan vote as Walworth County.

More Waukesha County for Ryan, larger margin of victory for the GOP, and a relatively “safe” seat.

2001 WI 1st CD map

2011 WI 1st CD map

Ryan wins thanks to favorable redistricting, even after losing his hometown. In the final analysis, Paul Ryan may have retained his House seat, but after the fight of his political career. This on the night he failed to deliver a critical Wisconsin for Mitt Romney, and Tammy Baldwin defeated a state political legend in Tommy Thompson.

The 43% of voters in the 1st Congressional District will undoubtedly have a close eye on Paul Ryan – as will Rob Zerban.

Help keep independent journalism alive!


		

Time for Wisconsin Progressives to get to work…again

A short time ago, the AP called the election for Barack Obama, and Tammy Baldwin – with Wisconsin leading the way. Earlier today, Badger Democracy posted predictions and commentary on the state races. Fortunately, I was correct on the Obama/Baldwin win. Unfortunately, I was also correct in saying the GOP would take back the State Senate. It appears Wisconsin will be controlled at the state level by a very conservative GOP led by Scott Walker.

We should take the next 24 hours to celebrate. As Wisconsin progressives, we have led the way in re-electing Barack Obama, and sending Tammy Baldwin to the US Senate. After the celebration, we have along road ahead of us. The recent redistricting has assured an uphill climb for the next decade to maintain a balance in the State Legislature.

More importantly, as progressives, it is time to change the way messaging and campaigns are run at the state level. The Democratic Party, on the whole, has been beaten badly in that regard over the last 18 months – and appears not to have learned from its mistakes. It is time to remedy this as progressives, and again lead the way to change the way we communicate our values and our message – because what is being done now is not working.

The election is over. The campaign for a progressive Wisconsin is in its infancy. See you in the trenches…

Solidarity!

 

 

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