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Friday, April 23, 2010

The Lingering Limburger Smell of Scared-Rat Politics

Rat has been sniffing around the halls of the Capitol and found more than a little Limburger. And in these days of tea parties and heightened rhetoric, there’s also the smell of fear in the air. This fall, the governor’s seat, all 99 Assembly seats and more than half the Senate seats are up for grabs. You can bet that played a big role in our elected representatives' lily-livered inaction this spring.

There’s nothing new to election-year politics, is there? Don’t the guys in office always try to rig the system to hang onto power? Sure.

But the question draws a rat’s nose to those currently in power, the Democrats. Rat would love to surface some conservation group newsletters (including that from my beloved River Alliance) from November 2008, no doubt expressing glee (in very careful non-partisan tones, of course) that the Dems were total lords of the Capitol, and we could expect big breakthroughs on conservation policy.

Conservation went a dismal 0 for 4 on its top priorities. (There were some things to cheer about: two new Wild Rivers named, phosphorus bans in the form of lawn fertilizer and dishwasher soap, e-waste legislation.)

What’s at the bottom of the Dems dropping the conservation ball? The messy knot of money and power, Rat thinks, and not just on conservation.

First, there’s the obvious currying favor with interests with money to burn on campaigns. That can be the only explanation for the Democrats’ shameful dithering on regulating payday loan operations. This should have been a no-brainer for a party supposedly committed to struggling people. But they milked the industry for tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations, not to mention throwing out any shred of integrity about the policy when Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan (in effect, the Assembly Dems’ majority leader) was found with a payday industry lobbyist on his arm.

Then there’s the hideous process of letting AT&T write their own bill to deregulate land lines. Dems’ fingerprints are on that too. (Luckily the bill died.)

Sheridan’s Democratic counterpart in the state Senate, Russ Decker, deserves a few brickbats for holding up good legislation, out of fear of making his colleagues have to vote on it, for fear that it might lose the Dems a senate seat. His pettiness ended up holding up said good legislation for another reason: he was punishing some senators for voting for someone else for majority leader. (Turns out those senators were on to something.)

But why cling to power when you won’t use it for a good purpose? Power ought to me a means to an end, and in the current Capitol climate, where both majority and minority leaders get picked as much for their fund raising ability as for their diplomacy, the means is the means is the means – raise money from wherever you can to hold a seat, so you can get re-elected so you can hold a seat, so you can…..

Part of the blame for such dismal performance by the Legislature (Dems in charge, so more shame on them) has to go to Jim Doyle. He’s never been a back-slapping, glad-handing, hustle-the-Legislature kind of politician. He never served in the other wings of the Capitol, and seemed to avoid them like a vegetarian steers away from a butcher. Rat overheard the complaints of many Democratic legislators that they felt dissed by the Gov because he simply paid them no mind. It’s very hard to advance an agenda if legislators and the governor don’t talk to one another. Note to Dems: See Tommy Thompson.

Total majority is a privilege that the Dems may have squandered, leaving them in this paradox: by having been so cautious and so beholden to cash constituents, they may lose the very power their caution and special-interest pleasing was supposed to help them keep.


  1. Thanks to River Rat for sniffing out the big stink in Madison, especially the really big stink occuring on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day this week. Its especially hard for us lil rats up in northwest Wisconsin where our Minnesota dominated media makes it hard to keep track of the goings on in the Capitol. So we really appreciate River Rat summing up the disappointments and offering his analysis. As we lil rats up in the St Croix and Namekagon watersheds like to say, "there OTTER be a better way!!" Thanks River Rat.