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COMMENTARY: Is the Fat Lady Singing?

And is Walker changing his tune?

The recall elections are over. Net result? Two seats in the State Senate changed hands - from the incumbent Republicans to the Democrats. What was a 19 to 14 dominant advantage became a slim 17 to 16, with a very tenuous, one vote margin. Given that there is at least one moderate among their Republican ranks, does this spell the end of the ideological blitzkrieg of the Walker regime? Is the fat lady singing?

After having picked up two seats in a flurry of recalls, the final two recall elections on August 16 went to the Democrats with Bob Wirch (D-Pleasant Prairie) and Jim Holperin (D-Conover) successfully defending their seats.

To hear the spin from the right, the recalls were an enormous success and vindication of the direction Walker and Associates have taken this state. The claim has been made that the Democrats were soundly defeated. Really? A net loss of seats and reduced margin in the Senate is a victory? Sure, much like the Chicago Bears defeated the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game last year. Oh…wait, that’s right, the Bears didn’t win.

Make no mistake, the Republicans still hold an advantage in our other legislative body and the Governors mansion – and they still have a one-vote advantage in the Senate. We haven’t seen the last of Walker’s push to eliminate anything Democratic. A margin – even if only one vote – is still a margin. Don’t make the mistake of discounting Walker’s hubris.

If there is anything both sides would agree on, the amount of money spent by the candidates, the outside groups, and the PACS was obscene. What if there is an effort to recall Walker? Should enough signatures appear on the petitions for Walker’s recall, the sum we have seen spent recently will seem like chump-change by comparison.

On one side, union money will help fund the Democrats. Defending Walker? Big business, the Koch brothers, Chambers of Commerce ET al. If Walker faces a recall election, Wisconsin will truly become ground zero for an ideological money war that will have national repercussions.

Don’t underestimate Walker’s surprising offer to “reach across the isle.” Would he have any desire to do so if he did not see the writing on the wall?  Has he made any attempt up to this point to work with the Democrats? What Walker sees in his rearview mirror are the angry constituents he is also supposed to be representing.

It is the arrogance in the Governor’s mansions of other states that are an issue as well – those who have amorously embraced the fringe of the right wing. Consider the record making low approval numbers and challenges of the governors in Ohio, Florida, and Michigan. In Ohio, they have garnered 1.3 million signatures to put on the ballot the reinstatement of public employee’s bargaining rights. That’s 1.3 million signatures! The Governor there now says he would like to “reach across the aisle” as well. Hmmm.

It won’t be until November that petitions here can begin circulating for the final recall – the one with Governor Walker’s name on it. So maybe the fat lady isn’t singing yet, but is that her phone ringing?

Brian Dey August 21, 2011 at 10:04 PM
Not even close Dan. Your football analogy isn't even right. 17-16 is still a win. As long as you score more than the other side, you win. The things that the liberal's always tried to teach are kids is close is good enough, but in the real world; not so much. As long as unions don't understand tha we are STILL paying 88% of their healthcare premium and 94.2% of their pension, then the frivolous games will continue. What you lefties don't understand, is that you are dealing with a new breed of politician in Walker. He doesn't care about poll numbers or re-election. He knew he had a job to do and he actually did it. Just because the unions don't like it, doesn't mean it didn't have to be done. It did, and the early results are a better state for it. Dan, it really is time to move on. Nothing is going to change because of the games, and the recalls and legal challenges have shown that to be true. Even if you can successfully challenge Walker in a recall, Act 10 will not change. It's time for you to accept it, but we know why you won't. Because when people actually live and breathe the results of Act 10 for a couple of years, the dems will never be able to turn the tide. Walker reaching out to the left is simply the winner's handshake at the end of the game.
Terry Van Parys August 21, 2011 at 10:10 PM
Yes, big labor will lead the charge against Walker. As usual, the media chooses to ignore most of us, the taxpayers. We have, and will continue to support him.
Duane Michalski August 21, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Dan Bell has no clue. He is nothing more then a union lackey pretending to be a blogger. No one can take his biased crap serious. First of all Mr Bell, have YOU talked to Sen. Schultz? Did you ask him his opinions? Probably not...too lazy to do the hard work!! Hear is a quote for you..." I have been a Republican for 47 years, That will never change" and how about this one "The only reason i voted against Gov. Walker is because Act 10 didn't go far enough" Both of those are from the good republican Senator. One more thing Mr. Bell.....if it wouldn't be too much to ask, why don't you ask your "hero" if he is even going to run next year when he is up for re-election...after all he no longer lives in the district. So is it over...NO...not even close. But you and your socialist friends can keep on dreaming!! The funny thing is...when it is all said and done...even the union hacks will be better off and they are just too stupid to realize it!
Rees Roberts August 22, 2011 at 04:38 AM
Does anyone see what I see? Just in the 3 replies above we have black and white responses. Nothing showing any wiggle room for compromise. What we need is consensus. But it is difficult to achieve when a Governor runs for office and says nothing about blind siding a large contingent of people. Yes, Scott Walker ran to work on a balanced budget but he never said a peep about running Unions out. We only found that out after he was elected. That is not good politics. If you happen to agree with him it is good, of course. But if there is any fairness left, one must conclude he gave no real notice of his intentions about Unions. So, how do we start to work together again? Certainly not with slogans which say "my way or the highway" from either political camp. If it hasn't been said, certainly the actions speak louder than words. Why can't we see this? As Dr. Phil says "How's that working for you?"
Denise Lockwood August 22, 2011 at 01:18 PM
@Rees... I think you are right. There are definitely arguments to be made that big business and the unions have gotten their share of the pie. And deflection seems to be an issue in our ability to see the forest through the trees. When we examine the policies (and not the politicians), we have better discussions. When we examine the resources we use and the results we get when unravel those policies we have better conversations. When we acknowledge the relationship between those policies on our lives, we have better conversations. So if we are talking about pencil making, the question is -- what are our pencil needs, what resources would we need to make that the pencil the best pencil we can make, do we need a good enough pencil or a great pencil, how much would that pencil cost, and what results are we looking for? But we don't have those conversations. What I find interesting in the 'you tax me to death/you ask me to pay too much for health care and pensions" debate is that we can't agree that people/corporations need to pay something. We're too busy blaming other to examine our own side of the fence. And if we agree to that, then we talk about what kind of government we want to have and can sustain. Right now, the policies/discussions/responses to those are in a destructive place. And does no one any good.
Brian Dey August 22, 2011 at 01:57 PM
Denise- You left out one important question, "How much can we afford?" Answering your question about "should people/corporations pay something?" With regards to pensions and healthcare, whether Democrat or Republican in office, my belief is yes they should. What I found on the school board was a tremendous misappropriation of dollars put towards endeavors that had nothing to do with educating our children. Millions of wasted dollars spent on consulting firms for "Union/Supt./School Board labor relations, consulting firms for "school board/supt." relationships, countless surveys, building consultants, financial consultants, deputy supt's, new office buildings, etc... when those resources would have been better spent in the classroom. I saw a $20 contribution towards healthcare premium in exchange for a four year contract with 16% raises. I've seen a $98 million budget in 1996 to $296 million in 2010. 85% of those dollars went to employees. What has it gotten us? Unfortunately, this has been seen throughout various governments statewide. There is a real sense of frustration with taxpayer's that they don't want to foot the bill for a system that has no desire (but plenty of excuses) to do better. The world has learned to do more with less and with better results, so employees of the public workers union are only first seeing what has been going on in the rest of the world.
Denise Lockwood August 22, 2011 at 02:34 PM
Brian, I didn't forget. Our resources include money... but it is also not our only resource. People, infrastructure, and a whole host of other things are our resources as well. I understand your frustration though and we've talked about that, but then the next step is -- what should we spend? What is a reasonable compensation? And what should we be spending our money on? It's easy to point out what's wrong, but how do we fix it? And I mean... really fix it. But the problem I see, is that we end up with the "it can't be fixed" answer and I have a real problem accepting that. And I am seeing some really interesting discussions at the board/administration level acknowledging that they need to take ownership of test scores, how they are paying more attention to testing data, looking at how they address shortfalls in learning, engaging parents, asking more of them...so if people are really frustrated, why am I the only person in the room out of thousands of parents/taxpayers. Seems to me that if we really want better for our children, then we need to be part of that.
Duane Michalski August 22, 2011 at 03:37 PM
Rees, you apparently were NOT an educated voter. Gov. Walker said multiple times that state unionized employees' were going to be a source for balancing the budget. He said it as Milwaukee County Executive and he said countless time on the stump. I personally saw him speak publicly 3 times where he said that collective bargaining was an issue. Instead of just being one sided I also was paying attention to Tom Barrett, which made my vote for Walker even easier. You see, I listen to everyone and make my decisions by what I hear and what I learn from my own research on candidates.
Rees Roberts August 22, 2011 at 06:14 PM
Duane Michalski, there is quite a difference between "state unionized employees' were going to be a source for balancing the budget" and removing rights of people to continue collective bargaining. If you will recall the unions had already approved the reductions the Gov wanted, which did positively impact the budget. But to imply that this gave the Gov the right to remove 50 years of collective bargaining in Wisconsin is simply dead wrong. If you don't understand that then nothing I or anyone else will say will change your mind. We then will need to agree to disagree.
Ron Clone August 22, 2011 at 07:38 PM
Spot-on Rees Roberts. And from the things I've read by Mr. Michalski, the only word that comes to mind is "intractable". Oh, there are others, but you would have to flag this post. Oh, sorry Mr. Michalski, I'll define for you. The denotation of "intractable" is stubborn, but the connotation is much stronger.
Brian Dey August 22, 2011 at 07:43 PM
Denise- As you know, I have dedicated a large portion of my life towards bettering education in our community, as well as the RUSD community. Many of the conversations you are hearing in the board room now, have been going on for as long as I have been working on it. It all starts with real accountability. The student is accountable to the teacher; the teacher is accountable to the principal; the principal is accountable to administration; administration is accountable to the superintendent; the superintendent is accountable to the board; and last but not least, the board is accountable to the community. That accountability trail is broken on almost every level in RUSD. When we socially promote children because of age, not ability, we've created the snowball effect of failing a child. We must not move a child up in grade level until they achieve competency in their current grade level. You can have all the data in the world, but until you do what I mentioned above, it doesn't mean a thing.
Brian Dey August 22, 2011 at 07:43 PM
What else can we do? The biggest affect on a child's education is the child/teacher relationship. Yet that relationship is constantly dictated by someone sitting in an office on Northwestern Ave. The amount of waste spent on administration does absolutely nothing for that child in the classroom, yet we pour millions of dollars into this behemouth we call central office. Just cutting that staff in half and reprioritizing staff jobs would send $15 - $20 million back to the schools annually. Money like that can buy text books, technology and yes, even repair and replace facilities. Reducing prep hours from 3 to 2, like every other district in the state, can save over a million dollars or pay to get back almost all the teaching assistants. Redistricting so that all children go to their closest school can save.
Ron Clone August 22, 2011 at 08:36 PM
New word, "Clueless", Mr. Dey. I have taught at every level from k-12 in two states. Beginning my 11th year in Wisconsin/RUSD, 38th year in the classroom. Yes, ASC is a bit bloated, but there really is a lot of good coming to the kids through their efforts. In the elementary, where we have the MOST planning, we have disjointed, broken up, maybe 45 minute blocks of time. After you visit the bathroom, check mail, email, maybe check some papers, most of it is gone and becomes homework. After four years at Case and listening to those teachers whine about three "preps" and having two full planning periods AND a 50 minute lunch, that is where things could get cut. But the broad brush you just used blames all of us. You people who haven't been in a classroom have no idea. More planning time really does create better learning. I LOVE what I do. I LOVE Red Apple. Red Apple has amazing parent support and some of the most dedicated teachers with whom I have EVER worked. I HATE clueless people who think they have the answers. I am typing this from a rehab bed at St. Luke's after major brain surgery. I am in constant contact with my principal and colleagues. I spent three days in my classroom two weeks ago getting it ready I spent two hours meeting with my hand-picked sub and will be in daily contact until I am back in my classroom. I have teachers who will be delivering my kids' work to me daily. Many of the teachers with whom I have worked in 38 years would do the same.
Brian Dey August 22, 2011 at 09:34 PM
Ron- We are grateful for teachers like yourself and there are many more good teachers than bad. Thank you for your dedication and service and I wish you a speedy recovery. A little info for you. I have taught in 3 hour blocks for 4 years at the elementary level, and middle and high school level for one each. While I don't have the vast knowledge you have, I am not clueless either. You show me where 3 Area Superintendents has made a difference. I should have made it clear that I was more focused on secondary prep time than elementary, but I am dead serious and dead accurate on social promotion, especially at the elementary level. As long as we let first grade readers advance to the next grade, we devote more resources in the second grade trying to catch up one individual, taking time away from those who are reading at grade level, and if these kids do not read at a sixth grade level by middle school, we lose them because there are no programs or limited programs to get them caught up. The simple fact of the matter is we are not reaching enough kids and only graduating 71% is not good enough soo all is not well with RUSD. Until that planning translates into better results, it doesn't mean a thing. Red Apple is also a different breed than most schools being a magnet school where you can hand pick your students. I would much rather have the $10 million spent on the new ASC back and in the classroom.
Ron Clone August 22, 2011 at 10:20 PM
Brian, I apologize for the assumption. The old saying about the word ASS-U-ME, mostly me in this case. Yes, 3 people at close to 150K really didn't make a difference to the kids. And the new building..., looking like a money pit. But the old place was dangerous and a money pit. Social promotion has a point of diminishing returns, or I should say retaining kids does. I started teaching the Read180 program at McKinley, was the lead teacher of it at Case when we moved it up to the high schools and we were showing amazing growth with some very needy kids. Then they started chopping at its knees and it's sadly down to about three sections at Case and probably similar at the other two. Personally, and perhaps selfishly, I'm happy because I got lucky in the arena and ended up at The Apple. But for the kids at Case/Park/Horlick? Not so much. The bottom line in ALL of this is family. RA has the same demographics as Racine, yet we are one of the most successful elementary buildings. The single biggest difference is that parents CHOOSE, hence there is INVOLVEMENT, to send their kids here. Thanks for the positives Mr. Dey. It has been a great career that may last a little longer thanks to the changing state of Wisconsin, but the extension will never be bad thing. I still can't wait to get back. And yeah, $10mil would buy a couple elementary buildings.
Brian Dey August 22, 2011 at 11:11 PM
Ron- No need to apologize. Parental involvement is key. I had three in Horlick and one in the REAL School. I think Red Apple will miss Les Hunt. I had a chance to brainstorm with him through the Panasonic group during my years on the board. One thing I would like to see is 6th grade back in elementary and 9th grade back in middle school. I'm not sure of the educational effects, but I think taking 4 - 500 kids out of CAse/Horlick/Park would make a huge difference logistically. Unfortunately, we as board members saw that the benefits were unsustainable back in 2005. It's sad that for everyone, the world has changed. For better or worse, it was coming one way or another. I wish Ann Laing well. I actually thought she should have been our last Supt when i was on the search committee. I know there are teachers that don't like me in RUSD, and I may be the wrong messenger, but I think the message is clear. I just want better for all of our children and pray that there are more teachers like you out there in the future.
Duane Michalski August 23, 2011 at 01:33 AM
And what "rights" would those be? And what districts agreed to eliminate C.B.? Yes some agreed to cuts but those would not be enough for the long term. Short sighted people (union hacks) can't see the big picture.
Ron Clone August 23, 2011 at 02:17 AM
The rights for which people died outside Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan and may other places over 70 years ago. Warsaw, Poland in the 1980's for another. And RUSD, for one, had agreed to all of Czar Walker's demands.
Denise Lockwood August 23, 2011 at 03:56 AM
@Ron, thank you so much for being part of this discussion and I wish you well in your recovery. I also hope that you continue with this discussion because I believe we do need to examine these issues further. I also wish we could have some kids from the high schools participate in these discussions because I'd like to hear what their challenges are. @Brian, I like your idea of having 6th grade in elementary and 9th grade in middle school. I understand what you were saying about the improvement plan and believe me, I've covered a number of school districts where they've gone through those and it all seems good on paper. Still, I feel our job as a media outlet is to look critically at the progress made on those. But what stories do you guys think we should be covering?
Kathy Aschebrock August 23, 2011 at 03:58 AM
When I mentioned the food stamp and day care programs, I referring to the fraud within the system. Here's an example of how it works in the public sector...I had a supervisor that got a big kick out of how he didn't have to pay for the his health insurance because his wife was a MPS teacher, but yet a co worker was told by her spouses health insurance carrier that because she worked 40 hrs and was offered insurance,,his insurance was dropping her.....Or A friend thats spouse was a county employee, she didn't live with her husband, but with her boy friend for over 15yrs the reason she never divorce was because she'd loose his pension and health insurance for life...well he has passed away and she will collect benefits for the rest of her life. Even though she lived apart from him longer then they lived together . Oh yes she too hates Walker...the really funny part is that she complains that she has to pay for her dental insurance,,,the moral to the story marry a public employee you'll be set for live and recall anyone that tries to take your perks away.
Kathy Aschebrock August 23, 2011 at 06:05 AM
As I deleted my comment and wanted to delete everything but couldn't, please disregard my post....... I've decided that nothing will ever chance because someone will always be effected in a way that they won't be happy with. It doesn't matter what is said, what point is made, It's the nature of the beast..Politics
Ron Clone August 23, 2011 at 12:36 PM
Thanks Denise. Right now, I have to time my little "blogging" sessions with you so my BP isn't too high. :-) Things to cover? Maybe instead of the bloat and new building, some of the success in Unified, of which there is much! We have an national award winning Apple Educator of the Year in Sue Gorman along with a dozen who would finish second. Kids who graduate and go to Penn State, Uni of Chicago, Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State, and of course Madison. We STILL have a nearly complete music, art and PE program in all the schools, three magnet elementaries... Did you know Racine pioneered the whole magnet concept in the 70's?
Brian Dey August 23, 2011 at 01:46 PM
Denise- The real critical analysis starts with the school board. Everything starts and ends with the decisions they make, and ultimately, most of the criticism I see in op-eds or blogs really are school board issues. There are only nine people, we as the public, can hold accountable. Yes, some decisions are made by administration. But those decisions are ultimately passed or negated by the board. In 2007, the board voted to change it's governing structure to "policy governance." Through this change, the board supereceded most of it's authority to the superintendent. I fought against this because now the decision-making is made by an unelected position and the public is taken out of the equation. The move was made because of the perception of micro-management by prior boards. Why is this a problem? The checks and balances on a number of levels has been ceded to staff and unless the board properly assesses the policies and the superintendent, many things get pushed through or go unnoticed without the oversight of the board. Ex- In 2008, all employees data wasaccidently distributed to outside sources. A policy that was made stated that you could not release employees personal information, yet with documented proof of a policy violation, the board voted that the superintendent was in compliance with that policy. This is poor monitoring and the public has no idea this is happening. cont...
Brian Dey August 23, 2011 at 01:58 PM
In order to truly know how decisions are made and if the board voted properly, we in the media have to match the vote with the policy and see if the decision met the policy requirements. One of the things that bothered me through the implementatio process is that all of these policies were written without public input, off-site meetings and heavily influenced by an outside consulting firm based in Colorado. Because of the way it was handled, the public really was never aware of what this meant. The media needs to understand this as well when reporting on board activities so that the public can become aware of how these changes affect how the resources we provide through taxes and referendums are spent to better educate our children. i know this sounds like a minute issue, but really, this is the most important issue to the community. These policies cover everything from how we choose a superintendent, how we treat employees all the way down to what we expect our children to learn. Changing to this governance style was one of the reasons I did not seek re-election.
Rees Roberts August 23, 2011 at 02:24 PM
Kathy I, for one, appreciate your involvement here. Please do not feel you will not succeed if you can't win over absolutely everyone. There will always be a degree of disagreement. But, it depends on the intent. I did not feel you were just arguing just to take the opposite point of view like so many do. That gets us no where. Just look at Congress. I felt you wanted to contribute and that is how I took your comments. Thank you for taking the time to do so. If you honestly feel "It's the nature of the beast.....Politics" then we are all in trouble. We need this dialog. We need to know our neighbors. What on heaven are we going to do if we find ourselves needing each other because of some natural disaster? We need to start building sustainability and resilience in our communities and neighborhoods instead of just merely taking the opposite point of view on everything. In the end, we should be closer to each other than farther apart. That would then start to build trust and maybe, just maybe we can discuss politics in the framework of knowing the people better.

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