Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 1
Walker should not give any candidate an advantage
Just because former Gov. Tommy Thompson did it, doesn't mean Gov. Scott Walker should. What Walker should do instead is either leave open the seat left vacant by the tragic death of state Supreme Court Justice N. Patrick Crooks or at the very least appoint someone who will pledge not to run in the April election for that seat.
Given the importance of incumbency in an election —especially in a low-turnout spring election —Walker would be giving an unfair advantage to any candidate he appointed to fill out Crooks' term.
Crooks' term is up come April, and the justice had said that after 20 years on the court, he was not going to be a candidate this time around. His untimely death on Sept. 21 left a big hole — he was a respected and esteemed justice. But we're not convinced that filling that hole is necessary right now.
Ed Fallone, a one-time candidate for the court, said in a letter on the Journal Sentinel's editorial page that "there is simply no urgency to appoint a new justice for the remainder of the term. Given the current ideological divide on the court, a 3-3 vote in a particular case is unlikely to occur. Should a tie vote occur, the case could be easily held over for re-argument the next term." We concur.
But Walker said Tuesday that he wants to appoint someone to fill out the term. "The Supreme Court still has an active caseload going ahead into the fall and beyond, and I'm going to make sure the people of Wisconsin are well served," he said.
Walker also said he'll use the same criteria he uses for judicial appointments — integrity and knowledge of law and the constitution.
"I want someone who understands that the sole responsibility of the judiciary is to uphold the constitution and those laws duly enacted within it," Walker told reporters following a visit to La Casa de Esperanza charter school in Waukesha Tuesday.
And he said that he will consider appointing one of the three people who had already announced their candidacies for the spring election. Those candidates are Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Donald and Court of Appeals judges JoAnne Kloppenburg and Rebecca Bradley. A primary will be held in February and the general election on April 5.
"Whether it's someone who is running or not, I'm going to put the best person on the bench right now," Walker said.
That's a great sentiment, but Walker is glossing over the politics of the appointment. No doubt, Walker would appoint someone with solid conservative credentials, most likely Bradley. That's only natural. A Democrat governor would want to appoint someone in agreement with his or her thinking. Presidents do this all the time. But that appointment, and Walker knows this full well, would give Bradley or whoever else it is a big advantage in the spring election.
Soon after Walker's announcement, Donald and Kloppenburg said they wouldn't apply for the appointment, with Donald saying he didn't believe the governor should put anyone on the court who plans to run for the seat next year.
The governor did point out through messages posted on Twitter that Thompson appointed two justices to the high court just before elections. Those appointees — Janine Geske and Diane Sykes — went on to win their elections, in 1994 and 2000. Which only demonstrates the point: Incumbency may not have been the deciding factor in those races, but we're betting it helped.
Best would be if Walker doesn't make an appointment. But if he feels compelled to do so, he should appoint someone who won't be a candidate. Maybe the state should change the way it selects justices; we've argued that. But right now, Wisconsin voters still make that choice — and Walker should allow them to make that choice without giving an advantage to one candidate.
The Journal Times of Racine, Sept. 30
Ryan should be next House speaker
We think the Republican Conference should draft him anyway, because he just might be the best man for the job.
Boenher announced his resignation on Sept. 25. Reports indicated he jumped before he was pushed, that the tea party wing of the House Republicans had found his work as speaker insufficiently protective of the party's interests as they see them. That he was more receptive to the interests of the establishment wing of the party.
Ryan, a member of Congress since he was first elected in 1998 and presently the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, is a rare establishment Republican who has the respect of the tea party. But as someone who's been advancing the cause of conservatism since well before the tea party movement got up and running, he has the tea party's respect without being beholden to it.
He has respect nationally: His time as Mitt Romney's running mate in 2012 does not seem to have hurt his standing with the party.
If you vote Democratic and have passed on all eight chances you've had to vote for him, you should want Ryan as speaker as well. A Republican will be the House speaker, obviously. Yes, Ryan is probably more conservative than you are, but he's also serious-minded, more interested in the details — in actually governing — than merely scoring sound bites. You might not agree with him, but he's more interested in keeping the government running to his liking than in shutting the government down.
Tellingly, it was Ryan who reached across the aisle and worked out the 2013 budget deal with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a deal with put a cap on spending for two fiscal years without raising taxes. Some tea partiers talked of the deal as giving too much to the Democrats, but it passed the House by a vote of 332-94. As Jonathan Allen of Vox.com put it: "Democrats may not like Ryan's ideas, but they believe he can deliver."
Democrats questioning whether Ryan is who they should want as speaker need to recognize the same reality that we would urge tea party Republicans and their supporters to face: We have a divided government, and we will continue to have one until Jan. 20, 2017. That's 15 months from now, and while the national spotlight will shine brightest during that time on those looking to succeed President Barack Obama, for every day of those 15 months Obama will still be sitting in the Oval Office. He has no more elected offices to seek, and he's shown a much greater willingness to veto anything that comes his way which is not to his liking.
Moreover, while the Republicans hold a comfortable majority in the House, the GOP majority in the Senate is much thinner. Senate Democrats showed a great deal of unity on the Iran nuclear deal. Tea party demands for ideological purity, and an attitude that any concessions to Obama and the Democrats are somehow a weakness rather than a recognition of the necessity of compromise, are out of touch with the reality of governing in 2015.
As Boehner pointed out, the next House speaker will have the same thorny problems he has had: Reconciling the tea party wing and the establishment wing of the party, and reconciling that conflict with the realities of divided government.
We think Ryan is the man to lead the House Republicans in such a time.
Press-Gazette Media, Oct. 3
State should focus on fixes to WEDC
When Scott Walker was first elected governor of Wisconsin, he promised big changes.
One of his first targets was the former Commerce Department. The status quo of a large, slow-moving bureaucracy was unacceptable, so Walker proposed a public-private agency that would be nimble and quickly focus on job creation and economic development. Staffing was to be cut from 300 to 50.
Such an undertaking is huge and there were bound to be some growing pains. A state audit in 2012 found the WEDC lacked oversight on $56 million in loans and awarded funds that exceeded limits to ineligible recipients for ineligible projects.
The results of that audit: term limits for WEDC board members and annual audits, instead of biennial. Those were instituted in 2013.
Problems, however, have continued. A Legislative Audit Bureau report that came out in May looked at fiscal years 2013 and 2014 and still found some basic missteps.
For example, the audit "found that recipients contractually required to create or retain jobs were not contractually required to submit information, such as payroll records, showing that the jobs were actually created or retained" and that the WEDC "awarded tax credits without attempting to verify the accuracy of information submitted by businesses."
The audit raises serious questions, and among them is this: At what point do we cease to blame growing pains and take responsibility for the problems?
How about now?
It's time for the governor and the Legislature to focus on issues like the WEDC, where costly problems have been identified, instead of creating issues where there aren't any, such as the recent proposals to gut the Open Records Law and overhaul the Government Accountability Board.
Walker no longer has the distraction of a presidential campaign and the Legislature has passed a biennial budget, so the upcoming floor period that begins Oct. 20 seems to be a good time to tackle some of the issues raised in the audit.
We're not saying the agency should be disbanded. For every story of a company that got aid but didn't create the jobs promised, there are stories of companies that use tax credits, loans and grants to stay in Wisconsin, expand operations and create jobs.
We also understand that not every business venture will succeed. Risk is inherent in a capitalist, market economy. Therefore, there is a chance that expansion and job creation plans may not pan out.
That's why there are policies put in place for oversight. Ignoring those protocols, as the audit suggests, is not acceptable because as long as the WEDC is awarding tax credits, loans and grants that are funded with taxpayer money, it needs to account for its decisions.
A good place for the Legislature to start is with the recommendations made in the audit that, in part, call on the WEDC "to improve its administration of grant, loan, and tax credit programs, and for its governing board to improve its program oversight and financial management."
The state Senate has started a five-city tour of the state to talk about economic development issues, and this includes a hearing on Thursday in Appleton. While we would have preferred these stops be made public, we like that the Senate is seeking some input.
Now it needs to turn the results of the audit and these hearings into action to ensure accountability and transparency. Surrendering to the status quo is unacceptable.