Posted tagged ‘wisconsin’

Civil Service Blues

February 16, 2016

In 1871, the US adopted a “Civil Service” method of organizing government appointed workers. Prior to that time, government employees could be hired and fired by the preference of the appointing authority, Federal, State, or local. These jobs were viewed as the “spoils” of political victory. If someone supported (and usually worked for the election there of) the winning party, there was an excellent chance government employment could come your way. Hmmm.

The short comings were plentiful. Lack of training and professionalism combined with partiality (favoritism) meant government work was crudely performed and if there were any benefits such as awarding contracts or spending government funds, these actions favored the party in power.

The Federal Civil Service Act was established in an attempt to improve professionalism and competency by insulating government employees from the whims of politicians. States followed with their own civil service laws. Now life is about to change.

Wisconsin has just signed into law a “rewrite” of their civil service regulations. The revision introduces “performance based” standards and extends probationary periods for new hires. Sound like an improvement?

Why shouldn’t someone who is performing poorly be discharged or in the case of lay-offs, why shouldn’t the younger and/or better performing individuals be retained in preference to the more senior?

The quandary, of course, is how does supervision determine who is doing a better job than another employee? And more to the point, if an employee is not a fervent supporter of the party in power. what keeps the supervisor from using job performance as a cover for redistributing political spoils?

Wisconsin will in essence be running an experiment. A new approach to civil service might result in better delivery of State services. If so, State residents will be winners. If not, State residents will reap that benefit too… and presumably turn to the opposite political party in subsequent elections. The law of natural consequences.

The unpleasant potential associate with weakening civil service lies in blatant mis-use of government funds. Already a problem even with strong civil service rules, State politicians set up all sorts of “authorities” which in turn award contracts and hire expensive law firms, both of which just happen to contribute to the political party in power. With a weakened civil service it will be just that much easier to “scratch someones back if they scratch yours”.

The Heart Of The Difference

May 1, 2014

This past week saw a Wisconsin voter photo ID struck down by a Federal Appeals Court. The grounds: the Court determined that too many poor and elderly people would be in properly inconvenienced in an attempt to obtain photo IDs.  Consequently these previous voters would be denied the vote for unfair reasons.

Governor Walker has said he will appeal the finding and if necessary take it to the Supreme Court. The Governor says the law is constitutional. Hmmm.

Opponents of voter photo ID cheered the Court’s decision. Opponents have long maintained that instituting mandatory voter photo ID would place undue burden on the poor and elderly.  Opponents also alleged the law was aimed at discouraging large blocks of voters who were thought to be Democrat leaning.

The rush to voter photo IDs has been a phenomena of GOP controlled States.  These laws were premised on ensuring that future votes were free of fraud. A worthy goal but but not supported by recent incidents of voter fraud. Fixing something not broken?

So what is the basis of Governor Scott’s appeal?

The appeal will emphasize the constitutional procedure used to enact the voter photo ID law. The Governor will assert that the State acted in accordance with its constitution and therefore the law should stand, full stop.  In other words, the State followed the correct procedure in enacting a law and therefore it should stand.  Hmmm.

The Heart of the Difference is glaringly simple. These GOP controlled States say their law are “legal”, that is they followed their State Constitutional principles. The Federal Appeals Courts, on the other hand does not question the States ability to enact voter requirements but says these requirements must be reasonable and fair to all voters.  The Appeals Court concluded  the law’s consequences were disproportionate and negative in impacting minorities and the elderly.   The law does not meet the test of treating all citizens the same under the law.

This controversy will make wonderful case study materials for law students. Weigh the correctness of a properly  enacted law versus whether the law is fundamentally fair to residents. Until States can accumulate evidence that voter fraud is taking placing on a large scale, it is hard to see how States can implement voter photo ID laws as “precautions”.

Wisconsin Speaks

June 6, 2012

Governor Scott Walker won yesterday and survived a recall bid.  He won convincingly with over 50% of the vote in what was considered a voter turn out equal to or greater than for a Presidential election.  Wisconsin voters spoke loudly.

Shortly after Walker was elected in 2010, he asked his Republican controlled legislature to pass legislation taking away public sector workers’ rights to collective bargaining.  This was a surprise since Walker had never mentioned this possibility during the campaign.  Protests erupted, and in time recall petitions were collected forcing a recall election.

With over 10 points margin of victory, Walker can say the voters have spoken.  In a few days we will be told what voters said and why.   Pundits will sift through the demographics behind this margin and make their pronouncements.

Some will assert it was a referendum on President Obama.  Others will say the Union overstepped its safety zone and the defeat reflects what most voters think about unions.  Still others may say that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett did not run hard enough or spend enough to get elected.  Who knows?

What seems clear after the election is that (1) out of State money played a huge role.  This seems patently wrong regardless of which party it favors.  It also seems clear that (2) Unions are going the way of dinosaurs and there is little time remaining for them to remake themselves if they wished to stay relevant.  (Since losing collective bargaining rights, Wisconsin’s public service workers union has also lost a large amount of dues paying members.)

The irony of out of State money is that its flagrant use is an endorsement of Federal over States rights, something most of these “out of State” donors would never support.  Surely, if it is ok to affect the vote in another State, there will be less need to restrict Federal powers since it will impact all States the same.

Unions have long been in a survival mode.  They do little to encourage the skill or productivity development of their members deferring instead to sucking out money from members for all sorts of political activity.  What is tragic is that at a time when there are no systemic levers to reverse the trend of income inequality, unions seem to be impotent and unlikely to play a constructive role.

In America, however, if the elections is deemed fair, we respect the majority decision and get on with life.  Wisconsin should be no different.

Will Wisconsin Be The Answer?

March 31, 2012

Listening to radio and television coverage of Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney’s last minute campaigning in anticipation of the Wisconsin primary, you got the feeling both candidates were tired and just wanted the Presidential candidate selection process to end.  They sounded like they were just going through the motions.

The 2012 GOP process has been expensive and potentially damaging to both the GOP and the candidates.  GOP leaders tell us a tough campaign makes the party stronger.  What else would you expect them to say?

Santorum’s line is that it is too soon to decide.  Republican voters need more time to indicate their support for him.  Romney supporters, just as expected, see things the opposite.  Secretly the Romney team is hoping to end the campaign and conserve some cash.  Campaigns are expensive even with Super PAC money.

Romney has honed the one-two punch.  First his Super Pac trashes his opponent (Gingrich at first, most recently Santorum).  Second he personally campaigns against President Obama citing statistics that are mostly accurate but totally irrelevant.  He is ready for the Convention and fall campaign.

So with the prospect of lunar colonies or no-sex as campaign mottos, I think the GOP mainstream is ready for the “least worst” of four losing hands.  Romney is actually credible and could, under the right circumstances, be a good President.

The differences between Romney and Obama will be seen better in the actual Presidential campaign.  During that campaign the fight will be somewhat fairer.  President Obama (and his Super PACs) will have just as much money as Romney and mud will be matched with mud.

I can almost see the add with Bo riding in the car with the President and another car passing in the opposite direction with a dog riding on top of the car.


Something To Be Proud Of?

March 10, 2011

Ends justify the means.  This has been a companion and the down fall for Republicans, especially during the Bush years.  Ideologues and just plain and simply greedy people have fallen back on the notion that if the “end objective” is good or justified, then there is a wide range of “methods (means)” open to achieving the goal.

This type of reasoning lead to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the disgrace and horror of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo as well as the wide spread use of enhanced interrogation, and an all energy company designed National Energy policy which ultimately lead to the Gulf BP disaster.

Now in Wisconsin, another Republican has orchestrated a union busting “ends justify the means” transgression.  Wisconsin Republicans who under the banner of balancing their State budget had packaged the need for wage and benefits concessions with additional provisions that took away State workers’ rights to collective bargaining.  It was all about balancing the budget, the Governor said.

Unions protested and claimed this was a shameless attack on collective bargaining and union busting.  After weeks of a stalemate, the answer finally emerged.  Yesterday, Republicans separated the provisions of the bill that involved repeal of collective bargaining and passed it as a separate measure.  Done.

Personally I think unionized State workers is a poor idea.  There is no free enterprise system to apply natural consequences in situations where greedy or ambitious unions demand too much as there is in private industry.

In Wisconsin, however, public sector workers did have the right to organize and bargain collectively.  To end this right should require either (1) the workers to decertify or (2) something like a 2/3rds majority of State voters to concur.

What instead has taken place is a State Government power grab that will come back to haunt Republicans in Wisconsin and elsewhere.  Wisconsin budget woes will not end with this action and you can expect State services to begin a steady decline.

Republican and Tea Party leaders may see this as “something to be proud of” but they may have overstepped.  The “means” used to achieve any end is achieved will inform how the action is viewed long term.  Ends do not justify means.


Who’s To Blame?

March 3, 2011

Republican efforts to repeal collective bargaining rights for public service workers is outrageous in its sneak attack approach.  It rates an “F” with respect to honesty of purpose too.  But who is to blame for their behavior?

Republicans, of course are in the end responsible for their own actions.  These actions and any consequences lie fully on Republican doorsteps.  Is this matter that simple?

Republicans are quick to claim they are simply following the will of voters.  Voters want a reduction in government and they do not want to pay more in taxes.  It is clear, Republicans say, we cannot afford to pay public sector employees what they now receive.  This is really for our children and grandchildren.  Hmmm, that makes it clearer but doesn’t answer the question of blame.

I wonder whether these public sector workers are to blame?  I wonder whether they have demanded too much in pay and benefits?  I wonder whether their support for union (paying dues) has influenced things?  I wonder whether the practice of these unions in championing socially progressive candidates and platforms is really the target?

Who knows?

This I am sure about.  I am quite sure that stripping public service workers of collective bargaining rights will not serious impact socially progressive thinking.  There are simply plenty of wealthy people who just happen to see things in a progressive way.   Even more to the point is that this Republican vendetta against unions and public sector workers (including teachers) will not yield either a long term solution to deficits or the debt, nor will it produce any improvement in services these workers are supposed to deliver.  In short order, Republicans will be seen for what they are and voted out.

The only question left open is “will Democrats become social responsible as well as socially progressive”?


Don’t Be Fooled

March 1, 2011

The high drama going on in Wisconsin and in Washington, DC is not what the politicians purported to be.  The legislators are not mad as hell about the deficit and are unlikely going to do something about it.  They are, however, not going to let a perfectly good crisis go to waste.

Behind all State and Federal governments deficits, when all expenditures are put into perspective, lies primarily a problem with health care costs.

For sure, there are other issues.  These other issues should be dealt with but alone they will not solve the deficit or long term debt problem.  The number of government workers and in many cases their benefits deserves attention.  It is simply difficult to get too excited when you compare their income with that of Wall Street.

Health Care is another story.  We have a national moral dilemma.  Many people are speaking out about who should get basic coverage and who should not.  It is incredible that a country as rich as ours should even ask such a question.

President Obama has given his ok to States that they could rework their Medicaid qualification rules.  The reason is that the Affordable Health Care Act will require sizable increases in States’ Medicaid outlays.  States claim they cannot afford these increases.  The largest portion of these State expenditures is associated with long term care.  So what are the alternatives?

Don’t waste your time even trying to think of answers.  Unless the Country embraces basic health care as a national right, any solution to Medicaid funding just delays the inevitable expansion to the questions of how to fund Medicare and then, how each individual will be able to pay for their own health care if they are not on Medicare/Medicaid.

Most of the government spending targets are in reality expenditures that are politically unattractive to one party or the other.  In total they will not put a dent in the deficit or debt problems.   Until political leaders talk real money associated with deep cuts in Defense spending while increasing taxes progressively to fund health care, you cannot believe anything they say.  This applies to both Democrats and Republicans.

The math is dead simple.  Seeing this issue as a moral one, however, seems less obvious given the rhetoric.  Think about it and don’t get fooled.  After the poor and aged who cannot take care of themselves, you will be next.