The End?

Well, folks, today marks an important transition. Brandon had already started writing for North Park Street two months ago, leaving the warm confines of the Campus First for the larger demographic appeal, and visibility of NPS.  I now join Brandon as an author for North Park Street and as such will be leaving this blog idle for the time being.

It has been an absolute pleasure writing on here and I would like to thank my readers for their faithfulness, their engagement, and for the encouragement to continue writing. I hope that everyone will continue following my ruminations about UW-Madison, Politics (both campus and otherwise), and life over at my new abode.

Until then, many fond farewells, this is not a goodbye, only another beginning.


Do you want some cheese with that “whine”?

After blasting both state and national Republicans (and politicians in general) last week, I must now fire back at the state Democrats.

The Republicans recently released their plans for redistricting the state from the 2010 census, and immediately and without surprise, the Democrats cried foul and wanted the proposal thrown out. While their argument is certainly sound, from statements that it is a ploy to secure districts (it is) or that it is purely to benefit themselves (mostly true, Ron Kind becomes pretty solidly safe as well). I agree with the Democrats; the process is wrong and the results make Wisconsin look poor.


But are we honestly supposed to believe that the Democrats wouldn’t have done the same thing had they secure control over all branches? Had Barrett carried a Democratic wave in 2010, wouldn’t we be looking at a map where Paul Ryan would absorb more of Milwaukee and less suburbs? Sean Duffy, in an already contentious district, would surely have seen changes.

Most importantly, let’s not pretend that only the Republicans would’ve done this. It’s easy to do so, but it is wrong.

When  folks say that this is unprecedented and the process hasn’t happened like this before, it’s true; but only because for the past fifty years Wisconsin has had a split legislature/governor during this process. I think that concerns like those of Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) being moved out of her current district should NOT  have a bearing into the process. Should we protect the incumbents naturally? I don’t think so and I wouldn’t think so regardless of who it was.


I think it is especially telling that in the complete Democrat controlled state capital until November of 2010 did NOT bring forward reform measures. Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) has been a prolific tweeter on the matter but wouldn’t a skeptical public think that its odd that the multitude of Democrats purportedly supporting this did not present this before the new legislature and Governor took office? I know Hulsey wasn’t there before but a lot of others were and could have done it.  Legislators look into the future and they clearly did not expect everything to be overturned in November, yet it happened, and now the Democrats are scrambling to recover.

My prediction? Governor Walker will be open to a more open process than the brothers Fitzgerald. The recalls against the GOP is pretty solidly in place and there is not much to gain or lose for those legislators but the Governor has another three years left (sorry Madison, he won’t be recalled. The numbers aren’t there) and will need Democrats for some of it at the very least. This is a very good place to begin some healing and still end up with a plan favorable to the majority party but with some willingness to work together as it will be needed at some point.

And remember: we are a purple state. Neither party rules very long here so learning the lesson of bipartisanship is something that will be learnt, one way or another.

Republican Brinksmanship: Playing Chicken with a Blind Driver

The Republican Party has taken its lumps, particularly in Wisconsin, but nationally still controls the House of Representatives and is exerting an almost unfathomable amount of power over the political process.

Most specifically, when it comes to the current argument over the debt ceiling, noted conservative (small “c”) blogger David Brooks of the NYTimes has said it best:

If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases.

A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.

But this isn’t the “normal” Republican Party. This is the party of Palin and Bachmann. A party whose most hardcore supporters have coerced into being a bludgeon against all things government and anything short of virtual anarchy. The Tea Party is the epitome of all that is wrong in today’s politics. They have no wiggle room: you are either with us or you are trying to take away our freedoms and rights that Paul Revere rode forth through the Battle of Waterloo on his trusted steed Shadowfax to proclaim on Twitter (or something like that).

Brooks continues:

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

He has more great lines in the op-ed that you really should read in full.

I have said before, that I work in a Republican office in the Assembly and all I can say to my party is: stop being so damned willfully ignorant and do your damned jobs. From one conservative to another, the rise of the Tea Party and their willfully ignorant masses is indication of nothing more than we better make economics courses mandatory in K12.

Chancellor Martin to Leave UW-Madison for Amherst College

BREAKING: this is the content of the email to all students from the Chancellor, more analysis to come after I’m off work.

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I write to inform you that I have accepted the presidency of Amherst
College, and I will conclude my term as chancellor of the University
of Wisconsin-Madison later this summer.

The decision to leave UW-Madison is one of the most difficult
decisions I have ever made. I love this university. I loved it when I
was a student. I was shaped by its lively intellectual culture and by
its great teachers, from Klaus Berghahn to Elaine Marks and George
Mosse. It has been a joy to be back and an honor to serve as its
chancellor. I will miss the extraordinary beauty of the campus,
Madison’s lakes, my view of our students climbing Bascom Hill, the
state’s majestic capitol building and my home at Olin House. More than
anything, of course, I will miss you — the faculty, staff, students,
alumni and supporters of UW-Madison.

UW-Madison is one of the world’s public treasures, and it deserves the
support of every citizen of the state and every branch of state
government, just as the state deserves the benefits of having a great
research university. I am proud of the fact that we have succeeded in
moving the New Badger Partnership forward. The plan passed by the
Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance takes a positive step toward
allowing UW-Madison to adapt to changing circumstances, as it must, if
it is to continue to flourish as one of America’s premier public
universities. That is what the New Badger Partnership is designed to

The future of UW-Madison is bright because of the quality of its
students, the caliber of its faculty, the professionalism of its
staff, the loyalty of its alumni, the generosity of its donors, the
university’s commitment to the people of Wisconsin and the public’s
devotion to the university. The Wisconsin Idea was born at UW-Madison
and has distinguished it for a century. It will always define this
university, and I will always be honored to have been part of it.

I feel lucky to have glimpsed the future of interdisciplinary
scientific innovation in the faculty who now do their work in the
Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery and in the Wisconsin Institutes for
Medical Research.  I am fortunate to have witnessed the social
interactions that are highlighted and enabled by the new Union South,
to have helped attract the public-private match in support of the
humanities, and to have celebrated the academic successes of so many
faculty, staff and students. I will miss the community-wide
discussions of the books we have read together, student performances
of all sorts, watching football games from the sidelines and shooting
free throws in the Kohl Center. My memories of our victories over
previously unbeaten Ohio State at Camp Randall and again at the Kohl
Center this past year will remain vivid forever. I will never forget
how to Bucky.

It is a privilege to be a Badger.

In the end, I have made the very difficult decision to leave a place I
love for an institution that I have long admired because of what I
consider to be a unique opportunity. I was educated in the liberal
arts at the College of William and Mary, and I am deeply in its debt.
There are a wide variety of forces arrayed against the benefits of the
liberal arts today, yet I believe fervently in the importance of a
national commitment to the fundamentals — a broad and integrated
education in the arts and the sciences. The strength of American
higher education is its diversity, and the continued success of the
American experiment, depends on the accessibility of many forms of
advanced learning. As we consider the future of the United States and
its place in the world, technology, innovation and medical
breakthroughs are all essential, and a great research university with
UW-Madison’s mission will continue to produce them. Great liberal arts
education is also critical to ensuring these very achievements and
guaranteeing that they are continually renewed.

Education and research in the fundamentals of the sciences,
humanities, arts and social sciences provide the foundation on which
so many other forms of learning and practical solutions depend.
Preserving and enhancing these fundamentals is our best hope for
citizens who are prepared to answer questions of meaning and value,
even as they contribute to the global economy, to education, to
scientific discovery, to cultural diplomacy and to a renewal of our
political institutions. We need leaders who understand how these
domains are interrelated, who can think about them in their
complexity, who can push the boundaries of language and other media,
and who care about creating opportunity at a time when economic and
social disparities threaten to tear apart the fabric of our democracy.

Amherst is the premier model of the kind of liberal arts education we
need to nurture and propagate, and I want to play a role in promoting
it. It is among the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the country,
as well as being among the most selective; it has shown that
inclusiveness and excellence are complementary, not contradictory. Its
faculty has an unwavering devotion to the intimate art of teaching,
even as its members pursue advanced research across a broad range of
endeavors. The integration of research and teaching is one of
Amherst’s hallmarks. Further, the college seeks to inculcate the ideal
of service and public engagement in its graduates, whatever walk of
life they may pursue. For liberal arts education as a whole, Amherst
College is pointing the way by its actions. The chance to combine my
belief in the transformative potential of the liberal arts with the
presidency of the leading liberal arts college in the country is the
best opportunity I can imagine. I would have left UW-Madison at this
point for no other school and considered no other. I look forward to
teaching Amherst’s students, supporting its great faculty, working
closely with its dedicated staff, engaging with its vibrant alumni
community and leading the college’s ongoing efforts to serve as a
model of quality, diversity and invigorating intellectual exchange.

At a moment such as this, it is hard not to cast a look backward —
and forward. I am delighted that Wisconsin’s great flagship will move
into the years ahead with new kinds of flexibility as it takes
significant steps toward the operational autonomy it needs. I hope
that a future chancellor will pick up the effort as political
circumstances permit. When I arrived in 2008, I drew on what I learned
from you, using that information to articulate a number of goals:
successful recruitment and retention of faculty, which would be
enabled only if we found new ways to ensure we could provide
competitive pay; enhanced administrative infrastructure for this
amazing research enterprise; tuition at the median of our public peers
with significantly increased need-based financial aid; transformations
in undergraduate education to ensure that our students reap the
benefits of studying at a world-class research institution; increased
diversity among students, faculty and staff; a stronger international
presence; invigoration of the Wisconsin Idea; improved communications
and relations with the public; and new developments in our operational
model that would keep pace with rapid changes in higher education
financing. With the increases to faculty salaries at the point of
promotion, assistance with compression issues and the achievements of
the New Badger Partnership, the university will be in a better
position to support its faculty and staff. The organizational changes
to research administration will help ensure that UW-Madison’s
extraordinary research enterprise continues to thrive. Our still
relatively new Office of University Relations has enhanced our reach
and strengthened our relationships.

I am especially proud of our success at increasing the financial aid
available to our students, adding faculty and staff in areas that our
students need, and improving undergraduate education through the
Madison Initiative for Undergraduates. We have increased institutional
grant aid by 226 percent. Though there is still a long way to go, the
Great People Scholarship campaign is poised to generate a great deal
more support. UW-Madison can price itself in way that combines average
tuition with outstanding quality, and I hope it will. The Class of
2016 will include a larger number and percentage of targeted minority
students. Our presence in China and the opportunities it has created
for our faculty, staff and students are a source of particular
satisfaction to me. These accomplishments have been the work of many
hands. They will pay off for years to come.

UW-Madison students: You have been a complete joy. Our interactions,
whether serious or fun, have been a deep pleasure that I will remember
for the rest my life. I will miss you enormously and think fondly of
everything from our book discussions, our interactions on matters of
governance, your indulgence of my dog Oscar, your sense of humor and
your signature jump around.

UW-Madison faculty and staff: I will continue to be inspired by the
quality of your research and scholarship, your dedication to teaching,
your support of our core mission, your commitment to the Wisconsin
Idea and the entrepreneurial spirit that helps make this such a unique
place. I will remember fondly and miss so many in the university and
Madison communities, more than I can possibly say.

Finally, I am happy to point out that by assuming the presidency of a
Division III institution, I can remain an unconflicted — indeed, a
rabid — Badger fan forever, and I look forward both to seeing the UW
take home the Paul Bunyan Axe once again and to seeing Amherst beat
Williams at their 126th meeting this fall.

I thank all of you for your support and your contributions to
UW-Madison, and I wish everyone well.

Chancellor Biddy Martin

Stillwater Bridge: A “Boondoggle” or just a Boon?

After yesterday’s passing of a bill to replace the Stillwater Bridge sponsored by Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) by a large bipartisan majority, the commentary around the Capitol continued to reflect on the $225 million that had just been spent on what our very own Representative Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) called a “boondoggle bridge”.

In his press release, Hulsey urged members to vote against the bill because over 1,000 other deficient bridges exist in Wisconsin. Think about it. Yep, he just argued that we shouldn’t fix one because there are other problems out there. Not a good start.  Shahla Werner, the Director of the regional Sierra Club is also quoted in the release saying,

“This bill will pave the way for constructing a $633 million bridge just seven miles north of an
eight lane bridge while ignoring more reasonable bridge upgrades…This massive project unnecessarily
jeopardizes the federally protected St. Croix Scenic Riverway.”

Now, the good Director’s first two claims are true: the bridge will cost upwards of $633 million and is about 7 miles north of Hudson, Wisconsin which has I94 running through it into Minnesota. While true, those statements are misleading.

    1. The first is that Wisconsin is not spending $633 million; Wisconsin authorized bonding for $225 million, our share of the bridge. (The additional implication that this will be funded through bonds and not the internal budget is another matter entirely…)
    2. The second statement about Hudson’s I94 bridge is misleading in that its not exactly an empty bridge. During peak time the bridge is bumper to bumper for all the lanes, cars backed up from St. Paul 10 miles farther into Minnesota. That doesn’t sound like a bridge capable of adding another 18,000 cars per day without extreme congestion and cost.  Additionally, the next nearest bridge is in my home town of Osceola, and is built just like the I35 bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis a few years back prompting strict weight limits and frequent inspection. Neither option can handle the strain.
So, it’s clear that a bridge is needed, but why this bridge now? Why not one of the other 1,000 bridges that Hulsey spoke about? I tossed out some historical perspective yesterday but today I’m going to explain why this bridge is needed, not necessarily more than others, but is needed.
  • According to data collected by the Federal Highway Administration, the Stillwater bridge has two peers that have over 10,000 vehicles per day and a structural deficiency rating of less than 3/100.  (Stillwater bridge is labeled as the Township of St. Joseph in this data) So that already puts it near the top of the replacement list. In all honesty, if the bill included provisions to bond a total of $600 million for all three of these bridges, I would be ok with that.  People are at risk daily because of political gridlock and that’s not okay.
  • Stillwater bridge closes annually in the Spring when the water of the river rises to touch the deck and sometimes flood the roadway of the bridge. That water enhances the corrosion of the beams, many of which are original 1931 steel, leading to the infamous rust holes in the support structure. That’s right, I can see through the bridge’s supports because they are so weak and rusted away.  Every so often, a large truck will come across the bridge and actually hit the beams, bending the steel!
  • For more commentary and public views (some of which are blatantly ignorant of the past forty years of regional history) check out the recent MPR discussion between the Mayor of Stillwater and a representative from the Sierra Club. It’s interesting.
As far as Brett Hulsey goes, as the lone member of the Transportation Committee to vote against the bill, I just have to question his reasoning. Without any other bridge funding proposals on the table, the argument of we should fund others just doesn’t fly. Representative Hulsey, you’re on the damn committee charged with writing these sort of things. If fixing other bridges is really important to you, then write the legislation.

The Stillwater Bridge: a Brief History

There are over 2,000 bridges in Wisconsin deemed to be structurally deficient and earlier yesterday, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bipartisan bill to rebuild the one at the center of one of the longest and strangest controversies between the Cheeseheads and East Dakota. Having lived in Osceola, Wisconsin, twenty miles from this bridge, I can assure you that I have traveled it extensively, and I’ve followed the history closely.

The Stillwater Bridge has gained notoriety over the years for being exceptionally frightening to drive (or walk!) across, and for being habitually closed for repairs and floods. Conversations about replacing the bridge started when the bridge turned 50 (in 1981) and when the Twin Cities was just beginning to grow enough to consider Stillwater a suburb.  Early on, there was much confusion over who should pay more for the bridge, Wisconsin or Minnesota?  Complicating matters more is the fact that the bridge lies on the St. Croix River National Scenic Riverway, an area with strict construction requirements and conservation laws. Nevertheless, plans had slowly trudged along.

In 1994, when it seemed like a new bridge would come soon (the current bridge could legally retire now…) two of my friends who lived in Stillwater at the time were subject to Minnesota’s Eminent Domain and their neighborhood was bought out for the new bridge that would soon be coming. Nearing twenty years after THAT, and the end is finally in sight. Governor Walker sent a letter to US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood asking for support in an exemption to the protections placed on the Scenic Riverway. This letter mirrors one sent by Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Gottleib to Secretary LaHood.

Both letters note that the appropriate Congressional process is being pursued by two matching resolutions S. 1134 in the Senate and H.R. 850 in the House. The Senate’s version features signatures from ALL FOUR of Wisconsin and Minnesota’s senators (Klobuchar, Franklin, and Kohl for the Democrats, and Johnson for the Republicans) Additionally, the House version features the four most affected congressmen in the states, Democrat Ron Kind who actually represents the district, and Republicans Sean Duffy, Michelle Bachmann, and Chip Cravaack.

This is as bipartisan as it gets folks and its exciting to see finally happen.

Tomorrow, a follow up post will appear where I make the case as to why this bridge should be funded, despite cries from the likes of Representative Brett Hulsey that its not necessary.


Zombie Day, a Basket of Negative Publicity

I’ll preface this by saying that I am on the Board of Directors of United Council, which seems to imply that I was part of a board that could, you know, direct action for the organization. Well, this novel concept is not very well embraced in United Council, and today’s “Students are as good as dead to legislators” Zombie Day was no exception.  The plan for students to come, dressed up as the living dead is certainly a cute idea but cute doesn’t have  a lot of currency around the Capitol, even among Democratic offices.

Now, United Council has done stupid things before, and I’ve even participated, but at least the stupid events that I’ve done have been with approval from the Board. Newly elected President of United Council Seth Hoffmeister, if you’re reading this, please use this occasion, regardless of if you like or dislike the event, to assert the Board’s authority over staff.

United Council internal crap aside, I have numerous other problems with the horde.

  1. Poor theatrics. Staffers didn’t know they were Zombies unless I told them about the event because the makeup was ambiguous and the students were walking around like normal. You have to sell these things.
  2. Don’t commit crimes by smearing your paint on the carpet of the Co-Chair of JFC’s office. Additionally, if you do a “die-in” somewhere, the last 3 students who haven’t been dragged out should NEVER just get up and leave. Way to stay united on that one.
  3. Don’t disrespect other students for the sake of spiting anyone. Especially fellow students. Especially those being honored in a state-wide ceremony. This was a once in a lifetime thing for these kids and it was ruined for a quick photo op. Think it really affected Governor Walker’s morale? No, but I can bet that he was mad as hell for the athletes whose ceremony you interrupted. I know I am mad as hell for those athletes when I wasn’t even there and I’m VERY sympathetic to the plight of students, you know, from being one. Edit: Video added below

I’m most upset about the Special Olympics ceremony but I know many folks have chimed in on Facebook and over at North Park Street on the topic so I’ll refrain from repeating those.
And as a side note, the staffers who saw the zombies request werewolves, pixies, and ogres next. So, there’s something.