Tag Archives: Koch

Koch donor network shuns Trump

 

From a luxury hotel on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, some of the nation’s most powerful Republican donors rebelled against Donald Trump.

Billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, host of the exclusive weekend retreat, did not mention Trump by name as warned that political leaders are giving “frightening” answers to America’s challenges. One of his chief lieutenants was more direct as he made clear that Koch’s expansive political network would not use its tremendous resources to help Trump win this fall.

“We’re focused on the Senate,” said Mark Holden, general counsel and senior vice president of Koch Industries.

He noted that none of the presidential candidates are aligned with the Koch network “from a values, and beliefs and policy perspective.” Trump’s dire warnings of growing crime in America, Holden said, simply aren’t accurate.

“We’re much safer,” Holden said. “That’s what the data shows.”

Koch described the 2016 “political situation” this way: “We don’t really, in some cases, don’t really have good options.”

The comments came Saturday, the first day of a three-day gathering for donors who promise to give at least $100,000 each year to the various groups backed by the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners — a network of education, policy and political entities that aim to promote a smaller, less intrusive government.

The ambitious Koch network has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to influence politics and public policy over the last decade, but don’t plan to spend anything to help Trump, even if some of the 400 or so deep-pocketed donors gathered in Colorado Springs this weekend think it should.

Trump thumbed his nose at the gathering from Twitter.

“I turned down a meeting with Charles and David Koch,” the New York billionaire tweeted. “Much better for them to meet with the puppets of politics, they will do much better!”

The weekend’s agenda for the estimated 400 donors gathered in Colorado Springs featured a series of policy discussions and appearances from at least three governors, four senators and four members of the House of Representatives, including House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey talked up policy successes in their states on Saturday night, avoiding discussion of the 2016 presidential contest altogether. When it was his turn, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner touched on the race for the White House, although he did not mention Trump’s name.

“Forty years worth of Supreme Court justices are going to be determined this November,” Gardner told donors, a reference to the next president’s ability to fill at least one existing vacancy on the high court.

Also appearing at the retreat were Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas. Rep Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado.

Koch later told his guests that America’s frustrated electorate is looking at the wrong place — politicians — for answers.

“And to me, the answers they’re getting are frightening,” he said without naming any politicians, “because by and large, these answers will make matters worse.”

Charles and David Koch have hosted such gatherings of donors and politicians for years, but usually in private. The weekend’s event includes a small number of reporters, including one from The Associated Press.

Koch has put the network’s budget at roughly $750 million through the end of 2016.

A significant portion was supposed to be directed at electing a Republican to the White House. It will instead go to helping Republican Senate candidates in at least five states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wisconsin and Florida, Holden said, noting that the network has dedicated $42 million so far to television and digital advertising to benefit Republican Senate candidates.

In some cases, the network may try to link Democratic Senate candidates to Clinton, he added, but there are no plans to go after her exclusively in paid advertising. The organization may invest in a handful of races for governor and House of Representatives as well.

And while the network will not be a Trump ally, it won’t necessarily be a Trump adversary either.

“We have no intention to go after Donald Trump,” Holden said.

 

Walker to speak at Koch-backed forum in Florida

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is scheduled to speak at a conservative summit in Florida over Labor Day weekend.

Americans for Prosperity Florida added Walker as a speaker at its Defending the American Dream summit in Orlando.

The event is scheduled for Sept. 2 and Sept. 3.

Others scheduled to speak include former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina and Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst.

Americans for Prosperity is funded by billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch.

The conference schedule includes a series of seminars and workshops, including:

• Power of the grassroots.

• Rising stars: Up and coming state legislators.

• How to talk to your legislator.

• Keys to advancing free market strategies.

• Threats and wins in the states on energy policy.

• Obama’s overreach.

• Education reform.

• Social media 101.

Bradley outspent Kloppenburg 4–1 in Supreme Court race

In the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, outside groups supporting Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley outspent those supporting Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg almost 4 to 1.

All told, outside groups for Bradley spent about $2,714,000 while those for Kloppenburg spent about $710,000. That’s a ratio of 3.8 to 1.

Kloppenburg lost her bid on Tuesday for a 10-year seat on the high court to Bradley.

Topping the list of outside spenders was the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, a conservative Madison-based group formed late last year that doled out an estimated $2.6 million on four television ads and a radio ad to support Bradley. Two of the broadcast ads — audio here and video on YouTube — praised Bradley and the other ads — here, here,* and here* — attacked Kloppenburg for decisions in three cases before the appeals court she sits on.

The Alliance is an issue ad group, which means that it can secretly raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to spend on its outside electioneering activities.

Behind the Alliance was the Greater Wisconsin Committee, which spent an estimated $710,000 on issue ads and independent expenditures to support Kloppenburg. Greater Wisconsin, which was formed in 2004 to mostly support Democratic candidates for statewide office and the legislature, doled out an estimated $600,000 through its issue ad arm to air a television ad — here —that attacked Bradley for controversial opinion columns she did as a college student. In addition, Greater Wisconsin’s corporation said in paperwork filed with the state that it would spend about $107,300 on online advertising against Bradley.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, which was created in 2002 to support GOP candidates for the legislative offices throughout the country, registered a committee with the state that spent about $114,000 on a 60-second radio ad — here — and mailings to support Bradley. The RSLC’s Judicial Fairness Initiative was formed last fall to support conservative judicial candidates around the country.

Finally, WEAC Region 3 PAC, a political action committee affiliated with the Wisconsin Education Association Council which is the state’s largest teachers union, spent about $2,400 on mailings to support Kloppenburg.

*When clicking on this link you may prompted to open a file in your default media player. If so, click “OK.” Once the complete video has been downloaded it will automatically play.

 

Walker gives green light to Wisconsin nukes

From WiG reports

Gov. Scott Walker has signed into law a bill lifting Wisconsin’s ban on new nuclear plants.

Under prior law, regulators could not approve a new nuclear plant unless a federal facility for storing waste existed and the plant didn’t burden ratepayers.

The new bill, signed five years after the meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, erases the storage and ratepayer clauses from the state law enacted in 1983. That was four years after a meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania and three years before the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.

The bill’s Republican authors argued nuclear power is a renewable energy source and the ratepayer language duplicates other sections of state law that require regulators to determine that any new power plant won’t burden customers.

Republican state Rep. Kevin Petersen, in a memo introducing the bill, described nuclear power as affordable, clean, safe and necessary.

Proponents argue Wisconsin needs nuclear options to comply with the Obama administration’s clean power plan requiring energy producers to reduce carbon emissions.

That’s the very argument being made by Koch Industries and other fossil fuel giants who vehemently oppose wind and solar energy. The industry’s sway over Walker and the state’s GOP majority is widely believed to be the reason why green renewables in Wisconsin lag other states in the region.

Since 1997, the Koch brothers have personally spent at least $80 million persuading the public that climate change is a hoax, and Exxon-Mobil and other energy companies have spent many tens of millions more.

Meanwhile, environmentalists view nuclear energy as an unmitigated disaster.

“Nuclear energy is a distraction from realistic, cost-effective methods to reduce carbon emissions in Wisconsin: energy efficiency and renewable energy,” the Clean Wisconsin environmental group said in a statement on AB 384. “Nuclear is exorbitantly expensive and new plants take decades to get up and running.”

According to the Sierra Club, nuclear power has a huge carbon footprint, despite the carbon industry’s claims to the contrary. Carbon energy powers uranium mining, milling, processing, conversion and enrichment, as well as the formulation of fuel rods and construction of plants.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters also opposed the law, referring to it as the “Nuking Wisconsin’s Energy Priorities Law.” The group urged the public to lobby legislators against allowing nuclear power plants in the state.

The Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter opposed the measure, as did the national Sierra Club, which remains “unequivocally opposed to nuclear energy.”

“Although nuclear plants have been in operation for less than 60 years, we now have seen three serious disasters,” a statement from the environmental group reads. “Nuclear is no solution to climate change and every dollar spent on nuclear is one less dollar spent on truly safe, affordable and renewable energy sources.”

The Sierra Club’s nuclear-free campaign emphasizes:

• The issue of what to do with the long-lived waste created by the fissioning of uranium remains unresolved.

• Uranium mining has contaminated large sections of the southwestern United States and many other areas in the world.

• Older nuclear plants sit in areas more densely populated than when they were built and almost all leak tritium and other radionuclides into groundwater.

• Newer nuclear plants remain expensive and need enormous amounts of water.

An additional concern in Wisconsin, according to the Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Coalition, is passage of the pro-nuclear bill could lead to the state becoming a depository for nuclear waste.

The coalition has warned passage of the bill could “send a strong message to the Department of Energy that Wisconsin is open to hosting a nuclear waste repository. In the 1980s, the DOE ranked Wisconsin’s Wolf River Batholith as No. 2 for a second high-level nuclear waste repository. A 2008 Department of Energy study on the Need for a Second Repository listed Wisconsin as one of the top potential states based on our granite geology. After the cancellation of the potential Yucca Mountain repository, the DOE is desperate to find an alternative.”

Wisconsin currently has one operational nuclear power plant, Point Beach, north of Two Rivers.

About 15.5 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity is nuclear, 62.3 comes from coal, 13.2 percent natural gas, 3.4 percent hydroelectric and 5.5 percent renewable.

Find more environmental news at www.wisconsingazette.com.

Read also: Crisis continues five years after Fukushima meltdown

Flint water crisis: a casualty of right-wing war on local democracy

How did an American city’s water end up being poisoned with lead?

This month’s hearing in Congress about the crisis in Flint, Michigan, shed more heat than light on the decisions that poisoned the water more than 100,000 residents rely on to drink and bathe, including nearly 30,000 children and teens. Democrats focused their ire on Gov. Rick Snyder, while Republicans predictably tried to deflect blame onto the Environmental Protection Agency as part of their long-standing campaign to eliminate the agency responsible for regulating polluters.

But two Members of Congress honed in on the real culprit in the debacle: Snyder’s “emergency manager” law that stripped Flint of any local democratic control and put its fate in the hands of unaccountable executives hand-picked by Snyder.

“Did that emergency management system fail under your leadership in this matter?” asked Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., demanding a yes or no response from Snyder.

“That would be a fair conclusion,” Snyder eventually conceded.

“This is a failure of a philosophy of governance you advocated,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. “A city in America … is on its knees because of your emergency manager’s decision to save $4 million. And now it’s going to cost a lot more to clean up.”

Is this really happening in the world’s leading republic?

Funding the war on local democracy

Snyder’s controversial emergency manager law is a cornerstone of the right wing’s war on labor and local democracy in Michigan, which has been orchestrated by a network of “think tanks” and committees backed by the billionaire DeVos family, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Kochs and other right wing politicos.

Thanks to record spending by outside groups in 2010 and $6 million of Snyder’s own fortune, the Republican Party in Michigan joined 11 other states in capturing the governor’s mansion from the Democrats and flipped the Michigan House, giving the party a lock on political power for the first time since 2002.

The Republican Governors Association Michigan 2010 PAC dominated the playing field to become the “largest political action committee in the history of Michigan politics,” according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Through an elaborate shell game, 98 percent of the $8.4 million raised and spent by the RGA MI 2010 PAC came from outside Michigan, while Michigan donors gave the national Republican Governors Association (RGA) $8.6 million, including $5.4 million from the state Chamber of Commerce.

The RGA MI 2010 PAC then contributed $5.3 million to the state Republican Party, and sent off $3 million to back Rick Perry’s bid for a third term as governor of Texas, while the national RGA spent $3.6 million on sham issue ads attacking Snyder’s Democratic opponent. Still with me?

All in all, the RGA raised and redistributed $114 million to PACs in at least 15 states, helping to elect a slate of right-wing governors, including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who moved quickly to attack public sector unions.

Right-wing billionaires and their corporations played a big role in raising all that money. Records on Open Secrets show that the DeVos family, Amway, and its parent company, Alticor, pumped $1.9 million into the RGA’s 2010 political operation.

David Koch
Tea party funder and right-wing billionaire activist David Koch

David Koch personally gave $1 million, while his brother William chipped in $100,000 and Koch Industries another $50,000. The Kochs have since become RGA’s #1 source of cash, bankrolling the RGA to the tune of $5.3 million during the 2014 election cycle.

Paul Singer also ponied up $1.4 million. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson gave a million that year, and News America, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. that owns the pro-Republican outlet Fox News, sprung another $1.3 million.

DeVos dynasty targets Michigan

Although Snyder — a business executive and venture capitalist — campaigned as a moderate Republican who promised to run the state like a business and create jobs, the deep pockets driving the Republican surge had more ambitious ideas.

Their goals: break the unions, scrap public sector labor contracts, and privatize government services.

Dick DeVos, son of billionaire businessman and Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, took a first crack at this agenda when he spent $35 million of the family fortune to run for governor in 2006. He lost badly, but he didn’t let up.

In 2009, DeVos helped his close ally, Ron Weiser, get elected as chair of the Michigan Republican Party, where he was able to coordinate the party’s 2010 landslide victory. By 2014, political observers were calling the DeVos family Michigan’s “most potent interest group,” and their spending on in-state candidates and political committees had increased to $4.9 million.

After Snyder’s election, DeVos-backed groups like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy were poised to help move his legislative agenda forward.

Launched in 1987, the Mackinac Center is one of the nation’s largest state-based, right-wing pressure groups promoting “free market,” pro-business policies. It is an active member of the State Policy Network (SPN) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), two important cogs in the Koch machine.

Mackinac has long been one of the key groups leading the Michigan charge for the big ticket items on DeVos’ right-wing wish list, including breaking the back of organized labor.

Ronald Reagan may have once said, “(W)here free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost,” but that’s just crazy-liberal talk as far as the Mackinac Center is concerned.

As a Mackinac staffer told a state legislator in 2011: “Our goal is (to) outlaw government collective bargaining in Michigan.”

Mackinac’s activities have been fueled by DeVos as well as money from the Koch network of billionaires. Between 2010 and 2012, the Mackinac Center received $1.5 million from the DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, preferred investment vehicles of the Koch donor network, and four DeVos foundations kicked in another $560,000 between 1998 and 2011.

However, those totals public do not reveal how much billionaire cash Mackinac has received through checks from personal trust accounts or from corporations, which are not publicly reported.

Mackinac at the root of sweeping emergency manager powers

Once sworn in, Snyder wasted no time in making one of the most audacious power grabs in the country.

On March 16, 2011, while thousands protested outside, he signed Public Act 4 into law, giving him the ability to take near-total control over financially struggling municipalities through appointed “emergency managers.”

Few could have been more pleased than the DeVos family and their confederates at the Mackinac Center.

The provision for emergency financial managers dates back to a 1988 Michigan law, but those managers wielded limited power.

Mackinac’s Louis Schimmel called for loosening limits and expanding managers’ powers as early as 2005, and the group reprinted his article in January 2011. They argued that: “The state’s policy prescription for fiscally floundering cities should be to appoint far more powerful emergency financial managers than they have in the past.”

Mackinac pressed for sweeping authority for emergency managers to assume the powers of elected city councils and mayors, break union contracts, and revise municipal charters, while getting legal immunity from any liability for the results of their actions.

Snyder’s emergency manager law included all four of those changes, and the Mackinac bunch patted themselves on the back while singing the law’s praises.

Concerned citizens and critics, however, denounced it as “financial martial law.”

Other cities around the country have had emergency managers, including New York City in the 1970s, but their powers were limited to financial matters.

The Snyder-Mackinac approach to the law was dramatically, exponentially different. It gave unelected and unaccountable managers chosen by the governor near total control over all city decisions — including things like where a city gets its water.

Snyder’s first emergency “tyrant”? A Mackinac guy

Rick Snyder
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

Snyder chose the architect of the expanded emergency powers — Mackinac’s Louis Schimmel — to be the first person he appointed as an emergency manager, installing him as the potentate for Pontiac, Schimmel’s home town.

Within months, Schimmel had fired key city officials and privatized the entire public works department. The Pontiac City Council still held their weekly meetings, packed with angry citizens, but they had no authority to make any decisions.

When asked by a local radio station if the emergency manager law made him a dictator, Schimmel replied: “I guess I’m the tyrant in Pontiac then, if that’s the way it is.”

Schimmel didn’t get any argument from state court judge Rae Lee Chabot, who reversed the manager’s action to cut Pontiac’s pension board in half, a decision that ignored the legal requirements of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.

“[I]t looks like a dictatorship,” Chabot said.

State-controlled Pontiac outsources water to indicted corporation

Shortly before Schimmel took control of Pontiac using the law he helped create, his predecessor as emergency manager of Pontiac, Michael Stampfler, flexed his muscles under Snyder’s new law and outsourced the city’s water treatment to United Water Services.

Watchdog Chris Savage broke the story on Eclectablog.

“This is big news,” he wrote, because the giant for-profit water company had just been indicted by a federal grand jury in 2010 on 26 felony counts of conspiracy and Clean Water Act violations for its mishandling of water services in Gary, Indiana. (The company’s workers have since been acquitted of criminal charges in the Gary case, but United Water paid $645,000 in civil fines under a consent agreement in 2014.)

Schimmel completed the outsourcing process in November 2011 by firing key public works employees and turning full control over to United Water.

Before long, consumer complaints over water quality, outages, and sewer backups started piling up. It took nearly three years before Oakland County, where Pontiac is situated, announced that it was taking over operations.

All the warning signs were there for Flint.

Savage summed up the problem well:

“Emergency Financial Managers are generally good at what they do. They are typically trained as accountants and business optimizers. They know how to trim and cut and lean out organizations to squeeze every last drop of profits out of them. Unfortunately for the residents of Michigan, things like parks, public safety and the protection of natural resources don’t produce profits and generally are presented as ‘costs’…When we begin to put a price tag on the very things that make our cities, society and state good, safe, livable and lovable, while putting CPA-like EFMs in charge, you can expect that these things will suffer in order to save money, even if it puts our citizens at risk.”

Democracy? What democracy?

Citizens and public employees in Michigan were not having it.

Following extensive protests, opponents sprang into action and quickly gathered more than 200,000 signatures to qualify a voter initiative, Proposal 1, for the November 2012 ballot to repeal Snyder’s expanded emergency manager law.

Stand Up for Democracy, the ballot committee backing Proposal 1, received 91 percent of its funding from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Michigan Council 25, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Opposition to Proposal 1 was led by Bob LaBrant, Senior Counsel at the Sterling Corporation, a leading Republican PR firm, and the former director of political and legal campaigns at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce for 34 years. LaBrant’s ballot committee, called Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, focused its strategy on a court fight to bump Proposal 1 off the ballot. That effort ultimately failed, and the group spent little on campaigning against the measure.

On November 6, 2012, 53 percent of Michigan’s voters cast ballots to repeal Snyder’s emergency manager law. But that didn’t stop Governor Snyder and his backers.

Barely one month later, Snyder pushed a slightly revised bill through the lame duck legislature and restored the sweeping powers of his emergency managers.

Only this time, he added an appropriation which, under Michigan law, prevents it from being subject to referendum. Check and mate.

water pick-up
Pick-up point for bottled water following the crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Kevyn Orr, who later became emergency manager for Detroit, sent an email to the Detroit Free Press saying, “Michigan’s EM law is a clear end-around the prior initiative that was rejected by the voters in November. …[A]though the new law provides the thin veneer of a revision it is essentially a redo of the prior rejected law.”

The new law did contain what critics call a “choose your poison” provision, allowing municipalities to choose between an emergency manager, bankruptcy, arbitration, or a consent agreement.

Not on the table for cash-strapped cities reeling from the collapse of the auto industry and the impact of free trade agreements: any state largesse like the 86 percent corporate income tax cut that Snyder handed Michigan businesses in 2011, worth an estimated $1.7 billion per year.

The resurrection of Snyder’s emergency manager law wasn’t even the most dramatic thing to happen in the 2012 lame duck session.

According to Mother Jones, DeVos and his close allies — who led a $23.2 million campaign to defeat another voter initiative, Proposal 2, aimed at enshrining collective bargaining in the state constitution — had devised a plan to ram through “right-to-work” legislation before anyone knew what hit them.

They pitched the plan to legislative leaders and a Snyder aide on Nov. 20, and by early December unleashed an ad campaign using a new group, the Michigan Freedom Fund, closely tied to Dick DeVos.

Snyder surprised the public by calling the measure to a vote on December 6, and five days later the birthplace of modern industrial unions became a “right-to-work” state.

The following May, at the State Policy Network’s annual meeting in Oklahoma City, Dick DeVos and the Mackinac Center were recognized for their leadership in the legislative fight to win passage of the “right-to-work” law in Michigan. As reported by PR Watch, Dick’s wife Betsy DeVos personally presented SPN’s highest award to Mackinac’s president, Joseph Lehman.

Mackinac’s blog noted that it had been pushing for “right-to-work” since 1990 and had posted more than 500 “articles, blog posts, special essays and news [clips] generated by Mackinac Center analysts” backing the legislation.

The victory didn’t come cheap.

The big players of Michigan’s right wing had spent millions to defeat Proposal 2, an attempt to protect union rights in the state.

That funding included $9.2 million from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, $5.5 million from the Michigan Alliance for Business Growth, $2 million from the DeVos family, and $2 million from Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.

The Michigan Freedom Fund spent another $1 million on the post-election ad campaign leading up to legislature’s adoption of the “right-to-work” law.

The Mackinac Center had an annual budget of $4.4 million as of 2012. Aside from checks to groups that do not disclose their major donors, the DeVos family spent more than $44 million in publicly reported funding on the Republican Party, party committees, and candidates in Michigan between 1997 and 2013.

Expanded emergency management comes to Flint

Plagued by the loss of 90 percent of its industrial workforce, disinvestment, and depopulation, Flint was facing a severe financial crisis by the time Gov. Snyder took office.

Since then, Snyder has appointed four emergency managers to seize control of the city’s assets and run Flint’s local affairs.

Flint voters elected a new mayor on November 8, 2011, but a state review panel declared a “local government financial emergency” the same day, and Snyder had installed his first emergency manager, Michael Brown, by December 1.

The next day, Brown dismissed more than half a dozen key city administrators and Flint’s elected officials had their pay and benefits removed.

In January 2012, angry Flint residents joined a protest near Gov, Snyder’s home. AFSCME filed suit and managed to get a restraining order on Brown, but Brown was back by April in time to unveil his budget, which included cuts in nearly every department and a tax hike.

Jack McHugh at Mackinac claimed in a March 2012 column that municipal budget problems were a “cancerous fiscal malpractice,” and he argued that Snyder’s emergency manager expansion provided the “rigorous ‘chemotherapy'” needed “to sustain the necessary functions of tapped-out school districts and local governments.”

In Flint’s case, the cure turned out to be worse than the disease.

flint water protest
Flint water protest.

Frustrated with expensive water service from Detroit and frequent rate increases, Flint and surrounding Genesee County had joined nearby cities in 2010 to form the new Karegnondi Water Authority. The plan was to obtain water directly from Lake Huron once a new pipeline was complete. (That is now projected to be June 2016.)

The Flint City Council voted for the new water source in March 2013, albeit symbolically as it had no power, and the emergency manager and state treasurer approved a plan to switch water supplies a few weeks later.

That’s when the trouble started.

“Flint residents can taste history”

In April 2014, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) notified Flint that its contract would be up in a year and offered to negotiate a short-term contract while the city waited for the new pipeline.

However, Flint’s second emergency manager, Ed Kurtz, hired a private engineering firm to develop a plan to switch to the polluted Flint River for the interim period instead, in order to save money.

Come March 2014, Darnell Earley, now Snyder’s third emergency manager for Flint, wrote to DWSD that “there will be no need for Flint to continue purchasing water to serve its residents and businesses after April 17, 2014,” despite DWSD’s renewed offers. Why Earley couldn’t work out an agreement with DWSD remains a mystery, as Detroit was also under the complete control of another emergency manager, Kevyn Orr.

Governor Snyder’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) gave its blessing to the change on April 9. The changeover was expected to save Flint $5 million over two years.

On April 25, 2014, Flint officially made the fateful switch to the Flint River for its water in a ceremony attended by local and state officials. “This is indeed the best choice for the city of Flint going forward,” Emergency Manager Earley said.

“It will take two days before Flint residents can taste history,” reported the press, M-Live.com.

Flint’s otherwise powerless mayor pressed the button to switch the water feed, and officials raised glasses of treated water in a toast.

Unfortunately, Flint residents tasted history pretty quickly.

Complaints started flooding in about the water’s taste, smell, and color by June, and people said it was making them sick. Residents endured two “boil” advisories due to high coliform bacteria levels and faced unsafe levels of a carcinogenic chlorine byproduct before the University of Michigan-Flint was the first to find high lead levels in its water on January 9, 2015.

Flint’s City Council voted to return to Detroit water in March 2015, but Emergency Manager Earley said no. In fact, a $7 million emergency loan from Governor Snyder’s state government in April 2015 was conditioned on Flint not rejoining the DTWS.

Even as the findings of lead contamination piled up over the ensuing months, the state insisted there was no problem.

The Rachel Maddow Show and Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now were the only two major national television news outlets to sound the alarm and persistently cover the disaster unfolding in Flint, while Snyder and others said there was no story, no crisis to tell—despite the pleas from Flint residents.

It took more than nine months after the state university found high lead in the water before Gov. Snyder finally conceded, on September 30, 2015, that “mistakes were made.”

The next day, Genesee County declared a public health emergency for Flint.

Emails since released by the governor’s office show that “nearly every person in the governor’s inner circle was aware of alarming concerns about the city’s water” as early as October 2014. And a task force appointed by Snyder found that individuals and scientists who sounded the alarm about Flint’s water were met with “aggressive dismissal, belittlement, and attempts to discredit [their] efforts.”

A week later, Governor Snyder announced that Flint would switch back to Detroit water at a cost of $12 million. But by then the damage was done.

The children of Flint face permanent damage.

And, after a closed-door meeting with Snyder, Flint’s mayor said that the cost of replacing pipes corroded by Flint River water could reach $1.5 billion.

Michael Moore
Documentary filmmaker and Flint native son Michael Moore called for the arrest of Gov. Rick Snyder.

Snyder’s role in the Flint scandal led native son Michael Moore to call for his arrest, and the Board of State Canvassers has approved two petitions to put a voter recall of Snyder on the ballot.

Poisoned by hubris

Flint’s water disaster serves as an urgent warning of the dangers communities face when they lose their democracy.

Flint’s City Council never voted to use the Flint River while it waited for the Karegnondi pipeline to be completed. That decision was made by Snyder’s hand-picked managers with the power to override all elected officials, local contracts, and even the city’s charter, with no way for local citizens to hold them accountable.

Howard Croft, former director of Flint’s public works, told the ACLU of Michigan that the decision to use the Flint River “went up through the state … all the way to the governor’s office.”

The decision to use Flint River, in turn, was signed off on by Snyder’s pick for director of the DEQ, Dan Wyant, who had helped business owners grow their companies and had managed the Department of Agriculture, but who had zero environmental experience.

Wyant resigned in December 2015 after a state task force blamed DEQ for failing to ensure that Flint residents had safe drinking water.

What happened to the other communities in the same position as Flint but living under actual local democracies?

Flint Township and Genesee County are also leaving Detroit water for the new Karegnondi pipeline, but they negotiated interim contracts with the DTWS and kept clean water for their residents.

Only the powerless residents of Flint were poisoned.

lead-laced water
Gov. Snyder told Flint residents that their lead-laced water was safe to drink.

Racial bias

The racial implications of Snyder’s emergency manager law and the Flint scandal are hard to overlook.

While Snyder’s law is neutral on its face, it has had a dramatically disparate impact on blacks.

By 2013, half of Michigan’s black population had been placed under emergency managers or consent agreements, and no longer had any meaningful right to vote or redress their grievances at the local level.

Only 2 percent of white Michigan residents were subjected to rule by emergency managers.

Flint has a majority black population, while the rest of Genesee County is majority white and considerably wealthier.

When the mostly white communities of Handy Township and Livingston County experienced a financial crisis, their Republican state representatives went to bat for them and fought for a state bailout. State Rep. Cindy Denby (who is white) was quoted as saying the emergency manager law was “not intended for places like Livingston County.”

One of the top black elected officials in the state, U.S. Congressman John Conyers, asked the Justice Department to review the emergency manager law for violation of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

A coalition of civil rights groups also filed a federal lawsuit, Phillips v. Snyder, arguing that the law violates multiple state and federal constitutional rights.

In December 2014, U.S. District Court Judge George Caram Steeh ruled that part of the case can move forward on the grounds that the emergency manager law disproportionately impacts African Americans, saying that the law gives “enormous discretion to state decision makers and creates a significant potential for discriminatory decisions.” The plaintiffs have filed an appeal to the 6th Circuit challenging the judge’s decision to dismiss the rest of their constitutional claims.

It’s not just Flint

The same emergency manager, Darnell Earley, who mishandled Flint’s water situation went on to become Snyder’s pick as emergency manager for Detroit’s school system in January 2015. The results have been pretty comparable.

Darnell’s tenure has been marked by widespread news reports of deteriorating and unhealthy conditions in the schools, including leaking roofs, mold, broken windows, and bullet holes in classroom walls. Detroit teacher protested those conditions with a series of “sickouts” in January 2016.

After earning a $221,000 salary for his appointment to oversee Detroit’s schools, Earley resigned his Detroit position under fire in February. But he walked away with an $83,000 consulting contract and signed an agreement holding the Snyder Administration harmless from any claims relating to his actions as emergency manager. One school board member called it “hush money.”

Critics point out that, after 16 years of state control, the Detroit school system is in much worse shape now than it was before, with a significantly larger deficit.

That’s interesting, given that when an earlier emergency manager for the school system, Roy Roberts, resigned in 2013, he said his initial instructions were to “blow up the district and dismantle it,” but that he spent the first few months on the job convincing state officials it was worth saving.

The International Business Times recently reported that the Department of Justice and the FBI are investigating Snyder administration officials for alleged corruption—receiving bribes from contractors—in the Education Achievement Authority and Detroit Public Schools agencies created by Snyder.

Even some early supporters of Snyder’s law have had a change of heart.

flint water
flint water

Former emergency financial manager Michael Stampfler, the guy who outsourced Pontiac’s water, eventually concluded that Snyder’s expanded emergency manager (EM) law doesn’t work:

“I do not believe EMs can be successful—they abrogate the civic structure of the community for a period of years then return it virtually dismantled for the community to attempt to somehow make a go of it. The program provides no structure for long term recovery, and that is why most communities slide back into trouble, if they experience any relief at all—a vicious cycle. The Public Act is not sufficient and the state bureaucracy isn’t up to a performance offering any significant success—as can be noted from the communities repeating.”

Snyder’s law is not just anti-democratic, it is producing poor results.

Michigan residents were promised increased efficiency from “running government like a business” and an end to corruption. The emergency manager law has failed on both counts.

“We still have incredibly bad decisions being made,” says Chris Savage, one of Snyder’s most vocal critics. “[A]nd we very clearly still have corruption and criminal activity going on.”

“The emergency manager law is just one in a long line of failed government experiments imposed on the people of Michigan,” said Senator David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights). “Cities and schools are left in worse shape than they were before the emergency managers came to town, and now taxpayers are left footing the bill for Earley’s payout. For shame.”

Mackinac remains unapologetic

The Flint debacle and troubles in Detroit and Pontiac haven’t fazed anyone back at the Mackinac Center, the special interest pressure group that scripted Snyder’s emergency manager law.

Despite its deep involvement in pushing for “enhanced” powers for managers, Mackinac has declined to admit even the possibility that the policies it pushed for played any role in the Flint water crisis.

Without a hint of irony, Mackinac’s Michigan Capitol Confidential recently posted an article lauding the ACLU and Michigan Radio for their work exposing how Michigan state officials attempted to ignore or cover up Flint’s water crisis, folding Flint’s problems into Mackinac’s constant narrative of supposed government incompetence and corruption.

But perhaps worst of all, Mackinac’s spin could be seen as discouraging people from looking at the root causes of the Flint crisis. “Which Is Better: Finding Fault or Providing Help?,” asked communications director Dan Armstrong in a December blog post, as if the two were mutually incompatible. Armstrong’s article didn’t even mention emergency managers.

Snyder to local democracy: drop dead

Snyder’s emergency manager law stands as a testament the corporate right’s disrespect for local democracy, both in terms of how it strips away all local democratic powers of self governance, and because the voters of Michigan went to the polls and voted it down, only to have Snyder bring it right back. It embodies the idea that a state “CEO” knows better than the people what works best for their communities.

A task force appointed by Snyder released its report on March 23, 2016, concluding that the emergency manager law contributed to the Flint crisis by removing the checks and balances at the heart of American democracy, and calling for a review of the law and a search for alternatives.

But the emergency manager law wasn’t the right’s last shot at local democracy in Michigan. In June 2015, Snyder signed into law legislation barring municipalities from passing ordinances to improve the lives of workers by raising the minimum wage or requiring family leave.

Such “preemption” laws are an increasingly popular tool being promoted by ALEC and other Koch-funded organizations, and something the Mackinac Center had lobbied for as far back as 2003.

In January 2016, Snyder signed another bill into law prohibiting local governments from providing voters with factual information about ballot measures, including local tax increases. Republican legislators had crammed that (and many other) provisions into a non-controversial campaign finance measure without notice or public hearing, and sent it to Snyder’s desk.

DeVos’ Michigan Freedom Fund praised Snyder for signing the bill.

Gov. Snyder may have conceded to Congress that his dictatorial emergency manager law failed the people of Flint, but he continues to push a right-wing “philosophy of governance,” as Rep. Connolly put it, that is profoundly undemocratic.

Snyder says he wants to run government like a business, but a corporation is not a democracy and, at this rate, Michigan may not be one much longer either.


CMD’s Jessica Mason, Sari Williams, and Lisa Graves contributed to this article.

 

Voters reject candidates pushed by right-wing billionaires

Like most of the country, we have been alarmed at the violence, vitriol and demagoguery that dominate this election cycle. At the same time, we understand the anger on all sides that drives it. We believe that anger springs from the long-overdue realization that we have lost control of our government over the past three decades.

A small handful of far-right billionaires have engineered the laws, policies and popular thinking that have prevented the middle class from moving ahead. They’ve spent billions to foster the divisions that keep them in power, using perhaps the cleverest and most thorough propaganda strategies the world has ever known.

They are more than influencers. They are our invisible rulers, hidden behind a veil of secrecy made legal by the Citizens United ruling, which they regard as their greatest triumph. They control America through media, think tanks, endowed chairs at universities, rigged science, publications with respectable veneers and, of course, their elected officials — from school boards to state lawmakers to the U.S. Senate to the Supreme Court.

When the rest of us turn against other, our invisible rulers invariably win. All the anger that should be directed at them goes elsewhere instead: toward President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Hollywood, immigrants, the poor, the rich, African-Americans, gays, Catholics — practically anyone or any group that can be exploited as a dividing line.

In fact, their success is based largely on this formula: While hoi polloi are cursing each other, the families who got rich cheating at business, polluting the world, evading taxes and ignoring regulations sneak in under the radar and continue rigging the system to their advantage.

Their names and faces are unknown to the vast majority of Americans, Charles and David Koch notwithstanding. We are too focused on blaming the demon du jour to realize they exist. If you’re interested in who they are and how they did it, read “Dark Money”  by Jane Mayer, perhaps the most thoroughly researched and readable book ever written about the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right — from their family histories to their methodology.

In normal election years, the small handful of right-wing billionaires who form what is now the nation’s ruling oligarchy are delighted to see the electorate divided and intractable. This election year, however, those families are soiling their drawers. The anger and divisiveness they fostered wasn’t supposed to go this far — to near-revolutionary rhetoric. The society they’ve engineered for 30 years is unraveling. People on both sides of every divide are fed up with being deprived. As a result, the puppets chosen by billionaires are being rejected in the primaries, trounced by candidates who are willing to say that the system is rigged. Not even the $25 million they spent in February alone to save Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign in his home state of Florida had any effect. That money was burned up in the flames of middle-class America’s anger over the economic inequality the right-wing billionaires have created.

Perhaps the greatest irony of this year’s presidential race is what’s come of the brutal and endless campaign that those billionaires have waged against Hillary Clinton. Ever since she put forward a national health plan in 1993, Clinton has been in their crosshairs. But now she leads the pack.

This election has not only pushed Clinton further to the left, but all the anger roiling the GOP has given her a stronger-than-ever chance of winning. The foe who’s kept them awake at night for decades may well sit in the Oval Office.

Beyond that, they never anticipated having to deal with candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who have defied their ability to buy votes through advertising. This election cycle they face the unthinkable: No matter who wins, they lose.

While we deplore the nasty road this year’s elections have taken, we hope it signals that people on both sides of the political aisle are fed up with having to work two jobs and spend an extra $700 on their vehicles each year due to potholes there’s no money to fix. If the electorate’s anger leads to the discovery of the nation’s real enemies, perhaps it will prove to be the turning point we so badly need to get the nation back on track to authentic Democracy.

Voters reject candidates pushed by right-wing billionaires

Like most of the country, we have been alarmed at the violence, vitriol and demagoguery that dominate this election cycle. At the same time, we understand the anger on all sides that drives it. We believe that anger springs from the long-overdue realization that we have lost control of our government over the past three decades.

A small handful of far-right billionaires have engineered the laws, policies and popular thinking that have prevented the middle class from moving ahead. They’ve spent billions to foster the divisions that keep them in power, using perhaps the cleverest and most thorough propaganda strategies the world has ever known.

They are more than influencers. They are our invisible rulers, hidden behind a veil of secrecy made legal by the Citizens United ruling, which they regard as their greatest triumph. They control America through media, think tanks, endowed chairs at universities, rigged science, publications with respectable veneers and, of course, their elected officials — from school boards to state lawmakers to the U.S. Senate to the Supreme Court.

When the rest of us turn against other, our invisible rulers invariably win. All the anger that should be directed at them goes elsewhere instead: toward President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Hollywood, immigrants, the poor, the rich, African-Americans, gays, Catholics — practically anyone or any group that can be exploited as a dividing line.

In fact, their success is based largely on this formula: While hoi polloi are cursing each other, the families who got rich cheating at business, polluting the world, evading taxes and ignoring regulations sneak in under the radar and continue rigging the system to their advantage.

Their names and faces are unknown to the vast majority of Americans, Charles and David Koch notwithstanding. We are too focused on blaming the demon du jour to realize they exist. If you’re interested in who they are and how they did it, read “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” by Jane Mayer — perhaps the most thoroughly researched and readable book ever written about the American oligarchy.

In normal election years, the small handful of right-wing billionaires who form the nation’s ruling oligarchy are delighted to see the electorate divided and intractable. This election year, however, those families are soiling their drawers. The anger and divisiveness they fostered wasn’t supposed to go this far — to near-revolutionary rhetoric. The society they’ve engineered for 30 years is unraveling. People on both sides of every divide are fed up with being deprived. As a result, the puppets chosen by billionaires are being rejected in the primaries, trounced by candidates who are willing to say that the system is rigged. Not even the $25 million they spent in February alone to save Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign in his home state of Florida had any effect. That money was burned up in the flames of middle-class America’s anger over the economic inequality the right-wing billionaires have created.

Perhaps the greatest irony of this year’s presidential race is what’s come of the brutal and endless campaign that those billionaires have waged against Hillary Clinton. Ever since she put forward a national health plan in 1993, Clinton has been in their crosshairs. But now she leads the pack.

This election has not only pushed Clinton further to the left, but all the anger roiling the GOP has given her a stronger-than-ever chance of winning. The foe who’s kept them awake at night for decades may well sit in the Oval Office.

Beyond that, they never anticipated having to deal with candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who have defied their ability to buy votes through advertising. This election cycle they face the unthinkable: No matter who wins, they lose.

While we deplore the nasty road this year’s elections have taken, we hope it signals that people on both sides of the political aisle are fed up with having to work two jobs and spend an extra $700 on their vehicles each year due to potholes there’s no money to fix. If the electorate’s anger leads to the discovery of the nation’s real enemies, perhaps it will prove to be the turning point we so badly need to get the nation back on track to authentic Democracy.

 

Right-wing business and social groups behind gutting of state’s election laws

Wealthy business and conservative ideological groups that collectively spend millions of dollars to support Republican legislative and statewide candidates at election time are supporting bills to weaken state campaign finance law and dismember the state’s election and ethics watchdog.

Both measures were approved Wednesday by the Assembly and go next to the Senate on a fast track to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk, where they are certain to be signed quickly into law.

One measure, Assembly Bill 388, was approved 58-39 by the Assembly. AB388 replaces the nonpartisan, independent Government Accountability Board with two partisan commissions with limited investigatory powers.

The other measure, Assembly Bill 387, was approved 61-0. All but one Republican, who was absent, voted for the bill, and 36 Democrats were present but abstained from voting. AB387 neuters the state’s campaign finance laws by: doubling campaign contribution limits to candidates; allowing unlimited donations to political parties and party committees; allowing unlimited dark money donations to so-called independent groups, which can coordinate with the candidates themselves; and dropping the requirement that donors to candidates have to identify their employer to further hide the influence peddlers.

AB388 and AB387 are supported by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business organization. WMC is one of the most influential special interest groups in the state. WMC has spent nearly $26 million on outside electioneering activities to back Republican candidates in legislative and statewide elections with smear ads and mailings paid for by secret fundraising and spending. Once elected, WMC uses its lobbying muscle to influence state spending and policy decisions on a wide array of issues including taxes, environmental deregulation, labor and education, among others.

In addition to WMC, AB388 has the backing of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative ideological group founded and funded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. Americans for Prosperity issued a statement thanking the Assembly for approving legislation to dismantle the GAB, accusing the model, independent watchdog agency of being “desperately partisan.”

The Koch brothers are longtime backers of conservative causes and Republican and conservative candidates for federal, state and local offices throughout the country. Like WMC, Americans for Prosperity refuses to disclose how much it spends on its phony “issue” ads, but the Democracy Campaign estimates the group spent nearly $5.6 million on broadcast ads and other activities in Wisconsin elections for statewide office and the legislature from January 2010 to date.

The bulk of Americans for Prosperity’s secret electioneering spending was in the 2011 and 2012 recall elections when it spent $3.7 million to help Republican Gov. Scott Walker and GOP state senators targeted for recall.

AB387 also drew public support from the state’s largest anti-abortion group, Wisconsin Right to Life, which applauded passage of the bill in order to relieve “unconstitutional burdens” on free speech rights.

Wisconsin Right to Life, has spent only a modest amount – about $260,000 – on outside electioneering activities during the past 16 years, but marshals a well-organized and geographically dispersed membership to get to the ballot box and later to influence the legislative agenda.

Another Milwaukee voucher school closes, raising more questions

Just nine days into the school year, a Milwaukee voucher school abruptly shut down, drawing renewed criticism from opponents of efforts to privatize Wisconsin’s K–12 public school system.

Daughters of the Father Christian Academy, 1877 N. 24th Place, says it closed voluntarily, but the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction had cited it for multiple problems and tried to remove it from the state’s Parental Choice Program over the summer. The school maintains a website that still features an enrollment tab.

Elsewhere on the Web, the academy’s enrollment is listed as 240 students. Now those students’ parents are scrambling for a place to enroll their kids.

The DPI did not return phone messages seeking information about the closure.

By most measures, the school appeared doomed from the start. It managed to achieve accreditation, beginning in the 2007–08 school year, despite a number of red flags that Fox 6 news uncovered during an investigation in May. Those included the revelation that school founder Bishop Doris Pinkney had filed for bankruptcy three times since 1995 and did not have a teaching credential. The school’s application was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. 

Fox 6 launched the probe after parents of students at the academy complained the school abruptly ceased providing bus service to students in middle of the last academic year due to financial mismanagement. Pinkney acknowledged to a bankruptcy court that she was earning $132,000 annually.

In 2011, a child care center that Pinkney ran was shuttered for “substantial and repeat violations of licensing rules,” according to the Wisconsin Department of Families and Children.

A study published in January by the Wisconsin State Journal concluded that voucher school closings are common in the state. Eleven schools participating in the voucher program were removed within a year of opening due to poor educational standards — at a $4.1 million cost to taxpayers.

The WSJ article appeared just after Milwaukee’s Travis Technology High School was terminated for failing to meet state requirements during the winter break of the 2014–15 school year.

The shutdown of Daughters of the Father Christian Academy brought the number of terminated voucher schools in the state to 57 since 2003, according to a just-released report by the DPI. Those schools have cost Wisconsin taxpayers $176 million.

News of the academy’s closing came one week after Republican legislators appeared poised to fast-track an expansion of Gov. Scott Walker’s private school voucher program. In the 2015–17 biennial budget, Republicans lifted a cap on the number of voucher schools permitted to operate in the state by 1 percent annually. But on Sept. 4, Republicans introduced a proposal — Senate Bill 250 — that would exempt certain school districts from abiding by that limitation, allowing voucher schools to expand more rapidly.

Special interests

“Rather than selling out Wisconsin students to protect the special interests behind Gov. Walker’s presidential campaign, we need action now to prevent further cases of voucher fraud,” Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said in a news release issued prior to Walker’s suspension of his campaign.

By special interests, Shilling was referring to the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council and other right-wing groups that put the creation of private, for-profit schools at the top of their political agenda. In recent years, wealthy and mostly out-of-state pro-voucher groups and organizations have spent more than $7.5 million on campaign contributions for Walker and Wisconsin Republicans, as well as on pro-voucher advertising and lobbying efforts in the state, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. As the law currently stands, even without taking the potential fiscal impact of SB 250 into consideration, the state’s GOP-controlled legislature is on track to spend $1.2 billion on private schools between 2011 and 2017.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign characterized that expenditure as a 15,600 percent return on the $7.5 million “investment” of voucher school supporters.

Since Republicans took over state government, voucher school funding has risen about 77 percent, while funding for K–12 public schools has increased 11 percent, according to a memo that the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau prepared at Schilling’s request.

There were 29,609 students in the voucher program during the last academic school year, according to the DPI. That’s an increase of 26 percent from the the 2011–12 academic year.

Voucher payments are $7,210 for students in K–8 grades and $7,856 for high school students. Those payments represent about $200 million in school voucher funding that would otherwise have gone into the public school system.

“With declining family wages, a shrinking middle class and statewide teacher shortages, we need to stop taking money away from Wisconsin’s children and start investing in quality public schools,” Shilling said.

Jim Bender, president of the pro-voucher group School Choice Wisconsin, countered that total spending on voucher schools is less than 5 percent of all money spent on schools in the state. He accused voucher school opponents of not coming forward with new ideas or reforms to improve K–12 education, but rather complaining about funding.

Accountability

In January, state Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, D-Milwaukee, introduced Senate Bill 3, which would set operating and academic standards for voucher schools. Those schools currently operate without the accountability required of public schools.

SB 3 would mandate voucher schools hire licensed teachers, conduct staff background checks, meet state graduation standards and be located in Wisconsin. But the Legislature’s Republican majority has kept the bill bottled up in committees and GOP leadership is unlikely to release it for a vote.

“The recent news reports show a need for taxpayer-funded voucher schools to be held to the same standards as public schools,” Harris Dodd said in a news release. “I introduced Senate Bill 3 because I believe that all children should receive a quality and reliable education. By holding voucher schools accountable, this bill would ensure that students are being taught by qualified, licensed teachers and that precious taxpayer dollars are not being wasted on schools who shut their doors mid-way through the year.

“As a state, we need to improve public oversight, transparency, and student safety in these schools, who are receiving millions of dollars in taxpayer money.”

As he traveled the country campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, Walker touted Wisconsin’s leadership in providing school choice through the voucher program. But the subject did not resonate with the majority of voters. In fact, most polls show voters prefer public schools over voucher schools.

Inherently flawed

Critics contend that voucher schools are inherently flawed. For one thing, 85 percent of Milwaukee’s voucher schools over the past 30 years have been religious schools, which critics say violates the Constitution’s guaranteed separation of church and state. 

Another thing that riles voucher opponents is some schools eligible for vouchers are expensive private institutions whose students’ parents can afford to pay — and in the past were paying — tuition out of their own pockets. Critics charge that those schools are diverting money from underfunded public schools.

“In Wisconsin, approximately 79 percent of the students who received a taxpayer-subsidized voucher in 2013 were already attending private schools,” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, wrote in an op-ed for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “This means taxpayer dollars are not being used to advance public education, but instead are being used to subsidize the education of a small number of students already enrolled in private schools at the expense of students in public schools in an attempt to further privatize education.”

An additional problem with voucher schools is many have failed to meet the needs of students with disabilities. In 2013, the federal government wrote the DPI that it must do more to enforce requirements under the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act.

The letter from the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division contained a warning: “The United States reserves its right to pursue enforcement through other means.”

Voucher supporters claim that private schools provide a superior academic environment for students, particularly students from failing public schools. But data comparing the graduation rates and academic proficiencies of students attending public schools with those in voucher schools are inconsistent at best. It appears that while some voucher schools have outperformed public schools, many others have produced poor results and even turned out to be unreliable scam operations.

While the jury is apparently still out on the effectiveness of voucher schools, they continue to drain public education dollars at a time when the state suffers from a teacher shortage due to Walker’s Act 10. Considered the governor’s signature legislation, Act 10 took away teachers’ rights to bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions. In response, thousands of teachers either retired or left the state.

Protests staged by teachers and other public employees over Act 10 resulted in the demonization of the profession by tea party Republicans. That has discouraged college students in Wisconsin from choosing to major in education, which could haunt the state for years to come.

Scott Walker’s commercial attempts to salvage his campaign but instead shows why he’ll lose

Scott Walker’s supporters have released the first in a $7 million series of commercials to boost his sagging presidential campaign in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The 60-second ad, titled “Fight & Win,” begins with dramatic footage of angry protesters converging on Madison in 2011 after Walker proposed gutting public unions.

The battle made Walker famous, but since then voters have become better acquainted with our bland, flip-flopping, gaffe-prone governor. He’s freefallen from the top of the polls into eighth place. Now Walker is reminding voters of his trademark achievement, which is not really an achievement at all: a law that divided Wisconsin in half politically and was foisted on the state without prior discussion or debate.

GOP governors in other states enacted nearly identical policies without generating the level of backlash and publicity that Walker did. He incited 100,000 people to demonstrate for weeks in frigid weather at the Capitol, earning Wisconsin the title of “most divided state in the nation.” His success at whipping up political frenzy is now his platform for a presidential run.

Act 10 sent school teachers, prison guards and other workers fleeing the state, leaving us with serious shortages in many critical areas. It’s also had a dampening effect on wages: Wisconsin’s middle class is shrinking faster than any other state’s, according to government data.

The way Walker handled Act 10 was not a show of leadership by anyone’s definition of the word. Leaders don’t ambush people with their ideas, they inspire people to rally around them.

Having struck gold by attracting news cameras from all over the world to Madison, Walker went on to govern the state in the most confrontational way possible. He even titled his revisionist memoir Unintimidated, which is also the name of the super PAC supporting him.

But in reality, Walker’s intimidated to the point that he sneaks controversial laws into the budget, then denies knowing anything about them when they generate a backlash. He has to make up stories to make him appear brave, such as the famous fabrication about his car being surrounded by hundreds of life-threatening protesters in La Crosse.

Walker’s gubernatorial tenure has centered on policy decisions written by the conservative corporate think-tank American Legislative Exchange Council, the brain child of Koch Industries, Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Pharma and other special interests. He hasn’t spoken truth to power, he’s taken marching orders from power and collected tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions as a reward.

What’s unintimidated about that?

Walker’s commercial moves on from Act 10 to crow about a lot of “accomplishments.” He claims to have created a “billion dollar surplus,” which was true in January 2014, but only if you don’t count the payments he put off until future budgets. And this year, when Wisconsin faced a $2 billion shortfall, Walker pushed through deep and unpopular spending cuts, including a $250 million reduction to the University of Wisconsin system.

The campaign ad claims Walker signed $2 billion in tax cuts into law during his first term. But those cuts, which overwhelmingly went to wealthy individuals and corporations, contributed to turning his $1 billion surplus into a potential shortfall in less than a year.

The ad also refers to the state’s unemployment rate dropping from 7.8 percent the month before he took office to 4.6 percent in June. It skirts the fact that Walker didn’t come close to his signature 2010 campaign promise, repeated in the 2012 recall election, that the state would add 250,000 private sector jobs by the end of 2014. Only 129,000 jobs were added.

Wisconsin’s private sector job growth during Walker’s first term was 5.7 percent, compared with 9.3 percent growth nationwide. For many months during his first term, Wisconsin lagged at the bottom of the region in terms of job creation — and near the bottom of the nation.

Walker hopes to revive his moribund campaign by positioning himself as a fighter, but even if it were true, it’s not likely to resonate. Voters are tired of the sort of political gridlock and double-talk that he’s mastered. They want leaders who are unabashedly authentic, as evidenced by their embrace of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Voters are tired of scheming, self-serving tricksters more focused on manipulating their poll numbers and pleasing their donors than solving the nation’s problems.

In other words, Walker might as well throw in the towel. Not even a stellar debate performance on Sept. 16, complete with new facial expressions and newly invented stories, can salvage a candidate with his record.