Common Ground: Seeking Wins for People at the Grassroots

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Suddenly, Keisha Krumm, a strong, smart, confident community organizer with a record of impact, hit a point where emotion welled up.

Speaking at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on Wednesday, Krumm was answering a question about what motivated her to become the lead organizer for Common Ground in Milwaukee.

She said she grew up in Wichita, Kansas, and she was caption of the girls’ basketball team at her high school. They lost every game. She didn’t like it and it still galls her. But there was a bigger context in the circumstances of her life.

“In my neighborhood, we lost,” Krumm said. “When it came to opportunity for our men, we lost. We lost a lot in life.” She paused, looked down at her hands, and continued in a thicker voice.

“I’m sick of losing. And Common Ground teaches people how to win in life where it matters, to get the things done in their neighborhood that if they had a billion dollars, they would never have to worry about. So I’m committed to teaching people how to win in life.” Read more »

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After a Six-Year “Break,” Feingold Makes His Case for Returning to the Senate

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“The people of this state told me to take a break.”

But Russ Feingold wants the break to end, and he used an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Tuesday to convey his enthusiasm for winning a race for a United States Senate seat that is shaping up as one of the most significant in the country this year.

Feingold served as a Democrat in the Senate for 18 years before being defeated in 2010 by a Republican candidate who was then a newcomer to politics, Ron Johnson. This year’s race is slated to be a re-match between the two. The two differ sharply on a wide range of issues and the outcome could be a key to which party holds a majority in the Senate, come 2017.

Feingold conveyed to a capacity audience in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall not only his enthusiasm for returning to office, but the consistency of his positions over the years, with a few adjustments and tweaks as he positions himself for the campaign. Read more »

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Transparency in Government Includes the Judiciary

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
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Sun_and_Moon_Nuremberg_chronicleThe following commentary appears in this week’s Wisconsin Law Journal:

Transparency is the core value of a democratic society. In a democratic self-government, voters have the power to select and reject those who will wield the power of government.

The power of the vote is only meaningful if the voters have information upon which to act. This is where transparency in government comes in.

In the case of the governor, the voters need to know whether their tax dollars are being steered towards political donors and whether state resources are being used to advance partisan political purposes. This is why the prospect of executive-branch officials communicating through private emails, and taking other steps to hide the true reasons for executive decisions from the public, is so troubling.

In the case of the state Legislature, the voters need to know whether lawmakers are exercising their power independently. Our representatives in the state legislature shouldn’t act as mere conduits for self-serving laws drafted by special-interest groups. Wisconsin was a leader, through the creation of the Legislative Reference Bureau in 1901, in our nation’s history in insisting that legislators draft their own laws.

The role of our state judges, in enforcing the value of transparency in government, is vital. This role has two components. First, it is essential that our state judges enforce transparency on the other two branches of state government. Second, our state judges must comply with the need to be transparent within their own judicial branch. Read more »

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Possible Solutions to America’s Gun Problem

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Criminal Law & Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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Glock_19_Gen_4_frontThe first step in solving any problem is admitting that a problem exists. America has a gun problem. Guns are all too easy for those with ill intent to obtain. So why worry about gun control and not knife control? Guns allow murderers to exponentially increase fatalities. Compare, if you will, the knife attack in China in which six terrorists killed 29 people and wounded 130 others with the Virginia Tech shooting, in which a single shooter killed 32 people and wounded 20 others. Anecdote aside, one only need to intuit that guns possess extraordinary risks uncommon to other weapons. We need to acknowledge the risks that guns possess.

America averages one mass shooting a day. Clearly something needs to be done, and we must do it without delay. Several observers have suggested ways in which gun violence could be reduced, both from within and outside of the legal system.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn has repeatedly called for illegal gun possession to be a felony under Wisconsin law . It is currently a misdemeanor, no matter how often an individual has perpetrated the crime. This means that when police catch someone with a gun who should not have it, all they can do is take it away, slap that person with a fine, and let them go. This is not a sufficient deterrence for people who should not have guns and does not do enough to keep them from possessing guns. Read more »

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Empirical Evidence of Voter Anger Found in New Law School Poll

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At a time when there is so much talk about angry voters, what’s the reality?

The Marquette Law School Poll released on Thursday showed that “outsider” candidates for president such as Republicans Ben Carson and Donald Trump, are doing well at this point in Wisconsin. So is Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who, although he is a senator, embraces the term “socialist” and is running a campaign heavy on criticism of Wall Street interests. Many commentators have linked their success to voters who are frustrated with politicians who have been part of the governing establishment.

The new set of poll results provided empirical evidence to support the talk of angry voters.

Charles Franklin, director of the poll and the Law School’s professor of law and public policy, told the audience at the “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at which the poll results were released that there really were signs of anger toward government as a whole, as well as some signals that voters weren’t as  alienated from candidates with more traditional backgrounds.    Read more »

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Confronting Racism

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Category: Civil Rights, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law
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Plessy_markerIn Plessy v. Ferguson, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote “[o]ur constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” [1] Today, most people might say they too are color-blind. However, race relations have been prevalent in the news as of late because the state of racism in America has mutated. Racism is rarely as bold as the cross burnings of yore, but no less insidious. [2]

Because racism is different, our understanding of our inherent biases must also become different. I believe the modern definition of racism has shifted. I define racism as taking a negative action towards someone, whether explicitly or implicitly, on account of their race. This means that people can take racist actions without being aware that they are doing so.[3] We can no longer oversimplify racism, and instead need to confront it within ourselves and as a community.

As a country, we need to do a better job confronting racism. A plethora of high profile incidents, involving police brutality and campus outrage, have given us another opportunity to confront our inherent biases. Unfortunately, too many “color-blind” people have not heeded the second part of Justice Harlan’s dissent and have instead tolerated or even justified the systemic mistreatment of classes of citizens. [4] Read more »

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Plotting Pathways to Primary Success

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iowa_caucusMany non-political people question the primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire in the process of picking our Presidential candidates. As the Iowa Caucuses less than 90 days away, it is worth considering the importance of the early contest and assessing paths to primary victory.

Iowa and New Hampshire are important because they test a can test a candidate’s endurance, organization and strategy.  Because voters in the early primary states take their participation seriously, they expect to have lots of one-on-one encounters with hopefuls (retail politics). Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) won Iowa in 2012 on a shoestring budget because of a grassroots effort to have town halls in all 99 counties.

Since the Iowa Caucuses began in 1976, they have not been a great predictor of eventual GOP nominees. While Iowa many not pick a winner, but it typically does thin the field out. Being in the top three tends to punch a ticket for later contests.

Favorite son candidates sometimes can do well in Iowa just because of their connection or proximity to the Hawkeye State.  Such was the plan of Rep. Dick Gephardt’s (D-MO 3rd) in 1988, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN 6th) or ex-Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) in 2012 but this pathway to success proved futile.  There was some speculation that Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) would have greatly aided by his native Iowan ties and being a next door neighbor, but that was not enough for him in the 2016 election cycle.

Iowa voters expect to be courted by aspiring candidates. But how “retail” politics is conducted matters to assuage “Iowa Stubborn”. Read more »

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BIDS as a Superior Innovation Tool

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Category: Milwaukee, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Tax Law
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Cities, which were previously facing population decreases due to urban sprawl, are now facing an urban resurgence or revitalization. Millennials and retirees have found a home in many of the urban centers of America. In 2010, 83.7% of people in the United States and Puerto Rico lived in metropolitan area and a 10.8% growth in metropolitan areas from 2000-2010.[1] However, with a large number of people living in the suburbs in previous decades, cities have not updated their neighborhoods to fit the needs and desires of its new residents. One of the tools to meet this need is a Business Improvement District (BID)

Business Improvement Districts are areas inside a municipality created for the purpose of developing, redeveloping, or maintaining a business area.[2] New Orleans was the first city in the United States to implement a BID, and it saw great success. [3] There are now more than 1,200 BIDs nationally. In 1984, Wisconsin created its BID statute. [4] There currently 34 active BIDs within the city of Milwaukee. [5]

One of the unique aspects of a BID is that it requires that one business owner in this area to come forward with a petition for the BID.[6] The planning commission designs its special assessment method and the implementation of the collected funds. If the owners of at least 40% of land value inside the BID raise an objection, it is vetoed. If the landowners do not veto the plan, then it then goes through the city legislative process and the mayor can approve it. The BID members have to renew the BID on an annual basis, unless there is an outstanding debt. Read more »

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Petri and Obey Urge More Involvement — and More Problem-Solving — in Politics

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One is spicy and one is mild, but two formerly-influential members of the United States Congress were united in serving the same flavor messages Wednesday at Marquette Law School:

Young people should step up to get involved in politics and the political system needs to function in ways that serve the broad needs of the country.

David Obey is a Democrat who represented northern Wisconsin for 42 years and Thomas Petri is a Republican who represented central Wisconsin for 35 years before each retired. Each held major committee chairmanships that put them at the center of momentous decisions.

The two have joined in making appearances around Wisconsin in what they call “a civic dialogue tour” encouraging engagement in politics, and that brought them to an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall. Read more »

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Kleefisch Advocates for Walker’s Positions During “On the Issues” Session

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The only formal duty of a lieutenant governor stated in Wisconsin’s  constitution is to become governor if a vacancy occurs in that office.

“My constitutional duty is succession.  I know my job and I understand my constitutional duty,” Rebecca Kleefisch, Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor, said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Wednesday.

The question asked by Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, was whether Kleefisch wanted to be governor at some point in the future. Her answer dodged that question – and that points to the informal main duties of a lieutenant governor:  Don’t make trouble for the governor, don’t get out on a limb, and always speak up for the things the governor is doing. Read more »

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A Different Perspective on Sir Thomas More

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Obelisque_alexanderNext year is the quincentennial of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia, and celebrations of the book and its author have already begun. More, of course, is a darling of Western culture and politics. He was canonized and is considered the patron saint of politicians and statesmen. Essayist C.K. Chesterton said that More may be “the greatest historical character in English history.”

It therefore comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that More also has a following on the political left. None other than Marx and Engels praised More’s thinking, and Lenin honored him by listing his name on a monument erected in Moscow’s Aleksandrovsky Gardens.

More’s description of an ideal society in Utopia is what leads to the leftist lionizing. His society has no private property, state ownership of the means of production, and extensive welfare programs for the poor and elderly. Because of these public policies, More seems to some to be a “proto-Communist.”

None of these policies are even remotely possible in the contemporary U.S., and the collapse of actual Communist regimes of the late-twentieth century is well-documented. However, More deserves credit for reflecting on what type of socioeconomic structure might produce what type of consciousness. More thought that the population of his utopian society would avoid alienation and adopt a genuinely social worldview rather than a greedy, self-interested individualism.

More was a dreamer. Yet his variety of dialectical materialism remains appealing 500 years after he teased it out – in Latin no less!

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Narrative and Social Control

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Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Law & Process, Media & Journalism, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law
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copslogoIn recent decades, awareness of narrative and of stories in general has increased in many fields and academic disciplines, law included.  However, it is nevertheless surprising to see that even law enforcement specialists in the Justice Department have developed an appreciation of the workings and importance of narrative.

This heightened sensitivity surfaced in the recent Justice Department report on police conduct in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of Michael Brown.  Issued by the Department’s “Community Oriented Policing Services” office, the report outlines no fewer than 113 lessons that police in Missouri and elsewhere might learn from developments during the seventeen days following Brown’s death and funeral.

Much of the report is predictable.  It criticizes such police tactics as the use of dogs, tear gas, and so-called “overwatching.”  With the latter, police use rifle sights to survey a crowd from positions on top of police vehicles.  Overall, the report warns that “militarization” of a volatile situation will probably make things worse.

Toward the end of the report, its authors turn to what they label “lost narrative.”  In their opinion, Missouri law enforcement was too slow to provide information about the shooting of Brown and thereby created an opening for alternative representations of the incident.  Supporters of Brown and his family seized the opportunity and offered an alternative narrative, one conveyed largely but not completely through the social media and one stressing that “Black Lives Matter.” Read more »

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