Best of the Blogs: The Mess in Madison

This month’s Best of the Blogs feature takes a look at the budget debate in Madison.  In my opinion, it is myopic to focus solely on the budgetary aspects of the ongoing debate.  This is a raw political struggle, in which Governor Walker has attacked the primary source of campaign funding for Democrats.  The debate over the biennial budget is small potatoes to the leaders of the Democratic Party.  They perceive this bill as nothing less than an existential attack on their ability to raise funds (and therefore buy television advertising) in an amount sufficient to elect candidates in a closely divided state.

If anything, this current fight is only round one, with a second partisan fight over legislative re-districting yet to come.  The Voter ID bill, which previously was viewed by Democratic leaders as a dangerous assault on their electoral power, now in comparison seems to be a minor inconvenience.  While it is always entertaining to watch two political parties seek to destroy each other, one can’t help but feel that someone in Madison should actually be focused on governing the State.  Both Governor Walker, who picked this partisan fight, and the Democrats, who chose to grind government to a halt in order to defend partisan interests, share equal blame in my eyes.

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Borsuk Honored for “Building a Better Teacher” Series

Alan J. Borsuk, senior fellow in law and public policy at the Law School, was named a winner Monday in a major national education journalism competition. Borsuk was honored for his role in the project, “Building a Better Teacher,” which ran on the front page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for eight consecutive Sundays in November and December.

The Education Writers Association, a national organization of education journalists, named the project the best series of 2010 by a large publication. The series resulted from collaboration between the Law School; the Hechinger Report, an education journalism organization that is part of Columbia University; and the Journal Sentinel, including reporters Amy Hetzner, Erin Richards, and Becky Vevea.

Borsuk helped design the plan for the series and wrote three of the eight pieces. Borsuk, a longtime reporter and editor for the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, joined the Law School staff in 2009. He writes and edits pieces for Marquette Lawyer magazine, writes for the Law School’s web pages, and is involved in a variety of public policy activities. He also writes a Sunday column on education for the Journal Sentinel.

The education writers’ contest is judged by experts who are independent of the publications that enter. This year’s judging was directed by Tamara M. Cooke Henry, of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

The series can be found at

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The Reporter’s Privilege Goes Incognito in Wisconsin

Few professional groups in our society are less popular than journalists, so it’s a rare occasion when legislators – obsessed as they are with reelection – take actions specifically designed to help the press.

The Wisconsin Legislature showed some of that political bravery this month when it passed the state’s first reporter’s shield law (although some members still seem a little sheepish about it). The new statute, signed into law by Gov. Jim Doyle on May 20, gives “news persons” protection from certain subpoenas seeking their testimony, work products or confidential information, including the identities of their unnamed sources.

Journalists have been fighting for these statutory protections since 1972 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to recognize a First Amendment reporter’s privilege in Branzburg v. Hayes. Wisconsin is now the 39th state to have responded by adopting concrete statutory protections for journalists.

As anchorman Ron Burgundy might say, this is kind of a big deal. But so far the response has been muted: no significant news coverage, no pubic outcry, no dancing in the streets.

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