Micro-brain lawmakers micro-managing Milwaukee from afar

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Would it be too much to ask one simple question of our state's current breed of authoritarian politicians, as they again rush to judgment and throw even more citizens under the ever-less-frequent transit bus?

That one simple question:

If you, Mr. or Ms. Legislator, think the Milwaukee County Board is "micro-managing" county government, then what would you call moves by the Republican-dominated state legislature to disembowel that county board, messing around -- in detail -- with the way the county runs itself?

If that doesn't quite sink in, here's another question:

What would you call it when -- once again after a couple of years of this sort of thing -- you propose to meddle in the constitutionally protected, home-rule powers of the City of Milwaukee, banning its policy requiring that its employees live within its boundaries?

Answer: You, yourselves, are MICRO-MANAGING.

In other words, you are guilty of the supposed fault you seek to cure. Either as politicians you are not self-aware of your hypocrisy, or you are quite aware of it and simply advancing your political agenda.

Two years ago when you rose to power, the public employee unions disagreed with you politically, so your standard bearer, Gov. Scott Walker, claimed they made too much in salary and interfered in policymaking, thus justifying the law that mostly stripped them of their power and cut their pay. Now on to the Milwaukee County Board!

The Milwaukee city and county governments likewise often disagree with your party politically, so you seek wherever possible to disempower them, too. Again you claim it's because they cost too much, and spend too much time debating and even too much time acting (albeit in ways you don't like). Again, you're doing this allegedly to save a relatively small bit of money, while greasing the skids for other spending and projects more to your liking.

Meanwhile, you've been taking away revenues from the city, the county and the region's other local public institutions, government and not-for-profit. You've been magnifying the problems they're facing, not helping them in their hour of need, then complaining when they deliver impure results.

In the case of Milwaukee County, you appear poised to throw your support behind a Maximum Leader, would-be strongman Chris Abele, who holds the post -- and ever-increasing power --  of county executive, a wealthy man who is very cozy with the local business community and a man who doesn't seem particularly interested in the give-and-take, powersharing, multiple-branches system of government, standard democratic policymaking norm that's been the very foundation of this country.

And the state legislator spearheading the move to gut the county board? He's Joe Sanfelippo, a former Milwaukee County supervisor and -- of course -- well-to-do local businessman. Sanfelippo says he likes the idea of making supervisors part-time -- evidently because, when he was a supervisor, that's how he handled the job. And no doubt that's how he's handling things as a state legislator too (full-time pay and benefits notwithstanding, in either case). Part-time hours in a full-time public office are bad enough, but using your brain part-time, too? Sanfelippo is just the latest politician who is busy failing upward.

Instead of another naked power grab, here's a different idea for the State Capitol's legislative brain trust: Leave those of us in Milwaukee alone!

Stop raiding our resources, then blaming us for shortcomings that result, and using those shortcomings to justify even more meddling.

Stop trying to remake us, projecting your own flawed image.

Stop with the idea that Milwaukeeans are takers, not makers who need adult supervision. We of Milwaukee are, despite all our challenges, far and away this state's makers -- by far the state's most powerful economic engine. YOU are the guys who need adult supervision before you further constrain and gum up that economic engine past the point where it can be salvaged and rebuilt.

Forgive us for thinking that in this latest legislation, the message you're really once again sending out to local elected officials and other interests who disagree with you  everywhere in Wisconsin is: Toe the line. Don't oppose us. Or else we will rip out your heart.

These days suburbanites worry about the return of coyotes and other predators to lands that not many years ago were completely rural. But in Madison, a human brand of coyote is busy stalking human and institutional prey in metro Milwaukee. Local governments across the state should be very nervous about this. They've already taken some big hits thanks to the likes of the GOP majority. Now, if those  authoritarians succeed at bringing to heel the biggest local government among you, what about all you smaller governments? Who will be next?

Dictating local policy from afar is not, as the authoritarians claim to believe, an act of preferring local government as the best form of government. It's exactly the opposite.

This cabal is an anti-democratic bunch of civic-unminded lawmakers, politicians, business leaders and newspapers (well, newsPAPER: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) who are getting ready to mess with local government again, certain that they know best and that we needn't mess around with debates and votes and constituent relations and stuff like that. They want to be the deciders, and the rest of us are just supposed to shut up and take it.

It's not enough that Scott Walker and his GOP Ledge dismantled collective bargaining, wrecking power-sharing workplace arrangements that statewide brought far more innovation, equity and reason to this once progressive state than they ever cost us.

Nor, apparently, is it enough that Walker and pals have redistributed local tax dollars and shared revenues away from Milwaukee city and county, as well as away from public school districts across the state.

In one of the most cynical if not biggest such moves, the governor grabbed tens of millions of dollars awarded in a federal case that settled mortgage foreclosure abuses, denying most of the money its intended purpose -- to assist cities like Milwaukee, which far and away has this state's greatest number of boarded-up homes resulting from those very mortgage abuses. You see, Walker doesn't mind if Milwaukee residents suffer some more. At least not before he and like-minded politicians control it.

Away from us, and toward their own agenda, and toward private special interests, furthering the cause of authoritarian uber-government. Their methods smack of disaster capitalism: deliberately interfering with established institutions until they crumble to the point where they can either be seized outright or their powers redirected. Making government small enough to drown in a bathtub, as influential  rightwinger Grover Norquist has put it.

But, you authoritarians insist, your move on the Milwaukee County Board is all about local control, because the bill that would enable the change requires a local relerendum on the matter. But that, in your hands, is not true local control -- it is, rather, a game of control the locals.

Obviously, your side is going to spend big and probably mostly anonymous dollars campaigning in that referendum -- money which the defenders of true local democracy do not possess in kind. Your side no doubt will simplify this utterly cynical proposal down to an emotional, largely nonsubstantive pitch, along the subliminal lines of: "Would you, dear, distressed voter, like to cut county supervisor pay in half and gut their benefits? Wouldn't that show them you're boss? Wouldn't that make you feel good?" Totally out of context, but a surefire vote getter.

Hey, GOP, here's an even better referendum idea: Let's make the state legislature part time, cut your legislative staff down to nothing, cut the total number of you representatives, and give the governor make most of your decision-making power, with no effective opposition. While we're at it, let's make the Milwaukee County executive and the governor part-time, too. How would that work out for ya? Not so well, huh?

In truth, even getting rid of the Milwaukee County Board altogether wouldn't save much money relative to the county's budget. And what of the county executive? He would not only gain more power by default, but the office's staff and budget during and since Scott Walker has been growing at a rapid rate and is going to grow even more after this misbegotten change.

Because, not only will it be far easier to ignore the county board, the county exec's special interest pals will be busy ensuring that only lightweights and yes-men are elected to the resulting weak supervisor positions.

And, by the way, a fat lot of good Walker and other recent county executives already have done their constituents as the exec's power has grown, even when the still-intact County Board voted to reject some of their more ridiculous ideas. We're still digging out of the fiscal mess Walker left us, and now the solution is supposed to be giving his successors even more power?

Nor is it enough that state lawmakers again would devolve democracy by taking control away from local elected representatives, giving it instead to people in higher elected office -- including themselves! -- in ways that will permit less debate and more backroom deal-making. Also, more misery for most of the people of Wisconsin as their voices and dissents are marginalized, while the rich and influential get more of whatever free speech remains.

But an increasing number of us voters and taxpayers know what you're doing, Mr. and Ms. Authoritarian. We're watching. We don't have your political power or the millions in campaign dollars that artificially prop you up. But we have shoe leather, and voices, and we're mad. That's why, as always, we're going to win in the end. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. It's all up to you.

And don't forget that great Republican, Abraham Lincoln, who is attributed with saying: "You may fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time."

You Republicans in the legislature and governor's office are not fooling anybody. Except perhaps yourselves. 

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