Pfaff Gets It, His Party Doesn’t

Nothing illustrates just how far gone the Democratic Party is, how out of touch they are with average citizens, and how little interest they have in winning elections, then this week’s votes on bail reform in the Wisconsin Legislature.

Some quick background. In December a man with a long criminal history drove through a crowd of holiday parade goers in Waukesha, killing six and injuring dozens. He was out on only $1,000 bail. In response to the understandable uproar, Republicans dusted off a constitutional amendment that had been introduced by one of their caucus members. That amendment would allow judges and court commissioners, when setting bail, to take into account the criminal history of the defendant and the danger to society he might pose if let out on the street while awaiting trial. Right now they can only consider the likelihood that the accused person will show up for their next court date.

It was obvious to anybody with half a political brain that this was going to pass overwhelmingly. This week it did just that. The measure, AJR-107, passed the Assembly 70-26 and the Senate 23-10. It needs to pass both houses again next session, which it will as early as January, and then in a popular referendum. My guess is that it will get about 75% to 80% of that popular vote.

But all 36 votes against it were Democrats. They even argued against it, led by the usually politically astute Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee). I wish I could say I was surprised, but I figured the Democrats couldn’t resist being on the unpopular side of a hot-button issue. It’s what they do.

Now, you can certainly make a case that this would not have made a difference in the Waukesha parade killings. That’s because Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm has said that his assistant DA erred in asking for a bail amount so low. Chisholm says that the assistant had too many cases and not enough time to look at paperwork that would have suggested a higher amount.

But what that indicates to me, and to most of the public, is that we also need to look at state money for more prosecutors; it’s not an argument directly against the constitutional amendment.

What actually surprised me is how many Democrats had the good sense to vote for the amendment. It doesn’t matter much in the sense that the three dozen Democrats who opposed it are enough to feed the toxic image that is killing their party, But let’s take a moment here to list them. Here are 14 Democratic legislators who get it.

Sen. Tim Carpenter, Milwaukee

Sen. Brad Pfaff, Onalaska

Rep. Deb Andraca, Whitefish Bay

Rep. Tip McGuire, Kenosha

Rep. Beth Meyers, Bayfield

Rep. Nick Milroy, South Range

Rep. Tod Ohnstad, Kenosha

Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, Milwaukee

Rep. Dan Riemer, Milwaukee

Rep. Katrina Shelton, Green Bay

Rep. Lee Snodgras, Appleton

Rep. Sheila Stubbs, Madison

Rep. Lisa Subeck, Madison

Rep. Robyn Vining, Wauwatosa

Of particular note are Ortiz-Velez, Stubbs and Subeck. Ortiz-Velez and Stubbs are women of color. One of the arguments against this amendment is that it will mean that more Black men, especially, will stay locked up for longer. It underscores something that has been true for awhile now: Democratic leaders of color are more practical than theory-laden woke white liberals. Subeck impressed me because she represents the very liberal West Side of Madison, where this kind of common sense may not be popular.

Let’s also give a shout out to Sen. Pfaff. He’s running for Congress in an uphill battle to keep the House seat now held by long-time Rep. Ron Kind. That makes his vote smart, but it’s also part of a bigger effort by Pfaff to find ways to connect to voters in a purple district. His district is one Democrats must win if they are to have any chance at all of keeping their majority. He deserves our support and you can give it to him by visiting his website and sending him a few bucks.

But what should have happened was that Democrats should have gotten together as a caucus and decided to vote en masse for this thing. They need to send a strong signal that they understand how serious an issue crime is and that they are, you know, against it. Fourteen smart Democrats aside, they managed to send the opposite message.

And on another matter… are the MLB owners and players so arrogant that they can’t see what an extended lock-out will do to their industry? My favorite sport has been declining in popularity for decades. World Series viewership is down by half since 2003 and other long-term trends in viewership are troubling as well. If the millionaires don’t reach a deal with the billionaires by Monday, Opening Day will be delayed. Even dedicated fans like me will think twice before tuning in — much less going in person — to the games once they get underway. A pox on both their houses.

And on yet another matter… Joe Biden has just announced his selection of Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court. We were pulling for Judge J. Michelle Childs. With Brown Jackson we get yet another Harvard lawyer. With Childs we would have gotten the only state school educated lawyer on the court and the one being pushed by one of our favorite pols, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. We’re disappointed. What happened to “Scranton Joe”?


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

2 thoughts on “Pfaff Gets It, His Party Doesn’t

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