Wednesday Stuff

Lots of interesting stuff in the paper this morning, none of it necessarily calling out for an entire column.

Take your time. I’ve been a little critical of Dane County Executive Joe Parisi’s quick (and it turned out disastrous) hiring process for a new human services director. Six weeks wasn’t enough. But how about more than a year? That’s what it will likely take for the Madison School Board to get around to replacing Superintendent Carlton Jenkins, who announced his retirement back in February. The board announced yesterday that it wouldn’t post the job until the fall. That means, for all intents and purposes, we won’t have a new superintendent until the fall semester of 2024. Had the board jumped on this three months ago there’s no reason a new leader couldn’t have been in place for this September. This matters because interim leaders are never in a position to make significant changes in policy.

Rushdie to judgement. Hats off to Salman Rushdie who, in accepting a literary award, criticized both the hard-right for its growing obsession with book banning, especially children’s books, and the hard-left for its penchant for altering works of art to meet today’s sensitive standards. He said publishers should allow books “to come to us from their time and be of their time. And if that’s difficult to take, don’t read it, read another book.”

Back door initiative-referendum. You want to be California? That state famously does a lot of legislating without its Legislature. If you get enough signatures you can put almost anything on a binding ballot question there. Wisconsin (thankfully) doesn’t have that system, but Republicans might have discovered a work-around. A decision announced yesterday by the Wisconsin Supreme Court gives the Legislature wide leeway in framing ballot questions for constitutional amendments. The result could be that Republicans will use this as a way of getting around Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, since constitutional amendments don’t require the governor’s approval. The constitution is supposed to be there to establish broad principles, not as a repository for detailed legislation, but I don’t suspect that will stop the GOP.

Justice underpaid is justice denied. There have been hints of bipartisanship along the way as the Legislature moves toward approval of the 2023-25 state budget. The latest is the Joint Finance Committee’s approval of a pay increase for entry-level public defenders and prosecutors. The new hourly rate will go up about $9 to $36. That’s a dollar more than Evers had proposed. This is important because the justice system can’t work without lawyers on both sides and the pay hasn’t kept pace with inflation, not to mention the private sector. Republicans did leave out other proposals from Evers including more prosecutor positions statewide (they authorized some in select counties) and more support personnel, but Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) called this, “an important step for the justice system.”

Kevin McCarthy may have gained the upper hand in debt limit talks.

Get a job. A bottom line for Speaker Kevin McCarthy in his negotiations over the debt limit is new work requirements for welfare recipients. Pres. Joe Biden has expressed his possible agreement, though it’s not clear what those requirements would be exactly since some work or work search requirements already exist. This hasn’t stopped the hard-left from expressing outrage about it, playing right into McCarthy’s hands. Imagine what would happen if the government defaults and McCarthy can frame it as the result of Democrats opposing work requirements — in a full employment economy — for welfare recipients. Keep in mind that in Wisconsin an advisory referendum in April asked voters if they supported vague work requirements, and it passed three-to-one.

Why us? Madison is set to become the most air-monitored city in the state. The city will soon have no less than 68 air monitors scattered around the community. I guess that’s fine, but Madison is not the city in most need of this. Milwaukee, Kenosha and Racine, Green Bay and other places in the Fox River Valley would seem to make a lot more sense, given the amount of industry in those places.


Published by dave cieslewicz

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

5 thoughts on “Wednesday Stuff

  1. I agree with you that it’s bad that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has made it easier for the legislature to do an end run around Gov. Evers’ veto pen on measures that should be included in statutes rather than in the state constitution. However, I strongly disagree with you on the topic of binding citizen led initiatives. I do want us to be like California (and several other states) in that citizens can place binding referendums on the ballot. That’s the only hope we ever have of passing broadly popular measures like ending gerrymandering, implementing gun controls, increasing abortion access, expanding Medicaid, legalizing recreational marijuana, etc. 


    1. You may be right about that, but it’s a two-edged sword. I think of Proposition 13 in CA and the mess it has caused in property taxes. Also, what’s happened there is that special interests have funded signature campaigns followed by media blitzes to pass initiatives they want.


  2. Regarding the School Superintendent search: A board that thinks it is doing just fine, micromanaging, does exactly this Defers hiring a superintendent, keep the interim on and manage themselves.

    In Wisconsin there is a growing number of districts where the boards hire an interim and then keep them on – happy to be running the show. Of course, most of these districts are no where near as good as they could be, because there is no leadership but rather management by board consensus.

    Madison is getting the school district it wants by allowing this to go on. Calling it out is a good thing and appreciated. In MKE, there are several districts operating under extended interim’s with superintendents cashing in and coasting while the board thinks it is doing just fine.


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