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Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011

Issue of the Week: Republicans’ Wish List Takes Shape

Plus Hero and Jerk of the Week

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Now that Republicans are in charge they’re supposedly focusing like a laser beam on creating 250,000 jobs by the end of Gov. Scott Walker’s first term.

So why are the bills being circulated by state Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) focused on anything but jobs?

Kleefisch began looking for bill cosponsors on Monday morning for 15 pieces of legislation he’s just dying to pass. Things like cracking down on “spa bandits” and relaxing the oversight of elevators and lifts in private residences and allowing 11 year olds more room to roam on their ATVs.

But other bills aren’t so frivolous. Kleefisch, like a lot of Republicans, wants to end same-day voter registration. See, Republicans think that making it relatively easy to vote equals rampant voter fraud. But, actually, making it easy to vote simply means that the rate of voter participation is pretty high (and widespread voter fraud still hasn’t been proven). In fact, even though Wisconsin’s voter turnout rate is declining, more than 70% of voting age citizens turned out for the 2008 presidential election, the second-highest turnout of all of the states.

And you know how that turned out: Obama won Wisconsin.

Republicans have been working hard for years to make it harder to vote. Now that they’ve got control of both houses of the state Legislature and the governorship, they can push for Kleefisch’s bill and also try to mandate voter ID, another way to make it harder to vote, especially if you’re older, or poor or a minority voter.

Kleefisch’s wish list also includes allowing off-duty law enforcement officers to carry firearms on school property, prohibiting businesses that do embryonic stem cell research from some property tax exemptions, and amending the state Constitution so that a two-thirds vote in the Assembly would be required before any state sales tax, income tax, franchise tax or fee could be raised.

What any of this has to do with creating jobs is anyone’s guess.

Hero of the Week

Project Return

Seeking to curb the rate of recidivism in Milwaukee, in 1981 a coalition of inner-city churches and community organizations founded Project Return to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society. The staff and volunteers of Project Return offer enrichment programs addressing five primary areas of need: job development, housing, family connections, education and personal well-being. Volunteer mentors and support groups are also available. To help Project Return’s efforts, call 374-8029.

Jerk of the Week

Congressman Paul Ryan

Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville may try to come across like a nice guy, but he couldn’t stop himself from blaming the victim. In a recent op-ed, Ryan once again promoted the myth that homeowners caused the housing market crash. “Too many borrowed beyond their means to buy homes they could not afford,” he wrote. “Wall Street, too, irresponsibly built a house of cards with borrowed money and nearly brought the economy to a halt.”

Well, Ryan’s sort of half-right. Wall Street is very much to blame for the housing market crash; cash-strapped homeowners, not so much. Although some homeowners did buy beyond their means, the bulk of them could afford their mortgages until either they lost their job during the recession or an interest rate adjustment kicked in, putting their monthly payments out of reach. Also, unscrupulous mortgage brokers misrepresented the terms of some of the mortgages.

In contrast, Wall Street knew exactly what it was doing as it made enormous profits off of mortgages, especially risky mortgages that could be securitized and sold off. Ratings agencies like Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s twisted their standards to give AAA ratings to risky mortgage securities, which allowed the Wall Street firms to sell them as if they were top-notch.

Unfortunately, instead of going to the root of the issue, Ryan is blaming homeowners for a problem that is much, much bigger and more complex than their individual decisions.

Correction

In the Dec. 30, 2010, “Boris and Doris” column, Douglas Cvetkovich was incorrectly identified. He is not running for Port Washington-Saukville School Board but he is the secretary for Milwaukee County First.

Clarification

A Dec. 30, 2010, Expresso item stated that the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) is considering becoming a school chartering agency. The statement was made based on MMAC’s education policy memo, which included “exploration of” the creation of the Milwaukee Charter Trust, which “would be responsible for gaining charter authority, providing facilities and financing for a network of charter schools in high-need areas of the city.” MMAC President Tim Sheehy clarified that his organization is not planning to “explore, open or run” a charter school.