Wisconsin’s Gang of Four – Shaping National Politics

Gang of Four

Since 2011, perhaps no other political figures in Wisconsin have shaped politics so dramatically in the state and the nation than the Wisconsin Gang of Four, Governor Scott Walker, Congressman and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representative, Paul Ryan, Republican National Committee Chair, Reince Priebus, and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. Each in their own right have had a strong impact in politics, legislative action, and in the media. In 2016 Presidential season, their collective influence is on the main stage and throughout social media outlets.

Taken as a group, each political figure staunchly upholds the GOP party platform of less government and taxes, no gun controls, less regulation, reduced litigation, pro-life, less entitlements, strict voter ID laws, and a strong military. This Gang of Four have shaped the political environment in Wisconsin, and their influence travels through Washington, D.C. and the rest of the country.

The Center for Media and Democracy proclaimed “Walker’s Wisconsin” as a Laboratory for Oligarchs.  The assertion is this “laboratory” is intended to test the theories and policies developed by the ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization known for developing model legislative bills introduced into state legislation, word for word. Some of these guiding bills helped Scott Walker eliminate collective bargaining and Civil Service rules, decrease regulation of the state’s Department of Natural Resources, caused cuts to public elementary and higher education while providing tax dollars to private voucher schools. This legislation is poised to further shape Wisconsin into a “state of libertarian rights.”   As Dan Kaufman titled his New York Times editorial, “The Destruction of Progressive Wisconsin,” many are wondering why so much legislation is being passed, much of it the public didn’t even ask for.

Many people outside Wisconsin have questioned how the state voters have allowed Scott Walker to stay in office. Certainly with the historic protests of 2011, and nearly 1 million recall signatures against Governor Walker would have caused his quick exit from state politics. There reasons to explain this. First, Wisconsin saw an enormous influx of outside campaign dollars thanks to Citizens United, which helped the GOP take total control of the state’s Assembly and Senate. The majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court were supported by the GOP, and external right-leaning super PAC’s.  In addition, Scott Walker has appointed GOP-friendly appointees to the Wisconsin Board of Regents which in turn have moved towards removing tenure, freezing tuition all while cutting the budgets of public higher education.  In fact when Governor Walker first nominated a student representative to the Board of Regents, he quickly reversed his decision when realizing the student had signed the recall petition against him. The student later said he signed the recall to support his mother, who happens to be a teacher. For Governor Walker, it appears retribution is one of his most powerful weapons.

Within Wisconsin, it’s apparent to see the power the GOP can wield while shaping the direction of the state. When a party has total control, and has shaped voting districts to benefit the ruling class of legislatures, there cannot be much of a dissenting view.

After a short Presidential run for 2016, Scott Walker


Scott Walker

came back to a state less enamored with his original platform. His approval rating has slumped to 38%. According to a recent story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin’s childhood poverty level has reached a 30 year high from 2010-2014.The Gang from Wisconsin includes four critical legislative players.


Ron Johnson

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who is currently trailing challenger Russ Feingold as they head into a fall election. He is being criticized for actively supporting obstructing President Obama’s intent to nominate a Supreme Court replacement for Anton Scalia, which pushing the GOP agenda in Washington. National Republican Party Chair Reince Prebis, 


Reince Priebus

is being questioned why he did not take Donald Trump more seriously early in the primary schedule, and work to remove him from significance.  An internal GOP war has broken out attempting to derail Trump’s march towards the party’s Presidential nomination. And there is Speaker of the House,

Paul Ryan.jpg

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan, a U.S. Representative from Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District since 1999.  A failed running mate of Mitt Romney in 2012, Ryan now is playing mediator to the remaining GOP presidential hopefuls while simultaneously criticizing Donald Trump for is actions and policies.

For all the political upheaval in Wisconsin, this Gang of Four is taken the national center stage in a year of political turmoil throughout the country. A war is being waged between the traditional Republican establishment, Washington outsiders, and an electorate swinging far, far to the right.  The GOP experiment in Wisconsin may be headed towards the same fate as the disastrous budget experiment of Kansas Governor, Sam Brownback.  Once touting a conservative-style government to bring economic progress to Kansas through trickle-down economics, the state budget has resulted in massive revenue shortfalls, downgraded bond ratings, and additional cuts to education. Sounds like a familiar story in Wisconsin.

As spring comes to the Midwest, and the political environment heats up, perhaps it is a good time to reflect upon the impact and influence of Wisconsin’s Gang of Four, and remember what happened in the Kansas experiment. If this experiment has gone terribly wrong, perhaps it’s time for votes to give out failing grades to the GOP-led legislators in Wisconsin. Hopefully we are not in Kansas anymore, or are we?  The hope is April’s Wisconsin primary may provide the insight people have been waiting for.

Wisconsin Water Privatization Bill Down the Drain

A bill pushed by Aqua America Inc., a Pennsylvania company managing multiple water utilities, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities and authored by Representative Tyler August (R)- Geneva has gone down the drain in the Wisconsin Senate. The legislation, Assembly bill 554, would have allowed the privatization of public water facilities by out of state companies, and also make public referendums on proposed purchases optional rather than mandatory. Water Tower MOD

Strong concerns about the bill were voiced by citizens, public groups, the news media, and the Wisconsin League of Conversation Voters.  State Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay stated, “These bills were not introduced in response to any – to any request, from any local government here in Wisconsin. No one here asked for these bills. No one here has said there is a problem with local water utilities.”

The introduction and timing of the bill was particularly curious in  light of the water emergency in Flint, Michigan which was widely reported worldwide. Interestingly, according to Fox 6 News, Flint residents paid the highest water bills of 500 communities in Michigan in 2015. Privatizing water services can be a dangerous business, particularly for public utilities, and local citizens.




Democratic Debate Gets Fiery in Milwaukee

On February 11th as temperatures hovered in the teens, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Clinton-Sanders debate featured fiery exchanges between both candidates. Hundreds of press from around 4P0A8084MODSMthe U.S. converged to capture and report on the debate.  The event was sponsored by PBS with support from Facebook, and Milwaukee Public Radio and Television. The moderators for the debate were Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill, co-anchors from the PBS program Newshour.

In the spin room, across the street from the debate, a slew of large screen TV’s displayed the eveIMG_0004MODSMCard2nt live as news reporters for TV, radio, and the press feverishly captured each exchange between Sanders
and Clinton.  During the debate, a group of protesters yelling BlackLivesMatter and Fightfor$15 minimum wage pushed into the press area. Reporters rushed to capture the moment while police and security quickly rushed to disperse the crowd.

The debate covered a wide range of subjects including campaign finance, Wall Street, foreign policy, education, Planned Parenthood, and a host of social issues. The exchanges between the candidates were congenial at first, but quickly turned to jabs, punches and counter punches intermixed with memorable on-liners.


One memorable exchange centered on Sander’s criticism of Hillary’s connection with large super PAC’s. Clinton started by saying, “I’m very proud of the fact that we have more than 750 thousand donors, and the vast majority of them are giving small contributions. I think it’s great that Senator Sanders, President Obama and I have more donors than any three people who have every run….That’s the way it should be, and I’m going to continue to reach out to thank all my online contributors for everything they are doing for me.”

Saunders countered saying, “Let’s not insult the intelligence of the American people. People aren’t dumb. Why in God’s name does Wall Street make huge campaign contributions? I guess just for the fun of it; they want to throw money around.”

When Clinton was asked by co-moderator, Glen Ifill the price tag of her governmental proposals on health care, student debt and other agendas, Clinton responded, “My price tag is about $100 billion a year….I believe I can get the money that I need by taxing the wealthy, by closing4P0A8107MODSM loopholes, the things that we are way overdue for doing. And I think once I’m in the White House we will have enough political capital to be able to do that.”

Sanders quickly responded, “Well, Secretary Clinton, you’re not in the White House yet. And let us be clear that every proposal that I have introduced has been paid for.”

Another touch point centered on foreign policy. Hillary stressed her experience in foreign affairs pointing out, “As we all remember, Senator Obama, when he ran against me, was against the war in Iraq. And yet when he won, he turned to me, trusting my judgment, my experience, to become secretary of state.”

Sanders responded, “Where the secretary and I have a very profound difference, in the last debate — and I believe in her book and in this last debate, she talked about getting the approval or the support or the mentoring of Henry Kissinger. Now, I find it rather amazing, because I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country.”  As the 4P0A8215MODSMaudience applauded Sanders added, “I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.”

In all, Clinton and Sanders debated on equal footing and effectively counter punched each other throughout the debate.  Later in the spin room the activity was high as key officials promoted their candidates.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the Democratic National Committee, complemented both candidates but highlighted Clinton as the best choice.


Across the room, Jeff Weaver, Democratic political adviser and campaign manager for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign explained Sanders was the best choice.

In the center of the room, Secretary of Labor, Thomas E. Perez pushed for Clinton.  Along a row of bright lights and live TV cameras, Wisconsin Senator, Tammy Baldwin conducted a live interview with Chris Mathews of MSNBC and also endorsed Clinton.  The floor of the spin room seemed to be leaning towards Hillary, however Sanders’ debate performance in front of the press area suggested he had made a strong impact particularly with his quick retorts, and “pointed one-liners.” Wisconsin’s Democratic primary isn’t until April 5th.  There is still a lot of time for events to unfold for both candidates.  The polls in South Carolina give Hillary the edge. In Nevada, it’s a Clinton-Sanders tie. Stay tuned.

Wisconsin Legislator Proposes to Privatize Water Supplies

As the city of Flint, Michigan tries to understand and digest the significant problem of a tainted water supply, a Wisconsin Republican legislator is attempting to pass a bill to privatize water supplies in their state.  This new Assembly Bill, 554 has alarmed many citizens and experts in that Rep. Tyler August (R) of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin admitted he introduced the bill following a meeting with Aqua America and an associated lobbyist.


Rep. Tyler August (R)

According to the Milwaukee Journal, the company Aqua America, “has encountered consumer backlash in some of its markets over service, water quality and other issues. In December 2014, Fort Wayne, Ind., bought back its water system from Aqua America and paid a total of $67 million after residents complained about low water pressure and hard water that damaged appliances.”

Back in Flint, it has been reported that the city’s water supply has been tainted with lead since 2014. According to Reuters, Flint was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager [Darnell Earley] when it switched the source of its tap water from Detroit’s system to the Flint River in April 2014. Flint switched back last October after tests found high levels of lead in blood samples taken from children. ”

Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder, has repeatedly apologized for how his government has responded to the water emergency and has asked for federal dollars to clean up the situation. Now the FBI is joining a criminal investigation into the lead-contaminated water and if any laws have been broken.

Greg Botehlo of CNN, reports that the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is looking into where the truth resides, who is to blame, and what can be done to solve the issue. People are now questioning why Flint officials were not present at the hearings to explain the problem.

And so this brings us back to Wisconsin. “With the public and media backlash over the Flint tragedy, people are now questioning why another Republican-controlled state like Wisconsin is introducing legislation that could put water supplies at risk? That begs the question, why is legislation privatizing water supply being introduced when the public isn’t asking for it?”