"Scott Walker causes cancer."
Are you ready for that headline in your Sunday paper? Could be if The Capital Times buys out its partner in Capital Newspapers Inc.
The Capital Times Company, a closely held corporation, and Lee Enterprises, based in Davenport, Iowa, are joint owners of Capital Newspapers Inc. That entity publishes the morning State Journal and the former afternoon Capital Times, now largely an on-line entity, as well as several small dailies such as the Portage Register.
Lee Enterprises, however, like much of the newspaper industry, is facing lean times due to the challenge of on-line technology and a lingering economic recession.
Lee paid top price for Pulitzer's St. Louis Post-Dispatch five years ago when the industry was still riding high. Now Lee is said to be facing a huge balloon payment due in October. It's not even a dollar stock. Its NYSE-listed price was 96 cents Thursday morning. In 2008 it reported an $880 million loss although last year's after-tax net income was a positive $46 million.
The Capital Times is said to have an offer on the table to buy Lee out of Madison for cash and assumption of debt. That would make the State Journal wholly owned by the CT. The Madison operation remains profitable. The CT gets half of those profits without having bled itself dry in over-priced acquisitions. Its purchase in February of Jeff Mayer's on-line WisPolitics is a reflection of its cash-rich position and solidifies its presence in the on-line world. Presumably that cash has been earning interest.
If the CT buyout of Capital Newspapers comes to pass it poses some intriguing scenarios. In 1948, Cap Times founder Wild Bill Evjue chose the afternoon market and to discontinue its Sunday edition when the two papers merged into what they called Madison Newspapers Inc. Both were afternoon papers at the time and needed expensive new printing presses. In the infancy of television, the morning slot was considered less desirable.
UPDATE: I should note that Bill Johnston, publisher of the WI State Journal, just called to emphatically deny that any offer has been made by the Capital Times to purchase the other half of Capital Newspapers Inc. Emphatic? Vehement was more like it. So, I've been called wrong here. Why didn't I vet this story with someone at the newspapers? I should have, is the simple answer. On the other hand, I would not expect a confirmation even if a deal was in the works. Businesses announce what they want to announce when they want to announce it. As it should be. I have heard this story earlier this year from people in the company. I know it is being talked about. The WI State Journal is a profit center for the company but in The Capital Times Co. Lee would have a potential purchaser that might pay more than market for altruistic reasons. Nonetheless, WI State Journal publisher Bill Johnston denies.
Breakfast with friends
Had breakfast with three former colleagues at the Department of Revenue this Thursday morning as we often do. One breakfaster was decorated with a FitzWalkerStan button and a depiction of a raised blue fist. He's a big Feingold supporter -- Brett Hulsey, too. I forgot to wear my black T-shirt supporting Scott Walker but will wear it next time.
A third is a big fan of Tommy Thompson and an avid hunter. The fourth member is still working (at a different state agency) and so tends to avoid politics but is also a gun owner. We men of a certain age gossip, recount old war stories, chew over some politics, kid each other while loading up on protein. That is the way it should be.
Wednesday at the annual Revenue Open golf tournament at Edelweiss Country Club outside New Glarus, a former colleague, a respected manager, upbraided me in harsh terms for saying, on the Divine Miss Vicki's radio show, that your genial host "dipped (his) jowls into the public trough."
I plead guilty to colorful phraseology. This particular example is intended to be more self-deprecation than a judgment on a breed of workers. My father originated the phrase while he was a member of the State Assembly.
Visitors to the Stately Manor can parse every B-Blogge, every radio podcast, and never find a single instance where the Squire has ever alleged three government workers to one shovel. To the contrary, and I repeat here, 98 percent of the state employees I ever encountered and worked with were hard-working professionals who deserve our respect.
'Assault on the middle class?'
Although my interlocutor said he had terminated a number of under-performing employees, the evidence suggests firing public workers is more difficult than need be and certainly more so than in the private sector. Wisconsin is, legally, an "at will" state regarding employment. Government job security is, in fact, a major benefit.
I remain convinced that it is reasonable to require government employees to pay 5.8 percent of their defined benefit pensions (who outside government has those any more?) and 12.6 percent of their generous health insurance premiums, as Walker's collective bargaining changes will require. This is the so-called "assault on the middle class" one hears emanating from the bullhorn bellowers at the Capitol.
The Walker administration was willing to take off the table the annual union recertification votes if the 14 AWOL senators would return from Illinois. They spurned that offer.
Witness also the local government unions hereabouts who were not willing to sacrifice, however temporarily, during a period of high private sector unemployment and home foreclosures.
Chief Justice engages in personal attacks
How churlish is State Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson? In her dissent on the high court's decision to overturn Justice Sumi, thus upholding Walker's collective bargaining changes, she calls Justice David Prosser's concurrence in the majority decision, "disingenuous." That, of course, is the ten dollar word for lying. Prosser, she writes, is "long on rhetoric and long on story-telling that appears to have a partisan slant." Right. As if Shirley weren't no liberal! How about arguing the constitutional issue? So much for upholding the dignity of the court!
Even Abrahamson was circumspect compared to Comrade Nichols' hyperbolic temper tantrum. "Kangaroo court," "crude power grab," "inept," "subservient," "bumbled," "corrupted." The bile just keeps flowing.
Let's remember that the budget repair bill was enacted in open session in both the full Assembly and the Senate. At issue was an extra-constitutional (which is not to say unconstitutional) housekeeping committee that merely calendars sessions. Even that was covered by live TV, streamed over the Internet, and engorged with reporters who made it Page One news. Hardly legislating in secret! Was the meeting open? Like Brett Hulsey's mouth!
Marquette Law prof Rick Esenberg observes that no justice in the 4-3 decision voted to uphold Judge Sumi. The three dissenters simply argued for more time.
Kevin Binversie concludes that all seven justices appear to agree Judge Sumi ignored the 1943 case Goodland v. Zimmerman stating a circuit court has no power to delay publication of a state statute.
The labor unions' suit in federal court to overturn the bargaining law is last ditch, throwing long, a Hail Mary, (supply your own cliche here). It will produce no temporary injunction or restraining order and ultimately will fail. Wisconsin does not prohibit employees to "organize and associate for the purpose of engaging in union activity," as the suit alleges. As for the third leg of the suit, it does restrict bargaining -- but so does the federal government of its employees!
Platinum subscriber bonus
- Did you notice? Six Senate Democrats voted for concealed carry -- six of 14, including Milwaukee's Lena Taylor. Here is the roll call. Advocacy journalist Vicki McKenna conducted an awesome interview Wednesday with CC's main author, Sen. Pam Galloway, who defeated former Dem leader Russ Decker in the Wausau area. Turns out Sen. Galloway, a surgeon, is not a hunter or a target shooter -- just a believer in the U.S. Constitution!
- Patriots will march through Tent City on the Capitol Square this weekend. The march will be silent. No vuvuzelas blown into anyone's ear drums. No cursing. No chanting. No hectoring. The purpose is to show support for the fiscally-responsible decisions currently being made by our elected officials.
- Wisconsin is home to 442 school districts. Madison was one of six districts in the state that didn't meet federal No Child Left Behind standards due to inadequate student test scores in 2010-11. That is the student-first attitude (snark alert!) that teachers union boss John Matthews has bequeathed us. No more nit-picking Kaleem Caire's Madison Prep charter school. Just do it!
My neighbor knocked on my door at 2:30 am this morning. Can you believe that? 2:30 am! Luckily for him I was still up playing my bagpipes. (Must be Tent City.)
-- Thanks Duane.