I'm not a member of the Democratic Party, nor is it likely that I ever will be. I've never had the desire to throw my lot in with any one political group. I like to shop around.
But if we're being honest here, the truth is that if you tallied all of my votes over the years the majority of them (not all, but a majority) will have been for Democrats. Their values and goals tend to match up with my own with far greater frequency than, say, Republicans. That's why I have a vested interest in holding party members and candidates to higher standards.
One of the biggest reasons I dislike so many modern Republicans is their reliance on petty partisanship. I don't care whose political wang is bigger. I want to know what solid, concrete plans you have for making this place even a little bit better for everyone.
When gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett released his plan to cut state government by $1.1 billion I thought good, that's a start. But it's only a start. Much of what he laid out either won't go into effect for several years into his term (when we need a mix of both short and long term solutions) or is so nebulous there's no way to really quantify its effectiveness. As my fellow blogger The Sconz pointed out, Barrett's going to have to do a lot better than "the $175 million that will apparently be saved by 'Moving Wisconsin into the 21st Century with technological improvements,'" and an alleged $2 million savings from "encouraging employees to turn their computers off when they're not using them."
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm fairly certain that state employees already turn off their computers at night. And technological improvements, while important and certainly long-term cost saving, are likely to be but a drop in the proverbial bucket.
Which brings us to Barrett's take on the Wisconsin prison system. Here's an area where there is a lot of room to decrease costs but his attack on so-called "Cadillac" health care offered to inmates is disappointingly pandering. The way to really cut price tags is to lower the overall prison population, and not through slap-dash efforts at early release programs that sometimes let violent felons out before their time.
We're talking comprehensive mental health care before, during, and after incarceration; more leeway for judges in sentencing for non-violent offenders; educational and job training programs; better transportation and housing options for those getting out of jail so as to significantly lower the chances of them reoffending.
A recent Wisconsin State Journal article detailed Dane County's efforts to address racial disparities in our criminal justice system. The recommendations currently being assessed include good examples of steps that can be taken statewide to both deal with racial problems as well as the overall issue of skyrocketing prison costs and populations. For example:
...finding additional funding for jail diversion programs; establishing a restorative justice program that would take some minor offenders out of the justice system and place them before a community-based panel; boosting mental health resources for offenders returning to the community; and making it easier for people getting out of jail to get a driver's license, which can help individuals secure employment and housing.
Some will undoubtedly argue that these things cost money to implement, and they certainly do require an up-front investment. Thing is, programs and policies like these take a longer view, something it's crucial we all learn to do if we really want to solve anything. By investing now, we can dramatically lower costs over time.
(Take Minnesota as a good example our rate of incarceration far outpaces theirs, though crime rates are not markedly different. Instead, Minnesota shifted their system to a more locally controlled, probation-centric one: "The shift in Minnesota from prison sentences to probation for lesser offenses was largely due to the state's community corrections program, which gave counties the option to administer and control correctional services locally in exchange for a state subsidy. With the average per person cost of incarceration more than 20 times the cost of probation or parole, the community-based approach is one reason Minnesota spends significantly less than Wisconsin on corrections.")
But it will take political courage to really advocate for that sort of planning and action. It's not exactly the easy, popular soundbyte to advocate on behalf of assistance programs for inmates. It is, however, the right thing to do both morally and financially. Having more politicians with the stones to see that (like the rare creature that is Russ Feingold, for example-a progressive, common sense, non-strictly-party-line Democrat) would be refreshing, to say the least.
Area Republicans are welcome to continue with their lame, smug attempts at billboard humor to carry them along but I'd much prefer they took this same advice to heart.
Scott Hassett for Attorney General but who's Scott Hassett?
Maybe I'm just wildly out of touch but I hadn't heard anything about a Democrat running against JB Van Hollen for the Wisconsin Attorney General spot this election season until I showed up at a "new media" meet and greet thrown by the DPW during the big convention last weekend.
Scott Hassett, former DNR Secretary under Gov. Doyle, is looking to topple Van Hollen from his current seat. I met him briefly at said meet and greet and was impressed by his credentials: trial lawyer, conservationist, outdoorsman, civil rights advocate. Asked by a blogger at the event about his stance on the criminal justice system in Wisconsin, he agreed that more resources needed to be given to parole and corrections officers, and that the early release program needed significant work.
All of that's good, and I for one would love to see someone give Van Hollen a man who's proven time and again that he's more interested in partisan stunts than anything a serious run for his money.
But Hassett needs to start scrambling to get his name out there, and he needs to do it yesterday. I'm not interested in candidates only campaigning with half a heart. Attorney General is an important position and requires someone with drive, energy and vision to fill it. Long gone are the days (if there really ever were any) when you could coast into office simply by dint of being a member of one party or another. Wisconsin is no sure thing. You've got to prove yourself not through mudslinging, but through setting out clear goals and principals. And by advertising those things successfully.
Which is a long-winded way of saying: Try harder!