Van Hollen still trying to impress his big money GOP supporters with cheap stunts
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen really wants to suck up to who he sees as the cool kids. First there was his attempt to suppress voters at the polls in the 2008 elections, and now it looks very much like Van Hollen and his top aides were seeking legal counsel from Republican operatives in regards to the recently passed national health care bill.
Thanks to an open records request by the progressive group One Wisconsin Now, email exchanges between Van Hollen's deputy attorney Ray Taffora and Ben Cannatti, political director of the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), have come to light.
They show that Taffora was seeking Cannatti's advice on how to proceed with a lawsuit against the federal government and health care reform just three days before said lawsuit was filed in state by Van Hollen.
"Wisconsin must act to protect its sovereign interests and the interests of the citizens of this state by bringing an action to contest the constitutionality of the (law)," Van Hollen wrote in a letter to Gov. Doyle upon filing. And "Special Assistant Attorney General Kevin St. John said Wednesday that Van Hollen sought permission to sue based on his own legal analysis."
The emails, however, make it appear as though partisan politics played just as big of a role in the decision as anything.
Van Hollen is a Republican, but as Attorney General he swore to keep politics out of his decisions and to uphold the laws of Wisconsin without bias. Certainly he has done plenty of good for the state in his time in office, but these instances of apparent right-wing pandering do a lot to tarnish that image of neutrality.
After all, the mission of the RSLC, according to its website, is "to elect more Republicans at the state level, including Attorneys General, Lieutenant Governors, Secretaries of State, and State Legislators. The RSLC is the largest caucus of Republican state leaders in the Country."
And there's a tangled web of money and influence stemming from the group as well:
Among the largest contributors to the RSLC is the American Justice Partnership, created by the National Association of Manufacturers. The American Justice Partnership has donated $2 million to RSLC since 2006 and its website features advertisements run by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce against Kathleen Falk in 2006, Van Hollen's opponent. WMC spent an estimated $2.5 million in Van Hollen's razor-thin victory.
The RSCL also donated $10,000 to Van Hollen's campaign in 2009.
Ultimately, I have no issue with the fact that Van Hollen personally identifies as a Republican. When it comes to his work as our state's Attorney General, however, I take major issue with him and/or his office regularly seeking out help and advice from such baldly partisan groups as the RSLC -- especially when it leads to frivolous and potentially harmful lawsuits that take time away from the more crucial and important work on which the AG's office should be focusing.
Schools deserve proper funding, also proper budgeting
Madison School Board members are rightly, I think, upset about the results of a recently commissioned cost estimate of needed repairs and upgrades to facilities in town.
Prepared by an outside company -- the Durant Group, a building and engineering firm out of Iowa -- the report claims that $84 million would need to be spent to make the appropriate changes to "plumbing, mechanicals and heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems, as well as roofing and playground paving."
And while I am a staunch supporter of our public schools and the need for communities to ante up and kick in so that children receive a good education in a positive and safe environment, I'm also an advocate for intelligent budgeting.
It seems more than a shame, then, that this report -- which cost $298,750-claims that "virtually every plumbing fixture at every school that's included in the report -- sinks, urinals, toilets and drinking fountains -- has the same cost to repair or replace: $2,000 to $3,000." Even those problems which are relatively minor.
It wouldn't be fair to compare the costs of repairing institutional fixtures to those in a private home, sure, but these numbers still seem wildly inflated. Did the Durant Group have a vested interest in listing higher numbers? Were they just phoning in the report? It seems worth looking into to see if the school board was either duped, ripped off, or simply hired a company with less-than-stellar abilities -- especially so as to avoid this kind of situation in the future.
We need to make sure our schools have the money they need to succeed, but we also need to make sure that every effort is being made to keep costs within a reasonable range. That means making smarter decisions, both in terms of holding people (teachers, students, faculty, etc.) and businesses accountable for their dealings with our schools, and in terms of seeking out the best deals and services available. A little extra elbow grease, after all, can go a long way.
Please to be welcoming Christian Schneider to the family of somewhat regular Isthmus opinion contributors. His first piece, an interesting take on the Census and resulting funding for communities, is in this weeks' paper (and online here). I don't always agree with Schneider's opinions, as he tends more toward the conservative side of things than me, but he's a pretty level-headed and intelligent guy and I'm happy to have him on board this strange and wonderful Isthmus train.
Of course, we'll probably argue over how and who should pay for that train.