When 2012 opened, Scott Walker's opponents were counting the days until they could formally launch a recall election against the governor, who had shocked the state by successfully eliminating collective bargaining rights for most public workers in his first few months in office. Walker, however, beat back Democratic recall opponent Tom Barrett fairly easily in June. Voters apparently cared less about Walker's policies than about electoral process. Let the guy serve out his term and then take another vote, seemed to be the prevailing view.
Republicans in Wisconsin and across the country were ecstatic, as Walker had by then become a darling of the national GOP. And they boasted mightily of the ground game they had perfected during the recall and how it would help deliver the presidency to Mitt Romney. Turns out the Obama campaign was actually better at the ground game, and, as in 2008, the state went for Obama on Nov. 6.
State voters also chose as their next U.S. senator Tammy Baldwin, a liberal from Dane County who happens to be an out lesbian, over former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who had never before lost a statewide race. At the same time, Republicans maintained control over both houses of the Legislature.
Getting the picture? Wisconsin doesn't like being labeled.
Closer to home, Democrats held sway over much of local government, but that doesn't mean peace prevailed. Mayor Paul Soglin and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi squabbled publicly over housing for the homeless, and there seems to be no love lost between the Common Council and Soglin. In other words, politics as usual.
It's time to honor the worst behavior of 2012 with our annual Cheap Shot Awards. Due to space constraints, we weren't able to present an award to all those who merited one. Please let us know what we missed.
Respect My Authoritah! Award: Capitol Police Chief David Erwin
Nothing says authority quite like a jaunty hat and spiffy new uniform, so we're sure glad that our new martinet of a Capitol Police chief spent 25 grand of our hard-earned tax dollars to outfit his officers in new duds.
Almost as soon as Erwin was tapped for the job, the goodwill between Capitol protesters and police that developed under the watch of former Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs dissolved. A former Marine, Erwin was elevated to the job from his post as a bodyguard for Gov. Walker. He launched a crackdown on dissent at the Capitol, focusing on the Solidarity Sing-Along, an informal lunch-hour glee club that expresses opposition to Walker et al. via song and signs.
Officers have ticketed singers, sign-holders and sidewalk chalkers for violating all manner of administrative code, arresting them in the Rotunda and even delivering tickets to their homes and workplaces. The Capitol Police also make sure to keep close track of the ensemble by shooting video and maintaining a list of known singers.
Soon after taking the job, Erwin advised that Capitol staffers who feel threatened by protesters could "try to hit them." He complained that his comments were taken out of context.
For all this hamfisted exercise of authority, the chief himself is largely absent from the scene and avoids getting his own hands dirty. Why would he, when he can call out the palace guards?
Forget-Me-Not Award: Tommy Thompson
In handing the former governor his first-ever statewide defeat, U.S. Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin made good use of a brilliant political attack tag line: "Tommy: He's not for you anymore." Slogans, though, can only go so far. Thompson sealed his own fate as an out-of-touch wealthy lobbyist when he forgot that he owned four, not three, homes. But maybe we're being too harsh. Haven't we all lost track of a $1.3 million vacation condo at one time or another?
Worst Political Strategists: WEAC, AFSCME & Kathleen Falk campaign
Who came up with the idea for gubernatorial recall candidate Kathleen Falk - the former Dane County Executive - to pledge to veto any state budget that didn't restore collective bargaining rights for public workers? Let's think about this one. Gov. Scott Walker and his minions had just successfully rammed through a law to cripple the state's public sector unions. Though tens of thousands protested at the state Capitol, it became clear that there was simmering resentment across the state against public workers who enjoyed health benefits and a measure of job security at a time of high unemployment and economic instability.
Appearing beholden to such unions as WEAC and AFSCME, Falk ended up trailing opponent Tom Barrett by 24 percentage points in the Democratic primary. Next time keep the pledges secret, the way Republicans do.
Second-Worst Political Strategist: Kelda Helen Roys
Though just 33 and in her second term as a state representative, the smart and articulate Roys had every right to make a run for U.S. Congress when she saw an opening with the departure of Tammy Baldwin. But Roys seriously erred in her approach, running attack ads insinuating that her Democratic primary opponent, longtime state Rep. Mark Pocan, was guilty of "making background deals" and caving in "when things get tough."
The payoff? Pocan got 74% of the vote, Roys 21%. Ouch.
Mansplainer-in-Chief: Paul Soglin
Urban Dictionary explains "mansplain" this way: "To explain in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening." Sounds like Mayor Paul Soglin. He's always quick to explain how things worked back in the '70s or the '90s during one of his earlier mayoral stints. During council meetings he'll get frustrated with questions alders have of staff, then jump in and answer the question himself. During the budget deliberations this year, he called a press conference to blast the council's proposed amendments and handed out copies from a textbook on municipal budgeting.
Perhaps Ald. Mark Clear said it best: "The mayor likes to portray himself as the only adult in the room."
Mansplainer-in-Training: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson
The tea party Republican was clearly hoping Tommy Thompson would be joining him in the U.S. Senate next year, but he graciously congratulated Tammy Baldwin, who won the election. And then he graciously offered to sit down with the little lady and explain to her all those confusing numbers in the federal budget. "Hopefully I can sit down and lay out for her my best understanding of the federal budget because they're simply the facts," he told the Chippewa Herald. "Hopefully she'll agree with what the facts are and work toward common-sense solutions."
Dude, she's been in Congress since 1999, and was around last time Congress actually approved a budget in 2009, two years before you went to Washington. If you ask her nicely, maybe she'll explain to you how the process works.
Demagogue of the Year: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson
Yes, him again. It wasn't enough for Johnson to express his support for Mitt Romney; he had to go the demagogue's route and accuse President Obama of hating America. "How much do you really love the country you are in charge of?" Johnson asked of Obama during a Romney rally in Wisconsin.
After Obama won reelection, Johnson suggested that the American people were too stupid to perceive demagoguery on the Democratic side - this from a member of the party that incessantly questions the president's U.S. citizenship. "If you aren't properly informed, if you don't understand the problems facing this nation," Johnson said, "you are that much more prone to falling prey to demagoguing solutions."
Yes, let's make sure to be properly informed so we can assess Johnson's shameless pronouncements for what they are.
The Secret War Award: Mayor Paul Soglin vs. Jerry Frautschi
Publicly, Soglin is quick to heap praise on Frautschi, the wealthy benefactor turned developer. But the two seem to have a knack for being on opposite sides. After Soglin took office, he slashed city funding for the Overture Center, the arts venue Frautschi and his wife built for over $200 million. Not long after that, Frautschi announced he was stepping in to make up for the gap in funding for the Edgewater Hotel project, which was created when Soglin yanked funding for it. And not long after that, Soglin again slashed funding for the Overture Center.
Maybe you guys should talk.
Misreading Your Audience Award: Greg Mickells
When Madison named a new library director earlier this year, Isthmus asked him an obvious question: What's your favorite book? Greg Mickells gave an answer that stunned many people here in liberal Madison: Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Rand was a cruel crackpot who has become an avatar for many conservatives (for years, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan required staff members to read Atlas Shrugged). In subsequent city meetings, Mickells took to saying, "Please don't ask me what my favorite book is."
The Bare-Knuckled Bishop: Robert Morlino
Last spring, the Wisconsin State Journal reported on a conflict between Bishop Robert Morlino of the Madison Diocese and his parishioners in Platteville. The parishioners were troubled by the conservative Spanish priests that Morlino had installed in their community, and almost half of them signed a petition requesting that the priests be replaced. Morlino turned a deaf ear, despite a drop in church attendance and donations. Not only that, but the bishop wrote a letter to the Platteville church, expressing "sincere hopes of avoiding the issuance of Canonical warnings." Translation: Keep telling me how unhappy you are and I might ban you from receiving sacraments.
Morlino certainly has the power to impose his will on parishioners, as well as on the nuns he recently banned. But is it a good idea to exercise that power so bluntly?
Bizarro Award: State Rep. Brett Hulsey
In one of the more off-the-wall episodes involving a politician this year, Hulsey pleaded no contest to flipping a 9-year-old boy, whom he did not know, off his inner tube while both were swimming on July 4 at Spring Harbor Beach. The police report also said Hulsey was taking photos of the boy. Hulsey maintained his innocence and says he copped to the plea only to make the matter go away. Unfortunately, he kept changing his story and then accused his accusers - including mayoral aide Sally Miley - of taking the complaint to Madison Police for political reasons.
But he wasn't yet done. After winning reelection, Hulsey nominated himself to be the Democrats' Assembly leader, charging that minority leader Peter Barca had not allowed him to clear his name by showing a sunset photo of the beach with no boy in it. Way to put the story behind you, Brett.
Wisconsin's Own Todd Akin Award: State Rep. Roger Rivard
Not to be outdone by Akin - the U.S. Senate candidate from Missouri who said in August that conception following rape was rare since the female body can shut down during a "legitimate rape" - Rivard offered up some down-home advice of his own. Rivard shared that his father had always told him to be careful about premarital sex since "some girls rape easy." That is, some girls will accuse boys of rape even if it is consensual. Both Rivard and Akin lost their election bids in November. Good riddance!
Rape Is a Family Value Award: Wisconsin Family Action
Even though much of the Republican establishment went running from Rivard after his comments about rape were published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, one true friend stuck by his side. Wisconsin Family Action, the socially conservative group that opposes gay marriage and sex education in schools, endorsed Rivard in his reelection bid. Makes you wonder how outrageous a conservative Republican would have to get to be spurned by this group.
Public Be Damned Award: Wisconsin Republicans
It came to light this year that, in order to draw new election maps that would ensure majorities in future elections, Republican lawmakers were instructed to disregard public comments in favor of electoral strategy. "Public comments on this map may be different than what you hear in this room. Ignore the public comments," GOP talking points said. It also emerged that almost all Republican lawmakers signed legal agreements saying they would not discuss the maps while they were being developed.
Is this what Republicans mean by smaller government?
Most Unethical Law Firm of the Year: Michael Best & Friedrich
This high-powered law firm, a favorite of GOP lawmakers, had quite a year. First it emerged that attorney Eric McLeod, who has since left the firm, provided legal services to state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman for free while attorneys from the firm continued to appear before the justice.
The firm was also in cahoots with GOP lawmakers in hatching the secretive plan to fashion new voting districts that would ensure Republican domination in the Legislature while willfully ignoring public input in the process. Then it took three federal court orders before the firm coughed up emails sought in a lawsuit related to the redistricing work. And the legal fights have cost taxpayers only about $2 million so far. What a bargain.
He Who Gives Protesters a Bad Name: 'Segway' Jeremy Ryan
The most devoted of Wisconsin Capitol protesters who sing and chalk their opposition to Walker & Co. are a generally affable bunch, at least to those who don't get the vapors when exposed to snarky lyrics and slogans. But there's always a spoiler, and under the Rotunda it comes in the form of one Jeremy Ryan. Known for roaming the Capitol halls on a Segway, Ryan commits drive-by bouts of attention-seeking behavior. In early summer, he would hover outside the pressroom and sing off-key insults about its occupants. Most egregious was when he loudly chanted "Dick Wheeler is dead" while the recently deceased Capitol journalist's daughter was working inside. Stay home, Jeremy!
We'll Tell YOU What You Can Report Award: Campaign Handlers for Barack Obama, Tammy Baldwin and Tommy Thompson
Reporters covering the Nov. 6 election parties were told by both the Thompson and Baldwin campaigns that they could not leave the press riser area to interview people in the crowd. Earlier in the campaign season, members of Madison Gen44, a fundraising group of 20- and 30-something Obama supporters, were told that they couldn't talk to the press at a debate-watching party. What are you afraid of, people?
The Worst 'Reported' Story of the Year: Kyle Wood texting scandal by Media Trackers
On Oct. 29, the conservative website Media Trackers ran a long post under the headline "Mark Pocan's Husband Told Beaten GOP Operative 'You're a Marked Man,' Threatened and Harassed Via Text Message." By that afternoon there was overwhelming evidence the texts were a hoax, perpetrated by a gay GOP campaign worker who previously said he had been beaten up because of his political affiliation and sexual orientation. Media Trackers published the accusations provided by Kyle Wood without ever asking for physical evidence that the texts were real or trying to verify them with the alleged perpetrator.
Just as damning, writer Brian Sikma was unrepentent when asked about his error. "It would appear that Mr. Wood is the one that should be answering a lot of questions," he responded in an email to Isthmus. Is that what they teach you in journalism school these days?