The Wisconsin State Journal is not generally known as a crusading newspaper, but in recent weeks it's been using its editorial page to launch an extraordinary crusade targeting state Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison).
For more than 50 days, the paper has ripped Risser for holding up Senate action on a state constitutional amendment to end the governor's "Frankenstein" veto - which lets him cut words from the state budget bill to create meanings the Legislature never intended.
Accompanying each editorial is a drawing of a Frankenstein monster with notches on his forehead counting the days that Risser, chair of the Senate Committee on Ethics Reform and Government Operations, has delayed scheduling a hearing and vote on the amendment.
Is this daily dose of ridicule from the area's dominant daily having an impact?
Not at all, says Risser, the nation's longest-tenured lawmaker: "If editorials like that had an excessive adverse effect, I wouldn't belong in politics."
The amendment must pass both houses of the Legislature in successive sessions, then be approved by the electorate. It passed both houses last session and the Assembly earlier this year; but since the next general election is February 2008, Risser figures there's plenty of time.
"It is my intent to hold a hearing sometime," he says. "I don't know exactly when, but it would be before the fall session." Pressed, he predicts a hearing "in the next month or two."
Risser says he favors the amendment - he was one of just four Democrats who voted for it last time - but admits "there is division in the Democratic Party" over whether to remove this power during the current term of Gov. Jim Doyle. "In order to get the votes, we may have to change the date" of implementation. If that happens, of course, the Republicans may be against it.
At any rate, Risser says the State Journal's exertions have evidently not stirred the public's passions. Since Feb. 1, he's gotten 28 constituent contacts (calls, e-mails and letters) urging him to schedule a hearing and vote, and eight urging him to hold firm. Overall, the issue has generated far fewer contacts than domestic partner benefits or the new cable bill, and about the same as those "in support of impeaching President Bush" - another worthy idea that probably won't pass.