In campaigning to become Wisconsin's next governor, Scott Walker promised to usher in a new era of austerity in state government. But one of his first decisions suggests his determination to make the "haves" in state government more like the "have-nots" elsewhere stops at his own door - his own car door, to be precise.
Isthmus has learned that Walker plans to spend significantly more than his predecessor, Gov. Jim Doyle, on his personal state vehicle.
According to Emily Winecke, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Division of Administration, which maintains the state's vehicle fleet, the state has signed a 60-day lease on a 2011 GMC Yukon XL for Walker's use, from the car rental company Enterprise.
The DOA says it does not have a copy of the lease agreement, and Winecke did not respond to requests to identify the precise model and features of Walker's rented vehicle. A clerk at Enterprise said the Madison fleet's lone GMC Yukon XL is a "35A-4"; this appears to fit two models of the automobile, which, according to Kelley Blue Book, have a "fair purchase price" of $44,900 and $46,600 respectively.
"This vehicle," says Winecke, "was selected by the governor-elect's security detail so that all members of [his] family could travel together in one vehicle." She explains that the costs "include" a $1,596.50 monthly rental fee for up to 3,000 miles per month, plus 20 cents per mile beyond that.
In other words, Walker's ride will cost at least $19,158 a year to lease, should the agreement be renewed for that long.
Doyle, says Winecke, uses two vehicles that are part of the Department of Administration's fleet: a state-owned 2005 Buick Park Avenue and a leased 2010 Chevrolet Suburban. The state bought the 2005 Park Avenue from GM for $17,000 after leasing it for three years. The Suburban's Kelley's Blue Book values are comparable to the Yukon XL's, but the arrangement is less costly.
Under a national General Motors Executive Lease program, the state plays just $935 per month to lease the Suburban, with no mileage charge (a maximum of $11,220 per year). This lease will expire in February, after which the Suburban must be returned to GM.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie did not respond to email or voicemail messages.
Pray through this
A UW-Madison grad student is getting national attention for a paper suggesting that prayer, of all things, can help people get through tough times, like being abused by loved ones.
"How Does Prayer Help Manage Emotions?" by UW sociology student Shane Sharp, was just published in Social Psychology Quarterly, the journal of the American Sociological Association. It's gotten play on the websites of Time magazine, U.S. News and World Report and Fox News, among other outlets.
Sharp conducted interviews with 62 current and former victims of domestic violence, from all over the country. Many of them, he learned, found a sympathetic "listening ear" in their communications with God. This happens in part because God does not hit back.
"If they vented their anger to [the] abusive partner, the result was likely to be more violence," a press release from the association quotes Shane as saying. "But they could be angry at God while praying without fear of reprisal."
During prayer, Sharp continues, "victims came to see themselves as they believed God saw them. Since these perceptions were mostly positive, it helped raise their senses of self-worth that counteracted their abusers' hurtful words."
Sharp tells Isthmus the study "grew out of an overall project about how religion influences the lives and experiences of intimate-partner abuse victims." For a prior paper, he looked at how abuse victims from conservative Christian denominations may stay in abusive relationships because of the biblical restriction on divorce.
"My research acknowledges the positive and negative aspects of religion," he says. His latest paper, for instance, notes that prayer sometimes leads victims to forgive their abusers, keeping them in violent relationships.
Patti Seger, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, says people in her field have long known "that many victims feel a sense of healing and calm and forgiveness through their faith." And while an advocate would never tell a victim to pray as a solution to abuse, the ability to forgive one's abuser is "a key element of healing for some victims," once the abuse is halted.
Sharp's study, Seger says, reinforces the wisdom of building alliances between groups like hers and "the faith community."
Speaking of UW research, Isthmus made an interesting discovery when, in reporting on the resignation of a UW veterinarian ("Campus Vet Quits, Faulting Animal Care," 12/17/10), it obtained the university's 2010 census of animals used or kept by the UW-Madison.
The most popular UW animal, more than monkeys, pigs, dogs, hamsters, rats and even mice - or even all three dozen varieties of listed animals combined - is fish. For the covered period (10/1/09 to 9/30/10), the UW used or held 433,221 of them.
These are, for the most part, zebrafish. According to Terry Devitt, the campus' top science spokesman, these "are primarily used to study developmental biology, ranging from the basic steps of embryonic development to the genetic and environmental factors involved in development of diseases."
Devitt says the nonprofit group that serves as the UW's primary source of zebrafish charges $20-$150 for an adult pair or, more commonly, $50-$100 for 100 embryos. The cost is high because "the fish have some special characteristics that make them useful for particular lines of research."
But most if not all of the UW's adult fish, he says, are maintained as self-sustaining breeding colonies, meaning "the vast majority of the zebrafish on campus were probably bred here rather than purchased." Research involving adult zebrafish is subject to animal care rules and oversight committees; research on zebrafish embryos, the majority, is not.
Rick Bogle, co-director of the local Alliance for Animals, cites "a growing body of evidence" suggesting that fish are intelligent and social animals, able like dogs and cats to think, feel and suffer. He says the UW's fish are "kept in environmentally bleak conditions and are unlikely to engender much concern or sympathy from those using them."
Next week Isthmus will present its annual Cheap Shot Awards, and don't be surprised if the winners include outsiders who scold Madison on how it plows streets and directs bike traffic. But another busybody merits more prompt recognition.
Monday's Wisconsin State Journal carried a letter to the editor from M.W. "Jake" Jacobs regarding the "deaf" Madison politicians who approved a deal regarding the future of the Overture Center.
"I would have thought the latest round of elections would have alerted them that the taxpayers have had enough," Jacobs clucked. "Apparently not." He went on to specify exactly who should be footing the bill for this facility.
The paper identified Jacobs as a resident of Pelican Lake, in northern Wisconsin.
Dude! You don't even live here! You don't pay taxes here! It's none of your business! Shut the hell up!