When Smart People Do Stupid Things

 

shutterstock_280247936Thursday afternoon, the Governor of Wisconsin filed paperwork to run for President of the United States. Thursday night – late Thursday night — Wisconsin’s top Republicans inserted a political mass suicide pact into the final draft of the state budget. As the Joint Finance Committee met for the last time before sending the budget to the full legislature, someone slipped a provision into the last final draft that would drastically restrict the state’s open-records law. All drafts, notes, intra-governmental communications (basically everything before the final version of a bill) could be kept confidential, and legislators would have vast privileges to refuse to make their communications public. There actually seems to be a real case for tightening the law, but this was sheer madness with a whiff of Shakespearean tragedy.

If you were trying to look as though you had something to hide, this is what you would do.

The Right and Left exploded in fury and joined in an uncomfortably weird but determined alliance. Democratic legislators denounced the open-records provision and conservative organizations cheered them on. After four years wandering in Wisconsin’s political wilderness, Democrats found themselves perched on the moral high ground and making the most of it.Republicans ran away from it as fast as they could — including some who’d voted for it in committee. Yesterday afternoon, less than 48 hours after it was first introduced, Governor Walker’s office put out a statement from the state’s top political leaders saying the provisions would be removed from the budget.

Crisis averted – or not. We don’t know how much damage is really done, and we still don’t know whodunit.

Legislative text does not drop from the sky. The finance committee co-chairs added the provision but deny authorship; they say there were “multiple requests.” Democrats, of course, are convinced that Scott Walker wrote it personally.  There’s little love lost between Walker and the press, and maybe he wouldn’t mind limiting the material they can dig through. Parts of the proposal are similar to arguments his administration has made in an ongoing lawsuit.  They’re trying to withhold information about an abandoned idea to change the University of Wisconsin mission statement, which is potentially embarrassing, but almost certainly nothing to sink a presidential campaign.

Indeed, what would Walker be hiding? Thanks to the John Doe, thousands of his “secret” emails as county executive were first scoured by a Democratic DA and ultimately made public. Nothing there. It’s unbelievable that after that experience — knowing his enemies — he would let anything into the record so damaging as to risk this uproar to keep it secret. One of the smartest politicians in the country, trying to present himself as the one who can beat Hillary Clinton, would try this? On the day he filed papers, no less?

But he’s yet to deny it. He said they’ll talk about it today when he meets with legislators.

If it wasn’t Walker, it probably had to be legislative leadership. It seems certain the Wisconsin Senate majority leader and house speaker at least signed off on it; either of them could have put it in themselves, or for a colleague. The “legislative privilege” portion is, obviously, designed to protect legislators. They aren’t talking.

Of course, there are plenty of possibilities between. Nobody is saying they were told Walker wanted it; some are saying they were told he wouldn’t veto. Someone on JFC could have put it in and Walker could have seen it but not been fully briefed (understandable at this unofficial stage of the process but embarrassing when he’s taking heat for spending so much time out of state). He could have wanted some deliberative process privilege, a legitimate idea that exists elsewhere, and legislators ran further.  Nobody knows.

The secret may not keep. Sometime soon, someone is going to throw someone else under the bus. Today will be an interesting day in Madison.

There are 54 comments.

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  1. Pencilvania Inactive
    Pencilvania
    @Pencilvania

    This raises an interesting idea. Tell legislators there is a political bombshell to the opposition hidden deep in the language of each bill.  But the trick is, they have to read the bill to find it.

    • #1
  2. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Who are you calling “smart”?

    • #2
  3. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    10 cents:Who are you calling “smart”?

    This has been, over the past four years, one of the most effective conservative governments in the nation.  The 12 Republicans on that committee are no idiots, nor are they all unprincipled cynics.

    It’s easy to shout “politician,” but after all they are just people.  I wasn’t there under that pressure having to make a last-minute decision.  Without knowing what was said, how can you or I tell what we would have done?

    • #3
  4. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Pencilvania:This raises an interesting idea. Tell legislators there is a political bombshell to the opposition hidden deep in the language of each bill. But the trick is, they have to read the bill to find it.

    Well, it must be said for them all that they did indeed read it.  Whether they fully understood all the implications is perhaps another question.  And to be fair, they only passed it out of committee — they didn’t vote it into law.

    • #4
  5. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Leigh,

    I was in my way trying to say we are all dumb at times. I was not being cynical.

    • #5
  6. user_423975 Coolidge
    user_423975
    @BrandonShafer

    This is inside baseball, and while we thrive on that kind of thing around here, it won’t matter a hill of beans come election time.

    • #6
  7. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    3)Brandon Shafer:This is inside baseball, and while we thrive on that kind of thing around here, it won’t matter a hill of beans come election time.

    It could matter.

    1)  Anything that creates this kind of backlash across the political spectrum is a big deal.  As a rule, you don’t want to create a situation where your top political enemies and your top allies are both so furious at you that they’re cheering each other on.  Moreover, you want to avoid looking really sleazy.

    2) If someone — say Speaker Robin Vos — is trying to hide ties with lobbyists, for example, that might not matter at election time; but it matters very much in substance.

    3) If Walker had pulled this off (and maybe still, if it comes out that he was trying), it probably neutralizes the Hillary email issue, and be a superb talking point for his opponents.  In a very close race, it doesn’t take much to tip the scales.

    Also, he’s been riding on an immense amount of goodwill from Wisconsin Republicans, but it’s been a rough budget session and he’s been out of the state, a lot.  This kind of thing can destroy trust and start to fray that goodwill.

    4) For the past four years, Wisconsin Republicans have pretty much held together, avoided excessive infighting, and gotten things done.  This, plus budget headaches, makes it look like things are going in the opposite direction.

    • #7
  8. 1967mustangman Inactive
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    This doesn’t sound like Walker to me.  If it is though he has probably lost the nomination and rightfully so.

    • #8
  9. Illiniguy Member
    Illiniguy
    @Illiniguy

    Leigh:It could matter.

    3) If Walker had pulled this off (and maybe still, if it comes out that he was trying), it probably neutralizes the Hillary email issue, and be a superb talking point for his opponents. In a very close race, it doesn’t take much to tip the scales.

    I’d like to think this was a poison pill inserted by one of Walker’s political opponents, but since it’s been several days and still no word on who did it, it’s looking less likely. At the very least, Walker looks like he’s been spending more time running for the White House than he has running Wisconsin. With all the stuff he’s had to go through with the John Doe investigations and the recall, I can’t think it’s anything more than inattention to detail, and he should’ve known better. If that’s all it is, Leigh’s comment above is probably the biggest thing that’ll come from it. Here’s the latest from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

    • #9
  10. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Leigh:  Crisis averted – or not. We don’t know how much damage is really done, and we still don’t know whodunit.



    There are a lot of Walker fans here on Ricochet.  It should bother them that he tried to do this.

    • #10
  11. 1967mustangman Inactive
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    Fred Cole:

    Leigh: Crisis averted – or not. We don’t know how much damage is really done, and we still don’t know whodunit.

    There are a lot of Walker fans here on Ricochet. It should bother them that he tried to do this.

    Lets reserve judgement until we know who actually did this.

    • #11
  12. Illiniguy Member
    Illiniguy
    @Illiniguy

    Fred Cole:There are a lot of Walker fans here on Ricochet. It should bother them that he tried to do this.

    I’m one of those Walker fans. Did you mean to say “if he tried to do this”?

    • #12
  13. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Very odd. And rest assured, the press will be all over this while letting Hillary do pretty much anything she wants and protesting that there is no “smoking gun”.  Of course, as Jonah Goldberg points out, since rarely is anyone found with a smoking gun, that is just parlance for “I’m guilty, but since I am above the law, short of a smoking gun I won’t be called to account.”  My guess is that in this instance, someone is going to have to admit to the mistake and will have to resign in order to save Walker.  They should also remember the adage that the coverup is always worse than the crime and just get it out and get past it.

    • #13
  14. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Illiniguy: At the very least, Walker looks like he’s been spending more time running for the White House than he has running Wisconsin. With all the stuff he’s had to go through with the John Doe investigations and the recall, I can’t think it’s anything more than inattention to detail, and he should’ve known better.

    If you want my guess, I think that’s probably about what happened — that he simply wants the budget done and signed off prematurely on whatever Vos or somebody else brought up.  That would explain why he didn’t automatically threaten to veto (other than, perhaps, not wanting to throw all his closest allies under the bus while he still needs them to pass a budget.)

    • #14
  15. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Like I said, I think there might be a case for some changes.  I haven’t researched it, but Wisconsin’s law does seem to be more open than some.  If you email your legislator about, say, what Obamacare has done to your health insurance, maybe that personal information shouldn’t be automatically publishable.

    If a lawmaker has a really bad idea, discusses it with staff, collects some research, figures out it’s a really bad idea, and dumps it, we maybe want them to be able to do that without being roasted.  I can see a case for a some confidentiality.  There are arguments either way.

    But if they had a legitimate goal, they just killed any chance of getting there by trying it this way and turning the whole issue into poison.

    • #15
  16. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    No.  I don’t mean IF.  It’s glaringly obvious that this comes from Walker.

    This is a classic tactic.  It came down late afternoon before a holiday weekend.  It was meant to be hidden.  Except they caught them at it.

    One needs to ask: Cui bono?

    Scott Walker, obviously.  This is a way for him to avoid awkward question that come from a proper vetting of a candidate and of government processes.  Conservatives like to act as if the man is sweetness and light, but he plays hardball politics.

    Sunshine is an essential element for limited government and a free society.  Washington transparency is already a joke.  And now we’ve just gotten a glimpse at what Scott Walker thinks of open government.

    This is state government in Wisconsinnot national security secrets.  If you support him, you need to ask yourself: If this man is willing to do this to cover up things in Wisconsin, what will he try (and succeed) at covering in up in Washington?

    If you want to “wait for proof”, if you want to “reserve judgement”, you’re fooling yourself.  Walker will find someone to send out as a sacrificial animal, to send out for slaughter.  But this should be a warning to any and all who support Walker of what the man is capable of.

    • #16
  17. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Fred Cole: No.  I don’t mean IF.  It’s glaringly obvious that this comes from Walker.

    Looking at it completely cynically, I don’t think it is obvious.  More than one possible culprit here.

    First,  Walker’s no idiot.  He’s one of the most talented politicians in America.  If he initiated this — if he’d deliberately planned this in order to cover something up — I’d think he would do a better job planning it.  There was no way this could slip through without attention, and the timing is horrible for him.  It is entirely believable that someone in the legislature, or even in his administration, slipped this past him, and that leaves egg on his face.  But if he really has a secret hidden in the records he doesn’t want us to know, he’d have thought this through.

    Second,  Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has some lobbyist friends, has been saying one thing in public and, it seems, pushing another way behind closed doors, and generally involved in shenanigans — and doesn’t seem quite clever enough to keep his caucus happy in the meanwhile.  Easy to see him wanting something like this (especially with the “legislative privilege” part, which does nothing for Walker) and slightly easier to see him trying it.

    The news coverage is all going to focus on Walker because that’s the scalp they want, but it’s not the only plausible lead.

    • #17
  18. 1967mustangman Inactive
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    Fred Cole:

    No. I don’t mean IF. It’s glaringly obvious that this comes from Walker.

    This is a classic tactic. It came down late afternoon before a holiday weekend. It was meant to be hidden. Except they caught them at it.

    One needs to ask: Cui bono?

    Scott Walker, obviously. This is a way for him to avoid awkward question that come from a proper vetting of a candidate and of government processes. Conservatives like to act as if the man is sweetness and light, but he plays hardball politics.

    Sunshine is an essential element for limited government and a free society. Washington transparency is already a joke. And now we’ve just gotten a glimpse at what Scott Walker thinks of open government.

    This is state government in Wisconsin, not national security secrets. If you support him, you need to ask yourself: If this man is willing to do this to cover up things in Wisconsin, what will he try (and succeed) at covering in up in Washington?

    If you want to “wait for proof”, if you want to “reserve judgement”, you’re fooling yourself. Walker will find someone to send out as a sacrificial animal, to send out for slaughter. But this should be a warning to any and all who support Walker of what the man is capable of.

    Go write for Vox.

    • #18
  19. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    1967mustangman:Go write for Vox.

    Because I’m daring to express some cynicism about Saint Scott?

    • #19
  20. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Oh, you mean
    When Smart People Do Stupid Things with an (R)

    • #20
  21. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Oh my Gosh, you mean those all them dhimmicrats what was gonna vote fer him now ain’t a-gonna?

    • #21
  22. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Leigh: If he initiated this — if he’d deliberately planned this in order to cover something up

    I’m not saying he did.  He may not have anything specific to hide.

    But this wasn’t some accident.  It was deliberate.  And it comes back to that cui bono again.

    • #22
  23. 1967mustangman Inactive
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    Fred Cole:

    1967mustangman:Go write for Vox.

    Because I’m daring to express some cynicism about Saint Scott?

    Because you are making baseless accusations without waiting for the full story to come out and making fun of those who want to wait for the truth.  This is a classic tactic of the left.

    • #23
  24. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Fred Cole:

    Leigh: If he initiated this — if he’d deliberately planned this in order to cover something up

    I’m not saying he did. He may not have anything specific to hide.

    But this wasn’t some accident. It was deliberate. And it comes back to that cui bono again.

    And again, Robin Vos and friends…

    • #24
  25. user_57140 Member
    user_57140
    @KarenHumiston

    I was a solid supporter of Scott Walker in the many elections, recall elections, reelections, temper tantrums, and horse-and-pony shows that we in Wisconsin were subjected to between 2010 and 2014.  That said, I have been dismayed of late with the lack of leadership the man has been demonstrating in our state.  I can easily believe that someone slipped this disgusting clause past him, because he has been so busy running for president that the legislature has descended into an ineffectual gaggle of factions.  Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has been pushing his own agenda, in defiance of the will of the vast majority of conservatives in the state, and the rest of the Republican majority seem unable to join forces on anything.  Also, Walker has said numerous times that the backlash against Act 10 taught him a lesson about the need to communicate with the citizens and explain the reasoning behind controversial proposals.  Yet this budget contains a number of controversial and disturbing proposals that I am at a loss to explain to my horrified friends on either side of the aisle.  When I turn to my governor for the promised explanations and communications, I hear . . . crickets.

    Mr. Walker, we worked awfully hard to get you in that governor’s mansion.  Do you suppose you could be our governor for a while, and learn the job, before you leave us in the lurch for greater glory?

    • #25
  26. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    1967mustangman:

    Fred Cole:

    1967mustangman:Go write for Vox.

    Because I’m daring to express some cynicism about Saint Scott?

    Because you are making baseless accusations without waiting for the full story to come out and making fun of those who want to wait for the truth. This is a classic tactic of the left.

    Classic Cole. Putting up a Straw Man. Where in this discussion was there talk about “Saint Scott”?  How “daring” for this man to make this comment against the monolithic faithful?  This man deserves a medal. (Sorry, guys. Just responding in kind.)

    • #26
  27. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    10 cents:

    1967mustangman:

    Fred Cole:

    1967mustangman:Go write for Vox.

    Because I’m daring to express some cynicism about Saint Scott?

    Because you are making baseless accusations without waiting for the full story to come out and making fun of those who want to wait for the truth. This is a classic tactic of the left.

    Classic Cole. Putting up a Straw Man. Where in this discussion was there talk about “Saint Scott”? How “daring” for this man to make this comment against the monolithic faithful? This man deserves a medal. (Sorry, guys. Just responding in kind.)

    It is classic Cole: Assume the worst based on nothing more than weak circumstantial evidence at best, then ask conservatives how they can live with themselves for “supporting” the unproven assumption.

    And, of course, anyone who questions his assumptions is either a liar, an apologist, or a naïf.

    • #27
  28. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    1967mustangman: Because you are making baseless accusations without waiting for the full story to come out and making fun of those who want to wait for the truth. This is a classic tactic of the left.

    It’s not baseless.  It fits with the man’s political style.

    You can wait for the truth if you wish (As I mentioned, you’ll instead get a sacrificial staffer), but as far as I’m concerned, politicians are guilty until proven innocent.

    This secrecy thing really galls me.  This is outrageous!  We’ve dealt with decades of official secrecy in Washington, and here is a guy giving us a preview of what he’ll do as president … and nobody here seems to give a damn.  Secrecy in government and free societies don’t mix.

    Anybody who mouths support of limited government should be demanding Walker’s head on a pike.

    • #28
  29. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Umbra Fractus: It is classic Cole: Assume the worst based on nothing more than weak circumstantial evidence at best, then ask conservatives how they can live with themselves for “supporting” the unproven assumption.

    If you spent a few minutes seeing what the Wisconsin Left have been saying Fred would look pretty mild.

    Karen Humiston:  I can easily believe that someone slipped this disgusting clause past him, because he has been so busy running for president that the legislature has descended into an ineffectual gaggle of factions.  Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has been pushing his own agenda, in defiance of the will of the vast majority of conservatives in the state, and the rest of the Republican majority seem unable to join forces on anything.

    This doesn’t let Walker off the hook… but it’s kind of disturbing if they’re so dependent on one man to operate effectively.  And then we wonder why the Republicans in Congress struggle.

    • #29
  30. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Umbra Fractus: It is classic Cole: Assume the worst based on nothing more than weak circumstantial evidence at best,

    And history.  Not only in general, but of Walker in particular.  He’s obviously highly ambitious, and he has a record of playing hardball in Wisconsin.

    And, of course, I’m going to assume the worst.  When it comes to politicians, assuming the worst usually turns out to be right.

    • #30
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