COMMENTARY . . .

With Tony Palmeri and Jim Mather

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Exclusive: Bloechl Touts Working Class Roots At Union Hall; Supports DNR Independence and Public Intervenor

June 20, 2000: Speaking before members of the Winnebago County Central Labor Council, District 54 Republican Assembly candidate Melanie Bloechl touted her working class roots as a reason she should be supported in her primary race against 13 year incumbent Gregg Underheim. Speaking before about a dozen union representatives, Bloechl delivered a 5 minute introductory statement before taking questions. In her intro, she said that she offers a "different perspective" from Mr. Underheim. She touted her blue collar background, saying that the fact that her dad was a teamster and her mom a state employee gives her much identification with the issues of concern to working people. She said that it is difficult for someone who is not working class to represent working class people. The legislature was never meant to be a full-time position, said Bloechl, adding that the partisan gridlock has rendered the legislature not able to take on important issues like prescription drugs, campaign finance reform, and property tax relief.

During the question and answer session, Bloechl said that unlike her opponent, she would remain independent from the Republican Party leadership and vote always according to what she believes to be right. She said that she would support restoring political independence to the Department of Natural Resources Secretary (the position became a political appointment as a result of the 1995-1996 budget agreement), and she would also support returning power to the state "public intervenor" watchdog. When asked about what she thought were the most important issues facing the legislature, Bloechl said shared revenues, getting budgets passed on time, campaign finance reform, health care reform, and recycling. She offered no specific suggestions for any of the issues.

After the meeting, Winnebago County Labor Council President Don Wyman told Commentary that he thought Bloechl would win the race against Underheim. "Working people are not getting good representation from Gregg," said Wyman, adding that "I think union people will come out for Bloechl." AFSCME activist Joan Kaeding agreed that Bloechl had an excellent chance to win the primary. She and Wyman, however, said that they hoped "a strong Democratic candidate" would get into the race before the general election.

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     Oshkosh Common Council Member McGee Will Wrestle Roessler For Senate Seat

June 23, 2000: UW Oshkosh Professor of Economics and Oshkosh C ommon Councilor M. Kevin McGee told Commentary today that "after some wavering back and forth," he has decided to run for the Wisconsin 18th State Senate District against incumbent Carol Roessler. McGee, the top vote-getter in the 1999 Common Council elections, will run as a Democrat. A spokesperson for the Senate Democratic caucus has said that there are potentially three candidates ready to challenge Roessler, but so far McGee is the only one to publicly announce his candidacy. Roessler, one of the main sponsors of W-2, Wisconsin's welfare reform plan, defeated Democratic union activist Fred Frederickson handily in 1996. Data available from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign indicates the variety of interest groups that have contributed money to Roessler's campaigns over the years. More to follow . . .

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Esslinger/O'Malley Take On Commentary During Council Member Statements

June 27, 2000: During Council Member Statements near the end of the June 27 Oshkosh Common Council meeting, Councilor Matt O'Malley turned to Councilor Paul Esslinger and said "Did you see Commentary last week?" O'Malley then proceeded to tell Esslinger and the channel 10 viewing audience that Dr. Tony Palmeri, Commentary co-host, had bashed O'Malley and Esslinger for speaking about issues not relevant to the city of Oshkosh. O'Malley was referring to the June 14 Commentary, in which Palmeri used his "parting shot" to berate O'Malley for talking about his anger at the city of Mequon's consideration of a proposal to tax churches, and Esslinger's use of the council member statement to congratulate his friends on a wedding anniversary. Palmeri said on Commentary at that time that the reason O'Malley's and Esslinger's statements were a problem was because the council itself recently passed a resolution giving the mayor the power to silence citizens whose speech the mayor determines is not "relevant" to city issues. Palmeri and Mather reasoned that if the Common Council can situate itself as the guardian of relevant discourse, then someone has to watch the concil members to make sure that their speech is relevant. Thus, on June 14 Palmeri introduced the "Common Council Member Statement Watch," the part of the program in which O'Malley and Esslinger's comments were critiqued.

While lambasting Palmeri for criticizing his Mequon comments, O'Malley said that "when Dr. Palmeri gets elected to the council, then he can say whatever he wants." Esslinger, to his credit, admitted that some of the council member comments might not be "relevant." He then moved a resolution that would put citizen statements near the end of the meeting (using the arguement that when citizen statements are at the beginning of the meeting they hold-up the business part of the council meeting), and would also suspend the "relevance" rule. Councilor McGee moved to lay the resolution over until the next council meeting, and the council unanimously voted to do that.

Commentary believes that Mr. Esslinger showed maturity and leadership in trying to look for a way to eliminate the ridiculous "relevance rule." Commentary would also like Mr. Esslinger to know that Tony Palmeri turns 39 years old on July 1, and he believes it is perfectly fine if Mr. Esslinger wants to wish him a happy birthday at the next council meeting (:-).

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 Politicians At The Parade: Spanbauer Caddies Dell'Antonia

July 4, 2000: Political candidates were out in full force at the annual 4th of July Parade in Oshkosh. The first politician spotted by Commentary was Oshkosh Mayor Dell'Antonia, who sat in the passenger seat of a slick automobile driven by former councilor Larry Spanbauer. Mr. Spanbauer, who was booted out of office by the voters in the April 1999 elections after he "dared" them to vote him out, has lately become somewhat of an "8th Councilor." Dell'Antonia has appointed his buddy Spanbauer to the Police and Fire Commission, and he also asked him to sit on and Chair the mayor's recently created "city gateway" committee. At the parade Mr. Spanbauer got to serve as the Mayor's caddy, apparently. Shades of Nixon and Bebe Rebozo?

Other parade high (or low) lights included Senator Carol Roessler handing out Packer schedules accompanied by several frat-boy looking types on roller blades. As usual, Carol looked sparkling--much like on those taxpayer funded propaganda "updates" she sends to her constituents. But hey, at least she was in her district for a change. Thanks for stopping by Carol; hope to see you in these parts again soon!

Dan Flaherty, Democratic challenger for the 6th congressional seat, worked the crowd while his campaign manager "Positively" Polly Briley drove the flag draped campaign vehicle. Mr. Petri's entourage was literally right behind Flaherty, and the Congressman hardly seemed to notice his challenger.

In the "give me a break" category was Clerk of Courts Diane Fremgen, who kept shouting "Happy Birthday America" to anyone who would listen. Ah the benefits of not having an opponent in the Fall.

Incumbent State Representative Gregg Underheim (R-54th District) handed out Packer schedules and schmoozed the crowed. Shortly after he passed the location at which Commentary was staked out (right outside Starseed on North Main; down the block from the Rebel Alliance Theater), County Executive Jane Van De Hey stopped by to talk to Commentary. Van De Hey, an unofficial advisor to Underheim's Republican challenger Melanie Bloechl, said that there was a "pecking order" in the parade and as a result Bloechl was assigned number 76. This meant that Bloechl woould be near the end of the parade. Indeed, Bloechl turned up at around the 90 minute mark of the event (the entire parade lasted about one hour and fourty minutes) . When she finally did show up, she sported a red, white, and blue outfit that looked something like high school cheerleader garb--perfect for Melanie, but by the time she appeared it seemed as if the crowd was mostly burned out and ready to go home.

By far the most uncomfortable looking campaigner of the day was Roessler's Senate Challenger Kevin McGee. Mr. McGee, who at past parades has handed out instructions for how to petition for street repairs, this time sat up in the back seat of a convertible with a "what am I doing here?" look about him.

The Winnebago County Republicans showed up, distributing George W. Bush literature and gloating about the fact that the Democrats did not have a float this year. The Republican's sacrificial lamb to Herb Kohl, John Gillespie, was there too.

By far the most pointless appearance was by Oshkosh Common Councilor's Mark Harris and Steve Hintz. They were literally the last two people in the parade, and with Hintz pushing a bike the two appeared to be having a conversation about staying fit after 50. Hey guys, you won't hurt anyone's feelings by not showing up to these events!

Oh, there was one candidate (McCormick?) who was accompanied by a stretch limo. How's that for an appeal to the workers?

So did we learn anything from watching the spectacle of these candidates exploit another parade? Not much, except that Melanie Bloechl appeared to take Dan Rylance's advice--offered on Commentary recently--that she should smile more and talk less.

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Underheim Speaks To Winnebago County Labor Council; Belken A No-Show

Tuesday, July 18: Republican State Representative Gregg Underheim, a 13-year Oshkosh incumbent facing a primary challenge from Oshkosh Common Councilor Melanie Bloechl, visited the Winnebago County Labor Council on Tuesday night. Underheim provided responses to questions that the AFL-CIO is sending to all legislative candidates. In response to a question about the privatization of public services, Underheim said that he favors the "threat of privatization" so as to keep public employees sharp. He also said that he is in general against private companies using prison labor, but supports such a practice when the company in question is facing labor shortages or will leave the state without the ability to use the labor. In response to a question about campaign finance reform, Underheim argued that public financing is unconstitutional because, in his opinion, it forces taxpayers to pay to support speech they might not agree with. In all, Underheim was in agreement with the union position on about 50% of the issues.

Greg Belken, the UWO student who recently announced that he will be running for the 54th district seat as a Democrat, did not attend the meeting even though he was invited and was expected by those in attendance. A source close to the Belken campaign told Commentary that "Belken is not ready yet to debate Underheim." Joan Kaeding of the Labor Council said that there was no plan for a debate, and had Belken appeared he would have addressed the council before or after Underheim.

After Underheim got done answering the questions, he was escorted out of the hall by Winnebago County Labor Council president Don Wyman. When Wyman returned, he said of Underheim: "The man's worried. He's got a right to be. He's wrong on most of the issues and he's facing a damn good opponent." The "damn good opponent" Wyman is referring to is Melanie Bloechl, not Belken. Will labor support Mrs. Bloechl on September 12? Without labor support, it is difficult to see how she can defeat Underheim.

 More to follow . . .

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Van De Hey's Public Hearing: Thursday Night Smackdown?

July 20, 2000: Winnebago County Executive Jane Van De Hey presented an overview of her proposed 5 year capital improvement budget at the Coughlin Center before an audience of about 40 that included supervisors, county officials, and about 7 members of the public. The budget, broken down into levy supported projects and non-levy supported projects, represents over 50 million dollars of expenditures.

Commentary attended the February 7 meeting of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee--the meeting at which the committee was supposed to hear public input on various board reform issues--and it turns out that the July 20 meeting was similar in many ways. For one thing, both meetings occurred on prime nights for WWF wrestling (the 2/7 meeting occurred on a Monday Night Raw night; the 7/20 on a Thursday Night Smackdown). Does the county board seriously think that the public can be mobilized to attend forums on nights when the forums compete with the highest rated cable programming in the nation? Van De Hey and Maehl just don't stand a chance when put up against Chyna and The Rock.

In all seriousness, the February 7 and the July 20 meeting were like wrestling matches. Who were/are the opponents? As in all county board discussions these days, everything seems to be a battle between the "old guard" and the "reformers." The two meetings dealt with completely different topics, but Commentary left both meetings feeling that the issues under discussion were secondary to the political dynamic being played out. At both meetings, county supervisor Bill Wingren--who is rumored to be considering a step into the ring with Van De Hey in next year's County Executive race--came with a prepared statement . Wingren's July 20 statement, like his February 7 effort, chided the board for its insensitivity to the taxpayers and made a proposal . The 2/7 proposal was for the creation of a county building commission; the July 20 proposal was for the creation of a blue ribbon citizens' committee on the future of Wittman Field. Commentary finds Wingren's calls for commissions and committees a bit odd , since one of the key claims of the board "reformers" is that there are already too many board committees. Wingren also promised that the County Building Commission proposal would come within 60 days of the February 7 meeting. To our knowledge, no such proposal has yet arrived. Perhaps Mr. Wingren should offer the Board and citizens an explanation for the delay?

By far the most entertaining part of the July 20 meeting (with the possible exception of County Executive Van De Hey habitually engaging in little side conversations while others addressed the audience--so much for listening sessions) was the little spat between Wingren and supervisor Tom Widener over the proposal to build a new control tower at Wittman Field.

Wingren: "Is it really necessary to spend $3.5 million for a new control tower even if the County's contribution is only $400,000? Isn't there a less expensive way to add bathrooms and make the existing tower handicap accessible?"

Widener: "That's a cheap shot, Wingren! . . . The tower is about safety, not bathrooms . . . I want to fight to keep the airport viable."

Commentary actually attended the July 20 meeting in the hopes that there might be a battle over the UWFV theater project that the County Exec claims is too expensive to put in the 5 year plan right now. It was two hours into the meeting before the topic even came up, and when it did the audience (at least the 30 or so who were still remaining by that time) was treated to a written statement from the town of Vinland chairman (read by a citizen) as to why the theater project is not a good idea. That got a rise out of county board chair Joe Maehl, who claimed that opponents of the theater project need to be "educated."

The meeting ended with supervisor JoAnn Sievert floating once again the idea of placing a referendum on the November ballot that would ask citizens if they would like to create a sales tax to pay for the jail and other projects. The idea did not seem to go over very well with anyone present. Commentary happened to be sitting next to Supervisor Julie Pung-Leschke, turned to her and asked "does she [Sievert] honestly think that taxpayers would vote to create a new tax on themselves?" Leschke, who must be thanked for identifying the names of several people at the meeting previously unknown to Commentary, agreed that citizens probably do not want to see the tax. Geraldine Jay, owner of Jerry Jay's picture frame shop on North Main Street in Oshkosh, attended the meeting and told Commentary that for small business owners, the sales tax is a "pain in the ass."

The Oshkosh Northwestern and some of the supervisors seem to find it troubling that more people don't come to such public forums. Should it really be that surprising that more people don't come? Sure, there's lots of apathy out there. Sure, Wingren is right that the administration could do a better job of explaining the rationale for capital projects and other spending items. But consider this: a husband and wife get up at 6 a.m., take the kids to school or to summer activities, work an 8 hour day, get the kids, and eat dinner. Are they then really in the mood or in a position to go to a public forum? Lots of people in Oshkosh go to Waterfest on a Thursday night. Should they feel guilty for going there instead of to a meeting in which the County Exec is merely proposing a plan? Not to mention the fact that the County Exec took two hours to present something that could have probably been presented in half that time? Commentary is the last critic to make excuses for apathy, but we would ask those public officials so appalled by the low turnout at such meetings to recall what life was like before they became a public official. Julie Pung-Leschke, called a "straight arrow" by the Oshkosh Northwestern and one of Commentary's most popular guests, said in her first appearance on the program that before she got elected she never really was that much involved in county government.

As an aside, Commentary learned from County Executive Van De Hey that a request was made of Oshkosh Cable Access Television--by Van De Hey--that they come to the meeting and either broadcast it live or tape it for future broadcast. OCAT apparently did not have the resources available to do it. What is clearly needed in the city of Oshkosh is what Time-Warner Cable is apparently unwilling to give: a third cable access channel that would cover only government events. There certainly are more than enough events that need to be covered, and, with local politicians' insistence that more people need to be involved, the third channel would seem to be a necessity. Let's hope that the city's negotiators are bringing this message to Time-Warner during the franchise renewal talks. We can't have a government channel but we can have several channels that do nothing but promote network and cable programming?

Finally, if anyone knows what happened on WWF Smackdown while Commentary was observing the wrestling match at the Coughlin Center, please e-mail Tony Palmeri.

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  Ken "806 Oak St." Bender: UW Oshkosh Like "Colon Cancer In The Community"

July 25, 2000: At the July 25 meeting of the Oshkosh Common Council, only one citizen spoke at the newly scheduled at the end of the business meeting citizen statements. That citizen, to no one's surprise, was Mr. Ken Bender. In top form, Mr. Bender, upset with what he perceives as UW Oshkosh officials working to expand the campus beyond Wisconsin St. without full consultation with city leaders, referred to the university as a "colon cancer" that "eats up the community." Later on, during council member statements, Mayor Jon Dell'Antonia rebutted Mr. Bender's remarks and said that in his opinion the university was an asset to the community. He also expressed a hope that Mr. Bender's feelings were not widespread .

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Why Tom Harkin Suddenly Emerged As A Possible Gore VeeP Prospect 

July 26: Major print and television media announced today that Iowa Senator Tom Harkin is being considered seriously as a vice-presidential candidate by the Gore campaign. Why has Harkin, a fierce Democratic partisan with a liberal record on social issues while supporting the Clinton/Gore agenda on globalization, suddenly been thrust into veep contention? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that Harkin could create headaches for Dick Cheney, former Bush Sr. Defense Department Secretary recently given the number 2 spot on the Republican ticket by Dubya'. Harkin might even appeal to those considering a vote for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. Consider this snippet from an editorial in the July 24th Superior (WI) Daily Telegram:

It seems federal agencies donít mind doing business with contractors who have defrauded the government. An analysis by the Associated Press has identified 1,020 companies that were sued or prosecuted for fraud over the last five years. When checked against a list of contractors barred from doing federal business, the study found 737 of the companies remained eligible for future contracts. Some had multiple court cases against them. This report may not come as such a surprise in this age of cynicism about government. But it should still hit most taxpayers as inexcusable and, yes, outrageous.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has compiled a list of 103 defense contracts involving fraud against the government, and only four cases led to bans on future business. ďThere is a continuing pattern of fraud and abuse in some of our largest contractors,Ē Harkin said. The companies in the AP review range from a Texas contractor convicted of selling bad Coast Guard windshields to an environmental testing firm convicted of bribery.

Isn't it possible, maybe even likely, that Cheney can somehow be implicated in some of those fraudulent defense contracting schemes? True, the Associated Press analysis was only concerned with the last 5 years, well after Cheney left the Bush administration. But is it unrealistic to expect that the Democratic National Committee's "Opposition Research" team will find something to hang on Cheney other than that he's an oil tycoon with a bad heart--especially when Mr. Gore's own oil connections are, if you will please pardon the pun, "slippery"? [July 27 Update: Here They Go!] . And what warms the hearts of Naderites more than a crusader against corrupt defense contractors?

Harkin is appealing to the Gore team for another reason: while he is in general agreement with Clinton/Gore on global economic issues, he has authored legislation in the Senate that would update the nation's child labor laws. Harkin also was the major sponsor of a bill to prevent the import into the United States of products made with exploited child labor. With Ralph Nader running at close to 10% in national polls on a progressive platform of ending worldwide corporate abuses, Harkin presents a hope of cutting into the Nader support.

A veep candidate that could neutralize Cheney and pacify undecideds looking toward Nader might be very attractive to the Gore camp indeed.

Tony Palmeri Welcomes Your Feedback

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Underheim, Roessler Hold Huge Money Advantage Over Opponents

July 27: According to figures just released by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, campaign 2000 is shaping up to be the most expensive one in the state's history. Incumbents have a huge money lead over challengers, holding a 14-1 fund raising advantage as of the end of June. Locally, incumbent District 54 Assembly Representative Gregg Underheim had $24,230.03 in cash on hand as of June 30, while his primary challenger Melanie Bloechl had $1,550.00. In the race for the 18th Senate District, incumbent Carol Roessler had $50,009.94 on June 30, compared to zero for Democratic challenger Kevin McGee. Figures for all assembly candidates are available at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign web site, as are Senate candidate figures. Analyses of the data are available on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign site.

Can anyone seriously claim that there is not a desperate need for campaign finance reform in the state of Wisconsin?

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Another Reason Gore May Pick Harkin: Roe v. Wade

July 28, 2000

During the primary season, Vice-President Al Gore took some criticism for his abortion views. Republicans and Democratic primary opponent Bill Bradley tried to exploit the fact that early in his legislative career, Gore opposed federal funding of abortions. Democratic insiders believe that Gore has to select a solid pro-choice running mate in order to quell any doubts about Gore's own commitment to choice, and to guarantee active support from womens' groups. Indeed, some pro-choice activists have already threated lukewarn or no support for the ticket should Gore choose Indian Senator Evan Bayh as a running mate (see Pro-Choicers Want Gore To Say Bye To Bayh).

Gore's latest statements on abortion center around his "support for Roe v. Wade," the 1973 Supreme Court decision that decriminalized first-trimester abortions.. A representative Gore statement on the issue appears in this snippet from his July 16 interview with Tim Russert on Meet The Press:

MR. RUSSERT: ...which allowed abortion. I want to ask you a very simple question. Do you believe that life begins at conception?

VICE PRES. GORE: No. I believe there is a difference. You know, I believe that the Roe vs. Wade decision wisely embodies the kind of common sense judgment that most Americans share.

MR. RUSSERT: In 1987ólet me show you a letter you wrote to your constituents and put it on the board. ďDuring my 11 years in Congress, I have consistently opposed federal funding of abortions. In my opinion, itís wrong to spend federal funds for what is arguably the taking of a human life. Let me assure you that I share your belief that innocent human life must be protected, and I am committed to further this goal.Ē You went on with Washington Monthly and gave an interview which says, ďIt is quite correct that a position like mine in opposition to the federal funding of abortion results in unequal access to abortions on the part of poor women. Nevertheless, I feel the principle of government not participating in the taking of what is arguably a human life is more important.Ē When did you change your mind on that principle?

VICE PRES. GORE: Ten, 15 years ago. I canít give you the exact day. Itís been quite a while ago. And hereís the reason I changed. I talked to a lot of women who taught me about the kinds of circumstances that can come up and the kinds of dilemmas that women can face. And the circumstances are so varied. Iíve come to the very deep conviction that a womanís right to choose must be protected regardless of the womanís income. Now, Iíve always supported Roe vs. Wade and Iíve always opposed a constitutional amendment to take away a womanís right to choose. I changed...

MR. RUSSERT: But you did vote to define a person as including an unborn child.

VICE PRES. GORE: Well, that was a very odd procedural vote on the Sill-Jander amendment years ago.

MR. RUSSERT: When do you think life begins?

VICE PRES. GORE: I favor the Roe vs. Wade approach, but let me just say, Tim, I did...

[end of transcript]


Now during the Senate's debate on Rick Santorum's anti "partial-birth" abortion bill, Senator Harkin introduced and got passed an amendment that expressed the Senate's support for Roe v. Wade:

HARKIN AMENDMENT NO. 2321 (Senate - October 20, 1999)

Mr. HARKIN proposed an amendment to amendment No. 2320 proposed by Mrs. Boxer to the bill, S. 1692, supra; as follows: At the appropriate place, insert the following:

SEC. XX. SENSE OF CONGRESS CONCERNING ROE V. WADE.

(a) Findings: Congress finds that--

(1) reproductive rights are central to the ability of women to exercise their full rights under Federal and State law;

(2) abortion has been a legal and constitutionally protected medical procedure throughout the United States since the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade (410 U.S. 113 (1973));

(3) the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade established constitutionally based limits on the power of States to restrict the right of a woman to choose toterminate a pregnancy; and

(4) women should not be forced into illegal and dangerous abortions as they often were prior to the Roe v. Wade decision.

(b) Sense of Congress: It is the sense of the Congress that--

(1) Roe v. Wade was an appropriate decision and secures an important constitutional right; and

(2) such decision should not be overturned.

With Dick Cheney's established anti-choice voting record in the House, Harkin on abortion provides the Democrats with one more way of contrasting with the Republicans on this important issue. They can also further frighten those leaning toward Nader into voting for Gore because a Bush/Cheney team will attempt to appoint anti-choice judges to the Supreme Court.

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An Open Letter To Those Who Didn't Get To Fly The Concorde

July 28

Dear Experimental Aircraft Association Visitors:

Press Reports indicate that 400 of you had shelled out $700 - $750 for a one-hour Concorde flight from Wittman Field to Canada and back. Because British Airways cancelled the Concorde's visit to Oshkosh, you will not get your flight. I understand your disappointment.

The press reports indicate that you will all get a full-refund of your ticket. One of you, 84-year old Helen Zitlow of Menasha, was quoted in the newspaper as saying that "everything happens for a reason." I agree with that statement, and that statement also got me to thinking.

Please don't be insulted by this, but I assume that if you have $700 to spend on a one-hour plane flight, then you 're probably not in any great financial hardship right now. What if, instead of just getting back your 700 bucks and spending it on something else, you all decide to pool the refunds and donate to a worthwhile cause? Think about it: $700 times 400 is over a quarter-million bucks! Maybe the money could be used to teach more poor kids about aviation? Or maybe it could be used to create a scholarship fund in honor of the people who died in the recent Concorde tragedy? Or maybe a memorial fund in honor of Brianna Kriefall, the 3 year old girl who died tragically on Friday morning after becoming infected with the E.Coli bacteria?

Perhaps some of you attended the Mayor's Breakfast on Friday. Remember that retiring UW Oshkosh Chancellor John E. Kerrigan was honored at the event? What you might not know is that on August 30, at the Experimental Aircraft Association, there will be a reception for Chancellor Kerrigan at which he will announce the creation of The Kerrigan Fund. According to information provided on the invitation to the event, "The Kerrigan Fund will provide an endowment basis for scholarships to be offered to second-year students. This form of 'retention scholarships' builds upon Chancellor Kerrigan's successful initiative to fund scholarships for entering first-year students. The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh's ability to continue to make advances in academic quality will depend on the ability to raise private giving to support the scholarship funds for students of exceptional academic potential."

Don't you think that donating your refund to the Kerrigan Fund would provide a lifetime thrill to which the one-hour Concorde flight would pale in comparison?

We also have many worthwhile charities right here in Oshkosh that could use the money. Think about making a donation to Father Carr's Place 2B, or the Christine Anne Domestic Abuse Shelter, or numerous other causes that I am sure Mr. Poberezny can alert you to.

You're right Helen--everything happens for a reason. What better way to honor the victims of the Concorde tragedy than to use your refund to make a difference in the lives of people in need?

I hope you enjoy your stay in Oshkosh.

Sincerely,

Tony Palmeri

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Protest Planned For LWV Candidate Forum

August 16 , 2000: Sources tell Commentary that anywhere from 10 to 30 citizens plan to show up to the Candidate Forum tonight and will insist that they be allowed to attend. Apparently, Channel 10 management is having the debate recorded in the channel 10 studios--instead of in the spacious Council chambers as is usually the case--because they do not want to have to move all the cameras and other necessary equipment to the chambers area. Citizens opposed to channel 10's actions are wondering how the event can be called a "public forum" when the public is limited to watching on television and phoning in questions.

One source, who as a result of reading Spirit of 76's letter went and called the candidates , channel 10, and the League of Women Voters (and who has asked to remain anonymous), said that the League of Women Voters President claimed that the channel 10 lockout was not a major problem because few people ever show up to the forum anyway. Hmm . . . anyone who's ever watched the forums when they are broadcast from the council chambers would probably have to disagree with that assessment. Not only do those who attend the forum get to "look the candidates in the eyes", but they also get to interact with each other and have productice conversations about the candidates and city/council politics in general. They also get to talk to the candidates during breaks and after the completion of the forum.

Commentary hopes that channel 10 and the League decide to do the right thing, which is to move the debate back to the council chambers and let the public in. To do otherwise is to make a mockery of the whole notion of "public forum."

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LaFollette Spirit In Oshkosh At "Public" Forum

August 16, 2000: Wisconsin's progressive hero, Robert M. LaFollette, probably smiled from the heavens while watching a mini-protest tonight outside of Oshkosh City Hall. The protest, led by a small group of Oshkosh citizens, was against Oshkosh Cable Access Channel 10 and the League of Women Voters' decision to prevent the public from attending their candidate forum in person. According to Channel 10 and the League, watching the forum on a television screen and being able to phone or fax in questions constitutes a "public forum."

Protesters held up signs that said:

Most League of Women Voters/Channel 10 co-sponsored debates are held in the chambers of the Oshkosh Common Council. In that setting, there is more than enough room to accommodate citizens who wish to attend and look at the candidates face-to-face. On August 16, however, channel 10 decided to hold the debate in the cable access television studio in the basement of city hall. The studio is very small and cannot accommodate more than a few individuals. Apparently, because there were "only" seven candidates involved in the debate (two for assembly district 54, three for assembly district 56, and two for county treasurer), channel 10 did not believe it was worth the effort to move necessary equipment up the council chambers and recruit more volunteers.

Had the League and channel 10 simply acknowledged that what they were conducting was a closed forum (which included the "filtering" of questions, apparently), then there probably would have been no protest. But to advertise an event as a "public" forum and then restrict the public to television and telephone is to debase the whole notion of "public forum." Is the Larry King show a public forum? Rush Limbaugh? Does being able to make a phone call to the hosts constitute a public forum?

Anyone who has participated in a candidate debate, or who has attended them, knows that having people in the live audience makes a BIG difference. From the standpoint of the debater, the live audience provides instant reaction to his or her comments; the debater is also forced to make eye contact with real voters. Challengers are especially thankful for the opportunity to have supporters in attendance (this would be especially important for candidates, like those running for treasurer, whose constituency is not just Oshkosh). From the standpoint of a live audience member, being at the debate allows for making a judgement about how well the candidates perform under pressure--that simply is not captured as well on television. The TV image is often misleading, in fact. Moreover, live audience members get a chance to engage the candidates immediately before the debate, after it, and during breaks. That way, if a person's question was "filtered out" by a self-appointed gatekeeper, the question can be asked directly.

League of Women Voters President Carolyn Blassingame got into heated discussions with the protesters. Blassingame claimed that few people ever show up to the forums anyway, and that she had never even seen one of the most vocal protesters at one of the forums. She went even further and said that when the public does appear, they frequently ask "irrelevant" questions that are sometimes personal attacks.

An interesting comment was made by League of Women Voters Ann Frisch. Ms. Frisch is a recognized expert on the state's open meetings laws, and she claimed that the protesters would have been fully within their rights to demand entry to the debate. If anyone reading this has the time to investigate Frisch's claim and can determine whether or not she is accurate, please let us know.

Two police officers on bikes watched the protest and seemed fully entertained. Rumor has it that one of them told a protester that he is a big fan of Commentary!

Several of the protesters suggested that the Commentary show organize its own public forum before the September primary. A forum at which the public would be encouraged to attend and at which no one would "filter" the citizens. Stay posted to this web site for information on whether such a forum will in fact take place.

Meanwhile, Commentary hopes that the protesters take their complaint before the Oshkosh Cable Commission and attempt to get that body to take a serious look at this issue and perhaps develop a policy on what constitutes a "public" forum.

Cynics will argue that the protesters could not have had a strong message because, after all, only a handful of people actually showed up for the protest. Commentary asks the cynics to remember the words of Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

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Underheim Flyer Promotes Fishing/Hunting Amendment

August, 2000

Representative Gregg Underheim has sent a flyer to voters in his district in which he advocates support for the Republican sponsored constitutional amendment to guarantee hunting rights in Wisconsin. The flyer, in green and white, has as its heading "Rep. Gregg Underheim: Fighting For Sportsmen's Rights." Beneath a picture of two men on a small motor boat fishing in a serene setting, the language of the amendment appears: "Individuals have the right to fish, hunt, trap and take game subject only to reasonable restrictions as prescribed by law."

On the back of the flyer, Underheim has a series of "Did you know . . ." statements. One that stands out is: "Did you know . . . Every day, radical environmentalists and animal rights activists are putting pressure on the public, spreading lies about the impact hunting and fishing have on Wisconsin's natural resources." Who does Underheim have in mind as "radical environmentalists?" People opposed to a mourning dove hunt? What "lies" is he talking about?

Underheim's flyer smacks of the worst kind of election year politicking--pandering to fear and paranoia. What's especially troubling is that on Commentary, Underheim was given an opportunity to provide his views on the hunting amendment and--while he did not flat out oppose it, he in no way indicated the strong level of support indicated by this flyer.

Funny how a primary opponent can bring out the worst in an incumbent.

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Kudos To Mark Madison, An Independent County Supervisor

August, 2000

On August 15 the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors voted 30-7 to reject a resolution that would have placed an advisory referendum on the November ballot asking "Do you favor the implementation of an additional 0.5 percent Winnebago County sales tax for a limited period of three years to pay for the cost of construction of a new Winnebago County jail and renovations to the present public safety building?" Only one of the 7 who voted for the resolution, Mark Madison, represents a district that is completely within the city of Oshkosh. What did he hear at the meeting that his brothers and sisters from Sundial City did not?

Perhaps it was this: "Finance Director Chuck Orenstein may have provided the most compelling argument for the sales tax, although it was, in the end, all for nothing. Orenstein said residents would actually save more than $100 should they and the board approve the half-percent sales tax hike. He said conventional, 10-year bonding for the estimated $25 million jail would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $403 in property taxes over the life of the debt. However, the sales tax would cost that same homeowner between $266 and $300 during the three years the half-percent was in effect." (Oshkosh Northwestern, August 15, 2000).

If Orenstein is correct--and not one of the vocal "reformers" on the board refuted his calculations--then any supervisor who claims to be a "friend of the taxpayer" is obligated to take a closer look at the sales tax before dismissing it outright. As a home owner and taxpayer, I know I certainly would rather pay $300 towards the jail instead of $403.

I assume that the board's self and Oshkosh Northwestern appointed "reformers" plan to find a way to see to it that the average taxpayer will pay between $266 and $300 toward the cost of the jail. Since the reformers have made it clear that the board is, in the words of the Northwestern, "addicted to spending," I look forward to seeing where the reformers plan to make cuts in the budget.

The Oshkosh Northwestern offered some suggestions on possible cuts in their editorial of August 13: "We spotted several projects that should be examined and perhaps delayed to reduce expenses, including the relocation of the health department, the Community Park road development program, a new juvenile detention facility and creating additional office space. These projects alone represent $8.2 million in potential savings. New opportunities for savings will also be found in the county's 2001 budget which is currently being prepared by the executive." Do the county board's opponents of the sales tax agree with these possible cuts? What else do they propose to cut? When will we know?

While spending cuts are necessary, I hope that the reformers do not allow Winnebago County to become a larger version of the city of Oshkosh. That is, a place where maintenance is deferred for years--sometimes for decades--so that politicians can keep the tax rate as low as possible. The deferred maintenance mentality, as has become painfully clear in the city of Oshkosh, leads to a crumbling infrastructure, urban blight and decay, high debt, and a lower municipal bond rating. For decades, the city of Oshkosh was ruled by "reformers" who bragged year after year about keeping the tax rate low while our streets became an embarrassment and older neighborhoods crumbled from neglect.

Is Winnebago County headed in the same direction? Let's hope not.

Mark Madison is one of the new board supervisors, appointed in April to complete Ron Montgomery's term. With the political climate on the board right now--a climate that pits board Chairman Joseph Maehl in a pissing contest against the Oshkosh supervisors primarily--the easiest thing for Madison to do would have been to join the Wingren/Pech Jr. bandwagon, make some grand remarks about the evil of taxation and the spending addiction of the board, and vote against the referendum. Instead, Madison appeared to be one of the only supervisors to listen to all of the arguments presented, and ended up voting to give the voters a chance to have a say on whether they would rather spend $300 or $400 towards the jail. Does this mean he supports the sales tax? Of course not. It only means that he heard enough evidence on both sides to warrant a more extended discussion that having a question on the November ballot would provide for. I also found it refreshing that Madison appears to be a supervisor who does not have to keep reminding everyone how many citizens he talks to, or how many doors he knocks on, or what a great listener he is.

What the board should have done--and I must give credit to Supervisor Mike Norton for suggesting this to me--was amend Supervisor Sievert's resolution to make the referendum binding instead of advisory. That way, the opponents of the tax would have been able to guarantee that the sales tax discussion would disappear, and it would put more pressure on the sales tax opponents to let us know where they will cut the budget in order to be able to pay for big ticket items like the jail.

Let me be clear about something: I am opposed to a sales tax for all of the reasons that have been stated by the Northwestern and some supervisors. However, I am equally opposed to grandstanding about spending cuts. If there were a referendum question on the November ballot, and if between now and November it turned out that the spending cut rhetoric was nothing but hot air that could not be backed up with any realistic spending cut proposal, then maybe the sales tax is a necessary evil. Those who stand to be the target of spending cuts have the right to know about it well in advance, and those who advocate spending cuts have a responsibility to point out the specific areas that they would like to cut.

Kudos to Mark Madison for being independent, avoiding what has become the standard board practice of personalizing all policy discussions, and staying out of the resulting pissing contest.

Tony Palmeri Welcomes Your Feedback

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Supervisor Mike Norton Responds

While it may seem to be courageous for Mark Madison to vote for the Advisory Referendum. I did not try and make the debate about the County Sales Tax into a "pissing " match. I voted against the referendum partly because it was Advisory and not binding. For if we trust and want to get the form the voters and residents of Winnebago County. Then I feel that we should trust them enough t make it Binding and we live with their decision. I do not like the all the posturing from County Supervisors on the issue. I think the public, if they want it, should have input on the issue. Who says we no all that is best for Winnebago County. Others who voted against the resolution actually are for it-they feel the County Board should decide not the people. I do not necessary agree with that point.

I have not completely ruled out a sales tax, we must try and see if Outagamie and Fond Du Lac County will join us, so not affect the those small business, like the ones in my district on Oregon, Ohio, and South Main from being hurt. These business would be hurt the greatest for they are not on the "New" Main Street of the Valley - Highway 41. I would like it be permanent and not be allocated for one or two projects. I am honest once we have the money I do not want to let it go, I would be very interested in Tony Palmeri's idea of a targeted sales tax, for it would not hit hard those at lower economic levels. I feel the position I have taken best serves my district and the County as a whole.

As far as what I would cut or not add to the budget. Well, cut County Board pay, cut funding community art and historical groups, let's not dive right in to the new Security Project for the Courthouse, take it easy on new road projects and see if they will be needed and used in the future. I have written to the Chair of the Personal and Finance Comm. and others stating we should have a group to study our budget for the next 5 , if not more years, how we fund new projects, are they needed, and which ways can be more efficient and cost effective providing services to Winnebago County.

I have visited various committees and all them have requested for morepersonnel or space, or equipment, and department heads have said that to get all of their requests they asked in original. All say they will fight for it on the floor at budget time.

I think we may have to look at how we do the budget and how we spend money after the budget is approved. I Know what my priorities for the upcoming budget which I would like to share with you and your audience in the near future.

Michael J Norton

304 W. South park

Oshkosh, WI 54902

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Gore's VP Pick: Conservative Substance, Progressive Symbol

August, 2000

As noted in an earlier opinion piece, I thought Iowa Senator Tom Harkin had a good shot at being named Al Gore's VP nominee. A midwestern populist, Harkin could have significantly short-cut Green Party candidate Ralph Nader's growing support within the traditional Democratic Party base of labor, students, senior citizens, and environmentalists. Gore's actual pick, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, is a conservative Democrat who may still attract those thinking of voting for Nader.

How could a conservative Democrat appeal to potential Nader voters? Lieberman, after all, is chair of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the "centrist" outfit founded by Bill Clinton and others in the late 1980s with the expressed aim of minimizing the public's perception of the Democratic Party as "liberal." Additionally, columnist David Broder has likened Lieberman's free-market philosophy to that of the Reagan Revolution (an analogy that Lieberman apparently approves of as he uses Broder's comment as an endorsement on his web page). Lieberman is also pro death penalty, supports school voucher programs, would support a "moment of silence" in the public schools, and has been one of the Senate's major critics of Hollywood and violent rap music.

So how could a man with a relatively conservative record of governance appeal to the progressives? Very simply, the fact that Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew makes his selection very meaningful at the symbolic level. Senator Lieberman is the first non-Christian to run on a major party Presidential ticket. Like Mondale placing Geraldine Ferraro on the ticket in 1984, Gore's selection of Lieberman is "courageous" in the sense that it risks alienating those neanderthals in the country who still have problems voting for women, racial/religious/ethnic minorities, or anyone else that does not fit into the traditional white Christian male mode.

As much as the Reagan/Bush administration, Clinton/Gore have understood the power of symbols in politics. For progressive and liberal Democrats, many of whom believe strongly in things like religious pluralism, tolerance, and affirmative action--the Lieberman pick may be powerful enough at the symbolic level to forgive the Democratic Party's paucity of progressive values in its platform or on its ticket.

Like Dick Cheney, Joe Lieberman has the reputation as a thoughtful, decent man without much charisma. In fact, a debate between Cheney and Lieberman will not win any ratings records. Perhaps Lieberman should come out and support the inclusion of Winona LaDuke, Nader's Native American woman running-mate, in the debate. Supporting LaDuke's inclusion would demonstrate that Lieberman is progressive at more than just the symbolic level.

Tony Palmeri welcomes your feedback

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My Keith Olbermann Moment

September 1, 2000

Remember Keith Olbermann, the loud-mouthed sportscaster who used to co-host ESPN Sports Center with Dan Patrick a few years back? Today Keith is back in sports with the Fox Network, but for about a year--mostly during the Clinton impeachment saga, Olbermann hosted a serious political program called "The Big Show" for MSNBC. Actually, for much of 1998 Olbermann was on for two hours of prime time. After "The Big Show," MSNBC had him host "White House In Crisis"--essentially a continuation of The Big Show but with a different name.

Olbermann quit MSNBC and "serious" news early in 1999, expressing disgust at having to spend two hours a night listening to professional bullshit-artists (euphemistically called "spin-doctors" these days) for the Democrats and Republicans run over the same tired tripe about why Clinton should or should not be impeached, why Clinton should or should not resign, why the Democrats are great and the Republicans suck, why the Republicans are great and the Democrats suck, and so on and on and on. Olbermann found that the world of serious political discussion was not so serious after all, so back to sports he went.

During a recent "Commentary" taping, I had my own Keith Olbermann Moment. Disgust and everything, yes.

Here's what happended: Mr. Mather and I were interviewing representatives of the Nader, Gore, and Bush Campaigns. Amy Mondloch represented Nader, Polly Briley Gore, and Mark Neilsen Bush. We interviewed each person separately so as to not get into a "Crossfire" type shouting match.

Mondloch went first, and if I had to use two words to describe her interview style, I'd say "youthful" and "idealistic." Though she claimed to have been an activist on a variety of issues, she did not seem to reflect the cynicism so often found among activists who've learned how truly difficult it is to accomplish any change in our political system. In place of cynicism, Mondloch represented a kind of "hopeful" attitude that government could actually have a positive influence in the lives of everyday people. Far from giving off the impression that Nader is some "personality cult" that she and others are supporting uncritically, Mondloch actually displayed a thoughful and passionate understanding of issues facing America and how the two major parties have simply failed to deliver for the majority of citizens. Instead of spewing Nader and Green Party talking points, Mondloch provided Mather and I with an honest and sincere expression of the views of one young person intent on making a difference in the world. Most refreshing, when Mondloch did not know something or could not answer a question, she simply said "I don't think I can answer that right now." Perhaps out of youthful idealism, perhaps out of personal integrity--Mondloch has not learned how to BS her way through an interview as is usually the case with the more "slick" guests that all talk show hosts confront on a regular basis.

But it was during the interviews with Briley and Nielsen that I had my Keith Olbermann Moment. Don't get me wrong--Polly and Mark are bright, talented young people who I am sure are doing their best to contribute to making this a better world. But from them it was difficult to tell why THEY support Gore or Bush or the Democrats or the Republicans. There was little offered to us beyond the standard talking points that both the Gore and Bush camps have been throwing out for months. There was little to indicate that Briley and Nielsen had independently thought through any of the major issues facing America or campaign 2000. I kept wanting to shout "wait! I know what the party hacks think--what do YOU think?!!" In a kind of daze half-way through Nielsen's hackneyed defense of Dubya (which had begun to set in during Briley's tortured garbling of Gore), it became clear that while Mondloch was almost pleading with listeners to tune in to this year's election, Briley and Nielsen were engaging in the kind of Democratic/Republican "triangulations" (i.e. "the other guys are extreme, we are moderate") that contributes to listeners wanting to tune out of discussions about politics and campaigns.

During the entire Briley and Nielsen interviews, I found myself getting very angry. Not angry at Polly and Mark, but angry at a political establishment that exploits and wastes the talents of people like them. Indeed, Polly and Mark have learned how to be apologists for power--and listening to that produced my first genuine Keith Olbermann Moment.

If Mather and I can find a way to keep Commentary on the air, I must avoid having too many Keith Olbermann Moments. For if I have too many of those, it will mean that bullshitting has become the norm for most of our guests. And that in turn will mean that Commentary will have become no different than most of the network and cable talking head shows dominated by the Republicrats and the corporations. And if Commentary gets reduced to that--well, at that point I will have no choice but to follow Keith Olbermann's example and leave the sorry world of "serious" news.

Tony Palmeri Welcomes Your Feedback

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MY KEITH OLBERMANN MOMENT: Party Functionaries Have Become Apologists For Power (TomPaine.Com Version)

Tuning Out is Logical These Days -- And It May Be What the Parties Want

Tony Palmeri is chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

 

Remember Keith Olbermann, the loud-mouthed sportscaster who used to co-host ESPN Sports Center with Dan Patrick a few years back? Today Keith is back in sports with the Fox Network, but for about a year -- mostly around the time of the Clinton impeachment saga -- Olbermann hosted a serious political program called "The Big Show" for MSNBC.

Actually, for much of 1998 Olbermann was on for two hours of prime time. After "The Big Show," MSNBC had him host "White House In Crisis" -- essentially a continuation of "The Big Show" but with a different name.

Olbermann quit MSNBC and "serious" news, expressing disgust at having to spend two hours a night listening to professional bullshit-artists (euphemistically called "spin-doctors" these days) for the Democrats and Republicans run over the same tired tripe night after night. It reached a point where a viewer could tell that during a typical "debate" between partisans like Ann Coulter and Lanny Davis, Olbermann was probably wishing he were back at ESPN. Olbermann found that the world of serious political discussion was not so serious after all; so back to sports he went. Thus, I refer to coming to the realization that mainstream political discussion has become nothing but manipulative muck as a "Keith Olbermann Moment."

I co-host a cable access television program called "Commentary" in the city of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. During a recent "Commentary" taping, I had my first Keith Olbermann Moment. Disgust and everything, yes.

Here's what happened: Co-host Jim Mather (former Mayor of Oshkosh) and I were interviewing representatives of the Nader, Gore, and Bush Campaigns. Nader was represented by an environmental activist, Gore by a former chair of our county Democratic Party, and Bush by the current chair of the county Republican machine. We interviewed each person separately so as to not get into a "Crossfire" type-shouting match.

The Nader rep went first, and if I had to use two words to describe her interview style, I'd say "youthful" and "idealistic." Though she claimed to have been an activist on a variety of issues, she did not seem to reflect the cynicism so often found among activists who've learned how truly difficult it is to accomplish any change in our political system. In place of cynicism, she communicated a kind of "hopeful" attitude that government could actually have a positive influence in the lives of everyday people. Far from giving off the impression that Nader is some "personality cult" that she and others are supporting uncritically, the young activist actually displayed a thoughtful and passionate understanding of issues facing America and how the two major parties have simply failed to deliver for the majority of citizens. Instead of spewing Nader and Green Party talking points, she provided Mather and I with an honest and sincere expression of the views of one young person intent on making a difference in the world. Most refreshing, when she did not know something or could not answer a question, she simply said, "I don't think I can answer that right now." Perhaps out of youthful idealism, perhaps out of personal integrity, the Nader supporter has not learned how to BS her way through an interview as is usually the case with the more "slick" guests that all talk show hosts confront on a regular basis.

But it was during the interviews with the Gore and Bush reps that I had my Keith Olbermann Moment. I really don't want to trash either guest; because both are talented people who I am sure are doing their best to contribute to making this a better world. But from them it was difficult to tell why THEY support Gore or Bush or the Democrats or the Republicans. There was little offered to us beyond the standard talking points that both the Gore and Bush camps have been throwing out for months. There was little to indicate that the Gore-ite and the Bush-ite had independently thought through any of the major issues facing America or campaign 2000. I wanted to shout, "Wait! I know what the party hacks think -- what do YOU think?!!" In a kind of daze half-way through the Republican's hackneyed defense of Dubya (a daze that had begun to set in during the Democrat's tortured garbling of Gore), it became clear that while the Nader Raider was almost pleading with listeners to tune in to this year's election, the Republicrat reps were engaging in the kind of major party "triangulations" (i.e. "the other guys are extreme, we are moderate") that contributes to listeners wanting to tune out of discussions about politics and campaigns.

During the Gore and Bush rep interviews, I found myself getting angry. Not angry with the representatives of the candidates, but angry with a political establishment that exploits and wastes the talents of people like them. Indeed, it occurred to me that these spinmeisters have learned how to be apologists for power -- and listening to that produced my first genuine Keith Olbermann Moment.

Unfortunately, campaign 2000 is creating Keith Olbermann moments for conscientious broadcasters all over the nation. If Ralph Nader is not invited to participate in the corporate sponsored debates, then we might have the makings of a nationwide Keith Olbermann Moment in the works. That is, on the night of the Bush/Gore "debates," expect viewer ship for sports and other entertainment to be much higher than usual.

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Michigan Green Party Congressional Candidate Bonnie Bucqueroux Responds To "My Keith Olbermann Moment"

September 3, 2000:

I am with the J-School here at MSU, coordinating their Victims and the Media

Program. I am also running for Congress on the Green Party ticket at

http://www.bonnieb2000.org After reading your piece on Olberman, a moment

that I have had many times myself, I had to write and invite you to visit my

site and see what it is like when politics are fun again. At least click on

the link to the cartoon. Today I am sending a letter to the two corporate

candidates keeping me out of the debates inviting them to join me on a

public access show hosted by a guy who keeps his pet rat on his shoulder.

Bonnie B

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September, 2000: Maine's Prescription Drug Bill; Palmeri Sound Bite

"When you take on an industry this big, you're also saying 'We're going to get along without your campaign contributions'"

Maine State Sen. Chellie Pingree on her state's innovative prescription drug reform

Remember when Wisconsin used to be a progressive state? Remember when we would be the first state to find ways to make government responsive to citizens? Read Pingree's remarks about how the Maine legislature tackled the prescription drug issue and then compare that with what our Lambeau Lobby Lapdogs in Madison pulled off last session. What a contrast. And what a disgrace for Wisconsin. --Tony Palmeri

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  My Take On How To Handle Workplace Stress

Tony Palmeri, Chair

UW Oshkosh Department of Communication

October 1, 2000:

[Note: A version of this essay appears in the forthcoming issue of the UW Oshkosh Employee Assistance Program Newsletter, The EAP Update]

 In September I began my fourth year as Chair of the UW Oshkosh department of communication. Chairing any department is a challenge, but as the department of communication houses 40 faculty and staff in 4 areas (Theater, Speech Communication, Radio/TV/Film, Communicative Disorders), being chair can sometimes be overwhelming

What makes the Chair's job stressful struck me some time ago while watching public television. Author and "stress humorist" Loretta LaRoche told her audience that humans tend to respond to stressful situations in four negative ways: whining, awfulizing, catastrophizing, and moaning (WACM). In my opinion, what ignites WACM in academia are the same things that ignite it in most workplaces: real or imagined slights, placing too much stock in gossip and rumors, and frustration with the dehumanizing aspects of bureaucracy. Negative comments on an annual review, for example, even if sandwiched in between a mountain of accolades, can be enough to send some individuals into a state reminiscent of the late New York Yankees' manager Billy Martin. Billy would frequently storm out of the dugout in a rage, scream at the umpire, and then kick dirt on him. True, academics will usually reveal aggression in a more "passive" way (stinging e-mails are now a favorite), but the net effect on the target is the same as if s/he had been screamed at or had dirt kicked in the face.

As LaRoche described the characteristics of whiners, awfulizers, catastrophizers, and moaners (WACMers), I realized that a Chairperson is a chief target for such folks. Worse, because the Chair occupies a middle level between students and staff on one side and upper administration on the other, s/he is often the target of WACMers from below and from above. When under a steady barrage of WACM from all sides, a chair can easily fall him or herself into a debilitating WACMer state.

Now I am not saying that we should never whine, or that we should always avoid awfulizing, or that nothing is ever catastrophic or worth moaning about. What I am saying is that an individual in the WACM mode is "off balance." To avoid WACM temptations, it is vital that during the course of a day a Chair (or anyone else, for that matter) seek out mental stimulation that reminds him or her "why we are here" and contributes to a more balanced perspective on the daily irritants that we face. In the remainder of this essay I want to expand briefly on "why we are here" and then discuss three mental stimulants I have found helpful.

The Select Mission of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh (p. iii in the Faculty and Academic Staff Handbook) provides guidance as to why we are here. I like the final part: "To develop and offer programs and services responding to the needs of the people, institutions, and communities which we serve." How can I respond to such needs if I am in a constant WACM state of mind? Responding to the needs of people requires the ability to develop trusting relationships with them. When I am off balance or "WACMed Out," I am not in a position to experience the joys of such relationships and/or the pleasure of developing programs and services.

To those of you not in academia: Do you know "why you are there?" Do you too deal with WACMers on a regular basis? Perhaps you yourself are a WACMer?

Now let me discuss three things that help me to stay balanced and focused on the university mission: "Commentary," The Communication Thought for the Week, and The Tao Of Leadership.

Commentary is a public affairs television talk show produced on campus. I co-host the program with Jim Mather, former Mayor of Oshkosh. As my professional area of scholarship is Rhetoric and Public Address with an emphasis on political communication, working on Commentary exposes me to the "real world" of political communication. In order to produce an interesting and provocative program, I have to research and keep up to date on issues facing the community and nation, and I must also establish relationships with a significant number of individuals outside of the university. These two requirements of making a successful program-research and establishing relationships-have helped minimize my own WACM tendencies. Additionally, I spend 15 minutes per day or more (usually no more than 30-40 minutes) updating the Commentary web site (http://www.uwosh.edu/faculty_staff/palmeri/Comment.htm), an activity that guarantees that for at least part of the day I will have my mind on matters not related to the workplace.

Another "balancing" activity for me is the "Communication Thought For The Week." Since 1997, I have every week during the fall and spring semesters posted on the department's e-mail discussion list a "thought" related to issues in the field. The mere act of searching for the thoughts has proven to be an invigorating and stimulating activity in that I am compelled to stay engaged in my field and communicate in a meaningful way with my colleagues. On occasion, the department has had some engaging e-mail discussion sparked by a thought. The thoughts for the week are archived at http://www.uwosh.edu/communication/tftw.htm

A few years ago I read an interview with Phil Jackson, one of the most successful coaches in the history of the National Basketball Association. In the interview, Jackson said that a major influence on his life was John Heider's book The Tao Of Leadership. I happened to find the book at the Starseed Shop on Main Street in Oshkosh. I've never been a fan of modern adaptations of ancient wisdom, but in this case I must say that Heider's application of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching to contemporary leadership situations is inspiring. Almost every passage in the book's brief 81 chapters has some relevance for leaders. I now find myself placing a passage at the end of a list of announcements I provide department members at our monthly meetings. Heider even has good advice for dealing with an angry WACMer: "The person who initiates the attack is off center and easily thrown. Even so, have respect for any attacker. Never surrender your compassion or use your skill to harm another needlessly . . . In any event, the more conscious force will win."

A university, like any other workplace, can be such an all-encompassing space that it literally becomes a person's entire life. If that should happen, then no amount of mental stimulation can help a person to achieve balance. The advice I've provided in this essay is not a substitute for having a life outside of the workplace that includes meaningful relationships with family and friends.

Tony Palmeri is chair of the department of communication and President of the Faculty Senate for the 2000-2001 academic year.

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 October , 2000: John Nichols On Gore; Palmeri Sound Bite

John Nichols: But even as Gore hit the campaign trail with a "give 'em hell" stump speech that borrowed the old Roosevelt, Truman, and Ralph Nader critique of economic royalism, Lieberman was busily assuring a Wall Street Journal reporter that Gore's attacks on corporations were just "rhetorical flourishes." The ticket is "pro-business," he declared, adding, "Political rallies tend not to be places for extremely thoughtful argument."

These Are The Progressive Candidates? Can you say PMRC? Death Penalty? Welfare "Reform"? IMF? WTO? NAFTA? GATT? Fast Track? Don't Ask, Don't Tell? Aid To Columbia's Military? Increase Pentagon Spending? Permanent trade relations with China? Continue Iraqi Sanctions? Even if the Republicans lose the election, they sure have won the issue debate. And we wonder why voter turnout may be the lowest on record?--Tony Palmeri

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October 6, 2000: Comment on Post-Crescent's Comments on Cheney/Lieberman 

From a Friday , October 6 editorial in the Appleton Post-Crescent: "The calm, reasoned approaches of Democrat Joe Lieberman and Republican Dick Cheney in Thursday night's vice presidential debate was a stark contrast to the abrasive, head-butting debate between their running mates earlier this week. It was refreshing to see intelligent adults have an honest disagreement about issues without resorting to name-calling, finger-pointing and immature responses. Are the right guys in the right places on these tickets?"

 

 

Wouldn't it have been a better discussion with Winona LaDuke there? Are we to believe that Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman represent the true spectrum of views that exist in this country as regards gay rights, racial profiling, and the pentagon--three issues raised by Bernie Shaw? We are not allowed to hear from even one "peace dividend" candidate this year? Do you realize that we are in the year 2000 and ALL FOUR of the of the major party candidates for president and vice-president support the death penalty? Why are the majority of editorial boards in this country not speaking out on the utter charade represented by the commission debates? Shame on them. --Tony Palmeri

 

 

 

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"Searching For Carol Roessler" Disputes Incumbent's Residency Status

October 12, 2000:

Commentary has obtained a video copy of the first television ad being run by the McGee For Senate Campaign, "Searching for Carol Roessler." The 60 second ad, produced by Madison's Visuality Media Productions, features McGee talking with seniors about Senator Roessler's vote against a prescription drug bill. Then, the ad switches to a scene of McGee in a car with a map in hand, looking for Waunakee, Wisconsin. McGee at first doesn't know where Waunakee is, and he ends up in Waupun. Then, he discovers that Waunakee is near Madison, and Roessler's house appears.

In contesting Senator Roessler's residency status, McGee is in essence calling her a liar. On Commentary, Roessler insisted emphatically that she is an Oshkosh resident exclusively and does not reside anywhere else. McGee's ad directly contests that claim.

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For This Brooklyn Boy, Number One Payroll v. Number Three Payroll Just Doesn't Cut It As A Subway Series

 

Until I left for the midwest to attend graduate school at Central Michigan University in 1983, I had spent my entire life in Brooklyn, N.Y. Like most kids growing up in the city, I was a big baseball fan. When the Mets won the world series in 1969, they were the toast of the town, and when I started following baseball seriously around 1971 (at the age of 10), there was still lots of pro-Mets buzz all around. Always being fiercely independent, contrarian, and suspicious of popular bandwagons, I became a die-hard Yankees fan at that point even though the Yankees had not won a pennant since 1964 and even though literally all my friends were Mets fans. Actually, I think that one of the reasons why I am now so ready to stand in the minority and defend unpopular political views is because as a youth I would frequently be surrounded by a crowd of zealous and self-righteous Mets fans telling me what an absolute moron I was for siding with those Bronx Bums.

The Yankees were in such bad shape in the early 1970s that the team threatened to leave the city if the taxpayers didn't kick in to help refurbish Yankee Stadium (the taxpayers did kick in the help in 1975--a forerunner to the Lambeau Field debacle especially in the way the Yankee management, like Bob Harlan and Ron Wolff for today's Packers, successfully manipulated public emotions about the "tradition" of the team). But I loved those 1971 Yankees. I can't remember all the players, but I do recall my idol Bobby Mercer was in center field, Horace Clark was at second base, and a young Thurman Munson (later to engage in a legendary rivalry with Boston's Carlton Fisk) was the catcher. Mel Stottlemeyer was the ace of the pitching staff, and along with Fritz Peterson (a left-hander who had made headlines by swapping wives with another pitcher the year before) the Yankees had at least two quality starting pitchers. I think we had Sparky Lyle in the bullpen that year, a man who was a walking advertisement for mouth cancer because he put in enough chewing tobacco to make it look like he had ingested a bowling ball. Ralph Houk, a loveable beer-bellied father figure like today's Yankee bench coach Don Zimmer, was our manager. I think the Yankees finished at around .500--which was decent considering that the Baltimore Orioles were invincible that year with four 20-game winners (Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer,and Pat Dobson).

When the Mets made the World Series in 1973 with a .500 team, life for me was hell for a few weeks. I took some intense razzing from the Mets fans, especially since the Yankees were still plodding along as a pale imitation of the glorious teams of the past. Then in 1974 the Yankees did something that would set a precedent and change the face of the game forever--they signed Jim "Catfish" Hunter to a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract. I remember being overjoyed that the Yankees had finally done something to improve the team, and the Mets fans were actually jealous. By the next year, signing free agents became all the rage in the major leagues, and the Yankees would pick up Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles, Luis Tiant, Bucky Dent, Chris Chambliss, Mickey Rivers, and many others who would become the World Series champs of 1977 and 1978.

I was still a Yankee fan in 1977 and 1978, but those championships really didn't excite me all that much. Why? Part of it was that by that time I was in high school, and other distractions just seemed to put pro-sports in the back seat for me. But I think a bigger part was that I simply did not recognize these Yankees. In the early seventies, the loser Yankees had an endearing quality about them because almost all the players had worked their way up through the farm system and had spent their careers AS Yankees. A fan could follow the same players year after year, almost as if they were part of the family. True, some players might be obtained through trades, but one never got the feeling that any team--the Yankees or anyone else--would have the audacity to try and buy a World Series. When my relatives talked about the Subway Series of the 1940s and 1950s, there was a kind of enthusiasm and excitement in their voice that was sincere and meaningful.

Now we move up to the year 2000, and for the first time since 1956 we have two New York teams in the series. Perhaps if I were 10 years old again, it would not matter to me that the Yankees just so happen to be the team with the most expensive payroll in the big leagues, and the Mets are number three on that illustrious list. Perhaps if I were 10 years old again, I would gloat in the fact that the Mets lost the first game of the series because two of their stars--Todd Zeile and Timo Perez, displayed running errors that one would not even expect from little leaguers. Perhaps if I were 10 years old again, I'd ignore the fact that even though Yankee Stadium is in a remarkably diverse neighborhood in the most remarkably diverse city in the world, the Fox Network's cameras could not hide how remarkably white were those lucky enough to attend the games--especially those in the good seats. Perhaps 10 year olds aren't supposed to care about the persistent realities of class and race in America. Perhaps 10 year olds aren't supposed to care that sports are now nothing but a big business, much like our political system. Are adults supposed to care about such things? If yes, then why did such issues get such minimal attention in this year's presidential debates?

So the 2000 Subway Series just doesn't cut it for this Brooklyn Boy. Yes, I am rooting for the Yankees, but I know I'll never feel the same attachment to the team as I did to those hard-working but star-less Bronx Bombers of 1971.

Tony Palmeri Welcomes Feedback

 

  Look For A 5-4 Supreme Court Vote

December 10, 2000 Update: When I first wrote the essay below on November 25, I was responding mostly to the legal experts who claimed that the US Supreme Court would strive for unanimity in whatever decisions reached pertaining to the presidential election. When the US Supreme Court vacated the Florida Supreme Court's first ruling, in early December, they did in fact issue a unanimous decision. However, the text of that decision revealed quite clearly the divisions on the court. The Florida Supreme Court's second decision, the 4-3 decision that ordered manual recounts of all Florida undervotes, was apparently the "last straw" for the conservatives on the US Supreme Court. Indeed, the Court has apparently divided up along the lines suggested in my November 25 article (i.e. Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, O'Connor, and Kennedy v. Stevens, Souter, Breyer, and Ginsburg). While I realize it takes no great insight to point out the divisions on the US Supreme Court, I am now more inclined to think my suspicions about the Court's partisan motives were/are accurate. Here's what I said on November 25:

"While it is comforting to believe that the Supreme Court is beyond partisanship and makes decisions only on the merits of individual cases, surely in this case the justices are aware that they have now placed themselves in a position to determine directly which man will appoint justices to the Supreme Court in the next 4 years."

Now on to the November 25 essay:

Written by Tony Palmeri on November 25, 2000

Next week, in an unprecedented event, the US Supreme Court will hear arguments from lawyers for George W. Bush and Al Gore over the constitutionality of the manual recounts now occurring in several Florida counties. The Bush lawyers will argue that the Florida Supreme Court, in mandating that manual recounts must be included in the final totals, ignored Florida election laws and violated Title 3 United States Code Section 5 which requires that presidential election disputes be resolved through application of laws passed before the appointment of electors. The Gore lawyers will argue that the Florida state statutes governing elections contradict each other, and that the Florida Supreme Court merely resolved the contradiction in a manner upholding that "determining the will of the people" is the central principle behind all election law. The Gore lawyers will argue that the Bush team's attempt to place formal return deadlines and machine counts above manual hand counts that might take time to tabulate is to place hyper-technical standards above the will of the people.

The November 25 Washington Post cites legal analysts who claim that "because of the extraordinary delicacy of the case, the justices will strive to rule unanimously, whatever they do." Strive they may, but given the ambiguity of Title 3 USC Section 5--the interpretation of which is fiercely contested by lawyers for both sides--I would find it surprising for the justices to reach a unanimous decision.

In agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court announced that its main interest was in determining whether 3 USC Section 5 had been violated by the actions of the Florida Supreme Court. That code says:

If any State shall have provided, by laws enacted prior to the day fixed for the appointment of the electors, for its final determination of any controversy or contest concerning the appointment of all or any of the electors of such State, by judicial or other methods or procedures, and such determination shall have been made at least six days before the time fixed for the meeting of the electors, such determination made pursuant to such law so existing on said day, and made at least six days prior to said time of meeting of the electors, shall be conclusive, and shall govern in the counting of the electoral votes as provided in the Constitution, and as hereinafter regulated, so far as the ascertainment of the electors appointed by such State is concerned. (June 25, 1948, ch. 644, 62 Stat. 673.)

Should the US Supreme Court agree with the Bush team, it will mean that they agree with the argument that the Florida Supreme Court did not just interpret existing Florida law, but in fact made a new law when directing the Florida Secretary of State to withhold certification of the state vote until manual recount totals were submitted. Agreeing with the Bush team will mean that Florida Secretary of State acted properly when she attempted to certify the vote one week after the election. In short, agreeing with the Bush team will mean that George W. Bush wins the election.

Agreeing with the Gore team will mean that the Florida Supreme Court offered a reasonable interpretation of existing law, and that the hand counts were/are proper. For Gore, a victory in the US Supreme Court would allow him to contest the results of the election with the knowledge that a complete hand count in several counties is legitimate and proper. In short, Gore needs a US Supreme Court victory not only to have a chance to win the election, but to have that win appear as legitimate in the court of public opinion.

Because the application of Title 3 USC Section 5 is not nearly as clear and unambiguous in this case as the Bush lawyers assert (i.e. the Bush lawyers assume that Florida "laws enacted prior to the day fixed for the appointment of electors" are crystal clear, but if the last two weeks have proven anything it's that said laws are clearly confusing and contradictory), I expect that the US Supreme Court will reach a divided verdict. While it is comforting to believe that the Supreme Court is beyond partisanship and makes decisions only on the merits of individual cases, surely in this case the justices are aware that they have now placed themselves in a position to determine directly which man will appoint justices to the Supreme Court in the next 4 years. Let's look at the politics of the current Court:

Chief Justice William Rehnquist is a conservative appointed by Richard Nixon and promoted to the Chief Justice position by President Reagan. The other members of the Court's "conservative bloc" are Sandra Day O'Connor (appointed by Reagan), Antonin Scalia (appointed by Reagan), Clarence Thomas (appointed by Bush), and Anthony Kennedy (appointed by Reagan). Rehnquist and O'Connor are in ill-health and have made it clear that they want to wait for the election of a new President before retiring. Does Rehnquist want a President Gore to name his replacement and/or name the new Chief Justice?

Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader-Ginsberg (both appointed by Clinton) appear to have temperaments similar to the Florida Supreme Court justices, so it would not be at all suprising for them to uphold the ruling of that tribunal. Justices Stevens (appointed by President Ford) and Souter (appointed by Bush) were put on the bench by Republicans, but their decisions have consistently placed them in the moderate-liberal category. Justice Stevens has expressed some concern about the rightward drift of the Court, and he too has indicated that he will retire after the election of a new President. Perhaps he would be more comfortable with a President Gore making appointments as opposed to a President Bush.

Of the five justices in the conservative bloc, Justice Anthony Kennedy is the most unpredictable. Perhaps I am over reaching here, but I think it is entirely possible that he will be the "swing vote" in this case. Should the arguments for both sides look strong, Justice Kennedy may have to decide whether he wants a President Bush or a President Gore to be the one making court appointments during the next four years.

In an election year in which the importance of Supreme Court appointments was one of the major issues raised by Democrats and Republicans, how appropriate that the Court's decision in this case will probably decide who gets to appoint Justices during the next 4 years.

Tony Palmeri Welcomes Feedback

 

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Goltz Leaving Oshkosh

Neill Goltz, candidate for Oshkosh Common Council in the April, 2000 elections, has taken a position at Grinnell College in Iowa. Mr. Goltz was one of the founding members of NICE (Neighbors Involved In Community Environments), a political action committee that came to prominence in Oshkosh in 1999 largely over the issue of the widening of Jackson St. In the April '99 elections, NICE members engaged in an energetic grassroots campaign to get their endorsed candidates elected. Kevin McGee, Matt O'Malley, Mark Harris, and Jon Dell'Antonia--all endorsed by NICE--won election to the Council. Larry Spanbauer, an incumbent running that year who had been publicly critical of NICE and Goltz, was defeated.

After the 1999 elections, NICE and Goltz continued to push for a neighborhood agenda, but were criticized for not speaking out on issues such as the closing of the South Side Library and other matters not related to the widening of Jackson.

After all their endorsed candidates were elected, NICE members thought that they might have enough votes on the council to reverse the Jackson project. However, Dell'Antonia and Harris did not come through for NICE, and only Kevin McGee and Matt O'Malley spoke out consistently in support of NICE's views on Jackson and street widening in general.

In January of 2000, Goltz announced that he would be a candidate for Common Council. Upon announcing his candidacy, he said "Oshkosh needs a significant change from the old way of doing things -- to jumpstart a shift in attitude -- and I believe that I can add something positive to the community discussion which needs to take place. "

Also running were incumbents Melanie Bloechl, Stephen Hintz, and Paul Weimer. Paul Esslinger entered the race for his third try at winning election to the Council. Goltz appeared on Commentary during the campaign season and established a campaign web site. Bloechl, Esslinger, and Weimer were highly critical of Goltz's and NICE's views, especially as regards his suggestion that the city consider moving City Hall to the old First National Bank Building on Main St. Though Goltz was endorsed by the Oshkosh Northwestern and had NICE activists working hard on his behalf, he did not win election to the council (though he did earn over 4,000 votes--a respectable showing for a first time candidate).

Goltz was Director of Planned Giving at the Experimental Aircraft Association--a very conservative organization. Did Goltz's politics have anything to do with his leaving? Goltz is silent on the issue, and we will probably never know.

What we do know is that even though Goltz was in Oshkosh for barely three years, in that short time he had a huge impact on city politics. Whether one agreed or disagreed with NICE and Goltz, they/he were able to get downtown and neighborhood issues permanently on the city agenda, defeat an incumbent (Mr. Spanbauer), get a student elected to the Council (Matt O'Malley), and especially in 1999 they created some much needed excitement during the political campaign season. I will never forget election night in April of 1999. Goltz and NICE gathered in the old Toucan Cafe on Main St., and after the results came in and revealed that all of NICE's candidates had won, Goltz got up to the microphone and led a band in a cover version of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant"--substituting the story of NICE for Arlo's anti-war tale. It truly was a magical moment.

Shirley Mattox, a NICE activist who has worked closely with Goltz in the last two years, announced recently that she intends to run for the Council. With Matt O'Malley and Kevin McGee--the two NICE supporters on the Council--announcing that they will not run in 2001, Mattox may represent NICE's last chance to maintain a strong voice in City Hall.

Tony Palmeri Welcomes Your Feeback

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  Governor Thompson's Compassionate Conservatism

Published in the Oshkosh Northwestern in February of 1999

Texas governor George W. Bush, probable Republican presidential candidate in 2000, calls his political philosophy "compassionate conservatism."

Wisconsinites confused about the meaning of compassionate conservatism should refer back to governor Tommy Thompson's recent State of the State Address. Governor Thompson, who at age 57 almost definitely has a presidential run in his future, in his speech showed a "kinder, gentler" side unlike anything we've heard from him previously. Sounding more like Lyndon Johnson than Ronald Reagan, Thompson proposed millions of dollars of new spending on education, health care, and welfare reform initiatives.

Thompson's liberal initiatives forced state senate majority leader Chuck Chvala to concede that the speech could have been delivered by a Democrat. Assembly Democratic minority leader Shirley Krug said that "we might be looking at the governor's compassionate conservatism here in Wisconsin." However, Chvala and Krug have pointed out that we really won't know until February 16--the day the governor submits his budget to the legislature, how he proposes to pay for his programs.

What's behind the new rhetoric of compassionate conservatism? Why are so many Republicans, who've spent the last 20 years telling us that government is the enemy, now all of a sudden proposing what would be called "big government" programs if proposed by a Democrat?

There are three simple answers.

First, the 1998 Congressional midterm elections have been interpreted by mainstream Republicans as voter rejection of the "religious" conservative wing of the party, represented in Wisconsin by Mark Neumann. In his State of the State speech, governor Thompson clearly distanced himself from the Neumann wing by avoiding any mention of late term abortions, death penalty, flag burning and other social issues exploited frequently by the right. Except for his "Fatherhood Initiative," for which he's proposing a tiny amount of budget funds, Thompson didn't offer much to the right wing of his party.

Second, the Republicans dogged pursuit of President Clinton--justified or not, has large numbers of voters wondering what the Party stands for besides impeachment. The "compassionate conservatives" recognize that the Republican Party faces disaster in 2000 if it does not come up with a public policy agenda understood and supported not just by the core Republican base, but by the independents who swing most elections.

Third, voters appear to have grown weary of political rhetoric that features demonizing and scapegoating of poor people, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and others. We can only hope that this conversion to compassion is sincere and not merely electoral posturing.

In 1910, Teddy Roosevelt said of the great Robert LaFollette that he had made Wisconsin into "an experimental laboratory of wise governmental action in aid of social and economic justice."

Will future historians say the same of Tommy Thompson? I suggest respectfully to the governor that in order to gain such accolades, his compassionate conservativism will have to overturn and not build on most of his administration's first 12 years.

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Burayidi, Dell'Antonia Debate Merits Of Main St. Aquatic Park

Jan. 3, 2001

(Oshkosh) Speaking before members of the Oshkosh Candlelight Club meeting at the Pioneer Inn, UW Oshkosh Professor of Urban and Regional Studies Michael Burayidi and Oshkosh Mayor Jon Dell'Antonia on Tuesday night argued the pros and cons of an Aquatic Center on the 100 block of North Main St. Burayidi, who has written scholarly and popular essays on downtown redevelopment issues, argued that an Aquatic park would bring families downtown who would then patronize other downtown services in a kind of "incidental effect." He argued further that aquatic parks have been successful in many cities of size similar to Oshkosh, and that such parks are typically funded through public/private partnerships.

While not in opposition to an aquatic park, Mayor Dell'Antonia argued that such structures are usually most successful when they are funded and built privately, usually as part of hotels as is the case currently in Milwaukee. The Mayor stressed that there is at present much enthusiasm around Oshkosh as regards downtown redevelopment, and he cited the city's decision to buy and raze the Walgreen's building as evidence of the city's commitment to redevelopment. However, he did not think it probable that an aquatic center on Main St. would be part of the redevelopment process, saying it was unlikely that a private developer would approach the city with such a plan. As for his personal preference for the 100 block of North Main, Dell'Antonia said that some type of multi-use commercial development would be most appropriate.

After Burayidi's and Dell'Antonia's opening statements, a lively discussion among the 20 or so people in attendance followed. One individual proposed that the city should hold an advisory referendum in which the voting public would be presented with 2 or 3 ideas for the 100 block and asked to vote their preference. Others argued that downtown Oshkosh is now actually Koeller St., and that it was difficult to imagine a bustling Main St. However, several people pointed to cities the size of Oshkosh and smaller that have had success reviving their Main St.

Mayor Dell'Antonia in his closing remarks emphasized that if Oshkosh could come up with 12 million dollars to build a YMCA, surely we could come up with money to rebuild downtown if we really wanted to do it. Burayidi agreed that public attitudes toward downtown revitalization will be vital if the city is to be successful with its plans.

Dell'Antonia's position on downtown redevelopment is in many ways a testament to the power of citizen activism. Before 1999, Dell'Antonia was very open in his view that the Koeller St. area was the "new downtown" of Oshkosh. But then, largely through the influence of former common council candidate Neil Goltz, councilor Matt O'Malley, and NICE (Neighbors Involved in Community Environments), Main St. development was put "on the map" and the City Council was forced to respond. Some might even argue that CORD (Citizens of Representative Democracy), the group that sponsored two change of govermnent referenda in the 1990s, had an influence in getting discussion of downtown issues on the agenda.

Regardless of who or what is responsible for the new interest in downtown redevelopment, it appears clear now that--at least for the next few years--downtown issues will be given a serious look by City Hall and private developers.

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Copyright 2001 Tony Palmeri All Rights Reserved