Monday, April 25, 2011

Kenosha: Another Reminder

So, we saw this happen last week:

350 Kenosha Teachers Get Layoff Notices

Superintendent Michelle Hancock said, “These are extraordinary times which call for extraordinary measures,” adding the options is to cut spending or raise taxes.

From a friend (let's call him "Leonard") in the Kenosha School District:

So... Everybody knows about the budget bill by now. Everybody has their own opinions on it. Thursday was doomsday in my school districts. Lay-off notices were given.

Before I break it down, I will say that our new superintendent has been [an unwilling partner in negotiations]. Our union tried going to the school board and superintendent to make big concessions to avoid this many layoffs, but both of them refused to even meet.

We are losing 25 teachers in my school despite gaining an extra 400 students next year.
We are going from 3 gym teachers to 2 next year. 2 gym teachers for 2400 students.

Another high school in our district (tremper) is losing 33+, including 9 of 15 english teachers. I am certified to teach english and had hoped that might happen some day. After thursday it is now clear that it won't be happening any time soon.

All in all they will be laying off 375 of 2000 teachers. I'm happy I don't have'd suck to send a son/daughter to elementary school knowing they are going to be in a class of 40-50. ugh.

And yes, the union implemented the seniority system. I agree with seniority. I don't always agree with my union. The unions in public ed are both the best and worst things for public ed. they can help keep class sizes down (not anymore) but they also prevent the shitty teacher from being fired (again, not in this case). I can tell you that there are a lot of teachers in their first four years who [might be] better than those being kept on. but...even though there will be no collective bargaining, they will still hold their jobs.

This has nothing to do with unions and never will. Until someone comes up with right system to hold teachers accountable (a system that includes prior student performance, quality of parents, rate of student improvement, and classroom/resource conditions...among many other things) the system will be [messed up]. I used to laugh at public school teachers who send their kids to private school...but I applaud them these days. Public ed in Wisconsin is becoming one helluva joke. Our state used to take pride in our educational values. suddenly we have a college drop-out governor and things go to hell. and he (walker) still refuses to release his college transcripts. It's a joke. I bet it was econ 101 that he failed.

carry on....rant over.

Another reminder: This effects real people. Our teachers are just like anyone else - trying to do their job well. Taking pride in their work. Believing that a strong work ethic brings about positive change. We all believe that, but through the power of the legislature, and nearly 50% of the public supporting them, this is the kind of message we show Leonard.

For some hidden economic reason, we need to do this. No one even seems to question it anymore. Hell, Paul Ryan even spelled it out. Remember the Krugman post on April 4th?

Here’s the [Paul Ryan]’s explanation of how layoffs would create jobs: “A smaller government work force increases the available supply of educated, skilled workers for private firms, thus lowering labor costs.” Dropping the euphemisms, what this says is that by increasing unemployment, particularly of “educated, skilled workers” — in case you’re wondering, that mainly means schoolteachers — we can drive down wages, which would encourage hiring.

There is, if you think about it, an immediate logical problem here: Republicans are saying that job destruction leads to lower wages, which leads to job creation. But won’t this job creation lead to higher wages, which leads to job destruction, which leads to ...? I need some aspirin.
We kill the unions, and defund the schools, so we can do what, exactly? Instead of doing, say, anything else, like increasing a tax somewhere, my buddy "Leonard" has to sit and watch all of this happen.

I didn't talk to Leonard long today. We swapped stories a bit. One day this spring we happened to be in Madison on the same day. As we got done talking, he said this:
let me know if i can help in any way.
Before you go thinking of Leonard as some sort of martyr who is dying for the cause, let it be known that this is a question many of us have asked of each other this spring. We've made history in Wisconsin. We will continue to pitch in and turn the state around. Leonard does not need to live his professional life in fear that he will not be able to pay his bills. We can work together and bring about the change we want to see. But it all starts with the big question that we need to continue ask each other: let me know if i can help in any way.

If we continue with this drive, this energy, and this dedication, we will take our state back. Wisconsin will be ours!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Difficult Elections Ahead

The deadline for recalls approaches fast for all candidates. I'm very interested to see how this all goes. It's clear that these elections are not going to be a walk in the park. We've done the difficult work of gathering signatures. Now we need to get folks out to vote. This will be no simple task.

We also have Democrats being recalled. These are also going to be uphill battles. The groups that have been pounding on doors for the past several weeks have an advantage in their district. They've been in front of people, out on the streets talking to voters. This helps us, but it also helps them.

We worked hard on the recalls. We'll need to fight even harder in the elections. There will be no easy victories for us. We can be proud that we've put up a good fight so far. We'll be even happier when we win. This can go from being a hard-fought loss to an overwhelming victory. It will take all of us to pull it off. We can do it, Wisconsin!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pat Yourselves on the Back, 10th District!

It's been a very satisfying spring. We managed to grab enough signatures for our fourth recall. The announcement was tonight in Menomonie at the HQ. The place was packed to the hilt, and there were cupcakes, brownies, chips and mild salsa (it is the midwest, after all). And of course there were a few bottles of Leinies floating around. It's Wisconsin, people.

Our friend Virginia (you may remember her from my very first blog post here!) posted the video here:

The atmosphere was jubilant. We knew the "special announcement" would be good news. The great news was the number of signatures we'd collected. Bob Salt, lead organizer for the Menomonie office, delivered the news. We have obtained over 20,000 signatures. Somewhere the media right now has the full number. We needed just over 15,000 to clear the hurdle. This is yet another campaign where we've gotten over 150% of the signatures needed.****

This is not over. Rumor is the Recall Darling people are about to file. We may be able to get Cowles. They may get enough signatures against some Democrats as well. So it's not over by a long shot. The next fight will be in the elections this summer. I'm confident that we can beat them with our organization. This is a movement that will not be stopped, and these are now people who are dear friends. We know each other well. We've taken verbal abuse, we've had doors slammed in our faces, punches to the gut, middle fingers, and stolen petitions. Some of us have already lost 5 or 10 grand a year in salary. We've already been through the fire. We will not stop now. We will keep our foot on the gas pedal and we will come out on the winning side this summer. We'll have the Senate before the leaves turn. Think about that, Wisconsin!

Tonight is time for celebration in the tenth district. Tomorrow is a different story. Tomorrow is another battle that needs to be won. I knew we could win this one, and I know we will win the next one. We will bring the 10th back to the people. We will bring our state back to the people. We will work hard, we will hit the streets, we will turn out the vote, and we will get our voices back. Wisconsin will be ours!

**** a note from my friend Shawn, who helped immensely on the signature gathering in the 10th: "20,000 is 133% of 15,000. Just sayin' :)"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

From Monticello to Menomonie - Small World!

I am honored to say that I spent the afternoon with a gentleman by the name of Jim, whose last name ends with a "son," and starts with either Guller or Geller or Gellef or Gellec...something like that...ANYWAY....

Jim is one of those folks that we owe a huge debt of gratitude to - especially those of my friends who know anyone working in the school district of my hometown in Monticello.

Jim and I, along with a crew of a half dozen other teachers, went to Star Prairie, WI today to gather signatures for the final push in the Recall Sheila Harsdorff campaign. We drove in Jim's minivan from Menomonie, which was about a 20 minute drive. He and I got to talking, and I told him where I was from, why I was personally concerned, and why I was volunteering. Jim talked about his time in the service, and working for the post office, and also about his time as a teacher. We swapped stories for a bit, and finally Jim said, "Ok, I'm going to let you in here." He paused for a second.

"I taught at Monticello. In 1962, I was one of the organizers who got the American Federation of Teachers union (AFT) started there. We did get the union in but the district fired me as soon as the vote came through." Jim went on to tell me about the AFT and its victories on behalf of teachers that it has now become known for. He was very proud of the work the AFT has done. As the day went on he told me about how he wished he could spend more time fighting, how it never seemed enough, and how difficult it was to sit back and watch without engaging on behalf of the community.

I sympathize with him, and I think many of us can feel that sense of fatigue this spring. This is part of the reason I took last week off from this blog. I have an unhelpfully angry screed that I had half-typed up - forget it. I think it's amazing that we almost beat Prosser. My earlier post still holds true. I also want to give the lady in Waukesha the benefit of the doubt. I think she's incompetent, and needs to resign. She shouldn't be counting anything, based on her previous performance. I don't think she stole the election on purpose. It has been tough for me to stay on the sidelines as people on our side allege fraud and conspiracy. It will be much easier after we've conducted a full investigation to look back in hindsight, but for some reason I'm still assuming good intentions on this lady's part. But enough about that. We'll have recall elections soon enough!

After our time today, I thought about Jim a bit more. Jim lost his job so that others could have a union. He stood up and fought for fair wages and classroom conditions, staked his reputation on the cause, and paid a cost. As we sit here now in relative comfort, within a state that has a more-than-above-average education system and 96% health care coverage, let's not forget that this wasn't an accident. People worked for this, and if they had stopped, not much of what we see today would have ever came to pass.

Jim is part of a generation that fought for us. He still fights today. He still wonders if he could do more. He writes letters to the editor, knocks on doors, and has polite conversations with those who may disagree. He supports those of us young whipper-snappers who are out to continue the fight. It is for Jim that I went out today, but it's also for the yet-to-be-born....those that will someday put up with me as I turn up my hearing aid and find my prescription sunglasses in my jacket.

Jim can be proud of what he's worked for, and I think someday we'll be proud of our fight as well. We fight a good fight, and if we keep it up, Jim is living proof that we can and will win some huge victories. We can be proud then, but I think we should already be happy with ourselves. We've come together this spring and as long as we keep showing up, we will take back the Senate this summer. Then we can start with Walker next year, and take back the executive branch as well. But don't wait for it - work for it! Wisconsin will be ours!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

An Open Letter to Senator Terry Moulton

Senator Moulton,

Last week, my hometown newspaper published a relatively benign column I wrote regarding unions and their attempted representation of the middle class. The column has already received a number of comments, both supporting and opposing the words I'd written. One in particular caught my eye, from "Terry in Wisconsin." For a number of reasons, Senator Moulton, this made me think of you. I have no way of knowing if this was actually you who commented. Here's what "Terry" had to say:
"Question. If the unions are fighting for us? Why did they put out a directive to boycott many of the businesses in Wisconson. They told businesses if they are not for the unions i.e. against Gov.Walker their business would be boycotted. The directive went on to say "If you are nuetral it is the same as being against the union" and you too will be boycotted. Call me crazy Joe, but this does not sound like someone fighting for me a business owner and employer. "
"Terry from Wisconsin" seems nervous about unions threatening his business and its co-workers. I can see why. There has been a great deal of fear spread in recent weeks about threatened boycotts. I do think it's sad that we've come to this. It's an impasse that could easily be ended with good dialogue. So to this, I'd like to address you, Senator Terry Moulton, even though I'm in Vinehout's district.

You're a small business owner, and unfortunately, you're physically located right next to a couple of big box chains that sell much of what you already have. You've already got the deck stacked against you. The question is, why stack it against yourself even further? I can go to Scheel's or Farm and Fleet for much of the tackle and archery equipment you sell. I might even be able to get a better deal.

Public workers and their sympathizers represent a sizable segment of your market. Supporting them loses you nothing, and quite possibly gains you the business of all of those people. In fact, in our current climate, with tensions this high, union-supporting businesses are garnering a good deal of positive attention from folks like me. I feel bad about this, but I didn't know Mouldy's existed until this all started. If you would have come out in favor of our teachers and snowplow drivers, I may have taken a special trip over there instead of heading to Scheel's.

I really like supporting small businesses, and yours could have been one that I patronized religiously. I do the same with Brickhouse Music in Eau Claire. If I need anything guitar-related, I ask them first. I could maybe get guitar strings cheaper somewhere, but I know that my purchase keeps them in business just a little longer. It's worth it for all of us to have them around. Their workers are musicians in our community who care whether or not my guitar sounds cool when I play at The Mousetrap. I'm sure, just like them, your workers care if I have a good time using the products you sell at Mouldy's. I bet there are plenty of great and ridiculous fishing stories swapped over the counter at your store.

You have a chance to bring in countless people just like me, simply by putting your name on a dotted line. Supporting the teachers in our town could be the greatest business decision you ever make. Thousands of people would know you stood up for them when their backs were against the wall. I sincerely doubt you'd lose any business from constituents on the other side of the political fence. Who stops shopping at a store because the store supports teachers?

This is your chance to be a hero to the people.

They would remember you forever as the guy who thought twice before taking thousands of dollars from every teacher in the state in the midst of a recession. They'd remember you as the guy who said, "You know what? These are my neighbors here. We ought to be on the same side." Instead, you're "ruining their business," as they're threatening to ruin yours.

Perhaps none of us have seen this as a possible a win-win situation, but it sincerely could be just that. I'm sure if your sister was a teacher, you wouldn't want her to suffer. And if any of us had a brother working at your store, we wouldn't want him to lose his job over this. If you focused on the common bond we all have as community members, you'd know that we really do want to support you and your employees, just as you really do have our long-term personal interests at heart.

We should be building each other up, and instead we're fighting over scraps. This divisiveness hurts our whole community. There's no need to put you on one side and teachers on another. We're all one family. We need to work together if we want to keep Wisconsin great.

I'll close with this: I have no control here. I don't live in your district. I'm just one guy typing on a blog from Eau Claire. I'm not a union negotiator, and I only belonged to one union in my life - for 8 months as a grocery cashier in high school. I've got no power to change anything. You do have that power. You hold in your own hands the power to both improve your own bottom line, the lives of your employees, and the lives of the teachers, snowplow drivers, shop mechanics, and corrections officers in your own neighborhood. It's up to you, Senator.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Keeping Things in Perspective

My friend Adam and I had some words on Facebook today. Adam was responding to a comment thread today. This is a bit complicated, but the comment thread was about a different comment thread. That different comment thread was about this column.

The comments themselves are interesting. They're essentially the reason I don't have comments on this blog. The Jared fellow starts off with, "the nut seldom falls that far from the tree," which would be a slander on my dad. If you remember, he worked for local governments for years.

I'm not really out to convince Jared. What he's not aware of is the level of energy he brings to friends of ours that are actually suffering. Adam was one of those folks today that saw this and became stirred. Well, maybe "stirred" is a polite way of saying it...

Adam immediately wrote the following:

My mom is in the teacher's union and being forced to retire. For one, this is the ONLY way she can keep her insurance. And now, at the worst possible time, the company my dad worked for sold off his division. They simply fired everyone as the purchasing company didn't need anymore employees. So basically, my mom and dad will both be searching for work this summer. I can't blame the bad economy on Walker, but I can personally say that if he hadn't come to power my family wouldn't be so bad off. Just love the Republican philosophy that more unemployed poor people will somehow fix the economy.

More later:

My dad work for more than 25 years for the same company, before this current one bought them out. 10 years later, this company basically just sells the customer base and equipment, secretly, and tells the employees they are all fired. 35+ years, and this is the first time my dad has been fired. My mom has worked in the same classroom for most of my adult life. She actually worked there before I was born, but took a few years off to be a stay at home mom until I was old enough to go to school. For the last 25~ish years my mom has worked with "special needs" teenagers, and come home day after day with bruises, black eyes, human bites, and one incredibly tired back. Now, thanks to Walker and the Republicans, if my mom works even one more year she will lose almost all her retirement benefits. That's one big "thank you" from the state that she gave so much to for so little in return.

At times it blows my mind how some people can't see what's happening right around them. I sometimes think if Rush Limbaugh called "water" liberal, people would just sit dumbfounded as their house burned down around them. This whole year has been one of those times.

In a way, this particular series of events today has been instructive. First of all, I guess I sort of forgot that my hometown paper is smack-dab in the middle of Michelle Bachmann's district. We threw one in behind enemy lines last week, and I shouldn't be surprised that some of the readers don't agree. But we also know where our hearts are. In the end, they're with our friends and neighbors.

Adam was a co-worker of mine for nearly 10 years and we know each other very well. The recent happenings in our state have hit Adam's family straight in their chest. It hurts even more to be kicked while you're down, and called lazy, selfish, and every other name in the book. I'm sure Adam's parents did nothing to deserve this treatment. Anonymous folks out there on the internet are free to imply that they're freeloaders, and argue that if Adam supported freedom, he'd agree that his parents need to quit whining.

We know the truth. We know that we need to stick up for each other, and not tear each other down with insults. We know that we may not convince the Jareds of the world, but we sure as hell can lend a hand when our neighbors need help. We need to keep ourselves armed with facts, be willing to question authority, and also be gracious in defeat. We need to smile, time after time, pick ourselves up off the ground, and keep fighting. This is what our grandparents did in their struggle for workers rights. We will carry our momentum forward and take Wisconsin back. We will help not only ourselves, but Jared, and all of our other brothers and sisters struggling to make ends meet. Wisconsin will be ours!

A Strong Showing, Either Way!!

What a night that was! Many of us were awake until the AP stopped reporting. Not much sleep! The first official count is now in, and out of nearly 1.5 MILLION votes, Kloppenburg won by 204.

First of all, preliminary rumors are that 10,000 + signatures were collected at polls across the state today. That on its own is awesome. We used the day to keep the snowball rolling. The more we bring in to the cause, the bigger the block we'll be. If there are enough of us, and we band together as a unified group politically, politicians will have to worry equally about us as they do about the Teabaggers when making their decisions.

The AP reports Kloppenburg victories in the following counties Walker won last fall:
Adams County
Chippewa County
Columbia County
Dunn County
Grant County
Iron County
Jackson County
Juneau County
LaCrosse County
LaFayette County
Lincoln County
Monroe County
Pierce County
Richland County
Sauk County
Vernon County
Washburn County
Wood County

Look at that list again. It's friggin' huge. Eighteen counties. 18! Today Scott Walker apparently said this election proved that there's more to the state than Madison. If that's true, I'm certainly willing to take his word for it. We've done well here, people.

On a Tuesday in April, we set records for voter turnout in a judge's race. Eau Claire had nearly 16,000 votes for Kloppenburg. By contrast, we had around 18,000 for Walker during the 2010 governor's race.

Even the counties that didn't quite pull it out were amazing. Florence County only had 688 votes for Democratic Candidate Tom Barrett last election. In a turnout that was probably half their normal rate, they managed 483 votes for Kloppenberg. Barron County had over 8,000 votes for Walker. They turned out barely 4,707 for Prosser, while Kloppenberg got 4,640 votes - nearly 70% of the votes that Barrett got last fall. Sawyer County tossed 2,650 votes toward Barrett last election, and 1,800 toward Kloppenburg this spring.

The folks up there didn't win their counties, but we heard their voices, loud and clear. If you know someone in that area, be sure to let them know that their struggles are worth every moment. Quite obviously, we've got a lot of folks that disagree with us. But we're making some very strong headway. The important thing is that we stick together, continue to hone our political chops, and keep moving ahead.

It's clear that we still have a lot of work to do. There will be a recount. It takes many volunteers to go through this process, and it's yet another place where we can make inroads with independents if we honestly and faithfully carry out the process. If we manage to hold our own heads up, and challenge honest discrepancies, we again will emerge the victors. I can't stress this enough, though - we need to be the sane people at recounts.

And of course, we need to continue pounding on doors for the recall elections going on. We showed up very strongly in those districts, and if we want to win those elections, we need to continue to put in that time and effort, house by house and block by block.

We've come very far in this state in just a few short months. We are bound together as one community - one huge voting block. Once again, I'm in love with Wisconsin. We can and will overcome the odds, and Wisconsin will be ours!

Vote, Vote, Vote!

I probably don't need to send a reminder, but I must say today I'm very excited/nervous for the outcome of the Supreme Court in Wisconsin. History is decided by the folks that show up!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Destroying Jobs Creates....Jobs?

Paul Krugman had an on-the-money piece on the 31st that warrants a read.

Republicans, because they tend to posture themselves as businessmen, tend to think they own the economic debate. Don't let them fool you - they own the debate insofar as they tend to win arguments that favor their pocketbooks.

Paul Krugman is the antidote I typically look for in such a debate. I had the fortune of being required to take two econ classes in my studies at SCSU, and while I didn't love the professors, I did learn a lot about the arguments economists often use in debate. Paul Krugman has become very adept at using textbook economic theory against its typical benefactors. His standard question is "Where's your model?" It's so rare that politicians ever show their math in economic decisions. Look no further than Scott Walker. Krugman's got a Nobel Prize in Economics, for good measure. He also tends to break things down in wonderful layman's terms. Case in point:

Here’s the report’s explanation of how layoffs would create jobs: “A smaller government work force increases the available supply of educated, skilled workers for private firms, thus lowering labor costs.” Dropping the euphemisms, what this says is that by increasing unemployment, particularly of “educated, skilled workers” — in case you’re wondering, that mainly means schoolteachers — we can drive down wages, which would encourage hiring.

There is, if you think about it, an immediate logical problem here: Republicans are saying that job destruction leads to lower wages, which leads to job creation. But won’t this job creation lead to higher wages, which leads to job destruction, which leads to ...? I need some aspirin.

So, today, hat-tip to Paul Krugman for keeping them honest for one more day!

Let's also not forget: Dan Kapanke's getting recalled! Hallelujah for that, and kudos to all of our brothers and sisters who helped overcome the first hurdle down there in LaCrosse. Rumor has it that Hopper and Harsdorff are also on the cusp. Great news! Wisconsin will be ours!