Wisconsin and the problem of too much democracy

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On the roster: Wisconsin and the problem of too much democracy - Meadows shuffles White House deck - Fed props up small business bailout - Panda passion peaks per pandemic privacy

Wisconsin has all the ingredients to be in the club of prosperous, healthy, educated, well-run states – except a political system that works.

There’s no excusing the Badger State’s bungle of today’s primary election. Leaders have managed to get the worst of both worlds for their constituents: A significant public health risk and the disenfranchisement of many voters.

The state’s dysfunction is so profound that it’s once again drawing the rest of the country into its bedlam.

You have the president of the United States, who holds daily announcements urging people to stay home and exercise extreme caution as the coronavirus danger intensifies, telling his supporters in Wisconsin to… get out and vote.

The same for the president’s likely opponent in the fall, Joe Biden, who acknowledges that it may not be safe to hold a convention in Wisconsin in August that it’s safe to go vote for him today, a week before the state is expecting peak infection rates.

Wisconsin has gotten so bad at basic governance that it needed a late-night intervention from the U.S. Supreme Court on the eve of the vote – like the condemned seeking an 11th-hour stay of execution – just to know what would actually happen.

The court’s decision overturned both a lower-court order last week extending the window for absentee ballots to be returned in addition to the state governor’s emergency order postponing in-person voting until June. Imagine being a voter trying to follow those twists and turns.

The result is a highly predictable debacle: With 50,000 voters expected in Milwaukee crammed into just five polling places, the lines and the waits – and the potential contagion – have been bad.

Somehow, all of the 21 other states from Oregon to Rhode Island that hadn’t had their primaries before the coronavirus outbreak intensified have managed to address the matter, but not the fine folks of America’s Dairyland. It’s a great state in so many ways, so why does it have such awful politics?

While there may not be an excuse for Wisconsin’s incapacity, there is an explanation.

For more than a decade, the Badger State has been the political equivalent of the little Belgian city of Ypres, which witnessed more than a million combined casualties in five battles over four years during the First World War.

Three of the past five presidential elections in Wisconsin have been decided by less than a single percentage point. Over the same period, there have been a series of brutalizing gubernatorial elections, including a 2012 recall election aimed at removing the sitting governor. There have been mass demonstrations and government worker walkouts.

One time – we swear this actually happened – more than a dozen members of Wisconsin’s senate fled the state and hid out to prevent a vote at the capitol in Madison.

The struggles have been intense, highly personal and utterly exhausting. Given Wisconsin’s status as a swing state with 10 electoral votes and a history of competitive U.S. Senate races, outside money and attention amplifies the domestic disharmony.

But again, other narrowly divided states don’t have all of Wisconsin’s problems. Neighboring Minnesota holds elections and conducts state business without these problems. Its fellow 2016 Midwestern presidential upset states, Pennsylvania and Michigan, don’t have Republicans and Democrats engaging in this kind of savagery amid a pandemic. Even Florida manages to operate with some bipartisan brio.

It’s not that there’s something wrong with Wisconsinites. In fact, in many key metrics educational, cultural and economic, Wisconsin does quite well.

The problem is too much democracy.

The state’s real political roots are populist. Wisconsin was George Wallace’s first breakthrough state in the north, perhaps not surprising in 1964 given the great success his fellow culture warrior Sen. Joe McCarthy had there. On the left side, there’s been lots of radical economic populism, including Robert La Follett, whose home state was the only one to back his Progressive Party candidacy in 1924.

What the right-wing and left-wing populists of Wisconsin tended to agree on, however, was that more elections and more direct democracy are good things.

One of the reasons Wisconsin is in this pickle today is that there are so many positions and issues that must be decided by voters. Milwaukee, for example, asks voters to choose both a chief financial officer and a treasurer. Like that can’t be streamlined somehow?

A longtime populist favorite has to do with the election and removal of judges. Wisconsin voters have to pick not just local judges, but judges for its appellate court and Supreme Court. And if voters decide they don’t like the way a judge is ruling, they can collect signatures and recall them.

The same goes for governors, as mentioned above, but also members of the state legislature.

For most Americans, an election every two years is more than enough to sort things out. But Wisconsin barely gets its votes counted before the recall petitions start circulating. Add in the state’s permissive structure for getting referenda on the ballot, and you have a Mobius strip of campaigns and elections.

That means that rather than figuring out how to cooperate on the basics for those modest intervals, the losing side just draws up its next battle plan for sticking it to the other side.

Politics is a great way to resolve disputes, and regular, fair and open elections with strong protections for voter enfranchisement are a great way to orient your politics.

But Lordy day, the elections aren’t the point. Good government is.

“To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 1

Detroit Free Press: “Al Kaline, who in a long and unique Detroit Tigers lifetime grew from youthful batting champion to Hall of Famer to distinguished elder statesman, died Monday afternoon at his home in Bloomfield Hills. He was 85. … In 22 seasons with the Tigers, most of them as a marvelous right fielder, Kaline played in more games and hit more homers than anyone else in club history, and he compiled a batting résumé second only to Ty Cobb’s. But while Cobb was widely reviled for his bitterness and meanness, Kaline was eminently respected for his on-field elegance and off-field graciousness. Thus, Kaline has a strong claim as the most distinguished Tiger of them all. … But statistics never captured how special Kaline was. Like the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio and the Cardinals’ Stan Musial, he embodied the beauty of the game and became a living monument of how gracefully it could be played.”

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Biden: 1,217
Sanders: 914
[Ed. note: 1,991 delegates needed to win]

Average approval: 48.4 percent
Average disapproval: 47.8 percent
Net Score: 0.6 percent
Change from one week ago: ↑ 1.4 points
[Average includes: Grinnell/Selzer: 48% approve - 48% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 49% approve - 47% disapprove; Fox News: 48% approve - 51% disapprove; Gallup: 49% approve - 45% disapprove; Monmouth University: 48% approve - 48% disapprove.]

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Politico: “White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, who never briefed the press at the podium, is returning to the East Wing to serve as First Lady Melania Trump’s chief of staff and spokeswoman. … It’s the latest staffing change for the White House communications team after Mark Meadows joined as chief of staff. Grisham will be replaced as press secretary by Kayleigh McEnany, the national press secretary for Trump's 2020 campaign. Alyssa Farah … will be the White House's director of strategic communications. … Filling out the reshuffled White House communications team will be Ben Williamson, Meadows' former chief of staff and communications director, who will be Trump's senior communications adviser. With former White House communications director Hope Hicks back in the administration, there will be less pressure on the trio of newcomers, said one Republican close to the White House — since, among her many other duties, Hicks still directly advises the president on much of his communications and media strategy.”

Clashes over malaria drug - Politico: “Top health officials are increasingly unsettled by President Donald Trump’s continued championing of an unproven drug in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, even as some of the president’s political and policy advisers and outside allies cheer him on. … The divide highlights widening tensions in the Trump administration between protecting the American public against the spread of the coronavirus and reopening the economy as soon as possible. … Interviews with more than a dozen officials for this story highlighted tensions within the administration that are occupying increasing amounts of time among health officials and drawing attention away from other critical issues.”

Trade adviser Navarro was ahead of the curve - Fox News: “Top White House trade adviser Peter Navarro warned in stark terms about how deadly and economically devastating the coronavirus outbreak could be, weeks before it became a full-blown pandemic. Navarro delivered the warnings to others at the White House in internal memos in January and February, saying that the United States could see up to 2 million deaths and trillions of dollars in economic damage. The first Navarro memo was dated Jan. 29 and was addressed to the White House National Security Council, according to The New York Times, which first reported on the document. In it, Navarro made his case for an ‘immediate travel ban on China.’ In that memo, Navarro also reportedly warned that ‘the lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil.’”

Trump ousts coronavirus funds watchdog - Politico: “President Donald Trump has upended the panel of federal watchdogs overseeing implementation of the $2 trillion coronavirus law, tapping a replacement for the Pentagon official who was supposed to lead the effort. A panel of inspectors general had named Glenn Fine — the acting Pentagon watchdog — to lead the group charged with monitoring the coronavirus relief effort. But Trump on Monday removed Fine from his post, instead naming the EPA inspector general to serve as the temporary Pentagon watchdog in addition to his other responsibilities. That decision, which began circulating on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, effectively removed Fine from his role overseeing the coronavirus relief effort, since the new law permits only current inspectors general to fill the position. … Fine’s removal is Trump’s latest incursion into the community of independent federal watchdogs — punctuated most dramatically by his late Friday ouster of the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson…”

Trump may wade into Navy drama over leaked coronavirus letter -Fox News: “Trump suggests he may intervene in Navy officer drama over leaked coronavirus letter. President Trump on Monday said at a press conference that he might get involved in the public crisis playing out in the Navy after an aircraft carrier commander was ousted after raising the alarm about a coronavirus outbreak on the ship in a leaked letter. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly appeared to worsen the situation when he gave a surprise speech to sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt and called ousted Captain Brett Crozier ‘too naïve or too stupid’ to be a commanding officer of a ship like this, Reuters reported. Modly later issued an apology to the Navy and Crozier and said, ‘Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naive nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite. We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care. Captain Cozier is smart and passionate.’”

Forbes: “The Federal Reserve announced yesterday that it will step in to help support the Paycheck Protection Program—a provision under the federal economic stimulus plan that sets aside $349 billion in rescue loans for small businesses—by making it easier for banks to lend to smaller companies. ‘To facilitate lending to small businesses via the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the Federal Reserve will establish a facility to provide term financing backed by PPP loans,’ the Federal Reserve’s board of governors said in a statement. ‘Additional details will be announced this week.’ While the Fed hasn’t yet announced more details about how it plans to help backstop the program, its new solution will likely involve lending directly to banks making PPP loans. The New York Times also speculates that it could purchase PPP loans so banks don’t have to carry them on their balance sheets.”

Congress, WH meet to discuss another assistance package - WaPo: “Congressional leaders and the White House are converging on the need for a new assistance package to try to contain the coronavirus pandemic’s economic devastation, fearful that a $2 trillion bailout law enacted last month will have only a limited effect. House Democrats are eyeing a package of spending increases that would ‘easily’ cost more than $1 trillion, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told lawmakers Monday, according to two officials on the conference call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it. Democrats are looking to extend unemployment aid and small-business assistance for additional months, as well as authorize another round of direct checks to taxpayers. Trump has signaled support for some of the ideas that Democrats back, such as expanded help for small-business owners and new bailout checks for households. Republican leaders, meanwhile, have also called for more corporate aid and money to boost the overwhelmed health-care system.”

Britain's premier remains in critical condition with infection - BBC

Bernie Sanders’ supporters grow divided on whether he should stay in race or not - WaPo

Biden wants Sanders to be 'part of the journey' in 2020 campaign - Fox News

Georgia Sen. David Perdue’s financial report shows increased stock trading as coronavirus spread  began - AJC

Report: MLB, union working on plan that could allow season to start as early as May in Arizona -ESPN

“The fact that [Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.] would endorse me... makes me even more certain that I should be doing what I'm doing.” – Joe Biden in an interview with NBC News when asked about the endorsement. 

“[Because] I had to go into surgery this is a belated answer to your thought experiment about ‘which trio of president, House speaker and Senate majority leader would have would have been best in our current predicament.’ The clear choice is the trio of Dwight EisenhowerSam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson. Rayburn and Johnson were legislative leaders who could get things done at a time when Congress had both conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans from which they had to build coalitions. Most important, though, was Eisenhower, an eminently liked and trusted leader who had already proved that he could win a literal war, in part because he was a superb, but underrated politician who could hold the Allies (in those days styled the United Nations) with sometimes competing interests together.  Maybe more relevant, both in the literal war then and in the metaphorical war now, winning required the logistical ability that was Ike’s strong suit. He proved the truth of the adage that tactics win battles but logistics wins wars.” – Bob Foys, Chicago

[Ed. note: And talk about different styles! Ike was said to have been personally repulsed by Johnson’s phony familiarity and back-slapping ways -- to say nothing of his penchant for corruption and strong-arm tactics. But he needed his help and didn’t let the differences get in the way. You know it was sincere, because when LBJ was president, Ike not only counseled with him extensively, but even ran interference with Republicans on Vietnam. Eisenhower was said to have been completely disgusted, though, when Johnson dropped out of the 1968 election -- a move the former supreme allied commander saw as an abandonment of the troops and those in both parties who stuck by Johnson even when his fortunes waned.]

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NYT: “Ying Ying and Le Le, two giant pandas who could never quite get in the mood over 13 years of living together in a Hong Kong zoo, successfully mated on Monday, a rare feat for the famously low-libido species and a cause of celebration in the world of animal conservation. … Perhaps Ying Ying and Le Le just needed some privacy. Ocean Park shut down on Jan. 26 as part of Hong Kong’s measures to fight the coronavirus, leaving the amusement park and zoo free of its usual throngs of visitors. … Pandas have historically been so bad at mating that some zookeepers have even tried showing the animals video footage of other pandas having sex, as a sort of how-to guide. Females are receptive and fertile for just 24 to 72 hours each year. If a male doesn’t step up then, they have to wait a full year for another chance.”

“It turned out to be incompetent collusion, amateur collusion, comically failed collusion. That does not erase the fact that three top Trump campaign officials were ready to play.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on July 13, 2017.

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.