Commentary: New majority wastes opportunity

From the Appleton Post-Crescent (6/14/2009)

Their opportunities were virtually unlimited and their power was to be unfettered by the opposition because the voters had given them majorities everywhere you looked.

They controlled the Assembly, the Senate and the governor’s mansion. They had reason to celebrate, and celebrate they did. But as the celebrations ended and the task of governing was at hand, they found themselves at a fork in the road.

In one direction, they found the voters who had placed them in power. These were people from across all political and social spectrums. They were tired, worn out and disillusioned by the Republican brand. In Republicans, they saw men and women that, given the mantle of power, chose not to represent them, but instead their own selfish interests and re-election concerns.

The voters had seen enough. In one fell swoop, they chose the mantra of change. It didn’t matter what the change was, as long as it sent a message to the Republicans that the voters wouldn’t be trifled with.

These voters were eager to greet the new majority as they came through the door, and so they waited.

In the other direction, the majority found the special interests and the perks of being the biggest dogs on the block. These were the groups that, during the campaign, were crucial to their success, funneling millions into issue ads and their war chests, hedging their bets and hoping to be on the winning side.

These are all groups with varying ideologies, but one clear message. We help you today; you help us tomorrow.

It’s a simple relationship, one based on common interests — their own. These were groups that were jubilant in their victories because their bets had paid off. They expected the victors to come through the door any minute now, and so they waited.

Standing at the fork in the road, pondering their futures, the majority weighed their options. They could stay true to the voters and hope that, in the next election cycle, they would remember to vote for them because they stood up for their best interests. Or, they could deliver on the promises made to the special interests and virtually guarantee that their campaign accounts would swell, pinning their re-election hopes on fat checkbooks and the voters’ short memories.

There were many temptations, some pulling them one way and others pushing them the other. Thankfully, they didn’t have to make a quick decision. They had some time.

Then came the state budget. The new majority relished the power. They hadn’t experienced this before. In the past, they had constant worries over what the “other side” would say and do. They had to consider what would be acceptable to them, and what would be a deal-breaker, because they had some power, too.

Luckily, that wasn’t the case now. Now they were able to meet in secret, behind closed doors with none of those rabble-rousers to ruin their fun. Of course they still had to hold some meetings in public, but they could always hold them late at night or early in the morning to ensure a virtually vacant room, except for themselves.

Suddenly, they realized that they had to make a choice. One path or the other? The voters or the special interests? Who do you believe they chose?

Taking a look at their proposals in the budget, the evidence is pretty clear. The voters get a new cell phone tax, a tax on oil companies that they will ultimately pay for at the pump, fewer dollars in money for their community governments and a cut in school aids, which will lead to higher property taxes. They will also get a tax on health care, early release for felons, a rising debt and 40 percent higher auto insurance rates because of a new mandate. All of this and $2 billion in higher taxes and fees.

Now let’s see how the special interests fare. The trial lawyers get a new auto insurance mandate that will certainly increase their paydays. Then you have WEAC, the teachers union, that was rewarded with the removal of the Qualified Economic Offer and the destruction of school choice. Earmarks were also a big favorite, as many in the majority were rewarded with big money for special projects back home.

And let’s not forget the biggest winner of them all, big government, because at a time when all of us are tightening our belts, state government is actually raising spending by somewhere around 7 percent.

Which road did they choose? Let’s just say I’d bet that the voters are still waiting at that door.

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