I took part in a forum last night on the UW Oshkosh campus entitled "Whatever Happened to Good Government in Wisconsin--and How Can We Fix It?" Also on the panel was former Oshkosh Common Councillor Tony Palmeri, Representatives Gordon Hintz and Dick Spanbauer, Senator Jessica King, Professor Jim Simmons and Jay Heck of Common Cause Wisconsin. I wish that I could report that this august panel was able to answer both of the above questions--but alas, I cannot.
First off, the combination of professors and politicians without a time limit for responses and comments really limits the time that can actually be dedicated to debate and discussion. Opening statements were the first 40-minutes of a 90-minute forum. There is a reason Pardon the Interruption on ESPN is so popular with viewers--give me 60-seconds and let's move on.
The one thing that really struck me last night is how we look back fondly at state government 25 or 30 years ago--when, as Jay pointed out, the state had a really squeaky-clean reputation for government. What I wonder is how much of that was tied to the fact that we spent a lot less on government back then as well. We weren't trying to pay for every scratch, bruise and sniffle for everyone making up to three times the poverty level, we didn't have educational programs that started the minute you popped out of the womb, we didn't subsidize ethanol plants and we didn't pay for daycare.
The analogy I cited in my opening diatribe--I mean statement--was this: If Mark Cuban announced that at noon tomorrow he would be in the middle of Oshkosh with $10-million dollars that he planned to give out to the five people who convinced him that they were "most deserving" of that cash what would you do? Would you think "Ah, there are a lot more people in Oshkosh that deserve a share of that $10-million dollars than I do. No need going down there to fight all that traffic." Probably not.
Instead, you would probably tell your boss you were taking tomorrow off--and you would make sure that you were at the giveaway location with the biggest and best presentation you could put together as early as possible--and you probably wouldn't be afraid to offer "criticism" of your fellow competitors as they make their presentations. Guaranteed, things would turn ugly early--but you would be in there fighting dirty because $2-million dollars is worth it.
Now what would you do if I told you that at noon tomorrow I'll be in the middle of town with $10 that I would share with the five people that convinced me they were the "most deserving". You would laugh at that. Why, because two bucks isn't worth the time or the effort.
And that is my point. Back when there wasn't nearly the money involved in government operations, spending millions of dollars on campaigns made no financial sense. But now that we are dealing in TRILLIONS of dollars on the Federal level and BILLIONS of dollars on the state level and HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of dollars on the city, county and school district level--spending "obscene" amounts on the political process suddenly is worth it. As they point out on Shark Week on Discovery Channel--sharks tend to hang out where there is the most food available. Take away the food source--and the sharks go away.
We didn't go from Good Government to Bad Government in Wisconsin (or in Washington for that matter). We went from Good Government to BIG GOVERNMENT and the bigger it gets, the worse it gets. Maybe it's time to make the payoff for wielding influence in the Capitol a less profitable-enterprise.