Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Scott Jensen’s Big Shakedown

By - Sep 25th, 2001 11:36 am
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Rep. Jon Richards was feeling a little lonely. It wasn’t just that the Milwaukee legislator was the only Democrat on a telecommunications taskforce established last spring. But the task force, created by Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, includes not one representative of consumers.

The 20 names on the task force seem to include representatives of every conceivable telecommunications company, from Ameritech and AT&T to Verizon and Time Warner Cable. “It kind of looks like an industry-related cabal,” says Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala (D-Madison).

Richards thought so too, and sent three letters to Jensen in May, June and August, expressing his concern that the task force “is heavily weighted on the side of telecommunication business interests with no representation of consumer interests.” Richards suggested several names as possible members, including Steve Hiniker, director of the Citizen’s Utility Board, and Bill Oemichen of the state Agriculture Department’s consumer protection division.

But Jensen replied as follows: “Frankly, I fear increasing the membership of the an already large task force would result in an unwieldy body? I am confident that in the meantime you &Mac246; and the other legislators on the task force &Mac246; will be able to competently represent the interests of Wisconsin consumers.”

If so, they will be doing it without any Democrat on board. Richards, the only non-Republican among four legislators on the task force, finally gave up and resigned from Jensen’s group. “Its an unbalanced group that will make unbalanced recommendations,” Richards declares.

“I understand that Republicans never look out for consumers, but you’d think they’d at least want to give the appearance of representing consumers,” Chvala says.

Steve Baas, an aide to Jensen, dismisses such criticisms as a Democratic plot. Richards dropped off the task force “because [assembly minority leader] Spencer Black told him to do that,” Baas says. “This is just Spencer trying to score points.” And Black, in turn, is Chvala’s puppet, Baas argues. “Spencer is Chvala’s mini-me. He controls him.”

Rep. Phil Montgomery, (R- Ashwaubenon), the task force chair, argues that the inclusion of companies like AT&T, which favors more controls on Ameritech, provides a consumer viewpoint. But Hiniker, whose group represents consumers, laughs at that notion. “I can tell you that the day that AT&T speaks for CUB is the day that CUB ceases to exist.”

Some argue that Jensen never intended to generate serious policy recommendations, but was out to show his friendliness to business interests and thereby generate campaign donations. “It’s the ultimate shakedown,” says one legislator. “I’ve heard some legislators call it the Jensen shakedown committee.”

Lending credence to that theory is the inclusion of people like Brandon Scholz, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin association of grocers, and Bill Malkasian of the state realtors group. What exactly do they have to do with telecommunications? “Well, they have phones,” Chvala quips. “I guess that’s the Republican version of consumer representation.”

“What Jensen did is just put his friends on the task force,” says Hiniker. “I didn’t make a big deal of it because I didn’t take it seriously.”

Baas couldn’t answer why the realtors or grocers were on the task force, but says “these criticisms are disappointing. This is the first step. These [task force] recommendations will then go to the legislative committees and there will be public hearings.”

Hiniker concedes the group can address “some technical issues and insider issues that do need some looking at,” but questions how it can look at overall policy in a balanced way. “I think Jensen’s shown he’s no Tommy Thompson,” Hiniker adds. “When Thompson put together a group like the Electric Reliability Task Force, he had CUB in there, Environmental Decade in there. He was unconcerned whether there were people with differing viewpoints.”

Of course, if the Jensen shakedown theory is correct, then all this criticism may actually help him, by reinforcing the message that the speaker is loyal to business interests. But any recommendations from a task force that’s so unbalanced “is not going to be taken seriously” by the Democrat-dominated Senate, Chvala predicts.

Chvala, in fact, says he may appoint his own task force on the issue. “We would want to make sure it’s more inclusive,” he notes. In the process, no doubt, Chvala can pick up a few contributions of his own.

We Love Farmers

You may think of farming as a pastoral pursuit free from the stress of urban life. But your Wisconsin Department of Agriculture thinks otherwise. Thus, they have planned no less than eight “getaway weekends” for farmers, from October through March at various hotels and motels. The free weekends, at such soothing, stress-free places as the Best Western Quiet Inn in Dodgeville and the Holiday Acres Resort in Rhinelander, include refreshments, meals, lodging, materials and instruction “to help farm couples deal more effectively with stress and improve communication with each other as well as children.”

We shall pass over the question of why our tax dollars (mostly federal, it appears) are reducing stress in farmers while other occupations get no such concern (what about hard working journalists?). We shall only note there appear to be very few stressed-out farmers in Badgerland, to judge by the comments from Kathy Schmitt of the agriculture department, who says “dozens of farm couples have participated in these seminars over the past six years.” Dozens? In six years? Maybe the problem is that the getaways, according to the department’s press release, don’t cover the cost of movies and pizza.

We Love Families

Gov. Scott McCallum proclaimed Monday, September 24, “Family Day in Wisconsin &Mac246; A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children.” Scott and his wife ask that families make it a point to eat dinner together that night &Mac246; “a custom that is known to help kids steer clear of drugs, alcohol and tobacco,” his press release noted. No recommendations were made on what family members should eat or say to each other, but First Lady Laurie McCallum did recommend “a long, relaxing family dinner.” For those unfamiliar with the concept of the family meal, the McCallums have helpfully offered a photo of the First Couple and their children “having a family meal” at http://www.wisgov..state.wi.us/familydinner.asp

We regret to say, however, that this photo appears to be a rather Spartan breakfast, albeit one with lots of warm family laughter, and falls far short of the long relaxing dinner recommended by Wisconsin’s First Lady.

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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