Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

How Michael Joyce Sold Himself to George W. Bush

By - Jun 25th, 2001 04:30 am

The way Michael Joyce recalls it; he was watching his old friend William Bennett, the former secretary of education, on the Evans and Novak TV show one fine day. Bennett was talking about the fact that both George Bush senior and junior have had trouble gaining the votes of minorities. Joyce immediately wrote Bennett a letter suggesting faith-based initiatives as a way to exemplify “compassionate conservatism.” Given the importance of religion for blacks and Hispanics, it also had some electoral potential for George W., who was then running for president.

One of Joyce’s other goals is to move the Democratic Party more toward the center.

Bennett had served for a time on the board of Milwaukee’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which Joyce ran. Bennett quickly passed on Joyce’s idea to Bush, who then wrote Joyce about the idea. This eventually led to the creation of the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Community and Faith-Centered Enterprises, with Joyce as its president, and the chief standard-bearer for this issue.

Joyce, who just stepped down as president of the Bradley Foundation to take this job, says he got interested in this issue while tracking the fate of Milwaukee Pubic School students. “When we looked at that, we asked, why isn’t every kid flunking out? What we discovered is in every single case those who were making it had a faith-centered group in their lives. But when we checked with the schools, United Way, and other institutions, no one knew anything about these groups.”

Joyce eventually brought in black conservative Robert Woodson of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise to Milwaukee to do some research. “He came back with a whole list of people and organizations involved in faith-based initiatives in the inner city. We asked him, ‘how did you find these people?’ He said ‘it’s very easy: you just go to the barbershops and ask.'”

According to Joyce, Bush has fervently embraced the idea of faith-based initiatives, telling people it may be the issue that will distinguish his presidency. But even if Congress fails to pass legislation funding the idea, Joyce seems confident he will be able to fund it privately, no doubt by tapping into the network of wealthy conservative foundations and individuals he has cultivated over the last two decades.

Joyce The Progressive

One of the surprises I found in doing a review of the Bradley Foundation’s funding under Joyce was a recipient called the Progressive Foundation. Joyce was very systematic about funding right wing groups, yet this liberal sounding organization has been funded regularly since 1996, gaining a total of $350,000. What gives?

Meanwhile in Madison there were more lobbyists feuding than during last year’s liquor wars.

It turns out the Progressive Foundation is the home base for the Progressive Policy Institute, which is run by Will Marshall, one of the theoreticians for the so-called “Third Way” – a moderate Democrat vision that has driven the Democratic Leadership Conference that Bill Clinton embraced. In fact, the Progressive Foundation has recently changed its name to the Third Way Foundation.

The PPI declares that its philosophy “provides an alternative to the worn-out dogmas of traditional liberalism and conservatism” and “has influenced the leaders of center-left governments across Europe.”

Joyce says his goal in funding this group was to help move the Democratic Party “away from the left and toward the center. It’s in everybody’s interest to have a less radical politics in the nation.”

Not quite everybody: Leftist Democrats would not appreciate Joyce’s strategic funding. But one who would is U.S. Senator Evan Bayh, current chair of the DLC, who is trying to position himself as the heir to Clinton’s moderate approach.

Meanwhile in Madison

There was a veritable feeding frenzy of lobbyists gathered in the Capitol this past week, as WEPCO, Milwaukee’s electric utility, tried to beat back the efforts of independent power producers to gain legislation opening the door wider to competitive bidding for electric power. “There must have been 40 lobbyists in town,” says one observer. “It even surpassed the liquor wars of last year.”

The general for WEPCO’s lobbyists was James Klauser, former “deputy governor” under Tommy Thompson. Former acting governor Marty Schreiber and the Foley & Lardner firm were also working this issue. Both sides were no doubt arguing that their approach would prevent Wisconsin from becoming like California, home of the rolling blackouts.

Perhaps the funniest budget provision was offered by Assembly Republicans, to discontinue funding for the legislative hot line, the toll-free number that allows citizens to call any legislator for nothing. “You might call it the Belling-Sykes amendment,” says one wag. The proposal would prevent the hailstorm of calls that come in when the two Milwaukee talk radio hosts stir up the indignation of listeners about some legislative proposal.

Of course, the amendment was presented as a measure to save money, since most legislators now have their own 800 numbers. But it will be much harder for Sykes or Belling to get listeners calling if they have to rattle off 132 toll-free numbers on the air.

Bits and Pieces

Rep. Dean Kaufert (R- Neenah) and Mickey Foti (R-Oconomowoc) are more than just legislative pals. They own a bar together in Oshkosh, and also own a trophy business together. That would seem to qualify them as pro-business Republicans. It also gives them a certain perspective on the issues. “They carry water for the Tavern League,” says one capital observer.

Wisconsin Job Service, which is supposed to help the jobless find work, had just 11 listings for seasonal employment in Milwaukee County as of late May. On June 22, it offered a paltry six listings. That’s your tax dollars at work – but barely.

Crocker Stephenson, who writes those long feature stories for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has a name that certainly sounds literary. But his birth name is Ronald Scott Skrzynski. Stephenson says he changed his name legally around the time he was planning to practice law in North Carolina. “A lot of Poles change their name to Stephen or Stephenson,” he says, “because the patron saint of Poland is St. Stephen.” That explains it.

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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