Gerrymandering Builds Unlikely Allies

The arguments against the gerrymandering of districts are strong. It subverts democracy. It takes away the one person, one vote rule. But what anti-gerrymandering proponents are also concerned about is representation for communities of interest.

So what are communities of interest and why should this matter?
A prime example happened on the Milwaukee County Board prior to the maps being drawn for the election to be held in 2004. There were 25 seats on the County Board at that time, and the ethnic makeup of the County meant that one should reasonably expect that there would be 2 seats representative of hispanic neighborhoods. Well it didn’t turn out that way.

It turns out that voter turnout in traditionally latino communities is very low. So low in fact, that the near south side district had only about 3,000 voters despite the fact that the Supervisory district represented approximately 37,500 people. Suburban districts could reasonably expect to have between 9,000 and 12,000 voters — but those districts were primarily caucasian.

The near south side seat that was mostly populated by ethnically latino residents was represented at that time by County Supervisor T. Anthony Zielinski. Zielinski lived on the edge of the district in the Bay View neighborhood of Milwaukee. Bay View is primarily ethnically caucasian.

As a side note, Zielinski promoted himself as the hardest campaigner on the board at the time, saying he knocked on all the doors (voters doors) in his district twice while most Supervisors didn’t even make it through their district once. Insiders chuckled at this because they knew that Zielinski’s low voter turnout district with close knit houses meant that he had to do half of the amount of work other candidates did while proclaiming he did twice what others did, but you can’t fault Zielinski for his firm grasp of political marketing.

So what did this all mean? Well, if people voted on ethnic lines, and all ethnicities voted at equal percentages, the district would have a hispanic Supervisor in that seat.

But it never worked out that way.

It turns out that you have to really pack a district with hispanic voters to maximize the chances of a hispanic getting elected.

By not packing the district, and drawing the map close to a simple square, including wards only near the center of a radius, it would be unlikely that a hispanic would ever be elected. If you fast forward to today, that would make sense if all of the white people in the district were driven to fear brown people as Presidential candidate Donald Trump has capitalized on. Trump’s anti-immigrant remarks on the campaign trail, including his allusion that Mexican immigrants are rapists, have not been kindly received by hispanics.

But back to Zielinski’s district…

To ensure a hispanic representative, white areas were carved out the district with the exception of Zielinski’s neighborhood since he quietly told his colleagues he would vote no on any redistricting map proposal that cut him out, all the while that he was publicly professing support for a hispanic district.

Now here’s where it gets tricky. Nobody knew Zielinski’s district better than Zielinski. With a targeted voting list, he could walk an entire block in his district and in some areas only knock on the doors of 2 houses because that’s where the voters were. And what did these voters look like? Even in areas that were majority hispanic, the white people were the ones who were the voters. They didn’t hold it against Zielinski that he was white. All he needed to do was to get the white voters fired up and pull over some hispanic voters, and Zielinski could be assured victory.

When he saw this push for a higher and higher percentage of the district to be hispanic, he did what many politicians do — he ran for a different seat with district borders that his house was in. He ran for a State Assembly seat and lost. Then he ran for a City Alderman seat in the Bay View Neighborhood and he won. He holds that seat today. The largely hispanic areas are now represented on the County Board by a Latina — Peggy Romo West.

So did it help the district to have a hispanic? That’s an answer for the voters to decide. Zielinski, despite all of his critics, was effective at getting what his district needed during budget negotiations and he had the reputation for grabbing the media spotlight. Is his successor effective? Well that’s also a question for the voters.

But back to the gerrymandering issue — communities of interest, and in this case ethnic minorities and their advocates, often team up with people who are diametrically opposed to their policy concerns. The advocates are then reasonably certain that they can have someone who looks like themselves, to be on the legislative body.

By packing large percentages of ethnic minorities into these districts, diversity is sacrificed in other adjacent districts. By protecting a class of people, outlying districts have no need to elect a representative who will care at all about that ethnic minority since ethnic minorities are not their voters — even if they live geographically close to the group.

Under this model, people who would otherwise be considered to be common sense moderates are criticized by partisans and being too middle of the road. In a partisan environment appealing to these interests can be caustic and have devastating effects on communities who previously thought they had common interests. This creates additional polarization of those in government and the polarized views of those elected to those districts is what the media focuses on.


Civics 101 — A Guide for voting locally and being heard

It’s approaching that time of year — the time when every uninformed yahoo thinks they understand how government works and wishes to indoctrinate their coworkers and friends into thinking they are the font of all knowledge and that following them is a defiant act of wisdom.

If you believe that knowledge is power, here’s a little info that will help you to separate out the yahoos from those who are informed.

1) An Aldermanic seat is a non-partisan seat in Wisconsin — so is a County Supervisor seat.

2) the labels people attach to themselves today mean nothing if you have a historical understanding of what those labels used to mean. Today’s “conservatives” used to be called fascists. Todays mainstream “liberal” is closer to what a conservative used to be. What people believe is a socialist used to be called a liberal.

3) If you self-label yourself a “big ideas” person and don’t know the differences between city, county, state or federal responsibilities, don’t expect the person who you’re about to vote for in a local election to accomplish those all of those things. A candidate does not have the responsibility to educate the public on basic civics.

4) If you believe people go into politics to “destroy the city”, maybe it’s time that you run and realize how much time, work, money and sacrifice actually goes into a local campaign. It’s an educational experience. Being in office requires compromise and diplomacy.

5) If you grouse on an internet group, but don’t read the campaign fliers that are sent to you or hand delivered, and have never even attended a candidate forum, you’re unqualified to sit in judgement of others. If you only read the campaign fliers from candidates who send you the most, you are voting for the wealthiest or the most well financed. Don’t confuse those with money with those who will represent your interests.

6) If you don’t vote, then you don’t count. If you didn’t vote in the last local election, you probably won’t be getting campaign fliers. Don’t be afraid to call a candidate to ask them questions. If a candidate isn’t even willing to put up a website to let the public know who they are, they probably don’t want you to know what they stand for.

7) If you talk about how awesome you think someone is doing in their current position, expect to be attached to that person ideologically. You can’t say “Politician X is doing a great job” and expect people to think you will be any different from that politician.

8) An experienced politician isn’t necessarily a bad politician. An elected official is chosen by the people because they promoted themselves as someone who would give the public a voice. An experienced politician knows how to get things done and understands the process of government. Experience shouldn’t be confused with incumbency. A lazy incumbent will not be successful in achieving almost any goals.

9) If a candidate says to another candidate, “you’re great” or “me too”, then ask yourself why you wouldn’t vote for the original person who did put ideas forward as opposed to the person who just wants to agree with others. A leader advocates for bold ideas. A follower looks to others for ideas.


Trump Supporters: “He Speaks To Us” vs. Establishment: “He’s Exposing Us”

Wisconsin is a classic petri dish for what Republican leaders want — stealth campaigning, an amassing of power, use of that power to change the rules to assure a permanent legislative majority, then enacting that power for radical change that will ensure the wealthy and the powerful will amass more wealth and power to rule. GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, by telling primary voters what they already believe, is throwing a monkey wrench into stealth campaigning which is the building block needed to enact the rest of the increasingly radical GOP agenda.

Establishment Republicans are lashing out at GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, saying his fascist views are harming the party. Their party faithful are simply saying that he speaks to them. Trump is ahead for one simple reason — he’s not sugar coating what they already feel, whether that is right or wrong.

But why? Why is there a full scale freakout among the GOP strategists who have for decades been listened to and now that the frontrunner has no need for their campaign money, find they have no audience. Trump has no need to kneel at their altar and listen to their self anointed words of wisdom.

Their strategy of radicalization of poor whites, motivated by fear and fed by ignorance, has worked. Republicans have built a coalition of the uneducated working class and the wealthy elite by pointing at the poor and racial minorities and getting people who should by their own economic place in life, be aligned with Democrats.

Wisconsins divide and conquer strategy has worked out well for the GOP.

Just look at Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker didn’t run on destroying unions, stripping environmental protections or eliminating consumer protections like the lemon law — but he accomplished all of that.

Walker didn’t talk about the high cost of rural roads as contributing to high taxes — he had his surrogates blame poor people and public-sector employees. He didn’t talk about how high incarceration rates contribute to high taxes — he pushed for harder sentences. He didn’t talk about stripping away environmental protections — he talked about creating jobs and blamed environmentalists when jobs weren’t created.

Each of these moves helped to mobilize his base and motivate donors.

Trump has no need for donors.

Look also at the medium that Republicans use to motivate and mobilize their base — talk radio. Talk radio has been an amazing tool of the Republican party. It has radicalized views and pushed even previously reasonable sounding Republicans further to the right. It has played on fears, divided Americans and marginalized and isolated groups that don’t fit into their narrow ideology. It’s commercial interests lie not with the common man, but with their corporate owners who financially benefit from a radicalization of Americans.

Trump is saying what many of these talk radio show hosts have been howling about for years. It’s someone else’s fault. It’s someone else’s fault that your kids schools are not up to par. It’s someone else fault that you can’t find a job. It’s someone else’s fault that your roads suck.

This plays right into what Trump is talking about. Someone else is always the problem. It’s not you, white America, who are the problem. It’s not you, wealthy black pastors who are the problem. It’s not you, Christians who have your own federal holidays and who feel people of faith are under attack, it’s the Muslims.

Trump is, like it or not, playing the same divide and conquer game that Governor Scott Walker is doing. The difference is that Walker does it quietly because he knows that after the primary election, the candidate has to appeal to more than just a base of party loyalists. Trump realizes that with 15 candidates of varying degrees of success, he needs to stand out. He can be as bombastic as he wants because at the end of the day, 1/15th of the vote is never going to win him a primary election and unless he appeals to those who base their votes on fear, he’ll never even have the chance to be a contender in the general election.


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The Millennial Work Ethic

As a guy who keeps a fair amount of people employed, I’m often amused at what the public perceives as a varying generational work ethic, and what is reality. So here’s what I’ve found to be the reality.

Myth #1: Millennials are lazy
Employers who assume this stereotype do so at their own peril and at the cost of their customers. Millennials can be just as effective as other generations were at that age. With age (sometimes) comes wisdom, but the baby boomers who are the employers of today, conveniently forget that the generation before them thought they were a bunch of pot smoking hippies who would never amount to anything.

Myth #2: Millennials will only accept high paying jobs
If anything, the opposite is true. Many millennials start off working low paying jobs in the service industry just as many baby boomers did. The thing is that a baby boomer may have made $7 an hour in their youth, but millennials are still working at jobs making right around $7 an hour 30 years later. In 1984, I made $7.70 an hour as a part time mail clerk. Adjusted for inflation, today that would be $17.63. Few of these millennials who are college now are making anywhere near that wage.

Myth #3: Millennials don’t want to have to travel to work
Due to wages that are lower, relative to what baby boomers enjoyed, millennials have a harder time accessing jobs which are increasingly being developed in the suburbs and even the exurbs which is close to where many baby boomer employers live. In many cases, mass transit does not serve those areas or mass transit is increasingly limited. Public investment in mass transit has dropped dramatically and as such, bus lines have been cut and scaled back. Bus lines that used to drop workers near the entrances of industrial or factory jobs that were located on major streets and thoroughfares now either don’t serve the areas where the jobs are or they skirt the edges of these business parks.

Myth #4: Millennials aren’t willing to commit to their job
If treated fairly and given the opportunity to make a respectable wage, millennials will have as much commitment to their employer as their employer has to them. Millennials are realistic as they have seen their parents lose their jobs and they have grown up watching their elders succeed by moving to different jobs.

Myth #5: Millennials want everything now
Millennials have grown up in households and have seen their parents struggle. They understand that a corporate downsizing can happen at anytime and are willing to commit if their is adequate commitment from their employer as well.

In short, millennials are more similar to baby boomers than boomers would like to admit. They are the children of boomers and Gen X’ers, but they deal with the same sort of workplace age discrimination that previous generations did.

If anything, millennials put a higher value on quality of life. Long hours for little pay and no benefits are not attractive to millennials. They are willing to put in long hours with the promise of an end in sight, but they must see a tangible, non-distant benefit. Employers who wish to simply grind out 20 years of work from a millennial without giving their millennial employees a real opportunity to achieve the American Dream will be disappointed. But then again, the employer who wants those things also has to understand that they had the same aspirations at that age.


Journal-Sentinel Gets It Wrong on the TKE Fraternity Story

Scandalous accusations dominated the headlines this fall — headlines that, as it turns out, were based on innuendo instead of fact. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel insinuated that the Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) fraternity at the UW-Milwaukee campus was spiking the drinks of female party guests with a date rape drug. In the end, the accusations proved false, but the Journal-Sentinel had their story.

The media exploded when an unnamed person used their Facebook page to suggest that the Teke’s (as TKE members are known) may have included a date rape drug in drinks some of these girls had.

Media Innuendo Drives Story
So why did the Journal-Sentinel decide to run with this story? It’s because, “College Students Get Drunk at Fraternity House” wouldn’t have shocked anyone and probably wouldn’t have sold any more papers. On the other hand, Police probe whether UWM fraternity members put drugs in party drinks (published September 18, 2014) brought national attention.

Amateur Drinkers Don’t Know Their Own Limits
The real story is much simpler. In their first month of college and in the first year that most of these young people become legal adults, they had access to parties where other adults drink alcoholic beverages. In all likelihood, September was their first month of freedom away from their parents vigilant eyes. As amateurs, these young adults drank more than they should have. One of the students stated they had “weird feeling and sensation prior to blacking out.”

And what happens when you drink two, or in a few cases almost three times the legal limit of alcohol? Well you get sick and sometimes black out, or at least many people do. If you’re smart, you don’t do it again to the same degree. But again, many of these young people were in their first month of college.

Is it menacing? Well it can certainly be messy, and it is illegal to provide alcohol to these adults who have not yet reached the age of 21 ever since the law was changed in 1984 in a law passed by Congress and signed by the most famous Teke of all time, the late-President Ronald Reagan.

So how would an amateur at drinking explain their first night of excess? It’s reasonable to say that they would have had a “weird feeling and sensation prior to blacking out.”

Over-reaching Prosecution and Immaturity
Now the story would have been interesting enough, but since the police had already busted the fraternity for providing alcohol to minors, they had reasonable cause to search the house. The story was made to look even more sinister when it turned out that the fraternity President had two different strains of marijuana, in separate baggies, in his locked room. (Having a locked bedroom is common for college students whether they live with other students off campus or in the dorms.) Different strains of marijuana have different effects but since they were in separate bags, the district attorney has since charged him with maintaining a drug house.

The Teke President was reported as being 28 years old by the Journal-Sentinel without context. What wasn’t reported is that he served several tours of duty and afterwards went onto college.

To make matters worse, two days after the party he turned 28 years old which is old for a college student unless, like many college students these days, they served in the military. The media insinuation was that this was a guy who was old for a college student, taking advantage of young students. For this story we were not able to confirm whether or not he was in the military but we asked the question and was told by several students that knew him that he was responsible for bringing up the average G.P.A. of the entire fraternity. And while his scholastic prowess did not make news reports, his age did.

This young man also had the prescription drug Adderall, commonly known on college campuses as the “study drug” due to the singular focus that it gives students extreme focus on the task at hand, was found in his room. He has since been charged with possessing an illegally obtained prescription, a misdemeanor offense.

Now it’s all well and good to point to a college student who clearly exceeded the boundaries of common sense, but it’s another thing to indict an entire fraternity. Unfortunately, that’s what has happened here.

In reaction to the media frenzy, UWM suspended their ties to TKE and the fraternity’s own national organization abandoned them by pulling their charter, making them just another group of students living near campus.

Rolling Stone Showed Journalistic Integrity, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Abandoned it
Last month, Rolling Stone Magazine published an article alleging rape by several University of Virginia’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity members. The story enflamed public opinion against Phi Kappa Psi who despite extreme public pressure and condemnation, remained steadfast, insisting in their innocence. When questions arose and the source changed her story about facts surrounding the alleged event, Rolling Stone issued a post-publication statement indicating such. Yes, they admitted that they might have been wrong.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel took another approach. Although someone on Facebook had claimed that the Teke’s had spiked drinks with a date rape drug, no trace of drugs were found in the system of the girls who were tested. The Journal-Sentinel stayed steadfast in their story by not issuing a correction, nor even a post-publication statement indicating that the accusations they had reported were, in fact, wrong.

Tau Kappa Epsilon’s Milwaukee chapter holds a fundraiser for a local food bank. This is in keeping with one of their key principles upon which their brotherhood is based upon — charity

Lives Changed, Dreams Realigned
Young men join a fraternity with dreams of being part of something larger and taking a leadership role in their own organization. The UWM Teke’s have been stripped of the traditional understanding of greek letter organizations. Although they joined an organization that has initiated over a quarter million students, they may never become a TKE alumni. Most fraternities operate under moral codes and principles. These young men should continue to live by whatever oaths they took at their membership ceremonies.

Although both the media and the district attorneys office have already symbolically convicted the members of TKE, we here at Watchdog Milwaukee hope that these young men continue to stay together and operate as a local fraternity even as their national has suspended activities with these young men. Although their university has abandoned them, they owe it to each other to continue to spend time together and build their bonds of brotherhood.

Links and Sources:
National Minimum Drinking Age Act – Source: Wikipedia
Police probe whether UWM fraternity members put drugs in party drinks
Wisconsin Court System – Circuit Court Access
TKE, Tau Kappa Epsilon National Fraternity
The Washington Post
Rolling Stone Magazine’s story noted above

Other articles of interest:
UWM Official Found a Key Allegation into TKE Fraternity Appeared False, Motion Says


Jim McGuigan is a UW-Milwaukee alumni who, during his college years was a member of a local fraternity which disbanded in approximately 2009. He continues to spend time with his old fraternity members, 30 years later.

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