Case study: Why people loathe politicians

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ASSEMBLY Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester: "(Governor-elect Tony Evers' win) cannot be seen as any kind of mandate for change. ... Assembly Republicans won't allow Wisconsin to slide backward." Vos tied his comments to GOP moves to enact measures during a lame duck legislative session designed to curb the new governor's power before he can take office.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau: "I'm not sure why there's all this discussion we're trying to somehow undermine the new governor. ... I think there's some stuff that's going to be reasonable."

Republican Gov. Scott Walker, defeated Nov. 6 by Democrat Evers: "We're not going to retreat. ... The State of Wisconsin is not going to go backwards."

And this region's Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, in a post-election interview with the Beloit Daily News, said she had "reservations" about how much authority the governor has, signaling she's open to legislation limiting Governor-elect Evers' responsibilities.

WELL, THIS question seems pretty obvious, for Representative Loudenbeck: Since you were elected in 2010, along with Governor Walker, can you explain why you just now discovered you had "reservations" about how much power is held by a governor?

Vos and Fitzgerald have led the Wisconsin Legislature for years. How is it they, too, missed any need earlier to roll back the authority of governors?

As for Walker? Perhaps he wasn't watching the news. He lost. Evers won.

The efforts being mounted clearly are intended to turn politics into a version of that old coin flip scheme - heads I win, tails you lose.

Welcome to your new office, Mr. Evers.

THIS IS why polls regularly show the vast majority of Americans absolutely loathe politicians, who as a breed seem blind to their own hypocrisies. These people do not take office with the intent of working together with colleagues elected to represent the diverse interests of a given state, or the nation. To the contrary, they take office determined to impose their will on everyone without any regard for dissenting views.

That's not the kind of government we teach kids about in high school civics. (At least I hope we still teach kids high school civics lessons.)

In that textbook world, high-minded patriots are elected to work selflessly and collaboratively in the mutual best interest of all people. Diverse citizens with a variety of views come together to negotiate reasonable solutions to the problems of the day.

Maybe we should change what we teach, and tell kids it's all a fairy tale.

The reality is political partisans on both sides increasingly hate each other. They will stoop to almost anything to grab and cling to power. They'll scheme and cheat and look for ways to thwart the will of the people. As for graciously accepting the results of an election? Go back and read about Vos, Fitzgerald, Walker and Loudenbeck.

LOOK, many of the reforms led by Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature were way overdue. More often than not, I believe they got it right.

It's also true that Republicans still hold strong majorities in the Assembly and Senate. When Evers takes office, he's already deeply limited in what he can do facing legislative control by the opposition party. To get anything done, he will have to negotiate.

So why throw a hissy fit and try to kneecap the new guy before he's even sworn in?

That just looks petty, and weak, and like a pack of sore losers angry at voters for not bowing and scraping to existing authority.

If there was a message from voters in this election - and I, for one, believe there was - it's that an awful lot of people are sick of the hyper-partisan battles and the arrogance of one-party rule. Those voters want to see their elected representatives listen to one another, work together and get things done in a less hostile way.

The Vos-Fitzgerald-Walker lame duck attack on the new governor is a poor start. Loudenbeck should stop meekly doing what she's told by Vos. Walker should be a statesman and stand up for the office, not his party.

At least give divided government a chance to encourage better behavior from both sides.

OK, LET me switch gears, for a few observations on the "It Can Wait" assembly about distracted driving last week at Beloit Memorial High School.

The message to kids was don't text and drive, because you may get killed - or kill someone else. The statistics quoted suggest 81 percent admit texting while driving. Key word admit; you can bet it's really higher. Just look around as you drive at the astonishing number of people behind the wheel fiddling with their phones.

It's all good to bring a positive message to young people, urging them to do the right thing.

It would be more effective, though, to follow the example from efforts to get people to use seat belts. When laws were changed requiring people to buckle up it was a secondary enforcement priority, and tickets were issued if drivers were stopped for something else and officers then observed the belts were not engaged. Only when the approach changed, and drivers were pulled over in large numbers and ticketed for failing to buckle up, did seat belt use reach high percentages on the roads.

If we're serious about curbing phone abuse while driving - and we should be, because of the mayhem - then police should be empowered, and required, to start handing out tickets in numbers commensurate with the abuse. That approach saved lives with seat belts. It can save lives over phones, too.

William Barth is the Editor of the Beloit Daily News.

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