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Editorials
The dumbest election tactic PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 13 June 2012 16:32

The political organization that published citizens’ voting habits believed to be private alienated voters and likely cost its favored candidate votes

The astonishing amount of money spent to influence voters in the Wisconsin governor recall election is well documented: $63.5 million total; $30.5
million raised by Scott Walker (two-thirds from outside the state); $3.9 million raised by Tom Barrett (one-fourth from outside of Wisconsin).

    Not documented is how effectively the money was spent. It is hard to measure this, but a news story in last week’s Ozaukee Press made it
pretty clear that one election ploy financed by a political organization was a colossal waste of money.

    We’ll call it, for want of an official name, the Shame Your Neighbor into Voting initiative. It was a scheme by the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund
intended to help Barrett win, but it was such a ham-handed, tone-deaf maneuver that it could well have generated more votes for Walker than for
the challenger.

    The group sent letters to registered voters, including a number in Port Washington, that contained information about the voting habits of the
recipients and a dozen of their neighbors. The letters included names and addresses and indicated whether or not those listed voted in the 2008
and 2010 elections.  

    One version of the letter declared, “Scott Walker won in 2010 because too many people stayed home.” The purpose of the letter apparently was
to motivate people to get after non-voting neighbors and persuade them to mend their ways by voting for Barrett.

    Judging from the response of recipients interviewed by the Press, the ploy was not just ineffective, it was offensive. The presumption that the
recipients and their neighbors would vote for Barrett was irritating enough, but what really got under the skin of people was the publishing in the
letters of information about the citizens’ individual voting behavior.

    The names of registered voters who voted in state elections are a public record, yet anyone with a shred of sensitivity would understand that the
use of that information as a campaign tactic would not sit well with voters.


    The secret ballot—that sacred guarantee that you can vote your conscience without fear of retribution—is fundamental to the American
democracy. The letters didn’t violate that because they couldn’t; whom voters cast their votes for is not public information. Yet they certainly left the
impression voters’ privacy was being invaded.

    No surprise, then, that one of the aggrieved recipients who talked to an Ozaukee Press reporter said, “I’ve always felt that the election booth
was personal and private.”

    Or that another said, “I was aggravated.” Or that one Port resident described it as “more dirty politics.”

    Who would not expect those responses? Only the politically tone deaf.

    But noteworthy beyond the obtuseness showcased here is the bogus notion that it is a sin against democracy to refrain from voting. In America,
voting is a right, not a duty, and public shaming of those who opt not to exercise that right is shameful in itself.

    As it turned out, almost every voter in Ozaukee County—an amazing 82%—did vote in last week’s election. It’s not likely any of that was due to
the “Shame Your Neighbor” letters.

    The same cannot be said of money spent in the barrage of television ads and telephone calls that attacked one candidate or the other.  It was a
contentious election in a polarized state and the millions spent fed the rancor on both sides and thus heightened interest in the election and surely

influenced some voters in their ballot choices.

    Make no mistake, money influences elections when it’s spent in clever, slick and effective ways.          So it was in a way encouraging to see the
klutzy “Shame Your Neighbor” gaffe fall on its face and prove that not everyone shoveling money into elections to manipulate voters knows what
they’re doing.

 
Humanity welcomed and shunned PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 06 June 2012 15:31

Port Washington approved a plan for three Habitat for Humanity homes, but Grafton opposes a similar project, thwarting a good cause and benefits to the village

With a unanimous vote in May, the Port Washington Plan Commission cleared the way for a project that will provide the city with needed affordable housing, add to the property tax base by putting houses on a vacant parcel of land long shunned by developers and give three families the opportunity to become home-owning residents of the city.

    The commission accomplished all of that by approving plans submitted by Habitat for Humanity for a compact development of three single-family homes on a lot bounded by Park Street and Moore Road.

    The homes will be near several other dwellings built by the Ozaukee chapter of Habitat for Humanity, the international organization that marshals volunteers to construct houses for worthy families. Members of the families work beside volunteers in building the homes and then become owners through interest-free mortgages provided by Habitat.

    Habitat has plans to build in Grafton too, but its experience there has been a far different story than in Port Washington. It has been trying since 2004 to get approval to build on land that seems ideal for a Habitat project, but has been thwarted at every turn by the Village Board.

    Habitat has changed its plans a number times in response to village objections. The most recent plan seems eminently sensible: To build three single-family homes on an acre of land that is similar in some ways to the site Habitat recently bought in Port Washington in that it is a bit out of the way, has attracted no interest from developers and has a low assessed value. It’s located behind the Sendik’s Food Store.        

     This is the kind of initiative that would be expected to get some encouragement from village officials. Instead, it gets repeated thumbs-down. Village President Jim Brunnquell says flatly the project can’t be allowed because it doesn’t conform to zoning.

    Habitat has made many concessions, but one it says it can’t make is to put fewer than three houses on the property to satisfy the letter of the zoning code. That would make the homes too expensive. In other words, it would defeat the purpose. The idea is that they’re supposed to be affordable.


    For some reason, the village is taking a hard line with Habitat, something it doesn’t always do with others seeking zoning modifications. Code exceptions have been made to accommodate downtown development, senior housing and some properties in the commercial extravaganza bordering the freeway on the east side, to name a few. Surely Habitat for Humanity deserves a helping hand too.

    Members of Grafton religious congregations certainly believe that. Representatives of four churches have sent a letter to the Village Board, which was published in Ozaukee Press, calling on the board to approve the Habitat plan.

    “Ozaukee County Habitat has worked with the village planner now for seven years, investing hundreds of hours and producing numerous architectural renderings,” the letter pointed out. “Each time, based on one technicality or another, the plan has been defeated. Hundreds of people in our congregations and beyond believe deeply in Habitat for Humanity. It is time for Grafton to embrace this project and all its positive effects.”

    Among those positive effects would be a small but meaningful start on giving Grafton something it lacks—adequate affordable housing, which would be a benefit to the village as well as to the families that would be able to achieve that great American goal of home ownership.

    Blue-collar workers employed by Grafton industries should be able to afford housing near their jobs. Such workers were once the heart and soul of the village, but in recent years many of them have been priced out of Grafton, unable to afford expensive homes in new subdivisions or even in gentrified older neighborhoods.

    Beyond its practical benefits, there is something of value in having Habitat projects in the community. These are rewarding opportunities for meaningful volunteer work—pounding nails, wielding saws, hoisting beams and sheet rock in the service of others, efforts that can bring a community together and prove that the spirit of altruism abides here.

    That spirit seems to need some nurturing among village officials.


 
Lifesavers courtesy of Big Brother PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 30 May 2012 16:48

You can thank interference by the federal government in business and the lives of its citizens for the seat belts that make a life-or-death difference

The seat-belt letter to the editor written annually by the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation prior to the Memorial Day weekend was published in last week’s Ozaukee Press. It urged readers to use seat belts and gave them a heads-up that police all over the state would be making an extra effort to arrest people who were driving or riding in vehicles without being buckled up.

    The letter no doubt was sent to every newspaper in Wisconsin. The Press doesn’t usually find space for such universally distributed generic messages, but we made an exception because in a way it was a local letter. The current DOT chief, Mark Gottlieb, lives in Port Washington and is well known to many Press readers. Besides, his advice about the good sense of wearing seats belts, while hardly news, was worth reading.

    Few issues are as black and white as seat belts; no shades of gray or nuances here. The correlation between seat belt use and vehicle crash deaths is perfect: More seats belts in use equals fewer highway deaths.

    In the letter, Gottlieb pointed out that 80% of Wisconsin drivers and passengers use seat belts. The number is both low and high. Low in that the national level of seat belt use is 85%. High in that not so long ago, certainly within the memory of many of the people who read Gottlieb’s letter, 0% of the people of Wisconsin and America used seat belts.

    That was because motor vehicles didn’t have them. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that cars and light trucks came with seat belts. That was not because they were being demanded by consumers or that auto makers had a eureka moment when they discovered that seat belts save lives and felt a moral obligation to provide them.

    No, seat belts appeared because the federal government forced carmakers to install them and in effect forced car buyers to pay for them. It was classic case of government interfering in free enterprise and in the lives of its citizens.

    It is also an inconvenient truth that exposes the nonsense of political rhetoric, currently so popular as to constitute a fad, that indicts government as an evil force that robs citizens of their liberty and tax dollars.                    

    Had seat belts been left to the free market, they would today be, at best, an expensive option on cars—and thousands more Americans would be car-crash fatality statistics.

    Government interference is currently benefitting car buyers in another way. While there is much angst over the price of gasoline, the fact is that even with today’s high gas prices it costs many Americans less to drive than when fuel cost less because today’s car are far more fuel efficient. Buyers can choose reasonably priced cars with conventional engines that easily deliver twice the fuel economy of cars of a few years ago—thanks to government mandated fuel economy standards.

    None of this, of course, will convince the government-is-evil crowd. Some of them still see seat belts not as a lifesaver, but as a menace to freedom.

    Wisconsin is one of 22 states with primary enforcement seat belt laws, meaning that people can be pulled over and arrested just for not wearing seat belts.

    These laws were not quite forced on states by the federal government; they were strongly encouraged by grants tied to enactment and enforcement of strict seat belt laws. And they are often cited as evidence of the malign influence of Big Brother.

    The Foundation for Economic Education, one of many libertarian organizations that rail against perceived government overreaching, calls them “an unwarranted intrusion by government into the personal lives of citizens.”

    These groups should choose a different battlefield than seat belts on which to wave their “Don’t Tread on Me” banners. Without government interference, many Americans would be riding in vehicles without simple devices that save the lives of thousands of them every year.

 
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