Free speech, rebate checks and who's ready for Election 2012?
Miles to Go
Election 2010 is over, but it seems that Election 2012 is already clamoring for our attention. What’s funny is the same old names keep coming up as contenders to challenge President Obama for the White House: Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, among others. But think back to the primary campaign for both parties leading up to the 2008 election. Before a single vote was cast in the Iowa caucus, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani were the frontrunners for their parties. Obama was considered a long shot. We still have almost two years to go and a lot of cable news time to fill before we know who’s the real deal and who’s just enjoying the attention.
Courting Free Speech
Does a fundamentalist church have the right to picket a soldier’s funeral with signs like “Thank God for IEDs”? This is not a debate that would be held in any other nation, because we alone have the protections of the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide in the coming months whether a church group from Kansas crossed the line with its protests to express their singular view that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God’s punishment for the country’s immorality. I’m not naming them here because they don’t deserve any more attention. Albert Snyder, the father of a deceased Marine, won a $5 million lawsuit against the group and appealed after a lower court threw out the award on free speech grounds. Forty-eight states, including Wisconsin, have sided with Snyder and asked the court to shield funerals from the church’s “psychological terrorism,” which included messages critical of Snyder and his family on its website. Is there a way for Snyder to win without eroding the First Amendment? I hope the answer is yes, but I fear it’s not possible.
The first state budget I covered resulted in sending $700 million in rebate checks to about 2.5 million Wisconsin taxpayers. The checks—which landed in mailboxes in fall 1999—looked like a postcard and had a quote from then-Gov. Tommy Thompson on the front: “It’s your money.” Some people threw it in the trash, thinking it was a piece of campaign literature. In some ways, they were right. Giving the money back was a feel-good idea, but it’s hard not to think what that money could have turned into had the state invested it and planned a bit more for something like our post-9/11 economy. Today, the state faces a budget deficit approaching $3 billion. There will be no room for gimmicks this time around.
Born to Sled
I was born in Madison, but I must admit that spending a few years in cities a little closer to the equator spoiled me when it comes to weathering frigid conditions. After grumbling my way through the last few winters (in my defense, there was A LOT of snow) I am pledging to do what many of my friends and colleagues do so gracefully: embrace colder temperatures. I figure there is no better place to start than with the city of Madison Parks “Winter Portal” (cityofmadison.com/residents/Winter/WinterActivities.cfm), which provides updates on conditions for ice rinks and ski trails, as well as the locations of the city’s sledding hills. Maybe I can even help settle the east side–west side debate over which sledding hill is better: Elver Park or “Radar Hill” at Hiestand Park.
Walk this Way
In Dane County, just as many people live outside Madison as in the capital city limits. It’s an interesting fact to consider as we approach a new year in which voters have the chance to elect a new county executive in the wake of the resignation of Kathleen Falk. Is it important for the county exec to come from the county’s biggest city? Falk is a Madison resident who lives close enough to the city-county building to walk to work, which I once saw her do on my morning commute a few years ago. But Dane County is more than just Madison (really) and we can expect to see candidates from some of its fastest-growing areas—not within walking distance of the Capitol—trying to make the case for the office needing a new perspective.
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