Monday, January 30, 2006


THURSDAY, Jan. 26, 2006, 9:18 a.m.

(Note: This column appears in the Madison weekly Isthmus.)
By Charles Sykes

This is a cheap shot, but a lot more folks have begun noticing that Jim Doyle bears an uncanny resemblance to Richard Nixon, especially when he’s got the 5 o’clock shadow thing going.

Maybe it’s the “I am not a crook” thing after the Indian casino cash stories broke.

Or his sweaty, shifty-eyed “I am not a crook” reaction to news this week that a federal grand jury has indicted a state employee for allegedly steering a state travel contract to a company whose officials gave money to Doyle’s campaign. The grand jury is also probing links between campaign contributions and state approval of a nuclear power plant sale.

And it didn’t help when Doyle had to hand back some money linked to super-lobbyist-crook Jack Abramoff. I mean, jeez, you get a massive Republican scandal and Doyle gets caught with his hand in that cookie jar too? Can’t this guy keep his hands in his own pockets?

Even on his best days, Doyle must be starting to think he’s becoming engulfed in a perfect political storm: a national scandal guaranteeing that the media will spend months talking about ethics; weekly stories of pay-to-play in state government; his own administration being investigated by the FBI – all in the midst of a re-election campaign.

He has to wonder: Will voters start to connect the dots? Consider the roll call of political infamy involving Democrats they must consider:

Former state Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala convicted of felony misconduct. Former Sen. Gary George convicted of federal graft charges. Former Sen. Brian Burke convicted of felony misconduct charges. Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager busted for drunk driving in a state car.

Former Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament driven from office after a pension scandal, Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Karen Ordinans and seven other supervisors recalled after the same scandal. Current Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway facing more than 90 ethics violations. Are we having fun yet?

Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist caught up in a sexual harassment scandal, leading to his resignation. Milwaukee aldermen Jeff Pawlinski, Rosa Cameron, Paul Henningsen all convicted and sentenced to federal prison for corruption. Four Democratic activists, including the sons of the former mayor and Milwaukee's Democratic Congresswoman, convicted in an election day vandalism incident.

In a normal year, this would be Doyle’s base. This year, it’s a police lineup.

So this is a particularly lousy time to have people thinking you kind of look like Tricky Dick.

What did Wisconsin do to deserve this parade of disrepute? There’s no evidence state residents have become less honest, or that our tolerance for crooked politicians has approached that of the flatlanders to the South.

So what went wrong?

The Madison-based goo-goos insist the outbreak of venality is the result of weak campaign finance laws. But maybe there is a more human explanation: too many folks with weak moral compasses have spent too long in government and lost their way.

In the past, I admit, I’ve been skeptical of term limits on grounds that they limit voters’ right to choose. But maybe it’s time to put them back on the table.

Limiting terms might slow the process by which normal, rational, intelligent, ethical people go into government and become transformed into the win-at-all-costs hacks who increasingly dominate every branch of government.

“Going native” is a bipartisan disease. Democrats become toadies for the teachers union and trial lawyers, while Republicans become lickspittles for the road builders and the ethanol lobby.

But what’s liberal about screwing kids in the central city? What’s conservative about paving the state with tax dollars? And what’s principle got to do with it, anyway?

Spend enough time in Madison and it’s all about keeping the majority (if you’re a Republican) or losing it (if you’re a Democrat.) The reason you came in the first place? Who can remember? Who cares?

And, hey, isn’t that super-lobbyist Bill Broydrick over there? And is that a big check in his pocket, or is he just happy to see me?

But what if people in government knew they were there for only a brief time? What if they had to return to the communities that sent them? What if the perks, privileges, and innumerable occasions of being sucked-up-to were temporary?

Who knows? Maybe some more of them might actually keep their heads and their wits about them and not sell their souls for the mess of pottage that passes for power and privilege in the Capitol these days.

And while we’re at it, could somebody in the press corps check to see whether Doyle has a dog named Checkers?


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