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Monday, February 16, 2009

Reforms Must Begin Locally First For Real Change

The editorial in Sunday’s Janesville Gazette titled, “Demand reform to take back state government” was an astonishing piece of hypocrisy written by the newspaper, even by Gazette standards. The editorial staff wrote how campaign donors capture favors from state officials.
JG editorial excerpt:
Special interests and wealthy campaign donors curry favors from lawmakers and thus pillage taxpayers for grants, loans, tax subsidies and no-bid contracts.
What seems to get the Gazette staffers most upset is the impression that state lawmakers are exchanging campaign donations for things the Janesville city administration and council gives private investors, the politically connected and special interest groups away here for free.

Absent from the editorial was any reference to the state’s pioneer of greasy skids and granddaddy of issue attack ads, the WMC. One line in particular from this editorial was so uncharacteristic of this newsprint, that I first thought it may have been a typo.
JG editorial excerpt:
We need an election system in which ordinary citizens can run successfully and that again makes people more important than money.
For one thing, it sounds like the Gazette is hopping mad over the recent gains made by democrats in the last election, that’s understandable. Most of their candidates lost. But the Gazette putting people over profits? Come on, that’s just too much. Seriously fellas, you needn’t abandon your principles to explain the adverse effects special interests have on government when you not only choose to ignore the influence they have on local government, you actually weave their agenda into news articles and defend their influence by absence and omission in your newspaper and on your website.

But in all fairness, to take the Gazette seriously on their call for change, we'd have to see how well the paper has fought for reforms on the local scale.

Janesville Under Insurgency From Monopolized Media

For the sake of brevity, lets only look at the paper's more recent activities to shape public opinion on the local front.

Over the past year, the Janesville Gazette actively helped dismantle the local campaigns of certain select individuals. Aided by Gazette printing presses, the politically-driven quasi-chamber of commerce and private special interest group Forward Janesville also took on an "insurgency" type of assault into Janesville’s non-partisan city offices ever since the local GOP falsely accused Democrats and local labor supporters of making a play for power during last year’s local spring election.

In one article headlining Janesville school board members after the election this past November, the Gazette promoted Forward Janesville’s political campaign clinic replete with registration fees and sign-up dates. During this same timeframe, the newspaper was publishing a series of various subject articles integrating opinions and observations from the special interest group’s spokespeople. Coincidence? Hardly.

Last month, the Janesville city council actually endorsed the legislative agenda of the special interest group. The Gazette report on this huge breach into local government amounted to less than a complete sentence. No editorial backlash.

Under pressure from another special interest group wanting to bring a Junior A hockey team to Janesville, the city council appears willing to abandon their moral compass by allowing alcohol to be served in a city-owned youth-oriented facility and to use taxpayer funds to soften expenses of the private investors. The hockey group is led by a local who's who cabal of name-dropping political operatives. Again, no editorial backlash.

In yet another development, Janesville's city council rejected to change the city's conflicted committee appointment process. Among the reasons against this reform was that it may alter the city's council/manager form of government and God forbid, we can't have that. Again, no post decision editorial backlash.

These few examples are only over the past several months. The newspaper of course takes no issue with any of this while they write lovingly for their ideological messiah, Paul Ryan. At the same time they regularly ask readers to take state and congressional politicians, mostly democrats, to task. In a more recent development, the newspaper allowed their writers to blog in kindness about Forward Janesville's networking and recruitment party’s under the umbrella and authority of the Gazette website. Well hey, it's their newspaper.

Add to this the Gazette’s endless twice-a-week “Sound Off” column of editor-approved anonymous comments taking potshots at local politicians and other individuals running for non-partisan local offices and you have the making of what most observers would describe as nothing less than a local insurgency of partisan propaganda designed to poison the political will of good government activists and the unempowered.

Despite all of this, they have the nerve (Sunday's editorial) to complain that the shadow cast by special interest groups have taken the average Joe citizens out of the political marketplace.

The best part of it all is perhaps, nobody is supposed to notice the media enabled and politically motivated special interests undermining our small town city council or school board, much less have the time to write about it. Instead, at the end of Sunday’s editorial, the Gazette implores readers to demand campaign reform by taking aim at state legislators. A mindlessly confrontational request from a newspaper that promulgates the influence special interests groups exert right here, right now, within our own local government.


RichE95 said...

WoW - you covered a lot in this post. I believe you are completely overstating the influence of the Gazette. I agree with them about 50% of the time just as I agree with you about 50% of the time. I call Sound Off but don't get printed very often. I don't know the criteria for selecting comments but it seems that my calls that they don't print would are usually in support of positions the Gazette favors and you oppose. Regardless, Sound Off is pretty pure populism. I disagree with all attempts at campaign finance reform and government control of electioneering. It just leads to more useless legislation like McCain/Feingold. That law has made politics more corrupt. The only thing I support is full public disclosure by name of who contributed to campaigns and who paid for advertising. Beyond that it is up to the people to decide. The greatest thing government in Wisconsin could do would be to reduce the size of government itself. It should start with the legislature. Wisconsin government has been on an expensive downhill slide ever since they declared the legislature as a "full time" job (despite meeting only 30 days a year). Cut their pay and expenses in half and things would improve.

Lou Kaye said...

I'll admit it is difficult to present the level of influence the Gazette has on the community in accurate terms. But just as well, I also think it's easy to understate their influence. Yet there are several things that can't be disputed. They present a slanted and highly controlled product to the community. Sure, people could buy a different paper or turn to another medium but they are the only source for local news. But they present more than the news - they have a program.

Yet despite all the talk of a powerplay by local democrats in last year’s spring election - it never materialized. People have the right to show support for non-partisan candidates, whether it is organized or whether they happen to be democrats, republicans or labor. Candidate's supporters are the least of our problems, it's what the candidate does once they become elected that's important. In fact, it's the Republicans and their special interest supporters that have been infringing even more so on local governmental bodies. Yet there are no letters or comments to the editor warning the folks of increased partisanship - not one. Special interests are special interests whether they are local or whether they donated to a particular official or not. They have their place interacting with government so long as they are not inside. Would you view the Gazette any differently if the local special interest they enabled was the UAW instead of Forward Janesville?

If all the town's people voted to ignore the law and hang a guilty man in the town square without a trial - that's a form of populism. Just because the majority ruled doesn't make it right. Yet our Constitution was founded on the basic definition of populism - it begins 'we the people.'

Saying change begins with you (or I) is oftentimes a platitude with little power. But I really believe change for the good must begin in every town and city first before it can have any chance as a statewide, national or global phenomenon.

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