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Friday, April 15, 2011

Anti-Partisan Crusader's Selective Rage Targets Labor Unions

During last Monday's Janesville City council meeting, council members offered starkly different opinions over whether Ed James, a strongly opinionated letter writer and emailer to the newspaper and city council, should be appointed to the city's transportation committee. In recent correspondence, several council members apparently felt targeted by James, that his written perspectives and attitude created an unworkable relationship with the council.

First, here's a little Rock Netroots history on Ed James. Several years ago he wrote a letter to the Janesville Gazette complaining about what he described as increased political infiltration by the local labor union's open and pro-active citizen public support for a few city council candidates in Janesville's non-partisan city council election. The anti-labor Gazette quickly picked up James' ball bat and began to pound on the targeted candidates through their newsprint by painting the candidates union supporters as having partisan motives, all just two days before election. In hindsight, it can be said that James and the Gazette blackballed a city council candidate simply for his affiliation with a labor union. Back then in 2008, I wrote my take on that episode here, and a follow-up a month later here.

Now enter 2011 and James recently injected himself into the caustic email attack initiated by council member Frank Perrotto against fellow council member Yuri Rashkin. Rashkin you might recall, attended the Forward Janesville dinner and left the event early to engage with labor union supporters when Gov. Scott Walker entered the stage to deliver his speech. This action caused Perrotto, also attending the event, to become unhinged and he proceeded to write Rashkin exactly what he thought, calling Rashkin's behavior despicable, stupid and partisan among others. James, soon afterward then sent emails to the council taking Perrotto's side in the attack and named three council members responsible for bringing partisanship to the council. James also added that the city council letter sent earlier to the governor in favor of collective bargaining rights was inappropriate.

Now enter this week and Ed James has asked to be appointed to the city's transportation committee. Appointments for committees are finalized by the seven member city council, and it was at Monday's meeting where those three council members voiced their concerns about Ed James. They eventually wanted to direct the committee to search for a new candidate. That motion failed and James was appointed anyways.

The Janesville Gazette in the meantime, opened up their story on the city council James appointment discussion with this.

JG Excerpt:
Three city council members on Monday tried to blackball a resident recommended to serve on the city's transportation committee, saying he had been too critical of certain council members.

Blackball? In open discussion on public television? Okay, we know that the Gazette supported James' anti-labor views in the past. So a defense was expected. Over time, the committee appointment process in Janesville has become somewhat of a rubber stamp for a revolving group of establishment insiders and generic agreeables, so the go-along-to-get-along Gazette suddenly reverses direction to satisfy their defense for James.

In their follow-up editorial on Thursday, the Gazette picks up where they left off with James nearly three years ago and in his defense writes up the three dissenting council members as indifferent to residents holding a perspective contrary to prevailing viewpoints.

Councilman Bill Truman agreed, saying, "That's why we have the committee appointments, so the council doesn't pick and choose the 'yes' and 'no' men on the committee."

But, exactly why does the city council reserve the right to committee appointments if it can be argued that they are choosing only "yes" men when they appoint, or when they don't appoint - the local media monopoly writes up their favored applicant as being blackballed?

So what's all the hoopla really about? Well, Ed James might think of himself as some kind of a anti-partisan crusader, but I believe Jame's anti-partisanship, including that of the Janesville Gazette's, is very selective - to an extreme. Here's why. When the Janesville City Council endorsed the legislative agenda of the local business establishment lobbyist group, Forward Janesville, James was silent - and so was the Gazette. No letters to the editor decrying partisan lobbyists taking over city hall, no editorials and no emails about political infiltration either. But that endorsement at the time was a political endorsement no different than if the city council endorsed the legislative agenda of the local UAW 95. Yet, had the council endorsed a local UAW union agenda, you can bet James (and the Gazette) would have went ballistic.

But you might also say, "didn't the city council send a letter to the governor expressing their support for collective bargaining?" Wasn't that very similar to the council's Forward Janesville endorsement as well? The answer to that is - no, it's not the same at all. When the council developed that letter, they expressed their value and support in "collective bargaining" which is little more than a legal framework for two parties to reach an amicable agreement. They did not endorse the legislative agenda of a politically active lobby nor did they spell out the name of an organized voting bloc in that letter. That's important. But the city council did exactly that two years earlier with the Forward Janesville endorsement resolution. The letter supporting collective bargaining doesn't even come close to the same level of political pandering and partisanship. Back then, I thought it was and still do believe that endorsing the legislative agenda of Forward Janesville was the worst possible partisan action a so-called non-partisan city council could undertake. Yet to someone who pretends to be Mister anti-partisan politics in Janesville city government - Ed James was completely silent.

Of course I believe James is entitled to his aggressively partisan opinion, and different even opposing views should always be welcome and engaged with in the city council and on committees, not rejected. But with James' history, there are solid reasons why his one-sided anti-partisanship rhetoric doesn't hold water and if his perspective on something he thinks he's an expert on can't stand up to a simple test - what are we to believe?

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