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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Janesville's City Council Likes Things Just The Way They Are

Sorry to say, I rarely watch Janesville city council meetings anymore being the hopeless special interest charade that it is. But since there is an obvious correlation between public financing and Citizens United, I watched Monday's meeting primarily to record council member positions on a proposal to establish a modest system of public financing for city council candidates.

Although this is not the same city council crew as the one that refused to bring a resolution on Citizens United to the table for a vote back in early 2012, this council is by all definitions - even worse.

Just for the record, I support any and all serious take-the-money-out of politics initiatives on any scale, but this proposal did seem to put the cart before the horse.

Mainly, I think its timing was bad because before we can entertain the idea of publicly funded local campaigns, there are several major obstacles unique to Janesville that must be resolved in order to remove the heavily cloaked hyper-partisan special interests that have ruled the city since the 1920's. The biggest hurdle to jump is the full restoration of a ward/district style electorate for true democratic representation and "republic" leadership to city government. Without that - we have a special-interest captured council and appointed city leadership with very little chance of real reform.

It also doesn't help that we currently have a toxic ideological environment and a compliant media demonizing both politics and government. But that's a story for another time.

Despite the short and laughable comments the idea of public campaign financing provoked from several council members, it did help expose the grand canyon that exists not only in defining what public campaign financing is, but also in the rhetoric and logic they drew upon to oppose it.

For instance, Council Member Brian Fitzgerald stated that we have too much money in politics as it is - and that's why he opposes public financing. Say what? Hello? Hello? That's the whole point! Take private money out!! It will remove expectations of a payback and also the ability for someone to buy a public seat. If you think having too much money in politics is a problem - then full public campaign financing is the solution! My God ...THAT needs to be explained?

Fitzgerald also said folks don't run for city council not because of a lack of money, but because "people don't want this job, quite frankly, and that's why they don't run." Precisely! It really is a job, a job nobody wants. So how do we get passionate and knowledgeable people to run for council? Let me put this way - not with no pay, no stipend, no campaign help - no nothing. Yet that's not what public financing is about. It's not about paying people. What public financing does do in part is help create a level playing field and make "running" more palatable to a wider population.

Council member Doug Marklein somehow turned public financing into a partisan concept and said shame on anyone who brings politics into city council. Non-sequitur much? In the presence of non-partisan offices, public campaign financing does not magically create partisanship. Again, it is exactly the opposite. Public financing takes the (private) money out. To put it another way, if you have deep chamber of commerce pockets, realtors association money or your own personal wealth funding your campaign, why would you support public financing? Public financing goes a long way to removing partisanship, cronyism and in particular, special interest influence.

Then we have the delirious comments from Council Member Duane Severson. In short he said, the folks who founded our country were all wealthy people and because money and politics is as old as the country, it is what it is. We're stuck in 1785. In the end, Severson said he appreciates that Liebert brought it forward but he could never support that. Ummm. LOL? Thank you very much.

Lastly, Council Member Matt Kealy made the motion to table the resolution which means it can't come forward again until after the next election cycle.

So there we have it my fellow Janesvilleans. When we combine Voskuil's stance from 2012 on Citizen's United with those who complained Monday evening about partisanship and money in politics but refuse to do anything about it, we're left with five of the seven Janesville council members (Fitzgerald, Marklein, Severson, Kealy and Voskuil) defending the status quo.

To be fair to Severson's position, * facepalm * he is the only one that seems to think that wealth and money in public office is a positive influence and entitlement handed down from our country's Founding Fathers. Although the five don't want to rock the money influence boat, Severson was the only one who appears to relish in it. In short, they like things just the way they are.

That leaves us with Sam Liebert who wants to take the money out and Jim Farrell, who appears smart enough to engage the problem and moderate enough to do what's right.

Again, I don't want to make it sound like public financing is the end all for Janesville's particular problems. It's not. But at least their positions on campaign financing are now publicly known and should help Janesville voters make an informed decision next time around.

Video - Janesville City Council Meeting Public financing discussion begins at the 2:15:00 mark.

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