Senator Jim Sullivan's Town Hall....GRILLING! OUCH!
Curiosity won out last night, and so I went to Brookfield East's library for Sen. Jim Sullivan's Town Hall meeting. I didn't know what to expect; I have never been to one of his meetings. Would I be the lone conservative amongst liberals?
I had recently attended Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and State Rep. Leah Vukmir's Town Hall at the Wauwatosa Library. It attracted about 100 attendees--nearly all were supportive of their positions on the issues.
When I arrived at East at 5:30pm, Senator Sullivan was just walking into the school. Once in the library, I found a crowd of 1; my presence doubled the attendance. I was asked to fill out a form by his assistant, Leslie, and check off the issues important to me. I think I checked abortion, end of life issues, job creation, taxes, voter ID and a few more. (Topics of discussion will be in bold.)
In response to the lackluster attendance, Leslie jokingly said that when people are happy or the weather is nice, turnout is low. I said maybe people did not know about it? I only found out via a robo call the day before. I mentioned that since I had often emailed Sen. Sullivan, they could use that media to easily notify his constituents. She said they did use email. I said I had not received one. (I double checked once I got home--no email notice.)
Introduction: Sen. Sullivan began by giving an overview of what would likely happen in Madison this year. He used our info sheets to target issues that were important to us. Sullivan spoke in very vague terms as if he had nothing to do with any of it.
Smoking Ban: He talked about the smoking ban, something the other attendee was in favor of. (I hate smoking, but since it is legal, I think taverns should at least be able to designate themselves as a club and allow smoking. That way, the people who join, do so knowing that means it is a smoking facility.)
By this time, a few stragglers came in. I think at max. we had 7 attendees in all.
Voter ID: Sullivan talked about how he was the Co-sponsor of Voter ID legislation last year because he was opposed to amending the constitution for that purpose. Of course, his vote against putting the Voter ID constitutional amendment question on the ballot last year killed any chance of Wisconsin voters weighing in on the issue. (Voter ID is supported by a vast majority of Democrats and Republicans.) I did clarify that a constitutional amendment could not be vetoed by the governor, but legislation could. I think Jim was hoping to slip out of that one!
Health Care Transparency: Evidentially, Sullivan did introduce health care transparency legislation last session too, but was quick to point out that it did not move forward. He mentioned something about when a measure is perceived to be a Republican issue; it won't get support, even if it is a good idea. I took it that Republicans would not approve of a Democrat sponsorship of one of their issues? But it was fellow Dem. Erpenbach who foiled Sullivan's attempt to put this forward. It did not make it out of committee. Sullivan did say he would reintroduce it after the budget is settled.
Abortion: Then the abortion question came up. Sullivan said he did not think there would be any new legislation regarding abortion this year, again acting like he was a bystander. I suggested that he inform us of what HIS position was on these issues, not just that he did not think any abortion legislation would be passed this year.
I then brought up the fact that Sullivan cast one of the 2 deciding votes to confirm 2 pro 2nd trimester abortion board members, Roger Axtell and Michael Weiden, to the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority Board last month. I added, I did not like my tax dollars going for abortion. Sullivan fired back that the clinic wasn't tax supplied. Another woman piped up that wasn't true; the board itself admitted they did receive tax money.
Sullivan tried to quiet her by saying she was interrupting me. I quickly said I yielded the floor to her!
Turns out, I think we were all pro-life and rather upset by his vote. After some back and forth, Sullivan finally admitted, "I am absolutely in favor of late term abortion" and "I would do [vote for] it again." No wiggling out of that one!
RTA: Next topic was the RTA. Sullivan said the joint finance committee vote was a mess--a political compromise to protect Lehman from casting a vote in favor of a sales tax. Sullivan said he would vote for a dedicated fund, the 1/2% sales tax on 3 counties, but not the measure for a Milwaukee 1% sales tax.
That is when a 30-something self described unemployed Christian conservative spoke up. He was adamantly against the RTA with its appointed board. He strongly objected to the whole concept of the RTA (as we all did) and even more to the idea of an appointed board. Appointed boards have NO accountability.
Sullivan tried to say that he is only for the Governor's original plan, but this group was well informed. They brought up that Doyle's plan had an appointed board too. Sullivan committed to a NO vote on the present Milw. 1% tax and YES for the RTA, if it had a 1/2% 3 county dedicated RTA tax.
The fact that the RTA was not self supporting didn't faze Sullivan at all. He fired back that no transportation is self supporting, citing roads as one example. Roads receive gas tax funds, he said.
I thought that a poor example since those that use the roads, pay the gas taxes to fund the roads. I brought up the fact that public transport, such as metro rail and busses, must run the trains at all times regardless of rider-ship. We just returned from St. Louis where their metro was very lightly used. Maybe 6 people on the whole train--some cars empty? That is expensive transportation. Whereas every auto on the road has at least 1 rider, the driver!
Sullivan was very defensive after a flurry of other negative comments on public transportation. "Not everyone drives cars" he said defensively. The RTA is busses, shuttles, and trains; this will save us money.
The very informed woman said, how much will it save? Have a referendum!
Sullivan said, they did. It was not a referendum stating how much this would cost, just a would you like a RTA? "That is a weak response," one man chided. (That type referendum is as valid as saying, Would you like a Thanksgiving Day parade? Without knowing the cost, it is pretty meaningless.)
Sullivan did admit that the vote was close. It was also only in Milwaukee--not in his Waukesha district area. We tried to discuss the RTA further, since it is such a good example of unnecessary spending and more bureaucracy, but he would not allow it.
$6.5 Billion deficit: An older gentleman brought up the staggering $6.5 billion debt. "Where are we going with this?"
Sullivan touted the 1% across the board cuts and the 209 State jobs eliminated. The informed lady asked, were those real job cuts or just attrition?
Sullivan then said since 2003, I believe, 4,500 positions have been cut from the total state roster. But out of how many jobs total? someone asked. Hmm, that information was not known. The group then muttered about how many private sector jobs have been lost.
The Senator was looking a bit red faced at times. He was definitely in the hot seat!
Joint Several Liability Rule Reform: The older gentleman urged, "Let's hold on to the spending." Then he brought up the 1% liability. The Joint Several Liability Rule Reform, which Sullivan supports. Some view this as just being a sop to trial lawyers. It would make someone with just 1% liability be responsible for the entire award to the injured party (thus the lawyer gets to collect his fee.) None of our surrounding states have it--they all changed it years ago--the gentleman stated.
Sullivan tried to chalk it up to just going back to what was in place before. The smart lady said something like how far back are we going? Why not cite a pre Civil War law!
Fund raiding to balance budget: The subject of raiding transportation and physicians' liability funding to balance the budget came up. Finally, some breathing room for Jim Sullivan, he said he was against that.
Stimulus spending: The Zoo I-94 interchange subject was addressed in relation to shovel ready stimulus projects. Unfortunately, it was lacking about $20 million in planning yet, so the $1 billion dollar project cannot be a stimulus project. Sullivan is trying to protect the $20 million for planning in the current budget.
Sullivan is pro UW center being built at the County Grounds and also pro Veteran's benefits. He will be voting on the whole budget with these issues in mind.
The Senator brought up the privatizing of infrastructure and services. Recently, the leasing of Milwaukee's water system came up. He saw getting the water off our tax bills as beneficial in the short term, but was wary of the long term ramifications.
Privatizing: The 30-something gentleman thought the water issue was a good example of what government should be involved in. That they should ask the question, "Are these [budget items] vital, are these necessary? Like the water question, is the RTA vital?" Based on the comments from the evening, Sullivan was the only one who thought so.
Litmus test for spending: Good litmus test though for spending, "Is it vital?" We all agreed we were making cuts in our personal spending and we expect our government to do the same.
The 30-something man chided, "You are in a bubble in Madison." Sullivan tried to deny that by saying he does not live there. I think that rational fell flat, at least on this group. My impression was that Jim Sullivan likes to pass himself off as a moderate and doesn't want to acknowledge any culpability in what is going on in Madison.
Senator Jim Sullivan was invited to join US Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner and State Rep. Leah Vukmir for their Town Halls, but he did not participate. Their Town Halls were held on several weekends when working people could attend. Jim Sullivan has 2 per year: spring and fall. This one was at 5:30 on a weekday, making it difficult for working people to attend.
As we walked out, I spoke with the well informed woman. She was from Wauwatosa, and she mentioned that Sullivan rarely returned her calls. (I usually email and then receive a vague response letter.)
The word arrogance came up more than once to describe his attitude. It isn't the first time I have heard someone describe his attitude toward a constituent's opinion that way. I have to agree. It is pretty difficult to deal with someone who won't even acknowledge his responsibility in promoting 2nd trimester abortion by appointing 2 very pro abortion board members to the UW Clinic board. Saying that a member's stance on abortion should not be a litmus test for board approval seems a strong disconnect. He maybe able to quell his Catholic conscience that way, but he is not convincing me he is blameless.
I am glad I attended. The meeting certainly confirmed my opinions of Senator Jim Sullivan. I sure hope there is a good, strong conservative Republican planning a run for Senate District #5 in 2012.
Since Waukesha County residents didn't have any type of referendum question on the RTA, perhaps you would like to share your thoughts on the RTA as well as other issues with our Senator?