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The Odd Political Calculus Behind The Part-Time County Board Delay

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The Odd Political Calculus Behind The Part-Time County Board Delay

CREATED Jan 29, 2013

Welcome to the strange world of over-thought Madison political calculations, State Representative Joe Sanfelippo!

A couple of weeks ago Sanfelippo, a rookie legislator, rolled out a proposal for a binding referendum in April on the question of whether the Milwaukee County Board should be converted to part-time.  The legislation drew support from political heavy hitters like State Senator Alberta Darling and The Greater Milwaukee Committee.  Liberal Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele hopped on board as well.

My guess is that if a referendum had been held as proposed, it would have passed with 70% of the vote.

So, why did Sanfelippo say on Friday that he was going to delay the referendum for up to a year?

First, despite the public comments, it's not really because Sanfelippo wants to give supervisors a chance to enact their own reforms.  Face it, this is a fool's errand.  Really, can anybody seriously think that the political hacks on the Milwaukee County Board are going to do anything to reduce their pay or limit their political power or political ambition?

No way.

The reality is that a year from now, there will be no substantive changes in the way the Milwaukee County Board does business.  All that will have happened is that County Board members will have had another year to suck up full-time pay for part-time work.  

So what happened to remove this referendum from the fast track?

Enter GOP Senate Majority leader Scott Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald tipped his hand a little while ago when he said that he wasn't in a hurry to push this legislation. Here's what I'm being told is the reason.

One or two politicians close to Fitzgerald have apparently convinced him that having a binding referendum in April would hurt the re-election chances of Supreme Court Justice Pat Roggensack.  Justice Roggensack, one of Wisconsin's brightest legal lights, will be on the April ballot against one of two less than distinguished challengers.  

I believe the the theory that Fitzgerald has bought into goes like this. 

If the County Board referendum is on the ballot, it might lead to a huge liberal turnout which will indirectly help Roggensack's challenger.  Yeah, right.  Outside the kook fringe, does anybody really think the Milwaukee County liberal community is going to turn out in huge numbers to save Marina Dimitrijevic's $70,000 a year salary! 

Talk about over-thinking an issue.

When I mocked this argument, the fall back position I got was that a referendum might turn out liberal voters to vote in favor of the referendum who would nevertheless vote against Roggensack.

Give me strength!

Suburban Milwaukee County voters have already indicated overwhelming support for significant changes in the Milwaukee County Board.  These are also the same voters who elected and then re-elected Scott Walker twice.

If anything, I think you could argue that a County Board referendum might have helped turn out conservative voters this April.

Regardless of the politics though, an April referendum would have led to good policy.

Good policy which will unfortunately be delayed at least a year because of some peculiar Madison political calculus.