Life is a highway… and so much more

My 3-year-old son loves Lightning McQueen.

He’s red. He’s fast. He comes on cool t-shirts. He’s never even watched much of the film, “Cars,” but he knows one of songs featured at its beginning.

“Life is a Highway” was originally written by Canadian Tom Cochrane in the early 1990’s as an ode to living life and enjoying every moment. They are qualities my little guy embodies.

For years, the title of the song though might have doubled as the mantra for transportation funding throughout Wisconsin. Dalliances with transit and multi-modal models were just that, dalliances, with the lion’s share of transportation money coming from and going to, highways. A 176-page report out this week from the 10-member citizen Transportation Commission shows our entire transportation system now needs even more help, specifically our roads.

My colleague Zac Schultz spoke with Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb about the report last week on Here and Now, but in case you missed it, the commission’s recommendations include, among other things, raising the gas tax by five cents a gallon, increasing the fee to get a driver’s license and eliminating the sales tax exemption you get if you trade in a car.

Overall, the commission is asking for an additional annual investment of $480 million over the next decade just to keep up with the increased use of the system. Keeping the status quo, a press release states “will result in serious worsening in the condition and safety of state highways, increased urban highway congestion and reduced service levels for public transit.”

It’ll be an interesting conversation at the Capitol over this as Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) and many Republicans have indicated they want to cut taxes this  legislative session and not increase them. Without increased revenue coming from somewhere, it could lead to a scenario where lots of Lightning McQueens may be needed in the future to re-pave Wisconsin’s roads.


In case you missed it this week, President Obama was sworn in to a second term in the White House. The New York Times has a fascinating interactive graphic to show who sat where during the inauguration. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) and Rep.  Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) were among the Wisconsinites there.

And speaking of Sen. Johnson, he had a fascinating back and forth with outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the deaths of four Americans during the attack on a diplomatic post in Benghazi. You can watch the video of that interaction here:

Laws like Sausages?

sausagesI have a mea culpa to issue this morning.

For years, I have publicly made the comparison that the creation of television journalism was much like that of making laws and sausage: an often un-pretty process that can be uncomfortable to witness with an end result that is hopefully palatable for all involved.

The aphorism dates back, not to the 1930’s and former German leader Otto von Bismarck, but instead to 1869 and American lawyer-poet, John Godfrey Saxe who was quoted in a Cleveland newspaper saying, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” The more common quote, almost always attributed these days to the Iron Chancellor, is “Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.”

I was planning on making the assertion again in describing the measure introduced in the current legislative session to streamline Wisconsin’s mining rules, but then I ran across this 2010 article from The New York Times in which, and I’m not making this up, a former CIA agent turned sausage maker, describes the process of preparation in a far more streamlined fashion than anything I’ve ever seen in newsrooms or legislatures. What he describes clearly articulates how my analogy for years has been flawed.

“I’m so insulted when people say that lawmaking is like sausage making,” said Stanley A. Feder, president of Simply Sausage, whose plant here turns out 60,000 pounds of links a year to The Times. “With legislation, you can have hundreds of cooks — members of Congress, lobbyists, federal agency officials, state officials… In sausage making, you generally have one person, the Wurstmeister, who runs the business and makes the decisions.”

Then again, as I consider a Republican majority in both the State Senate and State Assembly following the leadership of Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin),  maybe the analogy is more apt today than ever before. If the governor were to serve in this process as the “Wurstmeister” and the majority group of lawmakers as the assembly line creating the legislation, there won’t be hundreds  of cooks participating in this creation unless they want them there.

If you listen to critics of the proposed mining legislation, their main contention, besides that Wisconsin’s environment will suffer if it passes, is that they are not and have not been consulted in this process. So, for now, and in this particular instance, we’ll just have to wait and see if the correlation of sausage-making and legislating is fair.

All that said, if you’ve ever taken four hours of videotape and smushed it into a two-three minute story on television, you’ll know my original comparison to one of Wisconsin’s favorite foods remains spot-on.

Scott Walker, Ron Swanson and Waffles

I don’t know if Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) is a fan of the NBC program, Parks and Recreation, but I’m pretty sure he wants to channel his inner-Ron Swanson these days and take Wisconsin’s legislative Republican leaders out for waffles.

Ron Swanson

Ron Swanson

If you’re not an avid watcher of the show, please allow me to explain. The comedy features an Indiana city councilwoman and her struggles navigating the politics of her small town. A recent episode had the central character,  Leslie Knope, trying to figure out how to derail a co-worker’s plan to site a dog park where she had pined for years to build a park for kids.

She heads down the City Hall corridor to her mentor, the aforementioned Swanson, who runs the Parks and Recreation department where she used to work. In his typically deadpan fashion, he advises her that in the past, he’d simply give her busy work to divert her attention from a topic she was passionate about and if she were “really amped up about something, I’d take you (to a local restaurant) and distract you with waffles.”

Over the last few days, we’ve seen reports about Republicans in the legislature who, in the 2013 session, want to do things like removing same-day voter registration, changing the composition of the Government Accountability Board from retired judges to political appointees, and cracking down on illegal immigration with an Arizona-like law.

All the while, the governor continues to say, as he did yesterday to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “My priority is about jobs, creating jobs.”

That’s by no means a new sentiment from the governor who echoes that refrain every chance he gets. However, as memories of his 2012 recall fade, he knows his 2014 re-election hopes depend on how he’s doing in handling the economy.

As he told me in an August, 2011 interview before he was ever recalled:

“I think in the end, what I’m going to be judged on whether it’s in 2012 or 2014, is how far have we gone down the path of the single biggest promise I made, which was to help the people of the state create 250,000 jobs.”

waffles    The governor knows conversations about anything besides the economy are bound to take attention away from the single issue he believes matters most to Wisconsin residents. He may approve of some of those legislative issues being discussed by Republicans,  in fact he was the one who first brought up the same-day voter registration issue in a speech, but he wants Wisconsin to know they’re not his priorities.

It’s likely why he’ll want to schedule a carbohydrate-heavy meal at Mickie’s Dairy Bar or some other great breakfast joint outside the Capitol for his Republican legislative friends.

Waffles, as Ron Swanson points out, are always a great distraction.


Just as an aside, every time I hear a story about the fiscal cliff and sequestration and federal budget issues, I’m reminded of Charles Grodin in the movie, “Dave.” He’s the accountant that Dave, who’s pretending to be the President, invites to the White House to have a sandwich and to balance the budget.

What’s going on now in Washington is no laughing matter, but these scenes from the movie that show what they came up with, certainly are.

Just like waffles, levity provides a nice distraction as well.