Wisconsin primary voters have not yet determined who the Republican candidate for governor will be, but the Republican governor’s conference is already running an ad about what’s wrong with the likely Democratic nominee, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Negative ads are the only option at present: they can’t yet identify which fresh new ideas (or old stale ideas) their as-yet undetermined candidate may or may not offer. Two months of saturated advertising before the election just isn’t good enough.
The ad doesn’t provide any guidance to the average commuter, trying to sort out which candidate will have policies that make commutes, easier, faster, less expensive, less jammed, or more comfortable, or even shorter. It’s a “feel-bad” ad — a series of grainy pictures in a depressing sepia-tone, more the color of sewage than a vintage family reunion. Its designed to give voters a vague sense of “didn’t I feel a little nauseous when I heard that guy’s name on TV?” Hey, it worked for J.B. Van Hollen in 2006 – Kathleen Falk’s media staff were clueless how to respond. She would be attorney general today if they had given it any thought.
The main point is to compare Tom Barrett to outgoing Governor James Doyle. The Republicans would rather have run against Doyle. After two terms, he’s picked up a lot of baggage. Like George Washington, Doyle decided two terms is enough. So, they want to paint Barrett as Doyle. He’s not. His name is Tom Barrett.
There is a lot about Doyle’s transportation policy that a good Republican ad could sharply criticize. When Milwaukee voters endorsed a new sales tax to pay for transit, parks and EMT, when the legislature actually approved one part of the dedicated funding voters asked for, Doyle vetoed it. Doyle belatedly proposed a new bill that included what he had vetoed — but he didn’t exert himself to make it a priority in the legislature.
Despite the support of unions, employers and taxpayers in Milwaukee, of representatives from Appleton, Eau Claire, and Racine, AB 282 died. Then Doyle decreed Transit Week May 17-23, kind of dancing on the grave of his gravest failure. He could have called the legislature back to settle the matter, but he didn’t bother.
There is only one Republican who could be credible offering that criticism: Rep. Alvin Ott from Forest Junction. Nobody else in the party has done anything for commuters. Anyway, these are James Doyle’s sins, not Tom Barrett’s. Republicans could perform a valuable public service by asking if Barrett is going to make real transit improvements a priority, or just offer more hot air and unfinished day dreams. But, Republicans haven’t gotten behind a transit program either.
Republicans, and more than a few timid Democrats, wouldn’t think of approving a half cent sales tax, even one voters endorsed. After all, if the tax had been approved, the total cost of a $100 jewelry purchase would have gone up by a whopping fifty cents! (A $10 quick stop would have gone up by a nickel!) So what if this would provide $100 relief on the average property tax bill, while lowering bus fares, expanding routes, maybe even allowing for convenient transfer schedules?
All the Republican party has to offer right now is a “feel-bad” ad. If voters want comprehensive transit options, voters will have to start asking questions. Democrats have dropped the ball, and Republicans have declined to pick it up and run with it. Someone needs to offer a fiscally prudent plan to provide convenient, comfortable, affordable bus and train service in major corridors, leaving properly maintained freeways and adequate parking space for those who don’t live and work right in the main corridors and need to drive part or all of the way.
Fiscally prudent does not mean “don’t spend any money.” It means invest wisely, for infrastructure that will pay dividends for many years, and build it right so it will last. Sometimes spending a little more now saves a lot of money later. Homeowners know that, so do taxpayers, especially since most homeowners and taxpayers commute. Can Tom Barrett offer that? If he doesn’t, has any Republican candidate considered it?