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  • OPINION - Mr. Mayor

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Ed Koch was the mayor of my New York. He led the city I grew up in. He died early this morning at age 88.

    He’s being remembered as a great mayor. He wasn’t. He was a great political personality. And there’s a big difference.

    Watch the 1974 Charles Bronson movie Death Wish. The urban vigilante movie is a Hollywood exaggeration – but that was what Ed Koch’s New York was like, full of crime and urban decay. Koch was a marvelous politician because he was reelected three times despite the city’s problems. He rose above the city’s day-to-day struggles. The conventional wisdom was that the city was largely ungovernable, and that graffiti and muggings was simply a part of urban life.

    “How’m I doing?” was the question hizzoner asked at most news conferences and public rallies. My favorite Koch answer was, “there’s a poll coming out later today. I’ll give you my opinion then.”

    I appreciate a colorful politician. And it’s a gift when someone can appreciate a character even while disagreeing with his politics. These days, we find ourselves disliking a person’s politics and their personality. The city he led is cleaner, safer, and financially stronger today – thanks to the work of other leaders, particularly Rudy Giuliani.

    Ed Koch was 100% New Yorker. His kind doesn’t come around very often.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Driver retires

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) There’s so much to like about Donald Driver. Winning smile. Positive attitude. His willingness to catch all those over-the-middle slant passes from Brett Favre earlier in his career. His charity work.

    What I like most is celebrating a life that turns out differently (better) than expected. Driver grew up on the poor streets of Houston. Getting into college and earning a degree was an accomplishment. No one would have predicted the success he’d have in the NFL. Yet everyone uses similar words to describe him: modest, approachable, a family man, community-minded, friendly… those qualities are magnified because so many athletes and celebrities lack them.

    I’m sure Donald Driver is dissatisfied with his final season in the NFL. He was on the Packers inactive list in favor of younger players. His playing time was diminished in favor of younger, faster wide receivers -- a legend displaced by young-guns. In his last game, Driver was playing on the punt-coverage team.

    Driver probably also has an appreciation for what Brett Favre gave up by playing for the Jets and Vikings late in his career. Favre was seen as disloyal to Packers, which is unfair. If a team doesn’t want you, but you still want to play – who’s to say you shouldn’t. But during those years, Favre’s persona was exposed as less than authentic. He could have been the public face of the Packers franchise for a generation. Instead he’ll wait years for fences to be mended. Yet Donald Driver decided he didn’t want to be anything but a Packer. The PR benefits in retirement that would have flowed to Favre will flow to him. Both men may be inducted into the Packers hall of fame at the same time. Who will get the loudest cheers? The one who’s the genuine article.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - High school course selection

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) My oldest daughter will begin high school next fall. I attended parents night at Wausau-West earlier this week. It was a standard ‘welcome to our school’ introduction. The principal spoke, so did a guidance counselor. One by one the school department heads got up and talked about their programs and their electives. Many classes offered to high school juniors and seniors can be taken for college credit that transfers into a B.A. or a B.S. program after graduation.

    This is the advice I gave to my daughter, which I’ll share with everyone else who has kids about to enter high school.

    Take every possible college-level class that you qualify for. Now, of course, don’t take classes that you’re going to flunk out of. But if a class is offered that counts towards college-level credit and you think somehow, some-way you could pass – do it. Our area high schools offer many AP classes that allow you to test-out of entry level math and English classes. There are other high school offerings, like agriscience and the engineering academy, that count towards college. Many of these classes can only be taken by high school juniors and seniors. Underclassmen should prepare for them.


    High schools are offering more electives than ever before – enrichment type classes that keep students interested and can be a lot of fun. There’s nothing wrong with that. But a college might offer hundreds of electives, far more than even the best high school could. And if you’re on the college track, you’ll want to have enough flexibility in your course load to take advantage of those classes. You’ll only have those options if you arrive at college with some college-level credits already on your transcript. Imagine missing out on a computer sciences class taught by Steve Jobs, or a semester of astronomy from Carl Sagan… many colleges have classes like that. You don’t want to say, “gee, I can’t take Government Relations with Hillary Clinton or Investment Dynamics with Warren Buffett… because I need this English class to earn my degree.” And at college, the “fun” classes can be even more fun. You can study the French impressionists with a semester in Paris, or take an architecture class that involves a trip to New Orleans in the spring, or archeology with visits to a real-life dig site. You want the ability in college to say ‘yes’ if those subjects strike your fancy.

    I know of what I speak. I was a double-major in college, and I arrived on-campus with no college credits. To complete my degree in four years (and I didn’t have enough money for five years), I had to forgo many interesting electives. I needed to take academic classes to earn my degrees on time. There wasn’t time for those enrichment classes that would have made college more interesting.

    Even for high schoolers who may not be planning on college… take the college-prep classes anyway. It keeps the college option open if you change your mind. And if you enter the workforce after high school, employers will be impressed that you took a more rigorous course of study.

    Good luck to the incoming Class of 2017.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Special treatment?

    Posted by Chris Conley


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Did she get special treatment? That’s the $64,000 question surrounding the criminal case against Kim Hoenisch. She’s the wife of Marathon County Sheriff Randy Heonisch. She was a parole officer, and ran afoul of the law when she was caught stealing pain-killers from the ex-cons she supervised.

    From the moment she was charged, many people have suspected that Kim Heonisch might get special treatment. You can argue that she has. She didn’t go through the formal booking process that’s typical when someone’s charged with a felony. Instead she was allowed to voluntarily present herself at the courthouse for her initial court appearance. She was freed on signature bond, and was allowed to go home after the charges against her were presented. If a mug shot exists of her, its never been released to the media. All of these things are unusual but not unprecedented.

    Because she worked in the Corrections Department and because her husband is in law enforcement, a special prosecutor was named to handle the case. An out-of-county judge was also appointed. Both of those moves are in favor of rule-of-law and make it less likely that she’d receive special treatment.

    I don’t read anything into her plea bargain. The charges against her would have led to conviction at trial. Her ‘no contest’ plea concedes that. The back-story sounds like someone who is addicted to pain meds and will do anything to get their hands on them.

    There’s one missing piece to this puzzle before I could say definitely if Kim Hoenisch receives special treatment: will she get jail time? She should. She broke into people’s homes to steal their medication. Her victims were people she had immense power over as a parole officer. These are acts that would land anyone behind bars.

    We won’t know her sentence until April. She’s the recipient of special treatment if she somehow escapes incarceration.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Immigration reform

    Posted by Chris Conley

    File:Ellis Island - Great Hall.JPG

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  I’ve written before about a friend of mine from college who struggled to stay in the U.S. after her student-visa expired. She was a British citizen, but had grown up in the U.S. because of her father’s banking job in New York. Then, as now, I don’t know how her story ended. Graduation came before her residency-status was resolved, and we’ve since lost touch over the years that followed.

    Fast forward four years. It’s Independence Day 1995, and I’m working a holiday news shift. My assignment is to cover a ceremonial naturalization ceremony at the Tompkins County courthouse in upstate New York. That afternoon 14 people were taking the oath to become American citizens.

    I had a misperception about the event. I expected to see low-income, just-starting-out foreigners who were starting new lives in the United States. Wrong. Upscale suits for the men and fancy dresses for the ladies were the order of the day. These were not migrant farm workers or just-off-the-boat newcomers. More than one of them were represented by lawyers. When I interviewed several of these new Americans they all talked about how proud they were – but some also talked about how long and how expensive the process was.

    I had an Ellis Island of 1912 picture in my mind. Reality was that most new citizens were high-tech workers – computer engineers, scientists, and such, who wanted the economic advantages of staying in the U.S. Others were becoming Americans through marriage, which was also a drawn out and not-automatic process.

    As we prepare to announce an immigration reform and amnesty program, I wonder about these people. Do they feel like suckers, having waiting long and paid much for what will now be given away to others? Or do they feel that being an American citizen is so transformative that it must be shared with others?

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Who's listening?

    Posted by Chris Conley


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Several of our loyal listeners know that radio ratings are taken each spring and fall. It takes several weeks for Arbitron, the ratings service, to tabulate the results. The data for the Fall 2012 ratings arrived last week.

    I ususlly post a short blog on audience trends for WSAU once the results are in.

    As you probably know, there's been a lot of change at WSAU in the past few months. We have a new morning host. Some of our news voices have changed. Mark Levin and Andy Dean are new nighttime hosts. A logical question is what impact has this had on audience size.

    For starters, I can tell you that WSAU's overall audience is up. I'll provide more details in a few days, after I've had more time to look at each of these changes individually.

  • OPINION - The mining hearing

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) On the one hand, we don’t want public hearings in front of the state legislature to go on all night and into the early morning. On the other hand, when people drive to Madison to speak, we don’t want the hearing gaveled to a close before the get to the microphone. And that’s what happened Wednesday night during the mining bill hearing.

    The state assembly has agreed to hard-and-fast start times and end times for hearings and for floor debate. When the clock strikes twelve (or in this case, 9pm) the hearing is brought to a close. Last night there were several people waiting to speak against the mine bill when the witching-hour came and the event ended.

    How to keep that from happening?

    First, set some ground rules. Here’s a good starting point: the quantity of comments doesn’t sway the argument, the quality of a speaker’s points does. Hearings aren’t popularity contests; if speaker after speaker gets up says the same thing it doesn’t make what’s being said more important. Meanwhile, if only one person says something unique and true, that could win the day. (Imagine, hypothetically, one expert from afar shows up at the hearing and says ‘we have exactly the same type of iron ore in Shi Lanka, and we’ve perfected an environmentally friendly way to mine it.’) That winning position isn’t outweighed by a dozen speakers who want to talk about environmental protection.

    Secondly, the committee chairman needs to be aggressive. People need to be told that the committee doesn’t need to hear the same points over and over again. When one speaker wants to say essentially the same thing that was said 5-minutes earlier, the chair should move them along. A polite “We’ve heard that point earlier. Do you have anything new to contribute?” will do the trick. Those who can’t limit their words should be invited to submit written comments instead.

    The public has been heard on the mining bill. It’s time to vote. Those who don’t like the outcome are already planning Act II in court.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - A small tax cut

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) We’re starting to hear some details about the state income tax cut that Governor Walker will formally propose next month.

    It’s small.

    The Governor’s proposal is for a reduction of about $4 a week. By comparison, the same $50,000 a year employee saw their federal payroll tax go up $18. It’s small to the point that the governor can’t make the argument that he’s trying to ‘un-do’ the tax hike from Washington for people who are fortunate enough to live in Wisconsin. To make it come out even, the cost to the state would rise from about $300-million to $950-million – much more than the state’s surplus.

    And there are some who don’t want you to the lousy $4. There was a meek argument that the tax break should go towards restoring the state’s earned income tax credit, which was cut under the working poor two years ago. There are two simple arguments to swat that proposal aside. First, the earned income tax credit isn’t really a tax cut – it’s welfare, distributed in the form of tax refund checks. For instance, if you owe only $100 in state taxes but qualify for the a $400 earned income tax credit, you’ll get a $400, not a $100, refund. This isn’t a credit that offsets taxes you’ve paid. It’s a refund, even for people who don’t have a refund coming. Second, the Governor should express the hope people will climb further up the economic ladder over the next few years that they’ll qualify for the tax break instead of getting a bigger tax cut for sitting at the bottom.

    The tax break is largely symbolic. But the symbolism is important. Washington is debating how much taxes will go up, and who will pay them. Wisconsin is debating how much money to give back to its people.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Toll road myth

    Posted by Chris Conley

     File:Weston Toll Plaza.jpg

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  From time to time there’s a debate over whether Wisconsin should have toll roads. The discussion is a waste of time. New toll roads aren’t allowed under federal law.

    I know, we think ‘why not’ as we shovel our quarters into the toll baskets as we drive to Chicago. We’d love to return the favor to those Illinois tourists as they head into Wisconsin.

    But the rules for new tolls are clear. Tolls are allowed on roads that were paid for by federal dollars only for congestion-mitigation. Charging a toll, or a higher usage fee, during rush hour or other high-usage times when roads are clogged is allowed. In Washington-think this is considered a green policy, pushing more people to public transit or encouraging commuting during off-times.

    States are also free to set up tolls on roads that aren’t paid for with federal dollars. All large-scale roads in Wisconsin were built, in part, with federal highway funds.

    Most states simply throw up their hands. The costs of making existing roads ‘toll ready’ is expensive; the only practical choices for toll roads are privately funded expressways – like providing quick by-pass access to an airport. Those tolls are used to pay off the private bonds that made the road possible. They’re not a revenue-source for the state.

    The other money raising ideas for transportation projects are unappealing: a one-cent-per-mile odometer tax probably doesn’t have support to pass. Higher registration fees were opposed by Governor Walker in his last term. A 5-cent increase in the gas tax would be unpopular. But at least those choices are possible. Toll roads in Wisconsin are not.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Two justices and The Dream

    Posted by Chris Conley

    US Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor is pictured in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office in the US Capitol in Washington June 2, 2009. REUTERS-Jonathan Ernst 

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) There are two minorities on our U.S. Supreme Court. One, Sonia Sotomayor, is a Latina. The other, Clarence Thomas, is black.

    Both have written autobiographies. Sotomayor’s writing is getting much more attention because it was published earlier this month. She is getting very favorable reviews because of her openness about the struggles of her childhood.

    She is indeed an American success story. She grew up in a single-parent household. She had personal medical challenges when she was younger. She persevered, got a world class education, and became a person of achievement in adulthood.

    If you read her book, it’s also clear that she is a product of affirmative action. Other people – with white skin – had better high school transcripts. Yet she got one of the coveted seats in Princeton’s freshman class. She is unapologetic. Hers is the modern-day view of the types of advantages are okay so long as the recipient makes good use of them. Against that yardstick, this Supreme Court justice is the poster child for how affirmative action is supposed to work. Fair or unfair, she got a leg-up over others because of her ethnicity. She argues that society was paid back through her success and contributions.

    Now consider the book Justice Thomas wrote about his own life in 2008: “Racial preference had robbed my achievement of its true value." He graduated with honors from The College of the Holy Cross and Yale Law and came to resent the assumption that he got into and had personal success at elite schools because he’s an African-American. He was as-smart or smarter than his peers. He has a right to be offended when someone presumed that he wasn't.

    On this Martin Luther King Day, let’s reflect on the differences. Dr. King’s great dream was that his daughters would one day “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Thomas is there. Sotomayor finds it impossible to imagine her achievements if her race wasn’t front-and-center in her life.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - The gas tax

    Posted by Chris Conley


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Here comes an interesting test for Governor Scott Walker.

    He’s opposed to higher taxes. That’s part of Walker’s “brand” – a conservative, tax-cutter.

    His own transportation advisory commission is about to recommend a tax increase. The governor said during his State of the State address that transportation infrastructure is a top priority. What will the governor do?

    Here’s the background: Wisconsin has done long range planning for future road projects. Think of it as a wish-list for the next decade. Those projects will cost about $5-billion more than what the state estimates will be available in the road construction fund. $5-billion is a big number. The budget shortfall when Walker took office was $3-billion.

    The group will make its recommendations next week. They’ll propose a 5-cent-a-gallon increase in the gas tax. They’ll also propose a 1-cent-per-mile road usage surcharge, or, if there’s no political will for that, they’d raise vehicle registration fees by $55 a year.

    All of those are lousy ideas.

    A tax is a tax is a tax. Our governor is right to oppose higher income taxes and sales taxes. A gas tax is no different. I don’t care how that tax comes out of my wallet. More clever minds might spin this as a user fee instead of a tax, since how much you pay depends on how much you drive. No matter. It’s still a tax.

    The gas tax goes into a special fund to pay specifically for road project. The state’s road builders consider that fund their special carve-out. (Consider their opposition for the Madison-to-Milwaukee train.) Road interests are political supporters of Walker’s.

    If the governor can say ‘no’ to higher taxes to pay for social welfare programs, he should also be able to say ‘no’ to his friends in the construction industry. The message should be simple. Cut back the road-building wish list. Choose less expensive alternatives. Live within your means – just like every other state program has to do.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Zero Dark Thirty

    Posted by Chris Conley

    As promised, Seth Mela and I watched Zero Dark Thirty this afternoon.

     Zero Dark Thirty (2012) Movie Reviews


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  First of all, it’s not torture. For once, the political class manufactured a phrase that’s accurate. It is indeed ‘enhanced interrogation’. And the bottom line is you need to watch those scenes and decide for yourself.

    Zero Dark Thirty presents us with terrorists – bad people – who know information about evil that is being plotted against us. Our CIA interrogators have to get it out of them.

    How? A suspect has a large towel placed over his head and a pitcher of water is poured over him – so called ‘waterboarding-lite’. A suspect is shoved into a cabinet about the size of a coffin and is left there in cramped darkness. One is deprived of sleep. Another is subjected to continuous loud music. How effective these methods are is up for debate. Indeed suspects don’t remember specific details when they haven’t slept for four days. Someone might say anything when they’re under duress.

    I’m left with two thoughts after seeing Zero Dark Thirty:

    First, while I don’t find enhanced interrogation objectionable in theory, I do in practice. I could never do those things to another human being – even if they are terrorists. Admittedly, that makes me morally ambiguous. Like in A Few Good Men, I rise and fall under a blanket of security provided by others and I’m not entirely comfortable with how they go about their business.

    Secondly, there are casualties of war within our intelligence community just like there are among combat soldiers. In Zero Dark Thirty some are victims of terror attacks; others are targeted by death squads. And when the lead character, Maya, tells her superior that she’s been tracking Osama Ben Laden for twelve years – and has done nothing else – you sense that she’s all used up when her objective is finally realized. Go back to civilian life? Not likely. Remain constantly on high-alert for the CIA? Impossible. Just like a soldier, our agents pay a high price to serve our country


    Chris Conley