By Doug Hissom Special to Published Apr 18, 2008 at 5:17 AM

It might not seem like the most popular topic given the timing, but Nate Nelson, a field representative for The Leadership Institute, told the Future Wisconsin Conservative Conference that his organization is trying to fight a ban on handguns at Virginia Tech University.

The Leadership Institute is one of the leading training grounds for those prone to a more conservative agenda. Virginia Tech University banned handguns on campus after Seung Hui Cho killed 32 students, teachers and himself April 16. Cho was able to buy two handguns, even though a magistrate ruled he posed a danger to himself or others.

Nelson said there would be an "empty holster protest" on campuses around the country. The Leadership Institute will even help distribute holsters to students who cannot afford them.

On the other side of the issue, demonstrators across the country held "lie-ins," at City Hall and the Capitol.

The conservative conference last week featured Congressman Paul Ryan, Kayne Robinson, former president of the National Rifle Association, David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker attended, as did Sheriff David Clarke, who wore a cowboy hat. Handguns and hunting constituted a major portion of the morning agenda.

Flying high: Wisconsin's senior U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl could cause a takeoff delay in the planned merger of Delta and Northwest. The airlines' boards agreed to merge earlier this week, a decision that would create the largest air carrier in the nation. Stockholders would be thrilled about the efficiencies (and dividends) created, but Kohl, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Antitrust Judiciary Subcommittee, must approve the merger.

"A competitive airline industry is essential to both business and leisure travelers, and the health of the American economy," Kohl said in a statement. "We are especially concerned with the consequences of this deal for travelers in small and mid-sized markets, many of whom already have the fewest choice for air carriers today."

Kohl promises to hold hearings soon.

Feed me: The Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association is acting like "Audrey II," the ravenous plant in "The Little Shop of Horrors." Once again, it appears the road builders do not want to share the pain in the next budget repair bill. Gov. Jim Doyle has proposed taking $300 million from the transportation fund to help cover a huge and immediate budget shortfall. The road builders say "nay" to that, calling it "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

WTBA Executive Director Pat Goss is trying to take a populist approach at getting more money for his constituency, referring to a poll that shows 64 percent of residents don't want gas tax and vehicle registration fees paying for the general fund -- especially in this season of the pothole. He suggests the state go to tolls or a mileage-based vehicle fee, such as one in Oregon, or a fee based on the value of the vehicle. He even suggests a short-term gas tax increase.

"It's going to take a broad-based coalition of interest groups, a bipartisan approach to find a long-term funding solution," Goss tells Wisconsin Public Radio. "Everything has got to be on the table."

Inauguration breakdown: There were dignitaries galore at the City of Milwaukee's inauguration celebration, and that does not include the politicians themselves. The audience included the city's first African-American woman alderwoman, Vel Phillips, and Agnes Zeidler, widow of former Mayor Frank Zeidler.

Incoming aldermen thanked families, campaign staffs and constituents during their speeches, and Ald. Joe Dudzik broke into tears several times.

Dudzik jokingly referred to that adage about a great man having a good woman behind him, saying, "I do not consider myself a great man, but I have a great woman behind me. I have a bevy of great women behind me."

Recalling his aldermanic career, which started in 2002, as a surprising one, he said he went from a "guy who filled potholes" to a member of the Common Council, suggesting that he never thought his attainment possible. He was with the city's Department of Public Works before winning a special election.

Dudzik even offered up some self-effacing humor, doing it better than several others.

"I am blond," he said, accidentally calling Common Council President Willie Hines, "Mayor Hines," after to a series of references about being blond. Dudzik is blond.

Ald. Terry Witkowski, who easily won re-election against former police union President Brad DeBraska, warned his colleagues of the threat of special interests creeping into the Common Council. Witkowski felt targeted by the police union from the start of his re-election campaign.

MPD and YouTube: Its internal computer system is not working too well, but that has not kept the Milwaukee Police Department from getting deeper into the Internet.

MPD now has a YouTube page.

The site will be showing crime surveillance videos usually distributed to the media. It also will list the department's favorite "good-guy" stories. The address:

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.