By Doug Hissom Special to Published Sep 04, 2009 at 11:25 AM

The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, its advertisers or editorial staff.

Milwaukee Ald. Tony Zielinski got the brush off from Mayor Tom Barrett after Zielinski's challenge to debate the mayor's plan to take over running the Milwaukee Public School system. The mayor wants the authority to appoint the currently elected school board and the superintendent, as well.

The mayor's office released a statement that essentially said Zielinski was more concerned with raising his name recognition while the mayor was more concerned about improving the quality of MPS.

Zielinski recently announced that he's going to run for lieutenant governor for the 2010 election.

He didn't take the mayor's return volley lightly.

"To me the fact that the mayor has refused to debate the primary council sponsor of legislation to oppose his move to control MPS just shows he's not real confident or strong in his position," Zielinski said in a statement.

The mayor's plan has the backing of Gov. Jim Doyle, but needs approval from the state Legislature. So far few details have emerged about the idea. But bigger cities such as Chicago and Detroit have tried a similar plan with questionable success. Detroit has gone back to an elected school board.

Lacking Lobbying Attention: Milwaukee County government hasn't exactly been a hotbed of lobbying activity, reports County Clerk Joe Czarnezki. Seven interest groups hired 16 lobbyists and spent a little over $10,000 in an attempt to influence county officials during the first six months of the year.

The Grandview Management company spent the most -- $4,000 -- on schmoozing county supervisors. It runs Ellen's Catering and Coast, its restaurant in O'Donnell Plaza near the shores of Lake Michigan. It recently received county approval to close the public restaurant space so it could lease it out for private parties.

Lobbyists and their bosses are required to file expense reports with the county clerk. These reports are available to the public in the clerk's office. A summary of these expenditures, as well as a listing of all registered lobbyists and the organizations that employ lobbyists, are posted on the county clerk's website at:

Last year, 16 interest groups hired 28 lobbyists and spent nearly $50,000 to influence county officials.

In contrast, lobbyists spent $119,785 in trying to influence city officials. The Mandel Group development company led the way in spending the most on influence peddling. The city report can be found here.

Voter Expansion: A bill working its way through the Assembly would remove the waiting period to vote once a felon is free from incarceration. The Democracy Restoration Act would allow 42,000 people to vote that now can't. Currently, a person has to wait until they're off probation and parole supervision before they can vote.

State Rep. Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) is a major sponsor of the bill, which received a public hearing this week.

"It is, as W.E.B. Du Bois argued over 100 years ago, the power of the ballot we need in sheer defense, else what can save us from a second slavery?" Grigsby said. "While this issue is so detrimental to Wisconsin's communities of color, we must remember that our current voting laws impact all Wisconsinites, black and white, urban and rural. Issues surrounding the right to vote impact every citizen, which is why every citizen must take action to improve and strengthen Wisconsin's democratic tradition."

Grigsby said similar laws have been passed in 18 states since 1997, including Illinois and Michigan.

According to the ACLU of Wisconsin, blacks comprise 39 percent of disenfranchised voters, but only constitute 5 percent of the state's voting population. One in nine black voters in Wisconsin has lost the right to vote, compared to one in 50 for the rest of the population.
She said Wisconsin has the 11th highest rate of black voter disenfranchisement in the United States.

Playground Politics: The fun never stops in the UW-Milwaukee student government. The student senate wants to impeach the student government president, who was elected in May.

The president, Jay Burseth, claims it's a conservative conspiracy led by student senate leader Kyle Duerstein. Burseth says the impeachment fun is over his efforts to stop various student government helpers from getting paid and because he's an activist with the Students for a Democratic Society (which these days is a far cry from the SDS chapters in the late 1960s and early ‘70s).

Duerstein, a former St. Francis school board member, basically calls Burseth names in his blogs and contends that the president was breaking the government rules.

Burseth sent out a press release in his defense.

"Duerstein has a history of working for past Student Association administrations which have been accused of embezzling money and kicking opposition parties off the ballot during the annual Student Association election process," he says.

Both students have long-winded blogs on the issue, which are sometimes humorous, sometimes mean, and all very public.

Student government at UWM has, at time, in the past had a circus-like atmosphere. Last year a different president was found guilty of stealing $10,000 from the government coffers.

For God and Country: Samantha Carter is doing some serious math in her campaign for Congress in Milwaukee. She notes in a recent release that if she wins she'll be 27 years and two months old at the time of inauguration, making her the youngest woman to be elected to Congress. She points out that the youngest woman in Congress was New York's Elizabeth Holtzman who was 31 years and seven months old when she was elected.

What does this have to do with the issues? Nothing. Carter is running for Milwaukee's Congressional seat under the Independent American Party banner. The Independent American Party is generally considered a religious right-based party and the remnants of the former American Independent Party that was founded by George Wallace. That party was pretty much a front for anti-segregationists and far-right politics. The Independent American Party is considered to have a good base in Nevada and Utah but has outreach to most states.

Some items from the Independent American Party platform:

  • The immediate termination of all programs of foreign aid, whether military or non-military, to all foreign governments.
  •  Immediate withdrawal from the United Nations and NATO.
  • The repeal of all federal gun legislation and state firearm laws which are not in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.
  • Strong immigration reform including the repeal of amnesty laws and the prompt deportation of all illegal aliens and a clarification of the 14th Amendment that does not recognize the U.S. citizenship of children born to illegal immigrants on U.S. soil.
  • English as America's official language.
  • Outlawing cloning and the development of genetic mutations.
  • Parents have the right to choose how their children are educated.
  • Restoration of god to the public square.
  • Marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman only.
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.