By Doug Hissom Special to Published Apr 27, 2007 at 5:24 AM

The barrage of political issue ads from front groups of major political players continues this week as the Wisconsin Realtors Association debuted its new alias, the Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance. It’s target: Gov. Doyle’s proposed increase in the real estate transfer fee, which kicks in when property is sold.

Doyle’s budget calls for a hike from $3 to $6 per $1,000 of property value. The Homeowners Alliance television ad menacingly asks the rhetorical question: “How do you feel about double taxation?”

The new Homeowners Alliance has the same brain trust as that behind the Realtors Association, but, assures the Alliance Web site, “The Homeowners Alliance is focused only on ISSUES -- NOT on candidates or political campaigns. The Alliance won't engage in partisan elections, but only work on issues at hand.” (Their emphasis.)

Of course, the Realtors Association is already carrying the partisan political water already. The Realtors Political Action Committee gave $154,950 to various state campaigns in 2005 and 2006 -- tops in the state. The campaign finance watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reports that the Realtors PAC gave Republican governor’s candidate Mark Green $42,000. And Doyle? Zero. And while spreading the rest of its political largess across a slew of candidates, there is a decided Republican lean towards its contributions.

And that money got results. The Realtors Association wielded its clout over pier regulations in the state, nearly single-handedly getting lawmakers to reel in DNR restrictions on lake homes.

Funding for the new project will be from Realtors’ dues and, of course, through the Realtors Association itself.

“The goal of this new entity is to provide a public resource and watchdog for advocating and protecting homeowners’ interests in the state of Wisconsin,” notes the Web site,

The group has also put on its agenda: Preserving the mortgage interest deduction; promoting a statewide property tax freeze and “scores” of land-use related issues.

Fraud Conviction Canceled: Another high-profile voter fraud case in southeastern Wisconsin was tossed out on appeal this week. An appeals court found that an organizer with the group Project Vote was guilty more of bad supervision than fraud when he was overseeing voter registration efforts in Racine and Kenosha counties.  Damien Jones, 27, was charged by the Racine County District Attorney’s office with eight counts of election fraud and misconduct for his work in Project Vote. He made a guilty plea deal and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and two years probation. He withdrew his plea to appeal.

Workers under Jones were leaving voter registration sheets in public places and coming back to pick them up after they were signed, a violation of election laws. The fact that workers were paid by the signature was an obvious incentive for the fraud. That practice has since been made illegal in Wisconsin..

Republicans have been drumbeating since the 2000 election that massive voter fraud was taking place in the Milwaukee area and Jones’ case -- he was charged just days before the election -- was cited as proof. Still, only five of 14 Milwaukee residents charged by federal prosecutors were convicted.

One Project Vote worker pled guilty to charges of forgery for his work in falsifying voter registration signatures in exchange for a reduced charge. Another was found guilty in a jury trial of election fraud and misconduct charges last year.

Building Plan Bombs Again: A key element to reviving the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and 27th Street has stalled again, because the developer was not approved for state tax credits it claims are needed for the project to go forward.

The Grand Avenue Lofts, a $12.4 million housing and retail effort featuring 60 apartments and 20 condos was rejected by the state for $750,000 in tax credits that are used to encourage developers to build housing for low income residents. The credits are usually sold by the developers to finance the upstart of buildings. It’s the second rejection for Minneapolis-based Sherman Associates, planners for the project.

The corner of 27th and Wisconsin has long been a bane to the near West Side, since a hotel there bailed out of its high-rise building. The city has since paid for the destruction of the building and the reclamation of the lot, yet has continued to watch it sit vacant for the better part of a decade.

Ald. Bob Bauman, who represents the area, has tried to get more retail and housing on the site -- crucial to getting the neighborhood on the rebound from what’s become an area in decline, unless of course, the pool room on the corner is considered economic development. Bauman considered the building a catalyst.

The tax credits would have been allocated because of the rentals, housing that Bauman didn’t exactly favor.

“The main reservation was with the rental units,  given the huge number of rental units that already exist in the neighborhood. What is needed most is a major grocery/retailer and more owner-occupied units whether they be single family, duplexes, townhouses or condos,” he said in an e-mail. “The main advantage was that the project developed a long dormant site and would serve as a catalyst for additional development in the area. The architecture was also attractive.”

Mis-fire: Milwaukee Ald. Bob Donovan, a leading critic of Mayor Tom Barrett’s approach to crime prevention, was quick to pen a statement denouncing a Police Department plan to restrict uniformed officers from taking comp days or additional vacation this summer in an effort to reduce crime. Donovan calls the plan, which is just one of several being considered by the department, “An attempt to salvage this administration’s failures of years past at dealing meaningfully with our city’s public safety problems.”

Donovan insists the idea was generated from the mayor’s office.

Fellow Ald. Joe Dudzik, whose district is chock full of police union members, added, “If this is such a good idea now, then why haven’t we done it for the last three years? It looks to me like this chief will end up saddling the taxpayers ... with one hefty bill during her final months on the job.”

Donovan has called for the National Guard to help the police keep the streets safe this summer, a seeming contradiction with his aspersion to keeping the cops on the street.

He says he can be inconsistent because asking police to work overtime has a negative and stressful impact on the officers.

In the years of Chief Art Jones, aldermen were consistent in bemoaning paying for record overtime costs -- more because of budget stress, rather than stress to the officers -- and Barrett has promised to find extra money in the budget this year for more police overtime.

Call it the Chartreuse Letter: A bill that would mandate convicted sex offenders have greenish-colored license plates on their vehicles passed an Assembly committee this week. The bill’s author Joel Kleefish (R-Oconomowoc), also happens to be the chairman of the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee, which helped move the bill along. Kleefish was joined by five Republicans (including Leah Vukmir of Wauwatosa and Bill Kramer of Waukesha) and two Democrats, including Tony Staskunas of West Allis. Milwaukee Democrats Fred Kessler and Tamara Grigsby were joined by Democrat Bob Turner of Racine in opposing the measure.

Kleefish argued that somehow kids would be more protected if they see a green license plate on a car, perhaps making them run away. No matter that it appears an impossible requirement to enforce, the penalties include $25,000 in fines and 10 years in prison for not installing the plates and $10,000 in fines and six years in prison for driving someone else’s vehicle without them. The ridiculousness of the bill will likely be vetted by the time it hits the Assembly floor, but Kleefish was able to get media face time and headlines for his efforts.

Cleaning Water Draws Crowds: Over 2,000 volunteers turned out on Saturday morning to clean the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers during the annual river cleanup, reports organizers at the Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers.

Attention to the cleanup was heightened shortly before the event when the Kinnickinnic River was named one of the country’s most threatened rivers by a national water watchdog group. The KK made the list due to accumulated pollution at its mouth in the harbor and because most of its length remains a concrete channel which is not only dangerous to innocent bystanders but also a conduit for polluted run-off.

FMR estimates that 500 volunteers got their clothes muddy working on the KK for three hours on Saturday morning. As the case last year, a crane was used to haul dumpsters filled with everything from tires, shopping carts and other trash from the riverbed.

Notable participants include Mayor Tom Barrett, who offered moral support to volunteers at Jackson Park and other locales and Milwaukee Ald. Michael Murphy, who pitched in along the Hank Aaron Trail in the Menomonee Valley.

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.