By Doug Hissom Special to Published Nov 23, 2007 at 5:30 AM

What's more entertaining this time of year than football? How about dragging politics into America's fall pastime? Couch potatoes and armchair quarterbacks are riled about missing their favorite games and have sought help from, of all things, government.

Two new networks have raised the blood pressure of the gridiron faithful: the NFL Network and the Big Ten Network. Wisconsin fans were upset earlier this season when they couldn't get two key Badgers games on their local cable outlet. Bucky lost those two scrums anyway, sparing fans tearful afternoons. And now the Packers Nation is outraged that most of the state won't be able to see the "Duel in Dallas" on Nov. 29. The game is being broadcast on the NFL Network, which is not offered as part of the standard cable package on Time Warner or Charter. It will be aired in Milwaukee on Channel 12.

The Arena Strategy Group -- headed by Mark Graul, former campaign manager for Mark Green's 2006 gubernatorial race and current spokesman for John Gard's congressional pitch -- has taken out a radio ad encouraging listeners to send messages urging elected officials to step in and require cable companies to include the NFL Network on basic cable. Sort of strange that for football conservatives ask for government intervention.

The Web site provides all the tools for the fan to get involved in the political process, such as pre-written letters and quick access to their local legislators.

On a related front, the Big Ten Network has politicians grabbing the ball and trying to score points over its controversy. The BTN, Time Warner and Charter cable have failed to come to an agreement over whether the cable franchises should offer the BTN as part of basic cable packages. The cable companies prefer to feature it at a premium price.

State Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and state Rep. Kitty Rhoades (R-Hudson) have proposed the sloganesque Fair Access to Networks, which would bring in an arbitrator to select among competing proposals when an impasse occurs between independent programmers and cable providers.

And state Reps. David Travis (D-Madison), Frank Boyle (D-Superior) and Mary Hubler (D-Rice Lake) have asked the Legislature's Joint Audit Committee to look into how much money UW-Madison is getting from the Big Ten Network, as well as other contract details. Travis told a Madison newspaper that he viewed it as a personal foul that basic cable customers couldn't see Badgers sports and when he inquired whether the state public television network could broadcast the Badgers football game against Ohio State he was told that the contract didn't allow it.

"How did Wisconsin get in the position that its public university can't televise its own games on public television?" he asked.

Out of the Obscure: Tim Michels, former GOP candidate for U.S. Senate and current construction magnate, has emerged from obscurity to become state chairman for the presidential campaign of Mike Huckabee. Better known around the country for losing 100 pounds than being governor of Arkansas, Huckabee called Michels "a highly-motivated manager, distinguished military veteran, and a strong supporter of common sense, conservative values."

Huckabee may be under the radar for now, but some pundits think if he could get a leg up with a good showing in Iowa, his views cross over all the factions of the Republican Party and he is not as divisive a candidate as Rudy Giuliani or as cloudy as Mitt Romney.

Romney's Family Values: To paraphrase Ken Mehlman, former chairman of the Republican Party, on the weirdness of the 2008 campaign during a recent speech in Madison: It's the only election in which the only Republican candidate who has been married to one wife is a Mormon.

Angels Take Flight: It's the most distasteful sort of headline-grabbing there is -- exploiting the shooting of two police officers. That's what the Guardian Angels -- with the help of South Side Milwaukee Ald. Tony Zielinski -- did last weekend. The Angels, at the invite of Zielinski, marched around the area of 13th and Greenfield with media cameras in tow, in the middle of the day. (Not exactly high-crime time, but good lighting for the cameras.) It's the area where two officers were shot while in the midst of a gang fight.

It's not like these beret-sporting, jack-booted, red-coat wearing men would get in the middle of a gang fight. In fact, some folks think the Angels themselves look rather like a gang. (A recent story in the Nashville paper identified Angels members as "Rathor," "Tux," "Thorn," "Tank," "Brelo" and "Spectre.")

But for Saturday's media event, Guardian Angels from Madison and Green Bay had to fill the ranks, since there are none in Milwaukee -- save for Willie Brooks, who has been at the helm of two previous failed Angels affairs.

Showing up after headline-making violence seems the modus operandi for the Angels here and elsewhere. High-profile bus violence in the late 1980s brought Brooks before the press promising patrols to calm the passengers. But Brooks was seen more in the media than in the streets. A writing partner and I were repeatedly stood up during attempts to find him or his group back then -- even on Brooks' front porch. Reports of Angels on buses or elsewhere were rare.

It follows the splash tactics that Angels' national founder, Curtis Sliwa, uses. Sliwa got caught staging good deeds for his Angels New York City chapter so they could get free positive press. And when he took the Angels road show to Halifax recently, the local press accused him of over-exaggerating the local crime scene to whip up public support.

Sliwa is currently trying to get an Angels "reality" TV show aired on the A&E network. While Sliwa claimed the group was in talks with A&E, network officials told the New York Daily News that it was news to them. Sliwa also hosts a radio talk show in New York and is a regular on the lecture circuit.

The Angels in Milwaukee seem to part of a recent focus on big cities by the group, which claims chapters in 90 cities and nine countries. Nashville, Phoenix, the Quad Cities, New Haven and Pontiac, Mich. have all hailed start-ups recently.

Earlier this year a chapter started in Boston and was initially opposed by the mayor. But a positive reception from the citizens quelled his questions. Since no taxpayer support is involved -- and their numbers are usually never more than 20 -- if people wearing berets and red coats want to walk the streets to make people feel safer there is no harm in that, right?

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.