By Doug Hissom Special to Published Dec 14, 2007 at 5:01 AM

It's no secret we like the grog in Wisconsin. And with all that drinking it's easy to assume that too many tend to drive after drinking as well. But Mothers Against Drunk Driving now reports that we tend to run into each other and kill each other more often than in other states after drinking and driving.

MADD says that Wisconsin has the highest percentage of fatalities from alcohol-related crashes as compared to the total fatalities from other accidents -- 42.1 percent or 305 deaths in 2006 -- compared with the rest of the union. It does note, however, that the figure is a 5.3 percent decrease from the year before.

"A weak interlock law, first offenses are not crimes, and no sobriety checkpoints, MADD hopes to change this," says a MADD statement.

Indeed, Wisconsin's drunk driving laws could use some tweaking, mainly along the lines of more progressive discipline and it does remain the only state that does not make a first offense a crime. But that's not a deterrent. As for sobriety checkpoints, they are very scary to go through since those in the car aren't used to being probed by police given the sole reason is that they are on the road. But sobriety checkpoints seems to be more at the top of MADD's agenda these days since they are targeting at least nine states to enact checkpoints. Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen made a key point of his campaign to oppose sobriety checkpoints.

Utah had the least number of dead due to drunks compared with non-drunk traffic deaths -- 18.8 percent or 54. In terms of shear numbers, Texas led the nation with 1,354 alcohol-related road fatalities. That figure is 39 percent of the state's total road deaths, ranking it No. 47.

Private Operator Rips off VA: We're not known to drift across the geography of Wisconsin too far in this column, but this egregious example of privatization run amok cannot be ignored. Two new Veterans Administration health clinics in Hayward and Rice Lake that opened in June have closed six months later, literally locking the doors while patients waited. Employees found their paychecks bouncing shortly before the doors were shut.

The clinics were built and operated by Corporate Health and Wellness, a Kentucky-based operation that, as of late, was run as a sole proprietorship. The company's owner said it simply ran out of money, but others see it as a response to the VA canceling its contract at the end of 2008, according to several media reports. VA officials say there was no warning about the closing. They now promise that the clinics will be reopened as soon as possible. Corporate Health and Wellness says it won't allow the clinics to be operated by others unless they get paid "a fair price" for them.

About 900 vets in northern Wisconsin are affected. They will now have to go to clinics hours away in Duluth or Minneapolis for their health care. Local, state, federal and Indian officials were involved in lobbying for the clinic, although there didn't seem to be too much oversight.

Jobs Top Economic Worry List: The third chapter of the Badger Poll by the UW Survey Center was released this week and it found that Wisconsinites are not optimistic about the economic future of the state.

The survey found 41 percent of respondents saying economic conditions here are currently in "bad times," 34 percent said "good times" and a combined total of 26 percent could not decide whether economic conditions are good or bad. And almost 60 percent do not expect that there will be much change in economic conditions over the next 12 months and 70 percent don't expect much change in their municipality or surrounding area.

Other findings include:

  • About one in five respondents thought the loss and lack of jobs is the biggest economic challenge facing state residents.
  • Badgers also thought that high taxes (13 percent) and energy prices (12 percent) were challenges. Wages not keeping up with expenses (13 percent) and health care costs (8 percent) were also among the top challenges.

Doyle Weds With Taylor Campaign: The link between the Gov. Jim Doyle's office and the Milwaukee County executive campaign of Lena Taylor seems pretty solidified now. Doyle's deputy campaign manager has been lent to the Taylor campaign and Doyle is also hosting a fundraiser for Taylor Dec. 20 at Roots restaurant, 1818 N. Hubbard St. That has current exec Scott Walker's camp putting out the money plea as well, calling it a hedge against negative advertising.

"It is clear that the powers in Madison are gearing up to run all sorts of attacks on Scott. ... The amount of money that Scott has in his account at the end of the year will determine how much they grab to run negative attacks against him (and us)," goes the Walker Weekly report. "We can respond to the attack ads and win, but only if we have enough resources to get our positive message of reform and relief out to the voters.

David Riemer, who was state budget director in Doyle's office when he ran for exec against Walker in 2004, faced the same sort of linkage with Doyle, but didn't really get the money-at least not the $1 million the candidates are talking about in this race.

George Wants License Reprieve: Gary George wants his law license back, eventually. The former state senator and current felon had his license suspended after being found guilty of a conspiracy charge to funnel money from a community-based agency to his pals by using the guise of lawyer's fees. But the state's Office of Lawyer Regulation later asked that George's license be permanently revoked since he was using his position has a lawyer to commit the crimes.

George and his lawyers will argue in front of the state Supreme Court (which decides these matters) this week that the feds "overstated" the money-laundering scheme. They feel a suspension "of several years" would be sufficient discipline."

Green Snowed On: Cynthia McKinney braved the snow to get out her Green Party message for president earlier this week. McKinney, who drove north from Omaha through a major ice storm, spoke in Madison and Milwaukee on Tuesday. The former congresswoman from Georgia appeared in Milwaukee in front of about 50 people.

"It's not unusual for people who want their government to be honest," she told a small gathering in Madison made up mostly of media in pointing out that she found billions of waste in the Defense Department.

"It's up to us to do some things we haven't done before in order to get some things we haven't gotten before," she said regarding how a third party can rise to take over the White House and government in general. "Oftentimes Green solutions are radical common sense."

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.