EDITOR: Jamakaya, Director, Wisconsin Center for Pluralism

Conservatives Gather for 2nd "Future Wisconsin" Conference

WAUWATOSA . . . About 250 conservatives gathered March 11 at the Bluemound Gardens Conference Center in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa for the second annual "Future Wisconsin" conference. The event was sponsored by the Wisconsin Conservative Leadership Coalition (WCLC) and its publishing arm, Wisconsin Conservative Digest, with financial support from the corporate-financed Americans for Prosperity Foundation (APF).

Last year, the Center for Pluralism published a detailed review of each session at the Future Wisconsin conference. Last Fall, we also ran an article about the money and personalities behind the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Because many speakers were similar to those at the 2005 event, what follows is a more subjective account of the 2006 conference.

Conservative Digest publisher Bob Dohnal issued a call to arms before the event in which he paid a back-handed compliment to Fighting Bob Fest, which draws thousands of progressives to the Sauk County Fairgrounds each September. While calling Fighting Bob Fest a "liberal hate-fest" that attracts "wild-eyed leftwing activists" who disparage conservatives with "incredible amounts of vitriol," he nevertheless decided that conservatives could benefit from such an annual gathering, built "on positive discussion about solving problems in Wisconsin, rather than endlessly lash[ing] out at liberals."

Lashing out at liberals, unions and Democrats, however, was the primary focus of many speakers at the Future Wisconsin Conference, as was a constant undertone of misogyny.

Hillary Clinton was described as a "militant socialist," Gov. Jim Doyle a "liar" and the Wisconsin Education Association Council "vicious." Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Herbert Grover "was ugly, just ugly." State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager is "the most petty, unprofessional person" to hold that office. In a misleading attack orchestrated by GOP opponent Paul Bucher, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk (a Democrat challenging Lautenschlager) was repeatedly mocked as "Catch & Release Kate." Liberal women politicians generally, but Senator Clinton in particular, were the objects of continual derision, with the audience clapping and laughing uproariously.

A GOP MINI-CONVENTION

The conference served as an unabashed pep rally for Republican candidates for state and national office. GOP consultant Daniel Schnur warmed up the audience early in the day with a stirring call to arms for the 2008 election. ("Our candidate… Our nominee… Our President…") Gubernatorial candidates Mark Green and Scott Walker (who later bowed out) addressed the crowd as did Attorney General candidates Bucher and J.B. Van Hollen. Green's campaign manager Mark Graul was a panelist, as were Lieutenant Governor candidate Jean Hundertmark and Congressional candidate Terri McCormick (seeking Green's 8th District Congressional seat). Milwaukee's Perfecto Rivera drew cheers when he said he might run against US Rep. Gwen Moore. As the crowd roared, someone seated behind me made racist comments related to Rep. Moore, who is African American.

Campaign literature, political buttons and bumper stickers were placed on all the chairs of the meeting hall, creating the look and feel of a mini-GOP convention. Because both sponsoring groups, WCLC and the AFP Foundation, are classified as 501(c)3 tax-exempt organizations, the event seemed to flout IRS rules restricting partisan and electoral activity.

A panel on "Crime and Punishment" featured predictable calls for stiffer sentencing and revival of the death penalty. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, panel moderator, gave his pitch about restoring discipline and endorsed capital punishment but was the only one to point out that building more prisons was bankrupting the state and might not be the best solution.

Alternatives to incarceration were barely discussed. AG Lautenschlager was again scorned, this time for enforcing consumer protection and other regulatory laws. Her GOP challengers, Bucher and Van Hollen, attacked her as allegedly soft on crime, but their concept of crime did not seem to extend to corporate interests, polluters, lobbyists or the white collar sector generally.

Jessica McBride, journalist and right-wing radio host on WTMJ-AM 620 in Milwaukee, expressed thanks to Ronald Reagan for repealing the Fairness Doctrine, the FCC regulation that required equal time for opposing views on the airwaves. Without its repeal, there might be no right-wing radio today, she said. Vicki McKenna, conservative radio host at WIBA-AM 1310 in Madison, urged the audience to challenge the "left-ended world view" of the mainstream media "until we kill them," she said, "until they are deader than dead."

All this talk of killing and death made me wonder where the right-to-lifers were. Like last year, Wisconsin Right to Life and the more absolutist Pro-Life Wisconsin had elaborate table displays and literature. So did the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin, which is leading the charge in support of the constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage and civil unions in the state. Although present, their voices were muted. For the second year running and apparently by design, the hot button topics of abortion and gay rights were absent from the agenda and panels. At least one prominent gay Republican, Jim McFarland, serves on the conference's organizing committee.

One of the funnier moments, from a progressive perspective, was the touting of Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals by conservative leaders on the panel "How to Fight Back." Right-wing pundit JJ Blonien (who has said that staff at the Freedom from Religion Foundation should all be shot) called Alinsky a communist and said his book was "the Bible" of radical leftists "because they don't believe in God." That was right before he admiringly outlined each of Alinsky's points and described how they could be used to advance conservative causes!

A "TARGET-RICH ENVIRONMENT"

Chris Kliesmet of the recall group Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG) endorsed many of Alinsky's tactics. Calling politics a "blood sport," Kliesmet said that ethical lapses by politicians have created a "target-rich environment." By mobilizing the discontent of a "huge latent reserve of fiscal conservatives," he said "citizen activists" could "take back" state and local governments. Kliesmet left little doubt that CRG, which is developing affiliates statewide, will continue to be involved in recalls and campaigns to downsize government and public services.

Michael Dean, general counsel of the First Freedoms Foundation, led a panel on "Alternative Forms of Education." For the second year, Dean dominated his panel, leaving little time for others. Dean speaks with the urgency and single-mindedness of the True Believer. Among many amazing comments, he drew a direct line from the "collectivist mentality" of American public education pioneer Horace Mann in the 1840s to Hitler's Germany in the 1940s. He disparaged teacher training, linking its origins to the discredited pseudo-science of phrenology. (Dean represented the families of students attending the Wisconsin Virtual Academy in a lawsuit filed by WEAC challenging the academy. An Ozaukee County Circuit Court judge recently rejected WEAC's challenge.)

The primary agenda of WCLC and the AFP Foundation is economic: cutting taxes and government spending, deregulating business, and increasing privatization. A panel asking the rhetorical question "Can We Afford to Live in Wisconsin?" elicited complaints about high taxes, government waste, and "pampered" public employees. Scott Walker, who presides over a nearly bankrupt Milwaukee County, called for more tax cuts and property tax freezes.

Real sparks flew at a session on the so-called Taxpayer Protection Amendment (TPA), a revised Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), and foreshadowed the infighting that led to its roller coaster ride in the legislature this Spring. Longtime TABOR proponent Rep. Frank Lasee nearly foamed at the mouth in anger over what he perceived as a watered-down, inadequate TPA. TPA champion Sen. Glenn Grothman, a fellow panelist and Republican, endured Lasee's tirade in silence.

The most disconcerting thing about attending the Future Wisconsin Conference is sitting in an overwhelmingly white middle- to upper-class audience and hearing 1) so much anger about how bad they all have it; and 2) so little compassion expressed for (or even recognition of) those who are truly oppressed or struggling. Liberals are accused of many things. But the next time someone accuses me of having a bleeding heart I plan to say, "Thank You."

– Reported by Jamakaya, Director of the Wisconsin Center for Pluralism

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Proposed Constitutional Amendment Aims to Ban Civil Unions and Gay Marriage

A proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting civil marriages between same sex couples as well as civil unions between all unmarried couples in Wisconsin will be on the ballot November 7. The Wisconsin Center for Pluralism believes this measure is unconstitutional and unnecessarily divisive. It targets real families working hard to raise their children and build stable homes and threatens the pluralistic values that make our communities strong.

When Wisconsinites go to the polls on November 7, they will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit civil unions between unmarried couples and civil marriages between same sex couples. The text of the amendment reads:

"Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state."

The first part of the amendment permanently denies marriage rights to thousands of loving and committed gay families in every community in Wisconsin. The second part permanently prohibits the adoption of any type of civil unions for gay as well as straight couples. It also puts into legal jeopardy domestic partner registries established by local governments and any benefits that flow from those governmental bodies and the hundreds of businesses in Wisconsin that recognize domestic partnerships. Among the benefits thousands of unmarried partners and their children rely on are health insurance and bereavement leave.

This proposed amendment goes way beyond banning gay marriage. It threatens virtually any legal protections for unmarried couples in Wisconsin. In Ohio where a similar law has been adopted, judges have dismissed domestic violence cases involving unmarried heterosexual couples because the victims were not married to their abusers.

Wisconsin has a proud progressive tradition and has been a trailblazer for social justice and equality. But for the first time in our history, this amendment would single out a group of citizens and deny them for the foreseeable future any legal identity or protections.

Colorado once adopted an amendment that repealed all existing civil rights protections pertaining to sexual orientation and forbade local governments to approve any such laws in the future. The US Supreme Court struck down that measure as a violation of the equal protection clause of the US Constitution (Romer v. Evans, 1996). Justice Anthony Kennedy declared:

"If the constitutional conception of 'equal protection of the laws' means anything, it must at the very least mean that a bare desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest. … We must conclude that Amendment 2 classifies homosexuals not to further a proper legislative end but to make them unequal to everyone else. This Colorado cannot do. A State cannot so deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws."

The right of gays and lesbians and straight couples to establish binding unions and to seek legal recognition does not diminish the rights or privileges enjoyed by married heterosexual couples in this state. Religious groups, independent of the state, are not required to recognize or bless such unions (although a growing number of congregations do).

The mission of the Wisconsin Center for Pluralism is to document the activities of right-wing and hate groups around the state and to promote democratic values and respect for diversity. We believe firmly that pluralism is our strength, that we all benefit from the different racial, religious, ethnic and cultural groups that contribute to our dynamic society. Fear and exclusion have no place. We believe this amendment is unnecessary, needlessly divisive and a violation of the equal protection clause. We encourage everyone to work for a fair and equal Wisconsin.

–Statement of the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Center for Pluralism, February, 2006

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Wisconsin Hate Crimes Update

INCIDENTS UP IN 2004

Late last year, the FBI released its annual Hate Crimes Statistics Report covering 2004. Local authorities reported 37 hate crime incidents in Wisconsin that year, resulting in 54 criminal charges. The figures were up from 2003 when 31 incidents and 37 offenses were reported.

Of the 37 hate incidents in 2004, 24 were motivated by racial bias, 10 by sexual orientation bias, and 3 by bias against the victim's ethnicity. The incidents occurred in Appleton, Beloit, Green Bay, Janesville, Brillion, LaCrosse, Madison, Wausau, Menomonie, Tomah, Pewaukee Village, and Milwaukee and its southern suburbs. Incidents also occurred at campuses of the University of Wisconsin at Parkside and Whitewater and in rural Dodge County.

The true number of hate crimes may never be known due to the reluctance of some victims to report them, to the lack of training which leaves some law enforcement officers unable to fully identify and investigate such crimes, and to the reluctance of some prosecutors to invoke the hate crime sentencing provision when charging offenders. Of the 369 law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin, only 19 reported any hate incidents to the FBI in 2004.

The FBI's 2004 Hate Crime Statistics Report shows that states with roughly the same population as Wisconsin have many more agencies reporting many more incidents of hate crimes annually. In Arizona, 19 (of 82) law enforcement agencies reported a total of 224 hate incidents for 2004. In neighboring Minnesota, 63 (of 318) agencies reported 239 hate crime incidents in that state.

Some might assume that the lower incidence of hate crime reporting in Wisconsin is due to a more tolerant environment and a greater acceptance of different people. Anecdotal evidence collected by an array of community-based organizations around the state suggests that while many Wisconsinites do respect the diversity of their fellow citizens, expressions of hatred in both word and deed are still alarmingly common.

RECENT HATE INCIDENTS

RHINELANDER . . . In April, 48-year-old Ronald A. Ruechel was charged with disorderly conduct as a hate crime for allegedly threatening to shoot several American Indians who were spearfishing on Lake Nokomis in Oneida County.

WAUSAU . . . In February, anti-gay epithets were posted on a student's door at Marathon Hall at the UW-Marathon County. According to the administration, the "hate-filled remarks" were of enough concern that they requested a police investigation.

GREEN BAY . . . Last October, 17-year-old Jared Smith was convicted of disorderly conduct as a hate crime for his racially motivated attack on African American students at Green Bay Preble High School.
Last June, 20-year-old Aaron Rush, a self-proclaimed Nazi skinhead, was convicted of felony robbery and misdemeanor battery as a hate crime for attacking a black man outside Wal-Mart on Green Bay's west side. Eight days later, out on bond, Rush and an accomplice were arrested for allegedly attacking two women who are lesbians in a state park near Zion, IL.

MADISON . . . In January, four young men were charged with disorderly conduct and criminal damage to property after defacing and leaving threatening messages on the door of a student in the Ogg Hall residence at UW-Madison. In February, two men were charged with battery as a hate crime for attacking two men at the East Towne Mall. Both incidents were anti-gay in nature. In March, police arrested a 54-year-old man for allegedly threatening to shoot several African American boys while on a Metro bus. In April, Latino slurs were painted on a wall at LaFollette High School.

MILWAUKEE . . . In February, federal Judge Rudolph Randa sentenced Daniel L. Dropik to five years and three months in prison for attempting to burn down two African American churches, one in Milwaukee, the other in Michigan. Dropik admitted the crimes were racially motivated.

– various media reports

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STATE BRIEFS

Right-Wing Funding Guru Dies

WEST BEND . . . Michael Joyce, longtime chair of the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, died in February. Joyce was credited by fellow conservatives with harnessing philanthropy to fuel the resurgent right-wing political movement in the US. According to Bill Berkowitz at MediaTransparency.com, "Joyce recognized the importance of creating and sustaining a broad infrastructure of right-wing think tanks … a host of publications, chairs at academic institutions and smaller advocacy groups."

During Joyce's tenure, the Bradley Foundation gave millions to right-wing think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. It funded groups fighting organized labor, like the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and poured millions into the campaigns to end welfare and to promote voucher schools and the privatization of public services. Under Joyce, Bradley also supported scholars whose work was deemed racist by many critics (Dinesh D'Souza's The End of Racism and Charles Murray and Richard J. Hernstein's The Bell Curve, which argued that blacks and Latinos are intellectually inferior).

Fake TV News Exposed

MADISON . . . The Center for Media and Democracy has issued a report documenting the prevalent use of Video News Releases (VNRs) by broadcast news outlets nationwide. VNRs are produced by public relations agencies on behalf of corporate interests like GM, Pfizer, Capital One and Intel. The short spots are designed to fit seamlessly into newscasts, giving the impression of journalistic veracity. In all instances surveyed by the Center, TV stations running the ads "actively disguised the sponsored content to make it appear to be their own reporting." In almost all cases, "stations failed to balance the clients' messages with independently-gathered footage or basic journalistic research." The Center for Media and Democracy is a non-profit organization that investigates public relations spin and propaganda, and promotes media literacy and citizen journalism.

Marquette Prof Calls Equality "Absurd"
University Bans "Vagina Monologues"

MILWAUKEE . . . Last November, Marquette University Political Science Professor Christopher Wolfe testified before a legislative committee in support of the constitutional amendment banning civil marriage for same sex couples, declaring: "It's absurd to say everybody should be treated equally."

Wolfe has edited two volumes (Homosexuality and American Public Life and Same Sex Matters: The Challenge of Homosexuality) that reflect the Vatican's view of homosexuality as "intrinsically disordered." Contributors to both books urge treating gays for their alleged moral and psychological failings, and argue against recognition of sexual minorities within the law.

Marquette University banned a performance of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues in March, leading students to produce a series of well-attended performances of the popular feminist play off-campus. Ensler's play includes compelling personal testimonies by women of diverse backgrounds about their bodies and sexual experiences. The shows raised funds for battered women's services in Milwaukee.

Robert Welch University Goes Online

APPLETON . . . Robert Welch University, an Appleton-based online university named for the founder of the John Birch Society, opened for business last year. It offers a curriculum "rooted in the cultural and moral traditions of the founding era" with the goal of preparing students "capable of leading America back to limited, constitutional government." Faculty includes Thomas E. Woods, Jr., author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History (from the right-wing publishing house Regnery), which some critics have attacked for its selective and ideological view of the past. Robert Welch was a virulent anti-communist and xenophobe who warned about anti-American conspiracies and the development of a world government. The Birch Society, which has chapters nationwide, continues to crusade against the United Nations, big government, internal subversion and immigration.

Restrictions Placed on Funeral Protests

MADISON . . . The legislature passed and Gov. Jim Doyle has signed the Funeral Dignity Act, requiring protesters to stay 500 feet away from funerals or memorial services from an hour before they begin to an hour after they end. The bill was adopted in response to loud anti-gay protests by members of Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church at the funerals of Wisconsin service members who have died in Iraq. Members of the fringe church claim that the soldiers have been punished because the US tolerates homosexuality.

Wauwatosa Retires "Raiders" Logo But Keeps Name

WAUWATOSA . . . The Wauwatosa School Board voted in March to retain the name "Red Raiders" for Wauwatosa East High School's sports teams but retired a logo that caricatured an American Indian. The logo will no longer appear in the school's Raider Room or on its sports apparel.

– Wisconsin State Journal, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, other media reports

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Copyright 2006 by Wisconsin Center for Pluralism, Inc. All rights reserved.