Workers of Wisconsin, Unite

As I’ve followed the past week’s protests at the WI state capitol concerning, AB 61, the “Right to Work” bill, I thought back to the 2011 protests.  That year, I was the vice-president of our union, and I remember my email being flooded the weekend after Gov. Walker introduced the now-infamous legislation regarding collective bargaining.  I spent the weekend reading the proposed legislation and wrote a speech to give that Monday in front of the Joint Committee on Finance.  The next two days of protests were electrifying, and I was proud to have been part of them.

Fast forward to today, to the Public Hearing on AB 61.  My Twitter feed blew up with commentary about testimonies, and it made me nostalgic about my testimony.  I searched through WisconsinEye and eventually found it.  I was unable to embed it into this post, so you’ll have to click on this link, choose the video that’s almost 17 hours in length, and fast forward to 3:21:47.  If I seem bouncy, it’s because I was both nervous and excited.

If you have any thoughts on my testimony or the current “Right to Work” bill, feel free to leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading.


Social Media in the Madison Mayoral Campaigns

In my previous post, I outlined the web presence of the Madison mayoral candidates, but now I want to delve a bit further into how they are actually using social media.  According to the Pew Research Center, 71% of online adults use Facebook, making it the most popular social media website, whereas only 23% use Twitter.  As such, when it comes to campaigns, social media can be a powerful tool to organize followers, inform them, and engage in discussions with possible voters.  It can be even more powerful if the candidates use their various accounts in conjunction with each other, not just as separate entities.  With three months until the April election, I expected to see websites and social media channels that work together to coordinate the candidate’s message.

Every candidate has at least one website, one Facebook page, and one Twitter account.  Generally speaking, the online base for a campaign is the website.  Accordingly, I would expect to see the Facebook and Twitter icons so that visitors could check those out in addition to the website.  Of the five mayoral candidates, only Bridget Maniaci has the icons to both Facebook and Twitter.  Scott Resnick and Paul Soglin have the Facebook icons, but Christopher Daly and Richard Brown have no icons.  This leads to two questions- 1) Why do Daly and Brown not have the links, and 2) Why is it that Maniaci is the only one to link to Twitter?  If candidates want to use social media to its full potential they should include the links to all accounts on their website’s main page and make them easy to locate on that page (not at the very bottom underneath the treasurer information).

As for Twitter, this particular social media site allows users to include a URL in their profile.  This is a great opportunity for candidates to link to their campaign’s main website or Facebook.  Only Maniaci and Daly take advantage of this opportunity- Daly links to his Facebook page, while Maniaci links to her campaign website.  Mayor Soglin has a link, but it is to his own website, Waxing America.

It would also be in the best interests of the candidates to change their Twitter profile to include something to the extent of “The official Twitter account for (insert name), candidate to become Madison’s next mayor.”  If not that, then briefly tell visitors about your ideas.  One way to do this effectively would be to use hashtags.  For example, “Candidate for Madison mayor. Supports #sustainability, #publiceducation, and #transportation.”  This way, candidates not only share a glimpse of what they believe in, but when any Twitter user searches for those hashtags, their profile comes up, thereby increasing their reach.  Along these lines, it would also make things easier for voters if candidates used just one Twitter account for their campaign.  Right now, Maniaci and Mayor Soglin each have two accounts, and it is unclear if either one is the official campaign account.

Since more people are likely to use Facebook than any other social media site, candidates should definitely ensure their accounts are full of information.  Unlike Twitter, Facebook has no character limit; therefore, candidates should expand on their ideas.  Besides the main campaign website, candidates should put their platform on Facebook.  They should also include links to the campaign website, other social media accounts, and ways to contact the campaign.

Social media can be extremely powerful, especially as a campaign tool.  In the race to become Madison’s next mayor, candidates should consider how they can use their accounts effectively to reach possible voters, inform them, and most importantly, engage with them in discussion.

Thanks for reading.

The New Wisconsin.Gov

Recently, Wisconsin.Gov, the official website for the state of Wisconsin, underwent a makeover.  The previous website had been up for a while, so it definitely needed a new look.  Unfortunately, that new look is basically an ad for Governor Walker.

Let’s start first with the designer, Wisconsin Interactive Network, LLC.  A quick Google search yields no results for any such company.  What does come up, however, is the parent company, NIC Inc., which provides governments at a variety of levels with digital solutions.  According to an email sent out by Mike Huebsch, Secretary for the Department of Administration, the website “was delivered at no cost to the State or its citizens through a public-private partnership between the State of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Interactive Network, LLC.”  If the state if Wisconsin did not pay for it, then who did?  Visiting the new website, one might conclude that it could have been paid for by Gov. Walker’s supporters.

Here’s what I saw when I visited the website today, May 11, 2014.

The new homepage for Wisconsin.Gov
The new homepage for Wisconsin.Gov

First, notice that the “News in Wisconsin” is that the unemployment rate dropped.  That has not changed all day.  Apparently, that’s the only newsworthy information coming out of our state.

Second, in the lower left corner, you should see “Transforming Education: Improving Education Outcomes to Prepare Our Children for Success.”  That box changes every 6-7 seconds to highlight a total of six topics.  Here are the six topics in the order in which they appear on the website:

  1. Growing our Economy: Making Wisconsin a Great Place to Live and Work
  2. Developing our Workforce: Investing in Wisconsin Workers Today and the Workforce of Tomorrow
  3. Transforming Education: Improving Education Outcomes to Prepare Our Children for Success
  4. Reforming Government: Reducing Waste, Improving Services, and Making Government More Efficient
  5. Investing in Infrastructure: Protecting and Investing in Wisconsin’s Transportation Infrastructure
  6. Property Tax Relief: Reducing Waste, Improving Services, and Making Government More Efficient (I presume that this is not supposed to be the message for property taxes and that the company made an error here)

The image for each topic features Gov. Walker.  As I watched them scroll by, all I could think of were the propaganda posters featuring Lenin or Stalin in the USSR and Mao in China.  “Look at all of the great things our leader is accomplishing with his programs!  Long live the Governor!”

Mao with Children Source:
Mao with Children
Gov. Walker with Children Source: Wisconsin.Gov
Gov. Walker with Children
Source: Wisconsin.Gov

Third, the box in the bottom center that says “Find an Agency” lists three agencies on the homepage- 1) Department of Workforce Development, 2) Economic Development Corporation, WI, and 3) Transportation, Department of.  Anybody notice a pattern so far?  I find it problematic that while the background for the homepage depicts a picturesque Wisconsin lake, there’s no mention of our Department of Tourism, which the Governor touted in his 2013 State of the State.  There is also no direct link on the homepage to the Department of Education, which Gov. Walker is supposedly transforming for the better.  What we do see, however, is that there are at least three opportunities for visitors to click on links for either business or the workforce.  It’s all about priorities people.

Fourth, let’s go with a positive.  The website does a nice job of directing visitors to social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube only) for a variety of state agencies, boards, commissions, and councils.

So, what conclusions can we draw from the new website?  It’s not really a website about Wisconsin; instead, it is a campaign website for Gov. Walker.  I am not sure if NIC Inc. realizes this, but there is a lot more to Wisconsin than our governor.  Their job should be to inform visitors about Wisconsin, not Gov. Walker’s policies; let his campaign take care of that information.

Thanks for reading.

The Need for Social Studies

On January 10, legislators in the Wisconsin Assembly introduced Assembly Bill 617, calling for “the Department of Instruction to establish model academic standards.”  The bill is timely as the debate over the Common Core State Standards has been heating up in Wisconsin and other states.  I have no problem with people debating whether or not standards should be created by the federal government or the state; in fact, I think it is a discussion worth having every now and then.  My issue with AB 617 lies with the trend of ignoring or overlooking social studies.

In the past few years, there has been an emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in education and the workforce.  The WI Department of Instruction has pages devoted to STEM, as do the US Department of Education and the White House.  The Department of Education rationalizes its focus on STEM by arguing that if we don’t push it, the US will not stay a “global leader.”  The White House wants to increase the amount of STEM teachers by 100,000 because they need quality teachers to help prepare students for the “high-paid, highly-rewarding fields of [STEM].”  I understand that as we rely more and more on computers and our technology rapidly improves, we need people to work in those fields.  I also know that American students lag behind their peers in the OECD PISA rankings in math and science. The White House also has a good point about how those jobs can be high-paying.  What I do not understand, however, is the lack of attention given to social studies (or at the university level the humanities and social sciences).

Social studies consists of the following fields: behavioral sciences, economics, geography, history, and political science.  These are the areas in which students learn about themselves and how to relate with others.  In these courses, students begin to understand topics like human rights, globalization, and the roles of international organizations and NGOs.  Teachers like me work to ensure students become globally aware and to appreciate and understand different cultures and belief systems in the world.  Social studies classes are where students learn about civic engagement and what it means to be involved in the public sphere.  Students also see how different types of political and economic systems work (or don’t work).  Understanding where we come from and what has happened before us, can help us avoid the mistakes of the past and make wise choices for the future.  (As a side note, I recommend checking out the American Historical Association’s page, “Why Study History“)  It is through these fields that we can work to eliminate stereotypes, combat prejudice, and fight against extremism.  As a result, teaching social studies and other types of jobs in these fields can also be highly rewarding (not just STEM jobs thank you very much).  Social studies is clearly important to creating a better global society.  So why, when it comes to creating standards or training teachers, is social studies overlooked?

This brings me back to the debate over the Common Core and AB 617.  Go to the Common Core website and read the standards (or at least skim over them).  Did you notice that they only have math and English standards?  History/Social Studies has been lumped into the literacy standards along with science and technical subjects under the English standards.  The only content standards we have for social studies in Wisconsin come from the WI Model Academic Standards, created in 1998.  According to Kristin McDaniel, the social studies consultant at DPI, “the State Superintendent has decided to indefinitely pause social studies standards revision in Wisconsin.”  In AB 617, however, the authors of the bill would like DPI to create new social standards in 2020.  Social studies is given priority over only the arts.  Even though WI has already adopted the Common Core standards for both English and Math, the authors of the bill want new standards for math in 2016 and English in 2017.  Think about how much the world has changed since 1998 (the War on Terror, globalization, BRICS, etc.), and yet, social studies teachers in WI will continue to use outdated standards.  Once again, we see that STEM wins out over social studies.

Here are a few questions I have for the authors of AB 617:

1. Since WI has new (as of 2010) standards for math and English, why not have DPI create new standards for science and social studies first, and then reexamine math and English?

2. What are you (and your Democratic colleagues) going to do to support and promote social studies education and programs in WI?

3. Why are all twenty-two authors/sponsors of the bill Republicans?  What about the bill was unappealing to your Democratic colleagues?

Thanks for reading.

Mary Burke and Wisconsin Politics

Mary Burke has been in the news the past few months for being a possible Democratic Party candidate to run against Gov. Scott Walker in the 2014 election.  I was inspired to write this because of a Tweet from somebody over in the UK, who wrote, “A “friend” of a political party is a better friend if they are a critical friend. Do not blindly follow your leader.”  It is in that spirit that I write this post.  I do not know Ms. Burke, and this is not meant as a personal attack on her.  Rather, it is a criticism of the media coverage surrounding her political future and the message it sends about Wisconsin politics.

Make no doubt about it, I am a liberal.  I spoke in front of the JFC back in February 2011, on the very first day they took public testimony, arguing that Gov. Walker’s attack on unions was deplorable and against international norms.  I have written about Gov. Walker on both Twitter and here on my blog (see for example my pieces about employment in Wisconsin and my critique of his 2013 State of the State.)  Needless to say, I am very hopeful that a well-qualified candidate, with great vision and optimism to take Wisconsin forward, will oust him from office in 2014.

So when I read about Mary Burke and how much money she has, I am disappointed for Wisconsin politics.  Those of us who have followed Wisconsin politics since Gov. Walker took office are well aware of the tremendous amount of money flowing in from external sources to support Walker (i.e. the Koch brothers.)  So yes, it will be an uphill battle requiring a massive amount of funding to go against Walker.  If we read some of the media accounts about Ms. Burke, however, it is her money that makes her the most promising candidate.  Scott Bauer, writing for AP, wrote that Burke is “seen by many as the most viable candidate because she could tap her personal wealth to help fuel a run.”  It’s not because of her actions as a philanthropist or her time in WI state government that make her a viable candidate, but because of her money.  Joel McNally, writing for The Capital Times, wrote a bit more about Burke’s past and why she might be qualified to run for governor, but he concluded with the following statement, “Don’t worry about a millionaire buying the election. Millionaires will buy the next election no matter who wins.”  Sean Sullivan and Aaron Blake, writing for The Washington Post, stated that “If Democrat Mary Burke jumps in the race against him, Walker will be up against a candidate with a business background and a personal fortune to spend.”  Finally, Jack Craver, writing for The Capital Times, proposed that “Mary Burke’s wealth is one of the main drivers of her likely candidacy for governor.”  Are you noticing a trend?

The message that is being sent to us then, is this- if you want to run for office, it does not matter how intelligent you might be; the quality of your ideas is irrelevant; your values and ethics will not sway voters; what matters most, is the amount of money you have and might be able to raise for the campaign.  That’s what has become of Wisconsin politics.  Gone are the days of Robert M. “Fighting Bob” La Follette, who “angrily [denounced] the use of money to shut out the voice of the people.”  Instead, we live in an age where money trumps all else.

Thanks for reading.