“Lump of Coal” Awards

t’s hard to remember—blame it on the sleep deprivation that comes with parenthood and the seemingly wall-to-wall Brett Favre coverage—but there were things to celebrate in politics this year (the inauguration of our nation’s first African American president comes to mind). But when we look at 2009, it’s hard not to focus on some rough spots.

With that in mind, we give the Think Again column’s first annual “Lump of Coal” awards. The criteria is arbitrary; we did not receive any swag to sway us in making these selections, and we did our best to avoid easy targets such as state Rep. Jeff Wood, hysterical commentators on either extreme of the political spectrum or South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

Cheating kids: We can’t think of much worse than defrauding a state program intended to subsidize child care for the working poor, but that’s what some providers did, to the tune of millions of dollars. To make things worse, state officials failed to reform Wisconsin Shares until several months after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first exposed the problem.

Preferring the pit: Some west Madison residents would rather see an empty pit than a new Target store next to Hilldale. With all due respect, what’s wrong with a reputable employer within walking distance of residential areas and accessible by public transportation? Maybe the naysayers are like us and have trouble sticking to a shopping list, with too many impulse buys as a result.

Guns blazing: That’s what some supporters of concealed carry argued would have made the difference when Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was badly beaten after trying to come to the aid of a woman and child on his way home from the state fair. Seems like overreaching, and at the wrong moment.

Been to the Terrace, IOC?: We know the Girl from Ipanema has some appeal, but we think members of the International Olympic Committee failed to properly consider the merits of our fair city (and the world-class cycling courses involved) in making its decision to give the Summer Games to Rio over Chicago. Did anyone bother to send them some cases of Spotted Cow and Island Wheat so they know what they’re missing?

Click delete: So your uncle sends you an e-mail forward of unknown origin on one of several possible topics, including health care reform, the citizenship of Barack Obama, the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden or theories that Michael Jackson is still alive. Do us all a favor and do the right thing, and it doesn’t involve the “forward” button. Not sure what to do? Check out politifact.com, a Pulitzer Prize-winning website devoted to debunking such messages.

Beer for babies? As state lawmakers try to do their part to change Wisconsin’s drinking culture, a national group purporting to represent “children’s rights” is opposed to a measure to restrict anyone under eighteen from drinking in bars. Under current law, kids of any age can drink in a bar if they’re with a parent. If both the state’s Tavern League and Medical Society support the change, why does this group think they need to step in?

Ed’s a Republican: One of the best things about Ed Thompson, Tommy’s brother, was his refusal to conform to political norms. When he ran for governor as a Libertarian—garnering ten percent of the vote—he held a campaign event at a sewage treatment plant, arguing it smelled better there than at the Capitol. Now he’s announced he’s a Republican in a bid for a state Senate seat. Bummer.

Barbara Lawton’s “very personal reason” speculation: To the self-appointed “insiders” who were so willing to spread wild speculation on the radio (we’re looking at you, WTAQ’s Jerry Bader), you did a disservice to the Lieutenant Governor. Even though we think Wisconsin still deserves an honest answer about whey Lawton decided not to seek the Democratic nomination for governor, the rampant rumor mill went way too far.

Drunken-driving advocates: At this point, that’s the only way to correctly label those fighting against stricter laws for drunken drivers. This is an embarrassment to the state. Period. Too many people are dying on Wisconsin roadways and those lawmakers and lobbyists standing in the way should be ashamed. We expect serious action, not politics, when people’s lives are at stake.

Sarah Palin’s secrets: No media. No cameras. No cell phones. We have no problem with former VP candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin coming to Wisconsin to promote her book and raise money for Wisconsin Right to Life. But shunning the rest of the public from your event shows one more thing: no guts.

Colin Benedict is WISC-TV’s news director. Before that he was the station’s political reporter. He’s lived in the Madison area since 1995. E-mail him at cbenedict@wisctv.com. Jenny Price is a Madison native who covered the state Capitol for the Associated Press and has written about Wisconsin politics for a decade. E-mail her at jenny.price@gmail.com.