Politics in the capital city

he’s seventy-two years old, lives in Cudahy, is a lifelong Democrat and she votes—every election. I like to use my grandmother as a barometer in politics. What messages are getting through? What are she and her friends talking about?

As ridiculous as some of the e-mail chains about Sen. Barack Obama seem, the inflammatory content sticks. The one about Obama being a Muslim has particular staying power apparently. My intrepid source says she’s constantly telling friends and family it’s just not true. And she’s right. Obama is a committed Christian who attended public and Catholic schools in and outside of the U.S.

Obama also did not take the oath of office on the Koran as some have suggested. That was Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison. But the facts haven’t stopped the rumors from spreading. One rumor my grandmother questioned me about actually is true. What is Obama’s middle name? I told her it is, in fact, Hussein.

First, let me be clear. This was my grandmother’s idea—not mine. But I thought it was interesting coming from someone of her age. She believes there should be an age limit on the presidency. Seventy years old is her suggestion. Just like you can’t run for president before age thirty-five, she thinks there should be a ceiling. In her words, “your mind slips. It just does.” Age must be a concern for seventy-one-year-old Arizona Sen. John McCain. It’s why he trots out his spry ninety-five-year-old mother. She’s sharp—there’s no questioning that—but it seems to me she’s just there to make McCain seem younger by comparison.

If my grandmother is disappointed about anything, it’s that she’s convinced she won’t live to see a woman president in this country. She thinks it’s overdue and I agree. Sen. Hillary Clinton had the best chance ever right in her hand and blew it. Maybe she wasn’t the right woman or maybe she didn’t take Obama seriously enough or maybe this country just isn’t ready for it. We both hope the latter is not the case.

For now, Grandma tells me she’s probably writing in “Hillary Clinton” this fall just on principle.

Colin Benedict is WISC-TV3’s managing editor. He’s lived in the Madison area since 1995. E-mail him at cbenedict@wisctv.com.

It might be hard to believe, but just months after state lawmakers finally finished work on the state budget, they had to come back and work on it again. (OK, maybe it’s not that hard to believe.)

Why? In part, it’s because the state took in less tax revenue than it had originally projected, leaving Wisconsin with a $650 million shortfall. A quick glance at the headlines about the downturn in the housing market and the struggling economy make that part pretty easy to understand.

It’s also easy to see that the budget passed last fall was less than perfect, considering the Legislature passed it several months late following an embarrassing exchange of empty rhetoric that dragged on until the leaves changed colors. No one does their best work when they actually avoid doing the work and then throw something together at the last minute.

After all this, you still might think a budget repair bill—that’s what they’re calling it—is a good idea. But there seems to be a different definition of the word “repair” at work inside the Capitol.

The most frequently used options for repairing budgets over the years have included putting off paying for things until the next fiscal year, borrowing more money or dipping into funds set aside for other expenses, like repairing roads. When that information gets glossed over in news accounts, it sounds pretty boring and inconsequential—but it’s not. It means we’re avoiding paying our bills in hopes that we’ll get a big enough economic boom to pay it all off later. Think of how that would work for your family budget.

Truly fixing a budget would be messy work. It would make people (special interests) mad and require some tough choices, ones made tougher by the fact that we’ve avoided making them for so long. Supporters of these short-term fixes argue that without action the state will face dire consequences. I think we’re already there. At this point, we’re like someone with high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease who refuses to quit smoking and eating fast food.

So what lawmakers have done this time around is not a repair. I know that because Webster’s definition of repair is, “to restore to a sound or healthy state.” If this is how we fix a budget, it won’t be the last time we have to do it.

Jenny Price is a Madison native who covered the state Capitol for the Associated Press and has written about Wisconsin politics since 1999. E-mail her at jenny.price@gmail.com.