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A Case for Change on the East Side

It’s time to retire Sen. Jeff Plale

Aug. 11, 2010
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Let’s face it: State Sen. Jeff Plale has been wrong on just about every issue that moderate and progressive voters in his district care about. The pro-corporate Democrat consistently votes against the best interests of the residents of his district, which runs along the Lake Michigan shoreline from UW-Milwaukee through the East Side, the Third Ward, Walker’s Point, Bay View, St. Francis, Cudahy, South Milwaukee and Oak Creek.

Since being elected to the state Assembly in 1996 and the state Senate in 2003, Plale has voted against or undermined bills that would improve the environment and help Wisconsin’s businesses become more competitive in the global economy. He’s authored bills that weaken consumer protections and environmental standards while raising funds from the corporations that benefit from his bills.

Here’s just some of the damage Plale has done while in the state Legislature:

  • Plale single-handedly blocked Senate debate on the Clean Energy Jobs Act, even after it was weakened to appease the deep-pocketed utilities that contribute to his campaigns

  • Plale was the driving force behind cable deregulation legislation that has seen cable rates actually increase, not decrease

  • Plale was one of two Democrats in the Senate who voted for a patient abandonment bill that would have allowed health care providers to deny services or information to patients or referrals to other health care professionals if the treatment goes against their personal religious beliefs

  • Plale co-sponsored a payday lending bill that favored the multimillion-dollar national industry at the expense of cash-strapped Wisconsin borrowers

  • Plale voted to impede stem cell research in the state by explaining that he was against “reproductive cloning,” which is quite different than stem cell research

  • Plale authored legislation to transfer the governance of the publicly owned and operated Mitchell International Airport—which generates millions of dollars in revenues for the county, helping to keep the property tax down—to a politically appointed board

  • Plale’s been a strong supporter of Milwaukee’s school voucher system, which uses taxpayer funds for private, religious schools at the expense of the city’s public school system

  • Plale introduced the Milwaukee Public Schools mayoral takeover legislation, which would have turned over the public school system to a politically appointed superintendent

  • Plale supports concealed carry and voted to override Gov. Jim Doyle’s veto of a concealed carry system in 2004

Notice a pattern? Time and time again, Plale has voted in the interest of private corporations or conservative special interests—which also donate heavily to his campaigns—while standing in the way of legislation that would improve the quality of life of his constituents or even allow them to have a say in important matters like their public schools or their own health care decisions.

On Tuesday, Sept. 14, voters in the Democratic Primary can put an end to Plale’s disrespect for his Milwaukee County constituents.

Terrible on the Environment

Plale has a history of managing to vote both ways on a single issue—like stem cell research, for example. Back in 2005 he introduced an amendment that attempted to improve an anti-stem cell research bill championed by conservative Republicans. But when his amendment failed, he then voted for the entire package of anti-stem cell legislation. That vote allows him to confuse voters by saying he’s a champion of stem cell research while actually voting to curb research.

But Plale’s actions in the latest legislative session truly angered many of his constituents. First there was the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA), which would have boosted Wisconsin’s clean energy businesses, improved energy conservation measures, created jobs and transitioned the state’s economy into the 21st-century “green” economy. Plale’s the chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Utilities, Energy and Rail, and he also was a member of the task force that studied the issue in depth and made recommendations that were added to the bill.

When the conservative faction of the business community initially complained that the bill was too costly, Plale helped to weaken the bill and craft a revised version that was more acceptable to the interests of the utilities and businesses.

But Plale didn’t even support that compromise. Instead of championing a bill he helped to develop and write, Plale single-handedly killed it. In a move smacking of extreme hubris, Plale blocked debate on the bill in the state Senate during the final days of the legislative session and the bill was never voted on. Years of study, effort, compromise and political capital were wasted to cement Plale’s relationships with his corporate donors.

But Plale’s misdeeds didn’t stop there. While he was busy killing CEJA he also found time to weaken the state’s requirements for clean energy sources.

For years, the state has required utilities to derive a portion of their energy from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.

But in the final hours of the legislative session, with no public debate, Plale slipped in an amendment to a little-noticed bill that expanded the definition of “renewable energy,” and that definition includes some questionable power sources. One of those energy sources now considered “renewable” according to Plale’s amendment is a process called “plasma gasification,” which turns garbage and hazardous waste into energy. Not surprisingly, there are serious concerns about how “clean” this technology is, since it would emit toxins like mercury, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide that would need to be disposed. If utilities use this technology—and a gasification plant is in the works on Milwaukee’s North Side—then they won’t have to rely as much on truly clean renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

Although this unproven waste-based energy technology has been blasted by environmental groups, Plale successfully persuaded his colleagues to add plasma gasification to the state’s renewable energy standards. In fact, it’s the only bill passed in this past legislative session that actually weakens Wisconsin’s environmental protections. That’s quite a feat.

Plale’s such a threat to the environment that the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters flunked him in its latest score card. Plale made the group’s “Conservation Dishonor Roll” because he “went the extra mile to jeopardize Wisconsin’s natural resources.”

Favors for Campaign Contributors

So why does Plale continue to vote against the interests of his district?

Perhaps it has to do with campaign contributions. Records show that there’s a tight connection between his bills and the special interests that contribute to his campaigns.

Take Plale’s work to deregulate the cable and telecom industries. An investigation by TheCapital Times in Madison found that huge phone companies like AT&T and TDS had helped Plale draft a bill that would have weakened regulation of their own companies.

Fortunately, that telecom deregulation bill didn’t pass. But Plale’s cable deregulation bill did, back in 2007. By the time the bill was passed in the Senate, Plale had taken in more than $40,000 over his legislative career from individuals and PACs that supported the bill, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. And although Plale promised that it would save consumers money, in reality the opposite happened. According to the state’s Legislative Audit Bureau, basic-cable customers are actually paying 21% more than they did before the bill passed.

And what about school vouchers? Plale has raked in thousands from ultraconservative, pro-school privatization interests from around the country, including the Walton family, the founders of Wal-Mart. Now, reports are surfacing that former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen is raising pro-voucher money to support Plale in his campaign for re-election. That should trouble Plale’s constituents. And it’s why voters should retire Plale on Sept. 14.


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