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Cheap Shots 2010: What a letdown!
2010 was a year of dashed hopes and lowered expectations
For more photos, click gallery, above.
Credit:Michael Villegas

Some pundits analyzing the events of 2010 use a clever word: correction. The theory is that the nation's supposedly wild lurch to the far left two years ago, in electing Barack Obama over John McCain, was answered this year with a midterm correction that elevated often far-right Republicans in Washington, D.C., and statehouses throughout the land. Obama himself used the words "course correction" in explaining how he would respond.

But what Obama sees as a correction strikes others as a retreat. "Change You Can Believe In" has become "Change You Can Forget About." After a cautious step forward comes a big step back.

Here in Wisconsin, voters turned against Democrats, who proved, after years of complaining that they couldn't get anything done because they weren't in the majority, that they still couldn't get much of anything done when they were. Good to know. Just don't expect Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans who'll control both houses of the state Legislature to have that problem. Heck, they haven't even waited to take office to start running the show.

In Madison, we saw how the best-laid plans require constant reworking. Like the Overture Center, which cost more than $200 million to build and generated a hubbub when the city was asked to buy it for a buck. Or the city's new parking meters, which took months more than expected to get up and running, giving new meaning to the phrase "parking stall."

Altogether, it was a good year for Cheap Shots, Isthmus' annual backward look at notable people and events, with an eye to the sublime and the ridiculous.

Bait-and-Switch Artist of the Year: Scott Walker

The Milwaukee county exec, in running for governor, had good reason to be dishonest. Had he said, "If Wisconsin rejects $810 million from the feds for a high-speed rail line, we'll lose many millions of dollars, thousands of jobs and scads of economic opportunity, and the money will go to other states," it probably wouldn't have resonated with voters. So instead he talked about using this money for roads and bridges, which was never an option. He won the election, and Wisconsin lost out, to the delight and amusement of those other states. Sigh.

We (Apparently) Hardly Knew Ye Award: Jim Doyle

As Wisconsin's governor prepared to step down after eight years in office, The Capital Times ran an incisive profile acknowledging his successes but also noting he was widely feared and sometimes reviled. In a response letter, former Doyle spokesman Lee Sensenbrenner took the paper to task, saying "Doyle's decency, kindness and thoughtfulness are unsurpassed by anyone I've ever met." Funny, isn't it, how Doyle's eight years in office led so few people to similar conclusions?

Scapegoats of the Year: State Workers

As Marc Eisen noted in these pages, there was a time when state employees were respected and even admired for the hard and important work they do. Now they've become targets of popular resentment, and of politicians who advance their careers by milking it. Scott Walker has referred to them as "haves" and pledged to do what he can to make them join the ranks of "have-nots." And a move to pass new state employee contracts that included significant union concessions failed when Democrats Russ Decker and Jeff Plale decided the state's workers ought to suffer even more. Prepare the vats of boiling oil!

Black Is White Award: Ron Johnson

One strategy favored by conservatives is to attack rival candidates not on their weaknesses but on their strengths, spending vast sums of personal wealth and corporate cash (thank you, U.S. Supreme Court!) on TV ads. Thus it was that political neophyte Johnson ripped Sen. Russ Feingold for having a law degree, which is absurd, and being a party-line Democrat, which is demonstrably false. But Johnson rode such claims into office, where he now must deliver on his promises to erase the deficit, slash taxes and create millions of jobs. Or was this just campaign rhetoric too?

The Richard M. Nixon Press Booster Award: Juston Johnson

Isthmus' contributor Christian Schneider's behind-the-scenes report in Wisconsin Interest on Ron Johnson's run quotes campaign manager Juston Johnson (no relation) on this PR approach: "Don't ever fucking talk to the media. For any reason. Ever." He and others in the Johnson camp felt it was best just to run lots of television ads. It worked.

Bridge Burner of the Year: Terrence Wall

An old saw holds: 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved. Usually, the same is true of political campaigns - the quest is worthwhile even if victory proves elusive. Not so for Wall, a Madison developer who got it into his head - and essentially nobody else's - that he would make a fine U.S. senator. When he got elbowed aside in the Republican primary by Ron Johnson, he opened fire with a blast of accusations, including that he lost because of "coercion," "corruption," "dirty tricks," "lies," "deceit" and "buy-offs." Yeah, that and his not being a good candidate.

Most Disgraced Profession: District Attorneys

Calumet County DA Ken Kratz got drummed out of office for sending a crime victim lurid text messages offering "secret contact with an older married elected DA." Wood County DA John Henkelmann got into hot water for allegedly whacking off while viewing computer porn in a hotel's business center. (The cops covered for him, and the hotel employee who reported it was fired.) Outagamie County DA Carrie Schneider faced charges for allegedly soliciting false testimony. And former Winnebago County DA Joe Paulus was released after serving more than six years in prison for taking bribes. Um, why exactly are DAs given vast and virtually unchecked powers? {Note: The print version incorrectly placed Henklemann in the hotel's lobby; it was in the hotel's business center.]

Right-Wing Zealot of the Year: Scott Southworth

This really was the year of the deranged prosecutor, and Juneau County'a Republican district attorney seemed bent on outshining his rivals. In March, he warned school districts that teachers who teach contraception in sex ed classes could be arrested for contributing to the delinquency of minors. He said this instruction, part of a state curriculum that stresses abstinence, "encourages our children to engage in sexual behavior" and "will lead to more child sexual assaults." Then Southworth lied in initially denying he'd communicated with pro-life groups. Perhaps most shocking of all: A petition to recall Southworth from office failed to garner enough signatures.

Craziest Gun Nut: Gerald R. Fox

Days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down some local gun-control laws, this Jackson County district attorney declared he would stop enforcing virtually all state gun laws, including those against carrying concealed weapons, tranporting loaded and uncased guns in vehicles, and taking guns into bars. Fox, a Democrat who leans libertarian, claimed these laws "put decent law-abiding citizens at a dangerous disadvantage" and represent a "decades-long era of defective thinking." And guess what? It's fully within his authority as DA to ignore laws he doesn't like. See "Most Disgraced Profession."

The Mel Gibson 'Oops, Did I Just Say That?' Award: Rebecca Kleefisch

The Tea Party's pick for lieutenant governor was pretty clearly a source of embarassment to the Walker camp, who kept her out of the spotlight as much as possible; she even ducked a candidate debate. And when Kleefisch did speak, she would praise Jesus for backing her or say shockingly offensive things, like when she likened gay marriage to nuptials between people and objects ("Can I marry this table, or this, you know, clock?") or dogs. She later claimed "I never intended to sound insensitive." But of course. Why would anyone think otherwise?

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait Award: Scott Jensen

In years past, this former Assembly speaker has gotten several Cheap Shots, for perpetually dragging out his prosecution on misconduct charges filed in 2002. At one point, Jensen was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 15 months in prison, but his lawyers got this overturned, Their clear strategy was to wear the prosecution down, and it succeeded. This month Jensen cut a sweetheart deal: pay a $5,000 fine, reimburse taxpayers for some legal fees and keep a misdemeanor conviction so he can't run for office again. That's a little like requiring that Pete Rose never play Major League ball again.

Dark Horse of the Year: David D. King

This Milwaukee preacher, who calls himself Apostle David, on Nov. 2 came within a couple of percentage points of becoming Wisconsin's secretary of state. More than a million people picked him over Doug La Follete, who's held the job for 32 years. Perhaps voters liked that King called Gov. Jim Doyle a "crackhead" and vowed to "be packing a gun" on the campaign trail. Or maybe it was his bankrupcy and history of unpaid bills. Or the civil suit saying he impregnated an employee after getting her so drunk she passed out. Or maybe they voted for him just because he's Republican. Ah, democracy!

The Joaquin Phoenix Farewell to Fame Award: Brian Blanchard

In 2002, when this Dane County district attorney filed criminal charges against a bevy of legislative leaders, including Scott Jensen, he was accused of self-promotion. One detractor said he was "politically ambitious" and out to "make a name for himself." This year Blanchard took his hard-won name recognition and put it toward a successful run for state appellate court, ensuring his eventual reincarnation as "Brian Who?" Hmmm, maybe he wasn't driven by political ambition after all.

Dumbest Comment: State Prison Official

The winner of this fiercely competitive category must go unnamed, sadly, as this information was omitted from the Associated Press article which prompted this recognition. At issue: a transgendered inmate who wanted to wear women's underwear in a male institution. A state "prison security official" offered this argument in court: "If you let one inmate wear a bra and panties, they'll all want to wear a bra and panties." You really can't argue with logic like that.

Busybodies of the Year: Glenn Grothman and Steve Nass

These two GOP lawmakers, otherwise keen defenders of "local control," think working in the Capitol entitles them to run the capital. State Sen. Grothman late last year (too late, alas, for the 2009 Cheap Shots) didn't like the condition of some Madison streets after a snowstorm, so he proposed putting the state in charge of the city's salt and plowing policies. And state Rep. Nass blew a gasket when the city painted "bike boxes" at downtown intersections, seeing this as the work of "liberal extremists in Madison who hate cars and think everyone should bike to work." Sounds like he might have a future gig at the Department of Corrections.

Throwback of the Year: Steve Nass

Two awards in the same year? He's earned them! This one is for his plan to introduce a bill to repeal a state law against the use of Indian mascots by public schools. Yeah, that's really the state of Wisconsin's most urgent issue: making sure schools can continue to offend Native Americans with obnoxious stereotypes.

The Don Rickles Diplomacy Award: Dave Cieslewicz

This year, Madison's mayor proved he wasn't afraid to take on his city's critics. He disparaged Sen. Grothman as a legislative failure, aside from "authoring an amendment that sullied our state constitution" by denying gay people the right to marry. He mocked Nass' aversion to bike boxes, suggesting the representative feared this would lead to people "sitting in cafes drinking small cups of really strong coffee, wearing berets and talking about Kafka and soccer." And after Scott Walker killed the train, he said the day when the governor-elect is the former governor "can't come too soon, as far as I'm concerned." Way to go, Mayor Dave. Just remember: These people are now in total control.

Never Say Never Award: Paul Soglin

Madison's number-one citizen has been mayor twice, from 1973 to 1979 and 1989 to 1997. He tried for a third stint in 2003 but was bested by a young upstart named Dave Cieslewicz. Now Soglin, 65, plans to run for mayor again, even though Mayor Dave now has the advantage of incumbency, plus eight years of experience, plus the fact that people like him enough to call him "Mayor Dave." Soglin joins a cast of marginal wannabes led by former Ald. Noel Radomski, whose idea of a winning message is saying Cieslewicz needs to "grow some balls." Suffice it to say, nobody in the race will have cojones to compare to Soglin's.

Cassandra Award: Kathleen Falk

Here's one measure of how degraded our political system has become: When Dane's longtime county executive this fall announced she was stepping down halfway through her fourth term and wasn't sure what she'd do next, many people assumed she was lying. They thought she had another job, or plans to run for some other office. Falk was befuddled by this, noting that she's always told the truth before. And, so far as we know, she always has. Gosh, we're starting to miss her already.

Segue of the Year: Sly

Talk-radio hosts must often shift gears when the clock demands it, but the WTDY radio guy set a new gold standard for topic whiplash on his Dec. 15 show. (Listen in the related files above.) Here he is, talking about Dane County Judge Sarah O'Brien's decision to order the release of a convicted sex offender over objections from the state: "And let me tell you something, Sarah O'Brien. When a child is raped, or killed or hurt by this guy, I'm coming to your house and I'm going to put a picture of that kid in YOUR GODDAMN WINDOW! You are a disgrace to the bench." One-second pause. "Scott joins us from S&R Remodeling. Good morning, Scott." Good morning, indeed.


Robert Goodman

When the longtime Madison jeweler died on April 1, at 90, he left behind more than a business. Together with his brother Irwin, who died less than a year before, Robert helped finance the construction of Madison's first municipal pool and a new east-side community center, among many other gifts. Most important, he'll be remembered as a kind and gentle man - a real gem.

Anthony Brown

The longtime director of Madison's Equal Opportunities Commission died March 13 at 59, after several years of health woes that included getting a kidney transplant from a complete stranger, who ended up becoming one of his closest friends. Brown had that sort of effect on people; he was easy to like, and he's impossible not to miss.

Ray Wosepka

It's tempting to say Dane County has had bad luck with coroners, as the last three have all died in office. But in fact we've been fortunate to have people like Wosepka, who died on March 20 at 67, in this difficult and important position. Wosepka became coroner after the murder of Bud Chamberlin in 1988; he retired in 2001 but took the job again after the death of his successor, John Stanley, in 2009. The county has now replaced its elected coroner with an appointed medical examiner, meaning Wosepka will be the last of a breed in more ways than one.

Nan Cheney

This lifelong activist, who died at 79 on April 30, marched with Martin Luther King Jr., helped found peace groups including the Madison Social Justice Center and the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, served on an array of city commissions, and sang with the Raging Grannies. Even in death she was generous, donating her body for research. "She lived for justice," her son told the Wisconsin State Journal. "She used her life as a weapon to help other people."

Lawrencia Bembenek

We called her "Bambi," cheered her prison break and backed her quest for justice, which she did not live to see fulfilled. When she died at 52 on Nov. 20, the former Milwaukee police officer was seeking a pardon for her 1982 conviction for killing her then-husband's ex-wife. Bembenek always insisted on her innocence, and there was always good reason to believe her. And that means it would be wrong to let her death be the last chapter of her story.

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Related Files:

Sly whiplash 121510.mp3

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