Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sometimes There's Only Smoke. We hope.

by Tom Bozzo

A while back, the Angry Sicilian had asked what I thought of the Madison smoking ban. Short answer: I like it!

Yesterday morning, I woke up (not counting an early rise from Julia) to a Wisconsin Public Radio news item to the effect that the group Citizens for Responsible Government wants to organize a recall of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz [10/17/05: See note below on CRG's role]. CRG is perhaps best known around here for recalling some Milwaukee County officials in the wake of some egregious pension shenanigans, but more recently has focused on haranguing members of the state's legislative majority as "RINOs" over perceived failings of anti-tax orthodoxy.

The Madison effort seems to have been spearheaded by the local Libertarian Party, driven to a rage over the abrogation of the so-called right to smoke, but the WPR report says CRG is also citing the recently rolled back increase in the city minimum wage as well as a program to provide loans to the city's illegal immigrant population among the offenses.

Here's a taste of the CRG tactics:
1) About 35,000 valid signatures of eligible voters in the city of Madison need to be collected. The exact number equals 25% of the number of votes cast for president in Madison in 2004. To make sure enough signatures are valid, and for PR purposes, it would be better if 50,000 were collected. Most UW-Madison students are eligible voters. These signatures must be collected within 30 days. Each Recall petition must contain the reason for Recall. "Destroyed Madison Jobs" would likely do the trick. Signature collectors do not need to be Madison residents. As a safety valve, it's legal to pay signature collectors. Disgruntled employees seeing their tips shrink, might volunteer to collect 50 signatures for $50.

2) The Recall can succeed because the backbone of the Recall, the Madison hospitality industry, has an economic incentive to collect signatures. The employees and patrons of these small businesses will also be motivated, as well as republicans, libertarians, independents and smokers.

3) Talk radio loves Recalls. Can you imagine WIBA host Vicki McKenna reporting live from a Recall rally? And this Recall would be interesting statewide and even nationally. I'm sure that Charlie Sykes, Mark Belling, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly would be licking their chops, promoting the Recall of one of the most socialist mayors in the history of the United States. Talk radio drove the Milwaukee Recalls a few years ago, and could do so again in Madison.

Sure, paid signature collectors plus the right-wing noise machine should make for a clean and high-minded campaign (/sarcasm).

I think it will be tough to generate (or regenerate), let alone sustain, broader public outrage over the ban. For one thing, the suggested "Destroyed Madison Jobs" tagline makes it clear enough that if the battle is framed as a smoking issue, the ban's opponents will fail. For another, the smoking ban is susceptible to similar public opinion dynamics to gay marriage in Massachusetts, in that the perceived need for radical action diminishes with each day the world fails to end. Even my good buddy Bryan Smith, who opposes the policy, concedes that the ban makes Madison taverns more kid-friendly. The go-for-broke tactics of the anti-ban lobby would hardly be beyond valid criticism in a recall campaign. Last, the analogy with the Milwaukee County pension scandal is basically nonexistent, as policy disagreement doesn't imply corruption.

That is not to say that "Destroyed Madison Jobs" holds water as a substantive critique of the policy. At this point, it's unclear what the citywide picture of bar and restaurant sales is. For all I know, places like the Harmony Bar, which I understand to be doing well and happy with the ban, are typical. Plus, the bulk of the hospitality establishment was already smoke-free both in the city and the immediate suburbs. However, if the missing patrons of the squeaky wheel taverns are simply drinking and smoking in surrounding jurisdictions, then the worst case is that there hasn't been a destruction of demand that's relevant, in the not-much-longer term, for the local labor market. It is just not that difficult to replace one bar or restaurant job with another.

The Libertarians do offer some political comedy, too.
For example, former Mayor Paul Soglin, who has publicly opposed the smoking ban, can beat Cieslewicz in a Recall election. Recall elections create a media circus which increases voter participation.
While it's true that Soglin, who's been working as an investment advisor since leaving the mayor's office, ran as the "conservative" candidate in the last mayoral election, that means he was center-left rather than left, in a city where half the likely voters identify themselves as liberals. Still, please share a mordant chuckle with me over area conservatives pinning their hopes on the guy formerly known as Red Paul.

Or try on:
Unfortunately for those subjected to experimental socialist utopias, scientists like Galileo, Newton and Einstein are a lot smarter than the Madison city council. Plus, the city council is influenced by non-scientific considerations such as money, power, and WEAC.
Uh, sure, raising the minimum wage is the surest road to money and power.
Recalls give power to the people, and takes [sic] it from the hands of lobbyists and politicians.
Not counting the Tavern League.
If the smoking ban is allowed to continue, there's no telling what other social engineering schemes the People's Republic of Madison will ram down the throats of business owners.
Oh, the poor business owners!
But if a Recall of the mayor succeeds, newly registered voters can force the limousine liberals on the Madison city council to concentrate on the civil liberties side of their left-wing agenda. And that is a good thing.

All I can say is, go ahead, throw your money away. Ha ha ha ha ha. (I don't know how to put the Kang and Kodos tone into text.) At least it'll stimulate the economy.

10/17/05 Addendum: In comments, Chris Kliesmet of CRG notes that CRG mainly assists local groups with recalls, and has only filed one recall itself. To clarify, the recall tactics described above are excerpted from a local Libertarian Party press release.
I believe my tagline used to be, "Hey Mayor Dave, Ban This!!!," with appropriate gesture implied. Maybe the recall will succeed and we can get back to the point where we don't need the mayor to nanny us. As if that will ever happen in Madison.

As far as the smoking ban goes, we're talking about an increased risk of disease over one's lifetime. Not an immediate threat, nor a guaranteed outcome. I'd guess greasy bar food is more of a threat, but that's irrelevant. The idea that the gov't can crack down on smoking in private establishments where people choose to work there and people choose to walk through the door for drinks is ridiculous IMO. If I were a business owner, I'd tell Madison to go Cheney themselves and take all the hard work and money I'd invested somewhere else.

Where do I sign?
Ahem, the "private establishments" are "public accommodations." Also, secondhand smoke is an immediate nuisance and a present if not immediate health threat in a manner that secondhand consumption of greasy food isn't, undermining the it's-my-business case for the "right" to smoke in public.

Nobody's forcing any business owner to locate here, so I guess profit trumps principle.
I don't believe that anyone is forcing you to enter any public accomodation, so that argument is still not very good. If you don't like pr0n, don't go to selective video. If you don't like smoke, don't go to a smoke-filled bar. Life is full of choices and risks and I'll let people decide for themselves.

An 'immediate nuiscance'? Are you kidding? We are now banning annoyances? (If so, I doubt I'll be able to legally comment on your blog anymore.) I don't like smoke as much as the next guy, but why should my opinion rule?

An 'immediate health threat'? Are you kidding? People who smoke (i.e. first-hand smoke) don't even have an immediate threat of disease.
Bryan, as I know what the approximate click-through rates to the comments are, yours are not a public nuisance :).

Note that I did NOT say that secondhand smoke was an immediate health threat. I said it was a "present if not immediate" (emphasis added) threat. That there is a real public health angle distinguishes smoking from other nuisances. (In any event, regulating and even criminalizing mere nuisances is hardly new, nor is it at all unique to our little 'socialist utopia.')
Im with this all the way. Bryan, you cannot win over the public health message. Public support is overwhelmingly in support of smoke free policies. I work for a polling firm... we've tested this issue.

For the record, CRG is not recalling anybody in Madison or anywhere else for that matter. In our entire existence (almost four years) we have filed exactly one recall, the Ament recall. Every other recall was filed and run by local citizens groups. Did we help? YES! We provide strategic and tactical consulting with legal, media, finance and other issues. However, what we do not do is come in and run a recall or pay anyone else to do it. Occasionally we will collect a few signatures for a show of solidarity or to take the pulse of the electorate but rarely more than about 5% of the total.

CRG is a public resource group with stringent rules about who and how we help. We help only those who ask. We are also an all volunteer group so we only help to the extent that our volunteers allow.

WEAC, the casinos, political parties all have resources and infrastructure they can call on to assert their political will. Who and what do average citizens have? CRG's success rate is a testimony to the power of people and the ignorance of those who count money before counting votes. Remember, even Bill Gates has only one vote.

We do not care what political party you belong to or what your cause is as long as your effort stays within the limits of the law and the CRG constitution which is to act as a force for for fiscal (but not social) conservativism and against government corruption.

Four years ago people believed they were powerless. Now they are beginning to think otherwise. CRG has little money and no infrastructure or political power and yet we continue to win. Each time we do, people believe a little more. As a result CRG has done more to re-engage people in politics and any other group I can think of.

Say what you will but at least CRG is out there doing SOMETHING, while the whiners sit and spin. The easiest way to avoid making mistakes is to do nothing. This is the hallmark of the lazy and the cowardly.

Talk is cheap. If you want to get something done then join us. We accept all comers as we have since day one. As an all volunteer organization we are merely a reflection of those who show up, stand up, and get counted. Don't complain if you are unwilling to show up, voice your opinion, and roll up your sleeves. The recalls get all the publicity. You would be surprised by some of the other lesser known causes we have fought for and won.

Regards to ACTIVE-ists everywhere,

Chris Kliesmet
CRG Network
Thanks for the clarification of CRG's role. I'll note that in an addendum to the post.
Well you can trump health risk. Its better is called inconclusive and biased reports. If you look up the court rulings on the second hand smoke studies by the EPA and European Union they have been thrown out of the U.S.A. Supreme Court and every other court they have been reviewed in, in the civalized world; why you ask? The researchers admittedly started with preconceived results and worked and reworked the data and variables untill they came to the ordained conclusion. Still the results they toted were so neligable (.001% increase I beleive) any reputable scientist would scream inconclusive data. Still the American Cancer Society, Citezens for a Smoke Free America, and other anti-smoking groups repetedly jam these reports down the throuts of the public and politicians who do not take the time to find out the facts.
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