Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Accidental Reformer

Of course back-to-back felony convictions of former lawmakers and protesters rallying against corruption on the steps of the Capitol have something to do with the sudden momentum behind reform legislation. But if a single individual can be credited for getting things moving on reform after years of stonewalling by legislative leaders, it has to be James H. Miller.

Miller is not a prosecutor or a maverick legislator or a good-government activist. He is the head of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a self-styled "free market think tank." Miller's group is based in the decidedly upscale Milwaukee suburb of Thiensville and is funded by the right-wing Bradley Foundation.

Miller recently conducted a poll to take the public's temperature on a variety of topics. He clearly was surprised by what people told him when his questions turned to state government ethics and the public's impression of state elected officials. Miller found that only 6% of state residents believe elected officials are representing them.

It is difficult to overstate the impact of this poll finding. Before the poll was released, nearly all state lawmakers were resting easy, convinced that they are not implicated in the corruption scandals at the Capitol. Miller's poll made it painfully clear that while they may not have been implicated – yet – by law enforcement officials, every last one of them has been tied to the scandals by the public.

Nothing kindles interest in cleaning up your act like the knowledge that the people are on to you. We have Jim Miller of all people to thank for that.

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