While waiting for the jury's verdict in the Scott Jensen corruption trial, my thoughts keep straying. I find myself thinking less about Jensen and more about his compatriots who will remain on the ship of state whether or not he is convicted. And I keep thinking about how they don't get it.
All but a handful of them don't get that the people are on to them. Most of them can't move a muscle without a pollster's blessing, so you'd think a poll showing only 6% of Wisconsin residents believe elected officials are representing voters' interests would get their attention. Hasn't seemed to. They keep playing the same crooked game.
They don't seem to get that the law is on to them. Prosecutors are parading state lawmakers into courtrooms and the common thread through all the criminal charges is the campaign money chase. The response of those not yet indicted? Raise money from wealthy special interests with even more reckless abandon. Wisconsin legislators collected more money in 2005 than they've ever raised in a non-election year.
As their appetite for cash intensifies, state politicians are getting less and less choosy about the company they keep. Check the list of Illinois donors to Wisconsin candidates for governor and you find a creepy cast of characters including convicted criminals, indicted lobbyists and political wheeler-dealers, and even a shadowy figure with publicly chronicled mob ties.
Most of all, the bosses at the Capitol don't get what every gambler is said to know: That the secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
What the politicians are throwing away is priceless. What they insist on keeping are things no one should have too much of or hold for too long.
In exchange for money and the power it buys, they are giving away truly precious possessions - their dignity, self-respect, integrity and their own good names, even their freedom, not to mention our state's reputation for clean and open government.
The more they do to make their big campaign donors love them, the more ordinary voting citizens hate them. They've gotten elected and re-elected, but at what price? On a good day, the public thinks of them as something between used car salesmen and child molesters.
Maybe in their minds, fleeting power is worth such a tawdry legacy. But have they given even a moment's thought to the violence they are doing to the memories of the revolutionaries who created this great nation? Are they so consumed by ambition and overcome by arrogance that they forget our country's founders rebelled against a king's power, at the risk of certain death if their revolution failed?
The way today's Capitol bosses are conducting the people's business is not only an ongoing act of political vandalism, it is profoundly un-American. The American system of government was poured from a crucible heated by hatred of a despot's grip. Sadly, those who've seized power today have more in common behaviorally with that king than with the George Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons and Ben Franklins and Tom Paines who risked life for liberty and overthrew him.
The America I know and love is based on the idea that no one should hold too much power or hold even limited authority for too long a time. That America is under assault right here in our own state.