In The News
Lying in your mailbox – Darling’s pretext on SeniorCare
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted June 1, 2011
Most voters understand that political mailers frequently exaggerate, but only students of recent Madison maneuvers will know how duplicity and deception infest Alberta Darling’s claims about being SeniorCare’s champion.
In addition, the duped residents of Senate District 8 now have to differentiate between political mailers, for which Darling had unlimited funds until a recall election was actually called June 1, and mailers that taxpayers unwittingly pay themselves to make her look good.
That oversized piece sporting the same colors as her political ads, stuffed into mailboxes before Memorial Day weekend, was actually paid by her state funds. Rather than looking like an informational newsletter, this two-sided missive under Darling’s image promoted the virtues of SeniorCare as if she never went along with savaging it.
Even as voters were paying for this Darling image building, she played a crucial role as co-chair of the powerhouse Joint Finance Committee in pushing Walker’s budget on the entire state as well as her district (Milwaukee’s North Shore west to Menomonee Falls).
For months Darling had been hip-deep in the secret meetings and strategy sessions about how to gouge government health programs, state aid to education, local transit (other than more highway building) and local governments. She’s helped plan or pass the power plays to lower the independence of state agencies, the flagrant gifts to corporations via tax credits (without guaranteeing state job growth), the new taxes on the working poor, and the expansion of voucher funding despite growing evidence that public schools do a better job.
Last December, Republicans felt so giddy about their election victory that nothing could sidetrack them from these assaults, certainly not common sense from moderates in both parties. Darling had long swung to the right and was key to the concepts. There were meetings among Republican leaders and mass efforts to attack on many fronts using the ALEC playbook. That’s the right-wing agenda of laws readily modifiable to fit local states, the blueprint – not some Walker inventiveness -- that is inundating the state right now with an almost endless series of prepared bills passed around the Republican majority based on the secretive files from the right-wing policy wonks of the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Walker has apparently been using the ALEC legalese extensively, and a principal area of attack is any Democrat supported and government inspired health initiative -- things like FamilyCare (lower cost keeping of ill people in their homes and out of nursing facilities), Medicaid and SeniorCare, the last doing much better in prescription drugs for less money than Medicare Part D which the Republicans, to their everlasting regret, pushed through under President Bush.
SeniorCare is a popular and cost-effective prescription drug program for Wisconsin’s seniors. More than 100,000 Wisconsin seniors are in SeniorCare, a testimony to its effectiveness. But never make a GOP health concoction look bad, and that’s why the right wing put SeniorCare under immediate gun in Walker’s budget.
How clear was it that SeniorCare was facing an ax last December when Darling was already a lead player in GOP political strategy? Incredibly clear, yet somewhat concealed. Walker knew better than to spell it out. He never threatened the popular SeniorCare when running for office, but he immediately had Darling push through legislation giving his hand-picked head of health and human services a free hand in gutting such programs. (It’s been little pointed out that the flight of 14 Democrats to Illinois slowed that maneuver as well as the bargaining rights assault.) His choice, Dennis Smith, was the Medicaid chief under President. Bush, and was the lead person in the federal effort to kill Wisconsin's SeniorCare program.
The tricks outlined in ALEC also involved misdirection, such as not spelling out cuts but giving minions freedom to chop, such as creating longer waiting lists to starve successful programs like the money-saving FamilyCare. But the main trick was to make sure the public did not have time to understand the devastation, a tactic the flight of the 14 pretty much thwarted.
Leave aside the evisceration of public worker bargaining rights that so angered families in Darling’s district who still respect rights, good teachers and fairness – because even without that centerpiece there was a growing knowledge and anger around the state. It was a public sea-change in March and April about Walker’s leadership.
“In a frightening way, this Walker budget did one good thing,” noted Rep. Sandy Pasch, who will take on Darling in the recall election. “It made what happens in Madison important again. The citizens that seldom paid attention are now aware of how devastating the impact of the state budget on their lives. It also reminded a lot of Republicans that they had not voted for bullying.”
So now Republican legislators are scrambling to undo the anger, to save face without seeming to reverse course.
Which explains Darling’s support and defense of the way-it-is SeniorCare, the Doyle created program to mitigate the damage of Bush’s Medicare Part D. Her new embrace of SeniorCare as if she never doubted it is offered as an act of conscience, even though it was caused by public outrage, particularly among seniors in her district who began to realize what Walker and Daring were originally about.
Would Darling have flipped if not clearly in danger of losing the recall election? Several things happened by April along with the pressure of signatures against her. It was apparent the Democrats in the US Congress would use their muscle to prevent any federal waivers to Walker to change SeniorCare (a change confirmed in a forceful letter signed by Kohl, Kind, Moore and Baldwin).
Pasch reminds voters how more than three months ago when she and others in the Assembly learned of the secret GOP plans to cut Senior Care -- with Darling part of that planning -- they started a campaign that brought out grassroots anger in many Republican districts.
“It is very telling,” Pasch said in a May 19 statement, “that on the day we delivered over 14,000 petitions to ‘Save SeniorCare,’ legislative Republicans announced that they have been working behind closed doors to reverse the harmful changes being made to SeniorCare in Walker’s budget.
“This is another instance of Republicans playing politics with some of our most vulnerable populations. Our seniors and taxpayers across the state simply deserve better.”
Given the intensity of recall campaigning and the clear desperation of Darling to flood mailboxes and radio with pronouncements of how much she cares, “"The Republican flip-flop on SeniorCare, after targeting the program for deep cuts earlier this year, is nothing more than a shameless attempt to save their skin,” said Pasch.
Similarly, what made Darling back off from some of Walker’s pushiest ideas was not resistance to what she now calls the “best budget” she’s ever worked on in two decades in the state legislature. It was public displeasure about such concepts as ending recycling or spreading vouchers through the state regardless of income or “other acts of budget cruelty that led to public awareness and then to those Republican tweaks,” as Pasch put it in a town hall speech June 1.
Darling’s adroit somersault off the diving board on SeniorCare may be backed by big advertising money and special effects to make the pirouette look noble. But the facts expose a belly flop.