Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Long, Strange Trip of Mary Lazich

I once saw an episode of "COPS" where a woman approached one of the officers to complain that her neighbor had not yet paid her the $20 she owed her for a bag of "weed" that had exchanged hands.

This is the first image I recalled last November when State Senator Mary Lazich spoke with Citizens for Responsible Government and told them that she had voted for State Senator Scott Fitzgerald for the position of Senate majority leader via secret ballot. CRG is known for their ability to mobilize in the Southeast portion of the state and erase the political careers of politicians with whom they disagree, or who they distrust.

The problem is, Lazich did not vote for Scott Fitzgerald (widely seen as the pro-Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, or TABOR) candidate, as the pro-TABOR CRG found out through its own informal poll. What followed was a ridiculously clumsy appearance by Lazich on WTMJ Radio's Jeff Wagner show, on which Lazich said her statement was "a lie on my part." Apparently, Lazich thought it wise to deceive the one group that could remove her from office for deceiving them.

CRG naturally began ridiculing Lazich, including suspiciouly prurient photos of her with an expanding nose, and her milking a cow (if cows don't have horns, we really have a story). Talk immediately circled about the possibility of a recall for Lazich, although by state law she was not eligible for recall for a full year, since she had just been re-elected. Lazich resigned the Assistant Majority Leader post she had negotiated with new majority leader Dale Schultz in exchange for her leadership vote, but remained on the prestigious Joint Finance Committee.

Lazich was no stranger to controversy before the majority leader vote debacle. In 2004, she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she "flatly refused" to support the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. Lazich reasoned through some tortured logic that TABOR was actually too generous for local school districts, and that the teachers' union should be 100% in favor of the constitutional amendment to cap taxes and spending. This is like telling parents they should be voluntarily in favor of sending their kids to sleepovers at the Neverland Ranch.

After harsh criticism from the conservative base, including local talk show hosts, Lazich immediately switched positions. Within a week, she issued a press release blasting then-majority leader Mary Panzer for her failure to bring TABOR to a vote.

When her vote against Fitzgerald for majority leader was made public, Lazich immediately tried to placate conservatives by calling for TABOR to be brought up in the first month of 2005. Six months later, the chances of TABOR being brought to the floor are roughly the same as the chances that Lindsay Lohan will return one of my four daily calls.

Lazich then inflamed her relationship with CRG further, when she took credit for inviting a TABOR expert from Colorado to speak to the Senate Republican Caucus. As it turns out, Lazich's involvement in the visit was limited to the fact that she knew that "Colorado" was a state. CRG immediately pounced, nailing Lazich with another lie that will surely end up on a piece of literature in early 2006.

In the subsequent months, Lazich has attempted to further reach out to conservatives by positioning herself as a budget hawk, calling for deep cuts in state spending to balance the budget. In her strained effort to move to the right, she recently engaged in an embarassing exhange of letters with Department of Administration Secretary Marc Marotta, (who apparently has too much time on his hands these days) criticizing the Doyle administration for overspending. Needless to say, the media were underwhelmed by Lazich's endless letters, nary a word was reported statewide, and Marotta was able to refocus his efforts on sending letters to Model Airplane News.

Lazich has also climbed on the bandwagon of some red-meat conservative issues such as photo ID for voting and allowing people to carry concealed weapons. Rumor has it she will soon be taking credit for Pat Tillman, the sports bra, and frozen custard.

Not content to only enrage conservatives, Lazich slipped up during a Legislative Fiscal Bureau budget briefing when she referred to nursing home residents as "coffin bound." While she reportedly was trying to make the case that nursing homes are necessary and provide services to those who need them the most, she provided a catch phrase that has managed to find its way into every Democratic press release in the last 3 months.

Rumor has it that people are lining up to run against Lazich in a January 2006 recall election. Her district contains three excellent, highly qualified Republican Assembly members, who all have substantial campaign machines in place. Scott Gunderson would likely jump at the opportunity to beat Lazich, who beat him in a 1998 special election primary to fill Lynn Adelman's old seat (Think "Count of Monte Cristo" in Muskego).

What has happened to Mary Lazich is an important lesson to legislators who put personal ambition before serving their constituents. There's nothing better than a legislator that doesn't need the job. Regardless of party affiliation, the public can sniff out desperation in a elected official like a bloodhound. When clinging to office takes precedence over sound philosophy and public service, something has got to give.