Sunday, December 11, 2005

Saint Chuck: Obeying the Law (Most of the Time)

I had the chance this weekend to peruse the nauseating testimonials supporting Chuck Chvala, submitted by Chvala's attorneys to make him look like a great guy. Those 20 felony counts of extortion and money laundering? Keep moving, nothing to see here. Here are some of the ones that stand out, with my comments in red.

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Michael Butera, the former Chief Operating Officer of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), writes the court to explain how Sen. Chvala would stick to his principles on legislation:

Chuck was tough on the issues, We didn't always agree on policy or politics, but his actions were on top of the table and I always knew that his heart was in improving public education, the status of workers and those less fortunate. WEAC always wanted to end the Qualified Economic Offer and we tried legislatively over and over when Chuck was Majority Leader. It was a principled matter for him; that, it be a part of a broader statewide funding and tax system. For all the friendship and assistance, he stuck to his position. What he did was for the greater good of the State and his party's well-being, not his personal aggrandizement or to improve his relationship with us. To the contrary, his personal life and potential gain could have been his driving force, but it was never.

Yeah, Chvala and the head of the state teachers' union didn't always agree on policy. Give me a break. I can imagine some of these "disagreements:"

Chvala: "Should we compare Republicans to murderers or child molesters? I'm leaning murderers."

Butera: "I think child molesters is probably better."

Chvala: "Man, these disagreements are wearing me out. You drive a hard bargain, Butera."

Jason Kay, a lobbyist for AARP credits Sen. Chvala with the passage of SeniorCare:

I worked closely with Mr. Chvala for two years (2000-2002) when I was a lobbyist for AARP in the Wisconsin state legislature. During that time, I observed Mr. Chvala serve as the guiding force behind the passage of SeniorCare, one of the nation's best pharmaceutical assistance programs for the elderly. The negotiations over SeniorCare bogged down over a question of priorities. Assembly leaders wanted to use a large part of the available funds for a benefit structure that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel referred to as a windfall for the drug companies. Mr. Chvala and his allies (including AARP) wanted to use the funds to create the best possible benefit for the largest possible number of seniors. Mr. Chvala prevailed. The result was that prescriptions became affordable for thousands more elderly Wisconsinites than would have otherwise been the case. However, I cannot recall Mr. Chvala ever asking me for political favors or contributions (AARP does not endorse candidates or give money to candidates).
Moreover, on other lower profile issues, I could generally count on Mr. Chvala to side with the elderly, consumers, and the working poor.

"The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel referred to as a windfall for drug companies." Good God. Is this a testimonial or a piece of campaign literature? Chvala should get leniency because he took the same position as the MJS editorial board on an issue? Should Scott Jensen get leniency because the Waushara Argus likes his stance on school uniforms?

And I suppose passage of Seniorcare, which was proposed by Republican Governor Scott McCallum and passed by a Republican controlled Assembly, had nothing to do with Chvala making his own senators look good? There wasn't any political benefit?

Rebecca Young, a former legislative colleague of Chvala writes:

Senator Chvala was consistently supportive of legislation that helped those at the bottom of the economic ladder, I believe, because he genuinely felt that Democrats in the legislature had a special responsibility to respond to the interests of those who were most vulnerable - children, persons with disabilities, those in poverty or teetering on the edge. He was instrumental in successfully promoting lower class sizes in the lower elementary grades, in creating the Stewardship program to preserve environmentally sensitive land for future generations, in setting up Badger Care. Badger Care, for instance, is one of the most effective expansions of Medicaid in the country.

SAGE program (class sizes) = Tommy Thompson
Stewardship program = Tommy Thompson
Badger Care = Tommy Thompson

Apparently, if you opposed any of these broad expansions of governmental authority, your ass deserves to be in jail.

Warren Onken is arguably the most respected alderman ever to serve in Madison. Despite vast political differences, he admires Chuck:

In spite of a gap so wide in our individual political beliefs that could never be closed, we often found ourselves thrown together in trying to resolve neighborhood, City of Madison and many times personal problems involving our mutual constituents. I found Chuck to be caring, responsive, and very involved in doing what he could do to bring a sensible solution to these many issues. Chuck and I later became neighbors and I would define Chuck as the type of person you really want in your neighborhood. I know many years ago the tragic accident of Chuck's wife Tracy forced Chuck to become a single parent. As a neighbor I watched Chuck help his children grow and become solid citizens. Chuck was known as a scrupulously honest politician.

This one is probably the most objectionable. Chvala's wife's tragic accident didn't "force" him to become a single parent. He divorced his disabled wife and married a Capitol staff member who worked for his best buddy, Russ Decker (I am told Angelina Jolie wasn't involved.) What a great guy - just the type I would "really want in my neighborhood." Exactly what neighborhood is he living in? Wisteria Lane?

And exactly who knew Chuck as a "scrupulously honest politician?" Is he one of those honest politicians that has to plead down 20 felony counts for extortion and money laundering?

Joseph Strohl, a former Senate Majority Leader and now a lobbyist, relates:

I am also reminded from time to time by my wife of the evening Senator Chvala and his wife joined us at our home for dinner with several other political friends. Prior to leaving the dinner, Chvala pulled me aside and asked who to make the check out to for dinner? We said something like, oh don’t worry about it. He insisted no he had to pay for the meal and quietly wrote out a check for $25. That honesty is also a part of the Chvala legacy that I remember.

Here's a free public relations tip: When you have people write letters of support for you, it might not be the best idea to use someone who plays host to people in their house who allegedly beat, strangle, and threaten to kill their lovers. Joe Strohl may well be a wonderful guy, but I wouldn't put "judge of character" among his strengths. Hey, maybe Chvala can get Steven Avery to write him a letter, while he's at it.

And he paid for a meal at a registered lobbyist's house in accordance with state law? Man, what a guy. For the record, I didn't steal any Volkswagons yesterday. And the day before that, I didn't expose myself to anyone at the library. I expect full credit for being a law abiding citizen on these occasions. In fact, I follow the law at least five days a week.

And nice touch describing him as "quietly" writing out a check. Must have had a felt-tipped pen.


Michael Butera also remembers Chuck’s honesty.

As the new Chief Operating Officer of WEAC, I made the rounds of the Capital to say hello and get to know the leadership of the legislature. When I contacted Chuck, he asked that we meet for dinner down the street from his office on State Street I accepted. After the usual niceties of first greetings, Chuck looked me square in the eye and said I know you have had been a lobbyist in many states, but this is Wisconsin and I want to clear the air early - "I'm buying dinner." I remember vividly responding, "That's a first" I have told this story in many settings and in many states and it is always greeted with some amazement. In all of our encounters, over the period of time I spent in Wisconsin, we stuck to a rigid agreement to meet away form his government office and in his law office or some restaurant. I met with Chuck one night on the West side after he had played hockey. He was in all his hockey gear and a little sweaty, but we carried on our business in a professional and honorable manner. We each paid our own way. That is the way it was in every engagement.


What in the hell does any of this have to do with Chvala's criminal charges? Mental note - when breaking the law, always wear hockey gear, and be a little sweaty. Then you can always use that excuse at sentencing.

Dispatch: "Car 36, we have a possible breaking and entering on Maple Street, along with some spousal abuse and a possible occurence of plagiarism."

Cop: "What is the suspect wearing?"

Dispatch: "Hockey gear. And I hear he's a little sweaty."

Cop: "Copy that, Dispatch. I don't think there's anything to see there. I'll be at Taco Bell."

John Mathews of MTI vouches for Chuck’s honesty when fund-raising:

I also worked with Chuck to raise funds for numerous candidates, including himself. Not once did any conversation relative to fund raising take place in his Legislative office or on or from public property. Each such conversation occurred in my office, by cell phone from his car, or in his law office. Not once, in my experience, did Chuck connect fund raising with legislation.

He didn't have to. That WEAC money was automatic.

Sue Meinholz tells how Chuck would ensure that his own staff properly accounted for their time:
Each month I was the staff member responsible for putting in front of Chuck our monthly time accounting sheet that was used for years and years in the Senate. Chuck personally signed the monthly time sheets. It was common for him to ask me as the time sheet was put before him, "Has everyone reported their time accurately?" Chuck trusted us to be responsible, ethical and honest employees. We knew what was at stake and did not violate that trust.

Sue Menholz also has a great timeshare she'd like you to take a look at. I mean, please. If Chvala ever said that to his staff, I'll run naked across lake Mendota. Again.

Chuck Chvala, has a soft side to him. Paula McGuire, a legislative aid writes:

Although I will always admire Chuck for his political leadership, I learned more from Chuck by the way he conducted himself personally. Chuck frequently spoke about how we will be judged as a society by the way we treat others, but it was his actions in showing respect to others that showed me his integrity and true character. One evening when the State Senate was in session late into the evening, Mary Jo, a custodial employee at the Capitol, came into our office to empty the trashcans. Chuck was in his office with Doug Burnett and other Senators discussing bills pending on the calendar over a quick dinner of pizza. Chuck saw Mary Jo waiting apprehensively, unsure if she should enter his office to empty the trash. He immediately grabbed his trashcan and went and emptied it himself. Chuck then invited Mary Jo into his office to have a slice of pizza and asked her to share her opinions on the pending issues to be considered by the Senate. Chuck was a great Majority Leader because he didn't allow the position to inflate his ego; he didn't see himself as being too important to empty his own trash and he continued to value the opinions of his colleagues and constituents. Not only was Chuck accessible to constituents and staff, he went the extra mile to help anyone who asked, or those he saw in need. For example, Chuck would often ask high school students on Capitol tours where they were going to attend college. Chuck valued higher education, and he knew how competitive the admission process is, and offered to write sincere letters of recommendation. I remember one specific incident where his interest made the difference for that deserving student. Personally, I know what he did for my parents. My parents are people of modest means, who vote in every election, and truly believe in the Democratic Party. In 2000, Chuck Chvala offered his two seats on the stage of the Vice President Al Gore campaign rally on the Capitol Square to my parents knowing that this would be a highlight in their lives. He then made sure they met Vice President Al Gore following the rally, even though this made Chuck late for an important dinner. My dad still talks about the day, when a retired postal worker got to meet the Vice President of the United States. Chuck gave my dad that opportunity, and for that I am thankful.


Somewhere in Wisconsin, there is someone in a mental institution that doesn't deserve to be there... and yet Paula McGuire walks the streets a free woman. Where is the justice?

I am awaiting the trial when we catch Osama bin Laden. Osama's attorney: "Your honor, Osama was a kind man - he would often empty his own trash and offer pizza to his trainees. When the cave's janitors came in, he would often ask them the best way to deliver death to America. And he loved Al Gore!"

And doesn't the fact that he thinks he deserves to get credit for emptying his own trash signal that he does think he's better than everyone else? And what's with the continual misspelling of the word "aide?"

Chuck Chvala is a caring compassionate individual. He helped produce much important legislation. He has led an exemplary life. His character dictates a minimum sentence

I have always thought periods were an overrated punctuation mark. Why waste one on what might be the most important document of your life? Is Lionel Hutz his attorney?

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There are more, but you get the idea. Apparently, Chvala got his application for the papacy in late, because he would be a shoo-in over that crank Ratzinger. I think my eyes are going to fall out, I rolled them so much while reading those accounts.