Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

The New Politics of Effective Government

Posted by Terri McCormick On August - 29 - 2014

Effective Government will Need Three Things:

Terri McCormick1. It will require a free and appropriate press, one that is unencumbered by media buys and marketing departments. A free press must be engaged in research, issues and fact reporting.

Sensational journalism making its way into attack blogs and irrelevant smear campaigns must be held accountable to the same credible journalistic standards as other media.

2. Citizen leadership is needed on every level of governance. A well-educated citizenry has been the cornerstone of our democracy since its inception.

Modern marketing ploys require a well-educated voting public who are not easily fooled or “hoodwinked” by political marketers.

3. There is a need for qualified people of character to serve in elective office. Ideally, qualified candidates have experience from the private sector, embrace term limits and chose to return home after public service.

QuotePower, despite what some would have you think, is not reserved for the heavily financed political-machine candidates, who too often sit in the front rows in our state and federal capitols. Real Republican forms of democracies derive from the people who elect representatives to speak and act for them in public office.

Leading from the back row—from its seating assignments to controlled behavior by front-row elites—takes us closer to the “belly of the beast” of American politics and the clash between insider and outsider politics. Insiders have their own agenda, usually charged with political moves that are guaranteed to advance their political careers. Outsiders come from the real world and often find themselves tipping the front row insiders so that they can get the peoples’ work done.

Effective government is more possible than you may think. It is my hope that by the end of this book, you’ll be inspired to demand more of your local, state and national government officials. Change is needed. Change is possible. And change is something you can become a part of.


The front row of the legislative hall is both a metaphor and literal place of power. Bills can be shut down or moved forward by the “front row” contingent. A new, effective government requires a free press, citizen leadership and qualified candidates to serve the citizensTo continue reading this book, get your copy of “What Sex is a Republican” in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.

The Veterans Property Tax Bill and the Hidden Agenda to the Public

Posted by Terri McCormick On August - 10 - 2014

Sometimes the most difficult part of my job was being able to do my job.

Veterans Rally Behind Terri’s ‘Combat Disabled Property Tax Exemption.’ Pictured are state officers of the Rolling Thunder Veterans Organization.The year was 2006, and I was receiving more push back than usual on a veterans property tax bill that I wrote, with the help of Harold Grimes, a highly active and distinguished Vietnam veteran. The bill would have provided property tax relief for our returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other veterans, with a 100 percent combat disability. The subject was clearly property tax relief, yet in a matter of a few hours after the bill’s introduction, the focus changed.

The junior speaker shifted the focus of the Veterans Property Tax Relief to protocol—the newer protocol—and worse, the debate unraveled to its core. The real issue again was who would get the credit for writing my bill? This bill had—and still has—the support of veterans, as well as a number of political figures. Yet the leadership clique appeared to be creating excuses in an effort to block what would be an important and historic bill for the state. Instead of discussing the bill, the front row decided to block the veterans bill from being heard in committee.

The response from the veterans community was immediate and it was clear. Stop playing games with veterans or we will march on the capitol. The constituents who lobbied for veterans property tax relief were the sons, daughters and wives of veterans, and they were the veteran community at large. They were all asking for status reports and updates from my office. The veteran lobby was well organized, and they were on the move on the Internet and on the telephones. How could I go back to them and explain that their bill hadn’t been considered because the front row stalled the legislation for no apparent reason? These men and women in uniform were reminiscent of my family—my grandfathers, father, brother, nephews—veterans all. These were the men and women who made my service in the legislature possible and my nation’s freedoms possible.

Veteran and Veterans Advocate Harold Grimes is well known for his integrity leadership in Washington DC and in Madison. He served as Terri’s chief advisor on the Combat Disabled Property Tax ExemptionHow could I go back to these individuals and tell them that the front row had threatened me so I would drop the ball? I couldn’t.

When I began the draft of the Veterans Property Tax Relief Bill, I brought in attorneys and veterans with personal experience on the issue. It was at Harold Grimes’s (USMC and U.S. Army, retired) request that I first wrote the legislation. The stories of disrespect and neglect of our Vietnam veterans was and is not a history I want to see repeated. It was for their cause—their banner—that I went to the wall in my caucus. It was their plea that I carried in my heart and fought to be heard. A sacred prayer of the veterans from the Korean and Vietnam wars was that their dishonor and neglect at the hands of the American government would not be the legacy for the veterans of today, from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Maybe it would have been easier to understand if the debate on veterans property relief had been partisan. But it wasn’t. Instead, it was my own party’s leadership in the front row, blocking the bill from being heard. The entire veterans community saw dishonor in the actions of my party. In fact, with the war raging in the Middle East, the veterans community saw disgrace as well in the actions of my party. Sadly, so did I.

When I relayed the unhappy news to the veterans groups, they sprang into action. They, as a force, insisted that my party’s speaker allow their bill up for a vote. They e-mailed, wrote letters, made phone calls, and tried every way they could to lobby their own state senators and their own assembly members—all to no avail.

I polled members of both parties on the Veterans Affairs Committee and the vast majority were in favor of the Veterans Property Tax Relief Bill. However, the chairman of Veterans Affairs would not budge; his staff was instructed by the front row not to allow it up for a vote.

The message was clear: “Do not let McCormick’s bill out of your committee.”

Phone calls by an active veterans citizenry caused the junior speaker to transfer my bill under someone else’s name into someone else’s committee. These all-too-familiar political tactics were not a match for the veterans community, who were determined to see a bill that would keep veterans in their homes and off the streets passed through committee and written into law. The new committee chairman who was told to sit on the new Veterans Property Tax Exemption Bill was less able to take the heat from the several hundred phone calls he would receive from veterans across the state to bring it up for a vote.

As luck would have it, the new committee chairman was the same individual with the booming voice that had threatened me for standing up for our sitting Republican governor in his reelection bid in 2001. Five years later, this guy was still following orders from the same junior speaker, only this time, he was standing in the way of passing a veterans property tax exemption for 100 percent combat-disabled veterans coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the same cast of characters—a political class occupied seemingly by children who desperately wanted to be somebody. Only this time, they were taking on a group of individuals who’d earned their stripes and could not be intimidated—the veterans of the United States military.

Democrats on the floor of the assembly tried their best to embarrass my party leadership. They called for a “pulling motion,” a motion to pull my bill out of the committee that was not allowed to hear it and up to the floor of the legislature for a vote. My side of the aisle grimaced and groaned. Instead of swimming against the political current to do the right thing, the majority of members on my side of the aisle sat motionless and did nothing. They pretended as though nothing unusual was happening, as though they were watching a movie and no one else was in the room. The browbeating by the front had so paralyzed the committee members to stand for their own bills that it was like a scene from the movie Redemption. No one felt compelled to stand up and speak what was on his or her mind.

There was a hidden agenda to the public…To continue reading this book, get your copy of “What Sex is a Republican” in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.

The Balanced Budget Vs. Front-Row Politics

Posted by Terri McCormick On July - 8 - 2014

Power and Control in the State BudgetI will never forget the late-night budget standoff in 2003, shortly after my second oath of office, in the Wisconsin state legislature. My committee appointments were as the chair of the Economic Development Committee and vice chair for a second term in office on the House Judiciary Committee.

The “budget crisis,” as it was identified by county after county and municipality after municipality, was caused by a ripple effect from state unfunded mandates, escalating costs of health insurance, and poor collaboration and planning between local, county and state government.

State budgets are always in crisis in Wisconsin in that we make budget decisions based on getting our majorities back in office. The ripple effect is the pork stuffed into legislation that was promised by the front-row leaders in setting the house legislative agendas.

Notice I did not mention “public policy agendas”—there is little of that.

The power for setting the agenda and moving the legislation to be voted on rests in the hands of the house assembly speaker. Any checks and balances thereafter are in the hands of the governor’s line-item veto.

Without a need to have money in the budget before you spend it, or “pay as you go,” you may as well give an open checkbook to a teenager at holiday time. And therein lies the problem: there is no accountability for state-level spending if the political will is stronger than the public policy will. It’s truly a case of “Who is watching the hen house?”

One vivid recollection I have of this front row versus back row dynamic happened during the 2003/2004 budget debate.

The conservative arm of our GOP party had done the math, and the current tax levels in no way could afford the massive giveaway programs that were being carved out by the front row in the Republican leadership ranks. It was 1:00 a.m., and both political party front-row benches were meeting privately behind the scenes to work out a “deal,” as their private discussions were so often called.

The body, as a whole, had very little idea of what was happening in these private meetings. That’s not to say they weren’t paying attention. It’s that the front row plays a “leadership game” that gives off an illusion of power that few feel able—or willing—to criticize or challenge.

A first-year legislator on my side of the aisle was glued to the discussion in the front of the chamber at 1:30 a.m. Her eyes were wide open, almost in a state of desperation, despite the late hour. I asked, “Are you all right? It’s late. Do you need to lie down on one of the couches in the back and get called to take your votes?”

The freshman legislator said, “Absolutely not. I have to keep an eye on them in the front so that I can make sure they don’t do something stupid.”

She was right. The deals worked out with the front rows of both political parties were not provided to committees for consideration and public scrutiny. The real deals happening in the budget were based on a couple of…To continue reading this book, get your copy of “What Sex is a Republican” in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.

The Competitive Prescription Drug Purchasing Pool

Posted by Terri McCormick On June - 26 - 2014

Prescription drug purchasing poolLooking back on things, there is no doubt in my mind that my freshman year chairmanship of the speaker’s Task Force on Health Insurance Partnerships for Local Governments was designed to keep me out of trouble. After the Crandon Mine fiasco, it was a wise appointment by Speaker Scott Jensen to keep me busy, studying what was perceived as an impossible issue, that of health-care costs.

It was well known that the skyrocketing costs of local government health insurance was steadily rifling up the costs of property taxes. The issue was sticky and it would boil over with testimony from school board members around the state, who would echo the concerns of counties, municipalities and townships.

“Health insurance costs” for public employees was a traceable escalation of costs that impacted taxpayers’ wallets directly. Unlike the business sector, health-care costs for local governments could be made transparent and accountable. As the task force chairwoman, I shaped the issue by working with my three attorneys to draft legislation that would provide mechanisms for health-cost sharing that didn’t exist before.

The politics were basic, old-style politics; poised to pit public employee unions against the taxpayer. As a result, this issue of local government insurance costs created a political time bomb. I’m quite sure that my front-row leadership thought that I would pull the pin and go up and smoke with the issue. I saw things differently: my focus would be to create listening groups statewide and then find the common ground to solve the problem. Workable solutions would need to provide market forces to lower health insurance costs and thereby put more money into employees’ paychecks as a result.

The only problem with using market forces was with the state’s largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC). The WEAC and its insurance company, WEA Trust, are one in the same. The union owned its own insurance company and therefore didn’t want to compete with other insurance companies. In fact, WEAC’s argument remains the same today—they have the Cadillac of insurance policies for their members and the public should just pay more, be taxed more and spend more to pay for it.

Does the term “conflict of interest” come to mind? The fact is that countless teachers were requesting help from my office to reduce their health insurance costs so that they would have more money left in their paychecks. Further, the testimony my committee heard from school board members across the state confirmed that WEA Trust not only didn’t like competition, but they also were willing to intimidate school board members to maintain their corner on the insurance market.

health care reformThis “Cadillac” health insurance company not only had a conflict of interest in bleeding income away from school teachers, but it also held their school boards hostage with their rates.

Sadly, high health insurance costs are not in the interests of teachers, nor are they in the interests of school boards and taxpayers struggling with decreasing budgets for basic classroom materials for students.

As I held a series of committee hearings, information sessions and statewide forums on the topic of reducing health insurance costs for local governments, I heard many recurring themes. School board members, in testimony, recounted the burden of health-care insurance costs on ever shrinking school budgets. Despite this, accounts of intimidation and scare tactics were mounting, aimed at school board members who supported alternate insurance coverage.

The proposals centered around the solution of a transparent bidding process, which would require local governments to take a minimum of three health insurance bids and then post those bids on the Internet for the press and the public to see. After weeks of testimony and statewide listening sessions, my proposals for health-care insurance costs became crystallized.

The State Association of Administrators, the League of Municipalities, the Alliance of Cities, and the Counties Association all came together to lobby on behalf of my proposals. Unfortunately, with what should have been a slam-dunk initiative to save dollars in local government employees’ paychecks became a ping-pong ball, with my party as one of the main detractors.

When I called for the vote, it was not surprising that the WEAC would control the votes of all the Democrats. What was amazing to me in 2003 was the roadblock put in place by my own party members. The highest ranking member of my Health Care Cost Committee was also second in command on the House Assembly Joint Finance Committee, Mike Huebsch. Rep. Huebsch was a former staffer, young, slick, connected and ambitious.

It was the odd conversation with Rep. Huebsch that made me aware that my party’s front-row leadership didn’t necessarily want to solve the health-care cost crisis for local units of government.

We were near the close of our long months of work on a package of reforms that would break ground in using large prescription drug purchasing pools to leverage down the costs of prescription drugs.

After a final break in discussions, I called for a break before the final vote on the package.

That is when Rep. Huebsch confronted me in the hallway, just outside our hearing room. “I don’t know if I can vote on your health care package,” he said.

I gave him a puzzled look and said, “What? You sat in on all the proceedings, you watched me author and write all the initiatives, you heard all of the testimony and pleas for help. Why wouldn’t you vote for the competitive bid package?”

He retorted, “We won’t underestimate you again.” His statement spoke volumes. I did not choose this battle, but I would not run from it.

Now, here is where the story gets more interesting. The speaker of the Republican house, who appointed me to the post of task force chairwoman, left his seat due to felony indictments. But he remained in the legislature, acting as a shadow speaker.

Here’s the interesting part. The new speaker, a junior speaker, was the same young man who…To continue reading this book, get your copy of “What Sex is a Republican” in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.

Stories From the Front Lines of Wisconsin Politics

Posted by Terri McCormick On June - 9 - 2014

Rep. Krawczyk and McCormickI worked on two very important pieces of public policy during my first session in the Wisconsin legislature. One, I fell in to quite accidentally; the other was no doubt intended to keep me out of trouble and busy.

My strength in politics lies in the fact that I dislike the injustice of politics.

Instead, I am wired to solve problems and look at the system as a whole. Dollars and cents do not factor into my judgments, unless it has to do with cost analysis and fiscal impact on families and on jobs. All decisions and actions that integrity-driven legislators make are based on values and convictions. Some people call this a moral compass; some a center of gravity. I’d like to refer to it as simply having heart.

When an individual in public service has heart, he or she feels compassion and empathy for others. More important, there is a direct and intentional focus on others. Solving problems and making a difference for others is a common core value among legislators with heart. In contrast, the politician or political hack is consumed with the “me” game of politics, which translates to the need for power and control.


There are not too many people’s instincts that I would take over facts and logic, but my own instincts are one exception, and that colleague sitting in the back row with me is another. I was drawn into a crisis situation that was about as popular as a fart in church. Rep. Krawczyk was not just a legislative colleague; she was a kindred spirit. My house district and hers had one common denominator: water, and lots of it. She represented the Bay of Green Bay; I represented the Wolf River Basin, Fox River and Lake Winnebago.

The Crandon Mine issue had been debated for years and was on schedule by my party’s front row to be pushed through for a vote. My involvement seemed innocent enough—make sure the methods used to carry the tailings (residue from the mining expedition) were safe and that they were being disposed of in an appropriate manner. Rep, Krawczyk insisted that her nose smelled trouble, and the ground water itself was in jeopardy.

The Crandon Mine sat at the head of all of the water that both of us represented in our districts.A misstep with the Crandon Mine could mean that pollution would literally be flushed throughout the Wolf River Basin like a toilet, impacting 40 percent of all surface water in the state. Krawczyk and I had only been in office for a few months when her instincts kicked in and her hand pulled on my sleeve. She urged me to find a way to check on the mining operation and its potential impact on the surface water. Krawczyk could cook; I could research and write public policy. It was not long before the two of us made a nightly ritual

of eating at her apartment and studying alternatives to burying mining waste at the top of the water basin. Both of us were conservatives in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, which meant natural resources had value and needed conserving. Such was the case in the attempt to reopen a mine in Crandon, Wisconsin. The best interests of the general public were bantered about, with the topic of jobs versus water; and then jobs versus tourism jobs. Most important to this discussion was Rep. Judy Krawczyk’s smell test—the issue just didn’t smell right.

A formidable mining project—backed by party elites in both front rows in both political parties—was being pushed through for a vote after several years of heated debate and stalls. Who was I? I was only a freshman and worse, I was listening to another freshman’s instincts. My problem was that I didn’t vote on things until I read the fine print and did the research the best I could. Sometimes the facts and impacts were not easily discernable. At other times, the facts and research were hidden from our view and replaced with marketing spin. One point became increasingly clear: it was time I began to do independent research on the mining company and its history.

Graduate coursework I had conducted in the early 1980s in Windsor, Ontario, led me to some professional contacts. My first call was to an urban planner and colleague in the Canadian government. Canada had long led the United States in conservation issues; their economy depends on tourism. In my years of graduate study in Windsor, I grew familiar with Great Lakes issues and water issues in particular. The Great Lakes Commission and its influence on city planning commissions throughout Canada led me to the provincial government. Through the years I had maintained contact with a knowledgeable and wellconnected city planner in the province of Ontario, Dennis Gratton. Gratton was in the Ottawa office when he took my call. “Dennis, have you heard of the Australian Mining Company?” I asked.

“That company is working inordinately hard to influence Wisconsin legislators on the Crandon Mine project in my state,” Dennis responded in a supportive tone. “Let me look into things on this end and see if they come up on any of our government radar screens.” It didn’t take long before Dennis Gratton got back to me with his response. “Terri, that mining company left the province of Ontario with $1.5 billion in cleanup costs.”

I asked him to fax all of the supporting documents he had, as well as contacts he used, so that I could verify all the documents independently. It appeared that my concern was justified. The potential impact of the mining company could affect water quality for the state of Wisconsin and the Wolf River Basin for generations to come. The political argument before the legislature favoring the mining operation was that it would create jobs in an area of the state that was badly in need of jobs: Crandon, Wisconsin.

As I began to research a bit further, I found that tens of thousands of tourism jobs could be placed in jeopardy if the pollution levels in Wisconsin came anywhere close to the impact made by the same mining company in Ontario. As a pro-business legislator I needed to make sure that the potential costs to the tourism industry did not outweigh the jobs the mining operation would create in Crandon.

The numbers didn’t add up.

I found that the number of Crandon mining jobs ranged between forty and sixty. Further, these jobs would be short-lived and phased out after the mine was depleted. The thousands of tourism jobs, weighed against the forty to sixty new mining jobs, made no sense. As we began to find political influence peppered in both Republican and Democratic parties, I knew that the issue was far greater than I could handle with a full frontal assault. I didn’t have the horses in the lobby core, nor the time to rally a citizen coalition against it. Besides, this would mean a direct confrontation with my own party leaders; I didn’t want that.

Instead, I gathered all of the data I could to present facts and evidence in the committee hearings. Rep. Krawczyk and I would study data, letters and editorials as well as the evidence from the provincial government in Ontario. The purpose was to track the actual costs in jobs to allowing the mining operation through. We had only one political strategy—to use facts and logic to add on to the existing legislation.

Instead of rallying votes against the bill, we instead argued for daylight in how the tailings, or shavings, from the mine would be tested before they were to be dumped into the landfills. This was the middle ground that both sides could not argue against. Testing the tailings would ease the minds of those most concerned about the environment. At the same time, testing the tailings could not be opposed by those who insisted that the forty to sixty new jobs in Crandon could mean an economic boom. Before I knew it, my party leaders and the legislators were in a box with no place to move…To continue reading this book, get your copy of “What Sex is a Republican” in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.

Terri McCormick honored for excellence in government relations by Cambridge's Who's Who industry experts