Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Rep. Nass Puppet Regime

Check out these utterly emasculating opening paragraphs of an article on Rep. Steve Nass of Whitewater in the Isthmus (subsequant emphasis added):

For someone who generates headlines by vigorously attacking the UW every chance he gets, state Rep. Steve Nass is a remarkably quiet man. During long conversations about the UW, the Republican lawmaker from Whitewater sits mostly silent, hands folded, nodding his head as his research assistant, Mike Mikalsen, does the talking.

Nass is actually the chairman of the Colleges and Universities committee in the state Assembly. One would expect him to be rather knowledgeable about -- oh, I don't know -- perhaps, colleges and universities? But apparently not (as will be discussed a few grafs down). Instead he lets his, and this part I love, "research assistant" do all the talking?

Are you kidding me? What legislator in his or her right mind would let their staff do most of the talking to a reporter while the legislator himself is sitting in the room? It looks awful. I mean, really awful. Nass' bread and butter issue is slamming UW and it turns out he really doesn't have all that much to say about the subject? Yet his staffer is somehow a font of knowledge on the matter? Any reader worth their fourth grade education has to start asking themselves who is really in charge of that office.

Mikalsen, who has worked in the Legislature for 16 years, including 12 with Nass, behaves like Nass' critics might expect him to. He sputters and growls and waves his arms. His tone ranges from mild disgust to infinite disdain as he describes the UW's various transgressions.

Again, Nass appears rather stoic about the UW system while his staffer is described as being almost unhinged at very idea of the state university education. But it gets better:

He also makes more inflammatory comments than his boss. Explaining Nass' 2005 push to make faculty follow codes of conduct, including not making "anti-American" statements, Mikalsen says, "Part of the issue is we have foreign-born professors. Those professors say things."

What a load of completely disingenuous nonsense. We all know who we're talking about here: Kevin Barrett, whom, last I checked, wasn't foreign-born but is actually from -- wait for it -- Nass' own hometown of Whitewater.

Nass at one point acknowledges that Mikalsen dominates the conversation about the UW, explaining that legislators often don't have time to delve too deeply into issues. "That's just the nature of the beast," he says. "So it's essential that the Legislature has good staff." Still, at times it seems as though Nass is playing second fiddle to his assistant.

OK, it's obvious who wears the pants in Nass' office -- and it's not the person the people of Whitewater elected.

First of all, there is no excuse for Nass not being well-acquainted enough with the issues involving the UW system that he can't speak to a reporter without the help of his staffer. If he can't, he has no business serving on the committee, to say nothing of serving as the committee's chairman.

Secondly, if Nass is going to let his staffer run his mouth, his staffer better back up his words with a little evidence. I don't know if Vicki Kratz, the article's author, asked any follow up questions after Mikalsen's xenophobic statement that suggests all foreign-born professors are by their nature anti-American, but he should be required to cite specific examples of behavior before even thinking about expecting to get away with something that cheap.

More reporters should look into the relationship between Nass and his staffer because it's obvious that the elected official isn't calling the shots (at least on the UW issue). If I were a journalism major working at one the UW systems' school newspapers right now I'd be licking my chops trying to get a piece of a story about an unaccountable Svengali. So Badger Herald, Daily Cardinal, Advance-Titan -- go nuts.

Finally, and this is for Nass and Mikalsen, never ever ever get your picture taken together again -- especially like the one that ran in the Isthmus. Just take a good long look at it for a second. Everything about it reinforces the gist of the article that Mikalsen is the one in charge here. Nass looks like he's 3' 5" and appears very diminutive standing in front of his stocky and plump staffer. The best detail about this photo is the little piece of Mikalsen's hand that's resting on the building to the right of Nass. Not only does it look like the staffer has his arm around his boss' shoulder -- simultaneously protecting and guiding him -- but I can't help get the impression that the staffer's hand is just waiting for the right moment to bring his marionette (i.e. Nass) to life.

No comments: