Staff Columnist

Scrutinize policies, not graphics

Scott Walker's inability to create a Venn diagram is least of Wisconsin's problems

FILE PHOTO: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2017.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

Mocking lame duck Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for his poor graphing skills misses the point.

Most of us learned in school how to pull information into a graph. Included in those lessons, at least by my elementary teacher, was a warning: The way the data is presented can skew perception.

Used to illustrate this point was a line graph showing the number of good deeds committed over a three-year period by cartoon character Yosemite Sam. Time was presented on the vertical axis, with good deeds on the horizontal. By widening and extending the axis lines, it was easy to create a visual representation of Sam’s three deeds over the three year period that looked much better than it was.

Given the common understanding, the pushback at Walker when he appeared at a news conference last Friday with a purposefully skewed Venn diagram is understandable. Venn diagrams use circles to show commonalities, traits held by any given entity and how those traits overlap. Traits are assigned to the circle, and those present in both entities are placed in a space where the circles join. Traits not present are placed outside of all circles.

Walker’s diagram was supposed to show how, following enactment of three lame duck bills he signed, his administration and that of Gov.-elect Tony Evers shared similar executive powers. This included things like appointment and line-item veto authority. Missing from the diagram, however, were the list of powers stripped away from the incoming Evers administration — powers the Walker administration had used to its advantage during his eight years in office. Also missing were new restrictions the Wisconsin legislature has placed on its incoming attorney general, Josh Kaul.

One such change would prevent Evers from doing what Walker did this past Thursday: Announce a $28 million deal between the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and Kimberly-Clark. If Evers wanted to do this, he’d first need to seek approval from the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

The measures signed by Walker impose work requirements for state-run health care recipients, and prevent Evers from undoing it. They shield the state’s job-creation agency from Evers’ control until September, and limit his administration’s ability to create and enact administrative rules. They block Evers from pulling Wisconsin from a multistate lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, which was one of Evers’ key campaign promises.

The new law eliminates the state Department of Justice’s solicitor general’s office, which outgoing Attorney General Brad Schimel used to launch partisan litigation and blocking incoming Attorney General Kaul from using the office to challenge GOP-backed laws. New powers are granted to members of the Legislature in that they will be able to directly intervene in lawsuits mounted against laws they’ve passed, even if AG-elect Kaul chooses not to defend them.

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It’s one thing to poke fun at Walker for not creating an accurate diagram. More important, however, is to understand what his purposefully skewed graphic is hiding.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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