In the often-slimy world that is Wisconsin state politics, some lawmakers behave in revealing moments as though they’re born to the muck. Such a moment occurred April 16 in the Assembly, when state Reps. Jeff Wood, I-Chippewa Falls, and Pedro Colon, D-Milwaukee, exposed themselves as authentic political cretins.
They were aided in the cynical exercise by Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan of Janesville and fellow Democrat Chuck Benedict of Beloit.
Wood, the serial drunken and drugged driver who votes regularly with Democrats, made an unexpected, late-night attempt to force a decision on a resolution seeking his expulsion from the Assembly. Wood said he wanted closure on the matter prior to his sentencing Monday, when he received 45 days in jail on one of three driving-under-the-influence charges he racked up last year.
Most Democrats supported his effort, and would have rejected expulsion in favor of a toothless censure, thus allowing Wood to retain his state salary and generous benefits, even while serving his sentence. This in return for his vote on a noxious assortment of bills slated for the just-concluded final week of the legislative session. The attempt failed in a 47-47 vote, but not for lack of trying by the obnoxious Colon and other Democrats.
Not coincidentally, the author of the expulsion resolution, Stephen Nass, a Whitewater Republican who is Wood’s chief critic, was not present to press his case. That prompted Colon to wade happily into the muck.
“If he wants to prosecute (Wood), he can show up,” Colon said of Nass.
So where was Nass, as the debate stretched to 3 a.m. that Friday? As Colon and everyone else in the Assembly knew, Nass was home preparing for his mother’s funeral later that day.
Colon expressed little sympathy. In fact, he noted with galling condescension that, unlike Nass, he occasionally ignores pressing family matters in order to attend to political and professional responsibilities. This from a man who skipped a final vote on an important bill in 2005 in order to jet off to San Diego for a sun-splashed vacation.
For his part, Nass said he was “sickened” by Colon’s comments, and characterized Wood’s attempt to skirt expulsion as “cowardly” and “despicable.”
Just as despicable were the 47 votes of Democrats — Sheridan and Benedict among them — who sought to give Wood a pass, even after Colon callously mocked the grieving Nass. To his credit, Kim Hixson of Whitewater was one of only four Democrats to vote against Wood’s maneuver, though Hixson would later vote against expulsion.
That final vote occurred Wednesday, when Democrats rejected expulsion in favor of censure. It was an entirely predictable and thoroughly slimy conclusion to an episode that exposes Madison’s ruling party as a conniving collection of political opportunists.
As for the chronically besotted Wood, things could be far worse. He will receive his full salary, per diem payments and benefits while on Huber work release. More laughable, his state-paid staff may be able to drive him back and forth to jail each day in Columbia County. Voters might want to ask Sheridan, Benedict and Hixson to justify such coddling at taxpayer expense.
Read more on the Outlook and Perspective pages of CSI's Walworth County Sunday e-edition on pages 8A and 9A. and add your comments below.