September 3, 2008
Kohl: For term/age limits, merit pay for teachers
In a short but wide-ranging presentation to Racine's Downtown Rotary Club this afternoon, Sen. Herb Kohl came out in favor of offshore oil drilling, merit pay for teachers, term limits for Congress and a bi-partisan approach to government.
"The only institution with a lesser rating than the presidency is Congress," Kohl said, pointing to the president's approximately 30% favorable rating vs. Congress' 12%.
"This is an unfavorable reflection of the people's feelings about Washington, and it does not serve the country well. In business, the bottom line is getting things done; in government you can get away with this (lack of productivity) for a very long time."
Kohl said he gets "a sense of the anger and the bitterness," and the government needs to find a way to come together." Looking at the presidential election nearing its conclusion -- just 62 days away --Kohl said, "I am very optimistic. The future is a lot brighter than what we think we are seeing now. We will find people more willing to reach across the aisle. It's going to be difficult, for either Obama or McCain," he said. "Both are centrists; that is their nature. Without a willingness to reach across the aisle, the presidency would be unproductive, a failed presidency."
Kohl listed some of his top issues:
-- "Find an energy policy to wean us from foreign oil." Kohl said he would support "more offshore drilling, but it cannot be separated from other programs, like alternative energy sources. One is considered a Republican program; the other a Democratic one. I'm expecting the kind of measure I can support."
-- "We need to do something about the economy. There's class envy and jealousy," he said, as "economic differences have been exacerbated. The middle class and poor are going backwards."
-- Pension security
-- Climate change
Kohl spoke at length about education, especially the failure of the public school system in Milwaukee, "where many neighborhoods are not inhabitable ... a problem spread across the country. When we have a large number of people unproductive, who do you think pays for it? We all do."
In answer to a question about school choice, and what the questioner called the "horrible" academic gap here in Racine, Kohl responded: "Anybody who had the answer would be lauded and sainted."
He mentioned meeting with New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and NY School Chancellor Joel Klein, and hearing from them "how important high standards and accountability are. We all know it's not only the schools that fail; it's the homes and neighborhoods the kids come out of. I would have very high, very high accountability, and reward good teachers, measure teachers. We need to find a way to pay teachers more, and the better ones more than that, and schools that fail should be closed."
Kohl related his approach toward education to his firing of the Bucks GM and coach last year. "We were not getting the job done." Ditto in education. "For too long we've not been willing to do enough to get the job done."
Asked about Congressional term limits, Kohl joked that he is in favor, "For everyone but me!" but went on to say, "I think they're good... after 12, maybe 18 years." He also said he favors some kind of age limit for Congress. "At least in the Senate, we have had some in their 80s and 90s. They're not what they used to be." For the record, Kohl is 73 and has been in the Senate for 20 years.
Kohl also said he favors public financing of election campaigns, because those who must raise funds to run for office -- unlike the wealthy Kohl who says he doesn't raise any campaign funds -- "are voting not only where their conviction lies, but where the money is." He also suggests weekend voting, pointing out that America's elections date back to the time when rural farmers came to town on Tuesdays to conduct their business. "It's not relevant any more," he said, suggesting that weekend elections, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, might increase the percentage who vote in presidential elections from 60% to more than 80%.