Capitol Oaf Watch: reamed out edition

Introducing our new column on Wisconsin politicians’ most churlish behavior.

Introducing our new column on Wisconsin politicians’ most churlish behavior.

Welcome to Capitol Oaf Watch, a new Tone Madison column that tracks the horrible, foolish, and absurd things Wisconsin state legislators do and say. Look for it on the last Friday of the month for now, and perhaps more frequently in the future—keeping up with all the oafery is a tough job for a tiny publication like ours. If you would like to report an oaf, please oaf-box us at [email protected].

This column’s inaugural oaf is Rick Gundrum, a Republican who represents Wisconsin’s 58th Assembly District. Gundrum attempted to make a point this week about Governor Tony Evers’ proposed state budget by taking out the forest. He printed out the 2021 budget proposal, also printing out Evers’ 2019 budget, and placed them side by side on an office table that looks like he’s been trying to carve pentagrams into it. Here he is, gesturing at the offending stacks of paper as if they’ve just provided him with subpar customer service:


The symbolism of vertiginously stacked reams of paper has often proven irresistible for churlish austerity freaks on the political right. Gundrum’s dimwitted indignation recalls the late Herman Cain’s pledge to sign only “small bills”, and his abuse of office supplies of course recalls the towers of blank paper that Donald Trump used to represent federal regulations.  Gundrum wasn’t even the only Wisconsin Republican stacking up paper this week: Congressman Bryan Steill posted a wildly not-to-scale chart to demonstrate what $1 trillion “looks like.”

Most of us know that the length of a bill’s text has nothing to do with the bill’s policy merits or even, necessarily, with the amount of money it would cost. The state is also up against a pandemic that has killed thousands of Wisconsinites and a convulsive reckoning with police violence, so this biennium might indeed call for a more complex budget. Everyone knows that legislation tends to be lengthy, wordy, and complicated no matter what its substance—are those law books on the shelf behind Gundrum? 

Assembly Republicans were bragging just a few weeks ago about socking away nearly a billion dollars in the state’s rainy day fund during a massive public-health and economic crisis. Now, they want us to believe that Evers’ budget proposals will bankrupt the state. Gundrum is making sure that specious message gets across to people who get mad at paper when it’s too tall. The rinky-dink prop gimmickry of it all and Gundrum’s “Logan Roy peeing in a closet” expression make the gentleman from Slinger a prized oaf indeed.

Of course, just about every day in Wisconsin politics involves more than one act of oafishness, so at the end of each Capitol Oaf Watch, we’ll shout out at least a couple other oafs. This time around, they are as follows.

Compulsory patriotism oaf: 24th District Senator Patrick Testin

Voter suppression skin-turtle oaf: 20th District Senator Duey Stroebel 

Glorifying a vile bigot oafs: 1st District Senator Andre Jacque and Assembly District 2 Representative Shae Sortwell

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