Members of LeaderEthics-Wisconsin receive a monthly copy of The Ethics Report. Each edition will include summaries of research as well as articles about ethical leadership in practice...frequently awarding a "green light" or "red flag" rating. Each month, we include a featured article from the most recent edition of The Ethics Report.

The Ethics Report Featured Article

January 2021

Instant Runoff Voting...The Time Has Come

History can be insightful. In the case of the great experiment...the American democracy...this statement clearly resonates. Entering 2021, we face the challenges of extreme partisanship and the growing political divide in our country. In the minds of many, political party loyalty supersedes all else. It is small wonder that many people are discouraged. It is important to remember that in our nation’s history, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, we were here before. For example, candidates for elected office were appointed by the political parties, often connected to some form of payment. The post-Civil War period was a challenging time for the American democracy. The frustration of citizens at that time led to dramatic efforts to restore integrity to the American democracy and to open new avenues for citizen involvement...the Progressive Era. Primarily on a state by state basis, a number of laws were enacted during this period, many of which remain in place today.

At this time, the levels of frustration are once again very high. And similar to the pre-Progressive Era, state by state efforts are surfacing. There is a growing effort in many states to take actions to restore balance and integrity in the voting process. One such effort is referred to as Ranked Choice Voting (the effort is called Final Four Voting in the State of Alaska and Instant Runoff Voting in Wisconsin). There are unique approaches in differing states, but the core concept is the same (In order to avoid confusion, we will refer to the Wisconsin version in this article, Instant Runoff Voting-IRV). IRV differs from traditional voting in two critical ways. First, instead of a Republican primary and a Democrat primary, voters will cast their ballots in one, nonpartisan primary election. From the primary, up to five candidates can proceed to the general election. Then, in the general election, voters will be able to rank these final five” in order of preference. For a single office, like for a mayor or governor, IRV helps to elect a candidate who reflects a majority of voters in a single election even when several viable candidates are in the race. Instant runoff voting is a way to ensure elections are fair for all voters by allowing voters the option to rank candidates in order of preference using the Instant Runoff Voting process. 

Here's How It Works*

In races where voters select one winner, if a candidate receives more than half of the first choices, that candidate wins, just like in any other election. However, if there is no majority winner after counting first choices, the race is decided by an "instant runoff." The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate as ‘number 1’ will have their votes count for their next choice. This process continues until there’s a majority winner or a candidate won with more than half of the vote. For further explanation, watch this IRV Video.

Proponents of IRV tout the advantages. The process gives more options to voters across the political spectrum, thus serving as a counter-weight to the  domination in the candidate selection process by extremists in both parties. This opens the door to increased bipartisan voting to address challenging policy issues. Proponents also claim that IRV provides a disincentive to negative advertising, since candidates are more likely to recognize the importance of a higher ranking, even if another candidate may get the top vote. The case for Instant Runoff Voting is well stated in the book The Politics Industry, by Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter. Gehl is the former owner of Gehl Foods. She has been active publicly as.... Michael Porter is a noted author and professor in the Harvard Business School.  As Gehl and Porter state, the politics industry is a duopoly whose primary interest is to protect the status quo. If an elected official strays from the party line, they are subject to being “primaried” in the next election. Partisan primary elections tend to have low turnout, led by voters with the most extreme positions. For those whose main interest is political survival, the answer is to avoid bipartisan compromise and follow the party line.

A variation of Instant Runoff Voting is used for state primary, congressional, and presidential elections in Alaska and Maine and for local elections in more than 20 US cities including: Cambridge, Massachusetts; San Francisco, California; Oakland, California; Berkeley, California; San Leandro, California; Takoma Park, Maryland; St. Paul, Minnesota; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Portland, Maine; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and St. Louis Park, Minnesota. New York City is by far the largest voting population in the US that has opted for IRV, pending implementation in 2021. IRV is commonly used for student leadership and other non-governmental elections. It was used by all voters in four states in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries. 

The Effort by States and the Hurdles

Similar to the Progressive Era, we are seeing action taking place at the state level. Two prominent leaders are the states of Maine and Alaska. In Maine, the Instant Runoff Voting initiative (Measure 5) was approved by the voters on November 8, 2016. In Maine, several lawsuits followed the passage of that states ranked-choice ballot measure in 2016. The Maine State Senate requested that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issue an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of instant runoff voting, which was adopted for statewide elections via initiative in November 2016. In their ruling, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court advised that Maine's instant runoff voting law conflicted with the Maine Constitution, but ruled it could be used for federal congressional elections. The new process was used in the November 2020 election. 

In Alaska, the instant runoff voting measure was approved by 50.6% of voters in the November 2020 general election and is slated to take effect in February. The Alaska measure was threefold, and the wording follows :

  • Requiring persons and entities that contribute more than $2000 that were themselves derived from donations, contributions, dues or gifts to disclose the true sources (as defined in law) of political contributions;
  • Replacing partisan primaries with open top-four primaries for state executive, state legislature and congressional offices;
  • Establishing ranked-choice voting for general elections, including the presidential election, in which voters would rank the candidates.

Alaskas measure is broader than Maines. It will eliminate the states system of partisan primary elections. Instead, all state candidates for each political office would compete in the same primary election. The top four vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election. As was the case in Maine, the issue is now facing legal challenges. The timing of any legal challenges are such that even if the measures would be overturned, the issue would be in effect for the 2022. It should be stated, in both states, there was opposition from both political parties.

Meanwhile in Wisconsin, there are plans to introduce legislation that would allow instant runoff voting for congressional positions. A bipartisan group of state legislators has been identified that will introduce legislation in 2021. Supporters recognize the challenges ahead. The Wisconsin Legislature has been largely inactive for the last twelve months and there is a long list of issues on the agenda. The partisan divide is significant, particularly between the Republican-dominated Legislature and the Democratic Governor. And the November election has surfaced a large constituency that is questioning the very integrity of the election process. Add to that, there exists and reluctance be either party to change the status quo. Make no mistake, it will take persistence for Wisconsin Instant Runoff Voting initiative to become law. But we encourage people to follow these developments and lend support where needed. It is time to follow in the footsteps of the Progressive Era and to fix this cornerstone of the American democracy...the election process.

*Source: FairVote 

December 2020

It's Never Too Late to Recognize the Right Thing

There is a quote often attributed to Nelson Mandela, but more appropriately credited to author Nicholas Sparks...It’s never too late to do the right thing. The reference can be applied in many aspects of life. We learn as we move through life and surrounding conditions can evolve. The quote is framed to remind us that, despite our beliefs and past actions, we should not be bound by them once we realize that a better path exists. This quote is worth our reflection. We may look back at our beliefs and past actions with some degree of regret. From there, we have a choice. We can double down our position. Or we can now “do the right thing”. Of course, we cannot change the past. The latter option reminds us of the importance of the actions we take today. We cannot change the past, but we can take steps to influence the future.

This is a truism in all aspects of life, including politics. To be certain, there is political pressure to support partisan positions. But as conditions evolve, there may be opportunities to reach out to members of the other political party. Such is the case in an ad that was developed by the Stop the Covid Spread Coalition. In this nonpartisan ad, Congressman Mark Pocan (Democrat) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (Republican) jointly promote safe practices in response to the expanded impact of the COVID pandemic in Wisconsin. The message is clear. COVID-19 is not a “left” or “right” issue, but a public health issue. Many of us have questioned why leaders in the two major political parties have not taken similar collaborative steps at an earlier stage of the pandemic. However, in the words of Nicholas Sparks, the options boil down to rationalizing the missteps or missed opportunities of the past, or do the right thing now. Fortunately, Congressman Pocan and Speaker Vos opted for the latter.

Another example of bipartisan collaborative messaging is worth noting. State Representatives Steve Doyle (D-Onalaska), Jill Billings (D-La Crosse), and Loren Oldenburg (R-Viroqua) released a joint statement on December 1, 2020 asking for cooperation with masking, distancing and sanitation guidelines:

Recently we had the opportunity to participate in a webinar where a number of medical professionals discussed their current day-to-day experiences as hospital workers during this pandemic. The stories that the hospital staff shared show the reality, and the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wisconsin Hospital Association is asking that we all work together to stop the spread.

We are in the midst of a public health crisis. Across the state our hospitals are filling up or are already full, and in some cases, are sending sick people home to make room for the sickest of the sick. In addition, our medical staff are overburdened, stretched too thin, facing their own quarantines, or are so burned out that they cannot continue to work. We can each do our part to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The Wisconsin Hospital Association asks us to wear a mask, wash our hands & socially distance. We need to slow the spread to give our hospitals time to heal those already in their care. If we follow the CDC and Wisconsin Hospital Associations guidelines together we can accomplish this goal. Please join us in frequently washing your hands, staying socially distant, cleaning and disinfecting frequently used surfaces, covering your coughs and sneezes, and wearing a mask when you are in public, or around people who arent a part of your household. When we all take these steps we can slow the spread.”

Collaborative messages such as these are vitally important. In a climate of political divisiveness, they can be met with outspoken skepticism and negativity. But many citizens very much welcome this approach. It serves as a reminder that we face a common enemy, not the opposing political party, but COVID-19. Mark Pocan, Robin Vos, Steve Doyle, Jill Billings and Loren Oldenburg have earned a green light for their collaborative efforts.

The quote by Nicholas Sparks is “It’s never too late to do the right thing”. The message provided in this quote is true for us as citizens. Given the politically divided conditions in our country, there will be pushback for elected officials who make public collaborative statements. But we can provide words of support for these actions. This does not mean we agree with all of the policy positions the politicians may represent. It does mean, when we see elected officials acting as unifiers, rather than dividers, we have an opportunity to provide recognition. In this regard, we can adopt the Sparks statement with a slight modification...”It’s never too late to recognize the right thing”.

As members of LeaderEthics-Wisconsin, you may wish to provide recognition for these legislators. You can send a message via email to the following addresses:

November 2020

Misinformation...Where to begin...where do we go from here?

"I ask myself, what is the fastest way to destroy democracy? The fastest way to destroy democracy is to poison information." Scott Pelley

Where to begin

On November 3rd, voters elected Mark Kelly (D) as the new Senator for the State of Arizona and Young Kim (R) new Member of Congress in Southern California. These are fresh faces with an opportunity for adding their perspectives to their new role. It will be interesting to learn how they navigate given the current climate of political divisiveness in a time of rampant misinformation.

Right after Election Day, Katy Byron of The Poynter Report tweeted that if Joe Biden won the election, there was going to be an explosion of disinformation online, the likes of which we have never seen.” It now looks like this was a very prophetic statement. The Presidential election has demonstrated the profound political divisions in our country. The political division has grown in the last decade (Pew Research Center). And throughout history, our nation has experienced periods of profound political divisiveness. This in itself is not new. However, what has emerged in the last five years is the growing impact of misinformation as a major, complicating variable. Quite literally, since November 3rd, our nation finds itself in the midst of a veritable flood of misinformation.

In looking at the dynamics of today’s misinformation, and the impact on newly elected leaders (such as Senator Kelly and Representative Kim), there is a basic question...where do we begin? There are so many swirling issues. In this article, we are going to focus on three variables: social media, national news media and President Trump. In a future edition of The Ethics Report, we will take a deeper dive into some of the other variables such as the rural/urban divide and cultural elitism.

Social Media

The evidence supports the increased public concern about the impact of misinformation on social media.  About two-thirds of Americans (64%) say social media has a mostly negative effect on the way things are going in the country today, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults conducted July 13-19, 2020. Just one-in-ten Americans say social media sites have a mostly positive effect on the way things are going, and one-quarter say these platforms have a neither positive nor negative effect. Those who have a negative view of the impact of social media mention, in particular, misinformation and the hate and harassment they see. Additionally, Democrats bemoan social medias role in fomenting partisanship and polarization, the creation of echo chambers. Meanwhile, Republicans maintain that these platforms oppose President Donald Trump and conservatives, according to Pew Research.

Opening Pandora’s Box

It is hard to describe how dramatically social media has grown as a political tool in the last 10 to 12 years. In the book, Mindf*ck, Christopher Wylie describes his role in harvesting data from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as an employee of the firm, Cambridge Analytica. As a whistleblower, he testified at a U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. Facebook provided open access to their data, with out cost, because of a company policy to provide their data to education institutions. The problem was that Cambridge Analytica was a partisan enterprise, not an education program. They simply rented an office on the Cambridge campus. Their program was able to identify users who would be prone to respond to hate and racist misinformation. The Senate Intelligence Committee recognized that Cambridge Analytica was an influence in the 2016 election and they have since been put out of business. But the data remained on the social media platforms and other users have stepped up their efforts to harvest that information...essentially following the Cambridge Analytica model. In October 2020, the Senate Commerce Committee brought in the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and and Google to address concerns about social media regulation. Unfortunately, the hearing revealed social media regulation has  devolved into a partisan issue, with Democrats seeking more scrutiny and Republicans seeking an unregulated approach.

It is worth noting that the presidential election exacerbated these dynamics. Since November 3rd, social media users on nearly every platform have spread rumors of discarded ballots, mysterious new votes and sudden halts in the vote-counting process to raise doubts about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s gains in battleground states. 

National News Media

While rumors have been rampant on social media, traditional news organizations have been wrestling with reporting the facts, reporting the dynamics of misinformation coming from the highest levels in government and responding to their consumers who are clamoring for conspiracy information.The Poynter Report tracks the performance of news organizations. They raised concerns about Fox News. While the daytime news at Fox is taking a reputable approach at reporting the news in a time of misinformation (including making disclaimers about baseless statements from the White House), the evening pundits have been doing otherwise. According to Poynter, “The type of rhetoric put out by some of the Fox News and Fox Business personalities is dangerous. It harms our democracy, fosters divisiveness, creates chaos and might even insight violence”. In simple terms, national media organizations a) report the news, b) provide commentary, and c) provide entertainment. It becomes a problem when consumers do not distinguish the difference.

President Trump

It appears that one source of misinformation is the President. Many of the rumors found a home in the social media accounts of President Donald Trump, his campaign and his family. Trump and his family have amplified false and misleading posts alleging voter fraud since the early morning hours of November 4th. Reliable sources in the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Georgia have determined that there is no viable evidence of widespread election fraud.

In a specific example, President Trump tweeted about signature-matching in Georgia and criticized Secretary of State Raffensperger for his management of the state elections: Georgia Secretary of State, a so-called Republican (RINO), wont let the people checking the ballots see the signatures for fraud. Why? Without this the whole process is very unfair and close to meaningless. Everyone knows that we won the state.” It should be noted that this is but one example of many alleging voter fraud since November 3rd.

The New York Times reported that President Trump made over 300 tweets between November 3rd and November 16th criticizing the legitimacy of the election. A number of lawsuits were filed. To date, 14 of these lawsuits were dismissed. The one exception involved an accommodation for observers to be able to be closer to the vote count...a very minor determination. There has been some speculation that the delay in reaching a concession has served two purposes. It has appeased disappointed Trump voters by “putting up a fight”. It has also helped to raise monies for the legal fund. Ironically, the clause in the contribution statement specified that up to 60% of the contribution may be used to retire campaign debt. President Trump has earned a red flag for his untruthful exit following the election.

Where do we go from here?

The question on everyone’s mind...where do we go from here? Nearly 80 million Americans voted for Joe Biden, an all time record for a presidential election in the U.S. However, nearly 74 million Americans voted for Donald Trump, a total which exceeds the previous high water mark for presidential votes. We are a nation divided. The exacerbating factor of misinformation is particularly troublesome.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson recently stated that it appears that half the country will not recognize Joe Biden as president. "It's very unfortunate that no matter who wins, the other half of America is not going to view this as a particularly legitimate election,"  Johnson said. "That's a real problem. I am not saying it is legitimate or not. I am saying this process has been set up where people are not going to view it as legitimate. And that's a real problem." Senator Johnson has earned a red flag for the missed opportunity to point out election integrity...a step toward unification.

So the road ahead looks long. Elected leaders will be faced with a dilemma. In terms of the election outcome, shall they tell their constituents what they want to hear, remain silent, or share the truth? As of right now, many Republican leaders are remaining silent. The power of misinformation is potent.

It will be interesting to see how Senator Mark Kelly and Representative Young Kim respond to the dilemma. Perhaps fresh voices can help to begin the bridge building process. Time will tell.

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October 2020

Bipartisanship is a more than splitting the difference

The November 2020 election is considered to be a high stakes determination on a number of important policy issues. One area at stake is bipartisanship. This is not a legislative policy, rather it is a pathway to address policy issues. Bipartisanship has fallen into a pattern of disuse. The partisan divide has more than doubled in the last decade according to the Pew Research Center. The Pew Research Center has determined that political party loyalty is the overwhelming factor in the growing partisan divide (when compared to age, level of education, religious attendance, race or gender). Why is that? There are a number of reasons. To be certain, both political parties have been actively promoting strategies to prevail on policy issues through achieving a political majority...a winner takes all approach. This in itself is not new, though there has been a conscious effort to bypass some of the balancing legislative protocols such as the conference committee and the filibuster. The phrase "elections matter" is often heard today. Of course, this is not the first time our nation has been deeply divided. To be certain, we were divided during the Vietnam Nam war period. But there are other emerging factors at play today. As we have discussed in past issues of The Ethics Report, there is a convergence of 1) a dramatic rise in reliance on social media and 2) the expertly designed interference to divide Americans. For example, in 2016, the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence  determined that the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) inserted extensive fabricated posts on social media, designed play upon partisan fears and racial animosity. The campaign of fabricated posts by the IRA led to more than 31 million “likes” and “shares” on Facebook and Instagram. Remember, these were fabricated posts, designed to divide U.S. citizens and erode the integrity of the American democracy.

    What do voters think about bipartisanship?

    It appears that voters have mixed feelings about bipartisanship. Many view the divisive political climate with concern. The 2019 Pew Research Center study showed 85 percent of Americans feel the political climate to be less respectful, fact-based and substantive. It raises a legitimate question...can America truly be great if our nation is so deeply divided?

    At the same time, there are conscious efforts to promote bipartisanship. LeaderEthics-Wisconsin recognizes the work of the Bipartisan Policy Center , a think tank that promotes bipartisan solutions to many of the nation’s most pressing policy issues. BPC has developed suggested policy statements and pathways for addressing: Campus Free Expression, Corporate Governance, Economy, Education, Elections, Governance, Health, Immigration, Infrastructure, and Technology. These policy solutions are intended to provide viable options for members of the two major political parties to craft legislation that will measurably improve or address conditions. And the policy solutions are intended to inform citizens that viable bipartisan options do exist. 

    We also like the work of Braver Angels This organization promotes civil dialog among citizens with both firmly-held conservative and liberal views. Their approach involves grassroots workshops held in various communities all around the country. Their goal is to help citizens better understand and respectfully listen to and consider the views of others. 

    But at the same time, the political parties are promoting negative advertising in record numbers. According to NBC News a report by Advertising Analytics projects campaign advertising in 2020 to reach $6.7 billion, most of which will be spent on attack ads. Although people report that they are tired of the negative advertising, it continues to thrive. To quote Joe Heim, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse, negative advertising survives “because it works”. It is difficult for an elected official to endure a nasty campaign, and then turn around and embrace the opposition responsible for the negativity.

    Can the partisan divide be healed?

    The future prospects of increased bipartisanship are uncertain. The public appears to be growing weary of the extreme political divisiveness. But it is an uphill struggle to overcome the forces that promote the divide. Efforts by groups like the Bipartisan Policy Center and Braver Angels help because they encourage public awareness regarding the viability and benefits of well-crafted bipartisanship. This is an essential step in the uphill climb. Voters must first recognize that a bipartisan approach can lead to better and more lasting outcomes for everyone. From there, voters must support candidates who actively engage in bipartisan efforts. People must believe that “bipartisanship works”.

    Bipartisanship is more than splitting the difference

    The initial steps toward increased bipartisanship are important, but there will be limited results unless elected officials actively work to support their entire constituency (which you may recognize as one of the four principles of ethical leadership). This involves engaging with members on the other side of the aisle to better understand their viewpoint and to build trust. This requires an open mind. Ronald Reagan said about the evolving relations with the former Soviet Union, “trust, but verify”. That process involves both formal and informal engagement and communication. An example of the formal approach is the Select Committee for the Modernization of Congress, a bipartisan committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. As stated by Chair Derek Kilmer and Vice Chair Tom Graves, “This committees mission is to make Congress work better for the American people, which includes boosting transparency and finding ways to open up the Peoples House with just a click of a mouse”. Engagement and communication can also be done informally. A wonderful example is the friendship between Supreme Court Justices Anthony Scalia (a conservative) and Ruth Bader Ginsberg (a liberal). Their philosophy on law was significantly different, yet their friendship was real. They certainly earn a posthumous green light from our organization.

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    September 2020

    Without Expectations, Is Moral Character Possible?

    Jeh Johnson, former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under Barack Obama spoke at the convocation at Liberty University, the Christian school with more than 100,000 students enrolled. Liberty University is recognized for its conservative core philosophy. Johnson is considered to be a trusted lieutenant of Barack Obama. 

    He spoke of five traits that constitute a good leader: “tell the truth, build consensus, be inclusive, never ask someone to do something you wouldnt do yourself, and follow the Golden Rule”.

    He went on to state, We no longer expect our political leaders to tell us the truth and we no longer expect our political leaders to play by the rules. Our expectations of our political leaders have sunk so low we now accept from them personal behavior that would be unacceptable for our children, our students, our employees, or cadets, soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines under our military command.” He added that leaders too often seek to gain attention by pandering to our fears, our suspicions and our prejudices.” He did not specify names or examples, allowing the students to draw their own conclusions.

    His remarks regarding the five traits of leadership bear a strong resemblance to the four principles of ethical leadership: truthfulness, transparency, acting as a unifier and representing all constituents. Although his remarks clearly address leadership behavior, he was also speaking to the expectations of citizens. He was asking the students at Liberty University...why do we accept behavior from political leaders that we would not accept from family, friends, co-workers or employees?

    The Dynamics of Political Party Loyalty

    Political polarization is a major factor of influence on the words and actions of leaders. Conservative author David French, in the September 11, 2020 article in The Dispatch, The French Press, takes note of this dynamic. In the subsequent dialog following the revelation in the Bob Woodward book, Rage, where President Trump revealed that he knew that COVID-19 was far deadlier than the flu, many saw it as an issue of untruthfulness. French stated, “When critics of the president declared, beginning even in 2015, that character is destiny, -this is what we meant. When the time would come to tell the hard truths, the president was likely to fail—and fail he did.” He also added, “Ive seen folks in the conservative media—including friends of mine—argue that if the president had been sounding the alarm accurately and consistently that he would have faced immediate pushback from the Democrats and the media. I agree that the reality of negative polarization means that there are too many people who oppose anything Trump says simply because Trump said it.” French goes on to add, “But that does not relieve the president of the obligation to tell the truth.” Such is the challenge of leadership in these politically polarized times, certainly for ethical leadership. Jeh Johnson is calling for leaders to follow their moral compass, even though they will face intense criticism, regardless of their position. Donald Trump has earned a red flag, perhaps the largest red flag awarded as of yet, for his admission that he was aware of the seriousness of COVID-19, yet he wanted to play it down rather than speak out with transparency.

    Does the burden of ethical leadership lie solely on leaders?

    The research supports the importance of leaders as role models. In many ways, leaders can help shape the actions and beliefs of others. And even though in the American democracy, we elect representatives as well as those that serve in the executive branch of government, all elected officials (for better or worse) are role models. In a time of intense political polarization, we need leaders who work at unification...leaders who are willing to do the heavy lifting...leaders as described by Jeh Johnson.

     It we also need to cultivate the expectation of ethical leadership among citizens. That is what Johnson was referring to when he said we are finding ourselves accepting from political leaders “personal behavior that would be unacceptable” for others in everyday life. In fact, our silence is beyond acceptance, it reflects endorsement.

    What can citizens do to raise the expectation of ethical leadership? 

    In the American democracy, we are provided the opportunity in a number of ways. We can band together to address “large scale” issues. For example, in the November 2019 issue of The Ethics Report, we talked about the work of the “Badass Grandmas of North Dakota”, who succeeded in passing a state constitutional amendment in 2018 to address the lack transparency in state government. They accomplished this even though they were outspent by the opposition 20 to 1. Clearly, average citizens can achieve some amazing things. But there are also “small scale” steps citizens can take at the local level. They can raise questions about truthfulness, transparency, unification and across-the-board representation at local candidate forums. They can express their thoughts to traditional and social media sources. They can support candidates that exemplify the values of ethical leadership. Indeed, these “small scale” steps, in the aggregate, can at times have an even greater effect than some of the “large scale” efforts because they start at the local level where change can be more readily embraced. For example, candidates who are seeking to be elected to the state assembly are going to be more in tune with the stated beliefs in their home community. Imagine the effect if the conversation on ethical leadership is occurring in many communities across the state and nation. Citizens are role models too.

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                August 2020                   

    The Presidential Election: Things We Don't Like...Things We Like

    2020 will be a year many of us would like to forget. The pandemic, the economic downturn and the partisan divisiveness have taken a toll. And the presidential election has become fully embroiled in these elements in an ongoing and seemingly endless way. Yet, despite these conditions, there may be some watershed moments in this year's election as well. Some things, born out of necessity in 2020, may become part of the new way forward in future years. At the risk of sounding pretentious, here are some things we don't like about this year's election...and some things we like.

    • We don't like the extreme negativity of the ads. Of course, negative ads are not new. And as political science leaders explain, they are used because the data supports that they energize the support base for the campaign(s) that use(s) them. However, in this year's cycle, the ads began actively running nearly a year ahead of the November election. Many are very weary of the ads.
    • We don't like the way the pandemic has become a political issue. The President's performance in a time of crisis is an appropriate point for election debate. However, the issues of face masks and business closings have evolved into an emotional partisan debate, pitting individual freedom against public health. For our country, this is a lose/lose debate. 
    • We don't like the way the President is casting doubt (through repeated tweets and public statements) on the integrity of the election if mail-in voting becomes the predominant format for voting in November 2020. There is nothing more vitally important to the American democracy than the integrity of the voting process. It is the responsibility of the President and the Congress to ensure voting integrity. Casting doubt on the integrity of the election, without taking appropriate action, is simply irresponsible.
    • We don't like foreign governments interfering with the elections in the U.S. Through the efforts of the FBI, CIA and Department of Homeland Security, many of these attempts have been exposed and thwarted. However, the President should be taking a strong stand against these interference efforts. To date, his words and actions on this issue are lukewarm at best.

    Of course, there are a number of other items that could make the "don't like" list. These are the ones that stand out most for us. However, there are also some things on our "do like" list.

    • We do like some of the virtual elements from the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention. The traditional DNC and RNC has devolved into a stale, tradition-bound process that has little significance to the electoral process. The virtual elements introduced this year brought in variety and engagement lacking in recent years. In future national elections, there will not be (hopefully) a pandemic to address. However, hopefully some of the virtual creativity and innovation remains.
    • We do like the way groups have organized to protect and promote the integrity of the electoral process. One example is the national VoteSafe Coalition process. This process is developing in many states. It involves developing a bipartisan coalition of prominent current and former elected leaders to promote voting...and safe voting in the upcoming election, despite the conditions of the pandemic. At a time of extreme partisanship, these bipartisan efforts are like a big breath of fresh air.

    Of course it is important to remember that there are still more than two months to go (as of this writing) before the November 3rd election. And there may be developments that are yet to unfold. The vital element to consider, regardless of the things you do not like, or like, about the election? It is important to vote. The American democracy may not be perfect, but in the absence of active and engaged citizen voting, all of the alternative outcomes are much worse.

    Lee Rasch


    July 2020

    The Heavy Lifting of Leadership for Elected Officials

    Is the American Democracy fractured? What is causing the cracks? By all accounts, the growing partisan divide and “silo mentality" of the major political parties is a major factor.

    In 1988, Phil S. Ensor coined the term “silo mentality” which described the condition where the subsystems or departments in an organization are in conflict. For example, different departments may fight for budget dollars, head count and control over direction, seemingly intent on winning no matter the effect on the overall company or organization. 

    In large corporations, silos can get so intense as to bring the competitive drive of the company to a halt. Ironically, the participants in the conflict often do not recognize the damage being caused. Silos can develop anywhere. Unfortunately, they are also common in healthcare and higher education.

    Over the years, there have been numerous studies on the silo mentality and how to overcome it. Nearly all conclude that leadership is an essential factor. Leaders can communicate common, overriding goals that are essential for organization success. They incorporate cross-divisional communication practices. They can reward teamwork. They can call out internal conflict and remove people, if needed, who are the repeated source of conflict. In other words, they can do the “heavy lifting” needed to break down the silo mentality. On the flip side, if leaders ignore or contribute to the conflict, the climate worsens. In my words, all hell breaks loose.

    Silos and turf wars are particularly challenging in the political environment, where the political parties have differing interests. The growing partisanship differences between Democrats and Republicans are inherently more challenging because the differing interests can be very fluid and, in some cases, lack integrity. At the national level, the President, the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House can play a major role in defining the common, overriding goals. This is not happening now, despite the presence of an apolitical national threat in COVID-19. However, all elected officials at the national, state and local levels also bear some responsibility of the partisan fractures. This is clearly the case for those elected officials who refuse to reach out to members of the other side. 

    To be certain, campaign funding from special interest groups, media bias and misinformation on social media can make “reaching out to the other side” very difficult. But many Americans are seeking bipartisan solutions as exemplified by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Jefferson-Hamilton Award for Bipartisanship. The U.S. Chamber is the world’s largest business organization and they recognize the inherent problems associated with a deeply divided political climate. It is a challenge in today’s climate for any elected official to take on the heavy lifting of bipartisan leadership. But it is needed now more than ever. Elected officials can be readily accused of selling out to the other party. Therefore it is important to support citizen efforts to promote positive examples bipartisanship. The U.S Chamber of Commerce has earned a green light for the Jefferson-Hamilton Award.

    Of course, when we vote, every citizen has the opportunity to recognize those elected officials who are willing to do the heavy lifting. As citizens, through voting, we can step outside of the partisanship silo. We can recognize the damage that is occurring and take a stand to bring about bipartisan solutions for the complex problems we face. Our country will be the better for it.


    June 2020

    2020...Beyond 2020

    2020 in the United States will be a year to remember and, for many, a year to forget. In a matter of four months (March to June), we have experienced the surge in COVID-19 infections resulting in varying stay-at-home polices in each of the states. During the four month timeframe, more than 100,000 Americans died from the virus. The pandemic, coupled with the closing of many businesses, led to a dramatic downturn in the economy and an increase in unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. By early May, pressure was building to reopen the economy, resulting in citizen protests in a number of state capitals. Most states began relaxing stay-at-home policies in May. Then on May 25th, George Floyd was killed by a policeman in Minneapolis. This event spurred massive protests in numerous cities across the country. There were peaceful protests as well as violence and looting. And there was an emergence of dialog and actions designed to address systemic racism. Some counter-protests are now also emerging. Throughout all of this, the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic are continuing. 

    For people of the Baby Boom generation, the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 are reminiscent of the civil rights protests of the 1960’s. There are differences, of course. The dramatic, sudden and combined impact of the pandemic and economic recession is something this nation has never experienced. Meanwhile, the controversial war in Viet Nam was more like slowly sinking in quicksand.

    Clearly, elected leaders in both political parties are struggling with the dynamics in 2020. The November elections are a little more than four months away. To their credit, national leaders have passed three stimulus bills, focusing on the combined impact of the pandemic and the economy. And national legislation is moving rapidly, designed to address systemic racism and excessive force by the police. However, throughout this process, the rhetoric and actions of President Trump have not been unifying...particularly at a time when the pandemic...a nonpartisan threat...looms large. As noted by the Pew Research Center, we are a nation divided at this time President Trump has earned a red flag by his divisive words and actions.

    The News Media Is Not Helping

    This divisiveness is exacerbated by some of the major players in cable news media. The Poynter Report (a prominent media watch dog) cited the recent news event outside the White House. The following is an excerpt from their June 3, 2020 report.

    Two different audiences - and countries,  perhaps - are wrapped up (with) two chyrons running simultaneously as President Trump stood in front of a church following his brief remarks Monday

    CNN: “Peaceful protestors gassed, shot with rubber bullets so Trump can have church photo-op.”CNN: “Peaceful protestors gassed, shot with rubber bullets so Trump can have church photo-op.”

    Fox News: “President Trump visits historic St. John’s Church in DC amid protests.”

    And later, this from CNN: Trump says he's an "ally of all peaceful protestors" as police fire tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protestors near WH"

    Poynter goes on to report that this excerpt is just the initial snapshot of the detailed opinion-based coverage later that evening. They note that rubber bullets were not fired (as reported by CNN). Meanwhile, they point out that Fox News coverage appears to be clueless to the events on hand. Poynter states that it is as if these major media outlets are simultaneously describing two different countries.

    Where Do We Go From Here?

    We are at the mid-point of 2020 and clearly in a chaotic state. The prospects of a rapid turnaround in 2021 are not promising. David Gergen (political commentator and former presidential advisor in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton administrations) stated in a 2020 visit to La Crosse, “It is very possible that, regardless of who wins the Presidential election in November, they will have a very difficult time governing for the next four years.” We hope he is wrong in this prediction. But we should not ignore the gravity of the situation.


    **************************May 2020

    Is Wisconsin Broken Politically?

    Some people are asking. In the case of several recent high-priority, high-profile issues, it seems elected leaders have retreated into their respective political camps rather than attempt to address the collective needs of the state. The April primary election and the Supreme Court ruling on the Safer At Home declaration are two examples. Our nation might never gotten off the ground if our Founders used a similar approach to problem resolution.

    Of course, Wisconsin is not unique to divisive politics. Nationally, the divide between the two major political parties has grown dramatically in the last 15 years. Pew Research has been tracking partisan beliefs for the past twenty-five years. They asked persons who are declared Republicans and Democrats to respond to common core questions. The following charts demonstrate their findings.


    In 1994 and 2004, the median beliefs on core issues were actually fairly close, unlike where they are today. In a related study, Pew Research determined that the overwhelming factor in the growing political divide is not race, education-level, religious attendance, age or gender. Rather it is political party loyalty. As an elected official, an ethical leader should work to represent the needs of their entire constituency, not just those who belong to the same political party.

    Unfortunately, the actions in Wisconsin during the pandemic are following this divisive political pattern. The COVID-19 pandemic is caused by a virus that does not determine those infected based upon their political party affiliation. It should be viewed as a common enemy, with a threat to both the health of our population and to our economic well-being. Elected officials should focus on the needs of the people of Wisconsin and commit every effort to address both of these threats, not pick sides.

    As citizens, we should be looking for the elected officials from both parties to stand up to their own party leaders and promote common-sense, collaborative actions to meet the pandemic threat head on. It is our best way through this. And it might open the door to a better, healthier political process in our state. 

    April 2020

    The Power of Trust in Leadership

    One of the goals of LeaderEthics-Wisconsin is to help to prepare the next generation of ethical leaders among elected officials. The purpose of these workshops is to provide information for potential candidates for local elections (e.g. school board or city council) on how to run on an ethical leadership platform. The intent is to prepare elected officials in entry level positions to develop practices and a grassroots network to help them continue on an ethical leadership platform should they decide to seek a higher elected office at some future time. 

    In September 2019, we held the Candidate Development Workshop in La Crosse. We had 12 participants, half were younger (under 35) and five of twelve were women. Teri Lehrke, Clerk in the City of La Crosse, provided information on the “nuts and bolts” of becoming a candidate. LeaderEthics-Wisconsin provided information regarding ethical leadership. Following that, participants had an opportunity to hear from two legislative officials, Steve Doyle (D),  Representative of the 94th Assembly District in Wisconsin; and Lee Nerison (R), Former Representative of the 96th Assembly District of Wisconsin who provided insight regarding their experience (and challenges) in ethical leadership. 

    Both did an exemplary job in their presentation. Clearly, it was the highlight of the workshop. In this particular article, we are going to highlight the presentation of Lee Nerison (I will have an opportunity to highlight Steve Doyle in a future article). Lee Nerison was elected to the Assembly in 2004 and he served in that role until the end of 2018. He established himself as an independent thinker and he was one of only four Republicans who opposed Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10 legislation in 2011. Act 10 was controversial in that it severely limited collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin. At the workshop, Lee explained that he sought input from constituents and the majority opposed the changes proposed in Act 10.  He informed his Republican colleagues that he was going to remain steadfast in his position. Ultimately, Act 10 passed and Lee likely lost some influence within his party. Nonetheless, he continued to build his reputation as an advocate for agriculture issues and the district he served.

    Lee went on to share an experience a few years after Act 10. Lee was targeted by the other political party as holding an Assembly District seat that could be won. Significant money from outside the district was funneled into his opponents campaign. Lee explained that he was “outspent” by his opponent by a five to one margin. Despite the campaign finance disparity, Lee Nerison won re-election. Lee’s reputation for integrity out-weighed the pressure from substantial opposition campaign funding.

    When I speak to groups about LeaderEthics-Wisconsin, I am frequently asked, “How can someone be an ethical leader given the existence of political party pressure and the high cost of political campaigns?”. I feel the best answer I can provide is to point to Lee Nerison. He earns a “big green light” for his exemplary service as an ethical leader.

    March 2020

    Can You Detect Media Bias?

    As shared in several issues of The Ethics Report, the trust in government has been eroding. At the same time, the trust in media has also been on a decline.

    An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and USAFacts poll, released November 20th, found that about two in ten Americans trust that the media’s reporting is based on facts. Only 21% of Americans always or often trust the media and 47% sometimes have that trust and 31% said that they rarely or never believe that media reports based on facts.

    A September 2019 Gallup poll showed that only 41% of Americans have trust in the media. This trust level reverses the recent upward trend from the low point of 2016 when the trust level was 32%. The following chart shows the long-term pattern from Gallup polls. 

    The trend in media trust shows an increasing partisan split over the past twenty years, with Democrats showing more trust in media sources than Republicans. The following chart shows this pattern.

    The Gallup poll showed notable increases in distrust of CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post among Republicans. Meanwhile,  The Sean Hannity Show and Breitbart News are now distrusted by a larger share of Democrats than in 2014.

    Two Sources We Recommend

    The net result of the increased mistrust in the media leads to the basic question, “who can you trust?”. In answering this question, we should look in two areas, a) the tendencies of bias in the various media sources, and b) the tendencies of accuracy in those media sources. We recommend looking into AllSides and Media Bias/Fact Check

    AllSides maintains a list of nearly 600 media outlets and writers. These outlets and writers are rated and placed into the following categories: Left, Lean Left, Center, Lean Right, Right and Mixed. The ratings are helpful to the media consumer. One can look at their favorite media sources and gain a better understanding of the messaging they are receiving. It also allow the consumer to seek out new media sources in the effort to develop a more balanced perspective. AllSides also does a Left, Center, Right comparison of stories with similar topics. This is helpful in developing a more balanced perspective of controversial issues. AllSides also solicits reader feedback (What Do You Think?) in their ratings. As such, they may adjust ratings over time based upon feedback. Furthermore, the reader feedback is listed next to the AllSides rating.

    Media Bias/Fact Check (MB/FC) also rates various media sources. They are considerably more comprehensive with more than 3000 sources in their data base world-wide. They rate media sources in the following categories: Left, Left-Center, Least-Biased, Right-Center and Right. They also categorize media sources identified as: Pro-Science, Conspiracy-Pseudoscience, Questionable Sources and Satire. MB/FC provides an added service by rating the fact check organizations. Essentially, they fact check the fact checkers. 

    All Media Has Bias

    Both of these websites can serve as an excellent resource for a “quick check” when one comes across an article with a questionable message. They can also help us “check ourselves” in order to gain a better understanding of our habits for media consumption. Both sites recognize that all media has bias. AllSides addresses this through the feedback from readers. MB/FC addresses this through their “Least Biased” rating category. It should also be pointed out that the two sites differ in their ratings for some of the same media sources (e.g. BBC has a Left-Center rating on MB/FC, while maintaining a Center rating on AllSides). Alas, no system is perfect. But we offer a green light for both sites. In fact, we recommend that you bookmark both sites and spend some time browsing the information on them. If you are interested in promoting ethical leadership, it will be time well spent. And it may lead to the rebuilding of trust in media.

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    Ethical leaders are:

    - honest and truthful 

    - transparent with public information 

    - a unifier rather than a divider

    - committed to represent their entire constitu


    Copyright 2018

    LeaderEthics - Wisconsin is organized as a 501(c)4 non-profit organization.  P.O. Box 371, La Crosse, WI 54602

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