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Who’s keeping an Eye on lawmakers?

Tuesday’s Assembly Veterans Committee opened with a declaration I’ve heard more than a few times since I started covering the Capitol about a year ago.

Wisconsin Eye isn’t here, so we can all relax,” said Warren Petryk, a Republican from Eleva and the chairman of the committee.

Statements like that, for me at least, always raise what is almost a philosophical question, one that is akin to the old standby: If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody is around to hear, does it make a sound?

What would we, the public, see if we could watch lawmakers without their ever knowing? Would they start picking their noses and shamelessly passing gas? Would they finally show their cards and say, “You know, I don’t have a shred of belief in this piece of legislation, but I’m going to vote for it because it will help me get re-elected?” Would they whip out their cellphones on the spot and call campaign contributors to offer votes in return for promises of future donations?

From what I saw on Tuesday, the answer to all of these questions is “no.” Here is the reason for my guess: Although Petryk was quick to notice the absence of Wisconsin Eye, he failed to observe – or at least warn anyone about – yours truly sitting in the corner taking notes.

Needless to say, my ego is still recovering from the blow. On the other hand, the experience did bring me as close to being a “fly on the wall” as I am likely ever to be.

What did I see? Lawmakers of both parties quickly agreeing on a couple of bills meant to help veterans, one of which would set a goal of having 1 percent of state spending go to businesses owned by disabled veterans.

Seeing this put another thought into my head. “Maybe,” I said to myself, “the effect of the media is not to discourage bad behavior but to encourage the kind of histrionics and purely partisan attacks that all of us have witnessed, say, on the Assembly floor.”

But before we all form a lynch mob to attack the messenger, we should remember the media aren’t forcing politicians to behave this way.

Simply handing someone a whiskey jug doesn’t force him to take a swig.

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