The 5 scariest people and groups of 2015

The 5 scariest people and groups of 2015
Joe Straus (credit: AP)

The 5 scariest people  and groups of 2015 is a frightening list indeed, filled with bureaucrats and functionaries who, shall we say, do not share an affinity for liberty.

If these people share anything in common it is a devotion to nanny statism, overweening bureaucracy, and just plain old bad government on the local, state, and federal levels.

Fasten your seatbelts. The ride will be a bumpy 1.

5. Philadelphia’s “ghost teachers”

Every year, up to 63 teachers are permitted to leave the classroom to work full-time for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The frightening practice is collectively bargained with the School District of Philadelphia and these so-called “ghost teachers” continue to earn a public salary, benefits, pension and accrue seniority as though they were still teaching. The union is not obligated to pay any of that money back to the cash-strapped district, though it claims salaries are reimbursed.

Under Pennsylvania’s “last in, first out” policy, the most inexperienced teachers are often the first to lose their jobs when districts are forced to make layoffs. Ghost teachers, even though they are not actively teaching kids, are protected from those cuts because of the seniority they collect while working for the union.

The practice is also known as “official time” or “release time” and is a standard practice among labor unions across the country. In August, an Arizona appeals court upheld a ban on the practice in a case in which local cops were leaving the beat to work for their union. Other Pennsylvania school districts allow teachers to work for their union, but none come close to the numbers permitted in Philadelphia.

Some Philly ghost teachers have not stepped foot in a classroom in more than 30 years. PFT President Jerry Jordan and Vice President Arlene Kempin have been on release time since the early 1980s.

In 2014, at least 18 ghost teachers made more than $1.7 million working for the union, mostly serving as information officers that help other teachers with certification questions.

The Fairness Center, a free legal service that represents employees against unions, filed a lawsuit earlier this year on behalf of Americans for Fair Treatment in an effort to end the practice.

“No other school district in Pennsylvania comes close to Philadelphia in size, scope and lack of oversight,” Fairness Center Assistant General Counsel Nate Bohlander said. “Schools should be paying for education, not for union work.”

A bill to end the practice was introduced in Harrisburg in the fall.

4. Nebraska State Sen. Ernie Chambers

Outsiders are often dumbfounded when they hear about things Nebraska Sen. Ernie Chambers says in the Nebraska Legislature.

He has compared American cops to Islamic terrorists, said he’d shoot a cop if he had a gun, castigated Christians (particularly Catholics), called his colleagues racist and stupid, called Nebraska backward and hateful and mocked the Bible.

Last year Chambers said all white people are racist and polluted his blood. He said the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence were about white people declaring they could do anything they wanted with black girls and women.

Amazingly, other lawmakers rarely say a word in response. Why? The state’s longest serving lawmaker, Chambers has been playing the legislative game for four decades. He knows the rules inside and out and uses them to bully others. He’s a master parliamentarian who can grind the body to a halt – debating every motion and filibustering — primarily by eviscerating anyone who challenges him.

Even more shocking, the Nebraska media rarely reports on his ragers. Why? Because Chambers is a liberal icon, and many reporters either fear or admire him. He has long fought against the death penalty and for abortion rights and increased spending on social programs.

When he compared cops to ISIS earlier this year, reporters in the committee room didn’t lift a pen, and not a single lawmaker protested. Nebraska Watchdog reported what he said, and the story made national headlines, leading to a showdown on the floor where lawmakers – awakened from their slumber — called on him to apologize or resign. True to form, he refused.

“I have not taken it back, I have not apologized for it. I will not take it back, I will not apologize for it,” he said in March.

Ironically, all the national outrage over Chambers’ comments prompted more capital security – in other words, more cops to protect him.

Credit: AP
Ernie Chambers (credit: AP)

And what has he gotten for all this bombast? Often, honored. He’s routinely the subject of glowing media features and this year he was named one of Politico’s top 50 “thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics.”

After a rash of high-profile deaths of  black people at the hands of police officers, Chambers — who claims to be the most hated man in Nebraska — felt exonerated. “All of a sudden with the number of police killings, I’m getting a different response to my words,” he said.

And so it goes. He is brilliant, but has accomplished little to help his poverty-stricken, crime-ridden district in north Omaha. Rarely does he introduce legislation; most of his talent is spent blocking bills. If he instead put his considerable skills to use helping his constituents, he might be worthy of Politico’s honor. Until then, we have another title for him: Scary.

3. Jagadish Shukla and his fellow climate scientists (aka the RICO 20)

It was just a two-page letter from 20 climate scientists but it landed with a figurative thud — and accusations that colleagues who dared to stray from climate orthodoxy were being targeted.

The missive to President Barack Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy “strongly” supported employing a federal statute that is commonly used against Mafia figures to investigate those who “have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change.”

Jahgadish Shukla
Jahgadish Shukla

The lead signatory of the letter is Jagadish Shukla, director of the Institute of Global Environment and Society (IGES) at George Mason University, who, along with the co-signers, became known by the social media hashtag the #RICO20.

Taking a cue from U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, the RICO 20 called for the government to use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to file civil lawsuits against those who work to “undermine climate science.”

Georgia Tech climate scientist Judith Curry, who argues that the planet is warming but says the data are unclear how much human activity contributes, said the RICO 20 were out to criminalize anybody who disagrees with them.

“We have this politically correct, green position that all scientists are supposed to pledge allegiance to,” Curry told Watchdog.org. “I’m not going to pledge allegiance to that silliness.”

But the story boomeranged on Shukla when serious questions were raised about his funding.

According to IRS documents, Shukla received $333,048 in total compensation from IGES in 2014 for working an average of 28 hours a week. His wife received $166,097 in total compensation as the IGES business manager. National Review reported that Shukla’s daughter is also on the payroll, but her earnings have gone unreported.

“If this information is accurate, it raises serious questions about Dr. Shukla’s use of grant money,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and has promised an investigation.

2. Former Wisconsin federal prosecutor Francis Schmitz

Constitutional law expert Rick Esenberg has often said prosecutors should have a little voice inside their heads telling them when it’s time to quit. Francis Schmitz lacks that little voice.

The former special prosecutor of Wisconsin’s infamous John Doe investigation may have many other voices in his head, but the one that tells him “Sir, you have no evidence, no probable cause, nothing. Perhaps it’s time to stop” has been missing in action.

Fortunately, multiple courts have been that voice for Schmitz. Unfortunately, he hasn’t listened to them, either.

The former federal prosecutor was the hand-picked henchman of the soon-to-be-deceased state Government Accountability Board to lead the abusive campaign finance probe into dozens of conservative groups and the campaign of Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Said investigation, as Wisconsin Watchdog exposed, included early-morning armed raids, a lengthy political spying operation and the seizure of 6 million-plus documents — all on a widely rejected theory of illegal campaign coordination.

John Doe Judge Gregory Peterson nearly two years ago told Schmitz to stop. A federal judge did the same in May 2014. Another federal court told Schmitz he could no longer pursue his unconstitutional investigation. And the state Supreme Court — twice — said enough is enough.

Schmitz persisted, even as the court earlier this month clarified that the special prosecutor was invalid from the inception of the probe.

Following the court’s ruling, Schmitz did acknowledge he made a miscalculation. Unrepentant to the end, he said his error was “underestimating the power and influence special interest groups have in Wisconsin politics.”

Then he insulted the targets he has intimidated and harassed for years.

“My career in the military and as a federal prosecutor fighting violent criminals and terrorists did not fully prepare me for the tactics employed by these special interest groups,” Schmitz said in a statement following the court ruling.

It would seem not even the state’s highest court has a silver bullet for this scariest of prosecutorial monsters.

1. Texas House Speaker Joe Straus

No. 1 name on the list holds a special place in the annals of bad governance and betrayal of conservative principles.

Is anyone scarier for small-government, free-market conservatives than a Republican leader with a left-wing power base?

In the Texas Legislature, where the GOP enjoys a nominal super-majority, House Speaker Joe Straus runs a powerful political machine that blocks school choice, protects labor unions and generally grates on conservatives.

Joe Straus (credit: AP)
Joe Straus (credit: AP)

While Straus curries favor with minority Democratic lawmakers to keep himself in power, the Alamo Heights Republican relegates conservatives to marginal committees and their legislation goes nowhere.

Straus says he “works with all sides.” Indeed, he anointed far-left Democrat Garnet Coleman to chair the House County Affairs Committee, where Coleman recently grilled sheriffs about their alleged “racial profiling,” using talking points ripped from the #BlackLivesMatter campaign.

Considered the most liberal member of the House, Coleman is a member of the Straus leadership team.

Straus rewards compliant Republicans with key sinecures to block free-market legislation.

“While 99 percent of political contributions from unions are given to Democrats, the largest Republican recipients in Texas are Straus and his chief lieutenant Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth,” explains Empower Texans, a conservative activist group. “That explains why the Paycheck Protection bill (SB 1968) passed by the Senate was ultimately killed by Straus’ favorite reform-killer, State Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana.”

Similarly, school-choice measures the Senate passed are routinely derailed in Straus’ House. Backed by San Antonio grocery mogul Charles Butt, Straus acolytes were in the bag for their leader.

Even the state’s supposedly independent Ethics Commission fronts for Straus, as it dogs conservative activists and perceived political enemies with threats of fines or indictments.

Wallace Hall, a University of Texas regent and open-government advocate, said Straus questioned his business ethics – “and he never even met me. He never called me once.”

Hall, an appointee of then-Gov. Rick Perry, said a state investigation into his background “was all directed by Joe Straus.”

“Boards cannot be effective if politicians continue to intimidate them,” Hall said.

Read more by Kenric Ward at Watchdog.com.

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent and writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Formerly a reporter and editor at two Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, Kenric has won dozens of state and national news awards for investigative articles. His most recent book is “Saints in Babylon: Mormons and Las Vegas.”


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