Saturday August 24, 2019

Forward with Education & Reason

FacebookTwitterYoutube
Newsletter
Feeds:

Progressive Thinking

Discussion with education and reason.

Part Two: Water is Prosperity

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 13 February 2019
in Wisconsin

door-countyIn the 2nd of 3 columns about clean water, Sen. Smith discusses how water is our key to prosperity and encourages us to think about future generations when considering the next big company coming to Wisconsin for our natural resources.


MADISON - Last week I wrote about how water is life. This week I hope to show how important water is for all of us to not only survive, but also to thrive.

In my Capitol office hangs an old re-election poster for former Governor Gaylord Nelson. The founder of Earth Day, Governor Nelson was one of Wisconsin’s fiercest advocates for our environment. He was also a pragmatist – he understood not only how important clean water was, but he also acknowledged its importance for our economy.

Milk, cheese, beer, and paper -- these are quintessential Wisconsin products. Each of these water-dependent products requires large amounts of clean water.

great-river-road-wiWater is abundant in Wisconsin. Our 1,017 miles of Great Lakes shoreland offer our state excellent access to the world’s largest supply of freshwater. Wisconsin’s “west coast,” is mostly lined by the Mississippi River, which is the 2nd largest watershed in the world. We even have more lakes than Minnesota! Wisconsin is so watery that 17% of our state is covered by water.

Every decision about water we make as representatives and senators in the State Capitol has a globally significant impact. We know how important water is, but so do companies hoping to gain access to our water.

In 2003, Wisconsin limited the ability of local governments to oppose Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). CAFOs are defined as operations with more than 1,000 animals on the farm. Here in the counties within the 31st Senate District, we have 24 of the 272 dairy CAFOs in Wisconsin.

High capacity wells on CAFOs pump vast quantities of water in a very small area, and the massive volume of animal waste generated at these facilities is too much for the surrounding cropland to handle as fertilizer. America’s Dairyland has always looked to small family farms to supply our country with high-quality milk and cheese. Low milk prices are driving smaller dairy farms out of business and CAFOs are taking their place. Without relief, more family farms will continue to struggle and large CAFOs will continue to expand.

In 2010, our 31st Senate District became the epicenter of the frac sand industry in Wisconsin and across the nation. The rush for high quality sand to support our U.S. and Canadian oil and natural gas hydrofracturing operations created a demand far exceeding our expectations in Wisconsin. Cleaning the tons of sand going across North America requires a lot of water and the chemicals used during the process leave serious concerns about water quality.

metallic-sulfide-mining-runoffIn 2011, the massive iron mine proposed by Gogebic Taconite created a frenzy of changes to water and air protections for the iron mining permit process. In 2017, the “Prove it First Law” was repealed for sulfide mining companies looking to come to Wisconsin. These changes lower the bar for potential mining companies to come to Wisconsin and pollute our water.

foxconn-groundbreakMost recently, in 2017, the state carved Foxconn out of environmental protections. Foxconn will also be able to pump up to 7 million gallons of water per day to manufacture liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. Only 4 million of the 7 million gallons will return to Lake Michigan daily. The harsh chemicals used in the manufacturing process leaves serious questions about water quality surrounding the facility and what pollutants will return back to the Great Lakes.

As you can see, there’s no shortage of companies lining up for Wisconsin’s water and natural resources. The million dollar question we need to ask ourselves is: are the long term consequences worth short term economic gain?

Next week, I’ll be writing about how water is our most precious resource and how we can preserve it for our lives and our prosperity. Former Governor Gaylord Nelson once said, “the ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”

Our water is the key to our state’s prosperity. It will be our children’s and our grandchildren’s prosperity too. The next time a big company or industry asks Wisconsin to roll back water protections for their profits, we need to ask ourselves how this decision before us contributes, rather than harms our water. If we make the right choices today, the words of thanks will be said.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry

LWV WI Calls On Lawmakers To End Gerrymandering

Posted by League Women Voters WI, Andrea Kaminski
League Women Voters WI, Andrea Kaminski
League Women Voters WI, Andrea Kaminski has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 13 February 2019
in Wisconsin

voter-primariesWisconsin legislature should establish a redistricting system similar to that in Iowa says nonpartisan political organization.


MADISON, WI - With a legacy going back almost a century and a presence in all 50 states, the League of Women Voters takes the long view on how voting district maps are drawn. In Wisconsin the League has been active on apportionment and redistricting since the 1930s. Through the decades our stance has sometimes lined up with that of one major political party or the other, but that is not because we have changed our minds about where we stand.

The Wisconsin League adopted a position in the 1970s favoring voting maps drawn by a nonpartisan entity, rather than by the legislators who might want to ensure their own job security by creating “safe” districts. It’s the voters who should choose their representatives, not the other way around. Currently we support having a nonpartisan legislative agency draw the maps, a plan that has worked well in Iowa since 1980. Over the years our position has not sat well with the party in power.

In a 1989 letter to the League, Assembly Speaker Dave Travis, a liberal Democrat, blasted the League for our position favoring an independent commission. He said the League “allowed itself to be used for partisan political purposes on behalf of the Republican Party of Wisconsin during the 1980s redistricting process.”

That was then. Now it’s the Republican legislators who oppose nonpartisan redistricting. That party’s leaders have refused to even hold a public hearing for the “Iowa Plan” bill which was introduced in each of the past four sessions. The Democrats, on the other hand, may be wishing they had followed the League’s advice in the 1980s or in the 2009 legislative session, when their party controlled both houses of the legislature and governor’s office.

wi-dist-maps-currentWhat has changed between the 1980s and today? Not the League’s position. All that has changed is which party is in power. The party in power got there through the current system and is often reluctant to make any changes. This is happening in both red states and blue states around the country. In Maryland and New Jersey, the League has recently fought against gerrymandering by the Democrats.

This battle really is between the party leaders, much more than the public. The latest Marquette University Law School Poll found that 72 percent of likely voters, including 63 percent of Republican leaners and 83 percent of Democratic leaners, say they would prefer to have district maps drawn by a nonpartisan commission.

It is expected that a new bill will be introduced soon in the Wisconsin legislature to establish a redistricting system similar to that in Iowa. If enacted, this would result in fair districts for voters rather than safe districts for politicians. It would cost taxpayers well under $100,000 every ten years, with most of that spent on public hearings held around the state to get public input. Compare that to the $3 million and counting that has already been spent or committed to have a private law firm draw the voting maps back in 2011 and then have the state defend the gerrymandered districts in the courts.

When this legislation is introduced it should have a public hearing and a vote in both houses of the state legislature, and then Governor Evers should sign it into law. In addition, nonpartisan redistricting should be incorporated into the biennial state budget, which will be in effect through June of 2020. Given that the nonpartisan process will be less expensive than what we have had in the past, it will free up needed tax dollars for better pursuits than rigged districts.

******

Andrea Kaminski is the Legislative Coordinator for the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin is a nonpartisan political organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government. There are 20 local Leagues throughout Wisconsin. More information at lwvwi.org

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Sen. Larson Leads on Campaign Finance Reform

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 07 February 2019
in Wisconsin

chris_larsonSen. Larson’s bills would limit the role of the super wealthy and corporations, and bring some more transparency to our politics.


MADISON - Sen. Chris Larson, Democrat from Milwaukee, is taking the lead in the Wisconsin State Senate on the urgent issue of campaign finance reform.

He is introducing what he calls the “2019-2020 Campaign Integrity Package,” which consists of nine bills. These bills would go a long way toward rectifying the damage that was done when the GOP leadership disastrously rewrote our campaign finance law back in 2015.

“Powerful special interest groups and wealthy corporations continue to have an overwhelming and growing effect on elections across Wisconsin and nationwide,” Sen. Larson says. These bills “address our most damaging campaign finance problems.”

mta-milwaukeeOne of the bills, which is entitled the “No Corporate Campaign Bribes Act,” would ban corporations, labor unions, tribes, and other groups from donating to political parties and legislative campaign committees. In the last session, such donations amounted to $1.7 million. For more than 100 years prior to the 2015 rewrite of our campaign finance law, corporations and other groups were not allowed to make such donations. (The Legislative Reference Bureau draft number for this bill is LRB-1094. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Jonathan Brostoff is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

Another bill, the “Communications Transparency Act,” would lift the lid on the dark money that has flooded into Wisconsin elections. It would require so-called “issue advocacy” groups to disclose the names of any donors who gave them $100 or more in the preceding 12 months. Now we’d know who is paying for the mud that’s splattering on our screens at election time. The bill would also require the reporting, within 48 hours, of any mass communication that costs more than $500 and is made within 60 days of an election. (Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate.)

Another important bill, the “Coordination Control Act,” would prohibit unlimited donations to “issue advocacy” groups that are coordinating with candidates. Instead, those donations would not be able to exceed the limits on direct contributions to candidates. Under the 2015 law, a candidate may coordinate with these outside groups, which can raise unlimited amounts of money from their donors, thus making a mockery of the limits on direct contributions to candidates. The bill also redefines “coordination” to mean that the candidate or candidate’s agent “exercises control over or engages in substantial discussions or negotiations” with the outside electioneering group. The 2015 law made it almost impossible to convict someone of illegal coordination because it defined coordination much more narrowly. (This bill is LRB-1093. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Jimmy Anderson is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

Four bills would lower donation limits.

One of them, “The Sensible Limits Act,” would place a $10,000 ceiling on donations to political parties and legislative campaign committees. The 2015 law let rich people give unlimited amounts to these groups, which may then turn around and give that money to the candidates. (This bill is LRB-1088. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Melissa Sargent is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

A similar bill, the “Stop Unlimited Contributions Act,” would also limit the transfer of funds between political parties and legislative campaign committees. (This bill is LRB-1319. Lead sponsors of the bill are Rep. Sargent in the Assembly and Sen. Larson in the Senate.)

The “Restoring Reasonable Limits Act” would lower the individual donation limit to $10,000 for candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, and secretary of state. The 2015 law had raised it to $20,000. (This bill is LRB-1089. The lead sponsors are Sen. Larson and Rep. Sargent.)

The “Special Interests Limitation Act” would also cut in half the amount that the political action committees may contribute to candidates. (This bill is LRB-1090. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Christine Sinicki is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

The last two bills would eliminate defects that the 2015 law introduced.

The “Closing the PAC Loophole Act” would require any group that spends more than $1,000 on express advocacy to register as a political action committee in Wisconsin. The 2015 law allowed national PACs to avoid registering unless they spend more than half their money in Wisconsin, and most don’t. (This bill is LRB-1091. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Anderson is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

And the “Contribution Sunshine Act” would require campaign committees to identify the employer of any donor who gives more than $100. The 2015 law took this requirement away, and by so doing, obscures the influence that a company may be exercising. (This bill is LRB-1095. Sen. Larson is the lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Brostoff is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.)

Sen. Larson and the other lead sponsors of these bills are doing a great service to our democracy here in Wisconsin.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Erpenbach on the Republican Tax Plan

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 07 February 2019
in Wisconsin

wisconsin_senateDemocratic leader says GOP’s plan consumes 80% of the estimated balance before the budget process even begins, and uses one-time funds that would ultimately attribute to a deficit.


MADISON - While I am glad that Republicans are taking steps to support Governor Evers’ vision for a tax cut for the middle-class, today’s public hearing on their alternative proposal makes it clear that their spending plan is shortsighted and irresponsible. Once again, Republicans are playing politics, instead of fighting for what is best for Wisconsin, and in doing so, they are putting taxpayers on the hook for a tax cut with no way to pay for it in the future.

jon-erpenbachThe GOP’s plan consumes 80% of the estimated balance before the budget process even begins, and uses one-time funds that would ultimately attribute to a deficit. It leaves no room for Governor Evers or the legislature to work on the priorities of Wisconsinites and to reach across the aisle to find common ground on what matters most to our communities.

The people of Wisconsin have made it clear that they want Governor Evers to expand opportunities, including investing in our schools, rebuilding infrastructure and improving health care. Due to the lack of school aids under Republicans, taxpayers have already had to pass $1.46 billion in local referendums to assist their schools, forcing local communities to approve $300 million in 2018 alone. It is important that we reduce the burden on property taxpayers by properly funding education and making smart investments in our communities.

Governor Evers has a plan that works for Wisconsin’s hardworking families without increasing Wisconsin’s budget deficit. I urge Republicans to work with Governor Evers’ on his proposal that would provide sustainable tax relief and would put the people of Wisconsin first, not support a plan they cannot pay for.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Part One: Water is Life

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 05 February 2019
in Wisconsin

lake-michigan-shoreFirst of three columns about clean water in Wisconsin, the importance of clean water for our biology as humans, and how our dependence on good quality drinking water warrants our greatest care.


MADISON - We take a lot of things for granted in life. Our car will always start, our dogs will always love us and the water we drink will always be clean. Like all these assumptions, nothing is guaranteed. Much like the adoration of our pets or the dependability of our vehicles, the quality of our water critically depends on the care we take for protecting the things we love and depend on the most.

When we turn on the faucet to fill a glass of water or sip from a drinking fountain, we have a reasonable expectation the water is safe. This blind trust is mostly due to the protections we have in place and the oversight of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

clean-drinking-waterGovernor Tony Evers declared the year of 2019 as the “year of clean drinking water” in his State of the State speech on January 22nd. I can’t agree more with the Governor -- that’s why, for the next three weeks, I will be writing about how water is life, prosperity and our most precious resource.

Water is life. According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the United States Geological Survey cited that “the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.” Overall, our body consists of 60% water. It’s recommended that we drink eight 8 ounce glasses of water each day to stay hydrated.

Water is critically important to our biology. Unfortunately, it is much easier to contaminate our drinking water than it is to clean it up. Each time our drinking water becomes polluted, we become less concerned about polluting it in the future because we troubleshoot the problem and then adjust our expectations. It’s like the boiling frog theory: if a frog jumps into a pot of boiling water it jumps out immediately, but if the frog is in the pot while the water slowly boils it remains.

jeff-smithThere are many countries that did not prioritize clean, accessible water until it was too late. Right here in North America, nearly three-quarters of people in Mexico drink packaged water, and they consume more bottled water per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Wisconsin is not immune to the emergency of contaminated drinking water. In Kewaunee County, samples from a recent study showed 60% of private well systems were contaminated with excess nitrates from human and animal waste. Even with protections in place, we cannot take clean water for granted. Going forward, we must work with professionals to enforce fact-based, scientific approaches to protect the public’s drinking water.

Water is life. We must count on our elected leaders in Madison and our best scientists to protect our fragile drinking water supply. When we start our cars during the next polar vortex, come home to our pets after a long day at work or take a cool drink of life-giving water; those are all reminders we must give the greatest care to the things we depend on the most.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Lawmakers Need to Walk the Talk for Bipartisanship

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 30 January 2019
in Wisconsin

wisconsinThe legislature is considering a middle class tax cut for Wisconsin. Sen. Jeff Smith writes about how a new legislative session can turn the page for bipartisanship and his goals for cultivating good ideas and building trust across the aisle.


MADISON - I’ve said it. Governor Evers said it. Republican leaders said it - “We need to work together.”

A number of clichés come to mind as we talk about working together. “It’s easier said than done” or “Talk is cheap.” I prefer “walk the talk.”

When I flipped on the TV to watch the local news two weeks ago, I was surprised to see local Republicans lined up supporting Governor Evers’ idea to offer a middle class tax cut. Oddly, there were no Democrats involved in the press conference.

It’s common for the Majority Party not to include the Minority Party for press activities. It doesn’t have to be like this, but deep political divides still exist for many Wisconsin lawmakers.

During the last 8 years, the Majority Party ignored the wants and needs of the Minority Party. Harsh political fights over collective bargaining rights, redistricting, voting rights and many other issues left legislators very little appetite for bipartisanship. In fact, only 22% of all legislators currently serving in the Assembly or Senate know what it was like before 2011.

There are still some legislators (myself included) that do remember what it was like. Don’t get me wrong, there were still intense political disagreements, but we also discussed the merits of bills during public hearings and while meeting in the halls of the Capitol. The power of a good idea pulled Republicans and Democrats together.

We saw a glimmer of that power during Governor Tony Evers’ State of the State Speech last week. There was one moment when the Senate and Assembly Republicans joined Democrats for a standing ovation -- it was the Governor’s idea to offer a middle class tax cut.

We all agree a middle class tax cut is a good idea, but there will be disagreements about how to pay for it. Democrats want to pay for the tax cut by recovering funds from ill-conceived tax credits. Republicans want to do it only one time. Despite the differences on how to get there, we’ve found some common ground.

Imagine if Democrats and Republicans stood shoulder to shoulder advocating for a middle class tax cut at a press conference. Imagine if the Majority Party invited the Minority Party to the table to discuss how to accomplish our shared goal. The final product would be more representative of the needs of ALL Wisconsinites.

Unfortunately, there’s still some reluctance in really working together or perhaps there’s uncertainty as to where we start. I have a few ideas on what we can do first.

jeff-smithAs Senators and Representatives we bring our unique experiences and differing opinions to the job. Every new session offers us an opportunity to start a productive dialogue to learn from each other. We can’t let our own bias and partisanship get in the way of doing what’s right.

Beginning this term as a new Senator, I made a commitment with my team to meet with Democrat and Republican legislators in the Assembly and the Senate. I’ll take this time to introduce myself, listen to their ideas and learn more about the communities they represent.

Having these conversations to acknowledge our differences and similarities is the first step for establishing mutual respect. These relationships can build trust so we can, again, make the right decisions for the future of our state.

Team success begins and ends with trust in each other. As a lifelong sports fan and former high school sports participant, (can’t honestly say I was a star athlete, but I tried) I know how much further we get when we work as a team.

I’ve observed Republicans finding Democrats who might add their name next to theirs as co-authors of their bills. That’s a good step, but adding names is not enough; it’s about adding good ideas too. As legislators, we need to prioritize cooperative input and let the power of a good idea take root in our Legislature.

We have an opportunity to turn the page and heal the political divisions. Progress will happen once we put away the political scorecards and “walk the talk” for bipartisanship.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Healthcare: Rushing to Fix One Part While Destroying the Whole

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 23 January 2019
in Wisconsin

affordablecareMadison Republicans claim they want to protect people with pre-existing conditions, but Wisconsin cannot afford to go back to 2008 when health care costs were skyrocketing and health insurance lacked the necessary coverage.


MADISON - Remember the high-gloss campaign mailings? The non-stop TV and radio campaign ads from last year about protecting people with pre-existing conditions? I bet you heard more than you ever wanted about pre-existing conditions, right? Well, the number one issue from last fall’s election is coming home to roost here in the Legislature.

When I left office as State Representative in 2010, bipartisanship was at an all-time low. The biggest political football at the time was the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Democrats knew it would be a political liability to pass the ACA, but health care reform was so desperately needed. During the 2010 Election, Congressional Republicans vowed to stop at nothing to repeal the ACA.

jeff-smithEight years later I’ve returned to Madison as a new State Senator. Republicans are still trying to eliminate the ACA, but curiously, some effects of the ACA have become incredibly popular. Covering people with pre-existing conditions was one of the ACA’s most important changes, and it was one of the Republicans’ biggest political liabilities in last year’s election.

Before the ACA, health insurance providers could deny coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Patients with medical histories of epilepsy, cancer, diabetes, lupus, sleep apnea, or even pregnancy are just a few examples of pre-existing conditions.

Pre-existing conditions are incredibly common for people seeking health insurance. According to research conducted by Families USA, published in 2012, more than 1.3 million (or one in four) Wisconsinites under the age of 65 were diagnosed with a pre-existing condition. In counties within the 31st Senate District alone, nearly 28% of the population under 65 years of age, had a pre-existing condition.

It’s no surprise that Republicans in the State Assembly are rushing to pass Assembly Bill 1 (AB 1) which would provide protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions. There is far more to the story than only protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

Since the ACA was passed into law, countless lawsuits threatened pre-existing conditions coverage and many other crucial protections offered by the ACA. Most recently, former Attorney General Brad Schimel, with the support of former Governor Scott Walker and many legislative Republicans, joined a lawsuit with other states to eliminate the ACA. During the highly-controversial lame duck session last month, Republicans even went so far as to pass a law to prevent current Attorney General Josh Kaul from withdrawing Wisconsin from the lawsuit to overturn the ACA.

So while rushing to pass AB 1 to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions, Republicans are also supporting efforts to eliminate the protections nationally. Bizarre, right?

Pre-existing conditions coverage isn’t the only important protection in jeopardy of being eliminated with the Republicans’ lawsuit. There are countless other protections in the ACA that consumers need for affordable insurance.

For instance, the issue of affordability fails to be addressed in AB 1. If the ACA is repealed, there is nothing preventing subsidies from being taken away from consumers. This would result in increasing costs that will make it impossible for some to afford coverage.

Annual and lifetime caps are also not addressed in the Republicans’ plan. This change would require consumers to pay for all health care costs out-of-pocket after their insurance coverage runs out for the year, or during their lifetime. This has a significant effect on people with disabilities and those suffering from chronic illness.

Equally important, the Republicans’ plan would no longer require insurers to cover essential health benefits, including maternity care, substance abuse treatment, prescription drug services and chronic disease management.

Although pre-existing conditions coverage was a dominant issue from last fall’s election, many questions remain about equally important protections under the ACA. We can’t afford to go back to 2008 when health care costs were skyrocketing and consumers were offered health insurance plans lacking necessary coverage.

As this issue continues to dominate newspaper headlines and campaign promises, we must remember there is much more to the story. In every corner of Wisconsin, voters sent a clear message last fall – don’t take us backward on health care.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Marsy’s Law: Do It Quick or Do It Right?

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 16 January 2019
in Wisconsin

rapeSen. Jeff Smith reports about Marsy’s Law, the background of this movement to change state constitutions around the country to increase victim's rights, and the complicated nature of balancing the rights of victims and the accused.


MADISON - Our first week of the legislative session is off to a fast start. It appears my first legislative vote will be changing our State Constitution with a resolution called, “Marsy’s Law.”

The new Legislature always has a high-priority issue that needs to be addressed immediately. In 2007, as a freshman State Representative, I voted to create the Government Accountability Board (GAB) in response to a caucus scandal years before I took office.

Democrats in the State Senate and Republicans in the State Assembly worked together for the nation’s first bipartisan ethics and elections board. It was a model of good government for the nation. My first vote was something to be proud of as a new legislator -- it was because we needed it, not because people or organizations with deep pockets wanted it.

Fast forward to 2019. I was hopeful my first vote would be on something equally important - like protecting voting rights or passing redistricting reform.

jeff-smithWhen I first heard about protecting the rights of victims with Marsy’s Law, it seemed like a great way to start my term as State Senator. As I started asking questions, I learned it is far more complicated.

In 1983 Marsy Nicholas was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in California. One week later, Marsy’s mother and brother ran into the murderer in a grocery store. They were overcome with fear and pain not knowing he was out on bail. This traumatic experience led to her brother, now a billionaire investor, to spend millions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying efforts to pass state constitutional changes across the country.

Here in Wisconsin, we have some of the strongest protections for victims in the country. Unfortunately, other states did not. That’s why California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota passed versions of Marsy’s Law.

justiceOur judicial branch of government is the impartial arbiter for balancing the rights of victims and the accused. This concept has been depicted for centuries with blind statutes and scales showing balance. Unfortunately, money, emotion and power influence the legislative branch of government. Our job as legislators is to create laws governing our justice system and to keep the scales of justice balanced above all else.

We should be cautious when approached by a national advocacy group with money asking for a “one-size fits all approach” to our State’s Constitution. Change to our State’s Constitution demands heavy scrutiny. Even more scrutiny should be given to rushing changes to our State Constitution. After all, a constitutional change is our way of “writing it in stone.”

Each constitutional change in Wisconsin needs to be passed by two consecutive sessions of the Legislature before being offered as a referendum to voters during a statewide election. If the new 2019-20 Legislature passes Marsy’s Law by the end of January, it will land on the spring election ballot in April, leaving voters little time to learn about its effects.

What do you think? I want to hear from you. I’ve heard the countless gut-wrenching stories about victims in Wisconsin seeking justice. I’ve read the editorials across the state cautioning lawmakers. I heard the pleas of local district attorneys asking for additional resources to help victims.

My hope is that we can have a conversation about what’s best for helping victims. How do we protect justice for victims while maintaining the rights of the accused? I’m open to considering changes to our Constitution. But instead of getting it done quickly, we need to get it done right.

****

Senator Smith may be contacted through this link.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Nation hurt by good people failing to oppose Trump

Posted by Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert lives in Howard and is a Partner in the Green Bay Progressive. Mem
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 09 January 2019
in Wisconsin

sheep-brennan-foleyHer greatest disillusionment isn’t Trump, it's that too many people are largely fine with all of the vicious, toxic filth and are not outraged or uncomfortable enough to take action or speak out.


GREEN BAY - Happy New Year to every person who didn’t vote for Donald Trump or who no longer supports him. Although I’m trying to look forward to the coming year with some optimism, the truth is I’ve become overwhelmed with disillusionment. I no longer think of the country in which I live, or many of the people who live in it, in the same way.

laura-kiefertThe greatest disillusionment to me isn’t Trump himself. I expected he’d be a horrible president because he’s a horrible person. He lacks a single kind or empathetic impulse, is impervious to compassion, and morally incapable of leading the country. Since his election, Trump has clearly caused the ugliness that exists among us to be elevated to a level not seen for over half a century.

My disillusionment comes with the reality that too many people I cared about and respected, people I thought were good people with admirable values, many of whom I considered to be friends, are largely fine with all of the vicious, toxic filth we’ve been infected with and are not outraged or uncomfortable enough to take action or speak out against the rising hatred and those who perpetuate it.

America will not return to the greatness and decency it once had until we all join together to hold our leaders to a higher standard of honesty and integrity. It’s the least we deserve as a nation.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Committees, Collaboration and Compromise

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 09 January 2019
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearing-inNew State Senator Jeff Smith from western Wisconsin reports on the committee creation process, his appointments, and his experience working on each committee’s issues.


MADISON - Senate committees aren’t exactly the hottest topic to write about in state government, but it’s incredibly important for our work as legislators. Most Senate committee names seem like someone pulled the topics out of a hat and randomly strung them together to create a committee.

Strange as some committee names may appear, committee creation is more an exercise in compromise and collaboration than blind luck.

Every two years, the Majority Party Leader meets with his or her Majority Party colleagues. He or she shuffles through the requests and interests of his  or her Majority Party senators. Then he or she appoints committee chairs and assigns other Majority Party senators to the committees.

After the Majority Party organizes the committees, the Senate Minority Leader works with Minority Party Senators to fill the committees. Though seemingly monotonous, this cascade of events can be a great opportunity for legislators to work together.

jeff-smithEvery new legislator has priorities he or she is passionate about or has experience to contribute. Lesser known issues offer intrigue for new legislators. While we don’t always get everything we want, I find every committee assignment an opportunity to learn and keep up on addressing new challenges.

We aren’t experts in every field, but we were elected to use our best judgement when faced with decisions that affect a diverse population. Here’s the slate of committees I will be assigned to this session:

Agriculture, Revenue & Financial Institutions: I will serve as ranking minority member on this committee. I may not be a farmer or banker by trade, but my forty-acre hobby farm and experience living in rural western Wisconsin offer me great insight. I learned an overwhelming amount about the banking industry during the Great Recession when I served on the Assembly Financial Institutions Committee as a State Representative. I’m looking forward to using that experience to help families work with lending institutions to purchase new homes and start businesses.

Elections, Ethics & Rural Issues: Since I first ran for elected office, campaign finance reform and ethics were my passion. That experience led me to serve as the Chair of this committee during my career in the State Assembly. My rural roots run deep. I’ve spent my whole life in western Wisconsin and the last 33 years living in the country, maintaining a septic system and private well while appreciating the real beauty of this state.

Government Operations, Technology & Consumer Protection: Consumer Protections are important now more than ever. During my time in the State Assembly I learned firsthand how important consumer protections were when I led efforts to regulate the payday industry and puppy mills. I also look forward to learning more about our state’s government operations and our constantly evolving technology regulations.

Sporting Heritage, Mining & Forestry: This committee really gets to the heart of what I think will impact every generation to come. If we spoil the water, land and air around us there is no fixing it. We can make mistakes when dealing with most other issues, but we cannot afford to err when it comes to protecting our natural resources. As someone who grew up in the hunting heritage we are so proud of in Wisconsin, I find it even more urgent that we protect the resources that define our state.

While there may be plenty of other political distractions in the headlines for weeks to come, I hope our first job to create committees this session helps inspire a little hope that legislators can work together to build committees through collaboration and compromise.

With only 33 Senators working on so many issues I hope you play your part as an advocate, as an expert and as a citizen to help us pass bipartisan and commonsense legislation. Stay tuned for public hearings and other opportunities to make your voice heard as we work to make our state a great place to live generations to come.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Divided, but Not Broken Government

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 02 January 2019
in Wisconsin

jeff-smithSenator-elect Jeff Smith, who will take office January 7th to replace outgoing Democratic Sen. Kathleen Vinehout in the 31st District, shares his goal to help heal the political divisions in Wisconsin state government.


Town of Brunswick, WI - As I traversed western Wisconsin last year campaigning to be the new 31st District State Senator, it was clear we’ve been fortunate to have Kathleen Vinehout serve as our Senator for the last twelve years.

Questions abound what Kathleen will do next. Many hope Senator Vinehout will continue her service in some capacity moving forward, but only time will tell. I join the many heartfelt thank you’s for Senator Vinehout’s service to Western Wisconsin and wish her the best in whatever venture she chooses to pursue.

Looking forward, we have our work cut out for us. Senate integrity is at an all-time low after the lame-duck session stripped away some of Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul’s authority before they are sworn into office on January 7th.

Be assured that I believe in our democratic system of checks and balances. What took place in Madison in early December, in the dark of the night, was not about checks and balances. It reflected the pettiness and vindictiveness that’s been on display for most of this past decade.

As I talked with countless voters throughout the campaign, health care, education and transportation were the primary issues. Although, with each and every issue, there was an underlying frustration. Voters want us to work together, listen and let local government work.

In my years of working to build a window washing business and serve my community, it has always been my belief that any success depends on building relationships. That’s how I will serve in my new role as your State Senator.

Our state and communities need our leaders to get along and work together. It’s too important to hold grudges. For this upcoming session, the Majority Party will need to figure out how to work with a governor that is not from the same party. I know that won’t always be easy. In fact, only 9 Republicans in the State Assembly (out of 63) have worked with a Democratic governor.

I hope my past experience working in both the Minority and Majority Parties in the State Assembly will help me guide others. I look forward to being a leader who can help heal our divided government.

Who are we if we are not leading as partners, neighbors and family? What purpose do we have if we are not dedicated to making lives better for all? And when will we do better if not right now?

While much may still be written and reported about the divisions in politics, it will be my goal to build those much needed relationships and lead us to a better place. That means I will rely on the best you have to offer in advice, ideas, support and friendship.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Sen. Vinehout "Saying Goodbye"

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 26 December 2018
in Wisconsin

kathleen-vinehoutKathleen Vinehout looks back at her twelve years of service as the State Senator for the 31st District as she reflects on the 624 columns she personally wrote, the countless heartfelt constituent cases she worked on, and the breadth of legislation she drafted.


MADISON - “Good Bye,” I said to my friend. “I remember the first time I met you,” she said in reply. “It was at the ‘New Legislator Training’ …I was going through my spiel. You kept asking questions about auditing and program evaluation. I was impressed way back then.”

Twelve years – to that day – my Senate career is history. My, how time flies.

Cleaning out my desk, I found notes I took on my orientation day. I set my goals as part of the training. Here’s what rookie Senator Vinehout promised herself: vote my conscience; match my votes to my district; be honest; respond to constituents; show respect to everyone in the Capitol; be the ‘servant leader’ – humble and listening; be the professor and folksy farmer.

I’d say, I did pretty darn good.

capitol-dome-mdsnAs a rookie, I wanted to solve every problem. I naively thought getting the policy correct meant a bill would become law. My first big project was to draft a healthcare bill that covered everyone and saved a billion dollars – my colleagues and I called it Healthy Wisconsin.

I quickly learned just coming up with a plan was a long way from changing the law. The plan failed. Later, I was able to pass less ambitious, but important health bills. For example, keeping your adult children on your health plan until they turn 27 – years before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed.

Today, Wisconsin still grapples with high health care costs. Recent court decisions to overturn the ACA make state health protections even more critical.

School funding, like health, was a perennial concern. In the new legislator orientation, my notes tell me, we learned “What’s wrong with the existing system.”

I recently attended my last hearing in the Capitol – The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding Reform. Twelve years later, I’m still listening to experts, including school superintendents, about what’s best to help kids. I joined with other commissioners to propose nearly 20 solutions for fixing our school funding problems.

I was encouraged the Commission found so much agreement. I’m hopeful the recommended solutions will be adopted in the upcoming state budget.

I carry the stories of people and their problems with me, in my mind and heart. Sometimes I helped. Sometimes I couldn’t. People called me when they faced impossible conundrums. Like the truck driver who needed his CDL renewed. The federal law called Real ID, requires birth certificates for driver licenses. The man was born in Mexico. As an adopted infant, his American parents never finished the naturalization process. He needed a birth certificate that didn’t exist. His adopted parents passed away. The adoption agency closed. I could find no solution.

This kind of situation tears at my heart.

Along the way, I’ve learned that just having a Senator listen can be a powerful act. I spent a lot of time listening. I slowly learned that, by itself, listening can heal.

I’ve heard so many stories. Many were shared in my weekly column. You are reading the 624th column I’ve written. And, yes, I personally wrote every single one.

There’s a lot to a lawmaker’s job. One metric for measuring success is the bills one introduced. Over 12 years, I introduced 364 bills. Forty-three became law. Working in a Republican Legislature for the past 8 years, I’ve had to work with my Republican colleagues as 2nd author to get my bills passed.

Of course, merely counting bills doesn’t address the breadth or quality of the proposals. Like Healthy Wisconsin, I’ve grappled with transformational issues. Topics like free college tuition, universal broadband, and, of course, universal healthcare.

I’ve always thought of my job as a team effort. Yes, my name is on the door. But that role cannot be accomplished by one person. Doug, my loving husband, is my rock and political guru. My son Nathan is my greatest joy.

I was blessed with amazing staff: Jacob Wipperfurth, Beau Stafford and my retiring, fabulous, Chief of Staff, Linda Kleinschmidt. I was also blessed with incredible constituents. Thank you to all of you. I’m a better Senator because of your help.

Keep Sowing Seeds for Peace on Earth and Good Will to All!

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Conversations with Constituents

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 19 December 2018
in Wisconsin

kvinehout_tvannounceSen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about her contacts with constituents while in the state Senate, from the many who had problems that required her help to how she benefited from all the times they shared their stories and knowledge with her.


MADISON - “You all lie, steal and cheat,” the Sparta woman told me. I did not know her, and when I disagreed, she said “Well, you will.”

Then she smiled and handed me a piece of the chocolate bar she was eating.

The year was 2006. I was a rookie candidate passing out literature at the Butterfest parade. I don’t think I will ever forget that woman.

Just the act of having a brief conversation caused something to soften in her. Listening to constituents is a powerful act. By itself, listening can heal.

As my twelve years in the Senate comes to a close, I reviewed conversations with constituents over the years. My Senate records show that we logged 70,662 contacts with constituents.

These people came forward with their problems, opinions, knowledge and good wishes. They taught me much about people’s lives and what people care enough about to contact my office. Many more people shared stories, concerns and feelings with me as I traveled.

kc-workersPeople care about their family and their neighborhood. They want a great place to live, work and raise a family. They want healthcare for their family, a great education for their kids and grandkids, and safe communities.

People want to cross the railroad tracks to go ice fishing. They want the roads and bridges fixed. They want to know they can rely on SeniorCare for help with prescription drug costs. People are concerned about the rising cost of health insurance. They want to know why Minnesota residents get the same health insurance coverage for less money. People don’t like legislation that took away local powers.

Over the years, I saw patterns in the types of contact we received. Agriculture, healthcare, better funded schools, money for universities and technical colleges, programs for children and families were all reoccurring themes in my conversations with constituents.

As I examined the contacts I received over 12 years, I was a bit surprised to learn the number one issue was natural resources. Almost 15,000 people contacted me about our environment. There were many sides of the issue including, hunting and fishing, water and air quality, sand, sulfide and iron ore mining, and high capacity wells.

We live in a place of breath-taking beauty. People want to protect our part of the world. They are willing to take time from their busy schedule, move outside their comfort zone, and contact their senator, for which I’ve been grateful.

Folks commonly contacted us in the spring and summer of odd-numbered years which is state budget time. About one-third of all contacts I received over 12 years was related to the massive state budget.

The most common way people contacted my office was through email, although we still received many phone calls, in-person visitors and snail-mail letters.

People call or write all times of year when they face really difficult and complex problems.

From help with health care, polluted wells, or regulation and licensing, these problems are as diverse as the people themselves.

kathleen-vinehoutOver the years, I averaged two new complex constituent cases every day – 365 days a year. Walking people through the labyrinth of state bureaucracy is an important part of public service. I would say social work made up at least half of my job.

These numbers don’t reflect the intensity of the cases. Like the Eau Claire parents who wanted to adopt an African orphan who was HIV positive. This work took months and months of effort by state, federal and private agencies who all joined with our office to bring the boy home to his new family.

Many times, people call with an immediate work crisis: a bill written in a way that would close their business, a librarian without the proper credentials, a Minnesota-trained dental hygienist who needed a Wisconsin license.

Over 12 years, I met many amazing people. Like the phenomenal Eau Claire woman who served as foster parent for severely disabled children. My staff and I helped her navigate the state’s bureaucracy to get care the children needed. She shared the devastating effects of proposed budget cuts on the vulnerable children under her care. Her compassionate nature is a true blessing for the children she cared for and our entire state.

Conversations with constituents really does matter. Attitudes change. Laws change. Bad ideas are stopped. Thank you to each one of you for the stories, concerns and knowledge you shared. You made a difference.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Republicans need a lesson in sportsmanship

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling lives in La Crosse with her husband and two children. She curr
User is currently offline
on Monday, 17 December 2018
in Wisconsin

scott-fitzgeraldl-stands-behind-walkerWisconsin residents made it clear they are tired of divide and conquer politics, but Republican leaders chose to ignore them.


MADISON - At a young age, we’re taught about good sportsmanship. Win or lose, you shake hands with your opponent and tell them ‘good game.’

Within a day of victory, Gov.-elect Tony Evers reached out to Republican leaders in the Senate and Assembly, extending an olive branch with a genuine sincerity to put the election in the rear view mirror, find common ground and get to work for the people of Wisconsin.

Rather than be gracious in defeat, Republicans responded with sweeping proposals to consolidate more power, eliminate checks and balances, and restrict access to voting in future elections.

jennifer-shillingOn November 6th, Wisconsin residents made it clear they are tired of divide and conquer tactics and want to see positive change. Yet despite overwhelming public opposition, Republicans continued their pursuit to weaken the incoming administration in an overnight marathon session while the rest of the state was sleeping.

This is the kind of cynical politics and antics that are harming our country.

584 dairy farms have shut down their operations this year. Wisconsin roads and bridges are among the worst in the nation. And Wisconsin schools are grappling with years of state funding cuts. Why on earth are Republicans more focused with clinging to power than working to solve these issues?

While Gov. Walker had an opportunity to show true leadership by accepting his defeat and vetoing these bills, he continued his legacy of division and signed them into law.

Instead of bringing our state together to support student, families, and seniors, Gov. Walker and Republican leaders have chosen to cement their record of bad sportsmanship and complete disregard for the democratic process.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Last Minute Kimberly-Clark Agreement Protects Taxpayers and Workers

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Friday, 14 December 2018
in Wisconsin

kimberly-clarkPassing of AB-693 as originally touted before election was a bad deal for taxpayers and would have opened the floodgate for more Foxconn deals.


GREEN BAY, WI - Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Gov. Scott Walker announced an agreement in Fox Crossing Thursday that will keep the company’s Cold Spring plant open. The deal comes after more than 10 months of political posturing, including an earlier more costly incentive package that stalled in the state Senate.

Under the deal, Wisconsin will give Kimberly-Clark $28 million in tax incentives in exchange for the company keeping the facility open, retaining 388 jobs and making a capital investment of up to $200 million in the plant, according to an article by Maureen Wallenfang in the Appleton Post-Crescent.

The last minute deal was made by Walker using powers the Legislature recently voted to strip from his successor, Gov.-elect Tony Evers. Previously, K-C had announced that the Cold Spring facility and Neenah Nonwovens facility would close as part of its global restructuring and some in the legislature pushed a bill (AB-693) that would have given the company more than $100 million to keep the two facilities open.

kc-workersThe bill stalled, as legislators objected to the cost, and the issue became a Walker re-election talking point during the fall election. Thursday's deal could have been offered by Walker under his powers all along.

Neenah Nonwovens, which employs about 110, is still slated for closure, according to the Appleton Post-Crescent.

Responding to an announcement, State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) said it shows that a deal could have been reached without passing a law that would have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars more and opened the floodgate for other corporations to ask for similar “Foxconn-type” deals.

dave-hansen“This is a victory for the taxpayers, the union workers at Cold Spring and for common sense,” said Hansen who opposed the bill authored by Senator Roth and promoted by Governor Walker.

The bill, AB-693, was the reason Republicans gave for going into a lame duck session that they used to strip power from Governor-elect Evers. But it never made it to the floor for a vote because of broad bi-partisan opposition to it.

“I said throughout this process that I didn’t like the legislation, that it was too expensive for taxpayers at a time when our schools are underfunded, people are going without health care and our roads are in such poor shape. Thanks to cooler heads prevailing in the State Senate taxpayers got a much better deal than the one initially negotiated by Governor Walker.

“It begs the question of what type of savings taxpayers could have seen on the Foxconn deal had the initial agreement been done by a politician with better negotiating skills,” Hansen said.

*****

State legislative writer Jay Wadd contributed to this story.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Gronik Supports Supreme Court Balance of Power Candidate

Posted by Andy Gronik, Former Candidate for Wisconsin Governor
Andy Gronik, Former Candidate for Wisconsin Governor
Andy Gronik, Former Candidate for Wisconsin Governor has not set their biography
User is currently offline
on Friday, 14 December 2018
in Wisconsin

lisa-neubauerFormer Candidate for Governor Andy Gronik urges all his friends and supporters to help Judge Lisa Neubauer become our next Supreme Court Justice.


MILWAUKEE - When things get out of balance they tend not to work as well, or not at all.  That’s why the framers of our constitution imagined a system where powers would be balanced between the governor, lawmakers and judges.  We need look no further than the current #LameDuck session in Wisconsin to appreciate how delicate this system is and to want to prevent the abuse of power.  That’s one of so many reasons why it’s important to get behind Judge Lisa Neubauer, a candidate for Supreme Court Justice of Wisconsin who respects the role of the judicial system and is supremely qualified to serve.

andy-gronikLet’s get Wisconsin back in balance.  Please join me in donating to Judge Neubauer’s campaign so she has the resources to win!

Judge Neubauer’s 10-year track record as an appellate judge clearly demonstrates fair, independent and impartial practice.  Wisconsin needs to return to a balanced court and government so the voice of the people is heard and intent of our framers is respected.  She has already earned the statewide support of hundreds of judges and brings decades of experience as a former litigator with the prestigious law firm Foley & Lardner.  Judge Neubauer is also a leader in her Racine community where she serves on boards, helps children learn to read, is a Big Sister and supports breast cancer survivors. To learn more about Judge Neubauer’s impressive life journey, click here.

Please join me in helping Judge Neubauer become our next Supreme Court Justice by donating whatever you can afford to her campaign and by forwarding this email to all your friends and asking them to do the same.

This election is not about whether you are a democrat or republican, live in the country or city, or are poor or rich.  It’s about restoring balance and the rule of law to Wisconsin’s judicial system with a candidate supremely qualified for the job.  In order to make this happen, everyone must be engaged so that together we can honor the system of government our framers envisioned.

Respectfully,

Andy Gronik

Former Candidate for Governor of Wisconsin

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

A Tribute to the Dean of the Senate

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 12 December 2018
in Wisconsin

fred-risser-senatorSen. Vinehout writes about fellow Senator Fred Risser, the longest serving State Legislator in the nation. He has served over 60 years in the Legislature seeking bipartisanship and ensuring the public is involved and shows no signs of slowing down.


MADISON - If I had a mentor in the State Senate, it would be my colleague from Madison, State Senator Fred Risser. He and I share a head for details, a dedication to the legislative process and a love of western Wisconsin. He often traveled to his grandparents’ farm near Fountain City. “I like that country. I would climb the bluffs and look out for rattle snakes.”

Senator Risser is the longest serving Legislator in the United States. He was born in 1927 and first elected to office in 1956 and elected to the state Senate in 1962.

At 91, Senator Risser has one of the sharpest minds in the Senate. He understands aspects of bills only a lawyer with vast legislative experience would know. I frequently turn to him to understand the breadth and background of bills. He often finds details hidden in the bills that I overlooked.

kathleen-vinehoutDuring our recent 21-hour long Extraordinary Session floor debate, I asked Senator Risser why no bills were officially before us and no one provided any material regarding what we were voting on. He reached in his desk and pulled out his copy of the Senate rules. He flipped through a few pages and said, “Look at the rules they [Republicans] made up. They don’t even have to give us a Senate Calendar.”

Senator Risser is an energetic and passionate man. Only last week, as the current Senate President expelled all observers from the Senate gallery, Senator Risser was the first lawmaker to jump out of his seat and plead with the current president to allow citizens to stay and watch.

wisconsinSenator Risser believes the Legislature’s business belongs in the public eye. “As President of the Senate and head of [the Committee on] Senate Organization, I insisted that everything be done in public. One time, [former Senator] Tiny Krueger was in the hospital and we took the Committee there.”

Over the years, Senator Risser watched as public hearings became less and less about the public. All too often, adequate public notice is not given and voting happens without the public watching. Senators will vote using a process of “paper ballots” filled out in the privacy of their offices. This was the process used by Senate Republican Leaders to approve last week’s extraordinary session. The business of the Senate has certainly changed.

Politics is in Fred’s blood. “From the day I was born, I knew I was going into political office,” he told me. “Politics was a matter of supper time conversation.” He reminisced about hitchhiking to Chicago to catch President Franklin D. Roosevelt at a rally in Wrigley Field. “I’ve met them [US Presidents] all since,” he told me. “But I have not met Trump.”

Senator Risser shared with me a photo showing four generations of his family in the Wisconsin Legislature. “Four different political parties,” he explained. “My father was the last member of the Progressive Party,” he said “That’s because he held office two years after the party disbanded. … My great grandfather served in the Civil War. He shattered his arm and had it amputated on the battlefield. He was later elected as a Unionist.”

One thing Senator Risser and I share is a bit of a rebellious streak, especially when it comes to leaders who want to twist arms. I asked Fred how he dealt with finding common ground among Senators.

“When I was Minority Leader I created a Committee on Committees,” Senator Risser described. “We had three senior Senators who would make decisions with a consensus. Members accepted this. We had different senior members after every election. This worked out well. Members would contact the committee if they wanted a chairmanship. It wasn’t a one-man ballgame.”

He became Senate Minority leader because “no one else wanted the job.” Working with the consensus of his colleagues, he noted that “we were able to function well.” Among Senator Risser’s numerous achievements is the creation of the role of Senate President – the presiding officer of the State Senate. He led the effort to amend the state Constitution with the help of rural newspapers.

I had my share of injuries and illness during my Senate career. But Senator Risser bragged to me that he never missed a Senate roll call vote, “except maybe when we went to Illinois. I think they expunged those records.”

Part of his secret to a long and healthy life is exercise. He takes the stairs every day to his Capitol office. “I’ve never taken an elevator as Senator. That includes when I once was on crutches,” he said. “Walking up and down steps is good for you.” Senator Risser is also an enthusiastic bicyclist and rode a total of 2,825 miles this year. He has a tradition of biking for his birthday. He rides one mile of every year of the age he celebrates, which was 91 miles this year, and he shows no sign of slowing down.

Thank you, Fred, for your service to our state, your help and inspiration. Even after twelve years, next to you, I’ll always be a rookie.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Sen. Larson on Republican Sour Grape Session

Posted by Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson (D) is the Wisconsin State Senator from the 7th District in Milwauk
User is currently offline
on Monday, 10 December 2018
in Wisconsin

walkerMILWAUKEE - We just had an election wherein the outcome was clear, the people of Wisconsin sought change and elected a new Governor. Now should be a time of peaceful transition, but instead we have just witnessed an unprecedented power grab by Republicans in the state legislature.

The recent passing of President George HW Bush is a stark reminder of how far our country has come since the days when good people from both sides of the aisle could work together in mutual respect.

In his note to his successor, President Bill Clinton, President Bush wrote, “Your success now is our country's success. I am rooting hard for you.”

After a lifetime of service to his country, President Bush understood what most of us take for granted: Democracies are only functional when citizens are confident in the peaceful transfer of power after the conclusion of an election.

Eight years later, President Clinton would write to President Bush’s son, George W, the following: “And from this day you are President of all of us. I salute you and wish you success and much happiness.”

chris_larsonMy sympathies are with my Republican colleagues; I know too well the pain of losing an election. As state Senator, I have had the privilege of serving when both my party held power and when it lost it.

But when I entered office in 2011, I swore to uphold the constitutions of the United States and the state of Wisconsin. I pledged, just as Scott Walker did, to respect the rule of law and the democratic process.

In an unprecedented move, Scott Walker’s Republican-controlled legislature pushed a series of bills in a lame-duck session to remove checks and balances from our state government.

This package of bills, rammed through committees in the dead of the night, are designed to rig elections and consolidate power in the hands of a few. Never in Wisconsin’s history have we faced such an attack on our state Constitution and the democratic process.

On Monday December 3rd, prior to the lame-duck session, Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald stated “We trusted Scott Walker and the administration to be able to manage the back and forth with the Legislature. We don’t trust Tony Evers right now in a lot of those areas.”

It is important for elected officials to remember that we can disagree with each other on policy, but elections are never about one person. We were elected to serve the people of Wisconsin regardless of who is elected alongside us. Taking extraordinary measures to limit the power of an office because we might not “trust” the person that was elected to that office is a slap in the face to the citizens of Wisconsin that voted for change on November 6th.

We must never make the mistake of thinking that we were only elected to serve the voters who agree with us. Wisconsin’s working families deserve a legislative body where elected officials can work across the aisle and with the governor to solve Wisconsin's toughest problems.

****

State Senator Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, released this opinion editorial on the transition of power and the unprecedented measures taken by Republicans to limit the power of the offices of Governor.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Republicans Attempt to Turn Back the Clock, But There is More Work to Do

Posted by Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30 has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Friday, 07 December 2018
in Wisconsin

gb-rates4Thanks to a lot of hard work we have a new Governor, Attorney General and State Treasurer, we won the statewide vote, but gerrymandering has left the GOP in control of the legislature. No time to waste feeling bad, the next major election is upon us.


GREEN BAY, WI - On November 6th the voters chose real change for our state after 8 years of Governor Walker and the Republican agenda.

It was part of one of the biggest electoral waves in our nation’s history.

In congress Democrats are poised to pick up 40 seats in the house. That is the 3rd largest gain in recent history, second only to the Republicans gains in 2010 and 2014.

But it was the biggest margin of victory in total votes in any mid-term election in history. Democrats received over 9 million more votes than Republicans and the 8.1% percent margin is bigger than any recent midterm including the GOP wins of 1994, 2010 and 2014. It even surpassed the Democrats’ wave in 2006.

And it all came in a mid-term election in which turnout itself was historic. In Wisconsin nearly 2.7 million people, or 60% of registered voters turned out. According to the New York Times, approximately 114 million votes were cast in U.S. House races in 2018, compared to 83 million in 2014. That compares to just 36.7 percent in 2014, and 41 percent in 2010.

So what votes in Wisconsin accomplished is truly impressive. Thanks to a lot of hard work we have a new Governor, new Attorney General and new State Treasurer. We should all be happy and proud of that.

So it is naturally disappointing that soon-to-be former Governor Scott Walker (Did I mention he lost?) and the Republicans in the Legislature once again showed their true colors by using a lame duck session Tuesday night to strip power from Governor-elect Evers and Attorney General-elect Kaul. Their actions are repugnant and a slap in the face not only to the majority of voters who chose a new, more progressive direction for our state, but to the spirit of democracy and the peaceful transition of power as well.

I’ve spoken to people who are disheartened by this. Especially after all the hard work leading up to the lame duck session making calls, sending emails and helping organize others to do the same to try to stop them from their egregious assault on our state’s valued democratic traditions.

dave-hansenAnd while I, too, am angry and frustrated I am also happy and proud at the effort made by those who stood up to Walker and the Republicans. You might not realize it but your voices made a difference.

tony-eversA day after Tony Evers was elected Republican Speaker Robin Vos vowed to limit his veto authority. There were rumors that they would try to eliminate the ability Governor’s to veto any unfair maps the GOP produces during redistricting (an issue very close to my heart!). They were even talking about moving the 2020 presidential primary in order to protect Dan Kelly, a Republican justice on the State Supreme Court who is coming up for reelection.

But none of that happened. And even though changes to other bills were minor, your efforts caused them great concern. We were supposed to go to the floor to debate their schemes at 11:00 a.m. that morning. 17 hours later we were still waiting for the Republicans to quit arguing amongst themselves and come back to the floor.

One of the results was their failure to pass a bill they claimed would protect people with pre-existing conditions if their lawsuit to end the Affordable Care Act is successful. But, it was a bill in name only that would not only not provide any real protection, it would also increase insurance premiums on everyone else.

That in and of itself is a major victory that everyone who saw through their charade can be proud in having helped stop.

Progressives and anyone who wants to see our state truly move forward should appreciate the fact that things are changing. Your voice really does make a difference, both at the ballot box and during the legislative process.

But we’re not done yet. The next major election is upon us. It is the election to fill the Supreme Court seat of retiring Justice Shirley Abrahamson. She is truly one of the great jurists in our state’s history and possibly the nation. She will be sorely missed, but in April we will have the chance to elect her successor.

And in 2020 we will have the chance to finally end Republican control of the State Supreme Court.

But, it all starts now. There is no time to waste feeling bad about what happened at 7:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. Instead we should recognize that our voices and efforts can and have made and get to work making Justice Abrahamson proud by making sure her replacement lives up to the high standards she set for the Court.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Speed and Secrecy: The Last Act

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 05 December 2018
in Wisconsin

scott-fitzgeraldThe bills proposed in the Extraordinary Session called by Republican Leaders will create powers for the Legislature that handcuff the new administration and curtail the power of the incoming Governor and Attorney General. Wisconsinites expect a respectful transition of power, not a power grab by one party.


MADISON - If you were a legislative leader in Wisconsin, and had an opportunity to pass new laws before your party’s governor left office, what would you do? What would you fix as your last act in power?

As I face my last Senate votes, I am working hard to understand what laws my Republican colleagues choose to pass before the new Democratic Governor takes office.

Late last Friday night, after Senate staff went home for the weekend, Republican leaders released their last act. Five bills detailing changes to over 400 sections of state law.

I learned late Friday, there would be one public hearing on Monday and the full Legislature will act on Tuesday. By the time many of you read this column, the bills passed both houses and await Governor Walker’s signature into law.

I’ve witnessed a lot of speed and secrecy by legislative leaders. But this final action, to make bills public late Friday and seek final passage the following Tuesday ranks among the worst of the worst. Speed and secrecy seriously threaten democracy. No time to ask questions. No time for constituents to learn. No time for lawmakers to hear and heed the desire of constituents.

walker-signs-budgetBased on concerns expressed by Wisconsinites, you would think the last act of the GOP leaders would be fixing the transportation budget, school funding reform and lowering healthcare premiums.

Not a chance.

Instead, Republican leaders are pushing a series of bills that provide tax loopholes for company owners, and removing caps on the number of large companies that could claim very large cash subsidies. These same bills give control of the troubled Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to the two Republican leaders by creating a majority of GOP legislative leaders’ appointees.

These same bills create harsh rules that must be followed by people facing challenges, like being unemployed, needing supplemental nutrition, health care or facing difficulties in proving citizenship to vote.

Based on my preliminary read of the bills, provisions in the bills limit powers of the incoming Governor and Attorney General and create onerous requirements for the new administration. Agency directors will be coming back to the Legislature for permission to file federal reports over and over again, rather than catching up on backlogs, and providing better service to people of the state.

Innovation should be encouraged in a new administration. Instead, the bills would handcuff agency officials by requiring repeated approval for any different or new use of federal funds from the Legislature’s budget writing committee. For example, I counted at least four repeated approvals needed by the Secretary of Health Services to seek federal money for nursing homes – a high priority because Wisconsin ranks last in reimbursement. These onerous requirements would affect many health programs Wisconsinites love, including Senior Care, FamilyCare, IRIS and BadgerCare.

In many cases, borrowing and cash transfers used by the Walker administration to fill budget holes, show more cash at year’s end, and move money around for pet projects, like Foxconn, would no longer be allowed.

Ironically, a computer project financial disclosure Walker vetoed as onerous, would be required of the incoming governor. Presumably, Governor Walker will sign the bills into law as his last act. Perhaps he will change his mind about what disclosure should and should not be required of the executive branch.

While some provisions in the bill create seemingly meaningless monthly reports and repeated seeking of permission, other provisions alarmingly undermine the critical balance of powers between the three branches of government.

kathleen-vinehoutFor example, provisions of the bills would emasculate the Attorney General. In cases of constitutionality and enforceability of statutes, it would be the Legislature representing the state in court – not the Attorney General. Legislative leaders would accomplish this by appointing outside counsel beholden only to the leaders and paid for by taxpayers.

It appears other changes in the court system are directed at influencing environmental protection enforcement cases.

The final act of the Party in power tells us something about the priorities of that Party – prioritizing tax breaks and corporate cash subsidies and penalizing those needing healthcare, supplemental nutrition, and help finding employment.

The will of the people is not represented in this final act by Republicans and Governor Walker. Wisconsinites elected a new governor with different priorities and their expectation is a respectful transition of power.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
Copyright © 2019. Green Bay Progressive. Designed by Shape5.com