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Every Successful Sniper Round Leads to a Knock on the Door

Posted by Buzz Davis, Army Veteran & Activist
Buzz Davis, Army Veteran & Activist
Buzz Davis, now of Tucson, AZ, a member of Better With Bernie Gone Green and Tre
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on Thursday, 05 February 2015
in Wisconsin

vietnamwar2One veteran's reaction to the new 'American Sniper' movie.

STOUGHTON - All the senseless deaths, grievous injuries and destruction in war.  Maybe we will "never learn."  Across the world many are fighting back against these death machines we call governments.  This is a fight we can never stop.

American Sniper is just one item in this world that shows how much we have lost our way.  The supposed moral leaders of our nation are for the most part silent on America's never ending wars - called the War on Terror.

For each successful sniper shot, somewhere in the world there is a knock on the door - the messenger of death has arrived.

It reminds me of some of the worst days of my life.  I was a lieutenant stationed at Fort Bragg, NC.  I was informed that I was to serve as a survival assistance officer.  I soon found out what that meant.

I had to go tell a family that their young son was missing in action.  The soldier killed was a young Black man about 18, drafted, in Vietnam just a week or two.

The Mother and Father were divorced or separated.  The Army demanded I go and tell the Father first.  I had to go to the Mother's town to ask were the Father was, then go tell him in another town where he was working and then drive back to the Mother's town and tell her.  The agony for the Mother and his sisters was probably terrible.  When people saw my military car and driver I am sure the phones started ringing and they all dreaded for those we were going to see.

A few days later the Fort received a telegram that the young man had been killed in action in a "firefight."

I told the colonel I should go tell the Mother first and then tell the Father after I found out where he was working that day.  But he said you will tell the father.

So I found the Father an older man in a large field near a pile of lumber.  By the time I walked across the field to him he was just standing there in the hot sun, shoulders slumped all alone with his hands at his side.  I reached him and he says I know what you're going to tell me.  And I said yes.  He says sit down.  So we sit on the pile of lumber and I tell him his son has been killed.  We talk a bit and he explains how much he appreciates me coming and telling him.  I thank him and we shake hands.  As I walk across that field back to my waiting driver I think I tell him his only son is dead and he is very kind to me and thanks me for coming all the way to tell him in person.

An hour or two later I am back at the Mother's home.  Of course they all know by now.  From the very bright sunlight his sister leads me to her Mom's bedroom.  She is in bed in the dark with just small low light lamp at the side of the bed and a chair.  She says he's gone isn't he.  I say yes and she wants me to sit down.  I open the telegram and tell her that her son has been killed in a firefight.  Then I hear a gasp in the room and I look up.  There are about 5 men and women standing around the bed that I had not seen in the dark...They had all been waiting with her.

The Mother then asked was he in much pain.  I said what?  With the fire and all.  Then I realized she thought I was telling her her son had burned to death.  And I thought to myself God we can't even get it straight how to tell loved ones their son is dead.

So I explain that her son was a gun battle which the Army calls a firefight.  She felt better that he son had not burned to death.

A week later I went back to escort his body to the funeral home and prepare everything for the funeral.  Fortunately a sergeant escorted the man's casket from the East Coast.  That sergeant taught me and the detail of soldiers sent to help with the funeral what to do.

The family wanted to have the casket unlocked - my orders were the military said the casket was to be kept locked.  I said to the funeral director and the sergeant I think the casket needs to be kept closed.  But I knew what they wanted to do.  By that time in Vietnam, there were some unusual things going on with bodies and some of course were badly destroyed.  So I left to do something else.  When I returned the sergeant and funeral director showed me the young man's body and we were all thankful everything was ok.

I will never forget giving his Mother, a very small slender woman, the American flag after we removed it from his casket at the funeral.

The chairs for the family were very close to the grave.  At the proper time, I knelt in front of her with the folded flag and said on behalf our nation and the president of the United States of America I present this flag in honor of your son's sacrifice to our nation.

Just as I finished this the rifles went off with a very loud crack a couple feet away from the foot of the grave.  People screamed and jumped up.  I was so startled I jumped up, the Mother jumped up, I started falling backward into the open grave toward the casket.  She reached out and grabbed me.  There we were holding on to each other with the flag wedged between us.  I then sat her back down, saluted, went to the back and the minister took over to conduct the ceremony.

I have blocked that young solder's name and that wonderful family's name from my memory.  I think my brain just does not want to revisit those times.

So much senseless death going on and on century after century.

Now our government has tricked us again.  The all-volunteer military has turned into a mercenary army.  Our young men and women are again being brain washed into fighting battles for the 1%ers -- the lying, cheating, conniving men and women with kill lists who would never lower themselves to serve their county in the military.  When will we ever learn?

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Governor Walker’s Budget Address Long on Campaign-speak and Light on Details

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
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on Wednesday, 04 February 2015
in Wisconsin

walker_wavesMADISON - The Governor’s speech last night was long on campaign-speak and light on details.

What specifics we learned mean a tough road ahead for local schools, the UW and our children who will inherit increased state debt.

Taking the cap off private schools getting state dollars means less money for our public schools. Property taxes will go up in many parts of the state as schools hobble from referendum to referendum.

The twin actions of cutting UW funds and cutting the UW loose will mean fewer opportunities and higher tuition for students.

Professors who leave the system take their grant money with them- leaving fewer resources for student research and fewer professors mean students don’t have courses they need to graduate in four years.

Once a big part of state government - like the UW - is cut loose, strong constituencies will fight to keep it private. We are at risk of losing the central focus of our ‘public’ universities – to serve the public.

In this budget the Governor learned you can’t give money away and then have that money to pay bills. The election year ‘surplus’ quickly turned into red ink. Now, Wisconsin doesn’t have money to pay important bills - like the UW system and local schools.

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Governor's Higher Education Budget Cuts Bad for Wisconsin's Future

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
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on Tuesday, 03 February 2015
in Wisconsin

uw-madisonThis week Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the Governor’s proposed cuts to the University of Wisconsin. These cuts, if passed by the Legislature, will have a significant negative impact on staff, faculty and ultimately students.

MADISON - “I love college, Mom,” my son told me. “There is nowhere else I can hear a conversation in a different language every day.”

My son got me thinking about the challenges our students face – competing in a global marketplace, changes in the economy, changes in technology. College has never been so important. Keeping colleges up-to-date costs money.

Getting one’s children through college is harder. Finding the right mix of rigor and value is a real challenge for families.

Wisconsin universities stand out for value. Over and over again UW-Eau Claire and UW-La Crosse rank as two of the best values in the Midwest.

UW-Madison is a world-class research institution. The UW comprehensive campuses statewide are the cultural heart of communities large and small; where would River Falls or Menomonie be without the UW at the center of the city?

A new proposal from the Governor would make deep cuts to the UW, dropping state support – in actual dollars - to below 1997-98 funding levels. The Governor also proposed loosening public control over the UW. The twin actions of cutting funds & cutting the university loose from the state are a recipe for disaster.

The last foray into cutting loose a part of state government – the Department of Commerce – didn’t work well for the Governor. Once a big part of state government is cut loose, its central focus is not on serving the public interest.

The constituency for keeping the university system apart from the state will be so strong it will not be possible to bring the system back. And those constituencies fighting to keep the system separate have private not public goals. Say “good-bye” to the Wisconsin Idea.

The rationale for cutting UW support is to make the system more efficient. Sure, efficiencies are important. But the reduction proposed by the Governor - $300 million over two years – will cut one quarter of current state spending.

And this year’s state funding for the UW is already lower than six years ago.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Wisconsin is one of only six states that continued to cut higher education funding per student by more than 2% following the Great Recession (adjusted for inflation and using data from Fiscal Year (FY) 2013-14).

Over the last decade and a half, state support for the UW has been modest at best. For example, FY 2012 funding fell below FY 2001. Increasing education costs were shifted to steady increases in tuition. Reacting to parents’ concerns, the Governor and Legislative Leaders froze tuition. Other states froze tuition - but many also increased state funding. Not so for Wisconsin.

“Teach more classes,” the Governor said. But teaching more classes and “becoming more efficient” won’t absorb the proposed cuts. Cutting one out of every four state dollars is cutting too deep. As a consequence professors will leave Wisconsin.

The best and brightest on our campuses are not tied to Wisconsin. They are tied to their discipline – be it mathematics or biology. A local businessman once told me, “All jobs are mobile.” Professors are definitely mobile.

Once the best and brightest begin to leave (I’ve been told this is already happening) morale plummets. As more professors find new academic homes they take with them not only their expertise and international reputation - they take their federal grants.

Without federal grants UW loses another big source of funds. (Federal money, including student loans now account for more than a quarter of the UW budget.)

The Governor’s proposed actions place the UW in a downward spiral: less state money, a lock on rising tuition, loss of top faculty, declining federal money, loss of the world-class reputation. The consequences of disinvestment will take generations to recover.

Public universities are just that – “public”. Public universities are supported by the people and serve the people. Wisconsin has steadily eroded state support for the UW. We should be doing just the opposite.

Our public universities are a catalyst for the creative culture that builds the great places in which we all want to live, work, play and start a new business. They are well worth our investment.

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Two Cheers for "Blue Jeans in High Places"

Posted by Eric Genrich, State Rep. District 90
Eric Genrich, State Rep. District 90
Eric Genrich, (D-Green Bay) is currently serving as State Assembly Representati
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on Sunday, 01 February 2015
in Wisconsin

mike-mccabeGREEN BAY - Mike McCabe, author of Blue Jeans in High Places, asks the readers of his debut book in a sartorial call to action, to grab their boots and blue jeans, roll up their shirtsleeves, and take back our democracy. I can’t argue with the ends to which McCabe is striving, but I do have a few critical observations about the path he recommends. The passion he expresses for the cause of reform is admirable, and his knowledge of Wisconsin’s recent and more distant political history is impressive, but with a flawed political diagnosis, faulty strategic suggestions for improving our democracy, and hyperbolic condemnations of nearly all public servants, he undercuts the strength of his analysis.

Full disclosure: I’m a politician. Yes, a public servant or public official as we are euphemistically called (see above), but also a politician. I practice politics, and I’m honored to do it. I’ve been elected twice to the state Assembly. I’ve knocked on thousands of doors, shaken thousands of hands, and raised (only) thousands of dollars. Maybe this makes me an irredeemably biased participant-observer in our democratic process, but I wholeheartedly agree with McCabe that our system of choosing elected officials is badly flawed. Dark money has flooded into elections at the federal, state, and even local levels. Our legislative and congressional districts have been gerrymandered. And our politics is often lacking the substance that our citizens are worthy of. With these observations, McCabe and I are in total agreement, but how do we improve our lot. There’s the rub, and that’s where we have some room for debate.

blue-jeans-bookMcCabe begins his story in Clark County. Clark is a rural county in central Wisconsin that at one time sent Democrats to Madison and is now reliably red. He bemoans the Republican bent of a county that is the among the poorest in the state and then jumps to the conclusion that the Democratic Party fails to appeal to poor, rural voters. Believe me, I wish the voters of Clark County were still sending a progressive champion like Frank Nikolay (the late great-uncle to my wife) to the state Assembly, but times have changed, demographics have changed, and politics has changed. In Clark County, longtime residents have seen an influx of Hispanic residents in recent years, which has impacted the economic, cultural, and political landscape. The immigrant population has provided workers for the agriculture industry and diversified main streets across the county in a very positive way, but they also serve as scapegoats for right-wing politicians. As a result, Clark County’s electorate now seems polarized on ethnic grounds. If McCabe has a solution to that problem, I’d love to hear it.

Setting that aside, I agree that the Democratic Party is in desperate need of a revamped agenda that speaks to the needs of working people in rural and small-town Wisconsin. Unlike McCabe, however, I’m idealistic enough to believe that a thorough-going reinvigoration of the Democratic Party is possible, and I’m not naive enough to think, as he does, that any inroads can be made into the GOP.

Incidentally, this Pollyannish belief in the ability to rediscover the progressive wing of the Republican Party is the weakest part of McCabe’s analysis, in my view. Without citing the precedent, he suggests a strategy that was successfully employed by North Dakota progressives in the early 20th Century under the auspices of the Nonpartisan League. The league implemented the novel approach of running candidates on a shared platform in the primaries of both major parties. The effort was successful, at least for a short time, but I can’t imagine a scenario in which a similar strategy would meet with any degree of success in a Republican primary for any state or federal office any time soon. If you’ve studied the last half-century of American politics, you shouldn’t be able to fathom the possibility either. The “Blue Jean” agenda might make sense to the average voter, but the average voter is not the one who votes in Republican primaries, which are dominated by the monied interests that are undermining our democracy, the ones McCabe so rightly criticizes.

Finally, McCabe persists throughout many parts of the book to treat politicians, regardless of party or ideology, with disdain and then goes on to bemoan the sorry state of our civil discourse. I’m not sure how to wrap my head around that contradiction, but his well-worn “pox on both their houses” routine obscures the real and growing gap that exists between the positions expressed by our two major parties and makes it less likely that young, idealistic progressives might enter public life to fight for the values that McCabe and I likely share.

Regardless of these differences, however, I enjoyed the book. McCabe’s breezy style and firm handle on the history of Wisconsin politics makes for a quick and stimulating read. We might not agree on everything, but I welcome Mike, with his ideas and his blue jeans, to participate in the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s 2015 state convention. We’ll have a big tent, cold beer, and a casual dress code.

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UW System is Collateral Damage from Walker’s Rejection of Federal BadgerCare Dollars

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
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on Thursday, 29 January 2015
in Wisconsin

college-studentGov. Walker's headless decision to leave hundreds of millions of dollars in enhanced federal Medicaid funds on the table is a disaster not only for health care but also for higher education.

STATEWIDE - In response to the news that Wisconsin is now the only Great Lakes state not accepting enhanced federal Medicaid funds, Governor Scott Walker announced to the media Wednesday that he is unmoved by the actions of Republican Governors in surrounding states, and will again leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table in the state budget that will be released next week.

This headless decision is a disaster not only for health care but also for higher education. The cost to the state budget of Walker’s refusal to take the BadgerCare dollars may be greater than the $300 million that the Governor proposes to slash from the University of Wisconsin System. According to the Wisconsin Budget Project, using number provided by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the refusal to take enhanced federal funds for BadgerCare will cost Wisconsin up to $315 million in the next state budget.

“Not only is Governor Walker’s irresponsible decision to reject federal dollars for BadgerCare forcing thousands to go without vital health coverage, it also causing unprecedented collateral damage to Wisconsin’s world class university system,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “The cost of Walker’s political obsession with undermining health care reform, no matter what the consequences, is now rippling beyond health care and into other vital investments that Wisconsin needs to thrive and prosper.”

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Walker Wants $300 Million Cut Out of UW System

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Tuesday, 27 January 2015
in Wisconsin

uwgbGovernor Scott Walker proposes drastic cuts in state funding for The University of Wisconsin System in return for "more independence" to allow the university to raise tuition as much as it wants starting in 2017. Students and parents left holding the bag.

MADISON - The University of Wisconsin System will have its state funding slashed by $300 Million or about 13 percent over the next two years, under the budget Gov. Scott Walker will submit to the Legislature next week, the governor told The Associated Press on Monday.

Walker released details of his budget plan as it affects the UW System to the AP ahead of a public announcement on Tuesday.

UW had asked for an increase in funding of $95 million over the next two years — money that it argued was needed given that Walker was calling for another two-year tuition freeze. Walker is going forward with the tuition freeze, but is calling for the additional $300 million cut as well.

All the cuts and freezes would be balanced by "more independence" for the UW according to Walker. Walker is proposing turning the 13 four-year campuses and 13 two-year colleges that comprise the UW System into a public authority, a structure that would cut the university loose from a wide array of issues that are currently mandated by state law. More advantageous to the UW, the Legislature would have no ability to stop the university from raising tuition as much as it wants starting in 2017.

UW President Ray Cross said he supported the structural changes, but he would work to reduce the budget cut.

peter_barcaReaction to the Governor's proposals from Democratic legislators was swift.

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) released a statement today rejecting Governor Walker's plan to slash the additional $300 million in state funding from the University of Wisconsin System. According to Barca, budgets "are about priorities and once again dramatically slashing higher education in the 21st Century global economy will drastically take Wisconsin in the wrong direction".

dave-hansenIn a statement also released today, Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) said:

“This is unfortunate news for students, their parents and anyone who cares about keeping higher education affordable for all Wisconsin families. Students who are going to be attending a UW campus and their parents should hold onto their wallets. Starting in 2017 under the Governor’s proposal, UW campuses will be allowed to raise tuition as much as they want. Many students will find themselves priced out of attending a UW campus or being forced to take on even more student loans to pay their tuition."

"The UW System is one of the best publicly owned systems in the nation. It is a driver of our economy and new business creation all across our state. Thanks to the Governor and Republicans handing out tax breaks to corporations and special interests like candy we have a $2.2 billion deficit and talk of cutting another $300 million from our UW campuses. Instead of talking about the Governor’s plan to abandon our universities we could and should be talking about how we can invest in them”, Hansen said.

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GAB: “Let’s Not Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water”

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
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on Monday, 26 January 2015
in Wisconsin

protest-capitolThis week Sen. Kathleen Vinehout talks about the Government Accountability Board (GAB), the agency set up to police the politicians. Governor Walker and the Republicans would like to shut it down, but an Audit Hearing shows path to improved operation.

MADISON - “I’m not a clerk. I’m just a citizen who observed several recounts and recalls,” Bill Wasser of Reedsburg told the Audit Committee. “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let’s make some changes and make it work.”

Mr. Wasser responded to some lawmakers who threatened to dismantle the Government Accountability Board (GAB). The state agency oversees elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics.

One of the lawmakers intent on dismantling the nonpartisan agency is Assembly Speaker Robin Vos who told reporters the GAB “will not exist in its current form much longer.”

At the recent public hearing many local elected officials from across the state testified in support of the GAB. The work of the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) confirmed what clerks were saying: GAB staff members were consistent and inventive in training and supporting clerks during a tumultuous time in Wisconsin’s history.

During the study period of the audit, the GAB dealt with several lawsuits; an on-again-off-again photo voter ID law; a historical number of recall elections; a statewide judicial race recount; redrawing of legislative district lines and the passage of 31 separate pieces of legislation affecting operations and elections.

Local clerks run elections with support from the GAB. Auditors found the GAB used innovative ways to administer training to clerks and election workers. Webinars and on-line resources provided in-office training. Many clerks testified GAB staff were quick to return phone calls and spent a great deal of time assisting clerks on the phone and at professional gatherings.

Through random unannounced visits to polling places, GAB staff evaluated accessibility of local polling places. There are more than 2,600 polling places in Wisconsin.

Auditors documented the GAB identified more than 10,000 issues related to accessibility. About a third were considered “high-severity,” most concerned accessible entrances and voting booths. GAB staff helped clerks in remedies to assist disabled voters including using federal money to purchase local supplies.

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration lauded the accessibility audits of Wisconsin as a model of best practices for the nation.

Problems do exist at the GAB. During the study period, auditors reported on many legally required tasks that were either not completed or completed late. GAB officials countered that short staffing and an unusually high workload required managers to prioritize tasks. A new, complex administrative rule-making process increased the time needed to promulgate required administrative rules.

Auditors documented several administrative rules needed, including election laws and penalty schedules. In addition, the GAB didn’t post all of their advisory opinions, (minus the confidential information) on their website. Turned in late by GAB staff, for example, were audits of electronic voting equipment.

Several operational problems were identified by the audit. For example, GAB staff had no written procedures for assessing penalties on lobbyists nor did they have procedures or adequate tracking for reviewing election complaints. Auditors documented a long history of the agency not establishing procedures for complaints.

Complicating the work of auditors this summer was an Attorney General’s opinion that shielded about 70% of complaints to the GAB from the eyes of auditors. For committee members, the lack of access to records was disconcerting.

Lawmakers worked quickly to remedy the problem. Recently Audit Committee members voted unanimously to clarify the law allowing LAB auditors access to all GAB records. This legislation is expected to speedily make its way through the legislative process.

GAB officials supported the bill to allow auditors complete access to records.

Officials also explained to lawmakers the staffing problems facing the agency. Almost two-thirds of positions are funded with temporary federal grants. Strings on this money limit what tasks staff can do. The GAB asked lawmakers to convert these positions to state funded positions as far back as 2011. In 2013 the agency asked for 6 additional state positions. None of these requests were granted.

Unless authorization from the state is provided, some staff won’t be able to work past the end of June. I am currently drafting legislation to resolve this problem.

To me, this case looks like starving the patient, complaining the patient won’t eat and then killing the patient.

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State’s Budget Crisis Continues

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Friday, 23 January 2015
in Wisconsin

scott-walkerMADISON - Based on new estimates released Friday by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the State of Wisconsin faces a $283 million budget shortfall by the end of June, and a two-year deficit that could be as large as $2.2 billion.

Co-chairs of the Legislature's budget committee also issued today a joint statement attributing the current budget woes to the $2 billion in tax cuts passed during Governor Scott Walker's first term, which they supported.

Democrats have criticized Walker and Republicans on their management of the budget, and today's numbers support their claims. The governor and GOP lawmakers have said it was right to return the money to taxpayers when the state was running a surplus. The state now has a $283 million revenue shortfall.

The budget numbers also pose a problem for Walker as he begins his second term and positions himself for a potential 2016 presidential bid. Walker claims he balanced a similar budget shortfall four years ago when he speaks to conservatives around the country, and now he faces roughly the same large deficit as when he started.

dave_hansenAccording to a statement issued today by Green Bay area Senator Dave Hansen: “Today we received more news confirming what we’ve known all along. Under Governor Walker and the Republican leadership our state is mired in a budget crisis thanks in large part to spending by the GOP to provide tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations."

"Instead of investing in those things that would bring in more revenue by creating jobs and boosting stagnant wages, the governor and Republicans have turned their backs on everyday Wisconsinites choosing instead to enact policies that have only made the problem worse", Hansen said.

He concludes, "The governor’s presidential ambitions serve only to suggest that these issues will go largely ignored as he devotes more of his time to his campaign in other states rather than taking the steps necessary to improve the lives of Wisconsin residents. As a result the state’s budget crisis continues with a $283 million shortfall and a $2.2 billion budget deficit.”

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School Play Mirrors Confusion in Assembly Education Committee

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
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on Monday, 19 January 2015
in Wisconsin

studentThe Wisconsin Assembly's Education Committee is considering of a bill that would convert local public schools to private ‘independent charter’ schools all in the name of “accountability”.  There is little evidence that such a move produces superior results, but investment does as we learn from countries with high performing schools.

MADISON - “Edgar: All right, everybody; back to the scene of the crime.

“Ella: New clues?

“Carol: What clues?

“Bob: What’s the next clue?

“Carol: I don’t have a clue.

“Norman: (At the window box, dramatically.) Guys, the body’s gone!”

So goes the hilarious comedy written by Craig Sodaro and performed by Alma students. The play begins as a murder mystery dinner invitation and ends wrapped up in an international smuggling ring.

Students spent the last three and a half months practicing lines and preparing costumes. Play Director Tom Brakke coordinated a cast of roughly a quarter of Alma’s Middle and High Schoolers with precious few resources. He even directed students to buy up half-priced dresses and police uniforms at After-Halloween-Sales.

The work shows. The fast-paced comedy pulled in record crowds at the rural high school. Teens of all ages delivered their lines flawlessly and kept everyone entertained.

I took in the show on a brief break. I couldn’t help but see parallels between the confusion of the dinner guests and the lines delivered at a recent Assembly Education Committee hearing.

While the students were putting final touches on the performance, the Assembly Education Committee was considering how to turn local public schools into ‘independent charter’ schools.

In what was described as the “worst run hearing in Capitol history”, the author of the bill began by saying he was changing it but he didn’t know exactly how. The bill’s main component – an unelected, unaccountable, politically appointed board – would not be in the final version.

Nevertheless, the chair was committed to quickly passing the bill through the full Assembly. Committee members were incensed a bill that didn’t really exist was being rushed and asked if there would be another public airing before its final vote. The answer was ‘no’.

The bill was numbered Assembly Bill 1 to signify its importance. Proponents explained the bill would force schools to be ‘accountable’. Critics, and there were many, described the bill as ‘stripping powers from locally elected school boards’, using different tests for public and publically-funded private schools, reducing aid for every public school, and creating a board with power to decide if schools should be converted to privately run charter schools operated by a company headquartered in, say, Texas or California.

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) testified there have been no fewer than 7 laws passed in the last 6 years requiring schools to test students and publically report performance. The DPI testified the bill would “trigger sanctions” on roughly one of every 8 state students and move about a sixth of state aid away from public schools.

A day before the “I Don’t Have A Clue” hearing, the Senate Education Reform Committee Chair released another version. This bill created 2 unelected, unaccountable boards to run schools – one housed in DPI; the other, for taxpayer funded private schools, housed in the Department of Administration (yes, they administer things, but schools aren’t yet on their list).

All this makes no sense unless you understand that private school interest groups, not good public policy, are driving the agenda. Some legislators try to appease the many private school groups. Instead, we should look at what research tells us about high-performing schools and how they got that way.

First, there is no consistent evidence that converting a public school to an independent charter school will produce superior results.

Second, top-performing schools got that way because of an investment. Across countries with well-performing schools, needy students and remote locations garnered more resources. Schools followed a rigorous curriculum; paid teachers and educated them well; tests were tied to the curriculum and measured critical thinking; and everyone – students, teachers and parents, took school seriously.

I spoke with a local school board member about the Assembly hearing. “I felt hopeful,” she told me. “There are so many grassroots groups all over the state and this [threat] could pull them together. We need community conversations about public schools. We need to start now and keep the conversation going.”

That’s good advice. We certainly don’t want our next generation waking up one day asking, “What happened to our local schools?” and hearing, “Guys, the body’s gone!”

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Walker's State of the State 2015 Is Lacking

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Friday, 16 January 2015
in Wisconsin

scottwalker-dreamMADISON – On Tuesday night, Governor Scott Walker had a chance to be a leader and bring our state together. Instead, he chose to give a self promoting campaign style State of the State speech that sounded more like a kickoff to a national run for President.

Like all Governors before him, Scott Walker claimed "The state of the state is strong." Walker clearly wants to campaign for president on his claim that he turned a $3.6 billion budget deficit into a surplus, but the state’s actual financial situation is grim.

The current budget has a $132 million deficit and the next biennium looks even worse, with a staggering $2.2 billion deficit that’s only expected to get larger. As other states enjoy surpluses thanks to the nationwide economic recovery that has come after the Great Recession, Wisconsin is slated to be one of the few with a deficit headed into the next budget.

On the education of our next generation, Walker said "I have a vested interest in high standards." But in fact, public education has been public enemy number 1 for Scott Walker. In his first budget, Walker made a $800 million cut to direct state spending on public education and mandated new limits on local school districts that left many schools scrambling just to fund their operations for the next school year. At the same time, he has funneled approximately $124 million into unaccountable voucher schools.

Clearly wishing to launch his national aspirations as a "tax cutter", Walker claimed that "My pledge to you is that property taxes 4 years from now will be lower than they were in 2014." But the record is different. Contrary to his tax-cutting rhetoric, Walker’s first budget raised taxes on nearly 140,000 seniors and working class families to the tune of $69.8 million, while dishing out $610 million in tax breaks to businesses.

Scott Walker’s tax policy has been fiscally irresponsible and prioritized those at the very top instead of working Wisconsin families. In an election year stunt, Walker made the rash and misguided decision to spend a projected surplus on a lopsided income tax cut that puts individuals making $21,760 a year in the same tax bracket as those making $239,600. As a result, the state is faced with a staggering $2.2 billion budget deficit.

peter_barcaAssembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) reacted to Walker’s State of the State Address by saying:

“Governor Walker had a solid ending on standing against terrorism but could have been more candid and acknowledged the unfortunate reality – that the State of our State is falling behind our neighbors on nearly every key economic issue. Wisconsin workers and middle-class families must be put first in order for our economy to thrive."

Barca goes on “On every major issue, Wisconsin is in a weaker position than we would expect given the national recovery and the success of our surrounding states. Because of Republican policy failures, Wisconsin faces a staggering budget deficit, lagging job and wage growth and an educational system that is clearly underfunded."

An Audio of Rep. Barca's full response can be found here.

dave-hansenIn reaction to Governor Walker’s State of the State Address, our local leader Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) said in a statement issued Wednesday:

“Preparing his presidential run, Governor Walker tried to make a case that his plan is working but while the rich keep getting richer the average family is taking a beating losing ground to their neighbors in Minnesota due to stagnating wages, struggling under the weight of skyrocketing student loan debt, and finding it harder and harder to find a good paying job.

"Meanwhile the state is facing a $2.2 billion deficit and a $751 million shortfall in the transportation fund because of his irresponsible policies. And while his wealthy friends and donors get rich the middle class continues to shrink because under this administration the wealthy are allowed to take our money right out of our pockets instead of having to work for their money like everyone else.

"Instead of giving even more handouts to the wealthy and corporate special interests at the expense of average families we should be focusing on those policies that promote greater economic freedom and security for all Wisconsin families and that provides each person the ability and opportunity to succeed and achieve their version of the American Dream.”

eric-genrichFinally, State Representative Eric Genrich (D-Green Bay) said “This evening, Governor Walker delivered his fifth State of the State speech outlining his goals for the upcoming year. This edition was notably light on new plans for Wisconsin and heavy on attempts to put a positive spin on the real and troubling issues facing working people in our state for a national audience.”

Genrich ends by saying “Wisconsin deserves a new vision focused on preserving our hard working middle class roots and ensuring that the next generation has the opportunity to learn, grow, and compete on a global scale. Now is not the time for small thoughts or plans, and certainly not the time for a lack of focus. Wisconsin needs to be bold and to embrace policies that have helped neighboring states outpace us in economic growth and recovery.”

We understand that Walker is looking to the national stage for his future, but what about ours here in Wisconsin?

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Public Questions GOP Bill That Could Lead to Takeover of Eleven Schools in Green Bay

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Wednesday, 14 January 2015
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school-studentsA public hearing in Madison Wednesday makes clear that this most recent GOP effort to take over public schools and further privatize public education is fatally flawed, casting doubt on the bill’s future.

MADISON - A controversial bill that, if enacted, could lead to the takeover of eleven schools in Green Bay met with broad-based opposition at a public hearing today, casting doubt on the bill’s future.

Among the schools that could be turned over to private operators under the bill are: Danz, Doty, Eisenhower, Fort Howard, Howe, Lincoln, Nicolet, and Sullivan Elementary Schools, Washington Middle School, and East and West High Schools.

Current law directs the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to annually publish a school and school district accountability report to set performance standards and gives the state superintendent of public instruction authority to withhold state aid from a school district that fails to comply.

The GOP sponsored Assembly Bill 1 (AB 1) replaces the school accountability system with an academic review system, to be created by an appointed Academic Review Board (ARB) and also gives the ARB the authority to establish an independent charter school or initiate a contract with an individual or group to operate an independent charter school without approval from the DPI.

eric-genrichAssembly Education Committee member Rep. Eric Genrich (D-Green Bay) said, “Today’s hearing has made clear that this most recent effort to take over certain public schools and further privatize public education is hastily and poorly crafted. This legislation is being rammed through the legislative process without giving deference to or seeking real input from the educational professionals and local school boards who serve our school kids every day.”

Signs of the bill’s trouble began to emerge as critics from across the political spectrum began pointing out the bills flaws and as a conflicting senate bill was introduced. Additionally, at the start of today’s hearing, the bill’s author informed the committee and the public that a significant portion of Assembly Bill 1 (AB 1) would be discarded. However, those changes were not made available at the time of the hearing.

dave_hansen“This is what happens when legislators try to solve complicated and controversial issues on their own without talking to all the stakeholders,” said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay). “Some of the special interests in the Capitol might not like that fact, but a lot of the problems we’re seeing with AB 1 could have been avoided if a more inclusive effort had been made by the author.”

With many tough questions about AB 1 still unanswered, it is unclear what the contents of the legislation will be when it goes before the full Assembly, as expected, later this month.

“I am opposed to this effort to punish and stigmatize public schools and remain committed to supporting public policies that put Wisconsin children in a position to succeed inside and outside of our schools,” continued Genrich.

“With a $2.2 billion deficit, taxpayers cannot afford to pay for an expansion of separate private school system. And they shouldn’t be asked to,” said Hansen. “Trying to force them into paying for the voucher system by privatizing our local public schools through the backdoor like Rep. Thiesfeldt wants to do is not only dishonest but goes against the very tradition of educational freedom that is the foundation of our state.”

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LAB Fraud Hotline: Working to Stop Waste, Abuse and Mismanagement

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
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on Monday, 12 January 2015
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wisconsinSenator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the Legislative Audit Bureau Hotline which provides the public a confidential outlet to file complaints about problems with state government.

MADISON - “We waited and the ride never came,” said one disabled man. “I was so cold” another woman said. “They said the heater in the van didn’t work.”

The disabled folks from Black River Falls who called me were on to something. They described problems (like waiting for a van that never came) with state contractors who were supposed to transport Medicaid patients to a doctor or therapy appointment. The problems they described were happening in many parts of the state.

The complaints led to a public hearing. Last spring lawmakers directed the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) to conduct an investigation into contactors hired by the state to provide non-emergency medical transportation. Auditors were to investigate the complaints raised about substandard service.

But some people were afraid to complain. For a kidney dialysis patient, life depends on the ride to the dialysis center. Auditors and legislators faced a problem: how to get details on real problems while protecting the innocent.

People responded by calling the LAB’s Fraud, Waste and Mismanagement Hotline.

The hotline serves a vital role in the checks and balances of state government. The LAB operates the hotline completely outside of the purview of the Executive Branch of government – keeping investigations independent and confidential.

The hotline was created in 2007 to “allow the public and individuals within state government to report alleged fraud, waste, mismanagement and other improper activities.” Since the beginning of operation in April 2008, the Bureau has tackled more than 700 hotline reports.

Whistle-blower protections afforded hotline callers are some of the strongest in state law. Callers may remain anonymous. The LAB Fraud Investigators must protect callers even if other information related to an investigation is made public. Legislative actions in 2013 further strengthened confidentiality protections for callers.

People may call 1-877-FRAUD (1-877-372-8317) or complete a secure web-based form at A Certified Fraud Examiner answers most calls to the hotline. Your complaint can make a real difference in shining a light on what needs to change.

The LAB recently released its biennial report including an update on what’s happening with the hotline. In the past two years over 200 state-related reports of fraud, waste and mismanagement were received by the hotline. The vast majority – over 60% - were related to state contractors and vendors. Other complaints involved agency mismanagement (17%); people ineligible for benefits they were receiving (10%); waste and inefficiency (9%) and other topics (4%).

Many people who contacted the hotline complained about difficulties getting through to file Unemployment Insurance claims. A recently released LAB investigation of unemployment claims showed from July 2013 to July 2014 nearly 1.7 million calls coming into the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) call center were blocked. People weren’t able to complete their unemployment compensation claim. In the peak months for filing claims, nearly 80% of calls to file initial claims were blocked.

Other investigations were opened when reports were received about an employee not accurately reporting work absences. The employee was fined through a reduction in hours set aside for leave. In other cases people fraudulently applied for benefits. In one case an energy assistance application was cancelled and the fraudulent dollars repaid.

Seventeen cases of people ineligible for Medicaid or Food Share led to referrals to the Office of Inspector General – a relatively new position in the Department of Health. Some cases were referred to law enforcement. Other cases were referred to the agency responsible for investigating fraud – for example, tax fraud or avoidance cases were sent to the Department of Revenue. Others are still under investigation.

The LAB resolved 19% of the issues identified by hotline callers; 8% were unfounded or required no action; 73% of reports still remain under investigation.

Many of these 147 reports relate to the complaints about non-emergency medical transportation – like the disabled folks in Black River Falls traveling to dialysis in the cold of winter without a heater.

The first-hand knowledge of problems callers report help the auditors do the careful work of examining the ineffectiveness of a program and recommending changes to fix programs.

I expect the report on non-emergency medical transportation to be released later this winter.

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Senate Democrats Push for Real Accountability for Voucher Schools

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Wednesday, 07 January 2015
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teaching-studentsMADISON - Senate Democrats announced today introduction of legislation to protect voucher schools students, and their parents as well as taxpayers by requiring real accountability measures for schools that participate in the taxpayer funded private voucher school program.

The legislation being introduced by Senators Nikiya Harris-Dodd and Chris Larson would require voucher schools to hire licensed teachers, conduct criminal background checks on their teachers and administrators, meet basic graduation standards and be based in Wisconsin.

dave-hansen“For too long we have seen how the lack of strong accountability standards for voucher schools has cost students, families and taxpayers,” said Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay). “We can no longer afford to keep investing tax dollars into a private school program that is unaccountable to taxpayers and that has produced so many expensive failures.”

Taxpayers gave over $139 million dollars to fifty voucher schools that ultimately were barred from receiving taxpayer support after they failed to meet minimal existing requirements. Still others have closed costing state taxpayers millions and leaving families who put their trust in them out in the cold.

Just last month, the Travis Technology High School closed after failing to meet existing minimal state requirements In 2013, the LifeSkills Academy in Milwaukee closed in the dead of night leaving behind 66 students who were not proficient in math or reading.

Hansen concluded: “We shouldn’t be taking money from our public schools and giving it to private schools at a time when we are forcing our public schools to make difficult and painful cuts. But if the Governor and Republicans are going to force taxpayers to fund a separate, private school system then the taxpayers have a right to expect that that their teachers will be able to teach, the students able to learn and that the schools will be safe.”

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Pay Attention to Madison, There’s a New Legislature in Session

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
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on Monday, 05 January 2015
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madison_capitolSenator Kathleen Vinehout’s column about the new Wisconsin Legislature and legislative session. Kathleen shares her committee appointments and writes about what business the Legislature will take up in the next weeks.

MADISON - “Raise your right hand and repeat after me,” the Supreme Court Justice directs newly elected and re-elected lawmakers.

So begins the new 2-year Legislative Session.

On the first working day of 2015 a new group of freshman legislators began their work. Ordinary folks from ordinary lives receive a crash course in state services, agencies, budgeting and parliamentary procedure.

Soon an onslaught of proposed bills will appear in the email in-boxes of lawmakers.

Over 1,500 bills will be introduced before the 2-year legislative session adjourns. These bills will flow through 16 Senate and 33 Assembly committees. Certain proposals will also be reviewed by 10 joint committees.

Each lawmaker is assigned a number of committees, other appointed commissions, boards or special study committees. This year I will serve as the Ranking Minority member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee and the Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism Committee. I am also assigned to the Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry Committee, the State Tribal Relations Committee, the Joint Committee on Information Policy and Technology and the Education Reform and Government Operations Committee.

Education leaders are preparing for numerous proposed changes widely anticipated to include an expansion of state money for private schools. Special education advocates are concerned about public money going to private schools for special ed students. Others are concerned about a proposed expansion of independent charter schools run with tax dollars. Funds are limited and any tax dollars to private schools must be argued in the context of a tight budget and many needs.

Work on the state budget begins right away. The governor is expected to unveil his proposed budget near the end of January. Lawmakers will be crafting additions to the budget before they see the Governor’s details. Once the two-year spending plan is unveiled, I’ll be picking through the details and crafting changes. This work will be my focus for the spring.

As a rookie lawmaker, several years ago, I found it curious that my very first job was the most demanding task of the two-year session. This year more than one in five lawmakers never voted on a state budget. Special efforts must be made to educate newly elected ‘ordinary citizens’ on the impact of decisions on our local communities.

The task of understanding the budget is made more difficult with the addition of non-fiscal policy – law changes unrelated to the financial matters. This practice is seldom a good idea but has been popular among recent governors. Perhaps the practice is popular because the budget is the only bill the governor writes.

Last session nearly 100 separate pieces of policy unrelated to the state’s finances became law with the passage of the state budget. This policy included unpopular items like taking away local powers to set locations for cell or TV towers.

The most important work of the Legislature will be the passage of this budget bill by midyear. The decisions made in the next few months will affect all our lives. Some of the results of these decisions will not be seen for several years.

Because of the widespread and important decisions made by the Legislature – a group of ‘ordinary citizens’ from all walks of life - it is very important for us all to take the time to let our Legislators know the local effects of what is being discussed.

People want things fixed and nowhere is that more evident than with potholes and bridges. One closed bridge made life harried for all the residents near Taylor, Wisconsin. Getting a grip on the money needed for transportation repairs and new construction will be a real challenge in the coming year. Finding a way to pay will not be easy. It’s the general “wisdom” about taxes: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me. Tax the fellow behind the tree.”

Tight dollars will increase the lure of tricks and smokescreens to balance the state budget. My plan is to do the homework to unravel the details and then bring the budget home to you with Town Hall meetings around western Wisconsin. We all need to know what’s being discussed and how it affects you and your neighbors.

So stay tuned. There will be a lot happening!

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Looking Forward to the Challenges of 2015

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
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on Tuesday, 30 December 2014
in Wisconsin

new-year-2015Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about some of the challenges that will face us here in Wisconsin during the new year.

ALMA - There’s something about the New Year that brings freshness and hope. Pain and loss are eased as the calendar turns to 2015. Opportunity and change await.

Farming taught me the importance of new beginnings. While the ground lies fallow, plans begin. The farmer sees the snow covered field. But in the mind’s eye, the field is lush green. The weeds are few; the crop bountiful; the balance sheet in the black.

So begins the work of the people in 2015. Every bill is new (although many are recycled). Each bill begins the laborious process of committees and public hearings. Many legislators are new; returning lawmakers have new offices and some new staff.

Acrimonious campaigning is put aside. Even long-time opponents sound similar as they compete to deliver the best bipartisan speech.

Farming taught me the importance of having a plan; so in this spirit of fresh beginnings this week and next I’ll offer my hopes and plans for the coming year.

The new session begins with the Governor’s proposal for the two-year state budget. The most important work of the Legislature will be the passage of this bill by midyear. The largest state-funded part of the budget will be K-12 education. What happens to schools will affect every community in Wisconsin.

Schools are the heart of our communities. Many who contact me are afraid they will lose their local school – or trade increasing property taxes as the only way to keep their school open. Fixing school funding is at the top of my 2015 plans. Many have offered answers including State Superintendent Tony Evers who proposed a new funding formula in his budget request.

“We must do something to help rural schools,” my Republican colleague said at a December legislative forum. “Don’t let partisanship stop a fix to rural schools”, directed the op-ed headline. I agree. The answers are before us. Let’s get the job done.

Fear of closing college campuses ranks right up there with the fear of closing local schools. UW Superior recently cut nearly half of its graduate programs including art, reading and library science. Suspended undergraduate programs include music with theater and computer science programs still under review. Campuses across the state are struggling with less state aid and the effects of tuition freezes.

UW campuses make our communities what they are today: a vital engine of progress humming along inspiring our youth and providing creativity, culture, and – in medical advances – life itself. We must invest in colleges and universities and plan to provide an affordable college education to the next generation of smart, hardworking youth.

Many people are concerned the New Year will bring additional challenges to local government. They fear new state laws will take away local ability, for example, to site and regulate sand mines. The state sends new –often unwanted – responsibilities to locals but keeps the resources and removes local powers.

Instead of removing local powers, let’s add to them in bipartisan action aimed at real local empowerment. Let’s provide local people with the resources to get the job done; to deliver services people want and need.

Since I’ve written about the Government Accountability Board (GAB) and its challenges in the New Year, I’ve heard from local clerks. One municipal clerk from Pierce County wrote that she found staff at the GAB very helpful. She thought they did a great job in the face of all the ‘continual law changes’. So let’s keep this nonpartisan watchdog and give them resources to get their job done.

Finally, let’s make 2015 about real economic prosperity for all families. We know businesses locate in great places to live. Great places to live mean local decisions kept local, great schools and universities, and great parks, rivers and other places to play; all these state government can help locals.

So can you! Please share your thoughts because the best ideas for improving our communities come from the people who live in them.

A big thank-you to the dedicated staff of the 31st District: Ben Larson, Linda Kleinschmidt and our intern turned-part-timer Paige Humphrey.

Wishing you and yours a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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Audit Shows Walker Jobs Agency "Too Busy" to Talk to Unemployed

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Tuesday, 16 December 2014
in Wisconsin

joblessWalker’s DWD blocked the calls from almost 1.7 million Wisconsin workers seeking unemployment assistance. As a result thousands of unemployed workers appear to have been forced to wait for or did not receive much-needed benefits.

MADISON - A new state report released today says the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) call centers were too busy to answer almost 1.7 million calls from people looking to claim unemployment benefits in the year that ended June 30. The Legislative Audit Bureau issued findings showing that DWD placed people in a hold queue when call center staff were busy.

Despite being last in the Midwest for job growth, Governor Walker’s DWD blocked the calls from Wisconsin workers seeking unemployment assistance. As a result thousands of unemployed workers appear to have been forced to wait for or did not receive much-needed benefits they paid for.

dave-hansen“At a time when families are at their most vulnerable the state should not be forcing them through an endless frustrating loop of delays and dead-end phone calls simply for trying to get the benefits they earned and paid for,” said Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay).

In response to an increasing number of calls received from constituents who were having trouble getting through to the DWD last February, Senator Hansen and several Democratic senators wrote to Governor Walker urging him to take action to fix the problem.

“We wrote to the Governor after hearing from constituents, many of whom had been calling dozens of times per day and others spending entire days trying to get through so they could access the benefits they paid for. The audit conducted by the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau shows just how badly the department failed so many Wisconsin families when they needed help the most.”

According to the audit since 2011 over 3.6 million calls were blocked and another million callers hung up out of frustration after being put on hold. Although the number of people filing claims declined last year the problem got worse leading to 1.7 million calls being blocked.

“This was not an unknown problem. They had years to fix it. Combined with the Governor’s failure to create the jobs he promised, the fact that they didn’t bother to fix the problem suggests an appalling lack of concern for the average family.”

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Don’t Let Government Accountability “Reform” Mean Return to Corruption

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
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on Monday, 15 December 2014
in Wisconsin

madison_capitolSenator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the Legislative Audit Bureau report on the Government Accountability Board and the attempt of GOP leaders to use it to dismantle the agency. Do we really want Wisconsin to be like Illinois, Texas and Louisiana – all of which have the reputation of freewheeling, corrupt elections?

MADISON - “I promise you that two years from now, when we are sitting here, the GAB will not be in the current format,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told a crowd at a Madison luncheon as reported by the Wisconsin State Journal.

The Government Accountability Board (GAB) was created seven years ago to prevent corrupt practices in state government. The agency had its beginnings when the existing ethics and election board failed to stop lawmakers from using public resources for campaign purposes in the 2002 “caucus scandal”.

A recently released Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) audit of the GAB provides insight to the activities of the GAB. The audit also spurred a partisan attack on the agency crippled by underfunding and unprecedented challenges.

Auditors confirmed that GAB officials complied with many legal duties but, among other findings, did not promulgate required administrative rules, adequately track late reports or consistently assess penalties.

Local government administers elections with oversight from the GAB. Many actions of the agency are working well. Municipal clerks are trained using a variety of methods to allow on-line attendance. The agency regularly audited polling places to assure accessibility for disabled voters. The GAB matches computer information on voters to prevent voter fraud.

Some problems existed in the consistency and accuracy of computer matches. To assure, for example, felons still serving time do not vote or no one casts a ballot in the name of the deceased, coordinated efforts must take place between the GAB and local clerks.

Sometimes errors were made. In stopping ineligible felons from voting the Department of Corrections included aliases. Sometimes those names matched real people. Locals must take care to not revoke the voting privileges of innocent people.

In other activities of the GAB, the audit found over 90% of lobbying groups and over 85% of campaigns filed required reports on time. But GAB staff did not consistently track or enforce penalties for late reports and violations of lobbying laws. Staff did not have written policies when making exceptions to the assessment of penalties.

The oversight of the GAB could not be completely evaluated by the LAB because an Attorney General’s opinion this summer limited release of documents to the auditors. The action of the Attorney General affected auditors’ ability to review complaints investigated by the GAB. Over 1,900 complaints were received but auditors could examine less than a third of these complaints.

Critics of the GAB cite its failure to promulgate administrative rules as a deliberate action of a “rogue” agency that “ignored state law”. This is hyperbole.

Administrative rules took a backseat to agency duties at a time of great demand on the GAB’s strained human resources. During this time period, the GAB repeatedly asked for additional staff and was turned down by the Governor. More than a quarter of its state funds were cut since 2011.

At the same time the GAB faced unprecedented challenges: historic recall elections; the enactment of 31 separate pieces of new legislation and lawsuits affected the agency, including several over photo ID. To make compliance more difficult, a 2011 law changed the length and complexity of the rule-making process leaving many agencies – not just the GAB - with delayed or eliminated permanent rules.

Problems must be corrected. The agency response to the audit sets out details on how to do this. Some agency failures happened before 2011. Clearly tight budgets and tough workloads are not the only explanation.

But lawmakers can’t starve the agency, load it with additional work, and then complain staff isn’t doing the job fast enough.

If Wisconsin wants clean elections, transparent campaigns and lobbying and ethics among elected officials, the state must provide the GAB with adequate resources to do the job.

Dismantling the agency will put the people back in the dark when it comes to elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics. Destroying the agency to save it should not be an option.

I question the end game of critics of the GAB.

To Assembly Speaker Vos: “Do we really want Wisconsin to be like Illinois, Texas and Louisiana – all of which have the reputation of freewheeling, corrupt elections?”

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Serving Wisconsin: Retiring Senators Offer Wisdom

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
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on Monday, 08 December 2014
in Wisconsin

capital-madisonwiThree retiring Senators – Tim Cullen, Bob Jauch and Dale Schultz call upon their colleagues to work together in the best interest of the people and warn against the dangers of hyper partisanship and outside groups taking the power that should rest with the people.

MADISON - “There is a yearning outside the Capitol for common sense, cooperation and compromise,” Senator Tim Cullen told his fellow Senators. “You all know how to do this if you’ve been married for more than 15 days.”

As 2014 comes to a close, so do the public careers of several extraordinary Senators. I listened carefully as these public servants delivered farewell speeches on the Senate floor. The wisdom shared by three great men comes from a cumulative 80 years of experience that spanned four decades.

“We came because we care,” Republican Senator Dale Schulz told his colleagues. “I ran for public office because I felt called.”

“We’re on this earth to help others,” said Democratic Senator Cullen who also served in Governor Thompson’s Republican administration as Secretary of Health.

“Our obligation is to empower the people; not to avoid them because they are of a different political persuasion,” said Democratic Senator Bob Jauch. “We are the caretakers of the public trust. We serve in the people’s place.”

Empower the people is certainly what Senator Jauch accomplished. This year the Pepin-based Flyway Film Festival presented the film Wisconsin’s Mining Standoff, which prominently features Senator Jauch and his work to empower local people and protect the natural resources of our state.

Senator Jauch joined Senators Cullen and Schulz in drafting an iron ore-mining bill that addressed the stated concerns of the mining company while respecting the local people’s wishes, the Native American tribes’ role and the federal regulator’s requirements. Although the carefully crafted bill didn’t pass, the work stands as one of the last great bipartisan achievements.

It’s not surprising as all three men retire, the lessons they share relate to the value of working together and the dangers of partisanship and ideology.

“[We should] lift up ideas, not ideology. Ideology stifles thought,” said Cullen.

“Our history is not written on partisanship, but on partnership,” said Jauch. “Politics ought to be the practice of solving problems.

“We have to quit asking ourselves which team we’re on. I’m on the people’s team,” shared Schultz. “Partisanship is a lens not a straightjacket. We’ve got to stop thinking of the other side as the enemy.”

Senator Schultz expanded on the idea of ‘who the real enemy is’ in a Wisconsin State Journal story:

“Here’s how I see the enemy. The enemy is poverty in a country and a state that has no business having kids and families go to sleep hungry at night or in their cars.

“The enemy is unemployment and underemployment, because nobody asked an employer advertising a good job if they were R or Ds, they were just thankful to get a job that gave them worth and put food on the table.

“The enemy is those who encourage an undereducated citizenry. Education is the key to helping give people a hand up and a better future.

“The most dangerous enemy of all…is the enemy closest to us. It lives with us and within us. The real enemy is fear. We fear what we do not understand. We fear those who are different. We fear losing what we have.

“When we take away our masks, and face each other…without judgment, fear of loss or recrimination, then we can begin to listen, we can begin to talk, and then we can begin to build a better future.

All three Senators speak about the dangerous trend of allowing outside groups to take power that should be reserved for the people and about elected officials representing the people’s interests.

“’We the people’ has been substituted with ‘we the privileged,’” said Jauch.

“Be careful of accepting support from powerful groups,” warned Cullen. “You may think you have your hands in their pockets but in the end, they have their hands in your pockets. The best thing we can do is to say ‘no’ to our friends.”

Senator Schultz summed it up well, “When some think tank comes up with the legislation and tells you not to fool with it, why are you even a legislator anymore? You just sit there and take votes and you’re kind of a feudal serf for folks with a lot of money.”

Thank you for your service gentlemen. We are humbled in your shadow.

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GOP “Right-to-Work” Bill is Wrong for Wisconsin

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Friday, 05 December 2014
in Wisconsin

union-members-at-capitolGOP State House Leaders are considering so-called "open shop" legislation to prohibit employers from striking deals with private-sector unions to require workers to pay dues. The move, called "right-to-work" legislation, reopens the public sector Act 10 confrontation of 2011.

MADISON – In a complete shift from the general election rhetoric of then candidate Scott Walker and state Republicans in recent months, who have said that the issue is a distraction and not a priority, the top leader in the state Senate made clear Thursday that lawmakers in his house would debate the issue of so-called "right-to-work" legislation within weeks and bring the volatile issue of union law back into the statehouse.

According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report today, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) told conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes of WTMJ-AM (620) Milwaukee that he was considering so-called "open shop" legislation to prohibit employers from striking deals with private-sector unions to require workers to pay dues. He said he was considering making Wisconsin the first state in the nation to attempt to exempt certain private workers such as the operators of earth movers who have supported Wisconsin Republicans in recent years.

His comments come as conservative state Rep. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), a longtime activist in the state with ties to national groups that have started an organization to promote the legislation, vowed this week to introduce a bill to do just that.

As recently as Wednesday, Walker said in a stop in Milwaukee that he did not want to take up a “right-to-work” bill at this time.

"As I said before the election and have said repeatedly over the last few years, I just think right-to-work legislation right now, as well as reopening Act 10 to make any other adjustments, would be a distraction from the work that we're trying to do," Walker said, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.

But as with other election promises like creating 250,000 new jobs, it appears times have changed.

Gov. Scott Walker and GOP lawmakers already banned such requirements for most public employees in Wisconsin, but their 2011 law known as Act 10 didn't affect private-sector unions or police and firefighters. Tens of thousands of workers protested for weeks and Walker later became the first governor in the nation to win a recall election because of it.

After the Republicans in Madison stuck it to the public sector workers, their counterparts in the private sector did little to come to their aid. Now it appears to be their turn, as many Democrats said at the time.

dave-hansenAccording to Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) in a statement released today:

“Despite the Governor denouncing Rep. Kapenga’s legislation as a distraction he does not want, legislative Republicans appear poised to fast-track this extremely divisive and controversial legislation at a time when our economy is still reeling from the harmful effects of their Tea Party agenda.

“This legislation isn’t about protecting anyone’s rights or freedom. Real freedom is about having a workplace that allows people to balance their work with those things that are important in their lives like being able to make time for their children, spend time with their spouse or take a parent to the doctor.  Their idea of right-to-work is nothing more than a way to stack the deck against the workers who actually create the profits so CEOs can get bigger bonuses and line the pockets of their shareholders.

“Not only is this legislation harmful to the economic freedom and wellbeing of Wisconsin families everywhere, it violates the rights of employers to decide how to run their business.  It is anti-American and wrong for Wisconsin.

“Governor Walker is correct when he says this is a distraction we cannot afford.  Unfortunately, by not stating publicly that he will veto this legislation, Governor Walker himself is creating the very distraction he said he wants to avoid.  If he truly does not support this attack on Wisconsin families he needs to state publicly that he will veto it.”

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Enjoy 100 Miles of Western Wisconsin Christmas

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
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on Monday, 01 December 2014
in Wisconsin

lacrosse-xmas-lightsIt's the beginning of the Christmas holiday season so Senator Kathleen Vinehout shares some of the special events that make western Wisconsin the place to enjoy holiday traditions and special events.

ALMA - “It’s the holidays,” the Buffalo County man told me. “It’s time to enjoy all we have here.” This farmer will be joining many others who take time to travel the Great River Road during the Holiday Season.

Communities along the Mississippi River are rolling out the welcome mat for holiday travelers. They want you to come and enjoy the season in the snow covered hills and historical river towns.

This month’s Midwest Living features a story about Christmas along the river. Writer Jeff Hoffert and photographer John Noltner explore Minnesota and Wisconsin towns along more than 100 miles of the river.

Alma, Pepin, Stockholm, Maiden Rock and Fountain City are mentioned in the magazine’s review of great places. But the article just touches the tip of what the Coulee and Chippewa Valley communities offer visitors. Many of the seasonal festivities begin Saturday and Sunday December 6th and 7th.

Your Wisconsin River trip begins at Prescott. The Friends of Freedom Park host the Holiday Bazaar at the Great River Road Visitors and Learning Center. The breathtakingly beautiful park is located high above the St. Croix River. Local artists date their tradition back to the 1930s with the founding of the Prescott Little Colony Art Group. Many artists and craftspeople will show and sell their art including the current artists of the Little Colony.

A little way down river, the Old Fashioned Christmas celebration in Maiden Rock offers carriage rides, food and good cheer. Demonstrations and workshops on knitting and textile crafts and a free ornament making workshop for children are just a few of the opportunities. Travel further down the road to the famous little village of Stockholm where Santa roams and fresh holiday pies are baking. Your horse drawn wagon awaits and around every corner fresh local food, art, crafts and other treasurers abound.

A few miles south, St. Nick hosts the Pepin’s Home Town Holiday. There are church bazaars, wagon rides and a cookie walk that will sell out by noon. Up the road, Wisconsin celebrates in Durand and Downsville at the galleries of Jean Accola and John Thomas.

In Alma you can tour historic homes and buildings decked out for the holidays, visit more than a dozen galleries and shops, a medieval museum and view the eagles while surrounded by warmth and art at Wings Over Alma.

The Christmas joy continues down river in Fountain City at what is boasted to be the largest Holiday Craft Fair in the area and The Taste of an Irish Christmas at the Monarch – the longest serving pub in Wisconsin.

Though not part of the 100 miles of Christmas, many other communities gather for their traditional holiday celebrations. Parade goers will bundle up and enjoy festivities in Trempealeau, Whitehall and Menomonie. Black River Falls and Eau Claire celebrate the delight and charm of holiday season this weekend with Old World Traditions in Black River Falls and sleigh rides, tree lighting and caroling along the confluence of the Chippewa and the Eau Claire Rivers in beautiful Eau Claire.

Opportunities to enjoy holiday music and festive theatre productions abound in Eau Claire, Stockholm and at the Old Main in Galesville. And you can take time to relax from the holiday bustle at one of the fantastic wineries in our area. They will offer wine tastings and special treats throughout the month of December.

Listed below is a small sampling of local events. Check area newspapers and local media outlets for other holiday events and festivals. Businesses and communities can post events and travelers can contact locals for more details at

December 3:

Alma Christmas House Walk (2:30pm-7:30pm)

December 5:

Whitehall Festival of Trees Parade

Pepin Hometown Holidays (also December 6 and 7)

Black River Falls Christkindl Festival (also December 6)

December 6:

Whitehall Santa Day and Craft Fair

Stockholm Country Christmas (10am-6pm)

Maiden Rock Old Fashioned Christmas

Prescott Holiday Bazaar at Freedom Park

Eau Claire Christmastime in the City (12:00 – 5:00pm)

Fountain City Holiday Craft Fair (9am-4pm) and Taste of Irish Christmas

Trempealeau Holiday Parade

December 6 – 13:

Wisconsin Celebrates in Durand and Downsville (10am-5pm)

December 11:

Menomonie Winterdaze Parade

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