Thursday September 19, 2019

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Have a Conversation for Democracy’s Sake

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 18 September 2019
in Wisconsin

congress-unproductiveSen. Smith talks about the importance of having conversations with people that have different points of view. We can overcome the political divisiveness in society if we remember we have more in common than what sets us apart.


MADISON - Politics is everywhere around us – when you turn on the television, open a newspaper or scroll through Facebook. It’s hard to get away from it all. When we see the divisiveness all around us, it’s easy to think our system is broken.

Political divisiveness affects our attitudes of others and the way we communicate with neighbors or members of our own family. It’s easy for hurtful rhetoric to drive a wedge in these relationships, which makes it difficult to realize the values we share: hard work, a supportive community and what’s best for our family. It’s time we learn how to progress forward together.

Oftentimes, politicians use fear to make people angry and pit one group against another. It’s a simple tactic that has a big impact determining who we interact with and who we ignore.

During my time as a state senator, I’ve hosted many Stop n’ Talks throughout the 31st Senate District. It’s my own way to get around the district to learn from anyone who wants to talk. Folks have busy lives, and it’s difficult for people to find the time to attend official town hall meetings or scheduled hearings. I find the best way to have a conversation is to show up where citizens congregate or invite anyone to stop and talk on their own terms.

A couple of weeks ago, I held a Stop n’ Talk near an event that attracted many from the farming community. As their state senator and the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Revenue and Financial Institutions, I wanted to make myself available to learn. Most folks are polite; they acknowledge me with a cordial hello, talk to me about their concerns or simply ignore me. However, there were many who had no qualms about insulting me, while refusing to have a conversation.

jeff-smithI’ve also been uninvited from public events, as a state senator, because organizers thought my presence was politically-motivated. I find these examples to be so sad, yet telling about where we are now. My attempts to meet and learn about the issues that matter most to community members are seen as “photo opportunities” or “campaign stops.”

It’s a dangerous cycle we’ve fallen into when we refuse conversations with others based on political beliefs, pushing us further apart. Without the opportunity to openly communicate, we’re unable to discuss the issues that matter most to us.

This broken cycle pushes us back into our own bubble, reinforcing preconceived notions of others groups, which affects the way our democracy works and functions. Voting is a practice that should provide all citizens the opportunity to have their voices heard, but that isn’t always the reality. Poll taxes, literacy tests and other restrictive measures have limited a citizen’s ability to express views at the ballot box. More recently, voter ID laws limit certain people’s right to vote. To this day, politicians gerrymander, creating districts that guarantee an election win for a certain party.

Voters are disenfranchised even when voter suppression attempts fail. Lame duck session laws from last fall changed the jobs our elected officials can do after the election.

Recently, Attorney General Josh Kaul found it impossible to perform the job he was elected to carry out due to the enormous roadblocks from last fall’s lame duck session. The extraordinary session created a process that ties the hands of our Attorney General by requiring the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee to sign off on settlements.

These practices, from voting disenfranchisement to the unprecedented lame duck laws, silence voters and prohibit productive debate or negotiation, pushing things to be more partisan.

I see firsthand the damage all this political divisiveness has done to us. Citizens don’t see a cohesive government working for their best interests, especially when legislators only meet on rare occasions. The fear-based rhetoric, harmful voting policies and the lame duck laws erode whatever trust citizens might still have in their government and their elected officials.

We all have a responsibility to repair the system. Set aside the blame game. Start a conversation with someone with a different point of view. Contact your legislators and tell them to do the same. Insist that your legislature work for your best interests by meeting, debating and working toward solving problems together. After all, we have more in common than what sets us apart.

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Wisconsin schools put students first, Legislature should do the same

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
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on Friday, 13 September 2019
in Wisconsin

school-kidsSenator Jon Erpenbach is hopeful that Republicans will join Democrats and work to restore what they have cut from education.


WEST POINT - Under Governor Tony Evers’ leadership, Republicans agreed to make a down payment on the People’s Budget and increase funding for our schools. Unfortunately, with school just getting started for the year, communities across Wisconsin are already realizing that their schools need more. Education should be one of our state’s biggest priorities, yet schools are facing teacher shortages and closures - with at least one entire district considering dissolution- and heartbroken students.

Schools and communities across Wisconsin are already beginning the process of putting referendums on the ballots, asking property taxpayers to pay more to keep school doors open. They are doing so because the state once again failed to fully fund education. Governor Tony Evers proposed funding education to the full amount that taxpayers are already paying through referendums. Yet, Republicans apparently believe that local taxpayers should carry far too much of the weight of funding their schools, throwing aside equity, as rural, underfunded schools fall behind, and unaccountable voucher programs steal funds away from communities.

On average, students in Wisconsin have lost 11.8% of the local teaching experience that they had in the classroom since 2011 due to teachers being underappreciated and underpaid. Communities are facing more challenges to attract and keep talent in because Republicans have slashed compensation. There is no denying that politicians disrespecting teachers hurts kids.

Cuts have hit our rural schools especially hard. Republicans cut, altered, or eliminated their own Blue Ribbon Commission proposals that Governor Evers included in his budget, including an increase in sparsity aid for rural districts. The GOP cut the Governor’s proposal significantly, cutting $10.1 million from sparsity aid for rural schools compared to the Governor’s plan. Their rejection of the task force recommendations led to schools in my district, Senate District 27, losing $600,000, with 82 other districts statewide also losing funds.

jon-erpenbachThese major cuts do not come without consequence. According to data released by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), under Republican leadership, standardized test scores in English and math are declining. For English, reading, and writing, only 39.3% of students met proficiency standards, with math at 40.1%. DPI notes that declining scores may be attributed to underfunding classrooms. In order to continue moving Wisconsin forward, it is vital that we give students and teachers the support that they need. Thankfully, Governor Evers is already moving us in the right direction by signing a budget that will increase funding by $570 million over the next two years. Unfortunately, the budget he was sent cut hundreds of millions from his original proposal, including 84% of his proposal to live up to the state’s responsibility to fund special education.

Wisconsin communities are suffering because Republican lawmakers would rather use our tax dollars to support corporate giveaways instead of funding public schools. The People’s Budget would have funded schools to virtually the same amount that taxpayers have approved in referenda under eight years of GOP control, but Republicans refused to make that investment. While I am thankful that Governor Evers was able to restore some funding with his veto pen, we should have, and Democrats fought to, fully fund education. Unfortunately, the Republicans in the Legislature put a tax handout that is resulting in fewer jobs and an infamous giveaway to Foxconn ahead of 830,000+ students in 422 Wisconsin communities.

There is no better investment in Wisconsin than improving chances for future generations to thrive. Under Republicans, Wisconsin’s priorities have not aligned with what the state needs, or what voters chose last November, and we are now paying the price. Governor Evers was able to make historic investments in our schools, yet as he has pointed out, it was only a down payment on the People’s Budget. Our communities and schools deserve more, and I am hopeful that Republicans will join Democrats in approving more of their Blue Ribbon Commission proposals, and work to restore what they have cut to education.

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The time for redistricting reform in Wisconsin is now

Posted by League of Women Voters WI, Erin Grunze
League of Women Voters WI, Erin Grunze
Erin Grunze is the Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
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on Friday, 13 September 2019
in Wisconsin

voter-us-electionsLeague of Women Voters continues the fight for nonpartisan redistricting legislation.


MADISON - The need for redistricting reform in Wisconsin is critical. Concerned voters across the political spectrum are calling to end the practice of gerrymandering by our elected officials. The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin has advocated for nonpartisan redistricting for decades. Over these decades, the control of the legislature has teetered between the two major parties. The response from the party in power has always been to accuse the League of siding with the minority party and that the League is looking to push that party’s agenda. The League has been accused of siding with Republicans and then siding with Democrats.

But in fact the League has always been looking out for the voters in our advocacy. The voters who are packed together or cracked apart because of gerrymandering. It’s a problem with power, and when those in power can determine how they keep their power, we no longer have a representative democracy. Republican voters are cheated when Democratic politicians gerrymander like in Maryland. Democratic voters are cheated when Republican politicians gerrymander like in Wisconsin. No party is innocent.

Gerrymandering isn’t a problem of one party. It’s the partisan cling to power that damages the will of the voters and erodes our democracy. Voters should pick their elected officials, not the other way around. With our current system in Wisconsin, politicians draw their own district lines to pick their voters and to lock in their own political power.

Yet, there is a solution.

Representative Robyn Vining (AD 14) and Senator Dave Hansen (SD 30) drafted redistricting reform bills that will make this process more open, more representative, and more transparent by taking the redistricting process from the partisans and moving it to an independent and nonpartisan Redistricting Advisory Commission. There is bi-partisan support because this is a solution that is right for democracy. Wisconsin voters across the political spectrum want to see this change.

And now is the time for the nonpartisan redistricting bills SB 288 and AB 303 to get a public hearing and deserve serious consideration by lawmakers in Wisconsin as we expect the representatives we elect to be held accountable to the public’s unified call for reforms. Elections should be determined by voters, not politicians who draw maps.

Fair voting maps are fundamental to what makes democracy work. The League will keep pushing for this reform with unrelenting energy and motivation of our members and partners. It has been and will continue to be a long, difficult fight, but it may be our most important work. Wisconsin deserves better and the League is committed to making it happen.

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Wisconsin: America is Best When Labor is Strong

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 04 September 2019
in Wisconsin

electrical-workersSen. Smith talks about his upbringing in Eau Claire and the impact of organized labor in the community. Leaders before us worked to put protections in place for workers, but there’s still more to do.


EAU CLAIRE - Another Labor Day has come and gone. Summer is beginning to wind down and we’re taking our last chance to fish or camp for the season. Children are reflecting on their summer and eagerly anticipating the new school year.

This time of year is also an opportunity to reflect back on my upbringing in Eau Claire and remember the hardworking families in my community. I think about the great strides made in the 20th century because of organized labor. Unions knew at the core of their mission, that nobody should live to work. We should be able to work, so we can live a comfortable life.

Growing up on the north side of Eau Claire, I had a pretty ordinary childhood. My mother worked hard to raise seven children and my father opened his window cleaning business and ran the business for decades. It was common for families to have one parent working outside the home and one parent in the home.

jeff-smithFamilies in our neighborhood were lower-middle income level by today’s standards. I grew up near the Uniroyal factory. We weren’t too far from the paper mill, and Presto was just a couple of miles north. Many of the kids I grew up with had parents who worked in one of these places. Their parents could support their family because they earned union wages and benefits. It was at the height of a comfortable working class that made America work.

Many of the families were able to afford fishing boats, camping trailers and cabins on the lake. My neighbors were able to spend more time doing the things they enjoyed with their families. These were all things my family couldn’t afford.

The union jobs in the community provided my neighbors an opportunity to have a comfortable lifestyle and build the middle class. These jobs allowed families to own cabins in the resort areas of northern Wisconsin. It was common for a family to take two weeks off for family vacation in the summer and a week off for deer hunting.

None of this would’ve been possible if it weren’t for the courage and foresight of organized labor in the early 20th century that advanced worker’s rights in America. Federal legislation, including the Occupational Safety & Health Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and Labor Relations Act supported workers, ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions. The Social Security Act was revolutionary, putting protections in place for citizens of all ages. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for employers and unions to discriminate against individuals based on race, national origin, religion or gender.

Although there has been tremendous progress for worker’s rights, there is still more we must do for workers in our country. Today, too many families need multiple jobs to get by. According to the U.S. Census, there are approximately 13 million Americans that have more than one job. Also, based on U.S. Census data, women are more likely than men to have a part-time job to support themselves and their families.

Union jobs guaranteed most workers would have a comfortable future after retirement. The decline of unions and well-paying jobs in our country, force workers to consider how they’ll retire without a pension or 401K plan to supplement their Social Security.

There are steps we can take to support everyday hardworking men and women. We should begin by increasing the minimum wage, restoring prevailing wage, implementing paid family and medical leave and repealing the “Right to Work” law. Governor Evers included all of these proposals in the 2019-21 Biennial Budget, but they were deleted entirely by Republicans.

Oftentimes, we forget the impact of organized labor in our own community. The leaders before us worked tirelessly to improve working conditions and living standards for all. We can’t fall behind. As we push forward, let us remember our hardworking leaders and the example they set to support our neighbors. Remember, we all do better when we all do better.

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Wisconsin: Kiddos and Mental Health

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 28 August 2019
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsAfter a visit to Northwest Journey and the Menomonie School District, Sen. Smith writes about the importance of mental health funding for our children.


EAU CLAIRE - We always want what’s best for our children. We want our children to be happy, comfortable and safe. If we could provide all the tools for our children to succeed, why wouldn’t we?

The urgency for mental health funding is not going away. We need to face it head on. You’d think an issue affecting so many people would lead us to come together to find solutions on this important issue. What is the biggest hurdle we face?

It all comes down to funding. Without proper funding it’s very difficult for families, school districts and community agencies to afford the resources and professional staff needed to treat mental illness. As lawmakers, it’s our job to address the serious issues affecting our communities. We have many funding responsibilities as legislators. The welfare of our children must be the most important.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve had the privilege of meeting professionals who deal directly with mental healthcare for our children, or “kiddos,” as the professionals call them. I recently visited Northwest Journey, a care center for school-age children in crisis. I learned about the incredible services offered at the organization. The professionals spoke about their passion to help children overcome their doubts and achieve a bright future.

The stories I heard and read were heartbreaking, but encouraging to think of a child’s potential, if given the resources to succeed. One of the children wrote, “A year ago around this time I thought I didn’t have a future but I can take a step back and see that my future holds an endless amount of possibilities.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise to most that families in crisis are less likely to have the means to afford private services or even private insurance. Northwest Journey is able to offer these critical services through the Medicaid program, which is managed by the state and provides assistance to families in-need.

If Republicans would’ve expanded Medicaid, organizations like Northwest Journey would have the potential to do so much more for their clients. This is our money that we’ve already paid to the federal government. I don’t understand why we would fund other states’ Medicaid programs, while ignoring the critical needs of our own children right here in Wisconsin.

There’s more we must do to support our children, besides expanding Medicaid. Prior to meeting with professionals at Northwest Journey, Senator Patty Schachtner (D-Somerset) and I learned about similar challenges Menomonie School District faces relating to providing mental health service. You see, our schools are woefully short of counselors and psychiatrists to help children in crisis.

Since 1993, Republicans imposed revenue limits on school districts. This dramatically restricted each district’s ability to fund our schools. Incremental increases based on 1993 education funding levels while using a broken funding formula has been disastrous for Wisconsin schools.

School districts have made deep cuts just to afford core curriculum, forcing mental health services onto the chopping block. Republicans cut $38 million in school mental health aid from Governor Evers’ budget, which would’ve funded more mental health professionals and programs.

School funding and how the formula works (or doesn’t work) has been debated for years. And, like so many other important issues, Republicans haven’t done anything about it.

jeff-smithOur children are relying on us. All children will be affected in some way, even families who aren’t directly affected. No matter the circumstances, we all walk the same path, breathe the same air and rely on the same democracy. We are all one community.

You can do your part by contacting legislators in your area. Ask them if they believe a child’s well-being is the most pressing priority. If so, tell them you will be holding them accountable based on their decisions. Those actions need to result in more success stories like those children at Northwest Journey who have found hope in their future.

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Wisconsin: The Politics Behind Gun Violence Inaction

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 21 August 2019
in Wisconsin

las-vegas-shootingSen. Smith talks about legislation to expand the background check requirement for all firearm purchases as a way to fight against gun violence.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - I can’t imagine the horror victims go through when face to face with an active shooter while in a place of worship, school, shopping center or night club. How do families cope with the news of a loved one being murdered by a domestic terrorist, coworker or significant other? Or the news of a loved one who took their own life?

A few weeks ago, in a neighboring town, a young man shot and killed his mother, brother and nephew before driving to the home of a young woman he may have planned to abduct. He shot the parents of this young woman before killing her and himself. The family didn’t know the shooter before this happened, but his own family may have been aware he was dangerous.

Would a background check have saved those victims? We can’t be certain. Would a temporary law enforcement firearm removal order, also called a “red flag law,” stop this horribly tragic event? We’ll never know.

As a gun owner, I firmly believe in an individual’s right to own a firearm. I also believe gun violence prevention is long overdue. Countless lives have died in vain from our state and our nation’s inaction on gun violence.

Sadly, policymakers seem frozen with indecision when it comes to gun safety. We are trapped in a cycle of unexpected tragedies like El Paso, Dayton or Lake Hallie followed by the expected “thoughts and prayers” and then inaction by leaders to do anything to stop the cycle from happening again.

A Marquette Law School poll conducted in March of 2018 showed 81% of people favored background checks, with only 18% opposed. In the same poll, 56% of Wisconsinites supported assault-style weapon bans and 40% opposed the ban. More recently, a NPR poll conducted in February this year showed 65% of Americans believed a high-capacity magazine ban would reduce gun violence.

Polls consistently show people from all walks of life and political views favoring universal background checks. Wisconsin is ready for commonsense gun violence reforms, so why aren’t Republican lawmakers?

Pro-gun lobbying groups like the NRA use the 2nd Amendment as the reason for inaction. They use it to tie the hands of Republicans who might be willing to do something about gun violence.

Our Constitution has stood the test of time while our country has evolved. Take action now to stop the cycle of gun violence with commonsense reforms, and let the Constitution do its job. If the NRA wants to explain why simple background checks are wrong, or why they believe the founders thought it was necessary to have high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapons when drafting the 2nd Amendment then let them try.

For decades, gun rights have been a wedge issue. It’s near the top of the list among single-issue voters. With that being the case, it isn’t any wonder why politicians do nothing. After all, when we are divided, those in power keep power.

jeff-smithBut, not everyone is so easy to predict on this issue.

Last week the Task Force on Suicide Prevention held a hearing in Eau Claire. It lasted over 7 hours, most of it being agency reports. The public who attended, and stuck around long enough, got their chance to testify.

A gun shop owner from Dane County came to tell us about the Gun Safe program he started with other shop owners. It allows anyone in a mental health crisis to temporarily store his or her weapons in a gun shop safe until the crisis passes.

A Republican lawmaker mistakenly thought the gun shop owner would be opposed to a Red Flag Law. The shop owner surprised the lawmaker by saying he was in favor of a properly worded law to help responsible gun owners make the right choice in a crisis. It was refreshing to hear such a thoughtful response. It reminded me that we should never make assumptions of where people may stand on any issue.

We can own guns responsibly and still demand action for gun violence. We’ve gone too long without commonsense solutions to fight against gun violence. The time to act was long ago, but the opportunity to act still exists.

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Democracy Campaign: Evers Bows to WMC

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Friday, 16 August 2019
in Wisconsin

tony-eversProgressive critiques Governor, Republicans, gun laws, and the NRA.


MADISON - When I saw that Gov. Evers was speaking to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, I decided to take a look at his talk. And I was horrified to find out that he complimented WMC, which has done so much damage to our state over the last nine years. Here’s my critique of the governor’s talk:

Evers Bows to WMC

matt-rothschildThis week, we also took a look at the money that legislators have hauled in recently, and we discovered that the GOP’s haul was twice as big as the Democrats’:

Republican Lawmakers Led Fundraising in First Six Months of 2019

And in a follow up to our post last week on the NRA in Wisconsin, we noted that the Republican Senators who were dodging the issue of gun laws so studiously were also recipients of the NRA’s largesse:

GOP Senators Dodging Gun Law Questions Got Election Support from NRA


Thanks for taking a look at our offerings this week.

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Republicans Leave Small Family Farms Behind

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
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on Friday, 16 August 2019
in Wisconsin

high-voltage-lines-farmsTrump's trade wars, tariffs, send farmers rushing to find new markets without additional assistance from the state.


WEST POINT, WI - It’s no secret, small family farms are struggling in Wisconsin. There are a variety of issues that have impacted this downturn, and it’s more important than ever that we are paying attention and coming up with solutions to help alleviate the pain that our agriculture industry is experiencing.

On August 12, Governor Tony Evers sent a letter, addressed to President Donald Trump, urging him to end the unnecessary and irresponsible trade wars that are having a severely negative impact on our farmers. The appeal followed a letter sent on May 30 from myself, along with my Democratic colleagues, addressed to the United States Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer with the same request- end the trade war. Unfortunately, no Republicans signed the letter.

jon-erpenbach-radioThe trade wars, which were started due to the inflated ego of our President, who has proven his dangerous lack of understanding on how tariffs work, has contributed to the devastation of too many farming communities. While he exclaims that we are “winning” trade wars, the reality is that farmers, manufacturers, and consumers in America are paying the price. The trade war will only continue to drive up costs, bankrupt farmers, and result in Wisconsin losing thousands of jobs.

Overnight, Republicans destroyed trade relationships, at the same time that the Wisconsin agriculture industry is stressing the importance of dairy exports. By damaging our trade relationships, the federal government’s short-sighted policies are forcing some farmers to depend on government aid, or to sell their cows. They deserve better.

They deserve better from Republicans on both the federal level and in Wisconsin. Recently, the Wisconsin Diary Task Force 2.0 released their report, which studies issues affecting the dairy industry and makes recommendations. Historically, the task force’s recommendations have been successfully implemented, and I am hopeful that our legislators will continue to work towards reducing obstacles for farmers and implementing recommendations to help the agriculture industry.

However, recent actions of my Republican colleagues have me concerned. While reviewing the report, a few recommendations sounded familiar. Just one example was Wisconsin’s role in recognizing the importance of exports, because it reflected a recommendation Governor Evers put in his budget six months ago.

In keeping with the importance of exports to Wisconsin dairy, Governor Evers’ budget proposal recommended the development of the Wisconsin Initiative for Dairy Exports (WIDE). WIDE would seek to bring together stakeholders to pursue an increase in dairy exports, through increasing analysis of state and international agricultural markets, facilitation trade missions abroad, and recruiting international buyers to visit Wisconsin. While Democrats voted for the proposal, Republicans opted to delete the provision from budget deliberations and put forth no alternatives to address the need for dairy export initiatives.

Unfortunately, due to the President’s tariffs, this task will be an even greater challenge for farmers. Wisconsin Dairy exports saw a 5.5% decline in 2018, compared to the previous year, and WIDE was intended to reverse that trend. Now farmers are rushing to find new markets without additional assistance from the state.

Between the president’s attacks on economic security, increasing risks of unpredictable weather, and Republican inaction to fund critical programs, including mental health care for farmers, it is apparent that more needs to be done to rebuild the industry that built our state. Every day more and more farms are shutting down, and while there is not a single, simple solution, inaction is not the answer. Our farming communities deserve to have a fair opportunity to succeed, and the time to act is now.

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The Time for Universal Background Checks is Now

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
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on Friday, 16 August 2019
in Wisconsin

school-gunsGun violence is an issue that is affecting everyone across America, says State Senator, and 81% of voters support background checks.


WEST POINT, WI - Today I stood with Governor Evers, Lieutenant Governor Barnes, Attorney General Kaul, and Middleton Police Chief Foulke, along with other Democratic colleagues, as Representative Sargent and Senator Johnson announced their proposal to close the background check loophole on the sales and transfers of guns. I am proud to sign onto this legislation as a co-sponsor.

jon-erpenbachWhile an overwhelming majority of gun owners are responsible, this dangerous loophole in federal law allows domestic abusers, felons, and others who are prohibited from possessing firearms due to mental illness buy guns without a background check through non-licensed sellers. This bill will close that loophole. It is past time for us to take action to reduce gun violence, and closing this loophole is a common-sense solution that will not take away anyone’s second amendment rights.

Gun violence is an issue that is affecting everyone across America, including Wisconsin. Just last year there was a shooting at a workplace in Middleton that has left people scarred, and day after day we hear of another incident. 81% of voters support background checks. Outside of the State Capitol, this is not a partisan issue. Everyone deserves to feel safe when they go out in public, and closing this loophole is the first step towards diminishing the threat of deadly weapons and protecting Wisconsinites.

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State Government: Legislators Gather for Nonpartisan Conference

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 14 August 2019
in Wisconsin

jeff-smithState Senator's experience at Summit meeting of legislators from other states and around the world gives opportunity to talk, including on redistricting reform.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Last week I joined over 7,000 legislators and staff from other states and around the world in Nashville at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) annual Legislative Summit. NCSL is a bipartisan organization that has been around 45 years with a mission to advise, train and advocate for state government, regardless of party affiliation.

I went to the conference with no real expectations or hopes. The bipartisan approach seemed so refreshing from the divisive politics we have become accustomed to.

After registering, we all received nametags showing our state and position, but no party affiliation. Though there may have been plenty of caution by some, we were able to strike up real conversations with many of the 7,000 attendees without mentioning our political party.

One morning I sat across from a fellow in the hotel. After chatting for a while, I learned he was from South Africa, and he was the leader of the African National Congress. It was fascinating and impressive that leaders from around the world were there to share and learn.

Another day I sat down again for breakfast in the hotel, and I met three legislators from Germany. In fact, one mentioned he had relatives in Eau Claire before he even knew I was from there. It truly is a small world.

During the course of the week there were sessions on elections, water, education, transportation, writing legislation, resolving conflict and just about every topic involving government you can think of. Throughout all these sessions we learned from experts and legislators who‘ve been deeply engrossed in the topic at hand while never taking a political stance on the subject. Of course, we all had our own biases, but it was left to each of us to fit the information shared into whatever way we viewed the world or our values.

Early in the conference, I attended a session on school safety. This is particularly timely as we approach a new school year and the concerns over the rise in mass shootings.

The school safety session was well attended. While taking questions, one panelist confessed that he had spent his political career voting against funding for school counselors, free breakfast programs and additional funding for classrooms. He now has such regret that he is using his retirement to volunteer for schools and do whatever he can to raise awareness for the needs of students. That’s what a bipartisan conference has the potential to bring out in people. His comments gave me hope that we would hear more open and honest dialogue through the week. And, for the most part, it played out that way.

On the last day I was surprised to find out there were separate Democratic and Republican legislator breakfasts. Not necessarily a terrible idea, I suppose, but it was surprising. The day before we left, there were opposing sessions regarding redistricting. Yes, there was a Republican Legislative Redistricting session and a Democratic Legislative Redistricting session simultaneously. They may as well have called these sessions Gerrymandering 101 for Republicans or Democrats. I did not attend. I can’t say for sure what was learned, but it was seriously concerning to me.

On the Republican side, former Governor Scott Walker ran the redistricting session. After overseeing the most extreme partisan gerrymandering of any state in the history of our nation, Scott Walker is now conducting lessons on how to do the same for other states. We should all be alarmed by this effort.

We can’t afford to allow bipartisan conferences to be hijacked by something as vile as extreme partisan gerrymandering. Wisconsin has already lost so much from corrupt redistricting. Let’s protect whatever small vestige of cooperation is left and rid our system of all forms of gerrymandering rather than accept it as normal.

We must take the opportunities, like NCSL, for Democrats and Republicans to come together, communicate and learn from each other. This is the only way we can work together and find solutions to the most pressing issues in our state.

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Clean Water a Deliberate Policy Choice

Posted by Patty Schachtner, State Senator 10th District
Patty Schachtner, State Senator 10th District
State Senator Patty Schachtner represents Wisconsin’s tenth senate district. The
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clean-drinking-waterState Senator Patty Schachtner examines clean drinking water and it's effect upon healthy communities, our economy, and our Wisconsin way of life.


MADISON - In past years, the safety of our drinking water has come to the forefront of Wisconsin’s political landscape. Extensive studies have shown not only the scale, but the drastic health consequences contaminated water has on our communities.

Contaminants like nitrates and bacteria have been linked to blue baby syndrome, thyroid disease, and some cancers, harming our rural communities. Meanwhile, lead continues to poison children statewide.

In Kewaunee County, 60 percent of sampled wells were contaminated with fecal microbes, leading one of the researchers to proclaim that the water resembled a “fecal soup.” A 2019 study found that 42 percent of sampled wells in southwest Wisconsin contained contaminants that exceeded federal health standards.

We didn’t get here overnight. Budget cuts, along with a deregulatory culture and political interference across multiple agencies, have significantly impacted the way Wisconsin protects its water. To understand the current state of our water, we must look at the deliberate policy choices made in the past.

A chronological analysis details a systematic dismantling of the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR). In 2011, environmental inspections of large farms fell by 46 percent while permit violation notices hit a 12-year low. Meanwhile, DNR experienced the highest vacancy rate in 14 years.

Just three years later, a judge declared a “massive regulatory failure” was behind extensive groundwater contamination in Kewaunee County. The judge also indicated that the agency failed to use existing law to address the situation.

patty-schachtnerDespite concerns from impacted communities, environmental organizations, and the EPA, the previous administration continued to reduce the enforcement capabilities of key agencies. Over the course of three budgets passed by former governor Scott Walker and legislative Republicans, DNR saw their budget slashed by $59 million and close to 200 positions eliminated.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice (DOJ) under former attorney general Brad Schimel saw fines paid by Wisconsin polluters fall to 30-year lows in 2015. The former attorney general also wrote an opinion claiming the DNR went too far in protecting water in 2016. During the same time period, he demoted the long-standing director of DOJ’s environmental protection unit and shrunk the unit to its smallest size in 25 years.

Clean water is essential to healthy communities, our economy, and our Wisconsin way of life. Governor Tony Evers understands this, and that’s why he has declared 2019 the Year of Clean Drinking Water and August as National Water Quality Month. It’s also why he invested additional resources to address water pollution, contaminated wells, and lead pipe replacement.

Clean water is a health issue. It is an economic issue. It is a moral issue. It’s time we connect the dots and ensure that future generations can enjoy safe, clean water.

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Impeach Trump Now for Illegal Wars

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 Saturday, 10 August 2019
in Wisconsin

afghanistanTo Dismantle the Military/Industrial Complex.


TUCSON, AZ - As an American, you and your family face a future of forever wars, possible nuclear war, economic decline and climate disaster.

Or, you can fight for a better path, urging America work with the UN and other nations for a peaceful, sustainable future for all humans.

donald-trumpYou know where Pres. Trump’s path will lead you.

Our options are:

  • Impeach for Lesser Crimes. Impeaching Trump for alleged obstruction of justice and removing him will promote Pence to president – with his likely continuation of Trump’s disastrous policies, illegal wars, along with, possibly, enabling Pence’s election as president in 2020.
  • Skip Impeachment. Doing nothing means America moves toward more war, irrationality, possible “future ending” nuclear war, climate disaster and possible US bankruptcy.
  • Impeach for War Crimes. I believe we must impeach Pres. Trump for war crimes to uphold the Rule of Law, commence dismantling the military/industrial complex and place America on a path toward peace rather than endless war!

House members must uphold their oath of office by passing an impeachment inquiry resolution – alleging Trump’s “high crimes” of continuing illegal:

  • wars (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria….),
  • torture of prisoners,
  • spying on Americans,
  • killing of civilians, and
  • threatening preemptive or nuclear wars against N. Korea, Iran and Venezuela.

All the above actions are considered to be crimes or war crimes violating the US Constitution, laws, UN Charter, and/or various international treaties.

Why is this important?

Our Revolution was fought at great price to rid our nation of living under the arbitrary dictates of King George. Our Nation was founded under a Constitution establishing the top authority to be the “Rule of Law” -- NOT the arbitrary “Rule of a King.”

Our Constitution requires Congress pass a “declaration of war” BEFORE our military attacks another nation, except if America’s attacked by another nation.

America has NOT been attacked by any of the nations in which our military or CIA forces are fighting. Furthermore, Congress passed NO “declarations of war.”

We must face it: These wars are illegal.

The vast military/industrial complex wastes trillions on illegal wars and preparation, places millions of our soldiers in harm’s way, drowns our Nation in debt, prohibiting domestic public investments necessary for our people and environment.

The result of the complex’s domination of our political system is: millions of people dead, wounded, ill, homeless and futureless worldwide. Thousands of American troops have died and hundreds of thousands wounded physically, mentally or emotionally.

America is using its vast intellectual, scientific and organizational capabilities and half our federal taxes to produce death and destruction. The looming question is will we end up destroying ourselves.

Iraqi civilians flee through an alley as Iraqi Special Forces

continue their advance against Islamic State militants in

the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, on July 3, 2017. Felipe Dana—AP

We must dismantle the military/industrial complex.

We can do this by:

  • Removing Trump from office via impeachment followed by federal prosecution for his alleged crimes. Only such action will cause the next president (Vice President Pence) to obey the Rule of Law - because if he does not, then he will be impeached next.

Future presidents will think twice before they commit illegal wars. Once Pres. Trump is impeached, impeachments/prosecutions of military, intelligence and other leaders for violations of their oaths of office and the Rule of Law become easier.

  • Congress must break up the complex and reorient it toward, for example, reversing climate change and Greening America.

Presently, the “complex” is possibly the greatest threat to our children, world peace and America’s future existence.

Begin it’s dismantlement by impeachment. Google “impeach Trump for war crimes” to sign a petition to take action.

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Wisconsin: Questioning Our Economy

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 07 August 2019
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family-worried-billsAn economy should work for all people, not just our country’s corporations. A successful economy is more than the unemployment rate. We need to understand the hidden factors in our economy that affect the way people work and raise a family.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Do you ever wonder how our economy stopped working for all of us? How have we arrived at stagnant wages, mega-rich corporations buying elections and people lacking essential access to healthcare?

Politicians like to cherry-pick numbers to show the economy is doing well under their watch. That’s why every Republican in this state talks about the unemployment rate. Here’s the dirty little secret -- they use the unemployment rate because it’s easy for voters to understand and it’s easy to manipulate. And it seems to work, too often, on people. They’re willing to overlook the insulting tweets from the White House because they’ve been told the economy is so great. But who is the economy really working for?

The unemployment rate is measured by how many people are looking for work. It doesn’t factor in many people who are underemployed or have given up on their work search. These people are forgotten. They gave up and were ignored. These individuals include people who took an early retirement, our adult children living in our homes, low-income workers who scrape by on whatever means they can or people who lost it all and are homeless. Just because the “numbers” sound good, doesn’t mean that people aren’t struggling.

The media judges our economy by the numbers. And, as we know, numbers can be skewed to show whatever we want. It seems the media takes the easy way out by reporting how the stock market does each day or over a period of time. That means stockbrokers and corporations are doing well, but where are the wages? It’s just rich people getting richer off of us.

A number I never see is how many jobs some people work to pay their bills. The most important measure of our economy is income.

Income disparity has never been greater. Why should anyone work one full-time job and still struggle to live? Everyone deserves a chance to live free and have a quality life. We are not put on this earth just to serve others without the chance to enjoy our own lives. That’s why you’ve heard so often about $15 per hour as a “living wage.” That’s the minimum anyone should be paid to afford health insurance, food, and a place to live. So why’s our “minimum wage” stuck at $7.25? That should be called “less than half a wage.” Why should someone have to work more than one job to get by?

There are numerous “hidden” factors in our economy affecting everyone, one way or another. Access to healthcare and college affordability are two of the biggest factors that can either enhance or hurt our earning potential.

During the 1940s, employers started offering health insurance policies as a way to attract workers and keep them healthy. It seemed like a win-win at the time. Nowadays, with the health insurance market too expensive, employees are stuck in jobs they may not like or they cannot afford to leave even if the pay is substandard. What if healthcare access wasn’t a factor in our career decisions? Would you, or someone you know, change jobs?

uwgb-studentsCollege affordability is becoming more difficult for our younger generations. Millennials and Generation Z graduates are entering the workforce with mountains of student loan debt. Sure, it’s easy to say don’t take out loans, but what jobs in our current economy don’t at least require a college degree or technical training? Unless wages increase, we cannot expect young people to save for retirement, buy houses or start families.

Our economy could do better if we start treating people better than corporations or treating people less like numbers. Every day, I hear stories from people in western Wisconsin trying to scratch out a living, raise a family and enjoy life. These stories can be uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. When you hear how well the economy is doing, don’t be afraid to ask yourself: “Is it working for everyone?”

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State Government: Transit for Our Future

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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highway-crowdedSenator Smith explores Wisconsin’s future mass transit needs and the importance of local decision making. Better funding sources are needed so we can make the necessary investments.


MADISON - Summer travel season is in full swing. During this busy time, families are crisscrossing through Wisconsin squeezing in those final summer vacations before kids go back to school. Summer is also construction season, causing headaches for everyone trying to get to and from our summer fun.

It seems like we just can’t catch up on road construction, especially on our county and town roads. Fewer and fewer of our tax dollars are returning to our local governments in the form of road aids. It‘s been especially difficult for local municipalities to repair and rebuild roads in our communities.

When we make our travel plans, what are the options? Usually we drive to our destination in Wisconsin or fly to some other state or country. When visiting other places, I’m sure you’ve noticed other travel options such as bus or passenger rail. Travel, like everything else, is always evolving. As we discover how expensive and difficult it is to keep up with road repairs, maybe we should get serious about mass transit options.

Supporting alternative travel methods will become more important whether we are traveling within our cities, to other counties or across our state.

Just think, if you plan to spend a day with the family in Wisconsin Dells or Door County; wouldn’t it be great if you and your family could jump on a train, bypass the traffic, get there safely and actually enjoy the ride? And what if we could connect travelers to towns along the Mississippi River or all the lakes up north? We could explore without the hassle and have a greater opportunity to enjoy the wonders of Wisconsin. Imagine the economic benefits as well. Now, I realize connecting all corners of the state may be a dream at this point, but you can’t accomplish great things if you don’t start dreaming.

Like a garden, we need to plant the seeds, then carefully nurture what we plant until they reach their full potential. That’s why I strongly believe local transit decisions create strong roots for our state’s transportation system to flourish.

If state legislators allowed municipalities to make transit decisions based on their local needs, we would be much further along in meeting the needs of our state as a whole. That’s why I introduced the Chippewa Valley Regional Transit Authority (RTA) idea during the 2009 state budget.

The law allowed local elected officials to design transportation systems to move people throughout the region, including between counties. Chippewa and Eau Claire counties passed the required referendum and appointed their members to the Authority.

In 2011, Republicans repealed the law and stripped our local officials of their power to handle regional transportation planning. Republicans pulled the plug while regional leaders were developing solutions to our local transit challenges.

In the near future, I’ll be reintroducing the Chippewa Valley RTA bill. It was a great idea the first time it passed, and it’s a great idea now. Local governments are better stewards of the public’s trust and they fully understand their unique challenges and how to set their priorities.

jeff-smithIt all boils down to funding. Mass transit investments are hard to come by while we scramble to address the transportation funding crisis. The budget is signed into law now and people can thank Governor Tony Evers for finally taking a step in the right direction for addressing the revenue shortfall and our unsustainable debt. Under Republican leadership, we paid nearly 20 cents of every dollar to debt. Now, we will be paying 18.5 cents per dollar.

Unfortunately, Republicans rejected Governor Evers’ modest 8 cent gas tax increase which would’ve brought in revenue from out-of-state drivers. Instead, Republicans socked Wisconsin drivers (only) with vehicle title fee and registration fee increases. Balancing the road costs solely on the backs of Wisconsin drivers is wrong, especially considering most neighboring states increased their gas tax so we can pay for their roads too.

It’s time to get off this do nothing treadmill. We need to capture out-of-state revenue for our roads, reign in our reliance on debt and move mass transit options ahead.

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Toxic PFAS Threat Grows

Posted by Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Ryan Billingham
Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Ryan Billingham
Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Ryan Billingham has not set their biography yet
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on Sunday, 28 July 2019
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sulfide-mining-runoffDespite mounting evidence linking PFAS to a range of negative health effects including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease, polluters try to minimize it.


MADISON – On Monday, the city of Rhinelander shut down one of its municipal wells after testing indicated the presence of perfluorinated compounds, commonly known as PFAS.

There is mounting evidence linking PFAS to a range of negative health effects including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.

While the city has issued assurances the water is safe and that the well was only one of many that combine to service homes, residents are beginning to take notice and demand action.

Rhinelander is the latest of a growing number of communities across Wisconsin beset by this emerging pollutant, including Marinette, where Tyco Fire Products spread toxic sludge on more than 3,500 acres of farm fields between 1996 and 2017.

This week, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) asked 125 municipalities to begin voluntarily testing for PFAS. The announcement, along with bipartisan proposals to rid Wisconsin’s drinking water of these chemicals, has whipped Wisconsin’s big polluters into a frenzy of misdirection and half-truths.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business organization and one of the biggest spenders on outside electioneering activities and lobbying, issued an irresponsible, hyperbolic statement decrying common sense solutions – like testing and remediation – designed to protect people from PFAS.

clean-drinking-water-womanIn league with the so-called “Water Quality Coalition" – a front group made up of polluters and their enablers – WMC claims that practical steps aimed at protecting people from PFAS will “devastate Wisconsin’s economy” and minimizes the science that links the chemicals to health problems.

Currently, there are no state or federal guidelines on PFAS in drinking water. The steps Wisconsin is taking to both prevent and protect people from toxic drinking water are similar to those other states have adopted, and are modern, sensible, and address this growing problem robustly. They will not destroy the state’s economy – they will protect the state’s people.

“Once these toxins are out in the world, they do not go away,” said Kerry Schumann, executive director of Wisconsin Conservation Voters. “Polluters and the politicians who have enabled them for years are beginning to see yet more evidence that their actions have serious consequences. Unfortunately, it’s their constituents who bear the cost.”

Schumann urged legislators to support the DNR’s effort to set new PFAS standards and pass SB 302/AB 321 to create a comprehensive framework to address this threat to public health.

According to the U.S. EPA, other health effects of PFAS include increased risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension, high cholesterol, liver damage, thyroid disease, asthma, fertility problems, cancer, and decreased responses to vaccines.

Rhinelander sits in Sen. Tom Tiffany’s district. Tiffany has relied heavily on campaign contributions from polluters. WMC has paid Tiffany a total of $18,780. In return, Tiffany has continually enabled the dirtiest industries in the state, and has openly advocated for policies that leave Wisconsinites vulnerable to toxic pollution.

###

Engaging voters to protect Wisconsin's environment.

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Enough of Divide and Conquer Politics

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 24 July 2019
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scott-fitzgeraldWisconsin is a great place to live, work and raise a family because of the unique cities that make up our state. Building relationships between our rural and urban communities makes us stronger.


MADISON - When politicians have no answers, they find a way to distract constituents. Politicians have a knack for finding a scapegoat to blame when a plan is failing. It’s been the game played by politicians for decades.

We’re seeing it played out as Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald turn on their favorite scapegoat: Milwaukee. Republicans have failed our state time and again, they want you to believe Milwaukee is responsible for your expectations not being met.

door-county-peopleThis plan has proven to work for them. They work to anger voters and convince them that somebody else is taking more than their share.

We can’t continue to let politicians divide our state for petty political points. Rather than pitting voters against voters or one city against another, we should be working together for a stronger Wisconsin.

mke-walk-public-schoolsThis isn’t a new strategy for politicians. In 1979, Representative William Gagin (my own representative at the time) said money was going to that “black hole” in Milwaukee when asked why some critical programs were underfunded. Now, you might choose to believe he meant no harm with that statement, but you’d be wrong. It was a racist statement then and is a racist statement now. Fortunately, that statement doomed Gagin from serving another term, but sadly, the idea that Milwaukee is undeserving still exists today.

During former Governor Walker’s campaign in 2010, he blatantly said to one of his billionaire donors that his strategy was to “divide and conquer” our state. These statements by Representative Gagin and Governor Walker define what the political rhetoric is really about – tapping into the fears and biases of rural voters to hold power.

We’re still seeing this game played today. In April, Republican Joint Finance Committee members rejected Governor Evers’ proposal to provide an additional $40 million for replacing lead service lines because they feared Milwaukee would get too much of the funding. Milwaukee and the entire state will miss out on critical lead service line replacements just because Republican leaders claimed most of the additional funding was directed towards Milwaukee.

Just last week, Republican leaders threatened to take a veto override vote to prevent Milwaukee from using additional transportation dollars for their streetcar project. While Milwaukee officials publicly stated they do not plan to use the funds for that project, Republican leaders spread misinformation to villainize Milwaukee and score political points outstate.

milw-brewersWhy do Republican bullies pick on Milwaukee? After all, Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin with plenty of history to make us all proud. The City is known as a manufacturing hub, shipping center, and brewing capital. The City draws in billions of tourism dollars every year and has its spot on the map as a critical freshwater research center. And millions of fans throughout the state cheer on the Brewers and Bucks each year. So, why does the Republican propaganda machine think it’s alright to dis the largest and most culturally diverse city in our state?

jeff-smithWe should treasure these important drivers of our state rather than resent them. We can’t let politicians drive wedges between the cities in our state that make Wisconsin so unique. Republican leaders shouldn’t continue playing divide and conquer political games to pit all of us against each other.

Prosperity throughout Wisconsin is not a zero-sum scenario. If Milwaukee suffers, our whole state suffers. If western Wisconsin prospers, our whole state prospers. Instead of thinking about “giving” or “taking,” we need to think about how we can all work together to make our entire state a great place to live, work and raise a family.

Just like the adage about breaking a bundle of sticks, if we remain together we will be strong. If Republicans continue choosing to divide our state, our future remains less certain. Enough with the political games! Let’s work together to move all of Wisconsin forward.

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Democracy Campaign: Foresight of Justice Stevens

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Friday, 19 July 2019
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wdc-logoMADISON - I was sad when I heard the news that Justice John Paul Stevens had died.

I was sad for personal reasons, since Justice Stevens and my father practiced law together in Chicago for many years and were very close.

And I was sad for political reasons, since Justice Stevens, when he was on the Court and afterwards, used his calm and logical and brilliant voice to advocate for a pro-democracy jurisprudence.

Nowhere was this more obvious than in his scorching dissent in the Citizens United case, and I excerpted some of his most powerful passages here:

Justice Stevens’s Dissent in Citizens United Lives On!

He warned that corporate special interests would have a field day, and so they have, here in Wisconsin, as we pointed out the record spending by corporations and PACs last season:

PAC, Corporate Contributions Hit Record $27M

And we also posted something this week on the record amount spent in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race earlier this year:

2019 Supreme Court Race Cost Record $8.2 Million+

This week, we also weighed in on the issue of the veto power of Wisconsin’s governor, which we have consistently viewed as overbroad:

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign on Gov’s Veto Power

And on Tuesday, there was a jam-packed press conference in the State Capitol in favor of legislation to ban gerrymandering in Wisconsin. Here’s what I said at that press conference:

A Democracy with Fair Play (or watch here)

Those companion bills, by the way, are SB288 and AB303. Please contact your legislators to support those bills, and please contact the chairs of the relevant committees to demand they hold public hearings on them.

matt-rothschildThe chairs of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection are Senator Stroebel (Chair) and Senator Kapenga (Vice-Chair).

The chairs of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections are Representative Tusler (Chair) and Representative Sanfelippo (Vice-Chair).

You can reach state legislators at 1-800-362-9472 or 266-9960 in Madison.

Thanks for your activism on this issue!

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Call for Equal Pay Heard Around the World, Inspires a Nation

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
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on Friday, 12 July 2019
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u.s.womens-soccer-teamThe women’s U.S. soccer team makes us all feel more patriotic, says Sen. Erpenbach, and reminds us that enacting equal pay legislation here in Wisconsin is far overdue.


WEST POINT, WI - After Independence Day last week, we are all feeling a little bit more patriotic, not solely because of the stunning fireworks that lit the sky and the celebration of our independence, but because we were all reminded what it means to be an American.

That same weekend the U.S. women’s soccer team won their fourth World Cup Championship, beating the Netherlands 2-0. This amazing accomplishment of an incredible season of breaking records and triumphant victories was complemented by a swift eruption of chants in support of the team, “equal pay, equal pay.”

This chant followed the players back to the states, as fans showed up to express their support for the team, and their support for equal rights in the workplace. Carrying homemade signs, and throwing confetti out windows, women, men, and children alike celebrated the victory together, and continued their call for equal pay.

There is no doubt that the U.S. women’s soccer team made history, in multiple ways, but their ability to inspire a nation, and bring people from all sides of the aisle together is a truly amazing accomplishment.

So what now? Truthfully, it is sad that in 2019, we are still having this discussion. Everyone deserves equal pay for equal work. It doesn’t matter if you are a world-renowned athlete or not - regardless of your profession, everyone deserves to be fairly compensated for their hard work; free from discrimination based on gender.

Wisconsin has always been a leader when it came to women’s rights. In fact, in June 1919, Wisconsin became the first state to officially ratify the 19th amendment granting national suffrage to women, giving them the right to vote. Additionally, in 2009, Wisconsin had passed an Equal Pay Enforcement Act Law, which ensured fair-pay.

However, Republicans repealed the law in 2012. In doing so, Republicans made it more difficult for women to seek missed compensation due to discrimination. Instead of being able to file a complaint with a state agency, they must engage in a long and drawn-out lawsuit in the courts. Women’s rights have been under attack throughout the United States, and it is disappointing that steps towards equality got overturned.

On average, women in Wisconsin earn 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, and that gap is larger for women of color. This pay discrepancy makes it difficult for Wisconsin to have a full and thriving economy. Women make up nearly half of Wisconsin’s workforce, and 1/3 of households are headed by women.

jon-erpenbachThe numbers are clear. If women received equal pay for equal work, it would help grow our economy all over the state. With more disposable income, families would have an easier time making large purchases, such as homes and cars, and would be able to enjoy more time supporting local businesses within our communities.

By not paying women their fair share, we are hurting our state monumentally. In order for our communities to thrive, we need to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Knowingly discriminating against workers based on their gender, rather than what they bring to the table, hinders our economy, and our ability to compete in a global market.

The women’s U.S. soccer team made me feel more patriotic because it reminded me of what makes America an amazing place to live. It is our ability to see injustices within society, and to openly fight for what is right. It is the masses who show up to support our teams, and find common ground, even during distressing times.

With all this said, and as we enter the second half of 2019, we know that enacting equal pay legislation is far overdue. It is time for us to end discrimination in the workplace, and endorse equal pay for equal work. As the chant goes, “U.S.A., Equal Pay.”

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Wisconsin Government: Trust the Voters

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 10 July 2019
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wisc-capitol-domeSen. Smith writes about the history of gerrymandering and the consequences this practice has for voters. Our state needs redistricting reform and fair maps to ensure all Wisconsin voices are heard.


MADISON - Redistricting is right around the corner in 2021. New legislative and congressional district maps will be drawn up after the census by the political party in charge. Gerrymandered maps will give the party in charge a secure advantage for the next 10 years.

The term gerrymandering is well-known, but many people don’t know its origins. It comes from a man named Elbridge Gerry. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a delegate to the Continental Congress, a congressman and elected as Governor of Massachusetts. He even served as our nation’s 5th Vice President under James Madison.

While Gerry served as Governor of Massachusetts, he worked with Democratic-Republicans to draw legislative districts to ensure his Party’s control of the State Senate for years. One of the districts looked like a salamander, so the term for drawing oddly-shaped, politically disenfranchising districts has been called “gerrymandering” ever since.

In those times when we recently escaped the governing style of kings we were still slow to embrace the idea that government was to be created by the people and for the people. Elbridge Gerry, and many in our newly formed Republic, did not trust voters to determine our government.

Leap ahead to the Twentieth Century, and politicians still don’t trust voters. Paul Weyrich is also someone most people may not have heard of before. Weyrich is known for co-founding numerous conservative think tanks, such as The Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Think tanks seek power, are backed by money and don’t trust voters. Weyrich, a native of Racine, was famously recorded speaking at a religious conference in 1980 when he said, “Too many Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome, good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote…our leverage in elections goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Egregious gerrymandering has occurred in state legislatures held by Democrats as well as Republicans. When power is at stake, power brokers will do anything to bypass voters. Gerrymandering has become the most lethal tool against democracy.

jeff-smithThe recent gerrymandering ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) should have us all concerned. In a 5-4 decision, the court dismissed gerrymandering cases by numerous states. They acknowledged the threat of gerrymandering to our democracy, but said it’s not up to federal courts to decide. Even if SCOTUS ruled gerrymandering unconstitutional, we still need redistricting reform.

Advancements in algorithms and modern computing gives political Parties the tools to make perfectly gerrymandered maps. The way to make competitive and fair maps is to allow an independent commission to draw maps.

To date, 47 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have passed resolutions demanding nonpartisan redistricting reform. Despite overwhelming support by voters, the legislature ignores calls for reform.

The consequences of gerrymandering aren’t apparent to all voters, but here’s how gerrymandering affects the way your legislators act. Legislators should be responsive to the people. Gerrymandering creates “safe” districts for legislators. It makes them less willing to listen. Instead, legislators only fear their partisan leaders because their Party will challenge them in the primary election if they don’t toe the party line. Competitive districts will yield more responsive leaders.

If you think your representative is there for you, think again. Voters need to demand that legislators pledge support for nonpartisan redistricting. If they don’t, voters need to replace them with someone who does.

I pledge to support nonpartisan redistricting reform. Tell others to get their senators and representatives to take the pledge too.

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Independence and Freedom for All

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 03 July 2019
in Wisconsin

4th-statue-fireworksAs we celebrate our country’s independence on July 4th, it’s important for us to remember the incredible progress we’ve made and to look forward to the work that must be done for all Americans to truly celebrate their freedom.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - When we think of the 4th of July, we often think of parades, fireworks and gatherings throughout our community. It’s a day of remembrance and pride for our country. It’s the day we officially recognize that our forefathers declared our independence as a separate nation.

The Declaration of Independence serves as a symbol of freedom and promise of equal opportunities for future generations of Americans. After 243 years, we recognize that we’re still growing as a country and struggling to achieve the original goals our forefathers agreed upon in 1776. We’re aware that our country’s politics have made it difficult for many people to truly celebrate their independence.

The Declaration includes the memorable line, “all men are created equal.” As we celebrate Independence Day, I urge you to think about the work ahead of us to ensure everyone has equitable access to freedom and opportunity that our country was founded on.

It’s been a slow, arduous struggle for women to gain a more equitable status to men in our country. In 1848, activists organized the first women’s rights convention and women adopted their own Declaration of Independence. It wasn’t until 1920 women were finally granted the right to vote. It’s mind boggling now that women weren’t able to apply for credit on their own until the Equal Opportunity Act passed in 1974.

Women finally had more freedom over their own bodies when they could make the decision to have a legal abortion in 1973. In 1978, women could no longer be fired for being pregnant. And in 1993, marital rape was criminalized. We still have a long way to go to ensure women’s bodies and their status and compensation in the workplace are treated equally to men.

Our original declaration in this country did not consider the rights of people of color, despite the phrase, all men are created equal… In fact, laws were passed to protect slavery, which drove our southern economy in the 18th Century and even after emancipation well into the 19th Century. Thus, it was controversial when the original draft of the Declaration of Independence included a passage that called for the abolition of slavery. There was not enough support for these seemingly radical demands at the time and it was stricken from the final document.

Of course, slavery was not abolished until 1865. Beyond emancipation, rights for all people of color has been an ongoing struggle as Jim Crow laws, limiting voting rights and other discriminatory practices have made real racial equality elusive.

There always seems to be battles for different segments of our population.

jeff-smithDuring the past month we celebrated the hard-fought achievements for equality within the LGBTQ community. Throughout our country’s history, laws have criminalized individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Many states, passed laws to ban marriage, adoption, medical access and inheritance for citizens who were gay. People could be fired and even denied hiring if they were gay. As recent as 1986, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could make homosexual sodomy a crime, a clear indication that these laws were targeting only one segment of the population.

If we truly want this to be a nation where all persons are created equal we must continue to raise our voices and we must remain diligent. Rights can be eroded so easily when we forget our neighbors who are different from us.

During June, we observed Wisconsin’s 100th anniversary of ratifying the 19th amendment, Juneteenth Day and Pride Month. These celebrations remind us of the incredible progress we have made. On July 4th, let’s remember these historical achievements and look forward to the work that must be done for all Americans to truly celebrate their freedom.

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