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Divided, but Not Broken Government

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator Elect District 31 has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 02 January 2019
in Wisconsin

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sen. Vinehout "Saying Goodbye"

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

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


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

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

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

I’d say, I did pretty darn good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This kind of situation tears at my heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Conversations with Constituents

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Republicans need a lesson in sportsmanship

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Last Minute Kimberly-Clark Agreement Protects Taxpayers and Workers

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

State legislative writer Jay Wadd contributed to this story.

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