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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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Gronik Supports Supreme Court Balance of Power Candidate

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,

Andy Gronik

Former Candidate for Governor of Wisconsin

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A Tribute to the Dean of the Senate

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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