Friday December 9, 2022

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Celebrate 150 Years of Eau Claire

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, 16 February 2022
in Wisconsin

eauclairebridgeSen. Jeff Smith writes about the city’s history and shares his experience growing up, owning a business and raising a family in Eau Claire.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - History always fascinates me. I grew up on the north side of Eau Claire and was surrounded by history. This year, the City of Eau Claire is celebrating its 150th birthday, which got me thinking about my upbringing in Eau Claire—how my life has been shaped so much by the history and culture of the area.

My family’s story in Eau Claire began before I was even born. My parents moved from Superior to Eau Claire so my father could start a small, family business—one that I’d later take over. Although the area was new to my parents, they recognized the opportunity that Eau Claire presented.

When I was growing up, I used to walk the train tracks behind my family’s house to get to McDonough City Park where I played in the summer and skated in the winter. It was through a city program at the park when I first began to learn of Eau Claire’s history.

The history of west-central Wisconsin can be traced back centuries. The Dakota and Ojibwe Nations lived in this area long before white settlers appeared. We cannot study the history of our nation, state and region without acknowledging who was here before us.

The confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers was strategic for commerce and travel in the early days of developing western Wisconsin. While there’s much written about the early French explorers and fur traders that came through the area, it was an English traveler named Jonathan Carver who first wrote of the area in 1767.

uwec-campusIt wasn’t until the 1850s when more families called the area home. A sawmill was established around this time, which was the catalyst for a flourishing logging industry that resulted in the incorporation of a city in 1872 that we know as Eau Claire.

Behind our house were railroad tracks that had been used to transport the products from the logging industry so many years before. Below the tracks is Dells Pond where logging companies floated their product before milling them into the lumber that built much of the Midwest. There are remnants of logs to this day that sunk into the waters of Dells Pond.

By the 1890s there were seventy-five sawmills and factories in Eau Claire. It’s how we became known as Sawdust City. Visitors can still learn about the logging era around Eau Claire in the Paul Bunyan Camp and museum located in Carson Park.

By the early 20th Century, logging was dying out. By then, though, other industries found Eau Claire. In 1916 a college was founded that was to become UW-Eau Claire. In 1917 a fellow named Raymond Gillette started a rubber factory and began producing tires for the burgeoning automobile industry.

I got around Eau Claire during the summers on my bike. In the 1960s Birch Street was a main thoroughfare for traffic to reach highway 53. It wasn’t safe to ride a bike on Birch Street to reach downtown, so the route I took from my home on Starr Avenue was Galloway Street, which took me past the tire factory. The factory, Uniroyal, closed in 1992 but I can clearly still recall the smell of rubber from the factory.

jeff-smithThe neighborhood I lived in and across the river on the east hill consisted of many of the 2,000 workers in that factory. Eau Claire really was a factory town much of the 20th Century with good union jobs supplied by the tire factory, the paper mill and Presto.

Eau Claire has changed a lot since I was a kid, but one thing still rings true: we have deep pride in our community. We’re a city of hard workers and a community that looks out for one another. Our city has grown over the years, becoming more diverse and cultivating a reputation in the arts.

I grew up, owned a small business and raised a family in Eau Claire. I’m proud to represent Eau Claire and all of my friends and neighbors as a legislator today.

Here’s to reflecting on our city’s past and looking forward to the many years ahead!

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Defend Our Freedom to Vote!

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Saturday, 12 February 2022
in Wisconsin

vote-unlockOn Monday, I testified before Senator Kathy Bernier’s Senate Committee on Elections, Election Process Reform, and Ethics about a bunch of anti-voter bills that I go into here:

A Barrage of Bad Election Bills

And yesterday, my colleague Iuscely Flores wrote about some important pro-voter bills:

Unlock The Vote to Eradicate Ages Old Jim Crow Legislation

So I’m hoping you’ll contact your legislators and urge them to support the good bills to Unlock the Vote and oppose the barrage of bad ones.

And also, please urge Gov. Evers to veto any anti-voter bills that land on his desk.

Go here for information on how to contact your legislator or the Governor.

Thanks for defending our freedom to vote!

Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

***

P.S. Please send us a donation so we can keep fighting for our fundamental freedoms. It’s simply: Just click here. Or mail a check the old-fashioned way to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, 203 S. Paterson St, Suite 100, Madison, WI 53703. Thanks for your support!

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Trust is Complicated

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 09 February 2022
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearing-inSen. Jeff Smith writes about the importance of earned trust and doing one’s own research before making conclusions.


BRUNSWICK, WI - I’ve learned a lot about building and holding one’s trust, especially as an elected official. Trust can be elusive especially when the facts we find don’t align with the rhetoric. When claims are verified with facts, trust is earned.

Trust can be puzzling too when it’s given without any question or verification of facts. When we hear or read statements that align with our beliefs we might automatically trust the source. It’s not earned, but we want it to be true.

Politics is all about trust. Earned and unearned.

My office receives constant emails proposing new ideas or legislation. Some are informed and original while many are generated from misinformation campaigns. It’s common for groups to send out messages warning anyone who is on their site or receive their emails about bills they don’t like. They will have their own reasons. They may be legitimate reasons, but they may also be for selfish or political reasons.

Last week we heard a bill during a public hearing for the Committee on Utilities, Technology and Telecommunications. Senate Bill 838 was introduced by Republican members in the committee. In a nutshell, this proposal preserves Wisconsin’s control over electric transmission decisions through the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, our state’s regulators.

What does this have to do with trust? Before the public hearing folks were getting emails and seeing Facebook messages saying this bill would do terrible things. They were told their electric rates would go through the roof.

Trusting their source, folks put their names on form letters declaring their opposition to this bill and we needed to vote “no.” They gave their trust without verification.

The reality is, there is no proof that rates will go up or have gone up in places that already passed similar legislation. My colleagues on the committee and I asked lots of questions. When asked if rates had been affected in other states, those opposed to the bill had to admit they hadn’t.

Throughout the discussion we only got the usual conjecture and political ideology that led individuals testifying against the bill to believe that rate increases are inevitable. Oddly, they used the fact that rates have gone up around 10% over the last decade with no evidence it was caused by policies like this. The legislation being proposed is not current law and has nothing to do with rates during the past decade.

Building new transmission lines and the emerging infrastructure for the 21st Century is expensive. It gets more expensive with delays and missteps, which is what states have found when the bidding process is too loose and left to oversimplification. This bill prevents unnecessary costs and preserves what little control our state has over our energy needs.

Wisconsin’s rates are high because these same groups that misled people last week misled people a decade ago when Wisconsin tried enacting legislation to produce our own renewable energy. Do we want to be at the mercy of out-of-state entities? It’s already happening, but we can stop it now. This bill is a bi-partisan effort to preserve local control. We don’t have enough of that cooperation in Madison these days.

jeff-smithI know it might be asking a lot of anyone, but it’s wise to get both sides of an argument before handing over your trust. Better yet, every bill proposed has an analysis that is relatively easy to read and it’s written by our non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau.

Before posting cruel comments or lending your name to emails someone else has composed for you, take the time to look up the bill or ask questions of the bill authors.

Honesty and trustworthiness are fundamental to building relationships and accomplishing our goals. When trust is given without justification it is fragile and will often lead to a disappointing conclusion. Then, trust becomes even harder to earn.

When trust is earned it can be lasting and meaningful, but it must constantly be earned again and again. That’s how it should be.

Trust is important. Don’t give it up too easily.

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A Barrage of Bad Election Bills

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 09 February 2022
in Wisconsin

voting-dropboxMatt's testimony to the Senate Committee on Elections, Election Process Reform, and Ethics in Opposition to SB 934, SB 935, SB 936, SB 937, SB 939, SB 940, SB 941, SB 943, and SJR 101 on February 7, 2022


MADISON - Distinguished Chair and other Distinguished Members of this Committee:

I’m Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Since 1995, we’ve been tracking and exposing the money in Wisconsin politics, and we’ve been advocating for a broad range of pro-democracy reforms.

Before I get going, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the tremendous public service that the chair of this committee has rendered in her career, first as a county clerk, then as a member of the Assembly, and most recently here in the Senate.

We may not agree on a lot of ideological issues, Madame Chair, but we certainly agree on the need to defend our democracy. I really appreciate your outspokenness on this bedrock principle, and your frank acknowledgment of the severity of the threat posed to our democracy by those who refuse to accept the legitimacy of the 2020 elections and instead peddle one lie after another and one smear after another for their own political gain or personal gratification.

You’ve been a profile of courage, and you’ll be missed, and I wish you all the best in your retirement.

I’ve got some specific problems with many of these bills, as well as with the Joint Resolution.

But rather than go tediously through that itemization, let me instead make a few general remarks and then offer just a couple germane points, if I might.

First, I would like to underline an observation that Republican Senator Rob Cowles has made about our elections. He noted that our elections are “safe and secure.”

Second, there has been a drumbeat of baseless accusations and character assassinations against the dedicated administrator and the tireless staff of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which has got to stop. It’s grossly unfair to them, and if it keeps up, we won’t be able to attract any talented people to administer our elections in this state.

And third, the endless fishing expedition being conducted by Michael Gableman and the constant smoke machine that some other partisans keep revving up about the November 2020 elections only serve to undermine the faith of the Wisconsin public in our elections and in our democracy.

That’s not healthy. And that’s got to stop, too.

And frankly, I worry that, when taken as a whole, the barge carrying all these new bills today may also be billowing out more smoke.

This is not to say that I disagree with everything in all these bills. Not at all. For instance, the bills by the Chair clarify a lot of processes and terms that needed clarification.

And I certainly agree that we should set clear rules for our elections, but let’s make sure that those rules are fair.
And let’s protect our freedom to vote rather than erect one barrier after another to the exercise of that fundamental freedom.

Unfortunately, some of these bills do erect such barriers.

First of all, two bills would make voting by absentee ballot more difficult for all voters in Wisconsin.

SB 935 would render an absentee ballot null and void for the pettiest of reasons. For instance, if I’m a witness for the absentee voter and I print my name, and I sign my name, and I put Madison, WI, down as my residence but I neglect to put my street down, should the voter I’m witnessing be disqualified because of that omission? The bill says yes, and that seems ridiculous to me. Even requiring a witness seems like a stretch to me, since the voter already is swearing about his or her identity. Now to make the witness have to fill out everything just right or the voter’s ballot is disqualified just adds another way to toss a perfectly good ballot into the waste basket.

SB 939 would prohibit the Wisconsin Elections Commission or any local clerk from sending out absentee ballot applications, en masse, to registered voters, as was prudently done during the pandemic. Our ability to exercise our freedom to vote by mail should not be needlessly curtailed by this blanket prohibition. Why shouldn’t the Elections Commission be allowed to do this? If we want more people to be able to exercise their freedom to vote in our democracy, sending everyone an absentee ballot application makes sense, in general. And in specific, it makes a whole lot of sense during a pandemic. But this bill would nix both those options.

Second, one bill would make voting by absentee ballot especially more difficult for those in residential care facilities or retirement homes.

SB 935 would paternalistically require the notification of relatives of residents in long-term care facilities or retirement homes as to when special voting deputies are going to be there. Residents don’t need their relatives looking over their shoulders when they’re voting. This is an invasion of their privacy. Unless they have a legal guardian, residents should not have their freedom to vote interfered with in this obnoxious manner. What if they don’t get along with “the relatives for whom the home or facility has contact information”? What business is it of the relatives, seriously?

SB 935 would also needlessly prohibit a personal care voting assistant from helping any resident of a residential care facility or qualified retirement home to register to vote. If the personal care voting assistant is there to help the resident fill out an absentee ballot, why can’t the assistant help the resident register to vote? That distinction makes no sense. Plus, nursing homes that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding are required to support the residents’ right to vote. That should include supporting residents who want to register to vote.

Third, one of the bills, SB 934, could erroneously toss voters from the voting rolls.

This bill would have the Wisconsin Elections Commission rely on the Electronic Registration Information Center (otherwise known as ERIC) to determine whether a voter has moved. Following that determination, the Commission must send a letter or a postcard to the voter. If the voter doesn’t respond, the voter becomes unregistered. The problem with this is that the Wisconsin Election Commission’s own data in 2020 showed that 7.07 percent of the voters who became unregistered because of ERIC’s data actually had never moved and were wrongly deactivated. Such a high error is not acceptable when it comes to our freedom to vote.

Fourth, several of these bills would hog-tie the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

SB 940 would allow the Joint Finance Committee to gouge the staff or the funds of the Elections Commission if Joint Finance, on its own, says that the Elections Commission or the Department of Transportation or the Department of Corrections or the Department of Health Services failed to comply with any election law. That would give Joint Finance a huge whip over the heads of the Elections Commission, with no decent check on that unilateral power.

SB 941 would give the Joint Finance Committee and the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules the authority to block federal funds and federal guidance, which will make it very difficult for the Commission to do its job. It’s also of dubious constitutionality: States aren’t allowed to disregard federal guidance on the conduct of federal elections, for instance.

SB 941 would also inject hyper-partisanship at the staff level by mandating that each major political party gets its own legal counsel on the staff of the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The last thing we need is more partisan haggling at the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

SB 943 would require the Elections Commission to be nit-picked and hyper-monitored by the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules. Every week, the Elections Commission would have to give to JCRAR “all documents and communications from the commission that the commission issued in the previous week that are applicable to municipal clerks generally and qualify as guidance documents.” Are you going to allow the Elections Commission to do its job, or are you going to kill it by a thousand cuts?

matt-rothschild-2018So these are some of my biggest concerns.

Above all, I would appreciate it if we could all agree that:

  1. The November 2020 elections were legitimate and move on,
  2. The staff of the Wisconsin Elections Commission has been doing an admirable job under incredibly difficult circumstances, and
  3. In Wisconsin, and in America, we all should have our freedom to vote protected.

Thanks for considering my views, and I welcome any questions you might have.

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Wis Democracy Campaign - The Roots of Anti-Democracy

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Saturday, 05 February 2022
in Wisconsin

anti-democracyMADISON - I’ve been giving lots of talks lately about the dangerous threats to our democracy, and I wanted to share my latest one with you, which explores the roots of the anti-democracy movement we’re facing right now:

The Roots of the Anti-Democracy Movement

This week, our research team tracked the money that corporations gave to political parties and legislative campaign committees last year. Find out which companies gave the most here:

State Parties, Legislative Campaign Committees Accepted $1.3M in Corporate Contributions in 2021

And our research team profiled Betsy DeVos’s public school privatization group, which has spent more than $8 million in Wisconsin since 2010 to elect Republican legislators who will siphon off your tax dollars and give them to private schools:

Influence Peddler for February 2022 – American Federation for Children

Meanwhile, our Racial Equity and Economic Justice Advocate Iuscely Flores wrote about the misplaced priorities of Republicans in our legislature when it comes to combating crime:

We Say Defund, Republicans Say Fund, Fund Fund!

matt-rothschildThanks, as always, for supporting our work, and I hope you have a nice weekend.

Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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