Friday December 9, 2022

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Biden’s Economic Boom is Strong for Wisconsin

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, 02 February 2022
in Wisconsin

milw-city-workersSen. Jeff Smith writes about the significant steps we’ve made to boost our economy and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic since President Biden was sworn in.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - Nothing comes easy. I’m sure you’ve heard that before from a parent or teacher when you encountered unexpected obstacles while trying to get something done. I have to remind myself of that with almost every project I take on. Patience and persistence can become your greatest asset when facing challenges like these.

It’s no different in the world of politics. When important issues need to be addressed, you’ll always run into different sets of challenges. But once a project is complete or new policy is adopted we quickly forget how hard it was to get there. It’s so easy to take for granted something that didn’t even exist just a short time ago. With that in mind it’s necessary to reflect on the good things that we’ve recently accomplished as we consider the challenges in front of us.

If you’re following the news, you know a lot of focus has been on the fact that Congress can’t seem to agree on voting rights, the filibuster rules and issues, like accessible child care and college affordability. But let’s remember all that’s been accomplished since the beginning of 2021.

Faced with a spiraling economy brought on by a pandemic, the Biden Administration needed to make big things happen. Not the least of which was to improve access to COVID-19 vaccinations as quickly as possible. Despite divisive political rhetoric and some initial reluctance, more than 200 million shots were given in 2021.

When you consider where we were a year ago following the shocking attack on our nation’s capital, who would have thought President Biden would have been able to move us forward at all? It seemed unthinkable at the time that he would pass the largest American investment package or the largest infrastructure bill in history—but he did.

At the beginning of the pandemic the national unemployment rate was at 15% but by getting over 6 million Americans back to work, it’s now below 4%. In Wisconsin, it’s even better. Thanks to Governor Evers’ leadership, we’re at a record-low 2.8% unemployment rate.

Last week, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released projections indicating the state general fund balance will have a $3.8 billion surplus at the end of the 2021-23 biennium; this is nearly $2.9 billion more than we expected in June 2021. Governor Evers announced his plan to invest this surplus to provide a $150 refund to every Wisconsin resident, provide $131.8 million in targeted tax relief to caregivers and families and invest almost $750 million in our schools.

jeff-smithDespite elevated inflation, Americans’ incomes were higher in 2021 than they were in 2019 and 2020. In addition, in just one year our country has made real progress in cutting the unacceptably high rate of child poverty in America by 40%. We are building critical infrastructure for our children today and for future generations of Americans.

Although there are still many challenges we must still address, we’ve made significant steps thus far to boost our economy. This “Biden Boom” has been particularly strong for American workers, who have access to better-paying jobs and are seeing their wages grow. It makes me excited to see what the next three years bring after what we’ve seen in just the first year.

Governor Evers has faced obstructionist politics in Wisconsin, but he has been able to show real progress with genuine leadership, patience and persistence from his office. While Republicans fiddle with unreasonable and politically-motivated bills, Governor Evers continues to conduct a full orchestra of policy to keep Wisconsin moving. It’s not a fluke that we have record low unemployment and historic budget surplus projections.

It’s easy to dwell on the headlines, but don’t let them bury the success stories happening around us. There will always be politicians who choose to spend their time chasing unicorns. In the meantime, true public servants are making sure we come out of this pandemic stronger than ever.

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It’s On Us to Invest in Innovation

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, 26 January 2022
in Wisconsin

wind-farm-wiSen. Jeff Smith writes about the new ideas and strategies that will help us build more resilient communities and a sustainable future for Wisconsin in the 21st Century.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - The 20th Century was an amazing time for technological advancements. For instance, people had been trying to fly for centuries, but in 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright made it happen. That was just the beginning. A dozen years later airplanes were being used in World War I.

In the decades following, airplanes became a regular part of our lives because of commercial flights. And, of course, Americans began circling the planet in space by the 1960s and on the moon in 1969. This goes to show what we can do in a relatively short time with innovative ideas and a motivation to achieve great things.

We’re seeing a new spark of innovation in the 21st Century to build more resilient communities and a sustainable future for Wisconsin. Like the innovators of the past, leaders today are taking charge to identify new ideas and best strategies to improve life as we know it – and the stakes couldn’t be any higher.

Inventors introduced technologies that were ahead of their time, motivated by fame, cost savings or simply, to benefit the common good. Take the electric car, for example. If you do a little research you’ll find an interesting history of electric vehicles that goes back to the mid-19th century. By 1923 the company, Detroit Electric, had their car traveling 25 MPH with a range of 80 miles. Unfortunately, electric cars weren’t a commercial success back then because of the cost. In 1923, a Ford Model T were less than $300 while electric vehicles were ten times that cost.

Today, many innovators are focused on protecting our shared future. Scientists at the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that if we don’t take the necessary steps to cut human carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, it will be too late. Reversing the damage already done is a big challenge and may even be impossible. Putting a stop to further damage is something we can do. We just have to be motivated.

As policymakers, we’re often asked if the cost of inaction outweighs the initial investment. In this case, we can’t afford to delay our response any longer.

Economists at one of the world’s largest insurance providers, Swiss Re, estimates the world economy will lose $23 trillion by 2050 because of the effects of climate change including heat waves, flooding and drought. With climate changes repercussions we’re already experiencing, we will continue seeing losses in agricultural production, more spread of disease and the destruction of coastal cities due to rising water levels. That’s an economic reality, one that will affect all of our pocketbooks.

jeff-smithI’m not writing this to scare you, though it should — it’s about motivating all of us. What does it take to be motivated to preserve the planet and way of life we enjoy? Will it be financial savings for you? Maybe your motivation is to protect your family’s health. You may be motivated by a deep passion for environmental conservation. Whatever it may be, now is the time for each of us to discover that motivation and act.

In November, I introduced the Forward on Climate legislative package with Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine). The package includes twenty-two bills to create good, family-supporting jobs, reduce inequality, and fight climate change through Wisconsin-centered policy. Many of the bills I’m lead author of will enable Wisconsin farmers, businesses and families to implement innovative practices to address climate change on the local level.

One proposal establishes a sustainable agriculture grant program to support our farmers in developing inventive conservation measures to slow down the pace of climate change. Another bill would help homeowners make sustainable upgrades to their property to reduce carbon emissions while building long-term savings. I’m also proud of the proposal to create climate-focused scholarships to prepare the next generation to be the innovators and leaders we’ll need.

Procrastinating or expecting someone else to fix this problem is unacceptable. Certainly for policymakers, we must act now. Our motivation should be clear as day. We must vow to protect our state, our nation and its citizens. No excuses.

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Don’t Expand Gableman’s Role

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, 21 January 2022
in Wisconsin

michael-gableman-we-the-poepleMatt Rothschild makes statement to the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections opposing the motion to enlarge the scope of the special counsel's role.

MADISON - 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 advocating for a broad range of pro-democracy reforms.

We strongly object to this motion to enlarge the scope of the special counsel’s role for the following eight reasons.

Problem #1: This motion violates the separation of powers by giving the special counsel prosecutorial powers.

It would allow Gableman to interview citizens in private, behind closed doors with no legislative oversight. There is no statute or rule that allows for this type of private, quasi-deposition and secretive process, and the people of Wisconsin rightfully expect transparency in their lawmaking and from their legislature. The legislature is not supposed to be in the prosecution business. That role properly resides in the executive branch.

Problem #2: The special counsel has a preconceived bias that makes him unsuited for this job.

Just days after the election, Michael Gableman, at a partisan Republican rally, said: "Our elected leaders — your elected leaders — have allowed unelected bureaucrats at the Wisconsin Elections Commission to steal our vote.” Someone who has made such a slanderous accusation and has demonstrated such a preconceived bias should not be in charge of the investigation. The accuser should not become the prosecutor.

Problem #3: Staff members of the special counsel have the same preconceived bias that disqualifies them from their jobs and that reinforces the disqualifying bias of the special counsel.

Gableman’s chief of staff, Andrew Kloster, also has said that the election was stolen. What’s more, he said in April that conservatives need their own “irate hooligans” like the Proud Boys and “our own captured DA offices to let our boys off the hook.” This is an incitement to rightwing vigilante violence and to corrupt enforcement of the law! Other staff members are similarly biased. One of his investigators, Ron Heuer, is the president of the Wisconsin Voters Alliance, which unsuccessfully sued to prevent the Wisconsin Elections Commission from certifying the election and sought instead to have the Republican-controlled Legislature pick the representatives Wisconsin sent to the Electoral College. These partisan biases could not be more glaring or more disqualifying.

Problem #4: The special counsel has shown that he does not have the background or skills necessary for this job.

The special counsel admitted in public that he doesn’t have “any understanding of how elections work.” So why he is in charge? He also has shown extraordinary sloppiness in the way he’s been doing his job. Example 1: He subpoenaed Dominion voting machines from Madison and Green Bay when neither Madison nor Green Bay uses Dominion voting machines. Example 2: He asked Green Bay and Madison for all information about voters held by their computer systems, but that could include information like birth dates, driver’s license numbers, and addresses. Voters have an expectation that their personal information will not be treated with such callousness.

Problem #5: The special counsel does not have the proper temperament for this job.

The special counsel interrupted and berated members of this very Committee in previous “public” hearings in a way that no witness in memory has gotten away with. Also at one of these hearings, the special counsel, by name, accused one of the most senior Capitol reporters in our state as being an “activist.” And the special counsel also said that State Senator Kathy Bernier, chair of the Senate Committee on Elections, should resign. Such outbursts reveal a serious character flaw that should disqualify Gableman from this office.

Problem #6: The special counsel is squandering the public’s resources with no endpoint in sight.

The office of the special counsel has already cost the taxpayers of Wisconsin $676,000. The boundless motion to expand his role would keep the meter running overtime. It’s the very definition of a blank check. Speaker Vos, who originally appointed Gableman, said that the special counsel should wrap up his work last October, and then the Speaker extended that to the end of the last year, and then to the end of this January, and then to the end of February. And now the Committee’s motion would extend it even further, with no end in sight. This constant shifting of the goalposts does a disservice to the public, and to the public’s wallet.

Problem #7: The special counsel is serving not the public interest but a narrow partisan interest.

The November 2020 elections are now more than 14 months old. Donald Trump went 0-60 in the courts, including 0-3 at the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He demanded a recount in Dane County and Milwaukee County, and the recount found the same result. The Legislative Audit Bureau examined our elections, and according to Sen. Rob Cowles, co-chair of the Legislative Audit Committee, the audit showed that our elections are “safe and secure.” Even the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty found that there was no widespread fraud. Sen. Bernier has denounced the endless beating of this dead horse as a “charade.” And yet it continues. Not in search of the truth, but for other reasons:

  • to provide some post-facto justification for the Big Lie that spills out of Donald Trump’s mouth right after he says good morning
  • to back up the regurgitation of that lie by the likes of Michael Gableman and others
  • to feed rancid red meat to the zealous base of the Trump wing of the Republican Party
  • and to keep that base agitated through the elections of 2022 and 2024.

Our tax dollars should not be squandered for such hyper-partisan purposes.

Problem #8: The special counsel’s ceaseless casting of aspersions about the legitimacy of the November 2020 elections undermines the people’s faith in our democracy.

matt-rothschild-2018There has been an unprecedented attempt, nationwide and here in Wisconsin, by the Trumpite wing of the Republican Party to sabotage our American way of political life. Never before have we seen a President not vow to have a peaceful transition of power. Never before have we seen anything like the Jan. 6 coup attempt. And still people like Michael Gableman claim that the election was “rigged.” These are like parents at a high school game screaming at the refs in the parking lot more than a year after the game ended. It would be pathetic if it weren’t so dangerous to our democracy and our freedom to vote.

Thank you for considering my views.


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A Lesson on Equality

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, 19 January 2022
in Wisconsin

mlk-flagSen. Smith writes about the life work of Dr. Martin Luther King and how it influenced his own thoughts on the meaning of equality.

BRUNSWICK, WI - What does equality mean to you? It’s a question on most Americans’ minds as we come together to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in communities across America, including Eau Claire. For this year’s MLK Day Celebration, we’re asked to reflect on his life’s work and the meaning of equality.

Dr. King championed the issue of equality as an activist during the Civil Rights Movement. He advocated for the “full realization of the American dream … A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.”

When considering what Dr. King said, we understand there’s so much more to achieving equality than removing the shackles of slavery. Working toward Dr. King’s vision of the American Dream requires us to understand historical barriers that prevent equitable advancement opportunities in our country.

Dr. King identified the realities of inequality throughout many aspects in American life, including obvious economic inequalities. The “necessities” of our everyday life–healthcare, a good-paying job, basic human rights–can be lost or unattainable for some because of policies adopted by political leaders. While some policies deliberately widen the gap of inequality, some policies may be an oversight with unintended consequences. Either way, policies that harm Americans, and adversely affect groups one over the other, must be addressed.

That was the intent, of course, when slavery was finally abolished. And yet, we know equality wasn’t achieved because of this one act. Another hundred years of oppression toward African Americans followed because some leaders and those in positions of privilege weren’t willing to be equal with their fellow Americans.

Equality happens only when opportunities are present for all, not just those privileged at the top. We can still have diversity in what we do and how we live. Equality means that no family should suffer in poverty. It should mean that nobody should be homeless or struggle with inadequate housing.

As Dr. King raised his own credibility on the national scene, he was able to also raise the consciousness of a nation. He earned the trust of Americans through his diplomacy and insistence of a non-violent movement. Despite being arrested thirty times, he never bowed to violent measures and found other ways to prevail.

While his first goal may have been to stop Jim Crow laws, he expanded his own advocacy after his success following the March on Washington in 1963 to include equal housing, fair wages and voting rights for all U.S. citizens regardless of one’s skin color.

jeff-smithSo, what is your image of equality? Most of us have lived with the privilege of not knowing oppression or the lack of opportunity to better ourselves. Personally, I know I live with this privilege because I haven’t experienced discrimination firsthand.

It takes critical thinking to recognize policies don’t always present the best outcomes for everybody. It takes even more for each of us to openly admit that we could do better to lift up our fellow citizens. Equality must be a reality in our daily life in order to live the life we thought this country was designed to deliver. A free and equal education system, food security, affordable housing, guaranteed livable wages and access to voting for all eligible citizens—these are just some of the necessities that make us truly equitable.

Dr. King proclaimed in his “I Have a Dream” speech, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ... Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."

We know this speech well; we’ve heard these words many times and understand the powerful meaning behind them. Achieving equality–the American Dream for all citizens–has been slow to come, but I believe we can head in the right direction. Only together can we fully get there, closer to true equality.

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Protect Wisconsin from PFAS

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, 12 January 2022
in Wisconsin

pfas-contamination-testSen. Smith writes about how chemicals known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are impacting our groundwater. We know that testing is essential to identify PFAS contamination, understand the extent of the issue and act to limit exposure to these harmful chemicals.

BRUNSWICK, WI - Protecting the quality of food we eat, air we breathe and water we drink should be a top priority. It’s what we need to survive.

We’ve seen over time that inadvertent mistakes have been made that threaten access to these essential resources. In some cases, corporate greed poses short-term profits for some and long-term health impacts for all. Without the proper research and intervention, we can face serious consequences for decades–and generations–to come.

Sometimes neither business nor government leaders are aware of environmental dangers for years until patterns of illness or death appear. An example I often reflect on is the near extinction of the American bald eagle. For decades, environmentalists were puzzled at the eagle populations’ rapid decline. Then researchers discovered the correlation between the widely-used chemical DDT as a mosquito pesticide and eagles’ endangerment.

At the peak of the problem it was rare to even spot an eagle; I know, because I was a child when this was happening and got excited any time I saw one of these majestic birds flying overhead. Since Congress banned DDT in 1972, the resurgence of the eagle is one of the most amazing environmental success stories of the last several decades.

This is what’s currently happening with Wisconsin’s groundwater because of chemicals known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). PFAS are also referred to as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down naturally in the environment and can stay in one’s body for long periods of time. These chemicals produced in laboratories are used in products like food wrap, stain resistant carpeting, non-stick pans and water repellant clothing. PFAS are dangerous because they’re in so many products and they’re hazardous to humans, having been linked to certain cancers, liver damage, decrease in vaccine efficacy and more.

One product specifically highlights the widespread threat of PFAS: firefighting foam. As effective as the foam is in controlling a fire, it was found to be just as effective at contaminating our groundwater. After a fire incident, the foam was just washed off a road or airport runway entering into the ground. Eventually it was bound to end up in the groundwater. With approximately 97% of Wisconsin communities (equaling 70% of the state’s population) dependent on groundwater for their water supply, this really is an alarming situation that we cannot ignore. It won’t go away on its own.

Groundwater testing is essential to identify PFAS contamination, understand the extent of the issue and act to limit exposure to these harmful chemicals. Some communities have tested and found their wells to be contaminated; they’ve started taking action.

jeff-smithI had the opportunity to tour the wells in the City of Eau Claire where they found PFAS in seven of their sixteen wells last year. They knew they couldn’t wait for politicians in Madison to fix the problem, so they implemented an impressive solution on their own. Eau Claire acted quickly and efficiently, but it will take serious action at the state and national level for the risk of PFAS to dissipate.

The federal government does not set groundwater standards—this happens at the state level. Wisconsin has fallen behind our neighbors in Minnesota and Michigan; they have already begun widespread testing. In 1983, Wisconsin led the nation in groundwater protection by passing the Comprehensive Groundwater Protection Act, which remains widely supported to this day. Since then it has been used to set groundwater standards for 138 chemicals in Wisconsin—but PFAS isn’t one of them.

Just last week, the Department of Natural Resources held a public hearing about proposed rules to implement groundwater standards for PFAS. Since declaring 2019 the “Year of Clean Drinking Water,” Governor Evers’ Administration has been hard at work to ensure Wisconsinites have safe, clean drinking water now and forever. Although the public hearing passed, continue to pay attention and advocate for stronger water protections. It’s up to us to ensure our children can live in a state where they don’t simply survive, but thrive.

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