Friday December 9, 2022

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A Rural Blueprint 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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on Wednesday, 16 March 2022
in Wisconsin

farmer-wicornSen. Jeff Smith writes about his Rural Development Plan, a comprehensive package of legislation designed to create opportunities for our rural communities.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - Thirty-six years ago, my wife and I built our home from the ground up in Brunswick, a rural part of Eau Claire County. We both grew up in the area and didn’t think twice about leaving. Before we started laying the foundation of our home, we started with a blueprint showing how to achieve our dream home. Months went by and our vision became reality.

The hard work that went into our home was well worth it. Our home became my office where I grew my business. It’s where my wife and I rested after we put in a hard day’s work. It’s where we raised our two daughters and built our future together.

As senator, I’ve been working on another type of blueprint—and it’s one for Wisconsin’s future. For the last four years serving the 31st Senate District, I’ve listened and learned about ways to make rural Wisconsin thrive.

I’m proud today to unveil my Rural Development Plan. It’s a comprehensive package of legislation designed to create opportunities for our rural communities. Through statewide broadband expansion, workforce development initiatives and fair funding for our K-12 schools, we can make rural Wisconsin a place where families and businesses want to call home.

5gGovernor Evers has already shown us what’s possible for Wisconsin. During his first term, the governor championed broadband expansion, creating a Broadband Access Task Force and making the largest broadband investment in state history during the ‘Year of Broadband Access.’ The governor restored two-thirds funding for our local schools and targeted support to address regional workforce challenges.

Despite the pandemic, Wisconsin has a record-high surplus, all-time low unemployment rate and our state’s general fund has the largest positive balance in state history. Governor Evers continues to build a strong economy that works for all Wisconsinites and my Rural Development Plan builds off the governor’s success.

We have the money and now’s the time to make the investments. In May 2021, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin estimated the full cost of broadband expansion to be between $700 Million and $1.4 Billion. Knowing this and the strong point our economy’s at now, we can make statewide broadband expansion happen.

Imagine how this could boost our communities, ensuring all homes and businesses in rural Wisconsin are connected to high-speed internet. It will connect our rural producers to urban consumers, enhance educational opportunities for students and help elderly residents stay in their homes.

My Rural Development Plan also includes five other bills to exponentially expand broadband and ensure every penny is spent wisely. These bills improve internet affordability, strengthen consumer protections and help farms get connected first.

The top priority I hear from constituents is broadband, but workforce development is a close second. My Rural Development Plan creates the Freedom to Learn program which offers free tuition for students enrolled at a technical college or at one of the two-year UW campuses. Even though we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, there’s still more we can do.

Student debt shouldn’t affect our ability to get skilled workers into the workplace—this proposal is a commonsense way to help Wisconsinites gain new skills and be more successful.

jeff-smithIt’s well known that our public schools are the heart of any community, especially in rural areas. Preserving rural America means preserving public education. For years, we’ve known the school funding formula is flawed. We’ve kicked the can down the road for too long. We have the money and we owe it to our kids to finally fix the problem. That’s why the Rural Development Plan uses Governor Tony Evers’ Fair Funding for Our Future plan to do the right thing for rural schools.

I put a lot of work into building my family’s home years ago and I’ve never regretted it. In western Wisconsin, we have something special: a welcoming community, strong work ethic and a beautiful landscape. Rural Wisconsin has much to offer. If we want to preserve our way of life while attracting and retaining future generations, we must make the investments today.

The blueprint is done—now it’s time to build.

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Let’s Draw the Line on Gerrymandering

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, 09 March 2022
in Wisconsin

gerrymander-elections-redistrictingSen. Smith writes about the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision on redistricting. While reflecting on this decision, we must continue working to establish a nonpartisan redistricting process in Wisconsin.

MADISON - The maps are in! Political redistricting maps, that is. These are not the roadmaps you may be accustomed to. You won’t follow a redistricting map to get to your favorite vacation destination.

But, elected officials follow these maps to know the constituents they represent.  Some politicians design routes and create a map more advantageous to their party to get to their destination of power.

I probably don’t need to remind you, but every ten years congressional and legislative districts must be redrawn to adjust to population shifts. As simple and logical as that sounds, it’s become a tool used to hold onto power by those in charge. With new technologies and data collection programs on voting patterns, politicians are able to precisely manipulate district lines to favor themselves with ease.

Ten years ago after a wave election, Republicans took the majority of seats in the Senate and Assembly. They used that power to pass maps that notoriously became known as the most gerrymandered maps in the nation.

When democracy works as it’s designed to, voters are able to choose their leaders and shift political power at the ballot box. Between 2001 and 2011 voters were able to shift the legislative majority from one party to the other three times in five election cycles. After the last redistricting process in 2011, one party clung onto the legislative majority—without even a threat of changing hands—in all five cycles. Even when the statewide vote tallies favored Democrats, Republicans held onto nearly two-thirds of the legislative seats.

Last year, the Republican Majority rammed through another version of their maps. This time, however, Governor Evers was able to veto the maps, which allowed the courts to step in. The Wisconsin State Supreme Court chose to take the case.

wi-maps-2021The Supreme Court also adopted new guidelines created by Republican leaders to protect their gerrymander, the most egregious of which was the concept of “least change” from the current maps. Of course, if Republicans had followed “least change” ten years ago voters would’ve had fair elections the past decade.

The court requested different versions of redistricting maps be submitted to them by mid-December 2021, which included the Republican map and a handful of competing maps.

Last week we learned what maps would be used: the Wisconsin Supreme Court accepted the version submitted by Governor Evers. In the words of Justice Brian Hagedorn, “… we conclude the Governor's legislative maps comply with all relevant legal requirements. Because they are also the maps that produce the least change from the previously enacted maps, we adopt them.”

This decision doesn’t mean, though, that the decision to follow such a flawed directive as “least change” created a map that is fair to voters. On the contrary, it just meant that the map adopted by the court is the best that could be done while least changed from the radically corrupt map it started with. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote, “If this process has shown us anything, it is that the court should depart from the ‘least change’ approach if and when redistricting arrives before it in the decades to come.”

jeff-smithOne thing is clear: the process that allows politicians to draw political maps is problematic on many levels. That is why the vast majority of citizens agree that a process overseen by a nonpartisan commission is more favorable to the voters and less susceptible to corruption.

We must accept the court’s decision and begin the work of governing as best we can under these circumstances. It also means we’ll keep on working to introduce, listen, debate and adopt a nonpartisan redistricting process that works for you.

Our democratic republic only works if voters have confidence in those who govern. Our one opportunity to make our voices heard is through voting. Ask your elected officials if they are willing to give up the power to draw their own district. Their answer should be all you need to know about your elected officials.

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Supporting Public Schools is “A Plus” for Our Kids

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 March 2022
in Wisconsin

schools-computer-classSen. Jeff Smith shares his experience as a classroom volunteer and member of the Senate Committee on Education, learning about ways we can support our students in our public schools.

MADISON - Wisconsin’s K-12 schools are the cornerstone of our communities. The education offered at our neighborhood public schools provides the opportunity for our kids to reach their full potential. It’s our responsibility to ensure this opportunity is available for all Wisconsin students—regardless of zip code.

Of course, I knew this long before I was elected to the state legislature. My wife and life partner chose a career as a teacher. When our first child was born she let me know that I’d be responsible for volunteering in our daughter’s classroom when she reached school age. Little did I realize what an impact that would have on my trajectory into politics.

I took that directive to heart and volunteered as much as the school would allow. Gaining an understanding of the needs of our schools, I was an active participant in the passage of an important referendum in the late 1990s.

It also led me to creating a parent advisory committee that still is involved with the Eau Claire School District. My activism in education morphed into engagement in the Wisconsin Parent Teacher Association Board, the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and an appointment on the Governor’s Task Force for Educational Excellence.

jeff-smithYou can see how I spent years learning about how Wisconsin’s public schools prepare kids for the future. Over the years, I saw how things were changing with the drastic reforms being made that ultimately were hurting students in Wisconsin’s public schools and impacting property taxpayers.

It’s this experience I bring with me to the Senate Committee on Education. There’s a lot that’s been happening in this committee this legislative session, especially in response to the pandemic.

Unfortunately the bills being rushed through committee do nothing to address the serious challenges facing Wisconsin educators, parents and their children. To make matters worse, these bills carry a hefty price tag for Wisconsin taxpayers.

In early February, legislative Republicans introduced a package of bills that overhaul Wisconsin’s educational standards. Among the bills, one proposal gives more leeway to taxpayer-funded, unaccountable charter schools.

school-closedAnother bill removes state enrollment caps and family income limits entirely, therefore making the taxpayer-funded School Choice program available to any student. In a report issued last week, this is expected to raise property taxes for Wisconsinites as much as $577 million.

Before the Majority Party even considers moving more money from Wisconsin public schools, they should adopt my proposal, Senate Bill 971 to allow property owners to see just how their property taxes increased from expanding voucher schools.

Now is not the time to be raising costs for Wisconsin families—it’s up to us to invest the $3.8 billion surplus so all kids have access to a high-quality education. In February, Governor Evers announced a plan to invest $750 million of this surplus to improve our schools. This proposal includes initiatives to support student mental health and address achievement gaps in the state.

There’s a lot we can do with this surplus for our schools and families—it’s time for us to get it done.

Another way we can support students and local public schools is by bolstering teacher recruitment and retention. This is an issue affecting school districts all over the state, especially in our rural communities. We must remember those most impacted by the teacher shortage are our students.

ed-gradIn February, I introduced a legislative package with colleagues on the Senate Committee on Education to make sure our students have quality educators. This package includes bonuses for teachers that stay in the same district for more than 5 years, ensures that teachers enjoy the same health benefits as legislators, pays student teachers and sets a minimum starting salary.

The most valuable asset to any school is the people, and this package treats teachers like the professionals they are. We must do better for our kids.

Through all the years, I learned it takes a village of dedicated people to build up our public schools. They are the cornerstone of the success of our society. Learn, get involved and someday you will understand and appreciate the success of public education.

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The Opportunity to Do What’s Right

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, 23 February 2022
in Wisconsin

evers-sos-2022Sen. Smith recaps Governor Evers’ 2022 State of the State Address highlighting the accomplishments from the last year and the governor’s plan to keep our state moving forward.

MADISON - When the opportunity to do what’s right is in front of us, we must grab it because it may not be there for long. This is something we all learn, even if it’s the hard way. It’s painful when we don’t recognize opportunity, we hesitate and it’s gone. That’s when opportunity becomes regret.

Last week, Governor Evers delivered his 2022 State of the State Address, highlighting successes of the last year and future opportunities. If history is any indicator, then the opportunity before the legislature right now is unprecedented.

Here we are today with a record-high surplus and an all-time low 2.8% unemployment rate. With the 2021-23 budget, middle-class families received a 15% tax cut, totaling $480 million in tax relief for Wisconsin. What Governor Evers has done to get us through a global pandemic and get our economy back on track is nothing short of a miracle. He’s done the right thing when faced with adversity.

How we even have these historic records after the last two years is a feat in itself. Quite honestly, it isn’t because the legislature has done anything to make that happen. On the contrary, the Republican majority has been on a mission to impede the governor at every turn.

While the legislature sat idle for over 300 days during the pandemic, Governor Evers got to work—and delivered.

Wisconsin has a projected surplus like we’ve never seen. I’ve been paying attention long enough to be able to say the $3.8 billion dollar surplus is unheard of. Any state surplus projection can be rare, but when we have this extraordinary opportunity, it’d be foolhardy to ignore the urgent needs in our state.

On top of this surplus, Governor Evers smartly distributed over $4.5 billion in federal funds to support our local communities. With economic recovery in mind, the governor invested in more than 1,900 non-profits and over 2,300 local governments, college campuses and school districts. Additionally, he targeted more than $1 billion to bolster small businesses, farmers, tourism, lodging and entertainment industries in our state.

During the 2020 construction season, Governor Evers’ Administration kept up with all 375 transportation projects to stay on track to help Wisconsin secure another $105 million from other states. This happened all while the legislature chose to sit on the sideline.

In 2021, after the pandemic exacerbated the need for broadband access, the governor proposed $200 million to close the digital divide in our rural communities in his 2021-23 budget. Despite the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee removing that amount, we still invested $129 million into broadband expansion efforts. Governor Evers also directed another $100 million in federal funds toward broadband expansion.

The question now is whether the legislature will choose opportunity or political gamesmanship. Maybe I should mention that we also have a record $1.7 billion in the ‘rainy day’ fund.

Governor Evers has a plan to reinvest in Wisconsin and it’s the right thing to do. During his State of the State Address he outlined this plan, which starts with putting $150 back into the pockets of each Wisconsinite. A family of four would receive $600 to help address rising costs and gas prices.

jeff-smithUnder the governor’s plan, barriers to childcare are reduced by expanding the Child and Dependent Care Credit and creating a new Caregiver Tax Credit. When someone is needed to care for a loved one they’re less likely to be able to participate in the workforce.

Governor Evers’ plan invests $750 million in our schools while holding the line on property taxes. There’s no question that providing opportunity to all kids no matter their zip code is the right thing to do.

While corporate America has been taking advantage of the growing economy by raising prices, we’re sitting on your money that could help right now. The governor’s plan, importantly, still leaves $2 billion untouched.

During his Address to the legislature, Governor Evers added, “indifference in this building is getting expensive.” It’s time to act. The governor called for a special session for the legislature to pass this plan. Will Republican legislators help Governor Evers continue to do the right thing?

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Wis Democracy Campaign - Will DA Ozanne Indict the False Electors?

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 Friday, 18 February 2022
in Wisconsin

2022-moneyMADISON - We need accountability for the crimes against our democracy.

That means accountability for Donald Trump.

And it means accountability for anyone in Wisconsin who were co-conspirators in the coup attempt.

On Wednesday, our legal allies over at Law Forward asked Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne to prosecute the Republican false electors. I write about that here:

Law Forward Asks DA Ozanne to Go After False Electors

On the legal beat, I also wrote about the horrendous decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court late last Friday that infringes on our freedom to vote:

Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Horrible Ruling on Drop Boxes and Ballot Delivery Assistance

And on the campaign finance front, we noted that Republican fundraising for legislative races in Wisconsin is far outpacing that of the Democrats:

GOP Lawmakers Had 4x More Cash Than Dems Entering 2022

matt-rothschildThis is what we do, day in and day out: We track the money, we expose the anti-democracy forces, and we advocate for a broad range of pro-democracy reforms so that everyone can have an equal voice.  

Thanks for supporting us in these efforts.


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

P.S. If you’d like to send us a donation, you can do so by clicking here and pay with credit card or PayPal, or the old-fashioned way by sending us a check, made out to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and mailed to our office at 203 S. Paterson St. Suite 100, Madison WI 53703. We really appreciate it!

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