Earlier this year, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele decisively won a bitter re-election battle against state Sen. Chris Larson and his coalition of backers with animus toward Abele. With that divisive experience in the rearview mirror, we had hoped that county supervisors would move the interests of their constituents to the top of their agenda, where they belong. Instead, many supervisors seem mired in scorched-earth political mode. They appear far more interested in outmaneuvering Abele than serving the county’s residents.
Their latest shenanigan is an effort to obstruct Abele’s reappointment of Héctor Colón as director of the Department of Health and Human Services.
By a vote of 3–2, the Milwaukee County Board Health and Human Needs Committee rejected Colón. A definitive vote by the entire board is scheduled for Sept. 22.
Whatever the outcome, the three committee members who rejected Colón show how destructive they’re willing to go just to thwart Abele at the county’s expense.
By any reasonable measure, Colón’s six-year tenure in the position has been exceptional. Among the many community organizations calling for his reappointment are the Milwaukee Urban League, Disability Rights Wisconsin, the American Public Human Services Association, the United Community Center, and the Combined Community Services Board.
Colón’s supporters cite a number of achievements on his part, including:
• Success in securing a $2.4 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to help end chronic homelessness.
• A 70 percent decrease in chronic homelessness. (Colón’s foes dispute this figure, using twisted reasoning to justify their aim of discrediting it.)
• Ending a 12-year waiting list for Section 8 housing.
• The transition of hundreds of mentally challenged people into community-living arrangements.
• Implementation of more than $20 million dollars of new or enhanced community-based services that have led to a 34 percent decrease in emergency detentions and a 20 percent decrease in emergency room visits.
• Numerous awards from national, state and community groups.
The list goes on, towering over the objections — most of them dubious — to Colón’s performance in office. Looked at side by side, it’s obvious that the real motive for opposing Colón is politics. Just consider the three supervisors who voted against his reappointment.
Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic seems to oppose Abele with every breath she takes. She heads the Working Families Party of Wisconsin, a left-wing tea party-style group that was Larson’s leading donor.
Also rejecting Colón was Sequanna Taylor, who was endorsed and backed by Dimitrijevic’s group. The third vote against Colón came from Supreme Moore Omokunde, who was also a Larson backer. He cited Colón’s lack of transparency as a reason for opposing him, which was hypocritical to say the least: Omokunde was one of seven supervisors who defeated a transparency measure that would have allowed the public to see budget amendments prior to final committee votes.
Colón has earned reappointment. And the residents of Milwaukee County deserve representatives who make decisions based on merit rather than personal grudges.
We’d like to remind Colón’s detractors that the AbeleLarson race is over and their horse lost. Get over it.
Local bands, a fun run for kids, K-9 units, and fireworks are among the attractions at six National Night Out events occurring in Milwaukee County Parks in early August, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced.
“These National Night Out events bring neighbors together with local law enforcement in a positive environment to build a true sense of community,” Abele said. “These events are another way that Milwaukee County can help strengthen communities by preventing crime and making our neighborhoods stronger.”
National Night Out is an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer, better places to live. In partnership with law enforcement agencies and community groups, Milwaukee County is hosting numerous events at County parks from Aug. 1 to and Aug. 17.
Events are scheduled at Wedgewood, Hales Corners, Kosciuszko, Lincoln, and Kops parks. In addition, fireworks on the Oak Creek Parkway will follow a South Milwaukee event being held at the South Milwaukee Police Department building.
Schedule of National Night Out Events at Milwaukee County Parks
Mon., Aug. 1
Wedgewood Park, 7201 Wedgewood Drive, will feature the music of Our House, performing in four-part harmony from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The event also includes a 50/50 raffle, prizes, food trucks, a clown, and face-painting for the kids. The Night Out event will run from 6–8:45 p.m.
Tues., Aug. 2
Kosciuszko Park, 2201 S. 7 St., will feature the music of Maracujaz Brazilian & American Jazz from 6 to 8 p.m. Also from 6 to 8 p.m., AWE Truck Studio will lead make-and-take art projects for kids. Also included in the event are a bounce house and police car on display. The Night Out event will run from 4 to 8 p.m.
Hales Corners Park, 5765 S. New Berlin Road, will feature food, music, and activities. Attractions include a fun run for kids, a bounce house, and a maze. Vehicles (including police cars) and boats will be on display. Resources at the event include local businesses and non-profit organizations. Food and beverages will be available for purchase from the Hales Corners VFW and the Hales Corners Lions Club. The event will run from 5 to 9 p.m.
Lincoln Park, 1301 W. Hampton Ave. (in the area adjacent to the Blatz Pavilion), will feature the music of KIC Keep’n It Clean (K.I.C.), with dynamic vocals and inspired rhythms from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The Night Out event is from 4 to 8 p.m.
Thurs., Aug. 4
Kops Park, 3321 N. 86 St., will feature local K-9 units and the Milwaukee Flyers Tumbling Team. Family activities and a raffle will also take place. Free hot dogs, chips, and water will be available while supplies last. The Night Out event is from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and includes a variety of family-friendly activities.
Wed., Aug. 17
South Milwaukee Police Department, 2424 15th Ave, will feature food, games, music, and a raffle from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Fireworks will be set off at the Oak Creek Parkway and Michigan Avenue beginning at 9 p.m.
A digitally altered image bearing a fabricated quote attributed to Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program Commissioner Dr. Demond Means is “not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s PolitiFact Wisconsin. PolitiFact gave the “ridiculous” claim by Wisconsin Jobs Now a rating of “Pants on Fire.” The Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program was created by the state Legislature last summer.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and OSPP Commissioner Dr. Demond Means have made a commitment to implementing a community schools model through OSPP. They’re asking Milwaukee Public Schools to say “Yes” to a partnership that would preserve resources and support for MPS schools, students, teachers, and families.
In addition to ensuring that the Milwaukee School Board of Directors would retain their duly elected governance, the partnership proposal submitted by Abele and Means to Milwaukee Public Schools in April of 2016 ensures that: 1) teachers and employees at struggling schools would retain their status as MPS employees, while retaining high licensing standards, ensuring they remain members of their union and keep their MPS employee benefits, including healthcare and retirement; 2) students would remain enrolled in MPS; and 3) per-pupil funding received from the state would be returned back to MPS.
Despite the fact that the proposal protects MPS, opponents, including Wisconsin Jobs Now, “pushed back,” according to PolitiFact:
“The liberal group posted a picture of Means on Facebook on April 28, 2016. The image showed Means holding a sign that read “MPS needs to be gutted!”
Unlike a meme, which typically makes clear the message is fake, the Facebook post included this note: “Abele’s MPS Takeover Czar Demond Means really said this.”
Did Means really say that? In a word: No.”
“People who disagree with our proposal to protect Milwaukee Public Schools jobs, enrollment, funding, and Board oversight are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts,” County Executive Chris Abele said. “It’s unfortunate that some people are spending their time and energy telling lies about Dr. Means — an MPS graduate who has spent his entire career working in public schools – instead of working together to find ways to protect MPS jobs, funding, and enrollment.”
Read the entire PolitiFact ruling here.
Milwaukee County has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past several years to cover the legal costs of lawsuits brought by the notorious county sheriff.
A federal judge this week tossed out Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s lawsuit against County Executive Chris Abele. Clarke alleged that Abele violated his right to free speech by using the budget process to punish Clarke and others who say things Abele disagrees with.
County taxpayers will now have to pick up the $50,000 tab for Clarke’s private attorney, Michael A.I. Whitcomb, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The county has already paid Whitcomb more than $260,000 to represent the sheriff in litigation against the county since 2012. The county itself has paid $83,000 defending itself in these lawsuits.
Altogether, the county has spent over $346,000 for the sheriff to sue the county. With the latest lawsuit, that figure will top $400,000.
“Public safety is too important to Milwaukee families for us to continually waste time and money on lawsuits like this,” said Melissa Baldauff, a spokeswoman for Abele.
Clarke said he has not read the decision in the latest lawsuit, but he had sharp words for Abele. The sheriff did not say if he plans to appeal the decision.
“Abele is the guy who spent $263,000 of his personal wealth trying to defeat me in my last election and he lost,” Clarke said in a statement. “He continues his vendetta by trying to silence me. That little man will stop at nothing.”
Clarke is a darling of right-wing talk radio in Milwaukee and the surrounding deep-red suburbs. He frequently makes national headlines for his over-the-top antics, such as his saying that blacks sell drugs because they’re “lazy” and “morally bankrupt.” He also asked Milwaukee County residents to arm themselves to help his deputies.
Clarke, who often wears a cowboy hat and boots, is African American.
In the run-up to Wisconsin’s presidential primaries, social justice groups Voces de la Frontera and the Coalition for Justice circulated a petition calling for a law enforcement official other than Clarke to oversee public safety at Trump events in the Milwaukee area. In early March, Clarke told a Fox News host that demonstrators with immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter movements deserve to be “hit first and hit hard.”
Last June, Judge David Borowski ordered Clarke to provide un-redacted information about people his department turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. The order was made in an open records lawsuit filed by Voces de la Frontera.
Three times in 40 years — in the 1950s, in the ’70s and in the ’90s — the Township and the Borough of Princeton, New Jersey, tried unsuccessfully to merge. The two finally combined into the new Municipality of Princeton a few years ago, allowing them to cut out redundant services and save millions on policing, snow removal and trash pickup.
But the Municipality of Princeton, formed in 2013, is an exception. Consolidations have often been discussed and studied, but the mergers rarely take place. And, based on the politics of the Milwaukee County Executive race, they’re very unlikely to occur in Wisconsin any time soon.
There are 3,069 counties in the country, and many of them provide redundant services in areas such as policing, snow removal and trash pickup. Across the country, advocates of consolidation, including governors like New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Illinois’ Bruce Rauner, both Republicans, say combining county and municipal governments will streamline services and save taxpayers money. But according to the National Association of Counties, cities and counties have only combined 42 times since the 19th century, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.
An Illinois report released in December sparked a conversation in that state and in others. It found that living in an area with too many layers of government increases property taxes on residents (the report didn’t break out business taxes) and makes it all but impossible to remember which governmental entity governs what.
The issue is of particular signficance in Wisconsin, which has the most bloated county governments of any state in the nation. In fact 10 percent of all county-level legislators in the United States reside in the state.
While Los Angeles County has five supervisors, Dane County has 37. Milwaukee County has 17 supervisors, compared to 18 in Cook County. And, unlike Cook County, every resident of Milwaukee County also lives within the jurisdiction of a city, town or village government. No part of the county is unincorporated.
But realigning county government is a political hot potato that few leaders in the state appear willing to address. Just consider the backlash against Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele over Act 14, even though it was passed by the Legislature and the voters. That law placed a binding referendum on the county ballot asking voters if Milwaukee County supervisors should be made part-time as opposed to full-time employees.
More than 70 percent of county voters chose part-time status. Voters also approved eliminating supervisors’ pension and health benefits. The changes brought the county’s pay more in line with others in the state and made money available for services rather than bureaucrats.
Even though Act 14 didn’t merge city and county functions, it still incurred the wrath of county supervisors against Abele. They’ve piled on him in every way possible, waging what’s seemed like a permanent campaign against him in the media.
Former Milwaukee County Supervisor and now state Sen. Chris Larson is running a no-holds-barred campaign to unseat Abele on April 5, and at least some of the board’s supervisors are playing roles in Larson’s effort.
County board chair Theo Lipscomb is part of Larson’s campaign, but the challenger’s top board ally is former county board chair Marina Dimitrijevic, who stepped down from that position last year after realizing that her new part-time status would reduce her salary from $71,412 to $36,076, when it takes effect on April 18.
Dimitrijevic is now executive director of Wisconsin Working Families Party, which is not a party at all. Its emphasis is on an affiliated dark-money PAC that funds challenges against Democrats who are not considered liberal enough. It’s the left-wing version of the tea party: It works to knock out candidates who don’t pass an ideological litmus test or who negotiate compromises with members of the other party, as Abele has done in his efforts to improve Milwaukee’s relationship with the state’s majority Republican leadership.
Working Families has spewed hundreds of thousands of mostly anonymous dollars into Larson’s effort to defeat Abele. What they say about paybacks is true.
On its website, Working Families lists a slate of candidates and vows, “We’re going to work hard to elect these champions for working families into office.”
But only a small handful of those named candidates has received any cash, and one of the group’s recipients, who’s running for school board in Racine, isn’t even listed on the slate. Since January the group has leveled nearly all of its considerable resources against Abele, while all but ignoring everyone else — and completely overlooking right-wing Republicans who face challenges in races where the outcome would make siginicant differences for progressives.
It’s no wonder that insiders see Larson’s race as a grudge match by disgruntled county board members, whose pay dropped from $50,679 to $24,051.
Larson says he’ll restore the county board to its former status and undo what he calls other Abele “power grabs.” But as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pointed out in an editorial this morning, he simply doesn’t have the power to do that.
“It would require changing the minds of Republican legislators who control the Assembly and the Senate,” the Journal Sentinel opined. “Larson was in the Legislature when those changes were approved and he could not affect them. How would he change things as county executive?”
Next in Working Families’ sites is state Sen. Lena Taylor, the only Democrat in the Legislature to vote for Act 14. Working Families is said to be lining up support for state Rep. Mandela Barnes in his likely bid to unseat Taylor.
Faced with this sort of political fallout, counties and cities in Wisconsin will likely continue to operate separately, no matter how much combining them would streamline services or benefit taxpayers.
Information included in this story came from Stateline, a news service of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Voter turnout for the Feb. 16 primary elections in Milwaukee was nearly double that of the last municipal primary in 2012. Hotly contested races for the state Supreme Court, Milwaukee County Executive, Milwaukee mayor and seven Milwaukee aldermanic districts helped spur participation.
Neil Albrecht, executive director of the city of Milwaukee Election Commission, said turnout this year was 21 percent, compared to 12 percent in 2012.
The turnout “really isn’t attributable to anything other than who’s on the ballot and how contentious the races are,” Albrecht said, noting the 2012 municipal primary had much lower-profile contests.
At the top of the ballot was a three-way race for the state’s Supreme Court. The two highest vote getters will face off in a general election on April 5.
Winning one of the places on that ballot was Rebecca Bradley, a controversial Supreme Court justice who was appointed by Scott Walker months ago. She received 45 percent of the statewide vote.
Close behind, JoAnne Kloppenburg won the other spot on the April ballot. She took second place with 43 percent of the vote. In 2011, she came close to unseating right-wing Justice David Prosser.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald came in third. Conventional wisdom is that Donald’s voters will give their support to Kloppenburg in April, which suggests a tough race ahead for Bradley.
Adding to her difficulty, Bradley is closely tied to Walker, whose approval rating stands at just 38 percent. On the other hand, she has strong Republican support and can expect massive contributions from Koch-backed groups as well as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, another right-wing group.
Another big draw on the Feb. 16 ballot was a spirited race for Milwaukee County Executive between incumbent Chris Abele and challenger Chris Larson, a state senator. Larson eked out a slim but impressive 700-vote victory in the primary, which also included long-shot candidates Joseph T. Klein, a member of the Wisconsin Pirate Party, and carpenter Steve Hogan.
Abele and Larson are both political progressives. Nonetheless, Larson ran a negative campaign that attacked Abele as a power-hungry oligarch indifferent to the middle class and the poor. Larson’s supportive PAC tried to tie Abele to Scott Walker, depicting the two political opposites as flip sides of the same coin in one campaign mailer.
Abele ran a positive campaign touting his success in increasing county services while restoring fiscal balance to the county after inheriting a massive structural debt from his predecessor, Walker.
VOTER ID STILL MOSTLY UNTESTED
The first-time implementation of the state’s new voter ID law went relatively smoothly in this primary, but the law has yet to face its most challenging test.
Conservatives were quick to seize on higher turnout in Milwaukee and throughout much of the state yesterday as proof the new voter ID law failed to stifle participation, as liberal groups had predicted. But Albrecht said the real test of the law’s impact will come with the elections in April and especially in November, when there will be presidential, senatorial and other high-profile races on the ballot.
Although voting went smoothly for the most part, Albrecht said “there was a fair amount of confusion and frustration for voters.”
In addition to dealing with their first election using the voter ID law, poll workers had to implement other changes that state GOP leaders have made to the electoral process. Since taking office in 2011, Walker has enacted 33 laws that impact the electoral process in Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Council.
“I don’t think lawmakers or the pubic necessarily recognize that election workers only perform their duties four times a year at the most and (the laws) have become so complex that it really is a struggle for the workers and for the voters,” Albrecht said.
He added that voters in February primaries are usually the most dedicated and experienced voters, so they tend to be more knowledgeable and aware of voter requirements.
“The February primary (draws) the frequent voters, the people who come out and vote in probably every election,” Albrecht explained. “The real test of how the ID law affects voters will be this April and November. You can’t gauge the effect of photo ID by a primary.”
Two encounters, two outcomes: On April 30, 2014, Dontre Hamilton, a man with paranoid schizophrenia who was asleep in a public park, was approached by a Milwaukee police officer. A scuffle ensued and the officer shot and killed Hamilton.
On Jan. 25, a man threatening to kill himself and any officer who came to his house surrendered without incident after hours of police negotiation.
Clearly, encounters between police and people in mental health crises can result in very different outcomes.
Since the death of Hamilton, actions to implement crisis intervention team training — although used, inconsistently, by Milwaukee area police departments since 2006 — have increased.
Yet, even though such training can be helpful for officers dealing with people in mental health crises, the police are not social service professionals. For that reason, law enforcement should not be the primary resource to help people in these situations.
Of course, law enforcement must always be involved when the public’s safety is endangered.
As a member of the Wisconsin Assembly Mental Health Reform Committee, I’ve heard questions and comments from many citizens concerned about mental health services in Milwaukee. Among these concerns are reports of individuals with mental illness who inappropriately end up in the Milwaukee County Jail. Unfortunately, crisis resource centers that were established to partner with crisis intervention team officers as an alternative to jails have been underfunded and often are unavailable during night hours.
To remedy that problem, the Milwaukee County Mental Health Board was created with the intent of having experts to recommend polices. They’ve suggested expanded hours.
Unfortunately, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele decided not to implement that recommendation.
People who must rely on county mental services continue to face challenges due to poor county standards of care and inadequate discharge planning, according to the mental health board’s quality subcommittee.
In order to address these and related issues, I held a Feb. 6 community listening session on the state of mental health in Milwaukee at the Washington Park Senior Center. The goal was to gather information from family members, community leaders, professionals, advocates and others with a vested interest in mental health care. I am taking their suggestions back to the Capitol and I’ll be using them next session to create a legislative package to improve mental health care in Milwaukee.
More than a year has passed since the Milwaukee County Mental Health overhaul legislation (Act 203) was enacted. It is time to look at what is working, what needs improvement, and what else we can do to make improvements.
State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff represents Assembly District 19. He supports state Sen. Chris Larson for Milwaukee County Executive.
WiG welcomes opinions. Please email
When progressive philanthropist and businessman Chris Abele took over Scott Walker’s former job as Milwaukee County Executive, he inherited a fiscal nightmare. The interest on the county’s debt was so high that it was eating up money that should have been funding services for residents.
Politically, Abele was in a no-win situation. Ignoring the deficit would have hurt the county and made him vulnerable to attacks from the right. Walker won three terms touting a false record of fiscal prudence.
On the other hand, reducing the deficit would require budget cuts harmful to the county’s most vulnerable populations, leaving Abele open to attacks from the left.
Abele is not a politician, and he rose above the political noise and simply did the right thing: tackle the deficit while employing creative strategies to minimize the sting. Showing strong, pragmatic leadership, he reduced an inherited county debt service payment of about $112 million to $62 million, which he says is still “way too much.” He passed five consecutive budgets that increased services without raising taxes, while at the same time whittling away at the county’s structural debt.
That’s quite an impressive record to run on for re-election.
Abele also identified new funding sources from both the federal and state governments. To secure the latter, he had to reach across the aisle and cultivate relationships with GOP lawmakers. Now Abele’s being attacked by his opponents as a closet Republican for forging those productive relationships on behalf of the people he serves.
A group headed by former County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic (who will lose half her salary this year due to Abele’s success in reducing the board to part-time) suggests with a straight face that Abele and Walker are political bedmates. That’s absurd. Abele is the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s largest single donor and a major contributor to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and Fair Wisconsin.
Abele also has sat on the board of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. On June 6, 2014, when a federal court ruled that Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, he personally paid to keep the Milwaukee County Courthouse open late and over the weekend to accommodate the state’s first gay and lesbian marriages. He served as a witness for several couples.
Abele’s progressive bona fides are unassailable. So is his executive skill. Although some people say they’ve found him difficult to get along with, that’s a petty personal complaint considering his achievements in an important job. Despite the implications one might draw from the current presidential election cycle, running for political office should not be confused with American Idol.
Chris Larson’s disappointing challenge
Abele’s main challenger is state Sen. Chris Larson, a former county board supervisor. In the past, we’ve supported Larson, a committed progressive. But the divisive and misleading campaign he’s running against Abele has disappointed us. It’s built more on what he’s against than what he’s for, and he’s playing the lowest kind of political game in promising voters all sorts of things he can’t deliver, particularly in light of his assaults on Abele for working across party lines. That’s how you get things done in a state where the other party is in power.
Larson has had little leadership experience. When the Democratic Party of Wisconsin tapped him as senate minority leader, whose job is to help elect Democratic senators, he failed to pick up a single seat. To be fair, the political headwinds were against him. Still, working against the advice of party leaders, he threw away an opportunity to win Senate District 17, which was held by the retiring moderate Republican Dale Schultz.
Larson complains about the six turnovers in county administrators under Abele over the past five years. But he refuses to offer plausible explanations for the departure of three of his top campaign aides in the past three months.
Larson claims the major difference between Abele and him is that he is for the middle class and the poor. But he’s short on specifics.
Abele not only has a plan to help the poor, but also a track record. A longtime donor to — and former chair of — the Boys and Girls Clubs, he helped partner that organization with MPS superintendents to get more kids into after-school programs. He assisted in crafting the successful Race to the Top grant proposal that brought $7 million of federal funding to MPS schools. He’s involved in Schools That Can Milwaukee, which seeks to get 20,000 Milwaukee students into high-quality urban schools by 2020.
MPS has been a thorny issue in the county executive race. The Republican-led Legislature offered Abele the job to head a turnaround program for MPS, called the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program. (Abele later appointed Mequon-Thiensville superintendent and respected MPS graduate Demond Means to steer the program.)
Larson and other Abele critics contend that Abele should have turned down the offer, which they deride as a personal takeover of the MPS system. It’s a hollow criticism, the kind the tea party throws at President Barack Obama.
Abele contends that if he had turned down the job, GOP leaders would then have given it to someone else, someone perhaps not as passionate about and familiar with the issues.
But Abele’s opponents have positioned his acceptance of the job as one of many alleged “power grabs.” In fact, their major complaint with Abele is that he’s used his position to amass power for himself.
Why would a man like Abele — a millionaire many times over, who has committed his life to public service — want control over schools, mental health care and corrections system just for the thrill of holding such obscure and difficult responsibilities? Most people of Abele’s means are yachting around the world with the jet set, not trying to turn around troubled schools in Milwaukee.
Larson’s campaign on the whole is shamelessly disingenuous. At a Feb. 6 candidates’ forum, Larson several times accused Abele of trying to eliminate funding for the homeless — an accusation that PolitiFact rated “false.” In fact, Abele worked with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to secure federal funding that will be used to end chronic homelessness in the county.
Larson says he would give away the responsibilities Abele has taken on. He also suggests he would do all sorts of wonderful things, including lowering the cost of public transit and offering free college. In order to carry out his agenda, he’d need far greater powers than Abele holds. He’d need supernatural powers to deliver on all of his promises without Republican support.
Larson has yet to put forth a specific agenda and explain how he would fund it. Instead, his campaign is focused on character assassination and overwrought bromides: “I want to take Milwaukee County back for the middle class” is his basic come-on to voters. It’s eerily similar to the tea party’s divisive vow to “take back America.” The rhetoric is polarizing the Democratic Party in a tough election year.
Larson promises that he would work more closely with and empower other county officials (as long as they’re not Republicans, apparently). His support for increasing the budget and powers of loose-canon Sheriff David Clarke is frightening.
Among Clarke’s many bizarre actions was his refusal to provide adequate security for Abele and Obama, when the president visited Milwaukee. Clarke publicly called for Milwaukee citizens to arm themselves so they can help his deputies enforce the law, even though the sheriff’s deputies mostly patrol the highways. He spends money on undercover officers to entrap gay men in public parks.
And he publicly charged that Abele suffers from “penis envy.”
We think it’s to Abele’s credit that he’s taken the Department of Corrections away from Clarke and turned its mission toward being a rehabilitative rather than a punitive one. He’s taken away the Bibles that Clarke was handing out and instead he’s helping inmates get GEDs, job training, resumes and health care. Under Abele’s so-called “takeover,” inmates leave jail already enrolled in Obamacare, something that would have been unthinkable under Clarke.
We can see many parallels between Larson’s campaign and that of the tea party, particularly the shrill scare tactics. Larson has his followers terrified that Abele is going to sell General Mitchell Airport, public transportation and public parks to private, for-profit owners. Their basis for these accusations is not only weak, but also denied by Abele.
During the Feb. 6 forum, the senator repeatedly baited Abele over his inherited wealth. Larson’s implication that it’s a sin to be rich will not win over many Wisconsinites to the Democratic Party. Hypocritically, Larson has shown no compunction about seeking donations from rich people.
At the debate, Larson continued his disproven accusation that Abele had eliminated $300,000 from the county budget for homeless shelters in order to pay for his personal security. Given the way funds are allocated, that’s not possible. Three times Abele clarified that he’s paying for his own security and Larson ignored him.
In a recent mailer, Larson’s supporting PAC, which is headed by Dimitrijevic, raised the security figure to $400,000. The mailer also suggested that the county bought Abele a more expensive car than the one he uses — one that, for the record, is owned by the county and not Abele.
County board’s revenge
Looked at as a whole, Larson’s campaign of disgruntlement and negativity — and his prioritizing of ideological “purity” over getting things done — closely parallels this year’s Republican campaign. Larson defines himself by whom he hates and what he’s against more than what he’ll do.
It’s worth noting that many of Larson’s most ardent followers have personal axes to grind with Abele, including county board supervisors.
Abele arranged to have a binding referendum put on the ballot in Milwaukee County asking voters if they wanted to reduce county board supervisors to part-time positions (state lawmakers are part-timers) and reduce the board’s bloated support staff of 58 positions, which cost taxpayers over $6.5 million annually.
County voters supported the measure by 71 percent.
Larson says he’d restore his supervisor friends to full-time status, despite voters’ overwhelming rejection of that plan and despite the fact that the county executive doesn’t have the power to do that.
Wisconsin has more county-level board members than any state in the country. In fact, the state accounts for 10 percent of all county-level legislators in the nation.
Milwaukee has 18 supervisors, for example, while Cook County (the nation’s fifth largest county, which includes the City of Chicago) has 17 committee members, and Los Angeles County has only five. Dane County has 37.
Milwaukee County is unique, moreover, in that it contains no unincorporated areas. A primary duty of county boards is to fill in the gaps of government for unincorporated areas, but Milwaukee County doesn’t have any.
Since their change in status, Milwaukee County supervisors have devolved into an argumentative, obstructionist group whose members waste a lot of time trying to discredit Abele and garner press for themselves.
While supervisors accuse Abele of refusing to work with them, he vetoed only two of the 64 amendments they added to his most recent budget. The average number of such amendments is normally in from the single digits.
Milwaukee County Board Chair Theo Lipscomb packaged Abele’s two vetoes into one bill. One was to give $4 million to Clarke and the other was a resolution to leave standing Estabrook Dam, a pet project of Lipscomb’s that is opposed by environmental groups. The courts have ordered the dam’s removal. Supervisors overrode the veto, giving more money to Clarke and defying court orders regarding the dam. That’s how far they’ll go to damage the county to extract revenge.
Such shenanigans are one of the many reasons we need a strong, no-nonsense, qualified executive like Abele. The Wisconsin Gazette strongly endorses Chris Abele for another term and we appreciate his willingness to do a job he doesn’t need in such a difficult and thankless environment.
The primary is Feb. 16. Besides Abele and Larson, the race includes Pirate Party candidate Joseph Thomas Klein and Steve Hogan. The two top vote-getters square off in the general election on April 5.
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