- Views & Opinions
A failed presidential bid, a new job for Rep. Paul Ryan and a capital city on edge were some of the most notable stories in Wisconsin in 2015. A look back at those and others:
SCOTT WALKER: The Republican governor spent the first half of the year hop-scotching across the country laying the foundation for his presidential run, visiting early primary states and courting Republican donors. He officially jumped into the race in July but floundered in a crowded field that included real estate mogul Donald Trump. Less than three months later, with poor poll numbers and the prospect of dwindling donor support, he was out.
PAUL RYAN: Wisconsin’s other national political figure found himself under pressure to take over as House speaker after John Boehner abruptly announced plans to quit the job. Ryan appeared to want nothing to do with the job before relenting and being elected in October.
MADISON UNREST: The state’s capital city was on edge for weeks after Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old biracial man, died in a confrontation with a white police officer in his apartment building in March. Robinson’s death sparked waves of street protests, but District Attorney Ismael Ozanne ultimately decided that no charges were warranted against Officer Matt Kenny.
WISCONSIN DRIVERS: The state’s drivers got the green light to hit the gas _ on some roads, anyway —J after Walker signed a bill giving state transportation officials the power to bump the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 in some places.
JOHN DOE INVESTIGATION: For nearly three years Walker endured ugly headlines as the state Government Accountability Board and Milwaukee prosecutors pursued a John Doe investigation _ a procedure similar to a grand jury proceeding where information is tightly controlled _ into whether his 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside conservative groups on issue ads. The state Supreme Court finally halted the probe in July, ruling such coordination is legal. Three months later, Walker signed a bill prohibiting prosecutors from using the John Doe against politicians.
YOUTH PRISON INVESTIGATION: The state Department of Justice was asked late in the year to examine allegations of misconduct at the facilities that house youth prisoners in Irma. Allegations at Copper Lake/Lincoln Hills School include sexual assaults, physical confrontations and child neglect. A top corrections official and the Copper Lake/Lincoln Hills superintendent were relieved of their duties.
MILWAUKEE ARCHDIOCESE BANKRUPTCY: A federal bankruptcy judge approved a reorganization plan for Milwaukee’s Roman Catholic archdiocese in November that called for distributing $21 million to hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims. The plan splits most of the money among 355 people. Another group of 104 people will get about $2,000 each. Archbishop Jerome Listecki apologized to victims in court shortly before Judge Susan Kelley approved the plan, saying he believes the archdiocese has turned a corner.
TOMAH VA MEDICAL CENTER: Wisconsin Veterans Affairs Medical Center Chief of Staff David Houlihan was put on leave in January while the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs investigated allegations of overprescribing narcotic pain medications and retaliatory behavior at the Tomah facility. In August the VA’s inspector general said deficiencies in care led to the death of 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski in 2014. Houlihan was fired in October, a month after the center’s director, Mario DeSanctis, was dismissed.
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN SYSTEM: A tough year for the UW system included a $250 million budget cut and a tuition freeze. State lawmakers also removed tenure protections for UW professors from state law, though system regents were considering restoration of some protections in a process expected to last into the spring.
LABOR UNIONS: Not a good year here, either, as Walker signed a bill making Wisconsin a right-to-work state. That means workers can’t be required to join a union or pay union dues, a change likely to erode membership. The state AFL-CIO is suing, arguing the law is unconstitutional.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS: The NBA team is getting a shiny new $500 million arena, with taxpayers committed to half that under a bill signed by Walker. The new building may open for the 2018-19 season.
SUPREME COURT UPHEAVAL: Longtime Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson was bounced from that post by the court’s conservative majority after voters approved an amendment letting the justices pick their chief rather than going by seniority. Justice Pat Roggensack was made the new chief. Separately, 77-year-old Justice Patrick Crooks died in his chambers in September, giving Walker an opening to appoint conservative-backed Rebecca Bradley to finish his term. She’ll have the advantage of incumbency in the spring election for a full 10-year term.
MARTY BEIL: The often brusque leader of the Wisconsin state employee labor union died in October at age 68. Beil was the face of the union for years and was at the center of the losing fight against Walker’s signature public union restrictions.
RUSS FEINGOLD’S RETURN: After losing the U.S. Senate seat he’d held for 18 years to Republican Ron Johnson in 2010, the Democrat announced in May that he would run against Johnson in 2016.