Last fall, I had the opportunity to travel across Wisconsin. No matter where I went, I found stagnant wages, underemployment and was confronted with a growing sentiment that our economic system is rigged against hardworking Wisconsinites. It’s easy to see why.
Over the last three decades, the average incomes for Wisconsin’s top 1 percent have increased by 120 percent, yet the incomes of the remaining 99 percent grew by just 4 percent (Pulling Apart 2016, by the Wisconsin Budget Project and COWS). Not only are middle income people paying the largest percentage of their income of any group in state and local taxes (Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy), but the number of Wisconsin middle income families is declining faster in Wisconsin than any state in the nation (Pew Charitable Trust).
Wisconsin’s economic system is rigged to benefit those at the top and one need not look further than the Manufacturing and Agricultural Tax Credit beloved by Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans. The biggest corporate tax giveaway in Wisconsin history, this corporate handout is projected to cost more than $650 million over the next biennium, with 88 percent of this tax giveaway going to individuals making more than $500,000. Eleven millionaires, making more than $35 million each, will receive nearly $22 million in tax breaks, funded by your tax dollars. Despite claims that this drives economic development, recipients are not required to create one single job and can even outsource jobs! In fact, Wisconsin had roughly 4,000 fewer manufacturing jobs in September 2016 than September 2015.
While Wisconsin’s wealthy continue to receive bountiful handouts, most other working families continue to struggle, working harder and harder just to get by. This is why last week I joined several of my Democratic colleagues in introducing legislation that provides Wisconsin’s middle income families with the raise they need.
Combined with instituting a millionaire’s tax on families making more than $1,000,000, we take the money Republicans want to send to Wisconsin’s wealthy and we instead give a tax break to the low and middle class families who need it the most. Our tax cut is targeted to individuals earning between $12,000 and $60,000, and married couples making between $20,000 and $100,000, with the average family of four earning an annual income of $45,000 receiving a $607 tax break. From needed car maintenance to additional extracurricular programs for the kids — we know Wisconsin families benefitting from our tax breaks will reinvest this money in Wisconsin’s economy. A thriving middle class isn’t just the result of a strong economy — a strong middle class builds a strong economy. This proposal puts more money into the pockets of Wisconsin’s families, which means more money in our local economy.
To the hard working families of Wisconsin — we hear you. We understand the struggles you face every day. We are committed to doing everything we can to give you a needed raise and to build an economy that works for you, not just those at the top.
State Rep. Chris Taylor is a Democrat who represents Madison.
A retired Wisconsin state senator who was one of the 14 Democrats who went to Illinois in an attempt to block Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation said he’s on track for a run to challenge the incumbent Republican.
Tim Cullen, of Janesville, has been traveling the state for months with the intent of running for governor in 2018. He has been the most public about his desire to run against Walker, although several other Democrats are also considering it.
Cullen, 73, told The Associated Press “I don’t know” of any reason that would stop him from getting into the race at this point. Cullen said he was working on lining up the logistics of a campaign, including launching a website and hiring staff, so he could announce it sometime before the end of April.
His comments drew derision from Walker’s campaign spokesman Joe Fadness. “Headquarters in Rockford?” he asked in a message on Twitter.
Cullen, along with 13 other Democrats, went to Rockford, just across the border from Wisconsin in Illinois, in an ultimately vain attempt to stop a vote in 2011 on Walker’s proposal effectively ending collective bargaining for most public workers. Cullen and others remained in Illinois for three weeks before Republicans passed the bill, known as Act 10.
Cullen has been outspoken about the need of Democrats to do a better job reaching out to rural Wisconsin residents who helped fuel Republican victories in the November election. Those rural voters, along with a lack of enthusiasm from urban Democrats, were vital to President Donald Trump being the first Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984 to carry Wisconsin.
Cullen retired after one term in the state Senate in 2015. He was previously in the Senate between 1975 and 1987. Cullen was head of the state Department of Health and Family Services under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson for one year, leaving in 1988 to be an executive for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin.
Cullen has toured the state with former Republican Sen. Dale Schultz to speak about the need for more bipartisanship to solve the state’s problems. That moderate approach could be a liability for him in a Democratic primary for governor, when turnout among more partisan party stalwarts is high.
A number of other Democrats also are considering a run, but no one has officially announced. They include state U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, of La Crosse, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, state Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire and Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ.
Kind last month refused to rule out a possible run. Walker, in a fundraising email sent Tuesday, singled out Kind as a possible candidate, calling him a “liberal Washington insider.”
Walker hasn’t officially announced his plans to run again, but he’s raising money and making all the moves necessary to launch his bid for a third term sometime this summer.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned an appeals court ruling and sided with a gun rights group, ruling that the city of Madison must allow bus passengers to carry concealed weapons.
The ruling, which could be used to challenge other transit systems across the state, concluded that local governments cannot enforce rules that contradict Wisconsin’s concealed-carry law.
The court ruled 5-2, with Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson dissenting. Justice Daniel Kelly wrote the majority opinion.
Wisconsin Carry, a gun rights advocacy group, challenged the administrator of Madison’s Metro Transit in 2014 after it prohibited a passenger with a concealed-carry license from bringing a gun on a bus. The group argued Metro Transit’s policy prohibiting weapons of any kind on buses cannot supersede the state’s concealed-carry law signed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011. The law allows people to get licenses that allow them to carry a concealed gun or carry a gun openly in school zones. Metro Transit adopted its rule in 2005.
An appeals court sided with the city in 2015, saying that Metro Transit’s rule did not amount to an “ordinance” or “resolution” banning concealed weapons, which the concealed-carry law prohibits.
In overturning that ruling, the Supreme Court concluded that passengers can bring firearms or other type weapons on buses, as long as they follow other applicable laws.
Justice Kelly argued that the concealed-carry law’s purpose is to allow the carrying of concealed weapons as broadly and uniformly as possible. He further said that the court must consider the “plain meaning” of the concealed-carry law rather than debate word choice. Following that reasoning, Metro Transit’s rule functions similarly to an ordinance or resolution passed by a municipality banning concealed weapons and therefore is superseded by the concealed-carry law.
In her dissent joined by Abrahamson, Bradley argued that the majority opinion expanded the law’s intent to fit its purpose. She argued Metro Transit’s policy does not amount to an ordinance or resolution.
Wisconsin Carry President Nik Clark said he expects the ruling to have implications in other Wisconsin cities, both in public transit systems and some public outdoor areas.
“There are other mass transit entities around the state that have prohibitive policies,” he said. “Once we review the decision, we’ll have a better understanding of how far-reaching it is.”
Clark said people who rely on public transit should be able to carry concealed weapons just as people who drive their own cars.
City of Madison attorney John Strange said the court ignored basic legal principles for a desired result.
“From a public safety perspective, the decision creates greater risk to passengers by allowing guns on moving and crowded buses,” he said.
Metro Transit’s spokesman Mick Rusch said that Metro Transit is concerned about the ruling’s impact on passenger safety but will comply with the law.
The budget Gov. Scott Walker submitted to the Legislature in February balances, as it’s required to under state law. But when that same budget is measured using generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, the picture is much different.
With that measurement, the state’s true budget deficit would grow to more than $2 billion by 2019 — the largest it’s been since 2012.
HOW COULD THE BUDGET BE MISLEADING?
For the budget to be truly balanced, the state would have to cut spending by the amount of the GAAP deficit _ the shortfall when the budget is translated into GAAP.
“There are a lot of budget manipulations you can use to make the budget look better,” said Daniel Neely, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor who specializes in governmental accounting.
Namely, the budget is prepared in a way that counts millions and sometimes billions of dollars the state is temporarily holding for taxpayers and smaller units of government as its own.
WHY DOES A DEFICIT MATTER?
A large deficit tends to mean cash reserves are low, which means the state is vulnerable to any kind of economic downtown or political shock, said Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a nonpartisan advocacy group.
A large deficit is also one of the reasons credit agencies haven’t raised Wisconsin’s bond ratings in years.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH WALKER?
When he was running for governor in 2010, Walker vowed on his campaign website to “require the use of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to balance every state budget, just as we require every local government and school district to do.”
During his first few years in office, he did chip away at the deficit, which had ballooned to $3 billion in 2010 under former Gov. Jim Doyle. By 2014, the deficit had dropped to $1.4 billion.
But it inched back up the following year and hovers around $1.7 billion in the most recent estimate. If Walker’s budget is adopted, the deficit would reach $2.1 billion — $365 for every person in the state — by 2019.
HOW DO OTHER STATES COMPARE?
Wisconsin is one of only a handful of states with deficits when using GAAP. It was one of 10 states in 2014, which is the most recent data available from the Department of Administration.
And Wisconsin had the third largest deficit that year, after California and Illinois, two states with well-known, perpetual funding woes.
There are a few contributing factors, Berry said. Wisconsin provides more aid to local governments and tends to solve cash flow issues through excess withholding of income taxes, both of which increase the deficit.
WHAT DOES WALKER THINK ABOUT IT?
Walker’s spokesman, Tom Evenson, did not comment on the fact that Walker’s budget would add to the GAAP deficit. Instead, Evenson highlighted that Walker will have decreased the deficit by more than 30 percent, from $3 billion in 2011 to around $2 billion in 2019.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER LAWMAKERS?
The CPA Caucus, a group of Republican lawmakers who are also certified public accountants, has proposed requiring the state to reduce the deficit or use GAAP several times in the past. Caucus member Sen. Chris Kapenga said it’s possible they will try again this session.
“If I were in the governor’s spot, and I had some things I wanted to get pushed through, it’s an easy way to get what I need done,” Kapenga said. “But we’re saying, ‘Let’s fix the accounting of this so that people know this is how much (that’s) actually going to be spent.’”
Beverly Walker doubts Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to abolish the Wisconsin Parole Commission will add efficiency to a sluggish system, and she suspects it would make qualifying for parole even more difficult.
Her husband, Baron Walker, has been imprisoned for nearly 22 years on a 60-year sentence for two armed bank robberies. Since 2011, he has been eligible for parole under Wisconsin’s old sentencing scheme, which allowed inmates to petition for release after serving one-fourth of their time.
Baron Walker has met required conditions for behavior and all programming that has been recommended, including a high school equivalency degree and vocational training, according to a 2015 report from the Parole Commission. He now resides in the minimum security Oakhill Correctional Institution, whose primary focus is to “prepare offenders for release into the community.”
“You take full responsibility for your crimes and for the harm you have caused the victims and others. You have engaged in a considerable amount of positive growth and maturity during this incarceration,” the report stated.
Despite that, the commission concluded that Walker’s criminal history — including a previous stint in prison — and the severity of his crimes means “serving additional time for punishment is warranted.”
“It’s horrible that we’re not together, reunited, by now because he’s met the requirements of the law he was sentenced under,” said Beverly Walker of Milwaukee, who has been a single mother to their five children, who now have six children of their own. “He’s met everything that he was supposed to meet. So it’s confusing to the children, you know, when they see that he’s done what he’s supposed to do and he’s still locked up.”
Gov. Scott Walker is proposing to abolish the Parole Commission and put the decision about whether to release thousands of parole-eligible prisoners into the hands of a gubernatorial appointee. Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the change would “streamline” the parole process.
The Parole Commission has operated short-handed during Walker’s tenure; the eight-member board currently has five vacancies.
“It just seems like everything is stagnated when it comes to parole-eligible inmates already, so it’s hard to tell if eliminating the commission is going to help this process move forward or not,” Beverly Walker said.
Under the Republican governor, the commission has released far fewer offenders than it did under his predecessor, Democrat Jim Doyle. Walker also killed an early-release program launched by Doyle, has refused to issue any pardons and, as a state lawmaker, spearheaded the 1998 Truth in Sentencing law, which abolished parole for most prisoners.
One inmate advocate, the Rev. Jerry Hancock, said cutting funding for parole considerations even more could make a “broken and unfair system” worse.
Parole plan raises questions
An international parole expert said if adopted, Wisconsin’s system would be “a very unique set- up” and one that could be less fair to parolees and more prone to political influence.
“In my history in criminal justice of 30-something years, I’ve seen them (states) add to parole boards and I’ve seen them take away from parole boards but I’ve never seen a situation where they limited the decision-making to one person,” said Monica Morris, chief administrative officer of the Association of Paroling Authorities International, a Huntsville, Texas-based group that helps develop research-based parole policy.
“In my opinion, that is too much power to give to one person,” Morris added. “The whole concept of a parole board is you have two or three or five or seven (people) where you have a deliberative process where people are making a collaborative decision.”
Cecelia Klingele, an assistant law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said she cannot imagine how one person could give “fair and full consideration” to the “significant” number of people who are currently parole eligible.
Department of Corrections spokesman Tristan Cook said about 3,000 people are serving “parole eligible” sentences in Wisconsin but he did not know how many of those are currently eligible for release.
While no inmate is “entitled” to parole, “they do have a legal right to fair assessment of their case,” said Klingele, who specializes in criminal justice administration and community supervision.
Walker’s two-year budget calls for closing the Parole Commission on Jan. 1, 2018 and moving its duties to the DOC. That would save an estimated $1.8 million over two years, including elimination of 13 positions, Evenson said. Decisions on whether to grant paroles would be handled by a “director of paroles” appointed by the governor, he said.
Evenson said the proposal is a “common sense change” since the chairperson of the Parole Commission, who makes the final decision on releases, is already a gubernatorial appointee.
According to a national survey published in 2016, no state had abolished its parole board in the previous 15 years. Wisconsin was among five states that did not complete the survey, which was conducted by the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Law School.
Parole board members generally have set terms and can be removed only for cause, creating at least some political independence, said Morris, who served under three governors during her 12 years on the Florida Parole Commission.
Putting the board under the purview of the DOC, she said, could reduce some of that independence.
“I would not want … the people that are holding the key to be included in the decision-making process,” Morris said. “What if they have an incentive to keep them in or an incentive to let them out?”
Walker: Boost earned releases
The governor also plans to expand earned-release programs that allow nonviolent offenders to cut short their time in prison by completing drug or alcohol treatment or the military-style Challenge Incarceration Program.
Whether those changes will result in paroles for “old-law” inmates convicted of crimes committed before 2000 remains unclear. For crimes since the beginning of 2000, offenders fall under Truth in Sentencing, which requires them to serve their full time in prison, with no opportunity for parole, unless they complete an earned release program.
The budget proposal calls for expanding the state’s earned-release programs by 250 inmates by adding 16.25 more positions to the DOC, Evenson said. Such programs allow inmates to cut their incarceration time by completing substance abuse treatment or other programming. According to DOC figures, 1,637 inmates were released in 2016 under these programs, in which remaining time behind bars is converted into parole or supervised release.
The expansion is expected to save money by reducing the number of beds rented from county jails to alleviate crowding. The net savings is expected to be $3.7 million over two years, Cook said.
Number of ‘old-law’ releases unknown
According to data from the Wisconsin DOC, 1,002 paroles were granted between July 2011 — when Kathleen Nagle, Walker’s first pick to lead the Parole Commission, took office — and the end of 2016. The DOC database does not disclose what proportion of offenders were old-law prisoners and which were sentenced more recently.
About half of the paroled offenders, or 491, participated in such programs, which include the Wisconsin Substance Abuse Program and the Challenge Incarceration Program, Cook said. Both Cook and Evenson emphasized that under earned release, offenders’ length of sentences do not change; time in custody is cut and converted to time outside of prison under supervision of a probation or parole agent.
Another 141 offenders had reached their mandatory release date, meaning the DOC was legally obligated to parole them, according to department data. Under the old law, inmates were eligible for parole after serving one-fourth of their sentences and had to be released under most circumstances after serving two-thirds of their sentences — factors that judges kept in mind prior to 2000 when sentencing offenders. People on parole are subject to conditions which, if violated, can land them back in prison.
Advocates for parole-eligible inmates had mixed reactions to Walker’s proposal to kill the Parole Commission.
Hancock, director of the Prison Ministry Project in Madison and a former prosecutor, said the change could make it harder for old-law inmates to gain release. Hancock said the proposal shows Walker’s “complete contempt for the law and the basic justice of parole,” adding, “His continuing refusal to grant the fair hearing that sentencing judges promised the nearly 3,000 inmates still eligible for parole is cruel, inhumane and immoral.”
David Liners, state director of Wisdom, a statewide faith-based group, said it is unclear whether the changes would speed up or slow down parole considerations for old-law inmates.
“It is very hard to imagine that they will deal with parole requests more efficiently with less people,” Liners said.
However, leaving the decision within the DOC could avoid the “bureaucratic nightmares” that some inmates encounter in qualifying for release, he said. Some old-law inmates have said they cannot access programming ordered by the Parole Commission because the DOC does not make it available to them.
“Instead of abolishing the independent Parole Commission,” Hancock said, “the Legislature should require an immediate review of all those prisoners who are eligible for parole and determine who can be safely returned to their families and communities.”
He said there are hundreds of parole-eligible inmates who are already in minimum security or even working in the community. Releasing them from prison — where costs to house them are estimated at $37,994 a year per inmate — would save the state millions of dollars, Hancock said.
Rate of parole unclear
An analysis by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism shows the Parole Commission granted 11.9 percent of parole petitions in 2016 — a number that had been in the single digits for four and a half years. That includes inmates who petitioned more than once in a year.
Whether Wisconsin is typical of other states in its parole release rate is unclear. Wisconsin did not report parole numbers in the most recent U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance report.
Even so, it is nearly impossible to compare state correctional systems because of variations in how such data are reported, according to a 2015 investigation by The Washington Post and The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news outlet that reports on criminal justice issues.
But the investigation did find one common theme: “In many states, parole boards are so deeply cautious about releasing prisoners who could come back to haunt them that they release only a small fraction of those eligible … even those who pose little danger and whom a judge clearly intended to go free.”
Liners said a similar dynamic appears to be at work in Wisconsin, with a Parole Commission “so risk averse that they don’t want to release anyone.”
In the past, the DOC defended the slowing pace of paroles for old-law prisoners, saying those who have not been released earlier have committed the most serious crimes. A DOC report on parole-eligible prisoners as of 2014 found that 73 percent were incarcerated for forcible rape, homicide or non-negligent manslaughter.
Days from parole, offender told ‘no’
Adan Castellano, an old-law inmate, was 17 years old in 1993 when he and six others were involved in the beating of two teens they suspected of being members of a rival gang. One boy, who was determined not to be a gang member, was killed.
Castellano was convicted in Racine County Circuit Court of reckless homicide and other counts and was sentenced to 45 years in prison. After being locked up for 24 years, Castellano — now 41 years old — is a model prisoner, according to his parole report. Considered a low risk to the public, Castellano has earned the right to work for a landscaping company in the Madison area.
“You entered the system at a young age, turned your life around, completed programming, satisfied all owed obligations, saved money for release, secured an approved release plan and demonstrated success at multiple minimum community custody sites with work release,” Parole Commission member Danielle LaCost wrote.
She recommended that Castellano, currently housed at the fenceless Oregon Correctional Center, be released Jan. 24.
However, as one of his first orders of business, Walker’s newly appointed interim Parole Commission chairman, Douglas Drankiewicz, on Feb. 1 rejected that recommendation. He wrote that Castellano needed to serve more time in part because of “the nature and severity of the crime (the senseless taking of an innocent life).”
Lupe Castellano of Waukegan, Ill., who was 1 year old when her brother was sent to prison, said the parole denial was devastating to Adan’s nieces and nephews, four siblings and especially his mother.
“It’s been really hard on my mom,” she said. “Especially to know that she was finally going to have her son home — and to have it taken away like that.”
She said eliminating the Parole Commission would probably result in fewer paroles because it would be impossible for a single official to track the progress of thousands of inmates.
“Your life would be in one person’s hands,” Castellano said.
No release after inmate meets all conditions
Liners said many old-law inmates and their families complain that they are repeatedly denied parole even after demonstrating evidence of rehabilitation and little risk of re-offending.
Kim Szemborski is one such case. Szemborski is serving a 64-year sentence from Racine County as a habitual criminal for a 1987 armed robbery and an escape in which he stole a car with three people in it. They were released unharmed a few blocks later, according to a 2015 Parole summary of Szemborski’s history written by LaCost
The report praises Szemborski for his exemplary behavior and his history of work, including at jobs outside of prison. Szemborski also was credited with extensive participation in programming and treatment.
“There are no identified programs remaining,” LaCost wrote.
Nevertheless, LaCost wrote that the commission had decided Szemborski must serve additional time, noting the seriousness of his crimes and criminal history stretching back to the early 1970s — including an armed robbery committed while on parole for earlier crimes.
“Serving additional time in a productive manner, achieving reduced custody with work release and further preparing for release will help to demonstrate a mitigated level of risk,” the commissioner wrote.
Szemborski, now 62, was recommended for release in 2011, but Walker appointee Nagle overruled that, according to Szemborski’s unsuccessful court challenge of the decision. He has been denied parole six times since then. His mandatory release date is in 2030.
“The reason they (inmates) are given so often is because of the severity of the crime or due to insufficient time served,” Liners said. “These things always harken back to the original crime, and that’s the one thing these guys can’t change.”
The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s reporting on criminal justice issues is supported by a grant from the Vital Projects Fund. The nonprofit Center (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.
A Madison attorney says he’s running for the state Democratic Party’s leadership post.
Eric Finch issued a news release saying he’ll challenge current party Chairwoman Martha Laning at the party’s June convention.
Glendale Mayor Bryan Kennedy has said he’ll run against Laning as well.
Laning is seeking re-election despite Democrats’ poor showing in the November elections, which saw Donald Trump become the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984 and the GOP expand its legislative majorities.
Finch said he’s running because he’s fed up with Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic “insiders” who he says have failed to fight back against Walker’s signature law stripping most public workers of their union rights.
Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” How much more do we have to see and hear from Sheriff Clarke before we believe who he is?
Yesterday, Governor Scott Walker, responding to an excerpt from the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s new book, agreed with his long-time aide R.J. Johnson that the sheriff made up a story about his interactions with the governor.
If the governor can’t trust Clarke to tell the truth about interactions with him, how can he trust him to tell the truth about his other scandalous activities? Why should the governor take his word that he was not responsible for the county jail deaths under his supervision, or take his word that he is not intentionally intimidating and threatening violence to law-abiding citizens?
When someone shows you who they are, believe them. Mr. Governor, Sheriff Clarke has shown you he is a man without integrity that cannot be trusted. That is why I renew my call for the removal of Sheriff Clarke and I demand a thorough independent investigation of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department and the Supervision of the Milwaukee County Jail.
Clarke’s book, Cop Under Fire: Beyond the hashtags of race, crime and politics, was published Feb. 28 and is a bestseller on Amazon.
In the book, Clarke says he has no interest in seeking a job other than the one he holds. But in a March 2 appearance on Fox and Friends, he further undermined his trustworthiness by flip-flopping on that statement, saying he’s not ruling out a U.S. Senate run or a position in the Trump administration.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who penned the court opinion that ended the controversial John Doe probe of Scott Walker’s campaign activities, is one of the featured speakers at a Republican Party fundraiser. Another featured speaker is the head of a shadowy right-wing group that the John Doe prosecutor was reportedly looking into. That group, Wisconsin Club for Growth, spent more than half a million dollars to get Gableman elected in 2008.
Gableman, who is among the court’s 5–2 conservative majority, faces reelection next year to a second 10-year term on the court. He’s scheduled to appear March 11 at the Barron County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day dinner in Rice Lake.
In addition to Gableman, the director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, Eric O’Keefe, will also be a keynote speaker at the event.
The John Doe investigation into coordination between special-interest groups and Walker’s campaign during the 2011 and 2012 recalls was ended in 2015 by the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority in a 4-2 ruling. The state’s high court ruled that the coordination of election activities between candidates and special interest issue advocacy groups, which secretly raise and spend millions of dollars on elections, was legal.
Though technically a nonpartisan office, Gableman and other conservative court candidates generally draw support from traditionally Republican contributors, and liberal court candidates generally draw support from traditionally Democratic contributors.
Gableman received about $31,100 in contributions from state and local GOP parties during his 2008 race for the Supreme Court.
Gableman also received an estimated $500,000 in outside electioneering support from the Wisconsin Club for Growth, and $8,500 in direct contributions from the group’s political action committee during his 2008 race.
Matt Rothschild is executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Winding its way through the Legislature is a bill that would undermine this state’s commitment to transparent government.
It must be stopped, and we’re asking readers to contact their legislators and voice their objection to AB70 and its companion bill in the Senate, SB42.
The stakes are high for people who depend on newspapers to provide information about government proceedings. If adopted, the bill would eliminate requirements to publish meeting minutes in newspapers and allow local governments to put these documents on their websites — in other words, mostly hidden from public view.
This is a classic case of the foxes guarding the henhouse. In the past, these foxes knew they were unwelcome guests. But in recent years, the foxes have become emboldened, believing the public no longer pays attention to their schemes.
That’s not true, of course.
When legislators tried in 2015 to gut open records laws through legislative maneuvering just before the Fourth of July weekend, newspapers cried foul. Legislators quickly backtracked, but the saga was a reminder that the public must remain vigilant in monitoring its henhouse.
At one time, legislators went to Madison with a clear understanding of their mission — to serve the people. But for many reasons, legislators have become increasingly susceptible to the influence of special interests, which often cleverly disguise their agendas as acting in the public’s interest.
In concocting AB70 and SB42, lawmakers cuddled up to local government officials. These two groups would never admit it, but they both stand to benefit from keeping the public in the dark. Operating in the open can be a headache and hurdle to re-election. When constituents know what their government is doing, they have this annoying tendency to demand accountability.
Some legislators claim AB70 and SB42 will save taxpayers because governments no longer would have to pay to publish meeting proceedings. But in the long run, less transparency for the sake of saving tax dollars backfires. Whenever government officials start to feel unaccountable, they spend even more tax dollars on perks that benefit themselves and their friends because they stop feeling concerned that the public will find out. Publishing meeting minutes and other legal notices in newspapers keeps officials honest, or at least a little more honest than they would otherwise be.
At this juncture, can we really afford policies that encourage dishonesty and validate the foxes’ pillaging of open government?
Current publication requirements maintain a strong link between government and the public, and it would be a grave mistake to downplay this link’s significance.
Unless you believe that your local government is entitled to do as it pleases, get in touch with your legislator. Tell him or her that AB70 and SB42 should die quickly, preferably while still in committee.
Don’t bury public notices in bureaucracy
Wisconsin State Journal
The Green Bay City Council recently discussed spending $80,000 to repair or replace a 9/11 monument that’s in “horrible condition.”
The Holmen Village Board in La Crosse County approved $34,085 for two pickups, $4,500 for a digital camera, and $2,600 for a radar gun.
The Beaver Dam School Board committed $75,000 for Chromebooks for staff.
The DeForest Village Board approved an agreement with Dane County to reconstruct Highway CV.
All of that information — and so much more — appeared Thursday and Friday in meeting minutes published by local governments in local newspapers.
You might not care about some or any of those details if you don’t live in those communities. But if you did, those decisions could significantly affect you and your family.
That’s why school districts, counties and municipalities are required by state law to publish — at a discount — the minutes of their meetings in their local newspapers. The Wisconsin Newspaper Association also publishes the notices and a slew of other community announcements on its searchable and free website: wisconsinpublicnotices.org.
The notices are a public service to the hundreds of thousands of citizens who read local newspapers in print and online across Wisconsin, as well as anyone who is curious and has access to the internet.
The result of wide dissemination of this public information — where it is easy to find — is a more involved and knowledgeable citizenry that knows what’s going on with public money and policy.
Unfortunately, Gov. Scott Walker and some misguided state lawmakers want to hide much of this information where it’s hard for voters to find. They are pushing changes in the state budget and separate legislation that would bury meeting minutes and other public notices about local ordinances and budgets on obscure, often confusing and bureaucratic government websites.
Instead of just picking up your local newspaper and seeing all of the actions your local leaders are taking — including those that don’t lead to news coverage and big headlines — citizens will have to search the internet hoping to find more detail about government budgets and decisions.
The politicians claim this will save a little money because local governments won’t have to pay for as many notices in newspapers. What they don’t say is public access to government will be diminished. And that’s just what the politicians want, because fewer notices will mean less scrutiny and accountability for their actions. Over time, that will only lead to greater spending and waste, not less.
The full Legislature should reject Assembly Bill 70 and Senate Bill 42, which will reduce government transparency. Lawmakers also should strip from the governor’s budget any language limiting publication of government meetings and actions.
The rough and tumble of sifting and winnowing
The Journal Times of Racine
In a small piece of the proposed state budget, Gov. Scott Walker has earmarked $10,000 for the University of Wisconsin System for “codifying the state’s commitment to academic freedom” and wants the System to protect offensive speech.
The $10,000 is proposed for the UW System to review and revise policies related to academic freedom.
The governor’s companion budget bill calls on the UW Board of Regents and the campuses across the state to “guarantee all members of the System’s community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn.”
“It is not the proper role of the board or any institution or college campus to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive,” the proposed bill says.
That language seems to be straight off the plaque on Bascom Hall, with its venerable charge to “ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”
Free speech is a hallmark of university campuses, here and elsewhere. We subscribe to the idea that open discussion and free exchange of ideas, even objectionable ideas, is vital to the educational role of our universities.
Yes, that can be a rough and tumble process and it can be difficult for young students when their ideas are challenged. It can be difficult, too, to be exposed to ideas and beliefs of other cultures, beliefs and theories that do not square with the ones that student shares.
That is part of the learning process.
But the budget bill goes on to say that while students and others in the campus community are free to criticize or contest views and “speakers who are invited to express their views, (but) they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.”
“The board and each institution and college campus has a responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it,” the bill says.
That’s the part that is raising objections from some student leaders at UW-Madison, who view the proposed legislation as an attempt by state government to crack down on protests and to “normalize hate speech” when some speakers come on campus.
Yes, those speakers would likely be ones such as Milo Yiannopoulos, the alt-right advocate and editor of the conservative Breitbart News, whose scheduled appearance earlier this year at the University of California-Berkeley triggered a small student riot and had to be cancelled with Yiannopoulos being escorted off campus.
Yiannopoulos also made an appearance at UW-Milwaukee in December and was upbraided by Chancellor Mark Mone after he targeted a transgender student by name during his speech.
So, is this bill an attempt to encourage free speech on campuses? Or is it designed to create “safe spaces” on state campuses for speakers peddling a conservative or Republican agenda?
The bill does not spell out what responsibilities Wisconsin campuses have to ensure that such speakers are protected and allowed to speak. Does it mean students who protest a speaker will be punished or expelled for their disruptive actions? Is the campus liable if its administrators don’t follow their responsibilities as directed by the state Legislature?
Walker’s proposed bill is not the only one making the rounds of legislatures around the country. In Tennessee, a similar bill has been drawn up — labeled the “Milo Bill” — that would punish students who interfere with speakers, according to a Madison news report.
In North Carolina, a piece of proposed legislation would not only require universities to punish students who shout down speakers, but also would allow universities to be sued by speakers who had their free speech rights infringed.
Free speech may not be so free if that legislation comes to pass.
UW-Madison has struggled of late over academic freedom, free-speech issues and sensitivity to minorities. That includes episodes such as the fan at a Badgers football game last fall, who was allowed to parade through the stands with a President Barack Obama mask and a noose around his neck; the disruption of an appearance by a conservative speaker on campus in November; a threat by a legislator to cut university funding over a class on “The Problem of Whiteness”; a complaint last fall by State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, that too many guest speakers at UW campuses are liberal; and most recently, a white UW student, who had served his time in prison for arson fires at two black churches, who was trying to organize a white nationalist group on campus.
The issues involved in those episodes are all subject to reasoned, spirited debate and civil discourse. That is at the heart of the education system _ to challenge ideas, to propose new ones, to confront false arguments, to broaden personal and institutional horizons and, hopefully, to increase knowledge.
Our preference is for the UW System and our state campuses to police themselves when it comes to academic freedom and free speech, without an overlaid directive from the governor and the Legislature to enforce protections for “offensive speech.”
At the same time, our universities should understand where this state government initiative is coming from, and take its own steps to ensure civility and respect for opposing views are both tolerated and welcome on our campuses as part of the educational process.
The sifting and winnowing of thoughts and ideas must come from both the left and right sides of the barrel — the top and bottom, too — or the truth is not going to be found in the final mix.