Friday January 22, 2021

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Democracy at Work

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, 11 November 2020
in Wisconsin

voting-2020-538Although Americans may have different reactions now that the election is over, it’s important that we continue having conversations to move forward together.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - And, just like that, Election Day has passed! What a relief for all of us. At the end of an election season, you may feel overwhelmed with emotion; we feel excited, relieved and disappointed all at the same time.

As someone who has run multiple campaigns, I can tell you it isn’t easy on candidates when it’s all over. It can be a terrible blow when you lose, but even when you win, there can be a sudden drop in energy. A candidate can feel like they’re racing at 100 miles per hour in the final weeks and, win or lose, the day after the election is like hitting a brick wall. It can feel like everyone and everything has come to a stop and you don’t know what to do with all the energy.

For so many of us, Election Day couldn’t have come soon enough; we want nothing more than to have a respite from politics. Having been hammered for months with ads, mail and calls, election season can be discouraging and exhausting. Receiving election results can be just as stressful. Nobody gets what they wished for 100% of the time – there are both wins and losses among the candidates or ballot initiatives you supported. But what’s important is we have the right to have our voice heard through our vote. This is democracy at work.

wi-fair-mapsWe must keep the momentum going after Election Day by holding our elected officials accountable. We can’t forget why we had an election in the first place. We must continue conversations about how we move our nation, state and communities forward.

It’s important to remind successful candidates of the responsibilities to serve everyone, not just those who voted for them. We should expect civility among our elected officials.

The Wisconsin Legislature still has not met or passed legislation for over 200 days. This record is embarrassing and shameful, especially while so many have struggled to meet their daily needs during this pandemic. But every day is a new day, and we have new opportunities to change this course of inaction into action. It starts with elected officials fulfilling promises they made during a grueling campaign season.

Think about what you heard from candidates while they were on the campaign trail. Did you hear a candidate talk about expanding access to high-speed internet service? Then don’t let your legislators forget, because the need continues to grow. Did you hear a candidate say we should fix the unemployment insurance system, so those who need support can get it quicker? Remind them we can make these fixes right now before things get worse.

jeff-smithDid a candidate campaign on supporting our public schools to weather this pandemic? I’m sure most candidates suggested this was a priority for them. We must remind them these are all still top priorities to move Wisconsin forward. Don’t let your elected officials forget.

As we near the end of 2020, COVID-19 remains a major hurdle.  Lives are being lost, families are isolated and we are all looking for the end of this crisis. It wasn’t until this pandemic did we realize just how difficult life can be and how important public health is to our society.

COVID-19 turned into a political football this election. Public health is no game. It showed us just how dangerous it can be to trivialize a global pandemic for political purposes. Moving forward, our leaders must take COVID-19 seriously and reach across the aisle to find progress.

As winter nears and the holidays are approaching, families will be staying indoors. We will have to get creative to celebrate the holidays we look forward to all year long without risking the lives of our loved ones. Working together as a community to stop the spread is a perfect way for us to heal wounds left over from a vicious campaign. Let’s care for each other. Let’s learn how to earn a living, pursue an education and govern together during this pandemic so the America we are so proud of can unify as one.

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Raising Awareness of Domestic Violence

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, 04 November 2020
in Wisconsin

domestic-violenceSen. Jeff Smith writes about our responsibility to show our support and share resources for survivors, while working to find long-term solutions to address this issue.

MADISON - A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet virtually with two community leaders representing domestic violence awareness organizations in Wisconsin. Every October, we recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month to bring attention to this issue and better understand the impact domestic violence has in our communities.

After having this conversation, one of the key takeaways I took from it was that we must continue raising community awareness about domestic violence even past the nationally-recognized Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence can happen every day. In fact, domestic violence affects more than 12 million people every year.

Although October has passed, we’re responsible to continue the conversation and raise awareness throughout the year. In doing so, we’re working to support survivors and find long-term solutions to address this problem.

Domestic violence isn’t limited to a certain age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, or socioeconomic status. We know anyone can be affected by domestic violence; however, a large majority of victims are women, and offenders are often male. It’s also important to remember it occurs in higher rates among marginalized communities, especially among American Indians and Alaska Natives than other groups.

Importantly, domestic violence doesn’t only appear within marriage; it can appear in all types or stages of a relationship. When discussing domestic violence, many use the term “Intimate Partner Violence” interchangeably to help others better understand the many different facets or signs of domestic violence.

Not all domestic violence leaves a visible mark. Domestic violence can come in the form of physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, cultural, spiritual, or digital abuse. This type of behavior is intended to maintain control or power in the relationship.

jeff-smithFor decades, the cries of victims went unnoticed or ignored. Victims were, and are often still, wrongly blamed for the abusive situation. Blaming victims has resulted in the silence of victims. It was and sometimes still is considered a private matter that shouldn’t be interfered with. Despite continued awareness of this issue, domestic violence is still very prevalent within our local communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of our lives, but it has affected victims of domestic violence even more and in such a complicated way. When schools closed and we began to isolate in our homes, it meant victims were likely trapped with their abuser for longer periods of time with no relief. The aggressor may have even become more agitated under the pressures the pandemic has wrought, such as financial stress or fewer opportunities to find relief from this stress.

In September, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article, calling Intimate Partner Violence “a pandemic within a pandemic,” stating victims were trapped with their abusers and were unable to connect with helplines. According to this article, domestic violence hotline calls dropped by 50% due to the inability of victims to escape the abuser to make a call.


Please note, this weekly column contains sensitive information regarding domestic violence, which may be triggering for some readers.

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Trump has been a disaster for Veterans & America

Posted by Buzz Davis, Army Veteran & Activist
Buzz Davis, Army Veteran & Activist
Buzz Davis, formerly of Stoughton, WI now of Tucson, is a long time progressive
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 28 October 2020
in Wisconsin

trump-protest-marinetteTrump's plan is to privatize and close all Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare centers in America. We must vote wisely Nov. 3rd urges retired veterans, former VA worker and activists.

TUCSON, AZ - America’s veterans and current military members are troubled by thoughts of another 4 years of Donald Trump as President.

His plan is to privatize and close all Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare centers in America. This action will send all vets to private healthcare systems which are unaccustomed to the unique health issues of veterans!

veterans-seniorToday America can be proud that over 7 million veterans are cared for by the VA. The VA is the largest integrated healthcare system in America which provides quality of care as high, or higher, than the best hospitals in the private sector. Its costs are approximately 30% lower than private sector costs and has patient appointment wait times shorter than most private hospitals/clinics.

The VA is on the cutting edge of COVID-19 care in research, providing care for vets with C-19, providing VA doctors and nurses to private hospitals in dire need, and serving as a backup for local hospitals when they run out of intensive care beds.

veteran-olderMost of the nearly 400,000 VA staff work at 170 hospitals and 1,074 clinics across the US. Over 5,700 VA staffers have contracted C-19 and 57 have died.

The wounds of war and training are physical, mental and emotional - some never heal. The emotional wounds are a major factor in veterans having a suicide rate that is 1.5 times higher than non-veterans. The VA is the best at helping vets who are plagued with suicidal thoughts. More than 7 million vets use the VA. Nearly half are combat vets, half disabled and half very low income. Half of us are 65 and over with 6 or 7 life threatening diseases needing more care as we age.

Private sector healthcare facilities are, essentially, NOT equipped to treat such a sick group.

veterans_army_medicHere in WI there are 8,900 VA workers in 29 hospitals, clinics, vet centers, and 7 military cemeteries across the state. Hundreds of thousands of WI vets are well cared for.

The question to ask is: Why does President Trump want to send vets to private care when the cost is 30% higher and vets get slower care?

One answer, perhaps, is insatiable greed! Greed for money, wealth and power! Those on Wall Street, CEOs of insurance companies and hospital systems will make billions more in profits off sick veterans.

If these people are successful in their privatization effort, the best single payer, single provider, most cost effective, high quality healthcare system in America will be gone!

The result will likely be -- YOU will never get Medicare for All because privatizers pushing this effort will have killed the best model for national healthcare in existence – the VA healthcare system.

In 2016 over 14.5 million veterans and military voted - 60% voting for Trump. After becoming aware of Trump's actions the last 4 years, hopefully our Nation is wiser! The power of our vote is crucial!

Preventing Trump’s election shows veterans are supported. We do not need a leader who refers to America’s women and men wearing the uniform and who’ve died in wars - as chumps, suckers and losers.

A Commander in Chief, with such disdain for those in our military, is a dangerous person to command military operations when lives are in danger.

President Trump should NOT be leading our Nation – make Nov. 3rd his day of reckoning!


Commentary written by Buzz Davis and Ian Smith

Ian Smith is a Vice Pres. of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 1732, Madison, WI & is a retired 40 yr. VA worker, former U.S. Army medic 1957-59 & has been working to Stop VA Privatization for 6 yrs.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Buzz Davis, formerly of Stoughton, WI now of Tucson, is a retired state government planner, former VISTA Volunteer, Army officer Vietnam Era, city & county elected official & now helping to lead the Stop VA Privatization Work Group of Veterans for Peace. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Search for Truth During an Election

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, 28 October 2020
in Wisconsin

vote-47-mbFrom the disinformation we read on social media to the “issue ads” we see on TV, it’s important that we do our research and stay vigilant before casting our ballot.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - As we approach another Election Day, we all feel the heat from both major political parties as they do all they can to get their voters to show up for their candidates. Many voters – if they haven’t already – will stop answering the phone to avoid robocalls. Mailboxes will be filled with full-sized glossy cards and TV ads will play one after another, either celebrating or desecrating a candidate. After November 3rd, we’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief that it’s all over, at least until another campaign cycle comes around.

While we may all tire of the incessant campaign calls and mail, we should be mindful of who’s responsible for creating and funding the messages we’re consuming every day. As American citizens, we have the awesome right to vote and participate in our democracy. But, with this right comes the responsibility to do our research and understand the motives of each candidate.

Most of the campaign advertisements you see don’t come from candidates directly. The fact is, many of these advertisements appearing on TV or in the mail are usually paid for by organizations you’ve never heard of before. These advertisements are paid for by donors hiding behind laws that protect them from disclosing who they are.

jeff-smithLike many Americans, I believe that any effort to sway your opinion should be disclosed and open to public scrutiny. After all, if someone is paying for ads disparaging someone – or praising someone for that matter – then they should have to make public who they are and why they believe what’s being said. And, of course, voters shouldn’t automatically believe every word they hear or read just because it’s dramatically presented in a colorful ad. But the laws, as they currently stand, give most special interest groups a pass from disclosing who’s really behind these campaign messages.

If the ad doesn’t say “vote for” or “vote against,” these are considered “issue ads” rather than campaign ads, which means a report doesn’t need to be filed disclosing the ads’ donors. This is different for candidates, who are obligated to file finance reports listing their donors, the donor’s address and even their occupation and employer.

When most people think of campaign finance laws, they think of all the money donated by individuals and how it’s spent. But, by far, the most money spent during an election is from outside groups who use loopholes, like “issue ads” to hide in the shadows. In fact, many of the behind-the-scenes groups are temporary organizations formed only for this one purpose and during one campaign cycle.

All voters should know the purpose of the message and who’s behind the curtain pulling the levers. Creating a non-partisan redistricting commission and public awareness behind “issue ads” are the most needed reforms to keep our democracy strong.

Now, of course, social media has elevated campaign claims to a whole new level of dishonesty with minimal effort to reveal who’s responsible for the spread of misinformation. For the most part, we are very trusting people, which makes it difficult to question claims, even if they’re exaggerated or simply untrue. This all leads to a greater burden on each of us to fact check what appears on our newsfeed or find proof to back up a statement.

Day after day, we’re fed disinformation that can sway our decisions or lead us to misbelieve. On top of the persuasive campaign rhetoric during this time of year, there are efforts to prevent Americans from voting. Some elected leaders even go to great lengths to place hurdles in voters’ way or find ways to throw a ballot out. Despite these efforts, I’m confident that each Wisconsin voter will have their ballot counted. If voting early, remember to have a witness signature, mail your ballot early or turn it into your polling location by November 3rd.

In the final week before Election Day, stay informed and vigilant. You have the power to silence the special interest groups by voting and having your voice heard. Vote early or on Election Day, but VOTE!

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Wisconsin Should Invest in Education, Not Foreign Corporations

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 27 October 2020
in Wisconsin

foxconn-walker-ryan-johnsonIn addition to tax breaks for millionaires, we have FoxConn causing a drain on our state’s resources during the pandemic, says Sen. Erpenbach. These past poor choices limit options now.

MADISON - Virtually, in person, or planning and executing hybrid models, students and educators across Wisconsin are showing up and doing the hard work. Families are making sacrifices and hard choices in the face of this pandemic. We should all take a lesson from this dedication and perseverance.

As of this writing, it has now been 190 days of inaction since the current leadership of the Assembly and Senate and their caucuses last answered the calls coming from every corner of the state, 6 ½ months without a single day of action on the most significant crisis we’ve faced in generations.

During that time away, educators from across the state preparing for the school year have raised the alarm about the lasting impact enrollment changes during a public health crisis might have on schools that are the bedrock of our shared history and future – especially in smaller and rural communities.

Schools, like all of Wisconsin’s economy and way of life, would have been better served by a unified effort in the spring to limit this virus and its impact. I salute the men and women who have dedicated their careers and lives to education and are continuing that work, in person and remotely, to this day. And I stand with the Wisconsin parents who are making sacrifices at home and difficult choices for their children’s future.

Last week we saw a snapshot of the impact the ongoing pandemic is having on our schools. In the districts I represent all or of parts of, we saw enrollment drop by over 2600 students, nearly 3%.

Thankfully, Gov. Evers set the bar high for public education in his initial budget and general aid increases will help many of our schools and property taxpayers. Unfortunately, we could and should have done more. GOP budget choices included taking $500 million from the Governor’s special education proposal to preserve a tax giveaway targeted primarily at millionaires. Those dollars would certainly help educators and families meet the needs of students often suffering the most curing the COVID crisis.

A pandemic that has seen the wealthy grow wealthier while the challenges for working parents have grown – much – more difficult has made our choices and priorities even more starkly clear.

jon-erpenbachAs parents, students and educators face up to the extraordinary challenges of this pandemic it will be our job to rise to the challenge of continuing to support them. I will continue to support public schools that have been the cornerstones of our communities for generations. The impact of this pandemic on classrooms and homes is tremendous, and it will be our responsibility to protect the future of public education for 800,000+ students and their families in the budgets and legislation ahead.

Because of choices our colleagues in the majority caucuses made, our next budget starts out maintaining that tax giveaway for the millionaires instead of the additional $500 million that could have relieved costs local districts and their taxpayers are already required to pay for special education.

In addition to tax breaks for millionaires, we also have FoxConn causing a drain on our state’s resources. Thankfully, in 2020, we find ourselves with responsible leaders at the head of the state holding them to the contract, or FoxConn alone would take over $500 million– that could be coming home to your district to reimburse 60% of special education costs you are bearing – in the next budget alone.

Our Republican colleagues made unfortunate choices when they decided to fall for the FoxConn plan in just over a month in 2017. They made another unfortunate choice when they scurried back to Madison to pass lame duck legislation designed in part to protect the FoxConn handout in just 2 days.

We recently learned how little the people have gotten for the $165 million this has already cost state taxpayers and the billions more the GOP set aside for FoxConn in budgets ahead. Buildings as empty as the promises scrawled on a single sheet of paper three years ago. Homes lost, local debt the state may have to step in for, and fewer jobs than the hundreds and thousands of small businesses across our state have fought to maintain without a fraction of the help FoxConn demanded – and even worse – got.

It is time for responsible decisions and responsible leadership. It is time to come back to Madison to answer the call from educators with an unparalleled dedication to our state instead of back rooms on the other side of the Pacific. The students, families, educators, and the businesses, Wisconsinites facing unemployment through no fault of their own and especially our health care heroes on the front lines deserve our every effort – not zero days of action in six months from legislative leaders who could not leap high or fast enough when FoxConn came calling.

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