Sunday October 20, 2019

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Recognizing Indigenous People’s Day

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 16 October 2019
in Wisconsin

native-americanSen. Smith writes about Indigenous People’s Day, the day to recognize the rich ancestral history and cultural impact of Native Americans in our state.


MADISON, WI - There’s quite an interest in genealogy these days. We can now order a kit to learn what ethnicity make up our DNA to better understand our heritage and ancestry. Even beyond this initial discovery, we can connect to unknown relatives. It’s a privilege to learn more about who we are from our ancestry.

Last week, Governor Tony Evers declared the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day. This day is an opportunity for Wisconsinites to recognize the rich ancestral history and cultural impact of Native Americans in our state that often goes unappreciated. Just as important, this day allows us time to reflect on our country’s troubling history towards Native Americans. Together, we should reflect on the diverse ancestries that make up Wisconsin and continue to strive for a more equitable state for all.

For centuries, indigenous people have suffered in many ways while European settlers stole their land and left them displaced. They’ve been victims of genocide, racist government policies and forced assimilation of European customs. Throughout history, popular American culture has portrayed this group in racist, derogatory ways.

Despite the historic and modern day challenges that Native Americans have endured, they still demonstrate enormous pride in their own history and traditions. Their stewardship of the land and water for generations has shown everyone the importance of our environment. We owe a lot to the people of the First Nations. Indigenous people deserve our gratitude and respect.

jeff-smithThis legislative session, I’m proud to support initiatives for Wisconsin’s indigenous population. I introduced Assembly Bill 497 that will allow all tribal members to receive in-state tuition through the University of Wisconsin system. This bill will allow our UW System to become a magnet-school for all First Nations People across America. I’ve also sponsored Senate Bill 493 that would create a task force to investigate the unreported epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Wisconsin.

I’m proud to have sponsored Senate Bill 25, which passed into law as Act 250 in 2009 that prohibited the portrayal of Native Americans as a mascot in the state. This legislation passed, but has since been weakened by current legislative leaders. We should put a stop to this racist practice and ban it for good.

In September, I was honored to attend the Labor Day Pow Wow on the Ho Chunk grounds. As an outsider, I was welcomed and even invited to participate. I was impressed by the strong community presence and the traditions practiced. They’re dedicated to preserving their heritage by passing on stories from one generation to the next. Relationships between tribal members ran deep – their closeness between distant relatives was seen in their respect toward each other and their shared respect toward the land.

Recently, my wife and I had a discussion about what it would be like to live in the same place as our ancestors. Before my wife asked, I hadn’t thought too much about it, but it must be amazing for my distant relatives in Norway and Poland. These distant relatives do know what it’s like to know our family’s story and understand our heritage.

We can all agree it is fascinating for people of all backgrounds to learn about ancestral history. We must recognize our heritage – the good, the bad and the progress we continue to make as Americans.

As we observe Indigenous People’s Day in Wisconsin, we must stay committed to valuing the rich diversity of our state. Indigenous People’s Day is long overdue. Let’s all show the respect our state’s indigenous population deserves. It’s time we recognize everything they’ve done to protect this land and honor their contribution to our state.

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Believe in America’s Dairyland

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 09 October 2019
in Wisconsin

farm-familySenator Jeff Smith's Weekly Column is about Wisconsin's work to help dairy farmers make it through the recent dairy crisis. To preserve our reputation America's Dairyland, we need to stop family farm closures and find new ways to help young people continue our state's rich agricultural traditions.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Take a moment to imagine living on a small family farm. Waking at dawn to a rooster crowing and cows mooing. You head down to the barn to get the cows milked, collect chicken eggs, clean out stalls and feed all the animals before going back into the kitchen to grab breakfast for yourself.

This all too familiar lifestyle for most Wisconsin family farms is quickly becoming an illusion for our next generation of dairy farmers. Our reputation as America’s Dairyland is our pride, especially in the western Wisconsin and the 31st Senate District.

Oftentimes I’m awestruck at the beauty of western Wisconsin and the scenic farms nestled in the valleys and hills. People come to Wisconsin for a lot of reasons, but they almost always make sure to leave with some Wisconsin cheese. There’s no substitute. My own daughter still finds a way to bring tasty cheese back home after every visit to Wisconsin.

The dairy market crisis is wreaking havoc on Wisconsin farms. We’ve seen 551 dairy farms close in 2019 already after losing 638 in 2018 and 465 in 2017. Small, family farms are the hardest hit. Farmer suicides have shaken our communities to the core. Farmers face the decision to sell the farm or take on more debt to become bigger. Trade wars, access to credit and years of low milk prices make it hard for young folks to see a future in dairy farming.

At the World Dairy Expo in Madison last week, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “In America the big get bigger and the small go out.” He doubled-down on his comments about small family farms by saying, “I don’t think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.” That statement might help explain why farm subsidies seem to end up in the pockets of the largest operations while the small family farms are left with crumbs. It highlights what we already know. Leaders in Washington don’t have any intention to alleviate the dairy crisis in Wisconsin.

It’s clear we need to step it up right here in our own backyard. Starting in 2018, the Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0 started meeting and learning from professionals in the dairy industry about the challenges we face.

The Task Force offered 51 recommendations to help Wisconsin’s dairy industry. Already, we’ve enacted the Dairy Innovation Hub idea so farmers can learn cutting-edge dairy farming methods at UW-Madison, UW-River Falls or UW-Platteville. But that isn’t nearly enough – there’s a lot more to do. Here are just a few of the other ideas that came out of the Dairy Task Force recommendations:

  • Increase funding for dairy processor grants from $200,000 to $400,000 annually.

  • Enable new startup cheesemakers by evaluating methods for shared cheese production spaces.

  • Reinstate the “Grow Wisconsin Dairy” initiative to help farmers access capital for farm succession and transition planning.

  • Conduct a review of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) for self-employed individuals.

  • Establish and offer model programs for communities, local businesses and education systems in career path development programs targeting the agriculture career sector.

In the recent budget, Governor Tony Evers also offered critical assistance for dairy farmers in his budget by increasing funding for county Ag Agents, organic and grazing specialists, expanding the Farm-to-School program, expanding the Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin Program and critical farmer mental health programs, just to name a few. Unfortunately many of these ideas were cut or significantly reduced by Republicans from the final version of the budget.

jeff-smithMy colleague Representative Don Vruwink (D-Milton) and I recently introduced SB 453/AB 495 to create a small farm diversity grant program aimed at helping small farms try new agricultural ventures. We also teamed up to introduce SB 455/AB 500 which will help families save money when passing their farm onto their extended family.

There’s no shortage of good ideas, but we can do more. There’s too much at stake to tell dairy farmers to “get big or go out.” The dairy crisis doesn’t stop at the farmer’s doorstep. As policymakers and consumers, we must invest in our small family farms and encourage innovation to preserve our farming heritage in Wisconsin.

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Raising Awareness About Domestic Violence

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 02 October 2019
in Wisconsin

domestic-violenceSen. Smith writes about the devastating impact domestic violence has in communities across Wisconsin, and new legislation he has introduced to create a task force on murdered and missing tribal women and girls.


MADISON - We often focus on highly visible forms of violence in our society, like mass shootings. However, domestic violence happens every day in every town and neighborhood, and it often goes unreported or even unnoticed.

Since 1987, our country has recognized October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) to bring attention to the incredibly prevalent, but hidden, issue of domestic violence. According to the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, DVAM stemmed from the “Day of Unity” organized by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to remember victims, honor survivors and connect violence-prevention advocates.

Years later, advocates continue to work to address domestic violence and lead violence-prevention efforts. Domestic violence deeply affects families and neighborhoods across the country and there’s more we must do to ensure our communities are safe. As Domestic Violence Awareness Month begins, we must do everything we can to support survivors and end violence.

It’s difficult to simply define domestic violence because it can take so many different forms. The Domestic Violence Awareness Project interprets domestic violence “as a pattern of abusive behaviors including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks as well as economic coercion–used by one intimate partner against another (adult or adolescent) to gain, maintain, or regain power and control in the relationship.”

Abusive behaviors and relationships can lead to life-threatening consequences. Last week, the non-profit organization, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, released the 17th annual edition of the Wisconsin Violence Homicide Report. This report provides a summary of all homicides connected to domestic violence in 2018.

During the past year, there were 37 deaths linked to domestic violence in 19 Wisconsin counties, meaning an individual was killed every 7.5 days. The organization’s report indicated that 65% of domestic violence homicides involved a firearm, making this the most commonly-used weapon in these incidents. Additionally, the report revealed that 2018 was “the first year rural areas had a greater percentage of domestic violence homicides than urban areas in Wisconsin” since they began tracking this statistic.

Although domestic abuse victims and survivors tend to be women between the ages of 18 and 25, domestic violence affects individuals of all identities and backgrounds. Wisconsin district attorneys are required to report all law enforcement involvement in domestic violence incidents to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Despite this sophisticated tracking system, domestic violence incidents impacting members of the most marginalized social groups have been historically under reported or neglected altogether.

Violence-prevention advocates have identified the alarming rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women in our state and country. End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin identified how “native women are subjected to higher levels of violence, including trafficking, sexual assault, domestic abuse and homicide, than virtually any other group.” According to the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, “murder is the third leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaskan Native Women.”

jeff-smithLast week, my legislative colleagues introduced a bill that would create a task force on murdered and missing tribal women and girls. The task force would include members of tribal governments, survivor advocates, members of the Legislature, law enforcement officers and more. This group would have a number of responsibilities, which includes learning how to better track this data, understanding the systemic sources of violence that tribal women and girls experience and the measures to address this violence to help communities heal.

I’m a proud co-sponsor of this bill, but I’m aware there is more we can do to make our communities safer. Be sure to support survivors by listening and serving as an advocate. We must continue to promote awareness about domestic violence and actively work for a safe future for all.

There are resources available if you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse. For immediate assistance, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).

****

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

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Suicide; Listen Up to Save Lives

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 25 September 2019
in Wisconsin

opioid-overdoseSen. Smith writes about meeting suicide prevention advocates in western Wisconsin and Madison. It is important to stop the stigma around mental illness and understand what action we must take.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Recently I joined 700 community members at Carson Park for the Sharing Hope Walk, a fundraiser to promote awareness for suicide prevention. Before the walk began, I read a board describing the walk’s importance. Right below the board, there were hundreds of shoes lined up neatly along the course. When I read the bottom of the board, I learned the empty shoes symbolized the number of community members that died by suicide.

Once I saw the empty shoes, I truly understood what brought people there that day. The thoughts I had to share could not compare to the stories I heard from the other speakers. As tears came to my eyes, I realized how fortunate I was to be there with these remarkably strong people who all lost someone dear to them.

In this moment, I knew I was there to listen. As an elected official, it’s what I love to do. People share their joy and grief with me because they want to make a difference in their community. When community members use their advocacy skills to make a difference, it helps legislators, like me, understand community concerns.

The people at the Sharing Hope event wanted change so others would not go through the horrific grief they experienced. One mother shared a compelling story about her son who attempted suicide a dozen times. Her son survived each attempt and was inspired to stay alive because of the kindness of another young man. After he told his new friend that his day “sucked,” he told him the day wasn’t done and things would get better. Unfortunately, her son’s friend and new hero died in a car accident before he could have a full life. Now, when he’s down, he visits the grave of his hero and reflects on that day and how he must keep going.

However, not everyone has a hero to keep them going. We need to continue to use our voice to smash the stigma around mental illness. Policymakers must listen to the advocates and experts to provide resources for those struggling. I will continue advocating for mental health funding for our schools, additional healthcare resources for our communities and proactive solutions to prevent suicide.

Firearms must be part of the suicide prevention discussion. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, firearm suicide makes up two-thirds of all gun deaths and half of all suicides. Also, firearm suicide disproportionately affects rural areas; suicide by firearm rates are 58% higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

jeff-smithLast week, I joined many of my Democratic colleagues to introduce the Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) bill to prevent suicide among those most at-risk. ERPO provides a civil process for families or law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from individuals that may be at risk of harming themselves or others. This process is similar to obtaining a temporary restraining order in cases of domestic abuse, child abuse or harassment.

The ERPO proposal is one step we must take to address this issue. It’s been proven effective in 17 other states and Washington D.C., to significantly lower the number of suicides by firearm. We must act and make sure resources are available so family members can protect the ones they love and make sure they know there are better days ahead.

When my colleagues introduced the bill, I was surrounded by healthcare providers, mental health professionals, and activists from Moms Demand Action. Every member of the group had a reason for being there and a story to share. Elected officials need to listen up – we have an opportunity to save lives.

Remember, there are resources available if you or someone you know is struggling. Please visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention resource page at afsp.org/find-support/resources/ for a complete list of services.

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Bold Plans Needed to Save Our Planet

Posted by Jan Koch, Shawano
Jan Koch, Shawano
Jan Koch, Shawano has not set their biography yet
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on Monday, 23 September 2019
in Wisconsin

flooding-east-river-gbClimate change is real and increasingly a part of our daily lives. Change won’t take place overnight, but some common-sense steps can be taken immediately.


SHAWANO, WI - God created a world in which everything was in perfect harmony. The land and its plants and animals were a part of an ecosystem that worked beautifully. Man should be able to enjoy all creation for eternity but unfortunately future generations won’t have that opportunity if we continue on our present path.

Climate change is real and increasingly a part of our daily lives. There is evidence, facts, and science to tell us that.

Western Wisconsin has experienced yearly flooding in areas where such phenomena had only occurred every hundred years. Fiercer tornadoes and hurricanes can be seen across the country. Longer droughts out west are causing dangerous fire conditions. Warming temperatures have disrupted wildlife migration, produced toxic algae blooms, and contributed to the dirtying of our Great Lakes.

Even Pope Francis believes that climate change is a moral issue that must be addressed now in order to protect the earth and all that inhabit it. In 2015 he wrote a 192 page encyclical urging the world to take action on this ecology crisis.

earth_day_globeAccording to a February study, there’s a 99.9999% chance that humans are the cause of global warming. Humans burn fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas, which release carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and other gases into the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. CO2 is the greenhouse gas that’s most responsible for warming. If the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere isn’t lowered, temperatures will continue to increase.

If we want a habitable planet, we have to confront the problem at its source. This means we have to reduce the use of coal, oil and gas by mid-century.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius could avoid catastrophic consequences. However, a recent analysis by Carbon Tracker found that 92 percent of companies are working toward growth in fossil fuel production and/or reserves.

Can the fossil fuel industry be trusted to act in the best interest of our planet? Absolutely not.

We can’t believe fossil fuel companies when they appear to care about the planet. Their industry lobbyists have spent years pretending to support the Paris Agreement’s goals. Since the 2015 Paris Agreement, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total have spent $1 billion collectively on greening up their image. However, they’ll only invest 3 percent of their $115 billion on low-carbon technologies like carbon capture and algae bio fuels.

Conservative Republicans continue to deny that there is a problem. They profess that oil, gas and coal are all good sources of energy and oil drilling should be increased. They won’t support expanding wind and solar sources. They would rather support private ownership of gas and electric industries.

Former Governor Walker ordered the term “climate change” to be struck from government documents. President Trump also attacks climate science. He refused to sign an agreement protecting the rapidly melting Arctic region unless any references to climate change were removed.

Political will to turn off the fossil fuel taps won’t take place overnight. But some common-sense steps could be taken immediately. The yearly $20.5 billion state and federal subsidies could be eliminated. There could be a ban on new leases for oil and gas development on America’s public lands. Reckless new drilling could be stopped by reinstating the crude oil export ban.

When you hear the words “New Deal” you may recall an economic measure that was introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 to counteract the effects of those who were suffering from the Great Depression. It involved a massive public works program which brought about immediate economic relief, as well as reforms in industry, agriculture, finance, water power, labor and housing.

Drastic measures are necessary at this point in time. Legislation called the “Green New Deal” has been introduced in Congress. Just like the first “New Deal”, heavy investment by the federal government in green manufacturing could bring about a long period of widely shared economic growth. Profound changes to transportation, housing, energy, agriculture, forestry and more could avert climate breakdown.

This new deal is counter to the current system in which corporations produce huge profits from fossil fuels. However, it could return power generation to local or community control. It could bring needed jobs and investment to communities which have been ravaged by fossil-fueled power.

Governor Tony Evers recently showed his determination to address climate change by committing the state to use 100 percent carbon neutral energy by 2050. His order includes the creation of the Office of Sustainability, which Republicans had stripped from his budget.

This is our planet. Future generations are counting on us to preserve it. Only bold plans will reverse the global warming that is destroying God’s creation.

Jan Koch, Shawano

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Middleton Legislators Echo Police Chief’s Call for Gun Safety

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
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on Saturday, 21 September 2019
in Wisconsin

school-gunsMADISON – It has been a year since an active shooter targeted his place of work in Middleton. Yet, unfortunately, a year later we have made zero progress in ensuring that no other Wisconsinites are affected by gun violence.

Every Wisconsinite should have the opportunity to go to school, a place of worship, or any other public space in their community knowing that they are safe, and there are steps that we can take to strengthen the system to ensure that an incident, such as what happened in Middleton, will not happen again.

The majority of Wisconsinites agree that it is time to pass gun safety legislation. According to the most recent Marquette Law Poll, 80% of Wisconsin voters support expanded background checks, and nearly the same percentage of Wisconsinites are in support of red-flag laws. The numbers are clear, this is not a partisan issue.

That is why Middleton Police Department Chief, Charles Foulke released a statement recalling the incident and urging politicians to make a difference. As someone who has served his community for 38 years, his words speak volumes.

Enough is enough, it is time to enact common-sense gun laws.

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Have a Conversation for Democracy’s Sake

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 18 September 2019
in Wisconsin

congress-unproductiveSen. Smith talks about the importance of having conversations with people that have different points of view. We can overcome the political divisiveness in society if we remember we have more in common than what sets us apart.


MADISON - Politics is everywhere around us – when you turn on the television, open a newspaper or scroll through Facebook. It’s hard to get away from it all. When we see the divisiveness all around us, it’s easy to think our system is broken.

Political divisiveness affects our attitudes of others and the way we communicate with neighbors or members of our own family. It’s easy for hurtful rhetoric to drive a wedge in these relationships, which makes it difficult to realize the values we share: hard work, a supportive community and what’s best for our family. It’s time we learn how to progress forward together.

Oftentimes, politicians use fear to make people angry and pit one group against another. It’s a simple tactic that has a big impact determining who we interact with and who we ignore.

During my time as a state senator, I’ve hosted many Stop n’ Talks throughout the 31st Senate District. It’s my own way to get around the district to learn from anyone who wants to talk. Folks have busy lives, and it’s difficult for people to find the time to attend official town hall meetings or scheduled hearings. I find the best way to have a conversation is to show up where citizens congregate or invite anyone to stop and talk on their own terms.

A couple of weeks ago, I held a Stop n’ Talk near an event that attracted many from the farming community. As their state senator and the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Revenue and Financial Institutions, I wanted to make myself available to learn. Most folks are polite; they acknowledge me with a cordial hello, talk to me about their concerns or simply ignore me. However, there were many who had no qualms about insulting me, while refusing to have a conversation.

jeff-smithI’ve also been uninvited from public events, as a state senator, because organizers thought my presence was politically-motivated. I find these examples to be so sad, yet telling about where we are now. My attempts to meet and learn about the issues that matter most to community members are seen as “photo opportunities” or “campaign stops.”

It’s a dangerous cycle we’ve fallen into when we refuse conversations with others based on political beliefs, pushing us further apart. Without the opportunity to openly communicate, we’re unable to discuss the issues that matter most to us.

This broken cycle pushes us back into our own bubble, reinforcing preconceived notions of others groups, which affects the way our democracy works and functions. Voting is a practice that should provide all citizens the opportunity to have their voices heard, but that isn’t always the reality. Poll taxes, literacy tests and other restrictive measures have limited a citizen’s ability to express views at the ballot box. More recently, voter ID laws limit certain people’s right to vote. To this day, politicians gerrymander, creating districts that guarantee an election win for a certain party.

Voters are disenfranchised even when voter suppression attempts fail. Lame duck session laws from last fall changed the jobs our elected officials can do after the election.

Recently, Attorney General Josh Kaul found it impossible to perform the job he was elected to carry out due to the enormous roadblocks from last fall’s lame duck session. The extraordinary session created a process that ties the hands of our Attorney General by requiring the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee to sign off on settlements.

These practices, from voting disenfranchisement to the unprecedented lame duck laws, silence voters and prohibit productive debate or negotiation, pushing things to be more partisan.

I see firsthand the damage all this political divisiveness has done to us. Citizens don’t see a cohesive government working for their best interests, especially when legislators only meet on rare occasions. The fear-based rhetoric, harmful voting policies and the lame duck laws erode whatever trust citizens might still have in their government and their elected officials.

We all have a responsibility to repair the system. Set aside the blame game. Start a conversation with someone with a different point of view. Contact your legislators and tell them to do the same. Insist that your legislature work for your best interests by meeting, debating and working toward solving problems together. After all, we have more in common than what sets us apart.

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Wisconsin schools put students first, Legislature should do the same

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
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on Friday, 13 September 2019
in Wisconsin

school-kidsSenator Jon Erpenbach is hopeful that Republicans will join Democrats and work to restore what they have cut from education.


WEST POINT - Under Governor Tony Evers’ leadership, Republicans agreed to make a down payment on the People’s Budget and increase funding for our schools. Unfortunately, with school just getting started for the year, communities across Wisconsin are already realizing that their schools need more. Education should be one of our state’s biggest priorities, yet schools are facing teacher shortages and closures - with at least one entire district considering dissolution- and heartbroken students.

Schools and communities across Wisconsin are already beginning the process of putting referendums on the ballots, asking property taxpayers to pay more to keep school doors open. They are doing so because the state once again failed to fully fund education. Governor Tony Evers proposed funding education to the full amount that taxpayers are already paying through referendums. Yet, Republicans apparently believe that local taxpayers should carry far too much of the weight of funding their schools, throwing aside equity, as rural, underfunded schools fall behind, and unaccountable voucher programs steal funds away from communities.

On average, students in Wisconsin have lost 11.8% of the local teaching experience that they had in the classroom since 2011 due to teachers being underappreciated and underpaid. Communities are facing more challenges to attract and keep talent in because Republicans have slashed compensation. There is no denying that politicians disrespecting teachers hurts kids.

Cuts have hit our rural schools especially hard. Republicans cut, altered, or eliminated their own Blue Ribbon Commission proposals that Governor Evers included in his budget, including an increase in sparsity aid for rural districts. The GOP cut the Governor’s proposal significantly, cutting $10.1 million from sparsity aid for rural schools compared to the Governor’s plan. Their rejection of the task force recommendations led to schools in my district, Senate District 27, losing $600,000, with 82 other districts statewide also losing funds.

jon-erpenbachThese major cuts do not come without consequence. According to data released by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), under Republican leadership, standardized test scores in English and math are declining. For English, reading, and writing, only 39.3% of students met proficiency standards, with math at 40.1%. DPI notes that declining scores may be attributed to underfunding classrooms. In order to continue moving Wisconsin forward, it is vital that we give students and teachers the support that they need. Thankfully, Governor Evers is already moving us in the right direction by signing a budget that will increase funding by $570 million over the next two years. Unfortunately, the budget he was sent cut hundreds of millions from his original proposal, including 84% of his proposal to live up to the state’s responsibility to fund special education.

Wisconsin communities are suffering because Republican lawmakers would rather use our tax dollars to support corporate giveaways instead of funding public schools. The People’s Budget would have funded schools to virtually the same amount that taxpayers have approved in referenda under eight years of GOP control, but Republicans refused to make that investment. While I am thankful that Governor Evers was able to restore some funding with his veto pen, we should have, and Democrats fought to, fully fund education. Unfortunately, the Republicans in the Legislature put a tax handout that is resulting in fewer jobs and an infamous giveaway to Foxconn ahead of 830,000+ students in 422 Wisconsin communities.

There is no better investment in Wisconsin than improving chances for future generations to thrive. Under Republicans, Wisconsin’s priorities have not aligned with what the state needs, or what voters chose last November, and we are now paying the price. Governor Evers was able to make historic investments in our schools, yet as he has pointed out, it was only a down payment on the People’s Budget. Our communities and schools deserve more, and I am hopeful that Republicans will join Democrats in approving more of their Blue Ribbon Commission proposals, and work to restore what they have cut to education.

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The time for redistricting reform in Wisconsin is now

Posted by League of Women Voters WI, Erin Grunze
League of Women Voters WI, Erin Grunze
Erin Grunze is the Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
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on Friday, 13 September 2019
in Wisconsin

voter-us-electionsLeague of Women Voters continues the fight for nonpartisan redistricting legislation.


MADISON - The need for redistricting reform in Wisconsin is critical. Concerned voters across the political spectrum are calling to end the practice of gerrymandering by our elected officials. The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin has advocated for nonpartisan redistricting for decades. Over these decades, the control of the legislature has teetered between the two major parties. The response from the party in power has always been to accuse the League of siding with the minority party and that the League is looking to push that party’s agenda. The League has been accused of siding with Republicans and then siding with Democrats.

But in fact the League has always been looking out for the voters in our advocacy. The voters who are packed together or cracked apart because of gerrymandering. It’s a problem with power, and when those in power can determine how they keep their power, we no longer have a representative democracy. Republican voters are cheated when Democratic politicians gerrymander like in Maryland. Democratic voters are cheated when Republican politicians gerrymander like in Wisconsin. No party is innocent.

Gerrymandering isn’t a problem of one party. It’s the partisan cling to power that damages the will of the voters and erodes our democracy. Voters should pick their elected officials, not the other way around. With our current system in Wisconsin, politicians draw their own district lines to pick their voters and to lock in their own political power.

Yet, there is a solution.

Representative Robyn Vining (AD 14) and Senator Dave Hansen (SD 30) drafted redistricting reform bills that will make this process more open, more representative, and more transparent by taking the redistricting process from the partisans and moving it to an independent and nonpartisan Redistricting Advisory Commission. There is bi-partisan support because this is a solution that is right for democracy. Wisconsin voters across the political spectrum want to see this change.

And now is the time for the nonpartisan redistricting bills SB 288 and AB 303 to get a public hearing and deserve serious consideration by lawmakers in Wisconsin as we expect the representatives we elect to be held accountable to the public’s unified call for reforms. Elections should be determined by voters, not politicians who draw maps.

Fair voting maps are fundamental to what makes democracy work. The League will keep pushing for this reform with unrelenting energy and motivation of our members and partners. It has been and will continue to be a long, difficult fight, but it may be our most important work. Wisconsin deserves better and the League is committed to making it happen.

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Wisconsin: America is Best When Labor is Strong

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 04 September 2019
in Wisconsin

electrical-workersSen. Smith talks about his upbringing in Eau Claire and the impact of organized labor in the community. Leaders before us worked to put protections in place for workers, but there’s still more to do.


EAU CLAIRE - Another Labor Day has come and gone. Summer is beginning to wind down and we’re taking our last chance to fish or camp for the season. Children are reflecting on their summer and eagerly anticipating the new school year.

This time of year is also an opportunity to reflect back on my upbringing in Eau Claire and remember the hardworking families in my community. I think about the great strides made in the 20th century because of organized labor. Unions knew at the core of their mission, that nobody should live to work. We should be able to work, so we can live a comfortable life.

Growing up on the north side of Eau Claire, I had a pretty ordinary childhood. My mother worked hard to raise seven children and my father opened his window cleaning business and ran the business for decades. It was common for families to have one parent working outside the home and one parent in the home.

jeff-smithFamilies in our neighborhood were lower-middle income level by today’s standards. I grew up near the Uniroyal factory. We weren’t too far from the paper mill, and Presto was just a couple of miles north. Many of the kids I grew up with had parents who worked in one of these places. Their parents could support their family because they earned union wages and benefits. It was at the height of a comfortable working class that made America work.

Many of the families were able to afford fishing boats, camping trailers and cabins on the lake. My neighbors were able to spend more time doing the things they enjoyed with their families. These were all things my family couldn’t afford.

The union jobs in the community provided my neighbors an opportunity to have a comfortable lifestyle and build the middle class. These jobs allowed families to own cabins in the resort areas of northern Wisconsin. It was common for a family to take two weeks off for family vacation in the summer and a week off for deer hunting.

None of this would’ve been possible if it weren’t for the courage and foresight of organized labor in the early 20th century that advanced worker’s rights in America. Federal legislation, including the Occupational Safety & Health Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and Labor Relations Act supported workers, ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions. The Social Security Act was revolutionary, putting protections in place for citizens of all ages. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for employers and unions to discriminate against individuals based on race, national origin, religion or gender.

Although there has been tremendous progress for worker’s rights, there is still more we must do for workers in our country. Today, too many families need multiple jobs to get by. According to the U.S. Census, there are approximately 13 million Americans that have more than one job. Also, based on U.S. Census data, women are more likely than men to have a part-time job to support themselves and their families.

Union jobs guaranteed most workers would have a comfortable future after retirement. The decline of unions and well-paying jobs in our country, force workers to consider how they’ll retire without a pension or 401K plan to supplement their Social Security.

There are steps we can take to support everyday hardworking men and women. We should begin by increasing the minimum wage, restoring prevailing wage, implementing paid family and medical leave and repealing the “Right to Work” law. Governor Evers included all of these proposals in the 2019-21 Biennial Budget, but they were deleted entirely by Republicans.

Oftentimes, we forget the impact of organized labor in our own community. The leaders before us worked tirelessly to improve working conditions and living standards for all. We can’t fall behind. As we push forward, let us remember our hardworking leaders and the example they set to support our neighbors. Remember, we all do better when we all do better.

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Wisconsin: Kiddos and Mental Health

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 28 August 2019
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsAfter a visit to Northwest Journey and the Menomonie School District, Sen. Smith writes about the importance of mental health funding for our children.


EAU CLAIRE - We always want what’s best for our children. We want our children to be happy, comfortable and safe. If we could provide all the tools for our children to succeed, why wouldn’t we?

The urgency for mental health funding is not going away. We need to face it head on. You’d think an issue affecting so many people would lead us to come together to find solutions on this important issue. What is the biggest hurdle we face?

It all comes down to funding. Without proper funding it’s very difficult for families, school districts and community agencies to afford the resources and professional staff needed to treat mental illness. As lawmakers, it’s our job to address the serious issues affecting our communities. We have many funding responsibilities as legislators. The welfare of our children must be the most important.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve had the privilege of meeting professionals who deal directly with mental healthcare for our children, or “kiddos,” as the professionals call them. I recently visited Northwest Journey, a care center for school-age children in crisis. I learned about the incredible services offered at the organization. The professionals spoke about their passion to help children overcome their doubts and achieve a bright future.

The stories I heard and read were heartbreaking, but encouraging to think of a child’s potential, if given the resources to succeed. One of the children wrote, “A year ago around this time I thought I didn’t have a future but I can take a step back and see that my future holds an endless amount of possibilities.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise to most that families in crisis are less likely to have the means to afford private services or even private insurance. Northwest Journey is able to offer these critical services through the Medicaid program, which is managed by the state and provides assistance to families in-need.

If Republicans would’ve expanded Medicaid, organizations like Northwest Journey would have the potential to do so much more for their clients. This is our money that we’ve already paid to the federal government. I don’t understand why we would fund other states’ Medicaid programs, while ignoring the critical needs of our own children right here in Wisconsin.

There’s more we must do to support our children, besides expanding Medicaid. Prior to meeting with professionals at Northwest Journey, Senator Patty Schachtner (D-Somerset) and I learned about similar challenges Menomonie School District faces relating to providing mental health service. You see, our schools are woefully short of counselors and psychiatrists to help children in crisis.

Since 1993, Republicans imposed revenue limits on school districts. This dramatically restricted each district’s ability to fund our schools. Incremental increases based on 1993 education funding levels while using a broken funding formula has been disastrous for Wisconsin schools.

School districts have made deep cuts just to afford core curriculum, forcing mental health services onto the chopping block. Republicans cut $38 million in school mental health aid from Governor Evers’ budget, which would’ve funded more mental health professionals and programs.

School funding and how the formula works (or doesn’t work) has been debated for years. And, like so many other important issues, Republicans haven’t done anything about it.

jeff-smithOur children are relying on us. All children will be affected in some way, even families who aren’t directly affected. No matter the circumstances, we all walk the same path, breathe the same air and rely on the same democracy. We are all one community.

You can do your part by contacting legislators in your area. Ask them if they believe a child’s well-being is the most pressing priority. If so, tell them you will be holding them accountable based on their decisions. Those actions need to result in more success stories like those children at Northwest Journey who have found hope in their future.

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Wisconsin: The Politics Behind Gun Violence Inaction

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 21 August 2019
in Wisconsin

las-vegas-shootingSen. Smith talks about legislation to expand the background check requirement for all firearm purchases as a way to fight against gun violence.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - I can’t imagine the horror victims go through when face to face with an active shooter while in a place of worship, school, shopping center or night club. How do families cope with the news of a loved one being murdered by a domestic terrorist, coworker or significant other? Or the news of a loved one who took their own life?

A few weeks ago, in a neighboring town, a young man shot and killed his mother, brother and nephew before driving to the home of a young woman he may have planned to abduct. He shot the parents of this young woman before killing her and himself. The family didn’t know the shooter before this happened, but his own family may have been aware he was dangerous.

Would a background check have saved those victims? We can’t be certain. Would a temporary law enforcement firearm removal order, also called a “red flag law,” stop this horribly tragic event? We’ll never know.

As a gun owner, I firmly believe in an individual’s right to own a firearm. I also believe gun violence prevention is long overdue. Countless lives have died in vain from our state and our nation’s inaction on gun violence.

Sadly, policymakers seem frozen with indecision when it comes to gun safety. We are trapped in a cycle of unexpected tragedies like El Paso, Dayton or Lake Hallie followed by the expected “thoughts and prayers” and then inaction by leaders to do anything to stop the cycle from happening again.

A Marquette Law School poll conducted in March of 2018 showed 81% of people favored background checks, with only 18% opposed. In the same poll, 56% of Wisconsinites supported assault-style weapon bans and 40% opposed the ban. More recently, a NPR poll conducted in February this year showed 65% of Americans believed a high-capacity magazine ban would reduce gun violence.

Polls consistently show people from all walks of life and political views favoring universal background checks. Wisconsin is ready for commonsense gun violence reforms, so why aren’t Republican lawmakers?

Pro-gun lobbying groups like the NRA use the 2nd Amendment as the reason for inaction. They use it to tie the hands of Republicans who might be willing to do something about gun violence.

Our Constitution has stood the test of time while our country has evolved. Take action now to stop the cycle of gun violence with commonsense reforms, and let the Constitution do its job. If the NRA wants to explain why simple background checks are wrong, or why they believe the founders thought it was necessary to have high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapons when drafting the 2nd Amendment then let them try.

For decades, gun rights have been a wedge issue. It’s near the top of the list among single-issue voters. With that being the case, it isn’t any wonder why politicians do nothing. After all, when we are divided, those in power keep power.

jeff-smithBut, not everyone is so easy to predict on this issue.

Last week the Task Force on Suicide Prevention held a hearing in Eau Claire. It lasted over 7 hours, most of it being agency reports. The public who attended, and stuck around long enough, got their chance to testify.

A gun shop owner from Dane County came to tell us about the Gun Safe program he started with other shop owners. It allows anyone in a mental health crisis to temporarily store his or her weapons in a gun shop safe until the crisis passes.

A Republican lawmaker mistakenly thought the gun shop owner would be opposed to a Red Flag Law. The shop owner surprised the lawmaker by saying he was in favor of a properly worded law to help responsible gun owners make the right choice in a crisis. It was refreshing to hear such a thoughtful response. It reminded me that we should never make assumptions of where people may stand on any issue.

We can own guns responsibly and still demand action for gun violence. We’ve gone too long without commonsense solutions to fight against gun violence. The time to act was long ago, but the opportunity to act still exists.

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Democracy Campaign: Evers Bows to WMC

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Friday, 16 August 2019
in Wisconsin

tony-eversProgressive critiques Governor, Republicans, gun laws, and the NRA.


MADISON - When I saw that Gov. Evers was speaking to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, I decided to take a look at his talk. And I was horrified to find out that he complimented WMC, which has done so much damage to our state over the last nine years. Here’s my critique of the governor’s talk:

Evers Bows to WMC

matt-rothschildThis week, we also took a look at the money that legislators have hauled in recently, and we discovered that the GOP’s haul was twice as big as the Democrats’:

Republican Lawmakers Led Fundraising in First Six Months of 2019

And in a follow up to our post last week on the NRA in Wisconsin, we noted that the Republican Senators who were dodging the issue of gun laws so studiously were also recipients of the NRA’s largesse:

GOP Senators Dodging Gun Law Questions Got Election Support from NRA


Thanks for taking a look at our offerings this week.

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Republicans Leave Small Family Farms Behind

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
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on Friday, 16 August 2019
in Wisconsin

high-voltage-lines-farmsTrump's trade wars, tariffs, send farmers rushing to find new markets without additional assistance from the state.


WEST POINT, WI - It’s no secret, small family farms are struggling in Wisconsin. There are a variety of issues that have impacted this downturn, and it’s more important than ever that we are paying attention and coming up with solutions to help alleviate the pain that our agriculture industry is experiencing.

On August 12, Governor Tony Evers sent a letter, addressed to President Donald Trump, urging him to end the unnecessary and irresponsible trade wars that are having a severely negative impact on our farmers. The appeal followed a letter sent on May 30 from myself, along with my Democratic colleagues, addressed to the United States Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer with the same request- end the trade war. Unfortunately, no Republicans signed the letter.

jon-erpenbach-radioThe trade wars, which were started due to the inflated ego of our President, who has proven his dangerous lack of understanding on how tariffs work, has contributed to the devastation of too many farming communities. While he exclaims that we are “winning” trade wars, the reality is that farmers, manufacturers, and consumers in America are paying the price. The trade war will only continue to drive up costs, bankrupt farmers, and result in Wisconsin losing thousands of jobs.

Overnight, Republicans destroyed trade relationships, at the same time that the Wisconsin agriculture industry is stressing the importance of dairy exports. By damaging our trade relationships, the federal government’s short-sighted policies are forcing some farmers to depend on government aid, or to sell their cows. They deserve better.

They deserve better from Republicans on both the federal level and in Wisconsin. Recently, the Wisconsin Diary Task Force 2.0 released their report, which studies issues affecting the dairy industry and makes recommendations. Historically, the task force’s recommendations have been successfully implemented, and I am hopeful that our legislators will continue to work towards reducing obstacles for farmers and implementing recommendations to help the agriculture industry.

However, recent actions of my Republican colleagues have me concerned. While reviewing the report, a few recommendations sounded familiar. Just one example was Wisconsin’s role in recognizing the importance of exports, because it reflected a recommendation Governor Evers put in his budget six months ago.

In keeping with the importance of exports to Wisconsin dairy, Governor Evers’ budget proposal recommended the development of the Wisconsin Initiative for Dairy Exports (WIDE). WIDE would seek to bring together stakeholders to pursue an increase in dairy exports, through increasing analysis of state and international agricultural markets, facilitation trade missions abroad, and recruiting international buyers to visit Wisconsin. While Democrats voted for the proposal, Republicans opted to delete the provision from budget deliberations and put forth no alternatives to address the need for dairy export initiatives.

Unfortunately, due to the President’s tariffs, this task will be an even greater challenge for farmers. Wisconsin Dairy exports saw a 5.5% decline in 2018, compared to the previous year, and WIDE was intended to reverse that trend. Now farmers are rushing to find new markets without additional assistance from the state.

Between the president’s attacks on economic security, increasing risks of unpredictable weather, and Republican inaction to fund critical programs, including mental health care for farmers, it is apparent that more needs to be done to rebuild the industry that built our state. Every day more and more farms are shutting down, and while there is not a single, simple solution, inaction is not the answer. Our farming communities deserve to have a fair opportunity to succeed, and the time to act is now.

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The Time for Universal Background Checks is Now

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
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on Friday, 16 August 2019
in Wisconsin

school-gunsGun violence is an issue that is affecting everyone across America, says State Senator, and 81% of voters support background checks.


WEST POINT, WI - Today I stood with Governor Evers, Lieutenant Governor Barnes, Attorney General Kaul, and Middleton Police Chief Foulke, along with other Democratic colleagues, as Representative Sargent and Senator Johnson announced their proposal to close the background check loophole on the sales and transfers of guns. I am proud to sign onto this legislation as a co-sponsor.

jon-erpenbachWhile an overwhelming majority of gun owners are responsible, this dangerous loophole in federal law allows domestic abusers, felons, and others who are prohibited from possessing firearms due to mental illness buy guns without a background check through non-licensed sellers. This bill will close that loophole. It is past time for us to take action to reduce gun violence, and closing this loophole is a common-sense solution that will not take away anyone’s second amendment rights.

Gun violence is an issue that is affecting everyone across America, including Wisconsin. Just last year there was a shooting at a workplace in Middleton that has left people scarred, and day after day we hear of another incident. 81% of voters support background checks. Outside of the State Capitol, this is not a partisan issue. Everyone deserves to feel safe when they go out in public, and closing this loophole is the first step towards diminishing the threat of deadly weapons and protecting Wisconsinites.

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State Government: Legislators Gather for Nonpartisan Conference

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 14 August 2019
in Wisconsin

jeff-smithState Senator's experience at Summit meeting of legislators from other states and around the world gives opportunity to talk, including on redistricting reform.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Last week I joined over 7,000 legislators and staff from other states and around the world in Nashville at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) annual Legislative Summit. NCSL is a bipartisan organization that has been around 45 years with a mission to advise, train and advocate for state government, regardless of party affiliation.

I went to the conference with no real expectations or hopes. The bipartisan approach seemed so refreshing from the divisive politics we have become accustomed to.

After registering, we all received nametags showing our state and position, but no party affiliation. Though there may have been plenty of caution by some, we were able to strike up real conversations with many of the 7,000 attendees without mentioning our political party.

One morning I sat across from a fellow in the hotel. After chatting for a while, I learned he was from South Africa, and he was the leader of the African National Congress. It was fascinating and impressive that leaders from around the world were there to share and learn.

Another day I sat down again for breakfast in the hotel, and I met three legislators from Germany. In fact, one mentioned he had relatives in Eau Claire before he even knew I was from there. It truly is a small world.

During the course of the week there were sessions on elections, water, education, transportation, writing legislation, resolving conflict and just about every topic involving government you can think of. Throughout all these sessions we learned from experts and legislators who‘ve been deeply engrossed in the topic at hand while never taking a political stance on the subject. Of course, we all had our own biases, but it was left to each of us to fit the information shared into whatever way we viewed the world or our values.

Early in the conference, I attended a session on school safety. This is particularly timely as we approach a new school year and the concerns over the rise in mass shootings.

The school safety session was well attended. While taking questions, one panelist confessed that he had spent his political career voting against funding for school counselors, free breakfast programs and additional funding for classrooms. He now has such regret that he is using his retirement to volunteer for schools and do whatever he can to raise awareness for the needs of students. That’s what a bipartisan conference has the potential to bring out in people. His comments gave me hope that we would hear more open and honest dialogue through the week. And, for the most part, it played out that way.

On the last day I was surprised to find out there were separate Democratic and Republican legislator breakfasts. Not necessarily a terrible idea, I suppose, but it was surprising. The day before we left, there were opposing sessions regarding redistricting. Yes, there was a Republican Legislative Redistricting session and a Democratic Legislative Redistricting session simultaneously. They may as well have called these sessions Gerrymandering 101 for Republicans or Democrats. I did not attend. I can’t say for sure what was learned, but it was seriously concerning to me.

On the Republican side, former Governor Scott Walker ran the redistricting session. After overseeing the most extreme partisan gerrymandering of any state in the history of our nation, Scott Walker is now conducting lessons on how to do the same for other states. We should all be alarmed by this effort.

We can’t afford to allow bipartisan conferences to be hijacked by something as vile as extreme partisan gerrymandering. Wisconsin has already lost so much from corrupt redistricting. Let’s protect whatever small vestige of cooperation is left and rid our system of all forms of gerrymandering rather than accept it as normal.

We must take the opportunities, like NCSL, for Democrats and Republicans to come together, communicate and learn from each other. This is the only way we can work together and find solutions to the most pressing issues in our state.

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Clean Water a Deliberate Policy Choice

Posted by Patty Schachtner, State Senator 10th District
Patty Schachtner, State Senator 10th District
State Senator Patty Schachtner represents Wisconsin’s tenth senate district. The
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on Saturday, 10 August 2019
in Wisconsin

clean-drinking-waterState Senator Patty Schachtner examines clean drinking water and it's effect upon healthy communities, our economy, and our Wisconsin way of life.


MADISON - In past years, the safety of our drinking water has come to the forefront of Wisconsin’s political landscape. Extensive studies have shown not only the scale, but the drastic health consequences contaminated water has on our communities.

Contaminants like nitrates and bacteria have been linked to blue baby syndrome, thyroid disease, and some cancers, harming our rural communities. Meanwhile, lead continues to poison children statewide.

In Kewaunee County, 60 percent of sampled wells were contaminated with fecal microbes, leading one of the researchers to proclaim that the water resembled a “fecal soup.” A 2019 study found that 42 percent of sampled wells in southwest Wisconsin contained contaminants that exceeded federal health standards.

We didn’t get here overnight. Budget cuts, along with a deregulatory culture and political interference across multiple agencies, have significantly impacted the way Wisconsin protects its water. To understand the current state of our water, we must look at the deliberate policy choices made in the past.

A chronological analysis details a systematic dismantling of the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR). In 2011, environmental inspections of large farms fell by 46 percent while permit violation notices hit a 12-year low. Meanwhile, DNR experienced the highest vacancy rate in 14 years.

Just three years later, a judge declared a “massive regulatory failure” was behind extensive groundwater contamination in Kewaunee County. The judge also indicated that the agency failed to use existing law to address the situation.

patty-schachtnerDespite concerns from impacted communities, environmental organizations, and the EPA, the previous administration continued to reduce the enforcement capabilities of key agencies. Over the course of three budgets passed by former governor Scott Walker and legislative Republicans, DNR saw their budget slashed by $59 million and close to 200 positions eliminated.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice (DOJ) under former attorney general Brad Schimel saw fines paid by Wisconsin polluters fall to 30-year lows in 2015. The former attorney general also wrote an opinion claiming the DNR went too far in protecting water in 2016. During the same time period, he demoted the long-standing director of DOJ’s environmental protection unit and shrunk the unit to its smallest size in 25 years.

Clean water is essential to healthy communities, our economy, and our Wisconsin way of life. Governor Tony Evers understands this, and that’s why he has declared 2019 the Year of Clean Drinking Water and August as National Water Quality Month. It’s also why he invested additional resources to address water pollution, contaminated wells, and lead pipe replacement.

Clean water is a health issue. It is an economic issue. It is a moral issue. It’s time we connect the dots and ensure that future generations can enjoy safe, clean water.

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Impeach Trump Now for Illegal Wars

Posted by Buzz Davis, Army Veteran & Activist
Buzz Davis, Army Veteran & Activist
Buzz Davis, now of Tucson, AZ, a member of Better With Bernie Gone Green and Tre
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on Saturday, 10 August 2019
in Wisconsin

afghanistanTo Dismantle the Military/Industrial Complex.


TUCSON, AZ - As an American, you and your family face a future of forever wars, possible nuclear war, economic decline and climate disaster.

Or, you can fight for a better path, urging America work with the UN and other nations for a peaceful, sustainable future for all humans.

donald-trumpYou know where Pres. Trump’s path will lead you.

Our options are:

  • Impeach for Lesser Crimes. Impeaching Trump for alleged obstruction of justice and removing him will promote Pence to president – with his likely continuation of Trump’s disastrous policies, illegal wars, along with, possibly, enabling Pence’s election as president in 2020.
  • Skip Impeachment. Doing nothing means America moves toward more war, irrationality, possible “future ending” nuclear war, climate disaster and possible US bankruptcy.
  • Impeach for War Crimes. I believe we must impeach Pres. Trump for war crimes to uphold the Rule of Law, commence dismantling the military/industrial complex and place America on a path toward peace rather than endless war!

House members must uphold their oath of office by passing an impeachment inquiry resolution – alleging Trump’s “high crimes” of continuing illegal:

  • wars (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria….),
  • torture of prisoners,
  • spying on Americans,
  • killing of civilians, and
  • threatening preemptive or nuclear wars against N. Korea, Iran and Venezuela.

All the above actions are considered to be crimes or war crimes violating the US Constitution, laws, UN Charter, and/or various international treaties.

Why is this important?

Our Revolution was fought at great price to rid our nation of living under the arbitrary dictates of King George. Our Nation was founded under a Constitution establishing the top authority to be the “Rule of Law” -- NOT the arbitrary “Rule of a King.”

Our Constitution requires Congress pass a “declaration of war” BEFORE our military attacks another nation, except if America’s attacked by another nation.

America has NOT been attacked by any of the nations in which our military or CIA forces are fighting. Furthermore, Congress passed NO “declarations of war.”

We must face it: These wars are illegal.

The vast military/industrial complex wastes trillions on illegal wars and preparation, places millions of our soldiers in harm’s way, drowns our Nation in debt, prohibiting domestic public investments necessary for our people and environment.

The result of the complex’s domination of our political system is: millions of people dead, wounded, ill, homeless and futureless worldwide. Thousands of American troops have died and hundreds of thousands wounded physically, mentally or emotionally.

America is using its vast intellectual, scientific and organizational capabilities and half our federal taxes to produce death and destruction. The looming question is will we end up destroying ourselves.

Iraqi civilians flee through an alley as Iraqi Special Forces

continue their advance against Islamic State militants in

the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, on July 3, 2017. Felipe Dana—AP

We must dismantle the military/industrial complex.

We can do this by:

  • Removing Trump from office via impeachment followed by federal prosecution for his alleged crimes. Only such action will cause the next president (Vice President Pence) to obey the Rule of Law - because if he does not, then he will be impeached next.

Future presidents will think twice before they commit illegal wars. Once Pres. Trump is impeached, impeachments/prosecutions of military, intelligence and other leaders for violations of their oaths of office and the Rule of Law become easier.

  • Congress must break up the complex and reorient it toward, for example, reversing climate change and Greening America.

Presently, the “complex” is possibly the greatest threat to our children, world peace and America’s future existence.

Begin it’s dismantlement by impeachment. Google “impeach Trump for war crimes” to sign a petition to take action.

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Wisconsin: Questioning Our Economy

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 07 August 2019
in Wisconsin

family-worried-billsAn economy should work for all people, not just our country’s corporations. A successful economy is more than the unemployment rate. We need to understand the hidden factors in our economy that affect the way people work and raise a family.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Do you ever wonder how our economy stopped working for all of us? How have we arrived at stagnant wages, mega-rich corporations buying elections and people lacking essential access to healthcare?

Politicians like to cherry-pick numbers to show the economy is doing well under their watch. That’s why every Republican in this state talks about the unemployment rate. Here’s the dirty little secret -- they use the unemployment rate because it’s easy for voters to understand and it’s easy to manipulate. And it seems to work, too often, on people. They’re willing to overlook the insulting tweets from the White House because they’ve been told the economy is so great. But who is the economy really working for?

The unemployment rate is measured by how many people are looking for work. It doesn’t factor in many people who are underemployed or have given up on their work search. These people are forgotten. They gave up and were ignored. These individuals include people who took an early retirement, our adult children living in our homes, low-income workers who scrape by on whatever means they can or people who lost it all and are homeless. Just because the “numbers” sound good, doesn’t mean that people aren’t struggling.

The media judges our economy by the numbers. And, as we know, numbers can be skewed to show whatever we want. It seems the media takes the easy way out by reporting how the stock market does each day or over a period of time. That means stockbrokers and corporations are doing well, but where are the wages? It’s just rich people getting richer off of us.

A number I never see is how many jobs some people work to pay their bills. The most important measure of our economy is income.

Income disparity has never been greater. Why should anyone work one full-time job and still struggle to live? Everyone deserves a chance to live free and have a quality life. We are not put on this earth just to serve others without the chance to enjoy our own lives. That’s why you’ve heard so often about $15 per hour as a “living wage.” That’s the minimum anyone should be paid to afford health insurance, food, and a place to live. So why’s our “minimum wage” stuck at $7.25? That should be called “less than half a wage.” Why should someone have to work more than one job to get by?

There are numerous “hidden” factors in our economy affecting everyone, one way or another. Access to healthcare and college affordability are two of the biggest factors that can either enhance or hurt our earning potential.

During the 1940s, employers started offering health insurance policies as a way to attract workers and keep them healthy. It seemed like a win-win at the time. Nowadays, with the health insurance market too expensive, employees are stuck in jobs they may not like or they cannot afford to leave even if the pay is substandard. What if healthcare access wasn’t a factor in our career decisions? Would you, or someone you know, change jobs?

uwgb-studentsCollege affordability is becoming more difficult for our younger generations. Millennials and Generation Z graduates are entering the workforce with mountains of student loan debt. Sure, it’s easy to say don’t take out loans, but what jobs in our current economy don’t at least require a college degree or technical training? Unless wages increase, we cannot expect young people to save for retirement, buy houses or start families.

Our economy could do better if we start treating people better than corporations or treating people less like numbers. Every day, I hear stories from people in western Wisconsin trying to scratch out a living, raise a family and enjoy life. These stories can be uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. When you hear how well the economy is doing, don’t be afraid to ask yourself: “Is it working for everyone?”

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State Government: Transit for Our Future

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 31 July 2019
in Wisconsin

highway-crowdedSenator Smith explores Wisconsin’s future mass transit needs and the importance of local decision making. Better funding sources are needed so we can make the necessary investments.


MADISON - Summer travel season is in full swing. During this busy time, families are crisscrossing through Wisconsin squeezing in those final summer vacations before kids go back to school. Summer is also construction season, causing headaches for everyone trying to get to and from our summer fun.

It seems like we just can’t catch up on road construction, especially on our county and town roads. Fewer and fewer of our tax dollars are returning to our local governments in the form of road aids. It‘s been especially difficult for local municipalities to repair and rebuild roads in our communities.

When we make our travel plans, what are the options? Usually we drive to our destination in Wisconsin or fly to some other state or country. When visiting other places, I’m sure you’ve noticed other travel options such as bus or passenger rail. Travel, like everything else, is always evolving. As we discover how expensive and difficult it is to keep up with road repairs, maybe we should get serious about mass transit options.

Supporting alternative travel methods will become more important whether we are traveling within our cities, to other counties or across our state.

Just think, if you plan to spend a day with the family in Wisconsin Dells or Door County; wouldn’t it be great if you and your family could jump on a train, bypass the traffic, get there safely and actually enjoy the ride? And what if we could connect travelers to towns along the Mississippi River or all the lakes up north? We could explore without the hassle and have a greater opportunity to enjoy the wonders of Wisconsin. Imagine the economic benefits as well. Now, I realize connecting all corners of the state may be a dream at this point, but you can’t accomplish great things if you don’t start dreaming.

Like a garden, we need to plant the seeds, then carefully nurture what we plant until they reach their full potential. That’s why I strongly believe local transit decisions create strong roots for our state’s transportation system to flourish.

If state legislators allowed municipalities to make transit decisions based on their local needs, we would be much further along in meeting the needs of our state as a whole. That’s why I introduced the Chippewa Valley Regional Transit Authority (RTA) idea during the 2009 state budget.

The law allowed local elected officials to design transportation systems to move people throughout the region, including between counties. Chippewa and Eau Claire counties passed the required referendum and appointed their members to the Authority.

In 2011, Republicans repealed the law and stripped our local officials of their power to handle regional transportation planning. Republicans pulled the plug while regional leaders were developing solutions to our local transit challenges.

In the near future, I’ll be reintroducing the Chippewa Valley RTA bill. It was a great idea the first time it passed, and it’s a great idea now. Local governments are better stewards of the public’s trust and they fully understand their unique challenges and how to set their priorities.

jeff-smithIt all boils down to funding. Mass transit investments are hard to come by while we scramble to address the transportation funding crisis. The budget is signed into law now and people can thank Governor Tony Evers for finally taking a step in the right direction for addressing the revenue shortfall and our unsustainable debt. Under Republican leadership, we paid nearly 20 cents of every dollar to debt. Now, we will be paying 18.5 cents per dollar.

Unfortunately, Republicans rejected Governor Evers’ modest 8 cent gas tax increase which would’ve brought in revenue from out-of-state drivers. Instead, Republicans socked Wisconsin drivers (only) with vehicle title fee and registration fee increases. Balancing the road costs solely on the backs of Wisconsin drivers is wrong, especially considering most neighboring states increased their gas tax so we can pay for their roads too.

It’s time to get off this do nothing treadmill. We need to capture out-of-state revenue for our roads, reign in our reliance on debt and move mass transit options ahead.

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