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Looking Back on 2016

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 20 December 2016
in Wisconsin

trump-clinton-debateSen. Kathleen Vinehout hopes to find common ground on the issues of concern to Wisconsinites. For the residents of the 31st Senate District, most of were related to water. People were also frustrated with the negativity of the past election cycle.


ALMA, WI - We settled into a deep freeze this past weekend. After a long glorious autumn, the third week of December brought frigid temperatures not usually felt until mid-January.

So I took time out from normal senator and farmer duties to reflect on 2016.

This past year was one of upset and strife in the political world. The insiders haven’t sorted out all that happened this election cycle, but listening to folks in western Wisconsin I can say people are not happy with politics as usual.

I heard many stories of people motivated to vote for the first time. I wanted to learn how these voters might have influenced the election results. I visited a local county clerk’s office and learned an amazing twelve percent of those who voted in Trempealeau County were new, first-time-registered, voters. In the city of Whitehall, 24% of all voters were voting for the first time. I never saw so many people coming to the polls for the very first time.

Overall voter turnout was lower than previous presidential years. Many voters decided no candidate was worth their vote and they stayed home.

Overwhelmingly, people say the campaign was too long, too negative and damaging to our community-minded spirit.

As I reviewed 2016, water issues topped the list of concerns people shared. Many of you asked me to stop several bills related to water. Over 100 people were opposed to private ownership of local municipal water. No one contacted me in favor of this bill.

capitol-nightIn some last minute Senate drama, the bill was set for a full Senate vote and then mysteriously removed from the Senate calendar, as leaders discovered they did not have enough votes to pass the bill.

A similar fate befell another water related bill. Nearly another hundred people asked me to oppose a bill that relaxed rules regarding high capacity wells. The concern was about the large amounts of water these high capacity wells draw from the ground and surface water supply.

Two different versions of the bill passed the Assembly and Senate. Because no conference committee of Assembly and Senate members was convened to reconcile the differences between the bills, the issue died at the end of the legislative session.

Access to the waters of the Mississippi River for ice fishing became a problem last winter. Locals who crossed the railroad tracks to ice fish experienced threats from “railroad” police. Ninety people called, wrote or created and signed their own petition to ask me to make it possible for anglers to cross rail lines without harassment. Such outcry led to several meetings with rail officials and promises by the rail companies to create safe passages for anglers.

Water and muck in the wrong place created angst for many people as they worked to clean up after floods. Digging out and repairing damage is ongoing. Locals are frustrated at the limited money available for rebuilding. A complete lack of state funds to clear out a creek in Gilmanton and a lack of money to build a temporary bridge in Shoepps Valley (both in Buffalo County) are two examples where state rules do not provide local help. In both cases, the state limits how much local officials can spend AND leaves them responsible for fixing the problem.

Repair of many bridges and roads are complete. Please join me in thanking the town and county officials who worked (and continue to work) so hard to keep us safe and traveling to and fro.

Many people wrote about ideas for new legislation, funding for schools, roads, and health care. I will cover these subjects and more next week as I look forward to 2017.

In an effort to mend the political divide, I encouraged healing in a piece I wrote the day before the November election entitled Joining hands and Respecting Difference. One reader, Kathy Peterson of Eau Claire, captured the unifying spirit we all seek when she wrote,

“I pray we can all learn to respect everyone as we work towards solutions for the common good. Thank you for your continuing advocacy for the people of Wisconsin and our entire nation.”

Thank YOU for the opportunity to serve you this year. May the peace and joy of the Season be with you.

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Blue Jean Nation 'We are better than this'

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 13 December 2016
in Wisconsin

Franklin Delano RooseveltFDR and the greatest generation of WWII had the courage to expect freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear for the whole world. Today's Americans are just afraid.


ALTOONA, WI - In his first inaugural address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously told a nation facing one of America’s darkest moments that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

The resolve and emotional toughness Roosevelt called upon as the country descended into a Great Depression is conspicuously missing today. America is full of fear, largely because the nation’s very un-Roosevelt-like leaders and the mass media keep feeding us reasons to be afraid. We are told to fear for our safety. We are told to fear foreigners. We are told to fear people we think look like foreigners. We are constantly warned of predators in our midst who aim to scam us or rob us or do us physical harm. Republicans tell us to fear Democrats. Democrats tell us to fear Republicans.

For all practical purposes, our true national motto is no longer E Pluribus Unum (“Out of Many, One”) or In God We Trust. It’s more like Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.

We are better than this. Or at least we could be.

pearl-harbor1941In a 1941 speech to Congress, Roosevelt spelled out four essential freedoms. The first was freedom of speech and expression, not just in America but “everywhere in the world.” Second, FDR spoke of the freedom of worship. He emphasized the importance of allowing every person to worship God “in his own way” and again emphasized such freedom needs to be guaranteed everywhere in the world. He chose his words carefully. To FDR’s way of thinking, religious freedom and religious tolerance went hand in hand. They were, in fact, inseparable. And for anyone to be free, everyone must be free.

Roosevelt’s third freedom was freedom from want. Roosevelt said that meant “economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants everywhere in the world.” Last but certainly not least was freedom from fear. He dreamed out loud of curtailing war-making capacity so that no nation would be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor anywhere in the world. But his words also are a timely reminder about the importance of dealing with the countless other fears and insecurities that have Americans so spooked today.

Earlier in that speech, FDR spoke of “basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems,” including “equality of opportunity for youth and for others, jobs for those who can work, security for those who need it, the ending of special privilege for the few, the preservation of civil liberties for all, and the enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.”

In our own time, this is not too much to expect. This is not too much to aspire to. This is nothing to be afraid of.

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Christmas Eve Music and Fun from Our Valley to Your Radio

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 13 December 2016
in Wisconsin

christmas-santaThe Big River Radio Wave will present a show on Wisconsin Public Radio this Christmas Eve that is a combination of music, comedy and rural holiday wisdom. The show includes the rich local talent from western Wisconsin – names that many in the area will recognize.


ALMA, WI - Looking for a homegrown Holiday treat for Christmas Eve? Look no further than your radio for a special holiday performance from Wisconsin’s beautiful west coast.

Big River Radio Wave’s Christmas Show airs on Wisconsin Public Radio across Wisconsin on Christmas Eve. The show comes straight from our valley to your radio.

The show originates at the renovated Big River Theater in Alma, Wisconsin. In fact, the creator and host, Mac Cherry, is my neighbor.

This year’s Holiday show weaves local musicians, storytellers, and comedians with their very special bit of advice. The show is upbeat, funny and filled with rural holiday wisdom, like comedian Tim Harmston’s counsel for “navigating the political divide at Christmas.”

Big River Radio Wave Christmas Show features the La Crosse band String Ties. Voted “the Best Band of the Coulee Region,” their music celebrates the hills of the upper Mississippi (according to their Facebook page) through an acoustic blend of Gospel, Swing, Folk and Old Time Country.

I caught up with Mac Cherry when we were both snowbound on a recent Sunday afternoon.

I asked Mac about the origins of the show. He told me, “We had the theater for a few years. We had different types of talent appear, good names in the area…having lived in the Twin Cities and moved from Milwaukee, I was surprised and impressed with all the indigenous talent...plus we had national talent coming from the Cities. Folks, who wanted to come to our area, perform and stay for a while. I thought it would be kind of fun to do a variety show with so much rich talent available.”

Mac and his band, the River Benders, “played a little bit” and came up with the concept of the show. What came about was a creative mix of local talent, a few Twin Cities comedians with Wisconsin roots and entertaining stories that captured the life of Alma and other river towns.

The show needed a house band. For five years, the River Benders filled the role including Brian Schellinger of Trempealeau County, Patty Carlson and Mike Congdon from near Black River Falls and Mac Cherry of rural Alma.

This year Mac said it was “a fun experience to allow other musicians from the river area to show their talents.” He invited a local band, String Ties, to fill the house band slot. String Ties includes Coon Valley native Dan Sabranek (guitar), Winona’s Wayne Beezley (mandolin), Tom Pfaff (banjo) and Larry Dalton (bass).

A regular on the show is internationally recognized Alma naturalist Kenny Salwey. Mac describes Kenny as the “backwoods Buddha,” a hunter, trapper, philosopher, and storyteller. He’s known as the Last River Rat – the title of both his book and a BBC film about his life.

Two nationally known comedians with Wisconsin roots perform as part of the Big River Radio Wave - Tim Harmston and Mary Mack. Tim credits sitting around Wisconsin campfires with his uncles and father for his wry sense of humor (according to the website Cap City Comedy). Folk humorist Mary Mack credits her very funny mechanic dad for her wit. She grew up in Webster, Wisconsin where her sister owns a bait shop (as mentioned in a 2011 piece in the Star Tribune).

Special guest and “formidable musician” Michael Johnson rounds out the evening performers. According to Mac, Michael Johnson is a classical guitarist and a singer songwriter who played with John Denver and recorded the 1980’s hit “Bluer than Blue.”

Local Christmas Eve listeners will also recognize the distinctive voice of Al Johnson, who announces Big River Radio Wave. Around Eau Claire, Al is known as “the WPR radio voice of western Wisconsin.”

Big River Radio Wave is a “fun venture,” Mac told me. “Everyone enjoys the performance and the performers really enjoy performing.” We, in Alma, are very proud of Mac, who in his spare time renovated the Big River Theater (now in new hands) and ran the Chamber of Commerce a few years back.

Join us for the Big River Radio Wave Holiday Special performance on Christmas Eve at 7:00 pm statewide on Wisconsin Public Radio stations.

As Mac Cherry said to me, “It’s our gift to you.”

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'Making friends with discomfort' Blue Jean Nation

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Friday, 09 December 2016
in Wisconsin

trump-ryanThose alarmed by the actions of the radical right are going to have to warm up to agitation and provocation. American now stands at a crossroads.


ALTOONA, WI - Several decades ago three young students journeyed through dusty rural California in hopes of meeting famed migrant farm worker organizer Cesar Chavez. Once they found Chavez, they sat with him and asked, “Cesar, how do you organize? ” Chavez replied, “well, first you talk to one person, then you talk to another person, then you talk to another person….”

The students assumed Chavez misunderstood their question and clarified that they wanted to know how mass movements are built. Chavez repeated, “first you talk to one person, then you talk to another.”

The key to making change is as elementary as Chavez’s secret of organizing.

It comes down to discomfort.

Comfortable people don’t move. They stay where they are because they are comfortable where they are. To make them move, they have to be made uncomfortable.

It’s like the basic law of physics . . . and object at rest will remain at rest, unless some force makes it move. A corrupt political establishment will stay corrupt and a failing political system will keep failing us, unless some force makes the powers-that-be change their ways.

That force is discomfort.

Living in interesting times is said to be the Chinese curse. The curse we’re living is uncomfortable times. Anxiety and fear about the country’s future are running high among tens of millions of Americans. With deindustrialization and economic globablization, the only thing that seems certain for the time being is uncertainty. Official reassurances that unemployment is falling and the economy is recovering mean nothing to someone who once earned $25 an hour working in a factory before that work was exported overseas and the best available replacement job pays maybe $11 or $12 an hour. For someone whose standard of living has been cut in half, claims of economic recovery are an abstraction. For them, the American Dream appears to be in the process of being downsized. And worse yet, their gut tells them their children will probably have it harder than they’ve had it.

The discomfort this reality produces has fueled a reactionary, authoritarian populism that gave rise to the Tea Party movement and paved a route to the White House for Donald Trump. Back in March, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne asked the question, “can a moderate left beat a radical right?” His question was answered on November 8.

American now stands at a crossroads. We can take a divisive, backward-looking, destructive path. Or we can choose a uniting, forward-looking, constructive route. For the moment, a large segment of the population appears to favor the former for lack of a well-defined and compelling alternative. That better road won’t be paved until people who are disturbed by the direction we’re currently traveling get uncomfortable enough to move.

Those alarmed by the actions of the radical right are going to have to warm up to agitation and provocation. They are going to have to make friends with discomfort.

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2017 Looks Like a Great Time to Move to a Better Home

Posted by Bruce Nemovitz, Realty Executives
Bruce Nemovitz, Realty Executives
Bruce Nemovitz is a Senior Real Estate Specialist, as well as Certified Senior A
User is currently offline
on Friday, 09 December 2016
in Wisconsin

home-gbProperty values, at least in the 4-county Milwaukee-Metro area, have rebounded after the recession and next year is showing so many positive signs for sellers. It may be the perfect time to make that move to a better lifestyle.


BROOKFIELD, WI - Just think about where the real estate market and stock market have been in the recent past and how far they have come! We tend to focus on now and forget just how fortunate the past 8 years have been in our respective markets. The Dow Jones average during the bear market of March 9th, 2009 hit a low of 6,507. Today’s market as I write this article, it has risen to 19,504.02! That is roughly a 300% increase from low up to today’s all-time high. Our real estate market has followed that same pattern but not with the same incredible increase. Most areas in the 4-county Milwaukee-Metro area reached a high price point in May of 2006. Then the recession began, with prices dropping about 20%-25% to a low point in 2012. We have now recouped most of that loss and almost back to 2006 highs. Now that is impressive!

So where do we go from here? How do we use our knowledge of real estate pricing patterns to our advantage? Do we hold on putting off our move so we can cash in on more appreciation or do we make our move now and enjoy the fruits of the last 8 years appreciation in property values?

bruce-jeanne-nemovitzI purposely coupled Dow Jones and real estate for a reason. Both are connected by investor predictions and confidence. When the stock market increases, it is a future prediction by investors that tomorrow will be better than today. Since the market has shot up in past years it is the consensus that next year may be a great year for investors and the economy. The real estate market is considered critical to our economy succeeding or failing. Therefore it is my belief that next year will be a great year for sellers! I believe property values will increase about 6%-8% for the entire year of 2017. I also believe stock prices will probably follow that same trend.

Did you know when you sell your property; in most cases you will pay no taxes to the government as to your gain? If you have lived in your home for 2 of the last 5 years, and it is your primary residence, you are exempt up to $250,000 in gain if you are single, and up to $500,000 in gain for a married couple. If you sell next year, your equity in your home is a powerful asset to use in any way you wish. Many will sell and then buy or move into an apartment. So many folks are waiting and trying to “time” the market, meaning holding off making a move until the exact right time for the greatest financial gain. That thinking may work for some, but for too many a needed move is postponed until a move becomes essential. Then a planned move may not be possible and you may be in crisis management. There is nothing worse than to have a condition dictate a quick move from your long-time home!

2017 may be the best year to put your lifestyle front and center. Whether you decide to stay in your home or make your move, your financial wellbeing will not suffer either way. I anticipate appreciation but also anticipate a rise in mortgage interest rates. This could be a catalyst to bring out buyers who have been on the fence. Therefore, when interest rates rise, the initial change is positive for sellers. But if that rate continues to escalate it then will work in reverse as to the equity in your home. Each percentage of interest increase will lessen the buying power for purchasers and eventually begin to lower home prices. I believe we will see a slow rise in rates, but 2018 may then stabilize or possibly reverse the upward trend of home prices. There will also be many homes owned by baby boomers going on the market as downsizing will be the theme for our 60-70 year old cohort. More homes also mean lower prices. This parade of homes entering the market has already begun. It will gain momentum in the coming years. This too may stabilize home prices or reverse the upward trend.

In summary, 2017 is showing so many positive signs for sellers. It may be the perfect time to make that move to a better lifestyle. You can invest the money you don’t use in the stock market which should mirror the home sale market. Either way, if a move is in your future; your timing could not better as a home seller. I wish you all the best and a very happy and prosperous New Year!

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