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See You at the Fair!

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 Monday, 29 July 2013
in Wisconsin

kathleenvinehoutThis week Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about her visits to area county fairs. While at the fair, Kathleen visited the exhibits and chatted with the exhibitors. She also got to listen to the pulse of the communities through her conversations with fair goers.  Politics and local issues are as much a part of the fair as cotton candy and carnival rides.


ALMA - The rain and wind didn’t stop Elaine from coming to the Trempealeau County Fair. She brought the quilt she and her 90-year-old mother finished together.

“It’s special to me,” she told me. “I want to show it off!”

Across Wisconsin folks are picking the best of the flowers, quilts and corn stalks. Youngsters are whipping up tasty treats from scratch. Teens are washing cattle, training horses, and arranging flowers.

It’s fair time.

County fairs have a deep tradition in our state. Waukesha County claims the oldest county fair in the state. In fact, this first county fair was held before Wisconsin was even was a state!

The old agricultural expositions, as they were sometimes called, became a place for city folks to meet country dwellers and for farmers to show off their prize crops and cattle. Fairs helped grow the dairy industry. During fair-time farmers learned the latest in new agriculture techniques and competed against each other in categories from corn to quilts.

Today competition is focused more on youth. But many county fairs provide an open class for arts and crafts, food, and agricultural products – giving people of every age a chance to show off their best.

As a 4-Her, I lived for the county fair. Now I enjoy talking with youngsters and sharing their enthusiasm.

Recently I spent several days at the fair and learned things have changed a bit.

Instead of sugar cookies, the 5th graders are making granola bars. In addition to tied quilts, youngsters are involved in robotics. Digital photography replaced the old 35mm film.

But the enthusiasm of youth and the warmth of the community have not changed.

Fairs are a great time to catch up with constituents and listen to the pulse of the community.  It is also a time to discuss the current challenges facing our communities.

This summer I listened and learned more about sand mines from all sides of the issue. I learned from the technician who worked in the propellant plant in Jackson County. I listened as the local official shared concerns about balancing the needs of many constituents. And many of the people who live adjacent to mines shared worries about land, sand, roads, air and water.

I heard from those proud of their work to make the fair a special event. For example, the fair supervisor of youth projects who wanted to share the importance of 4H. She made sure to tell me the youth she’d worked with – over 40 years – never ended up in jail.

Lots of folks wanted to talk about state politics. Everyone had an opinion. Lots of folks had advice. Pretty much all of them agreed we needed more common sense in Madison.

When it came time for judging, it was the youth who stole the show. The hours of preparation made a difference in the show ring. From the shining coat of the lop-eared rabbit to the Holstein heifer that stood picture perfect every time she stopped.

I carry the memories I could not capture on film; like the girl who spent most of the afternoon walking her tall Suffolk sheep all across the fair ground. The sheep was fashionably decked out in a lime green Spandex sheep tube – something like a coat.

Even more fashionable was the fair queen and her attendant. They were dressed in their finest – but with a twist. Both young women were attired in lovely dresses but the queen had on her barn boots and the attendant wore her cowboy boots.

Only at the fair!

Wisconsin has more than 75 fairs in every corner of the state. Coming up soon are the Jackson County Fair in Black River Falls and the Buffalo County Fair in Mondovi both the first weekend of August.

Don’t forget the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis August 1st to 11th.

You can find more information at the Department of Tourism website:

http://www.travelwisconsin.com/things-to-do/entertainment-attractions/fairs-festivals

or the Wisconsin Association of Fairs website: http://www.wifairs.com/wifairs.asp

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Rural Wisconsin: "Don’t Lose the Home Phone"

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 Monday, 22 July 2013
in Wisconsin

kathleenvinehoutThis week Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about the problems with phone coverage in rural Wisconsin. Often in rural areas cell coverage can be spotty or simply nonexistent. People rely on their land-line phone to communicate with the rest of the world. Legislation was passed in 2011 that ended the requirement of a “provider of last resort” protection for consumers so Kathleen teamed up with AARP to reinstate this requirement.


ALMA - “My cell phone doesn’t work at home, so here’s my home number,” I told the constituent. “My home phone is the best way to reach me.”

If you live in rural Buffalo, Eau Claire, Trempealeau, Pierce, or at least eight other northern or western Wisconsin counties you or your neighbors likely have poor cell coverage. A recent analysis of the coverage maps of 5 major firms shows customers in at least 12 Wisconsin counties face a lack of cell coverage.

Most of us in rural counties have adapted. We don’t expect the cell phone to work and we don’t bother calling cell numbers for rural neighbors. But what happens if you pick up the old landline and it’s dead?

That’s what residents in Fire Island, New York are now facing. And if big phone companies have their way, your landline could be gone by the end of this decade.

A recent story in the Washington Post detailed the problems local residents of Fire Island faced after Hurricane Sandy. Following the storm, residents discovered their home phone company, Verizon, refused to repair torn and waterlogged phone lines.

Customers surrounding Washington, D.C. complained of aggressive Verizon sales representatives forcing customers to abandon their copper line home phones in return for expensive newer technology. Customers who want to return to their copper line phone cannot switch back.

According to the National Regulatory Research Institute, Wisconsin was one of 21 states that deregulated phone companies between 2010 and April 2012. The study detailed similar legislation pending in another 14 states. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate “bill mill”, is a driving force behind telephone deregulation.

The predominant carrier in Wisconsin, AT&T, lobbied for the deregulation bill that passed early in 2011. One provision of the new law ended the 100-year-old agreement between customers and the utility that brought reliable phone service to every part of Wisconsin.

When the deregulation bill was debated in the Senate I authored several amendments to protect consumers including one to keep the requirement for the “provider of last resort.” This meant if no other phone company provided service for you, your local phone company couldn’t come in and pull the plug.

Unfortunately my amendment failed and the new law passed that allowed companies to quit serving areas regardless of whether or not customers have other options. This part of the new law went into effect in early May 2013.

At the time the law passed, proponents argued a federal law protected people from losing local phone service. But last November, AT&T petitioned the federal government to remove those requirements.

According to the July Washington Post article, AT&T wrote that 70% of customers in their 22-state region chose to use wireless or internet based voice services. The company claimed landline phone service was “obsolete”.

But for many of us having a landline phone is not just a convenience; it is critical for commerce, health and safety. Rural electricity can be unreliable, law enforcement is far away, internet can be dial-up and fax machines are vital to rural commerce.

Many rural businesses could not function without a landline phone. Companies rely on the phone for orders, connecting with vendors and approving credit card transactions or checking bank balances.

Our Wisconsin countryside is aging.  Sometimes elderly folks need heart monitors or Lifeline services. But these services don’t work over cell phones. The industries of rural Wisconsin, agriculture and mining, top the list for dangerous occupations. The landline phone can mean the difference between life and death.

Ambulance response time may already be 20 minutes; driving somewhere to find cell coverage means more precious time lost when lives are on the line.

The health and safety of our neighbors should concern us all. This is why I teamed up with AARP Wisconsin to draft and promote legislation that would reinstate the “provider of last resort” law.

This summer I am working with advocates to bring attention to potential problems in rural Wisconsin without a landline phone and the need for this legislation.

Please spread the word. And give your neighbors a call - while you still can.

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Zimmerman Trial Reflects White Prejudice in Legal System

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is a Founding Partner and Publisher of the N.E. Wisconsin - Green Ba
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 16 July 2013
in Our View

black-hoodyGREEN BAY – The American Legal System boasts that it gives the accused the right to a trial before his or her peers. Unfortunately for justice, it sometimes does not guarantee the same right for the victim.

Such was graphically the case in the trial of George Zimmerman last week in Florida for the murder of Trayvon Martin.

In case you were vacationing on Mars for the last few years, George Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch volunteer and want-a-be cop in the pretty much all white community of Sanford, Florida who saw Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black youth from out of town, walking down his block. Zimmerman decided to follow him, armed with a gun, and ended up shooting the unarmed Martin dead.

A simple story and one you should think about if you go around packing a gun.

But the story gets complicated from there. The Sanford Police decide to take their local guy’s story at face value and let him go, no fault charged. The Martin family and the national media get involved, demanding at least a decent investigation and trial, in the name of justice for the dead youth. The political right and left charge to their respective sides and the American Legal System lumbers into action.

Now, sixteen months later, the verdict is in and the pretty much all white jury of Sanford residents decide to take their local guy’s story at face value and let him go. Are we surprised?

If Trayvon Martin did the shooting and was the defendant, he could have at least asked for a change of venue by saying he could not get a fair trial in the white community. The police and the jury would apply their community standards in judging the credibility of his story and find him guilty before he even opened his mouth. Unfortunately, he was the victim and could not speak.

In America, black youth, especially young black men face the same problem every day. Often guilty of no more than “walking while black” they are profiled by police as “suspicious”, picked up, and processed into a legal system that is stacked against them. Anyone who says there is no racial prejudice involved is not in touch with reality.

Most probably, there will be no justice for Trayvon Martin. He was found guilty by a jury of Zimmerman’s peers. But maybe, just maybe, we can use this sad incident to start a real discussion about race in America and our legal system. Maybe, some time in this century, all of us can come to see a black kid as just another kid.

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Art Fairs Serve Up a Slice of Wisconsin!

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, 16 July 2013
in Wisconsin

art-fair-madisonThis week, Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the slice of life in Wisconsin that can be seen in the work of Wisconsin artists. Kathleen includes links to upcoming events and the Wisconsin Tourism webpage that provides a complete listing of art and cultural events in the state.


MADISON - When I asked my sister about a cake for her birthday, she smiled and said, “I’d rather have pie … and art.” So we sat down to blueberry pie and then headed off to an art fair.

Wisconsin has over 215 art fairs. The diversity and creativity is limited only by Wisconsin ingenuity which I’ve decided is limitless!

There is no better way to see what a creative human mind and skilled hands can achieve than by observing art and speaking directly to the creators.

Art fairs are an opportunity for artists to find a home for items they fashioned. Often working through the winter to produce art, many artists spend the summer driving to art fairs to sell their wares.

There is something intimate and rare about the relationship between an artist, her cherished work, and the new owner who finds extraordinary delight in owning a splendid piece.

I attended the 55th Annual Art Fair on the Capitol Square which attracts 450 artists with another 120 or so artists “Off the Square”. The definition of art was broad and included textiles, jewelry, sculpture as well as paintings, photographs and prints. And I found art that stepped outside the boundaries of classification.

There were framed pictures of 3D vegetables and fruit that jumped right out of the frame; 3D mosaics made of individual tiles of ceramic and the life-sized metal moose sculpture that nodded its head at delighted patrons. Quite an addition to any Wisconsin garden!

Wisconsin art is a slice of Wisconsin life. The beauty of our state is reflected in the creative designs of the artists. For example the husband and wife team of Pfipsen Olivova Studios in River Falls used their inspiration from Mississippi River to create beautiful jewelry with the flowing lines of water.

Steve, a UW-RF graduate, met his lovely wife Katia when he was studying glassmaking in the Czech Republic. They merged their lives and created a successful artistic collaboration. They said “Wisconsin and its people inspire you to do art.”

A slice of Wisconsin life shows up again and again in the work of her artists; whether it be the shoreline of Lakes Superior and Michigan; the rolling hills of western Wisconsin or the city skylines of Milwaukee and Madison. Farm life reigns supreme: cows, barns, fields, chickens, cheese, fruit and vegetables…lots of vegetables. I could certainly see our love of gardening expressed through the eyes of the artists.

I was also impressed by the use of recycled materials. I saw sculptures made of scrap metals; creatures made of recycled tins; stained glass surrounded by old barn windows frames – complete with many layers of white wash; metal flowers made with old spoons; even clocks made of forks and spoons.

Artists from other states captured life in Wisconsin. Like the Florida man who said he knew more about our state than a lot of us. He used old junk toys to make 3D sculptures. He also collected images of Wisconsin icons, like the Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, “Hamburger Charlie” from Seymour and of course Bucky Badger, to create a collage any Wisconsinite would treasure.

If I’ve inspired you, be sure to visit the Stockholm Art Fair, July 20 from 10am to 5pm at the park along the river. You can also visit the Spirit of the St Croix Art Festival, September 21-22 in Hudson.

The Spirit of Wisconsin is alive among Native American artists who gather along Milwaukee’s Lake front September 6-8 at the Indian Summer Festival – the state’s largest Native American cultural event. You can find out more at www.indiansummer.org

Several fall art tours offer a glimpse into how Wisconsin artists bring art alive in their studios and galleries. The Fresh Art Tour in western Wisconsin is October 4-6 (www.freshart.org) and the Earth, Wood and Fire Artist Tour is October 26-27 (www.earthwoodandfiretour.com).

To learn more, try the state Department of Tourism website www.TravelWisconsin.com and click on the art and culture link. You will see Buffalo County’s own Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden and Museum in Cochrane featured on Wisconsin’s Tourism website!

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Bowing to Political Pressure, UW pulls the plug on WiscNet

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 Monday, 08 July 2013
in Wisconsin

wisnet-logoThis week, State Senator Kathleen Vinehout talks about the future of WiscNet, the University of Wisconsin's successful internet service, and the lobbyists from GOP allied commercial telecommunications companies who want to eliminate it from bid competitions.


MADISON - “It’s a sad day when political pressures from telephone company lobbyists keep us from working together? It’s frustrating, yet fascinating,” read a recent statement from WiscNet officials.

At issue is the decades old relationship between the University of Wisconsin and WiscNet and whether, despite separating from UW, WiscNet will be allowed to contract with the University to provide internet services.

The internet was developed by researchers and education institutions. The Department of Defense and many universities contributed to its creation. To this day universities share data on super-fast connections created and maintained through cooperative efforts of the universities themselves.

WiscNet was a natural outgrowth of work at the UW and its desire to share the internet with public and nonprofit entities. At least 38 other states have similar research and education networks. Many networks operate under the auspices of the state universities and today continue to provide services to local county and municipal governments, health care institutions, libraries and schools.

The thinking is: sharing services lowers the cost of government.

WiscNet evolved into a nonprofit that served 500 members including three quarters of public schools, all libraries, technical colleges, state agencies, the legislature and the court system.

A 2012 Legislative Audit Bureau report showed WiscNet accomplished its goal to bring low-cost internet to public entities. WiscNet fees were substantially lower than published commercial prices especially for high bandwidth users. The audit also showed the network functioned in ways that revealed its UW parentage – sharing staff and using the UW personnel, benefits and accounting systems.

WiscNet’s success attracted the attention of commercial telecommunications companies, especially AT&T. The telecommunications giant is a big player. AT&T spent almost $1 million lobbying state legislators in the last session with 21 lobbyists working on their behalf - more than half were employees. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, last year the company spent $17 million nationwide and ranked 10th out of over 4,000 organizations that lobbied in 2012.

Lobbyists found fertile ground in the State Capitol for germinating their argument that the public sector should not compete with the private sector. Slipped into the 2011-13 budget was a provision that stopped the UW from being a partner in WiscNet. But internet services provided to the UW could still be competitively bid and – presumably- if WiscNet won the bid in open competition they could be awarded a contract like any other company.

This is exactly what happened this spring - in an open and competitively bid process, WiscNet was awarded a contract to provide services for the UW Madison. Part of the justification for this selection was that WiscNet’s initial equipment cost was 85% less than AT&T’s bid. The university claimed it was following the Supreme Court decision that “insures[s] that the public receives the best work or supplies at the most reasonable price”.

In June, AT&T threatened the University in a letter. The UW responded noting they followed the letter of the law in the procuring services from WiscNet; but would be withdrawing their award to WiscNet citing “business and political considerations—including the potential for ongoing appeals, litigation and legislative changes”.

Instead of competitively bidding services, UW Madison will now “begin transitioning to the operation of our own network.” This action prompted the Senate and Assembly higher education-related committees to call a public hearing to further delve into operations at the UW.

All the uncertainty surrounding WiscNet concerns many local superintendents. I spoke with a few local schools districts and learned some schools are ending their relationship with WiscNet and others are leery about the future and looking for options.

One local Instructional Technology Director said he was watching carefully and wondering if his job truly was to bring the lowest cost, best service to his school district.

People complain about the cost of government and encourage schools and local governments to work together. But when the 8,000 pound gorilla shows up in the Capitol and complains they can’t win a bid, often legislators are too eager to change the rules.

Things have gone too far when big companies threaten the state because they’ve lost a bid.

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