Tuesday February 27, 2024

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Government and Civic Engagement

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 February 2024
in Wisconsin

senate-scholar-programSenator Smith writes about the Wisconsin Senate Scholar Program and the importance of participating in our democracy.


MADISON - In the Wisconsin State Senate there is a program for high school juniors and seniors to learn more about how your Wisconsin State Senate operates. It’s called the Wisconsin Senate Scholars Program. It is designed for students who want to learn what goes on in their government and in the Capitol building.

Senate Scholars spend an entire week learning and participating in all facets of the legislative process. They meet with their Senator and staff, legislative support agencies, the press, lobbyists, representatives, the executive branch, the judicial branch, as well as many others who work within state government. Scholars can even be on the Senate floor while the senate is in session. The week’s activities culminate in a mock legislative hearing at which Senate Scholars provide and obtain testimony and then hold an executive session to vote a bill out of committee.

Admission to the program is highly competitive and limited to 33 academically exceptional high school juniors and seniors from around Wisconsin. Expectations are high as Senate Scholars must have outstanding academic qualifications and experiences that demonstrate an ability to perform tasks with a high degree of responsibility.

It’s fun to meet these future leaders as they work the Senate floor and attend hearings. And it is especially fun when one of the scholars comes from my own district. Last week Perry Kotz, a senior at River Falls, was among the scholars I had the honor of meeting. Perry must have impressed his fellow scholars as well since they chose him to be Committee Chair in the mock hearing they held.

jeff-smithLearning how government works firsthand is a valuable experience and I’m confident it makes an impression that leads to a lifetime of civic engagement for most who have the opportunity to participate. I would encourage all our young women and men to find ways to become engaged. Whether it be on their student council or volunteering for local civic groups and campaigns.

It’s always inspiring when teenagers petition their school board, city council, or county board on issues that affect their own life experience. The work of our government impacts everyone’s life. It is never too early or late to learn how it works and participate in democracy.

Spending an entire week in Madison at the State Capitol is truly a unique opportunity, but there are so many ways people can engage locally. First and foremost is voting – this is our fundamental right and responsibility to choose who represents our communities. Some candidates are active community members who may run for office locally, for the state or even the federal government. This is truly an incredible opportunity and builds a stronger government with individuals ready to serve with diverse viewpoints and experiences.

I’ve been asked how I decided to run for office numerous times. It’s hard not to get carried away with a long story, but it started with one issue that sparked my interest in a life of service. I was a late bloomer. It wasn’t until my children started school and I became engaged as a Parent Teacher Organization (PTA) member. From there, my interest in the public service continued to grow.

There are scores of individuals like me whose “long stories” began with working on a local issue that matters most to them. Eventually as you gain experience, people will notice and they will ask you to lead. Resist the temptation to say, “no,” or, “I’m too busy.” Eventually a life of service grounded with a single step becomes a full sprint.

There are countless pathways for participating in our government. I encourage everyone to keep exploring new opportunities to serve in your community. Someday when you’re asked how you started, you will say: “It’s a long story.”


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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Power for Power’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, 14 February 2024
in Wisconsin

congress-unproductiveSen. Smith writes about how Republicans are using constitutional changes to get around the Governor’s veto pen.


MADISON - The best way for anyone in power to hold onto power is to change laws and limit public participation. We have seen that strategy played out many times for over a decade in Wisconsin.

Maybe the most obvious was when Tony Evers was elected as Governor, defeating the incumbent Scott Walker, and Josh Kaul was elected Attorney General. Both Evers and Kaul are Democrats and the gerrymandered Republican majority in the legislature went right to work to limit their powers. They called a lame duck session of the legislature in December of 2018 before Governor Evers and Attorney General Kaul were sworn in to weaken their powers through law changes. This set the stage for an uneasy relationship between the governor and the legislature which has not served anyone well.

assembly-wi-robin-vos-pressVoters in Wisconsin have had only one option to try and stop this continual power consolidation. Voters have shown up and elected Democrats in almost every statewide election over that timeframe since. The result may not always show in legislation, but it sure does show in the jittery behavior of the Republicans who still control the legislature.

I’m sure you have heard the news about the Wisconsin Supreme Court that ruled the current legislative districts are unconstitutional and ordered new maps to be drawn. That ruling has Republicans frantically trying to do everything possible to hold onto power despite voters continually rejecting their agenda. They are using every trick up their sleeves to maintain their gerrymandered majorities in the Senate and Assembly.

I’m sure by the time you read this there will have been even more shenanigans attempted since I submitted this column. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with the schemes and angles Republicans have come up with almost daily.

While desperately clinging to gerrymandered maps, Republicans have found another way to stop voters from toppling their nearly 30 year control of the legislature. They are taking aim at our state’s constitution. Constitutional changes are introduced as resolutions to bypass the Governor’s veto pen. Once a resolution passes twice by both houses over the course of two consecutive sessions, it goes directly to voters in a referendum. It’s a cynical way to govern by changing our constitution for short-term political maneuvers.

While you will see several of these constitutional questions on your ballot over the course of this year, there is one I still hope we can stop. It is an attempt to permanently and effectively limit the way we conduct elections in Wisconsin.

Republicans are advancing a resolution to ban ranked choice voting in our constitution. Senate Joint Resolution 94 (SJR 94) was heard at a public hearing in the Senate Shared Revenue, Elections and Consumer Protection committee last week. It is a direct response to a bill I have championed for two sessions called Final Five Voting (FFV).

jeff-smithKeep in mind that if we were to adopt a change like FFV it would be in statutes which can easily be amended or even removed through future legislation if it doesn’t provide the improvements to our elections we hope it would. Republicans are so afraid of losing power they will go to great lengths to protect the status quo. You know, the status quo that has resulted in a Congress that can’t pass a budget or get anything meaningful done.

During the public hearing, SJR 94 attracted a lobbyist to come from Texas to testify that Wisconsin should change our constitution to their liking. I asked why lobbyists from other states should be so interested in interfering with how we vote in Wisconsin. We didn’t get a satisfactory answer, only that they think it’s a bad idea. Gee thanks for your concerns, Texas.

Everyone should be alarmed by political leaders actively attempting to derail any chance for change. We don’t need to agree on everything, and we shouldn’t, but we should all stand together against schemes that entrench power and limit our choices through misguided constitutional changes.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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Be Vigilant of Scammers

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 February 2024
in Wisconsin

identity-theft3Senator Smith outlines the most common consumer complaints from DATCP and reinforces the importance of protecting personal information from professional scammers.


MADISON - Constituents visit the Capitol every week to lobby their Senators and Representatives on topics they care deeply about. Last week, hundreds of people came to Madison for Ag Day at the Capitol, the Credit Union League and the Rural Electric Cooperatives. I always enjoy the opportunity to meet with folks from western Wisconsin to learn more about their trade and how decisions made in Madison affect all of us back home.

A strong contingent of credit union members from the 31st Senate District came to the Capitol to discuss a variety of issues affecting credit unions and their members. Topics ranged from financial literacy to childcare needs and elder abuse. While I have written and spoken often on the subject of childcare as well as financial literacy, I thought more awareness was needed to stop scammers.

Elderly family members and friends are often the most targeted. Elder abuse takes on many forms – physical, emotional, psychological and financial. During my conversations with credit union members, I heard stories that made me shudder. Consumer protection against scammers is important to prevent financial elder abuse.

elderlyWhile Credit Unions and Banks train their employees to recognize the warning signs when a client withdraws large amounts of money, they can’t stop every case. How does it happen? Why would someone transfer their savings to a stranger? Of course the targets are more often elderly and alone. There have been instances of scammers keeping their targeted person on the phone for 6 or 7 hours to wear them down. These thieves often get away with tens of thousands of dollars with no chance of tracking them down.

These stories are truly heartbreaking. It reminds us all that we must protect vulnerable family and friends from these scams. We need to make sure our loved ones know how to respond to someone who calls with questionable stories asking for or demanding money. Instruct them to call you or someone else they trust before continuing any conversation that seems suspicious.

Coincidentally, our Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) released their annual list of the top ten consumer complaints that give us some indication of what to look out for.

As usual landlord issues top the list with security deposit returns, evictions, unauthorized entries, inadequate disclosures, and unsatisfactory service being common complaints.

Telemarketing complaints came in a close second – many of which are scammers preying on the elderly. These complaints involved robocalls, phishing and spoofing, imposter scams, and Wisconsin Do Not Call Registry issues.

Fortunately there are things happening to prevent these unwanted criminal calls. Last year, DATCP teamed up with the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) to join the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and agencies from all the other 49 states and the District of Columbia to create the Operation Stop Scam Calls initiative. This group is tasked with cracking down on illegal telemarketing operations responsible for billions of unwanted calls to U.S. consumers. This group successfully started a lawsuit against a company that allegedly sent or transmitted approximately 157 million calls to Wisconsin phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry.

jeff-smithOther complaints that topped the list include some familiar cases. Fly by night home improvement services, telecommunication companies, medical services companies, motor vehicle companies and many more.

Sometimes, we hear these stories about people who are conned out of thousands of dollars and we think to ourselves, “I’m smart enough to know better.” Just remember, these people are professionals. We need treat them that way. Don’t let your guard down. Protect your personal information and always verify with someone before sending any money, especially when someone tells you the opportunity is too good to pass up or you are in trouble if you don’t do what they want.

There is much to be vigilant about so we are not taken advantage of. Looking out for ourselves and the elderly is something we can all do to protect ourselves from abusers who attempt to scam us at every turn.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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Republican State of Obliviousness and Ignorance

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 31 January 2024
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearingSen. Smith chides Republicans for attempting to save their members from redistricting and putting forward another variation of a tax cut plan for the wealthy while the Chippewa Valley struggles with the recent health system closure.


MADISON - We all have that friend who is completely unaware of their surroundings. That’s called obliviousness. In politics, obliviousness may affect one politician, but it’s called ignorance when the entire membership of the political party refuses to acknowledge an issue.

While Governor Tony Evers was putting the finishing touches on his State of the State speech for Tuesday night, Republicans were launching their state of obliviousness and ignorance.

wisconsin-senateRepublicans regurgitated another plan to shell out our state surplus as tax breaks for the wealthy on Tuesday morning. The front page of the Eau Claire Leader Telegram on Wednesday last week was a perfect depiction of obliviousness. Area Republicans are pictured smiling and boasting about tax cuts for the wealthy while our community reels from the tragic news of the HSHS closure announcement just the day before. This is the perfect illustration of the Republican plan. While people suffer and look for answers, Republicans are more interested in their own agenda. There was time for local elected officials to cancel their press conference, but they refused.

The next day, the Governor suggested that Medicaid expansion could’ve helped. There’s no doubt there was an impact with a high percentage of Medicaid recipients served by HSHS. But, no one will ever know because Republicans have continually buried their heads in the sand and rejected $1.6 billion from the federal government to fully expand Medicaid like 41 other states have already done. For 10 years, Republicans have refused to do it because of political ideology. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – continually refusing to fully expand Medicaid is illogical, immoral and fiscally irresponsible.

jeff-smithI was one of the last to know about the HSHS closures. During a 15 minute “briefing” we were told they were leaving on April 21st. After hearing the news, I couldn’t help but remember the days my children were delivered at Sacred Heart Hospital. I’ve always been proud of the fact that my daughters were born in the same hospital as I was. Almost everyone in our community probably felt the same way.

Whether it was ourselves or one of the people we love, HSHS has served our community over multiple generations. I felt a sense of loss and frustration while also trying to wrap my head around what this rapid departure from our community will mean for families. While some may be angry or others might be sad, I find myself feeling both emotions.

Further disappointment came when I received a call from my office telling me I needed to rush down to Madison to vote on something. I didn’t know what it was. I couldn’t help but hope that Republicans had finally come around to restoring the right to have an abortion in Wisconsin, or maybe we would be doing something to help our community after the HSHS announcement. Instead, I learned it was just another attempt by Republicans to cling to their power with another gerrymandering bill.  I had a long three-hour drive to Madison. You can certainly understand my anger. Republicans refused to give us details until we went to the senate floor on Tuesday. That’s when I learned that the real reason I was rushed down to Madison was so Republicans could attempt to save eight Republican legislators from redistricting.

It’s shameful and unacceptable. If Republicans invested a fraction of their time solving problems that they spend toward clinging to power and dishing out tax dollars to their wealthy friends, they wouldn’t be governing from a state of obliviousness and ignorance. I am exhausted by it and voters should be as well.

I hope last week was a wakeup call for our area legislators to put down the microphone for their own pet political ideology and pick up the phone to listen to the people who sent them to Madison to work on issues that matter.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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Honoring the Ho-Chunk Code Talkers

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 24 January 2024
in Wisconsin

ho-chunk-code-talkers-honoredSen. Smith writes about his work with Ho-Chunk members to advance the Ho-Chunk Code Talkers Memorial Highway bill through the State Senate. These dedicated and brave soldiers helped turn the tide in World War I and II.


MADISON - Four years ago, a dedicated individual named Sandy Winneshiek, contacted my office. She had an idea and she was motivated to get the job done, but she didn’t know where to start. Sandy served as the Ho-Chunk Nation’s Veteran Service Officer and she knew the rich history about the contributions Native Americans made as code talkers throughout World War I and World War II.

Her stories about the sacrifices made during these pivotal wars were incredible and she wanted everyone to know about these brave individuals who helped turn the tide in both of these tragic and prolific events. She pitched the idea of designating the stretch of Interstate-90 from the Minnesota state line to the Interstate-94 interchange near Tomah as the Ho-Chunk Code Talkers Memorial Highway. As a child of someone who served in WWII, I thought this was an incredible idea. I worked with her to draft a bill and introduce it.

As with most good ideas, it didn’t get done right away, and we saw no action from the legislature to advance the bill. We were patient and Sandy pushed harder. She built a coalition of Ho-Chunk members and charted a path with Republicans to gain their support. Just last week, the senate passed Senate Bill 633 unanimously and now it heads to the State Assembly before Governor Evers has the opportunity to sign it into law.

vets-wwii-europe-winterThe code talkers’ service is an example to the fortitude and social fabric within Native American tribes. Their role in World War II tells the story of American endurance, collaboration and the importance of sharing our strengths and skills.

Our country has a complex, painful history regarding the treatment of Native Americans. Despite attempts to help European settlers when they first arrived, Native Americans were forcibly removed from their land, introduced to deadly diseases and became victims of mass genocide. For many decades, even as late as the 1950s, white Americans suppressed members of the Tribal Nations, forcibly placing children in boarding schools and promoting assimilation policies in an attempt to destroy their culture.

Many Native Americans still held onto their native languages, despite this traumatic history and the attempts to strip them of their heritage. During the World Wars of the Twentieth Century, members from Tribal Nations were willing to enlist and fight for the same values that other soldiers believed in. As Native American members joined the military, they realized their ability to speak another language would make it difficult for enemies to interpret intercepted messages.  These enlisted members of Native American tribes became known as code talkers.

Although Native Americans were enlisted for this important duty, they still faced challenges working predominantly with English-speaking soldiers.

jeff-smithI heard a story about an enlisted Ho-Chunk Code Talker, selected for this role because he could speak his native language. He began his assignment in the radio room waiting for a message with a commanding officer. When a message arrived, the code talker couldn’t understand the sender’s message. The officer was puzzled and demanded to know why he told them he could speak his native language but then couldn’t understand this message. He replied that he is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and the sender was speaking Navajo. This anecdote reminds us of the presumptions we may have of others, but the importance of learning from each other’s backgrounds.

As a nation of many cultures, religions and ethnicities, we should celebrate the code talkers’ legacy and their contribution to our country’s history. With this in mind, I hope we can get Senate Bill 633 through the Assembly and signed into law.

This bipartisan proposal is one small measure to honor Native Americans in our state, but we must do better to educate ourselves of these vital roles that are, too often, overlooked in our country’s history. Be sure to do what you can to learn more about our country’s history by listening, reading and having conversations with others.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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