Sunday August 14, 2022

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Trust is Complicated

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 February 2022
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearing-inSen. Jeff Smith writes about the importance of earned trust and doing one’s own research before making conclusions.


BRUNSWICK, WI - I’ve learned a lot about building and holding one’s trust, especially as an elected official. Trust can be elusive especially when the facts we find don’t align with the rhetoric. When claims are verified with facts, trust is earned.

Trust can be puzzling too when it’s given without any question or verification of facts. When we hear or read statements that align with our beliefs we might automatically trust the source. It’s not earned, but we want it to be true.

Politics is all about trust. Earned and unearned.

My office receives constant emails proposing new ideas or legislation. Some are informed and original while many are generated from misinformation campaigns. It’s common for groups to send out messages warning anyone who is on their site or receive their emails about bills they don’t like. They will have their own reasons. They may be legitimate reasons, but they may also be for selfish or political reasons.

Last week we heard a bill during a public hearing for the Committee on Utilities, Technology and Telecommunications. Senate Bill 838 was introduced by Republican members in the committee. In a nutshell, this proposal preserves Wisconsin’s control over electric transmission decisions through the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, our state’s regulators.

What does this have to do with trust? Before the public hearing folks were getting emails and seeing Facebook messages saying this bill would do terrible things. They were told their electric rates would go through the roof.

Trusting their source, folks put their names on form letters declaring their opposition to this bill and we needed to vote “no.” They gave their trust without verification.

The reality is, there is no proof that rates will go up or have gone up in places that already passed similar legislation. My colleagues on the committee and I asked lots of questions. When asked if rates had been affected in other states, those opposed to the bill had to admit they hadn’t.

Throughout the discussion we only got the usual conjecture and political ideology that led individuals testifying against the bill to believe that rate increases are inevitable. Oddly, they used the fact that rates have gone up around 10% over the last decade with no evidence it was caused by policies like this. The legislation being proposed is not current law and has nothing to do with rates during the past decade.

Building new transmission lines and the emerging infrastructure for the 21st Century is expensive. It gets more expensive with delays and missteps, which is what states have found when the bidding process is too loose and left to oversimplification. This bill prevents unnecessary costs and preserves what little control our state has over our energy needs.

Wisconsin’s rates are high because these same groups that misled people last week misled people a decade ago when Wisconsin tried enacting legislation to produce our own renewable energy. Do we want to be at the mercy of out-of-state entities? It’s already happening, but we can stop it now. This bill is a bi-partisan effort to preserve local control. We don’t have enough of that cooperation in Madison these days.

jeff-smithI know it might be asking a lot of anyone, but it’s wise to get both sides of an argument before handing over your trust. Better yet, every bill proposed has an analysis that is relatively easy to read and it’s written by our non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau.

Before posting cruel comments or lending your name to emails someone else has composed for you, take the time to look up the bill or ask questions of the bill authors.

Honesty and trustworthiness are fundamental to building relationships and accomplishing our goals. When trust is given without justification it is fragile and will often lead to a disappointing conclusion. Then, trust becomes even harder to earn.

When trust is earned it can be lasting and meaningful, but it must constantly be earned again and again. That’s how it should be.

Trust is important. Don’t give it up too easily.

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Biden’s Economic Boom is Strong for Wisconsin

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, 02 February 2022
in Wisconsin

milw-city-workersSen. Jeff Smith writes about the significant steps we’ve made to boost our economy and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic since President Biden was sworn in.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Nothing comes easy. I’m sure you’ve heard that before from a parent or teacher when you encountered unexpected obstacles while trying to get something done. I have to remind myself of that with almost every project I take on. Patience and persistence can become your greatest asset when facing challenges like these.

It’s no different in the world of politics. When important issues need to be addressed, you’ll always run into different sets of challenges. But once a project is complete or new policy is adopted we quickly forget how hard it was to get there. It’s so easy to take for granted something that didn’t even exist just a short time ago. With that in mind it’s necessary to reflect on the good things that we’ve recently accomplished as we consider the challenges in front of us.

If you’re following the news, you know a lot of focus has been on the fact that Congress can’t seem to agree on voting rights, the filibuster rules and issues, like accessible child care and college affordability. But let’s remember all that’s been accomplished since the beginning of 2021.

Faced with a spiraling economy brought on by a pandemic, the Biden Administration needed to make big things happen. Not the least of which was to improve access to COVID-19 vaccinations as quickly as possible. Despite divisive political rhetoric and some initial reluctance, more than 200 million shots were given in 2021.

When you consider where we were a year ago following the shocking attack on our nation’s capital, who would have thought President Biden would have been able to move us forward at all? It seemed unthinkable at the time that he would pass the largest American investment package or the largest infrastructure bill in history—but he did.

At the beginning of the pandemic the national unemployment rate was at 15% but by getting over 6 million Americans back to work, it’s now below 4%. In Wisconsin, it’s even better. Thanks to Governor Evers’ leadership, we’re at a record-low 2.8% unemployment rate.

Last week, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released projections indicating the state general fund balance will have a $3.8 billion surplus at the end of the 2021-23 biennium; this is nearly $2.9 billion more than we expected in June 2021. Governor Evers announced his plan to invest this surplus to provide a $150 refund to every Wisconsin resident, provide $131.8 million in targeted tax relief to caregivers and families and invest almost $750 million in our schools.

jeff-smithDespite elevated inflation, Americans’ incomes were higher in 2021 than they were in 2019 and 2020. In addition, in just one year our country has made real progress in cutting the unacceptably high rate of child poverty in America by 40%. We are building critical infrastructure for our children today and for future generations of Americans.

Although there are still many challenges we must still address, we’ve made significant steps thus far to boost our economy. This “Biden Boom” has been particularly strong for American workers, who have access to better-paying jobs and are seeing their wages grow. It makes me excited to see what the next three years bring after what we’ve seen in just the first year.

Governor Evers has faced obstructionist politics in Wisconsin, but he has been able to show real progress with genuine leadership, patience and persistence from his office. While Republicans fiddle with unreasonable and politically-motivated bills, Governor Evers continues to conduct a full orchestra of policy to keep Wisconsin moving. It’s not a fluke that we have record low unemployment and historic budget surplus projections.

It’s easy to dwell on the headlines, but don’t let them bury the success stories happening around us. There will always be politicians who choose to spend their time chasing unicorns. In the meantime, true public servants are making sure we come out of this pandemic stronger than ever.

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It’s On Us to Invest in Innovation

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, 26 January 2022
in Wisconsin

wind-farm-wiSen. Jeff Smith writes about the new ideas and strategies that will help us build more resilient communities and a sustainable future for Wisconsin in the 21st Century.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - The 20th Century was an amazing time for technological advancements. For instance, people had been trying to fly for centuries, but in 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright made it happen. That was just the beginning. A dozen years later airplanes were being used in World War I.

In the decades following, airplanes became a regular part of our lives because of commercial flights. And, of course, Americans began circling the planet in space by the 1960s and on the moon in 1969. This goes to show what we can do in a relatively short time with innovative ideas and a motivation to achieve great things.

We’re seeing a new spark of innovation in the 21st Century to build more resilient communities and a sustainable future for Wisconsin. Like the innovators of the past, leaders today are taking charge to identify new ideas and best strategies to improve life as we know it – and the stakes couldn’t be any higher.

Inventors introduced technologies that were ahead of their time, motivated by fame, cost savings or simply, to benefit the common good. Take the electric car, for example. If you do a little research you’ll find an interesting history of electric vehicles that goes back to the mid-19th century. By 1923 the company, Detroit Electric, had their car traveling 25 MPH with a range of 80 miles. Unfortunately, electric cars weren’t a commercial success back then because of the cost. In 1923, a Ford Model T were less than $300 while electric vehicles were ten times that cost.

Today, many innovators are focused on protecting our shared future. Scientists at the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that if we don’t take the necessary steps to cut human carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, it will be too late. Reversing the damage already done is a big challenge and may even be impossible. Putting a stop to further damage is something we can do. We just have to be motivated.

As policymakers, we’re often asked if the cost of inaction outweighs the initial investment. In this case, we can’t afford to delay our response any longer.

Economists at one of the world’s largest insurance providers, Swiss Re, estimates the world economy will lose $23 trillion by 2050 because of the effects of climate change including heat waves, flooding and drought. With climate changes repercussions we’re already experiencing, we will continue seeing losses in agricultural production, more spread of disease and the destruction of coastal cities due to rising water levels. That’s an economic reality, one that will affect all of our pocketbooks.

jeff-smithI’m not writing this to scare you, though it should — it’s about motivating all of us. What does it take to be motivated to preserve the planet and way of life we enjoy? Will it be financial savings for you? Maybe your motivation is to protect your family’s health. You may be motivated by a deep passion for environmental conservation. Whatever it may be, now is the time for each of us to discover that motivation and act.

In November, I introduced the Forward on Climate legislative package with Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine). The package includes twenty-two bills to create good, family-supporting jobs, reduce inequality, and fight climate change through Wisconsin-centered policy. Many of the bills I’m lead author of will enable Wisconsin farmers, businesses and families to implement innovative practices to address climate change on the local level.

One proposal establishes a sustainable agriculture grant program to support our farmers in developing inventive conservation measures to slow down the pace of climate change. Another bill would help homeowners make sustainable upgrades to their property to reduce carbon emissions while building long-term savings. I’m also proud of the proposal to create climate-focused scholarships to prepare the next generation to be the innovators and leaders we’ll need.

Procrastinating or expecting someone else to fix this problem is unacceptable. Certainly for policymakers, we must act now. Our motivation should be clear as day. We must vow to protect our state, our nation and its citizens. No excuses.

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A Lesson on Equality

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, 19 January 2022
in Wisconsin

mlk-flagSen. Smith writes about the life work of Dr. Martin Luther King and how it influenced his own thoughts on the meaning of equality.


BRUNSWICK, WI - What does equality mean to you? It’s a question on most Americans’ minds as we come together to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in communities across America, including Eau Claire. For this year’s MLK Day Celebration, we’re asked to reflect on his life’s work and the meaning of equality.

Dr. King championed the issue of equality as an activist during the Civil Rights Movement. He advocated for the “full realization of the American dream … A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.”

When considering what Dr. King said, we understand there’s so much more to achieving equality than removing the shackles of slavery. Working toward Dr. King’s vision of the American Dream requires us to understand historical barriers that prevent equitable advancement opportunities in our country.

Dr. King identified the realities of inequality throughout many aspects in American life, including obvious economic inequalities. The “necessities” of our everyday life–healthcare, a good-paying job, basic human rights–can be lost or unattainable for some because of policies adopted by political leaders. While some policies deliberately widen the gap of inequality, some policies may be an oversight with unintended consequences. Either way, policies that harm Americans, and adversely affect groups one over the other, must be addressed.

That was the intent, of course, when slavery was finally abolished. And yet, we know equality wasn’t achieved because of this one act. Another hundred years of oppression toward African Americans followed because some leaders and those in positions of privilege weren’t willing to be equal with their fellow Americans.

Equality happens only when opportunities are present for all, not just those privileged at the top. We can still have diversity in what we do and how we live. Equality means that no family should suffer in poverty. It should mean that nobody should be homeless or struggle with inadequate housing.

As Dr. King raised his own credibility on the national scene, he was able to also raise the consciousness of a nation. He earned the trust of Americans through his diplomacy and insistence of a non-violent movement. Despite being arrested thirty times, he never bowed to violent measures and found other ways to prevail.

While his first goal may have been to stop Jim Crow laws, he expanded his own advocacy after his success following the March on Washington in 1963 to include equal housing, fair wages and voting rights for all U.S. citizens regardless of one’s skin color.

jeff-smithSo, what is your image of equality? Most of us have lived with the privilege of not knowing oppression or the lack of opportunity to better ourselves. Personally, I know I live with this privilege because I haven’t experienced discrimination firsthand.

It takes critical thinking to recognize policies don’t always present the best outcomes for everybody. It takes even more for each of us to openly admit that we could do better to lift up our fellow citizens. Equality must be a reality in our daily life in order to live the life we thought this country was designed to deliver. A free and equal education system, food security, affordable housing, guaranteed livable wages and access to voting for all eligible citizens—these are just some of the necessities that make us truly equitable.

Dr. King proclaimed in his “I Have a Dream” speech, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ... Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."

We know this speech well; we’ve heard these words many times and understand the powerful meaning behind them. Achieving equality–the American Dream for all citizens–has been slow to come, but I believe we can head in the right direction. Only together can we fully get there, closer to true equality.

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Protect Wisconsin from PFAS

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, 12 January 2022
in Wisconsin

pfas-contamination-testSen. Smith writes about how chemicals known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are impacting our groundwater. We know that testing is essential to identify PFAS contamination, understand the extent of the issue and act to limit exposure to these harmful chemicals.


BRUNSWICK, WI - Protecting the quality of food we eat, air we breathe and water we drink should be a top priority. It’s what we need to survive.

We’ve seen over time that inadvertent mistakes have been made that threaten access to these essential resources. In some cases, corporate greed poses short-term profits for some and long-term health impacts for all. Without the proper research and intervention, we can face serious consequences for decades–and generations–to come.

Sometimes neither business nor government leaders are aware of environmental dangers for years until patterns of illness or death appear. An example I often reflect on is the near extinction of the American bald eagle. For decades, environmentalists were puzzled at the eagle populations’ rapid decline. Then researchers discovered the correlation between the widely-used chemical DDT as a mosquito pesticide and eagles’ endangerment.

At the peak of the problem it was rare to even spot an eagle; I know, because I was a child when this was happening and got excited any time I saw one of these majestic birds flying overhead. Since Congress banned DDT in 1972, the resurgence of the eagle is one of the most amazing environmental success stories of the last several decades.

This is what’s currently happening with Wisconsin’s groundwater because of chemicals known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). PFAS are also referred to as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down naturally in the environment and can stay in one’s body for long periods of time. These chemicals produced in laboratories are used in products like food wrap, stain resistant carpeting, non-stick pans and water repellant clothing. PFAS are dangerous because they’re in so many products and they’re hazardous to humans, having been linked to certain cancers, liver damage, decrease in vaccine efficacy and more.

One product specifically highlights the widespread threat of PFAS: firefighting foam. As effective as the foam is in controlling a fire, it was found to be just as effective at contaminating our groundwater. After a fire incident, the foam was just washed off a road or airport runway entering into the ground. Eventually it was bound to end up in the groundwater. With approximately 97% of Wisconsin communities (equaling 70% of the state’s population) dependent on groundwater for their water supply, this really is an alarming situation that we cannot ignore. It won’t go away on its own.

Groundwater testing is essential to identify PFAS contamination, understand the extent of the issue and act to limit exposure to these harmful chemicals. Some communities have tested and found their wells to be contaminated; they’ve started taking action.

jeff-smithI had the opportunity to tour the wells in the City of Eau Claire where they found PFAS in seven of their sixteen wells last year. They knew they couldn’t wait for politicians in Madison to fix the problem, so they implemented an impressive solution on their own. Eau Claire acted quickly and efficiently, but it will take serious action at the state and national level for the risk of PFAS to dissipate.

The federal government does not set groundwater standards—this happens at the state level. Wisconsin has fallen behind our neighbors in Minnesota and Michigan; they have already begun widespread testing. In 1983, Wisconsin led the nation in groundwater protection by passing the Comprehensive Groundwater Protection Act, which remains widely supported to this day. Since then it has been used to set groundwater standards for 138 chemicals in Wisconsin—but PFAS isn’t one of them.

Just last week, the Department of Natural Resources held a public hearing about proposed rules to implement groundwater standards for PFAS. Since declaring 2019 the “Year of Clean Drinking Water,” Governor Evers’ Administration has been hard at work to ensure Wisconsinites have safe, clean drinking water now and forever. Although the public hearing passed, continue to pay attention and advocate for stronger water protections. It’s up to us to ensure our children can live in a state where they don’t simply survive, but thrive.

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