Wednesday May 12, 2021

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Saving our Democracy

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, 20 January 2021
in Wisconsin

trump-insurgents-enterWe can bridge a divided nation by reflecting on our own attitudes and behaviors, but it’s also up to elected officials to be truthful and honest and restore trust in our democratic process.


MADISON - Now is the time when our government should be focusing on our COVID-19 recovery. Wisconsin leaders should be fixing the unemployment insurance crisis, working on the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out and expanding broadband access for every rural household. This is what I’d rather spend my time on. Sadly, other issues have overshadowed the essential work that should be happening because our nation is as divided as it’s ever been.

The shocking attack on our nation’s Capitol earlier this month left Americans with all sorts of questions. How did we get to this point? How were we so unprepared on that day, despite all of the warning signs? What can we do differently to bridge the rift we’re experiencing these days? As Americans, we must reflect on these questions and consider what we, personally, can do to be more empathetic and humble listeners. But it’s also up to our country’s leaders to set the right example through their speech and actions.

jeff-smithI know some may react negatively to my call for civility, truth and compromise because I’m a partisan office holder. It’s no secret I take stands on issues and plead with the Majority Party to act on policies I consider important based on views from people in the 31s Senate District. But, my role in advocating for these policies is drastically different than using fear to drive citizens to hijack our democratic process.

What can elected leaders do to change the political climate? We should start by toning down the political rhetoric and admitting when bad actors are misleading citizens. We’ve seen what happens when people are consumed by conspiracy theories and how passion drives them to act violently. As much as I’d like for our politics to change, it can only happen with the cooperation of the Party in charge.

I appealed to my colleagues on the Senate floor last Tuesday by introducing a Senate Resolution condemning the misinformation and violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The Resolution also recognizes our country has a new President and Vice-President and offers condolences to the family of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick who was killed by the violent mob on January 6th.

The Majority Party failed to take a stand against the violence and conspiracy theories. This same attitude led us to the situation we’re in today. During this dark time in our country’s history, our elected officials must lead rather than shrink away. Elected officials have a responsibility to inform their supporters that the election was fair and legitimate.

There may even be some of my legislative colleagues who, themselves, have become convinced conspiracy claims are true. If that’s so, we have a lot more work to do to rebuild relationships in our country, especially considering many of these elected officials were reelected during the 2020 election.

Democracy is built on the assertion that the person with the most votes wins. I’m old enough to remember that Joe Looby won the Assembly District seat I grew up in by a single vote. He was forever known as “landslide Looby” after that. The obligatory recount after the election did nothing to change the final result. In 2010, I lost a close election that also went through a recount, which only verified the initial result. I know the pain of losing, but also know it’s necessary to accept results and find other ways to peacefully advocate for what I believe in.

As elected leaders, we must understand that our constituents rely on us to be truthful and sometimes painfully honest with them. When a leader is silent about misinformation or repeat it without verification, it can be seen as supporting falsehoods and creating a fictitious reality. We must not abuse our platform as leaders; we’ve seen this happen and how dangerous it can be.

Last Tuesday, the Wisconsin State Senate showed a glimmer of hope by voting on a compromise COVID-19 response bill supported by our Democratic Governor and the Republican Majority leader. I hope we can build on that – it’s the only way this democratic republic will survive.

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New Session, Same Story

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, 13 January 2021
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearing-inSen. Smith writes about the beginning of the 2021-22 legislative session and the lack of compromise we’ve seen from Republican leaders thus far on COVID-19 relief.


MADISON - Last Monday, on January 4th, the Wisconsin State Legislature began the 2021-22 legislative session. New members were sworn in and all elected officials looked ahead to the new session.

Inauguration Day is an important reminder that the Legislature includes elected representatives from many walks of life. Our job is to listen to professionals and ensure they have what they need to do their jobs the best they can.

Every session, elected officials bring their unique experience and expertise forward to introduce new policy proposals. Although we may not always immediately agree, our collective differences can help us change and improve a proposal. When there are two proposals to address one problem, it’s logical to compare the differences. We can identify some points of agreement for compromise even if the differences are vast. In some negotiations, both parties look for agreement and accept certain parts they might otherwise not have put in their own plan.

jeff-smithNearly everyone I hear from would be pleased if their elected officials compromised more. Compromise can be the difference between making real progress and doing nothing. That’s exactly where we find ourselves today with leaders spoiled by unchallenged power through Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps. Unfortunately this unwillingness to compromise and leave behind political ambitions for the greater good couldn’t be more evident than it is right now.

Just once, most people would think petty politics could be set aside for all the hardships families are facing during this pandemic. But it doesn’t seem to be possible in this political environment we live in. Initially, we passed a bipartisan COVID-19 Response Bill in April with the expectation we’d meet again soon. However, once it passed, the Republican Majority Party opted for a 270 day vacation instead of holding another extraordinary session to pass additional COVID-19 relief, fix the unemployment crisis and help schools continue educating students.

Governor Evers introduced two bills–including a compromise proposal–to the Legislature on December 22nd after waiting months for Republican legislative leaders to act. Governor Evers held meetings with Republican leaders, listened to their ideas and even stripped out parts of his initial proposal before settling on provisions they agreed on. The Governor’s COVID-19 compromise bill includes measures to clear the unemployment insurance backlog; covers COVID-19 testing; makes infrastructure available to improve broadband access and more.

robin-vos-is-safe-to-voteAssembly Speaker Vos (R – Rochester) introduced a radically different bill despite the Governor’s plea for sensible compromise. Assembly Bill 1 makes it more difficult for schools to move to virtual classes; protects negligent employers if employees contract COVID-19 in the workplace, takes away the Governor’s oversight of federal COVID-19 funds; and inhibits local health officers from effectively responding to public health emergencies. Assembly Bill 1 allows more people to get sick, limits our state’s response to COVID-19 and fails to protect employees.

Assembly Bill 1 is now on the fast track through the Legislature, despite much public opposition. It’s beyond the pale to take advantage of a public health crisis to advance radical changes in our state. It’s also truly outrageous to distrust the judgement of local elected school boards and the professional training of local public health officials.

To top it off, the Republican Majority passed a Joint Resolution–after returning from a 270-day vacation–to open the state Capitol to the public without masks, social distancing or other health protocols. It’s shameful to play politics while we try to find consensus for COVID-19 relief.

A COVID-19 relief package should include the input of all elected officials and the constituencies they represent, not just the Republican leaders. More importantly, COVID-19 relief legislation should address the unemployment crisis and the lack of internet access, while providing support to our frontline healthcare workers. Demand better from us.

I want to report we opened a new session with renewed hope for a working legislature, but the first week did not instill that confidence. As session continues, I hope there’ll be more opportunities to compromise and work together on behalf of Wisconsinites.

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Foxconn: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

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, 06 January 2021
in Wisconsin

foxconn-walker-ryan-johnsonYears after Republican leaders and Foxconn executives made a one-sided deal, there’s still nothing to show for it, forcing taxpayers to cover the cost. We must negotiate a new deal to properly invest in Wisconsin’s future.


MADISON - Over time, relationships can go sour. When it happens in one’s private life, the breakup can be agonizing; so much of two people’s lives can be intertwined in a short time. When it’s a public or business relationship, the breakup can be painful and even more complicated. Most likely, there are legal contracts or properties linking the two parties.

Take the relationship between Wisconsin and Foxconn, for example.

foxconn-groundbreakIt started in 2017 with so much promise, glamour and, of course, a captivating courtship. Terry Gou, CEO of Foxconn, and then Governor Walker had to get to know each other and discover what one could do for the other. Foxconn promised to invest $10 billion into a massive 20 million square foot factory built in Southeastern Wisconsin and to create 13,000 jobs. Republican leaders, at the time, courted Foxconn with billions of dollars’ worth of tax credits. With dollar signs in their eyes, Foxconn was in love.

Scott Walker saw the plan as politically advantageous: he could take credit for finally making a dent in his campaign promise made 8 years earlier of bringing in 250,000 jobs to Wisconsin. The shiny object was a potential win for a third term if the citizens of Wisconsin fell in love with Foxconn, like he did.

Foxconn even topped the promise off by announcing they would open smaller, regional offices around the state, giving the impression they’d create jobs in places like the Fox Valley and the Chippewa Valley. Even President Trump jumped on this opportunity for a photo-op and to take credit for drawing a Taiwanese tech giant to the Midwest. It seemed like such a beautiful marriage. The arrangement was sweet, but so naive.

There certainly was a honeymoon period when Republican legislators bragged continuously that this deal was the greatest thing since sliced bread. We even heard that it’d be the “8th wonder of the world” and the greatest thing to ever happen in the western hemisphere.

At first, it appeared they had reason to be optimistic. Developers razed land quickly, clearing the way for the thousands of jobs and high-tech manufacturing space Foxconn promised. Republican leaders diverted transportation funds to expand the interstate so Illinois residents could have a nice drive to their new workplace. Over $400 million spent on land and infrastructure surely gave the impression this agreement really would be fulfilled. The new offices rented in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Eau Claire made a lasting relationship seem even more certain.

Sadly, reality quickly came to roost. Investigations show Foxconn left a confusing mess for many of the stakeholders involved. Initially, Wisconsin business owners, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, local government officials and even prospective employees had high hopes for what was to come. These hopeful expectations were squandered after stakeholders were left with no direction or explanation from Foxconn.

The Foxconn fall-out got worse, showing Foxconn fell far short of the hiring goals needed to be eligible for additional state tax credits. Once again, Wisconsin taxpayers were burdened by this disastrous deal. To make matters worse, we’re now learning the anticipated “eighth wonder of the world” may become a storage warehouse.

jeff-smithOver the last three years, it’s become all too clear the romance has been lost. Loyal defenders of this project have continued to remind us that payments would only be made based on performance. Unfortunately, it’s unclear when this will happen.

Most recently, on December 2nd, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) reported they didn’t expect Foxconn to reach the requirements to make them eligible to receive tax credits during the next three fiscal years. Hopefully, like a prenuptial agreement, we’re protected from further loss caused by this terrible match made in their imaginations.

With a new session on the horizon, we have an opportunity to right a wrong. It’s time to negotiate a new deal that saves our state from the initial one-sided $4.5 billion dollar deal. Let’s make the investment Wisconsin needs rather than falling for another flashy romance.

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Out of the Long Shadow of 2020

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, 30 December 2020
in Wisconsin

mdsn-state-street-capitolSen. Smith remembers the projects accomplished in 2020 and thinks forward to the work that still lies ahead.


MADISON - During this time of year, we take time to reflect on the previous year and try to focus on the good things that happened. Even in 2020 there must have been some good things, right?

We all know it’s difficult to focus more on the good moments, than the bad. I often think about knocking on doors or holding mobile listening sessions in the district. I’d have a great day of conversations with folks who were friendly and respectful. It’d be just one conversation that didn’t go well, that would continue nagging at me. That may be why most of us never make it as professional golfers or placekickers in the NFL.

Well, 2020’s negative moments will cast a long shadow over the positive ones. But, there’s still plenty to be grateful and optimistic for in the year ahead.

On January 22nd, Governor Tony Evers delivered the State of the State address. He reflected on the bipartisan accomplishments made in 2019 and the goals set for 2020. Most of us listening were blissfully unaware of the health crisis looming toward us. Despite COVID-19 setbacks, Wisconsin worked towards important goals announced during last year’s State of the State Address.

tony-evers-democratic-govGovernor Evers consistently prioritizes educational opportunity on every level, whether it’s for our children in K-12 schools or the students pursuing a college degree. During the State of the State address, Governor Evers announced the creation of the Task Force on Student Debt to understand how we can make college more affordable. I proudly served on this Task Force over 4 months, learning from experts about how we can achieve this goal. In August, the Task Force released policy recommendations, which could be introduced next session as legislation to help Wisconsinites.

In 2020, Governor Evers hoped to find ways to better support our family farms and rural communities. The Governor announced a three-pronged approach during the State of the State Address to help our agricultural industry. Under this plan, Governor Evers introduced a legislative package, created the Office of Rural Prosperity and established the Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity. Two weeks ago, the Commission released their report, which will help build more resilient rural communities in Wisconsin.

voting-dropboxDuring the 2020 State of the State Address, Governor Evers also announced the People’s Maps Commission, to ensure Wisconsin’s redistricting process is independent and nonpartisan. A decade ago, Republicans manipulated the maps so heavily in their favor. This broken system has prevented many policies from being passed, even if they’re supported by most Wisconsinites, like Medicaid expansion.

The People’s Maps Commission is currently holding public hearings to get input directly from Wisconsinites to create the next set of maps. These hearings will wrap-up and the Commission will introduce fair maps for the Legislature to approve in 2021. There’s already a lot to look forward to next year.

We can also look forward to what comes next to improve broadband access in Wisconsin. The pandemic revealed how essential access to true high-speed broadband is in today’s world. Last year, Governor Evers established the Broadband Access Task Force and I introduced the “Better Broadband” bill package to tackle this issue in our state’s rural areas.

jeff-smithUnfortunately, like all the other 42 bills I introduced, these bills didn’t receive a vote or even a public hearing in this hyper-partisan environment. Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald commented this legislation was a “good idea,” on the senate floor, but still tabled it anyway. In 2021, I plan on re-introducing this legislative package. I also look forward to the work that comes out of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access next year.

This year, we faced unprecedented challenges. We offered solutions that were rejected, but every day is a new day. Hopefully, we can look back and find a way to improve in the New Year. We must find ways to break the cycle of anger and distrust we’ve sunk into.

Let’s carry over only the good into 2021. For the sake of our nation and our children, it’s our responsibility to find the goodness we wish to build on.

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Winter in 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, 23 December 2020
in Wisconsin

icefishingIce fishing to snowshoeing, cross country skiing to snowmobiling, Wisconsinites have many options to choose from to enjoy the outdoors while also preventing the spread of COVID-19.


MADISON - Winter is a season to celebrate, although some lifelong Wisconsinites may disagree because of the snow and freezing temperatures. The change of season and anticipation of the first snowfall can be joyous. Maybe, after months of green grass and empty treetops, a white blanket of snow brightens our view once again.

Winter is a truly magical season. Rather than being stuck in the house, there is a whole new world outdoors to enjoy, especially here in our beautiful state. We’ve grown accustomed to making the most out of any situation in 2020. This season won’t be any different. But, we can still celebrate Wisconsin’s role in pioneering some of the most well-known winter activities. We can also enjoy all that Wisconsin has to offer during these winter months, even while following proper precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19.

When I was a youngster living on the north side of Eau Claire, and wasn’t building snow forts or sliding down the big hills with friends, I’d sling my skates over my shoulder and hike down to the city park. The park’s skating rink was full of friends and a bonfire to warm us up. If we were feeling really ambitious, we’d catch a ride to Half Moon Lake to punch holes in the ice and take our chances at hooking some fish to bring home.

jeff-smith-ofcOnce I reached my teen years, my dad bought a snowmobile. We spent many days and nights exploring the trails. Once I was able to drive and load our machines up, we rode trails that took us through woods and up hills that I’d never been before. While downhill skiing came later for me, it added to my love of winter. When I got a wood burning stove in my home, I had even more reason to love winter.

The list of activities one can do on a Wisconsin winter day is endless. The outdoor recreational opportunities in Wisconsin have continued growing since I was young. It’s more common than ever to strap on a pair of snowshoes and hike the trails. Cross country skiing has become one of the most popular sports for so many and put Wisconsin on the map.

The American Birkebeiner has become one of the most extraordinary events in the nation and it takes place right here in Wisconsin from Cable to Hayward. An event first held in 1973 with 35 skiers has now become a classic. In a good snow year, it’ll attract thousands from all over the world. With varying lengths and difficulties, it’s a race for anyone who can manage a pair of skis.

Earlier in our state’s history, Wisconsinites developed the concept of snowmobiles. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Wisconsinites experimented with modified winter snow machines – like bicycles, sleighs and even Model T Fords. Eventually snowmobiles, as we know them now, caught on as a fun winter activity, as well as a dependable form of winter transportation.

With nearly 15,000 lakes in Wisconsin, and fishing an obsession for so many, winter isn’t a time to give the fish a break. In fact, for some, it’s the time of year to get serious. Once the ice is thick and safe to walk on, there will be holes drilled, tip-ups set and shanties dotting the ice.

Although the Birkebeiner, snowmobiling and ice fishing traditions will be different than in years past, there are still many opportunities to be outdoors, enjoying the season safely with members of your own household.

Hikers can enjoy the trails throughout the beautiful Driftless landscape. With a pair of snowshoes, anyone can walk these snowy trails and enjoy the fresh beauty of the winter scenery. These activities give an entirely different perspective of the wonders of our Wisconsin.

If you find yourself dreading the coming of winter, think again. Wisconsin is truly a wonderland of all seasons. You’ll find the lake, hills and trees you admired in the summer will thrill you all over again in the winter. Bundle up and enjoy Wisconsin all over again.

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