Thursday December 1, 2022

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Let’s Draw the Line on Gerrymandering

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 March 2022
in Wisconsin

gerrymander-elections-redistrictingSen. Smith writes about the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision on redistricting. While reflecting on this decision, we must continue working to establish a nonpartisan redistricting process in Wisconsin.


MADISON - The maps are in! Political redistricting maps, that is. These are not the roadmaps you may be accustomed to. You won’t follow a redistricting map to get to your favorite vacation destination.

But, elected officials follow these maps to know the constituents they represent.  Some politicians design routes and create a map more advantageous to their party to get to their destination of power.

I probably don’t need to remind you, but every ten years congressional and legislative districts must be redrawn to adjust to population shifts. As simple and logical as that sounds, it’s become a tool used to hold onto power by those in charge. With new technologies and data collection programs on voting patterns, politicians are able to precisely manipulate district lines to favor themselves with ease.

Ten years ago after a wave election, Republicans took the majority of seats in the Senate and Assembly. They used that power to pass maps that notoriously became known as the most gerrymandered maps in the nation.

When democracy works as it’s designed to, voters are able to choose their leaders and shift political power at the ballot box. Between 2001 and 2011 voters were able to shift the legislative majority from one party to the other three times in five election cycles. After the last redistricting process in 2011, one party clung onto the legislative majority—without even a threat of changing hands—in all five cycles. Even when the statewide vote tallies favored Democrats, Republicans held onto nearly two-thirds of the legislative seats.

Last year, the Republican Majority rammed through another version of their maps. This time, however, Governor Evers was able to veto the maps, which allowed the courts to step in. The Wisconsin State Supreme Court chose to take the case.

wi-maps-2021The Supreme Court also adopted new guidelines created by Republican leaders to protect their gerrymander, the most egregious of which was the concept of “least change” from the current maps. Of course, if Republicans had followed “least change” ten years ago voters would’ve had fair elections the past decade.

The court requested different versions of redistricting maps be submitted to them by mid-December 2021, which included the Republican map and a handful of competing maps.

Last week we learned what maps would be used: the Wisconsin Supreme Court accepted the version submitted by Governor Evers. In the words of Justice Brian Hagedorn, “… we conclude the Governor's legislative maps comply with all relevant legal requirements. Because they are also the maps that produce the least change from the previously enacted maps, we adopt them.”

This decision doesn’t mean, though, that the decision to follow such a flawed directive as “least change” created a map that is fair to voters. On the contrary, it just meant that the map adopted by the court is the best that could be done while least changed from the radically corrupt map it started with. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote, “If this process has shown us anything, it is that the court should depart from the ‘least change’ approach if and when redistricting arrives before it in the decades to come.”

jeff-smithOne thing is clear: the process that allows politicians to draw political maps is problematic on many levels. That is why the vast majority of citizens agree that a process overseen by a nonpartisan commission is more favorable to the voters and less susceptible to corruption.

We must accept the court’s decision and begin the work of governing as best we can under these circumstances. It also means we’ll keep on working to introduce, listen, debate and adopt a nonpartisan redistricting process that works for you.

Our democratic republic only works if voters have confidence in those who govern. Our one opportunity to make our voices heard is through voting. Ask your elected officials if they are willing to give up the power to draw their own district. Their answer should be all you need to know about your elected officials.

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Supporting Public Schools is “A Plus” for Our Kids

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, 02 March 2022
in Wisconsin

schools-computer-classSen. Jeff Smith shares his experience as a classroom volunteer and member of the Senate Committee on Education, learning about ways we can support our students in our public schools.


MADISON - Wisconsin’s K-12 schools are the cornerstone of our communities. The education offered at our neighborhood public schools provides the opportunity for our kids to reach their full potential. It’s our responsibility to ensure this opportunity is available for all Wisconsin students—regardless of zip code.

Of course, I knew this long before I was elected to the state legislature. My wife and life partner chose a career as a teacher. When our first child was born she let me know that I’d be responsible for volunteering in our daughter’s classroom when she reached school age. Little did I realize what an impact that would have on my trajectory into politics.

I took that directive to heart and volunteered as much as the school would allow. Gaining an understanding of the needs of our schools, I was an active participant in the passage of an important referendum in the late 1990s.

It also led me to creating a parent advisory committee that still is involved with the Eau Claire School District. My activism in education morphed into engagement in the Wisconsin Parent Teacher Association Board, the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and an appointment on the Governor’s Task Force for Educational Excellence.

jeff-smithYou can see how I spent years learning about how Wisconsin’s public schools prepare kids for the future. Over the years, I saw how things were changing with the drastic reforms being made that ultimately were hurting students in Wisconsin’s public schools and impacting property taxpayers.

It’s this experience I bring with me to the Senate Committee on Education. There’s a lot that’s been happening in this committee this legislative session, especially in response to the pandemic.

Unfortunately the bills being rushed through committee do nothing to address the serious challenges facing Wisconsin educators, parents and their children. To make matters worse, these bills carry a hefty price tag for Wisconsin taxpayers.

In early February, legislative Republicans introduced a package of bills that overhaul Wisconsin’s educational standards. Among the bills, one proposal gives more leeway to taxpayer-funded, unaccountable charter schools.

school-closedAnother bill removes state enrollment caps and family income limits entirely, therefore making the taxpayer-funded School Choice program available to any student. In a report issued last week, this is expected to raise property taxes for Wisconsinites as much as $577 million.

Before the Majority Party even considers moving more money from Wisconsin public schools, they should adopt my proposal, Senate Bill 971 to allow property owners to see just how their property taxes increased from expanding voucher schools.

Now is not the time to be raising costs for Wisconsin families—it’s up to us to invest the $3.8 billion surplus so all kids have access to a high-quality education. In February, Governor Evers announced a plan to invest $750 million of this surplus to improve our schools. This proposal includes initiatives to support student mental health and address achievement gaps in the state.

There’s a lot we can do with this surplus for our schools and families—it’s time for us to get it done.

Another way we can support students and local public schools is by bolstering teacher recruitment and retention. This is an issue affecting school districts all over the state, especially in our rural communities. We must remember those most impacted by the teacher shortage are our students.

ed-gradIn February, I introduced a legislative package with colleagues on the Senate Committee on Education to make sure our students have quality educators. This package includes bonuses for teachers that stay in the same district for more than 5 years, ensures that teachers enjoy the same health benefits as legislators, pays student teachers and sets a minimum starting salary.

The most valuable asset to any school is the people, and this package treats teachers like the professionals they are. We must do better for our kids.

Through all the years, I learned it takes a village of dedicated people to build up our public schools. They are the cornerstone of the success of our society. Learn, get involved and someday you will understand and appreciate the success of public education.

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The Opportunity to Do What’s Right

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, 23 February 2022
in Wisconsin

evers-sos-2022Sen. Smith recaps Governor Evers’ 2022 State of the State Address highlighting the accomplishments from the last year and the governor’s plan to keep our state moving forward.


MADISON - When the opportunity to do what’s right is in front of us, we must grab it because it may not be there for long. This is something we all learn, even if it’s the hard way. It’s painful when we don’t recognize opportunity, we hesitate and it’s gone. That’s when opportunity becomes regret.

Last week, Governor Evers delivered his 2022 State of the State Address, highlighting successes of the last year and future opportunities. If history is any indicator, then the opportunity before the legislature right now is unprecedented.

Here we are today with a record-high surplus and an all-time low 2.8% unemployment rate. With the 2021-23 budget, middle-class families received a 15% tax cut, totaling $480 million in tax relief for Wisconsin. What Governor Evers has done to get us through a global pandemic and get our economy back on track is nothing short of a miracle. He’s done the right thing when faced with adversity.

How we even have these historic records after the last two years is a feat in itself. Quite honestly, it isn’t because the legislature has done anything to make that happen. On the contrary, the Republican majority has been on a mission to impede the governor at every turn.

While the legislature sat idle for over 300 days during the pandemic, Governor Evers got to work—and delivered.

Wisconsin has a projected surplus like we’ve never seen. I’ve been paying attention long enough to be able to say the $3.8 billion dollar surplus is unheard of. Any state surplus projection can be rare, but when we have this extraordinary opportunity, it’d be foolhardy to ignore the urgent needs in our state.

On top of this surplus, Governor Evers smartly distributed over $4.5 billion in federal funds to support our local communities. With economic recovery in mind, the governor invested in more than 1,900 non-profits and over 2,300 local governments, college campuses and school districts. Additionally, he targeted more than $1 billion to bolster small businesses, farmers, tourism, lodging and entertainment industries in our state.

During the 2020 construction season, Governor Evers’ Administration kept up with all 375 transportation projects to stay on track to help Wisconsin secure another $105 million from other states. This happened all while the legislature chose to sit on the sideline.

In 2021, after the pandemic exacerbated the need for broadband access, the governor proposed $200 million to close the digital divide in our rural communities in his 2021-23 budget. Despite the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee removing that amount, we still invested $129 million into broadband expansion efforts. Governor Evers also directed another $100 million in federal funds toward broadband expansion.

The question now is whether the legislature will choose opportunity or political gamesmanship. Maybe I should mention that we also have a record $1.7 billion in the ‘rainy day’ fund.

Governor Evers has a plan to reinvest in Wisconsin and it’s the right thing to do. During his State of the State Address he outlined this plan, which starts with putting $150 back into the pockets of each Wisconsinite. A family of four would receive $600 to help address rising costs and gas prices.

jeff-smithUnder the governor’s plan, barriers to childcare are reduced by expanding the Child and Dependent Care Credit and creating a new Caregiver Tax Credit. When someone is needed to care for a loved one they’re less likely to be able to participate in the workforce.

Governor Evers’ plan invests $750 million in our schools while holding the line on property taxes. There’s no question that providing opportunity to all kids no matter their zip code is the right thing to do.

While corporate America has been taking advantage of the growing economy by raising prices, we’re sitting on your money that could help right now. The governor’s plan, importantly, still leaves $2 billion untouched.

During his Address to the legislature, Governor Evers added, “indifference in this building is getting expensive.” It’s time to act. The governor called for a special session for the legislature to pass this plan. Will Republican legislators help Governor Evers continue to do the right thing?

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Celebrate 150 Years of Eau Claire

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, 16 February 2022
in Wisconsin

eauclairebridgeSen. Jeff Smith writes about the city’s history and shares his experience growing up, owning a business and raising a family in Eau Claire.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - History always fascinates me. I grew up on the north side of Eau Claire and was surrounded by history. This year, the City of Eau Claire is celebrating its 150th birthday, which got me thinking about my upbringing in Eau Claire—how my life has been shaped so much by the history and culture of the area.

My family’s story in Eau Claire began before I was even born. My parents moved from Superior to Eau Claire so my father could start a small, family business—one that I’d later take over. Although the area was new to my parents, they recognized the opportunity that Eau Claire presented.

When I was growing up, I used to walk the train tracks behind my family’s house to get to McDonough City Park where I played in the summer and skated in the winter. It was through a city program at the park when I first began to learn of Eau Claire’s history.

The history of west-central Wisconsin can be traced back centuries. The Dakota and Ojibwe Nations lived in this area long before white settlers appeared. We cannot study the history of our nation, state and region without acknowledging who was here before us.

The confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers was strategic for commerce and travel in the early days of developing western Wisconsin. While there’s much written about the early French explorers and fur traders that came through the area, it was an English traveler named Jonathan Carver who first wrote of the area in 1767.

uwec-campusIt wasn’t until the 1850s when more families called the area home. A sawmill was established around this time, which was the catalyst for a flourishing logging industry that resulted in the incorporation of a city in 1872 that we know as Eau Claire.

Behind our house were railroad tracks that had been used to transport the products from the logging industry so many years before. Below the tracks is Dells Pond where logging companies floated their product before milling them into the lumber that built much of the Midwest. There are remnants of logs to this day that sunk into the waters of Dells Pond.

By the 1890s there were seventy-five sawmills and factories in Eau Claire. It’s how we became known as Sawdust City. Visitors can still learn about the logging era around Eau Claire in the Paul Bunyan Camp and museum located in Carson Park.

By the early 20th Century, logging was dying out. By then, though, other industries found Eau Claire. In 1916 a college was founded that was to become UW-Eau Claire. In 1917 a fellow named Raymond Gillette started a rubber factory and began producing tires for the burgeoning automobile industry.

I got around Eau Claire during the summers on my bike. In the 1960s Birch Street was a main thoroughfare for traffic to reach highway 53. It wasn’t safe to ride a bike on Birch Street to reach downtown, so the route I took from my home on Starr Avenue was Galloway Street, which took me past the tire factory. The factory, Uniroyal, closed in 1992 but I can clearly still recall the smell of rubber from the factory.

jeff-smithThe neighborhood I lived in and across the river on the east hill consisted of many of the 2,000 workers in that factory. Eau Claire really was a factory town much of the 20th Century with good union jobs supplied by the tire factory, the paper mill and Presto.

Eau Claire has changed a lot since I was a kid, but one thing still rings true: we have deep pride in our community. We’re a city of hard workers and a community that looks out for one another. Our city has grown over the years, becoming more diverse and cultivating a reputation in the arts.

I grew up, owned a small business and raised a family in Eau Claire. I’m proud to represent Eau Claire and all of my friends and neighbors as a legislator today.

Here’s to reflecting on our city’s past and looking forward to the many years ahead!

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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)
User is currently offline
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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