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Wis Democracy Campaign - Vouchers, tax breaks, and my farewell

Posted by Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Matt Rothschild
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Matt Rothschild
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Thursday, 29 June 2023
in Wisconsin

wdc-logo-2022Our friend Matt Rothschild does his last column of an illustrious career.

MADISON - If you want to know why private schools are getting such an influx of your tax dollars, just follow the money.

6281As Mike Buelow, our research director, reported here, three of the biggest backers of vouchers have spent $67 million in our elections since 2010 to buy the politicians they need:

School Voucher Backers Win Big with Evers, GOP Agreement

The wealthy and the powerful also got their servants in the Republican legislature to give them a big tax break, as I noted here:

GOP Budget Rewards the Rich

6282The flattening of our income tax code and the siphoning off of public money for private schools would appall our progressive forebearers in Wisconsin, who, 100 years ago, fought so hard for progressive taxation and public education.

And they’d also be appalled at all the outside money that’s still contaminating our politics today.

As Fighting Bob La Follette, one of my heroes, once wrote: “Democracy is a life, and involves continual struggle. It is only as those of every generation who love democracy resist with all their might the encroachments of its enemies that the ideals of representative government can even be nearly approximated.”

I know you’re a lover of democracy, as I am. And I know there are many people, one or two generations behind me, who are involved – creatively and energetically – in this struggle.

They give me hope.

And you give me hope.

And Law Forward gives me hope.

And Civic Media gives me hope.

And Justice-Elect Protasiewicz gives me hope.

Hope that we can make more real the ideals of representative democracy.

And so it is with optimism and gratitude – to you, to the amazing staff at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, to our board of directors, and to all of our supporters and all of our coalition partners – that I bid you adieu.

I’m retiring at the end of this week.

The search is under way, in earnest, for my successor, and I know there are several excellent candidates in that pool.

I have no doubt, whatsoever, that the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign will flourish in the years ahead.

And I’ll be cheering it on – and you on -- from the sidelines.

Thank you for reading these emails from me.

Thank you for supporting the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

And most of all, thank you for doing your part in the struggle for our democracy.

Wishing you all the best in the years ahead!


Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
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Progress for Pride

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, 28 June 2023
in Wisconsin

lgbtq-pride-flagSenator Smith looks back on the history of the LGBTQ+ community’s fight for equality under the law.

BRUNSWICK, WI - We are all familiar with Thomas Jefferson’s famous words from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These words, famous as they are, were aspirational when Jefferson wrote them. At that time, slavery was legal and accepted in America and women were not allowed to vote or participate in the economy as freely as men. Words mean nothing without the weight of law behind them.

Doing a little research into the difference between rights and law reminded me how fragile our way of life really is. So many fellow Americans have had to struggle to change laws so they could participate in society the way most of us take for granted. As we wrap up Pride Month, I want to take a look at the long history of the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer+) rights movement in America and Wisconsin.

In 1924 activist Henry Gerber organized the Society for Human Rights in Chicago. Due to political pressures the society did not last long, but it is known as the oldest documented American gay rights organization on record in America. But early attempts to change perceptions and access the same rights as anyone else were thwarted by stigmas attached to sexual behaviors that seemed foreign to heterosexual adults.

The same “red scare” tactics used by Joe McCarthy in the 1950s were adapted to persecute the LGBT population. If anyone was outed as gay they could lose their job or their apartment. President Eisenhower even banned gay individuals from working for the federal government or its private contracting companies through executive order. It’s hard to believe that such discrimination could ever have been acceptable and legal in the United States.

Moving from the 1950s into the 1960s, the world remained an unwelcoming place for LGBTQ+ individuals. For years police harassed gay men and women because laws on the books criminalized their life choices. Engaging in “gay” behavior in public (kissing, dancing or even just holding hands with someone of the same sex) was still illegal.

To find refuge, LGBTQ+ individuals flocked to gay bars and clubs where they could express themselves openly and socialize without worry. However, authorities penalized and shut down establishments that served alcohol to known or even suspected LGBTQ+ individuals, arguing that the mere gathering of homosexuals was “disorderly.”

When police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village the night of June 28, 1969 and began hauling patrons out to paddy wagons, it sparked an uprising. Police were caught off-guard; they had not met so much resistance in the past. But these decent citizens who were only able to be open about who they were in places like the Stonewall Inn had enough. Protests and violent clashes lasted for 6 days. It was this tipping point that sparked a groundswell of activism in the gay rights movement across the nation and the world.

jeff-smithWisconsin has its own proud history of LGBTQ+ activism. Eight years before Stonewall in 1961, a group of men was bent on harassing patrons of the Black Nite Bar in Milwaukee. They were met with resistance and successfully kicked out of the bar. This incident has since been dubbed the “Black Nite Brawl” and “Milwaukee’s Stonewall.” In 1982, Wisconsin became the first state to pass a nondiscrimination law based on sexual orientation (although it’s important to note that Wisconsin still does not have a law preventing discrimination based on sexual identity.)

While Stonewall has been celebrated since 1969 as a turning point, there is still so much more to do. It is often said that it is our differences that make us a great nation. Accepting that we are all individuals, with our own individual backgrounds and desires, we can embrace that variety and build a vibrant and welcoming society.

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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Republicans Prove Nothing Good Happens After Midnight

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 June 2023
in Wisconsin

childcareRepublicans on the Joint Finance Committee have chosen to cut continued childcare funding from the 2023-25 state budget, a shortsighted move that will lessen productivity and hurt working families statewide.

BRUNSWICK, WI - As a father of two adult children, I remember the 2:00 AM feedings when my kids were babies. I wanted nothing more than to just sleep, but I’d stumble out of bed and do what it took to care for the crying baby.

On Sunday we celebrated Fathers’ Day, but around 1:00 AM on Thursday last week parents of young kids were probably too groggy to watch Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee gut the Child Care Counts program in the budget. That was the Father’s Day gift to Wisconsin families from Republicans.

Child Care Counts was the last lifeline for child care providers to stay open. This one terrible and senseless vote will make a really bad situation for kids go to worse.

The Child Care Counts program was born from a serious problem highlighted by the pandemic. Before COVID-19 hit Wisconsin, child care deserts were already forming. The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families classifies a child care desert as an area where there is no licensed child care provider or there are more than three children under the age of five for each licensed child care slot.

According to the Center for American Progress, 54% of Wisconsinites live in a child care desert. The problem is most prominent in rural communities. There are 1.3 million people in rural communities that coincide with a child care desert versus only 403,000 people in an urban child care desert.

Like many other things we saw as vulnerabilities, the pandemic turned the child care shortage into a full-blown crisis during the pandemic. Fortunately, our pre-existing child care desert problem was alleviated by the Child Care Counts program during the pandemic. It buoyed our crisis and kept our child care centers afloat. The program ran out of money in April of this year. Now child care providers are trying to make ends meet without the funding or the workers to make it happen.

wisconsin_senateMany people may think, “Well, I don’t have kids in daycare. Why should it matter to me?” Children’s success and our society’s success hinge on children ages 1-5 getting the care and education they need to thrive later in life. We all do better if our kids do better.

restaurant-emptyIt’s not just about early childhood development. The worker shortage is directly related to the lack of affordable and accessible child care. You’ve probably noticed your favorite restaurants closing, or how long it takes to schedule a doctor appointment or other delays and shortages in our current economy. Lack of affordable and accessible child care has forced parents to drop out of the workforce in droves. In fact, according to Raising Wisconsin, a multi-partner coalition of child care advocates, the child care crisis before the pandemic forced Wisconsin to lose $1.9 billion in lost productivity, earnings and revenue.

Republicans throughout Wisconsin have been griping about the workforce shortage. Despite our lowest recorded unemployment rate of 2.4%, Republicans continue to beat up on people struggling to find work. At the same time, they’ve decided to axe the one program designed to keep parents in the workforce. Next time you hear Republicans complain about worker shortages, ask them why they are contributing to the problem instead of fixing it.

jeff-smithIt’s well known that child care providers have been historically underpaid and the worker shortage has taken its toll on child care facilities. Most child care providers are paid less than convenience store clerks or fast food workers. Child care workers have moved on to better paying jobs. Without qualified child care workers there has been a corresponding decrease in child care openings. Less openings for kids means more parents need to drop out of the workforce to take care of the kids.

Our economy is very complex and rarely are there ever simple fixes. The Child Care Counts program was a very simple solution that would’ve made serious progress for our economy and society as a whole. It’s been said that nothing good happens after midnight. Cutting Child Care Counts in the early morning on Thursday last week was no exception to that rule.

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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Supporting Wisconsin Workers Makes A Strong Economy

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 June 2023
in Wisconsin

tech-jobs-engineering-techniciansSen. Smith writes about real solutions to our workforce shortage and policies that will attract workers to our state.

MADISON - During the Senate floor session last Wednesday, Republicans signed off on a set of unnecessary and punitive Assembly bills that create additional roadblocks for Wisconsin workers accessing unemployment, despite Wisconsin’s unemployment rate being at a historical low.

In fact, Republicans already passed legislation requiring applicants for unemployment to document their work search last year. That didn’t stop them from putting a referendum on the ballot this past spring asking if the voters favored a work requirement – after they’d already passed the legislation.

unemployment-office-lineAs we saw during the pandemic, unemployment insurance is an important tool to provide stability to those between jobs. It’s important to note that workers pay into the unemployment insurance program when they are employed. It’s not a “handout” that goes to those who choose not to work. Despite Republican efforts to paint hardworking Wisconsinites as “takers,” this is simply not the case.

Wisconsinites already participate in the workforce at one of the highest rates in the nation. In fact, we have a shortage of workers, as Wisconsinites are aging out of the workforce or moving out of the state.

evers-2023-sosIn his biennial budget proposal, Governor Evers put forward many measures to address Wisconsin’s worker shortage. Evers’ budget proposal includes up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave – time Wisconsinites would be able to use to welcome a child to their family, to care for an ailing family member or to recover from a medical procedure or unexpected injury.

Lack of access to affordable child care is another barrier to entry in the workforce. Working parents lose less productivity when they can afford and depend on quality child care for their kids. The Child Care Counts program has been effective in helping child care centers stay open and affordable, but we must continue to provide this vital support so that parents can have access to quality and affordable child care.

childcareMothers still take on a majority of child care responsibilities despite younger generations of fathers taking on a more direct role. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, if women in Wisconsin participated in the labor force at the same rate as countries with paid leave, there would be an estimated 22,000 more workers in the state with $758 million more in wages earned statewide.

By providing workers with paid family and medical leave and supporting our child care facilities, we address the root of our workforce shortage. The Republicans’ plans create more hoops to jump through in order for workers to access the unemployment insurance they have paid into.

Just last month across the Mississippi, Minnesota enacted legislation to guarantee workers paid family and medical leave starting in 2026. For border communities like many in Senate District 31, it’s troubling to think how western Wisconsin communities will suffer if the employment market in Minnesota provides better quality of life for workers.

wisc-leavingWe are losing young workers at an alarming rate as older workers age out of the workforce. Young Wisconsinites want action on issues like affordable healthcare (including mental health care), environmental protections, reproductive freedom and cannabis legalization.

jeff-smithLegislative Democrats will continue to champion real solutions to our workforce shortage and advocate for the quality-of-life issues that will attract workers to our state. We can build a more productive workforce, and I hope that my legislative colleagues are as committed as I am to that goal.

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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We’re Called Cheeseheads for a Reason

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 June 2023
in Wisconsin

farm-familySen. Smith celebrates June as dairy month by writing about our prominence in the nation’s cheese making industry, salutes dairy farmers and encourages everyone to attend one of the many dairy breakfasts throughout Wisconsin.

Eau Claire - If you have any doubts about our commitment to dairy consider the facts. To start with, June is Dairy Month in Wisconsin. Every weekend there are a number of dairy breakfasts around the state. You can check the list from the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin for a delicious breakfast near you. Typically hosted by a dairy farm you can learn a lot about what goes on at the farm and see plenty of neighbors.

While our state is a national leader in cranberry and potato production, dairy is still king in Wisconsin. Despite the loss of many farms in our state, we’ve still held on to the title of America’s Dairyland – and for good reason. We have over a million cows and almost 7,000 dairy farms in Wisconsin, which is more than any other state. Dairy alone accounts for $45.6 billion to our economy in Wisconsin. If these numbers didn’t convince you, the fact that Packer fans wear foam cheese hats to games is evidence enough that we take our title of America’s Dairyland very seriously.

While milk is an important part of any healthy diet, cheese rules. On average Americans consume 27 pounds of cheese each year. That’s a lot of cheese and 90% of our Wisconsin milk goes into cheese making. Everyone, it seems, loves their Mac & Cheese but you just can’t beat those squeaky fresh cheese curds. You can pick up your favorite cheese curd flavors directly from the creameries spread throughout western Wisconsin, but be sure to stop in Ellsworth, the cheese curd capital of the world. If you’re like me you can’t resist a quick stop.

It all starts with fresh milk from healthy cows, but there are so many hardworking professionals that go to work every day so you can enjoy the best dairy products in the country. From our dedicated farmers and milk haulers to the technicians and cheesemakers of Wisconsin – we celebrate them and their work during Dairy Month!

Year after year, Wisconsin cheesemakers prove their products are incomparable. From Colby to cheddar; from Gouda to asiago; from string cheese to cheese curds, we’re spoiled here with the best tasting cheeses in the world. With over 1,200 licensed cheesemakers producing over 600 types of cheeses, we have almost twice as many cheese choices than any other state. Wisconsin is proudly the home of world champion cheesemakers year after year. Our cheesemakers produce 26% of the cheese consumed in America, which amounted to 3.39 billion pounds in 2020.

Our cheesemakers export their products around the world with the leading importers of our dairy products being Canada, China and Japan. Okay, maybe the deep-fried cheese curds aren’t the healthiest food, but you can’t beat that very special treat to share with friends.

jeff-smithDon’t just take it from me – athletes can also vouch for Wisconsin dairy. Fun fact: chocolate milk is a proven best source for sport recovery. In fact, studies conducted in high school sports camps found that athletes drinking chocolate milk saw greater improvement in their performance over those who drank a sugary sports drink. It appears chocolate milk is not just for fun and flavor.

Dairy breakfasts are more than just about the food. It’s about learning where our milk comes from. As visitors tromp around the grounds, they’re able to take hay rides, examine the latest equipment and even watch demonstrations. Of course, the animals are often the main attraction for young kids.

Dairy breakfasts have proven to be extremely successful over the years. Host families take time out during a very busy time of year to make it a memorable experience for every visitor. Show your appreciation for our farmers and members of Wisconsin’s agricultural industry by visiting a dairy breakfast this June and don’t be shy about showing off your cheesehead. Find your nearest dairy breakfast and bring the family out this month to enjoy some live music, farm activities and the best breakfast you could ask for.

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