Monday December 5, 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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A Barrage of Bad Election Bills

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Wednesday, 09 February 2022
in Wisconsin

voting-dropboxMatt's testimony to the Senate Committee on Elections, Election Process Reform, and Ethics in Opposition to SB 934, SB 935, SB 936, SB 937, SB 939, SB 940, SB 941, SB 943, and SJR 101 on February 7, 2022

MADISON - Distinguished Chair and other Distinguished Members of this Committee:

I’m Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Since 1995, we’ve been tracking and exposing the money in Wisconsin politics, and we’ve been advocating for a broad range of pro-democracy reforms.

Before I get going, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the tremendous public service that the chair of this committee has rendered in her career, first as a county clerk, then as a member of the Assembly, and most recently here in the Senate.

We may not agree on a lot of ideological issues, Madame Chair, but we certainly agree on the need to defend our democracy. I really appreciate your outspokenness on this bedrock principle, and your frank acknowledgment of the severity of the threat posed to our democracy by those who refuse to accept the legitimacy of the 2020 elections and instead peddle one lie after another and one smear after another for their own political gain or personal gratification.

You’ve been a profile of courage, and you’ll be missed, and I wish you all the best in your retirement.

I’ve got some specific problems with many of these bills, as well as with the Joint Resolution.

But rather than go tediously through that itemization, let me instead make a few general remarks and then offer just a couple germane points, if I might.

First, I would like to underline an observation that Republican Senator Rob Cowles has made about our elections. He noted that our elections are “safe and secure.”

Second, there has been a drumbeat of baseless accusations and character assassinations against the dedicated administrator and the tireless staff of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which has got to stop. It’s grossly unfair to them, and if it keeps up, we won’t be able to attract any talented people to administer our elections in this state.

And third, the endless fishing expedition being conducted by Michael Gableman and the constant smoke machine that some other partisans keep revving up about the November 2020 elections only serve to undermine the faith of the Wisconsin public in our elections and in our democracy.

That’s not healthy. And that’s got to stop, too.

And frankly, I worry that, when taken as a whole, the barge carrying all these new bills today may also be billowing out more smoke.

This is not to say that I disagree with everything in all these bills. Not at all. For instance, the bills by the Chair clarify a lot of processes and terms that needed clarification.

And I certainly agree that we should set clear rules for our elections, but let’s make sure that those rules are fair.
And let’s protect our freedom to vote rather than erect one barrier after another to the exercise of that fundamental freedom.

Unfortunately, some of these bills do erect such barriers.

First of all, two bills would make voting by absentee ballot more difficult for all voters in Wisconsin.

SB 935 would render an absentee ballot null and void for the pettiest of reasons. For instance, if I’m a witness for the absentee voter and I print my name, and I sign my name, and I put Madison, WI, down as my residence but I neglect to put my street down, should the voter I’m witnessing be disqualified because of that omission? The bill says yes, and that seems ridiculous to me. Even requiring a witness seems like a stretch to me, since the voter already is swearing about his or her identity. Now to make the witness have to fill out everything just right or the voter’s ballot is disqualified just adds another way to toss a perfectly good ballot into the waste basket.

SB 939 would prohibit the Wisconsin Elections Commission or any local clerk from sending out absentee ballot applications, en masse, to registered voters, as was prudently done during the pandemic. Our ability to exercise our freedom to vote by mail should not be needlessly curtailed by this blanket prohibition. Why shouldn’t the Elections Commission be allowed to do this? If we want more people to be able to exercise their freedom to vote in our democracy, sending everyone an absentee ballot application makes sense, in general. And in specific, it makes a whole lot of sense during a pandemic. But this bill would nix both those options.

Second, one bill would make voting by absentee ballot especially more difficult for those in residential care facilities or retirement homes.

SB 935 would paternalistically require the notification of relatives of residents in long-term care facilities or retirement homes as to when special voting deputies are going to be there. Residents don’t need their relatives looking over their shoulders when they’re voting. This is an invasion of their privacy. Unless they have a legal guardian, residents should not have their freedom to vote interfered with in this obnoxious manner. What if they don’t get along with “the relatives for whom the home or facility has contact information”? What business is it of the relatives, seriously?

SB 935 would also needlessly prohibit a personal care voting assistant from helping any resident of a residential care facility or qualified retirement home to register to vote. If the personal care voting assistant is there to help the resident fill out an absentee ballot, why can’t the assistant help the resident register to vote? That distinction makes no sense. Plus, nursing homes that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding are required to support the residents’ right to vote. That should include supporting residents who want to register to vote.

Third, one of the bills, SB 934, could erroneously toss voters from the voting rolls.

This bill would have the Wisconsin Elections Commission rely on the Electronic Registration Information Center (otherwise known as ERIC) to determine whether a voter has moved. Following that determination, the Commission must send a letter or a postcard to the voter. If the voter doesn’t respond, the voter becomes unregistered. The problem with this is that the Wisconsin Election Commission’s own data in 2020 showed that 7.07 percent of the voters who became unregistered because of ERIC’s data actually had never moved and were wrongly deactivated. Such a high error is not acceptable when it comes to our freedom to vote.

Fourth, several of these bills would hog-tie the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

SB 940 would allow the Joint Finance Committee to gouge the staff or the funds of the Elections Commission if Joint Finance, on its own, says that the Elections Commission or the Department of Transportation or the Department of Corrections or the Department of Health Services failed to comply with any election law. That would give Joint Finance a huge whip over the heads of the Elections Commission, with no decent check on that unilateral power.

SB 941 would give the Joint Finance Committee and the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules the authority to block federal funds and federal guidance, which will make it very difficult for the Commission to do its job. It’s also of dubious constitutionality: States aren’t allowed to disregard federal guidance on the conduct of federal elections, for instance.

SB 941 would also inject hyper-partisanship at the staff level by mandating that each major political party gets its own legal counsel on the staff of the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The last thing we need is more partisan haggling at the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

SB 943 would require the Elections Commission to be nit-picked and hyper-monitored by the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules. Every week, the Elections Commission would have to give to JCRAR “all documents and communications from the commission that the commission issued in the previous week that are applicable to municipal clerks generally and qualify as guidance documents.” Are you going to allow the Elections Commission to do its job, or are you going to kill it by a thousand cuts?

matt-rothschild-2018So these are some of my biggest concerns.

Above all, I would appreciate it if we could all agree that:

  1. The November 2020 elections were legitimate and move on,
  2. The staff of the Wisconsin Elections Commission has been doing an admirable job under incredibly difficult circumstances, and
  3. In Wisconsin, and in America, we all should have our freedom to vote protected.

Thanks for considering my views, and I welcome any questions you might have.

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Wis Democracy Campaign - The Roots of Anti-Democracy

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Saturday, 05 February 2022
in Wisconsin

anti-democracyMADISON - I’ve been giving lots of talks lately about the dangerous threats to our democracy, and I wanted to share my latest one with you, which explores the roots of the anti-democracy movement we’re facing right now:

The Roots of the Anti-Democracy Movement

This week, our research team tracked the money that corporations gave to political parties and legislative campaign committees last year. Find out which companies gave the most here:

State Parties, Legislative Campaign Committees Accepted $1.3M in Corporate Contributions in 2021

And our research team profiled Betsy DeVos’s public school privatization group, which has spent more than $8 million in Wisconsin since 2010 to elect Republican legislators who will siphon off your tax dollars and give them to private schools:

Influence Peddler for February 2022 – American Federation for Children

Meanwhile, our Racial Equity and Economic Justice Advocate Iuscely Flores wrote about the misplaced priorities of Republicans in our legislature when it comes to combating crime:

We Say Defund, Republicans Say Fund, Fund Fund!

matt-rothschildThanks, as always, for supporting our work, and I hope you have a nice weekend.


Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
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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)
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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)
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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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